02 August 2005

Brother Against Brother: Chapter 1

Chapter 1, Introduction: The first in a ten-part series about jealousy, truth, and honor between men who fought in a place called Vietnam.

Written by Kit Jarrell and Heidi Thiess



Throughout its history, the United States military has been home to some of the greatest warriors found anywhere in the world. Story after story can be found of men who distinguished themselves on the battlefield; their actions a testament to the bravery and sacrifice that has made and kept our nation free. All one needs to do is read the National Archives; the military websites; the award citations of soldiers like Medal of Honor recipient Sgt First Class Paul Smith and Silver Star recipient Leigh Ann Hester to know the caliber of men and women that have unselfishly stepped forward, answering the call of our country's defense.



Vietnam was no exception. In the midst of a world that had seemingly gone mad; in the thick of humid jungles and against an enemy with no uniforms and no rules, men fought bravely and with honor. For many, the honor came not in exemplary deeds, but for simply having the courage to step onto a helicopter day after day; to go out on patrol, to keep fighting the fight. For some, it came as they stood outside a full chopper crying; not out of fear, but because their brothers were dying out on a knoll and there was no room on the helicopter for them to go and help try to save them. As in any conflict, in Vietnam there were those who rose above the call of duty, giving more than anyone asked or expected.

Many earned awards; pieces of metal and cloth that tell the world of the incredible level of their personal sacrifice and achievement: Bronze and Silver Stars for exceptional gallantry and valor, medals such as the Air Medal and the Army Commendation Medal; and for those who were wounded, the Order of the Purple Heart. Yet even in the face of their obvious heroism, they still say, “Don’t write about me. I could have done more that day.”

Over the next few installments of this story, you will hear of people like Gary Linderer, Kenn Miller, Frank Souza, and Rey Martinez. You may already know them; in fact, you may own some of their books. Other men in this story - Riley Cox, Tony Tercero, John Reid, and others - may not be as familiar to you, but by the end of it, you will know them all. These men were brought together by the war in Vietnam; their brotherhood forged in blood, sweat, and combat. They have awards, memories, and familiar names etched on a wall as reminders of their time "in country", as part of F Company, 58th Long Range Patrol. For some of them, the scars are obvious. For some, they are more hidden; silent and lurking - but for all of them, they are permanent. Such is the nature of war.

For most Vietnam veterans, there exists a special type of bond that transcends the rivalries between Army and Marines, Navy and Air Force. In the case of soldiers like the Special Forces and Long Range Patrol, this bond is even stronger.

"I don’t believe due to the type of mission we had and the small size of our patrols that you would find a tighter organization anywhere in the Army," said First Sergeant Darol "Top" Walker. "They were so dependant[sic] on each other to accomplish the mission and for survival that a very strong brotherhood developed."

However, just as every era of our military has had its share of heroes and brothers, it has had its villains as well; cowardly men, deserters, and worse. The same military that gave us Sgt. Rafael Peralta gave us Sgt. Hasan Akbar. The same force that gave us heroes like Audie Murphy trained John Kerry. As much as we would like to forget those who have brought dishonor to the uniform and the code that we have followed, the fact remains that they are there. The reasons are numerous, and at times incomprehensible. As one veteran told me while interviewing him for this story, "Perhaps they have their own demons to feed.”


The United States military awards the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat and the Silver Star for valor under fire, but according to those who have earned them those honorable distinctions can become meaningless if their sacrifice is tread upon. To honor those who have fought valiantly and awarded for their bravery, the truth must come out and the facts will disclose whether these awards were given justfiably.

This story is just that – a quest for the truth. We were asked to uncover what we thought was a case of fakery, horrific deeds and falsely claimed honor. In our own research, we ended up finding more than we bargained for. As the layers of the story were peeled away, we found a group of men that are not perfect; who made mistakes and paid for them. We found men who fought in a war that was dirty and unconventional; who did what they had to do in situations that most of us cannot even fathom. We found boys who went to the other side of the world and came home as old men before they were even old enough to drink. But we also found men who were honorable; who did their very best and made it home. For a small group of soldiers, 20 November 1968 is a day where every conscious second is etched into their memory forever. The battle that began on a knoll in Vietnam almost 40 years ago has continued with a different foe; waged in public and private between men that should have been brothers for life.

Heidi and I have said many times during the last month of research that nothing mattered except the truth. It was murky, it was hard to find, and there were times we wished we hadn't even looked. But in the end, it was there, just waiting to be found - and it was worth it.

The story is long and complex. It is ugly, emotionally trying and shocking all at once, but it is our hope that you take the time to come back and read each part. It's important; not because of the story we were asked to tell, but because of the truth that is hidden beneath.

It has been our objective to present the two sides of this issue completely and fairly to show why the facts speak for themselves. The true story of what happened on 20 November 1968 will be revealed chapter by chapter, including why there is still a conflict almost 40 years after the bullets stopped flying. For the men involved in this fight the battle rages on, shaping their destinies to this day.

One may wonder why a story like this would still matter; after all, it was so long ago. Yet, does truth become less valuable over time? Does the demand for honor among those who fight in our name diminish with the passing of years? Honor demands that the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military do so with integrity; not just during their service, but after. More importantly, to a small group of survivors who surrendered their boyhood and ideals in return for scars and nightmares in the bloodbaths of Vietnam, it matters more than you could ever imagine. This is the story of Team 24, F Company, 58th Long Range Patrol and the nightmare of 20 November 1968.




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Note: If you are a Vietnam veteran who served in the 1st Brigade LRRPs, F/58th LRP, or L/75th Rangers, please stop by this site. Your brothers are looking for you.

Chapter 2: Ambush

Written by Kit Jarrell and Heidi Thiess

On 19 November 1968, two twelve-man ‘heavy’ reconnaissance teams were inserted five kilometers apart into the Ruong Ruong Valley south of Camp Eagle, their base of operations near the city of Hue.1 The Ruong Ruong was out in the middle of nowhere; deep in the mountains. The entire map they worked in was a ‘free-fire zone’, meaning anything that moved was a target according to the U.S. Army. Their mission was to locate the base camp of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) 5th Regiment, which was known to be in the area, and to possibly confirm and identify the presence of a second regiment. Above all, their objective was to not get caught by enemy troops. Get in, find the enemy and get out. As members of one of the Army's 101st Airborne Long Range Patrol companies, that was their job: Silent, yet deadly.

The first team, Team 26 led by SSG Richard Burnell, had a primary mission to observe enemy movement and a secondary mission to locate and destroy an enemy radio transmitter near their Landing Zone (LZ). The second team, Team 24 was led by SGT Alberto D. Contreros, a Cuban immigrant from New York City. Their primary mission was to observe enemy movement and their secondary mission, as a ‘hunter/killer’ team, was to intercept and ambush NVA units. Contreros was a highly trained elite soldier, an honor graduate of both 101st Recondo School at Fort Campbell and MACV Recondo in Vietnam. He was also a highly motivated soldier; so motivated, in fact, that he was considered excessively bold by many of the other men. He was a new TL, and had taken over Team 24 from SGT Reynel Martinez just shortly before.2

In Eyes of the Eagle, Linderer said, "I didn't know him well...I think he felt he could march right through the Ruong Roung valley with his twelve-man team, kicking ass all the way."3

"I think [Contreros] wanted a body count," Linderer told us. "He actually seemed to like combat."4

Martinez, who helped train Contreros, echoed Linderer's sentiments. "Contreros was a good guy, but there were some issues."5

There was some swapping done between the LRP teams for assignments. Men jockeyed for positions on teams where they would be with the men they trusted the most. In Sp4 Kenn Miller’s case, he traded places with Sp4 Art Heringhausen so he could go out on Burnell’s team and get experience with the new lieutenant. Heringhausen went to Team 24; as did Sp4 Terry Clifton, who wanted to go on a mission with his best friend, Sp4 Gary Linderer.

Once the team rosters were in place, the men stocked up on ammunition; a few extra clips here, an extra grenade or two there. They knew there would be NVA in the area. They just didn’t know how many. It was best to be prepared. The Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) reports showed massive troop movements within the last 60 days.6 Although the intelligence reports showed at least one regiment, there was no way of knowing if the rest of the enemy troops moving through the area were still there.

Flyovers and visual recon (VRs) of the two Areas of Operation (AOs) had been conducted the day before by the two chopper pilots (CPT Bill Meacham and WO2 W.T. Grant), the Commanding Officer (CO) of F/58th, CPT Ken Eklund, and the TLs and ATLs. Burnell’s team was fortunate that their AO had at least seven good LZs. Contreros’ team, on the other hand, had only one LZ, and a poor one at that. The teams set out for their designated landing zone (LZ) late in the afternoon of 19 November, and from the start, things went wrong.

Having only one LZ was an uncomfortable reality; a single exit if things got bad was not an optimal situation. During the flyover the day before, they thought it looked alright. Unfortunately, once the team was over it and ready to go in, they realized that the elephant grass beneath them was very long and potentially dangerous. How long no one could tell. Two feet was not an issue. Twenty feet would be.

CPT Eklund, in the AO in a LOH (Light Observation Helicopter), wasn’t comfortable with the situation either, and made a last-minute decision to abort the mission. Having only one LZ was bad enough; having a dangerous one was just asking for trouble.

“I was giving the order to abort,” said Eklund, “and then I heard the pilot say that one of the guys was already jumping out of the chopper.”7 That first man out, according to one of the men on the other team, was SGT Albert Contreros, giving the order for the team to jump in behind him.

“Once one man had gone into the LZ, they would all go. No one on the team would ever allow one man to be left on the ground by himself.” recalled William "Wild Bill" Meacham, one of the team’s chopper pilots.8



The rest of the team had to follow their leader by hanging onto the skids of the helicopter and dropping into the long elephant grass that hid the ground. They immediately found themselves dropping a lot further than they had anticipated; fifteen to twenty feet into a ravine. SGT John Sours hurt both of his ankles on a concealed teak log as the team landed roughly on the ground. Determined to stick it out with the team, he told his teammates his injuries were minor so he could stay with them for the remainder of the mission. As the TL, it was Contreros’ decision to keep Sours in the field overnight, even though Sours’ injuries put the team at a distinct disadvantage if things went bad.

They moved north and quickly found a 'high-speed' trail along a ridgeline three meters wide that was heavily used by NVA troops. Contreros sent two scouts in each direction to recon the trail along the ridgeline and look for enemy activity. Sp4 Linderer went with Sp4 Frank Souza about fifty meters east and found that the trail turned north, climbing the face of the low ridge.

Linderer explains the terrain in Phantom Warriors: Book II:

The terrain dropped off sharply on our right flank. The crest of the ridgeline above us did a little dogleg before continuing to the east. On our left flank, perhaps two meters above the trail, the ridge top pulled up onto a little knoll overlooking the trail.


Contreros had told the men to find a good spot to set up an ambush for enemy troops coming down the trail. LRP rule of thumb: Never ambush a party of more than twice your size. For their 12-man team, that would mean ambushing no more than 24. With Sours injured, that number was perhaps even less. Linderer and Souza found a good site for the ambush on a knoll overlooking the trail where it turned back.

They also found a scout bunker three meters back from the trail. Following the path up the hill, Linderer and Souza saw that the trail turned right again and then continued east.

While inspecting the area around the scout bunker, Linderer and Souza spotted cigarette butts and other signs of recent occupation. They heard a single rifle shot about a klick9 east of their location and knew it was a signal coming from a scout alerting NVA forces that there were men on the ground. Souza and Linderer immediately backtracked to the team, reporting to Contreros. When the team leader heard about the NVA scout and the ambush site, Contreros decided to move the team to the higher ground and set up the ambush.


...He told us
to blow the ambush on the next party
coming down the trail...



By the time the team had set up six claymore mines along the trail and finished their preparations, it was dark. Unbeknownst to them, the twelve men had been inserted into the jungle between two large forces of NVA. Enemy soldiers moved up and down the trail with flashlights throughout the night, searching for the men who had arrived before dark. In an effort to bait the American soldiers, the NVA would send a small squad down the trail; following it a few moments later with a larger force. Contreros decided not to rise to the bait. The team laid still and let them pass, at one point within 10 feet of the men, severely outnumbered and praying they were not detected.

When dawn finally came, it was obvious that SGT Sours was severely injured due to his jump from the helicopter. Both ankles were broken and he was unable to walk. Contreros called for a medevac to pick up Sours, and sent Souza and Sp4 Riley Cox back to the LZ to wait for the chopper with him. Clifton accompanied as security for Souza and Cox, who had to help Sours walk. At this point, Contreros was again faced with a decision. His team was down one member, and there were literally thousands of NVA in the area.10 The young sergeant decided to press on with the mission.

After the extraction of Sours, the men returned to the team and heard two rifle shots; signaling "all clear" for the NVA. After this signal, the team believed that the scout assumed the entire team had left the area on the chopper. The NVA sent a single soldier down the trail soon after and again the team let him pass.

"He [Contreros] told us to blow the ambush on the next party coming down the trail," said Cox.11

Some time after the lone soldier, they heard voices coming down the trail from the east. Contreros gave the signal to start the ambush, confirming his order to blow the mines on his command. At the time Linderer was lying on the top of the knoll. "Heads going by was all I could see at the time," said Linderer. Ten NVA came down the trail, talking amongst themselves, "and we blew the ambush."


Contreros snapped his fingers, and the trail was filled with the sounds and shrapnel of multiple claymore mines detonating. After a few seconds Linderer and Souza saw the point man running down the trail. He was wearing an olive drab green uniform and a towel around his neck. Souza and Linderer both fired at him, and though Souza managed to knock the towel off the soldier's neck as he ran for the jungle, the enemy soldier was able to make it into the thick foliage, escaping to warn the NVA that the men were still on the ground.

Walking down the knoll to check the bodies, the team confirmed that the nine remaining NVA had been caught in the ambush.

"They were all wearing olive-drab uniforms and...boonie caps," Linderer stated in 2001 .12 There was an NVA major with a map case full of documents. Four were regular infantry troops carrying AK-47s, but four of them were female NVA nurses, carrying medical supplies in their rucksacks. SGT Jim Bacon, the senior radio telephone operator (RTO), remembers seeing the American prescription drugs and syringes, provided by the Quakers, that filled the rucksacks.13 All but one of the women had .45-caliber pistols. Linderer and Cox both told us that knowing some of the bodies were female was hard for them. "I was engaged to a nurse," Linderer told us. "It was just...it bothered me at the time."

"You gotta understand though," said Cox, "the women were armed." He went on to say that the team didn't know they were female before detonating the mines. The men were told by their team leader to blow the ambush on the next enemy group down the trail, and they did.

Eight of the enemy soldiers had been killed outright, and the ninth was still alive, but barely. Linderer described her injuries to us as "severe...she was missing a limb, she had multiple penetration wounds to her torso." He went on to say that the NVA female lived at most three minutes after the ambush was blown.

The team stripped the bodies and took the NVA equipment and other gear back up to the knoll. When Contreros radioed in the ambush to the CO, he was told to withdraw to the LZ, because a Reaction Force (RF) from 2/17th Cavalry was on its way to “develop the situation”. The team would meet up with the RF, board the choppers and rearm in-flight, and then be reinserted into SSG Burnell’s AO.

Looking to Contreros for the order to move out before being discovered, the team soon found out their leader had other ideas. Sp4 Larry Chambers was on Burnell’s team, five klicks away. He remembers Eklund explaining what happened after the mission:

“I told Contreros to take his team and get out of there. I wanted them to lay dog some place safer until we could get choppers and reinforcements. But he didn’t want to leave the ambush site.”14


"He wanted to stay there and develop the situation," Martinez told us. "He knew that staying at an ambush site was the worst possible thing to do...but he thought he could outsmart the enemy." It was Contreros' belief that they could do some real damage if they waited for the enemy to come investigate the explosion, effectively ambushing their own ambush. With a reaction force on its way, Contreros was confident in his bold plan.

Kenn Miller agrees with Martinez. "Sometimes you do something incredibly stupid that ends up being brilliant. In this case, with everything else that happened, it ended up just being stupid."15


The team grew increasingly nervous as the minutes ticked by. Jim Venable, the Assistant Team Leader, pulled Contreros aside, whispering his concern for their safety. Next it was Linderer and Souza, voicing their desire to move out. Contreros listened, but ordered the team to stay put. He had been told a reaction force was coming in to reinforce them, and he wanted to stay and wait. Some of the men sat back down in their ambush positions and hurriedly finished eating their rations, hoping the call would come soon telling them the choppers were on their way.

The original plan had been for Team 24 to scout the area, find the enemy, and then the men would be extracted. A reaction force was to be planted in behind them, who would exploit the intelligence passed to them by the LRP team. However, after more than an hour of anxious waiting, they were told that not only was there no reaction force, but there was no extraction. The choppers normally assigned to wait for their call had been sent to a major infantry exercise miles away. CPT Meacham went ballistic when he found out that his and Grant’s choppers had been pulled from the LRP assignment:

“That didn’t make any sense to me, or maybe wasn’t ready to accept what I was hearing. ‘If all of the aircraft are going to be committed [to divisional troop movements], who’s going to cover the teams we have in?

MAJ Addiss sat there staring at me, shaking his head, and said, ‘Nobody.’”16


Team 24 was stuck. They were surrounded by enemy soldiers who were undoubtedly closing in on them at that very moment, and they had already spent far too long at the ambush site waiting for help that hadn't come. In order to get out alive, they would have to escape and evade.






_______________________

Team 26

• Team Leader (TL): SSG Richard Burnell
• Asst. Team Leader (ATL) SGT John Burford
• Senior Radio Transmitter Operator (RTO): LT Owen Williams
• Junior RTO: Sp4 Kenn Miller
• John Meszaros
• Jim Schwarz
• Don Harris
• “Snuffy” Smith
• Jim Evans
• Larry Chambers
• Team Medic: “Doc” Proctor


Team 24

• TL: SGT Al Contreros
• ATL: SGT Jim Venable
• Senior RTO: Sp4 Jim Bacon
• Junior RTO: Sp4 Billy Walkabout
• Sp4 Terry Clifton
• Sp4 Riley Cox
• Sp4 Steve Czepurny
• Sp4 Art Heringhausen
• Sp4 Gary Linderer
• SGT Mike Reiff
• Sp4 Frank Souza
• SGT John Sours

________________________________

1Coordinates for the insertion point are not known, as the Duty Officer's Radio Logs left that out. However, we were able to ascertain the location of the incidents through reconstruction and interviews of personnel on the reaction force, as well as soldiers from D/2/501. See Map.
2From interviews conducted with members of the teams. While they all agreed that Contreros was sometimes overly bold, they all insisted that he was a good team member and knew what he was doing in the field.
3Linderer, Gary. Eyes of the Eagle, p. 174.
4Interview with Gary Linderer, 07/05/05.
5Interview with Reynel Martinez, 07/05/05.
6Estimates of the number of enemy in the area differ; but were consistently in the thousands. It had been confirmed that at least the 5th regiment was in the area, with all assorted support personnel.
7Interview with Kenneth Eklund, 07/05/05.
8Meacham, Bill. Lest We Forget, p.272.
9‘ klick’ = 1 kilometer or 1000 meters
10Interview with Riley Cox, 6/05.
11Deposition of Gary Linderer during legal action brought against him in 2001 by Don Hall.
12Interview with Jim Bacon, 07/05/05.
13Chambers, Larry. Recondo, p. 68.
14Interview with Kenn Miller, 07/05/05.
15Lest We Forget, p.274.

Chapter 3: Nowhere to Go

Written by Heidi Thiess and Kit Jarrell


Positions are seldom lost because they have been destroyed, but almost invariably because the leader has decided in his own mind that they cannot be held.

- From the Marine Corps Battle Doctrine for Front Line Leaders



The men of Team 24 knew they were in serious danger; it was almost noon. They had lingered in their kill zone for far too long, expecting reinforcements that they now knew were not coming. They had violated one of the cardinal rules of the LRP; never remain at an ambush site without being reinforced. 1 “No one had to tell us we were royally fucked," said Linderer. "The enemy had to be on us by now. We had waited too damn long."2

The Commanding Officer (CO), CPT Eklund, had told Contreros to move the team to a more defensible position closer to the LZ. “There was really nowhere to go," said SGT Jim Bacon, the radio operator (RTO). "To the southwest, it was open; to the east, elephant grass…or up and down the high-speed trail.”3

SGT Contreros decided to move the team to a higher position up the ridge to the west and set up a defensive perimeter. He hoped that CPT Eklund, in the area of operations (AO) in a Command and Control (C&C) chopper, would be able to direct them to a new extraction point. With the team maintaining a wide defensive perimeter on the hillside, Contreros directed his Assistant Team Leader (ATL), SGT Jim Venable, to signal the CO with a signal mirror. Venable picked his way through the jungle undergrowth to a small clearing about 45 feet further up the ridge. As he raised his arm to signal the chopper, enemy troops opened fire from multiple angles. Venable took rounds in the arm, neck, and chest. As two team members, Cox and Souza, dashed to carry Venable to cover, a heavy volley of small arms fire poured down on the LRP perimeter from the direction of their original LZ. They were surrounded.


Contreros radioed the CO that they were taking heavy fire from the enemy and that they needed a medevac for Venable immediately. The CO sent a pair of Cobra gunships to provide suppressive fire for the surrounded team, and radioed for a dust-off (medevac chopper). The double canopy jungle* made sighting the team on the ground impossible for CPT Eklund. He radioed the team to “pop smoke” so he could mark their position. The smoke grenade dissipated on the ground before it could penetrate the overhead jungle growth, making it impossible for Eklund to see where the team was on the ground. The CO had to fly in a cross-hatch pattern overhead so that the RTO, Sp4 Bacon, could radio the CO when he was directly overhead. By the time the CO located the team, the Cobras had arrived and were making passes over the team, who was pinned in place on the ground by enemy fire.

Back at Camp Eagle CPT "Wild Bill" Meacham and WO2 W.T. Grant, the team’s 101st Airborne Division chopper pilots, were refueling their Huey choppers after divisional troop movements that day. As they were topping off their tanks, they heard over the radio that their LRP team had encountered heavy enemy contact. Within minutes, they had cranked their choppers and were in the air.

By the time they arrived on the scene where Contreros and his team were under fire, Venable was in bad shape and Meacham decided to extract Venable via McGuire rig** instead of waiting for the dust-off chopper. The extraction was complicated by the heavy jungle canopy, which combined with the enemy fire, prevented the chopper from landing. Meacham hovered low into the treetops; the tail rotor just barely over the foliage. The force of the winds created by the spinning rotors pushed some of the foliage away. There was just enough room to slip the McGuire harness, weighted with a sandbag, through the tree limbs. The Cobras made gun runs 50 meters on either side of Meacham’s aircraft, shooting into the thick undergrowth. Distracted by the prospect of downing an American chopper, the NVA had shifted their fire to the aircraft; giving the team only sporadic attention. The men on the ground hastened to strap Venable into the Macguire rig that would carry him to safety, and Meacham carefully lifted him through the trees. With the injured Venable dangling precariously below the chopper, Meacham flew slowly to an abandoned fire base. Once there, they pulled the injured man into the chopper and flew him to safety at the 22nd Surgical Hospital in Phu Bai.


Meanwhile, Grant had stayed on site to monitor the firefight below him on the ground. The fighting continued as the ten LRP soldiers held their perimeter against an ever-increasing enemy using a combination of small arms fire and fragmentary grenades.

When Meacham returned to the airspace over the LRP team, he saw the pair of Cobras and the C&C chopper heading back to base to rearm and refuel. He radioed the CO to ask if the team would now be extracted. Eklund’s response was negative. He still expected a reaction team from the 2/17th Cavalry to be inserted to reinforce the LRPs. In the lull created by the choppers’ departure, Contreros called in artillery from the two nearby firebases, Brick and Spear. Meacham and Grant flew their Hueys four miles to the west end of the valley and entered into a wide orbit, well out of the range of the incoming rounds. For 45 minutes, artillery rained down outside the LRP team’s perimeter. Contreros carefully adjusted the artillery trajectories until the rounds were within 50 meters of the team.

“A small force that’s pinned down tends to make numerous adjustments to wherever they’re receiving fire from. When the adjustments are all ten meters, the arty guys know you are working close and get antsy. They’re well aware of the amount of damage they can inflict, and they know it doesn’t take much artillery to take out a whole LRP team.”4

Meacham recalled that Contreros was ‘walking’ the artillery rounds ten to fifteen meters at a time. The enemy had pressed in closer to the team, and that meant the artillery had to get dropped closer to the team to hit the enemy. “Artillery adjustment was an art," said Meacham, "and I was watching an artist at work.” 5 When the CO radioed that he and two pairs of Cobras were moving back on station, Contreros called off the artillery barrage; allowing the CO to direct the Cobras back into battle.

With five choppers now back on station to protect the team, Meacham and Grant left the AO to refuel. Contreros reported enemy movement all around his team’s position, so the four Cobras strafed the jungle around the LRP team in well-timed box patterns. A couple of hours crawled by while the gunships and artillery kept a continual ‘ring of fire’ around the beleaguered team on the ground. Though Grant and Meacham were anxious to extract the team, they were told to stand by. The reinforcements from the 2/17th Cavalry were still expected. Grant recalled, “The Cobras were coming in regular intervals now. The artillery had the fire missions down to routine, so they were able to quickly fill any gaps in the Cobra support.”

Meanwhile, CPT Eklund continued to radio Division for the expected and desperately needed reaction force. Sp4 John Reid, a door-gunner in Grant’s chopper, monitored the two FM and internal radio transmissions during the ongoing firefight. He recalls overhearing an argument CPT Eklund had with staff officers at Division level about getting more troops on the ground ASAP. 6 The argument raged off and on all afternoon, and CPT Eklund’s mounting frustration7 was obvious to any and all listeners.

Eklund knew his team couldn’t hold out much longer. The remaining ten LRPs on the ground had been in contact for almost six hours and were running low on ammo. It was a miracle that the only casualty thus far had been Venable who was already safely extracted.

It was little after 1500 when Sp4 Art Heringhausen, now defending the east side of the perimeter, shouted that more NVA soldiers were moving up the trail. Contreros ordered the team to pull in their perimeter so he could bring the gunships in closer. The Cobras screamed overhead as the team moved closer together. Suddenly a deafening explosion erupted around the team. The two pilots in the airspace nearby both reported what they saw.

Grant: “The Cobras were making rocket runs over the team in box patterns when suddenly a bunch of vegetation flew up into the air, just under one of the Snakes. It was followed by a dense cloud of black smoke.” 8

Meacham: “…a large part of the vegetation above the team seemed to jump straight up into the air. Then smoke came rolling out of the jungle. What the hell had happened?” 9

Smoke and debris rolled over the broken LRP team. No one was left standing; every man was down. CPT Eklund screamed into the radio, trying to raise someone from his team. There was no response.


Next: The Absence of All Hope



_______________________
1Linderer, Gary. Eyes Behind the Lines, pg 4.
2Linderer, Gary. The Eyes of the Eagle, pg. 181.
3Interview with Jim Bacon, 07/05.
4Grant, W.T. Wings of the Eagle, pg. 237.
5Meacham, Bill. Lest We Forget, pg. 286.
6Interview with John Reid, 07/02/05.
7Six weeks later, Eklund wrote a memorandum to the Commander of the 2/17 Cavalry, and cited this lack of troop support:
All commanders who have LRP teams supporting them should be briefed that the LRP team shall be either reinforced or extracted immediately once engaged or compromised. Failure to do this on 20 November 1968 resulted in X LRPs killed and X wounded from an 11 man team.

8Grant, W.T. Wings of the Eagle, pg. 238.
9Meacham, Bill. Lest We Forget, pg. 287.

* Double canopy jungle = tropical rainforest with trees approx. 50'

** McGuire rig: devised by SGM Charles T. McGuire, an SF sergeant serving with Project Delta; this is an extraction method for when helicopters cannot land, which utilizes the same equipment for a RAPPEL insertion. Originally the RIG "string" was conceived as a stirrup LINE or sling EYE; it was later refined by MSG Norman Donny as a quick connect for the integral Swiss seats to be converted into body loops over existing field gear. Lifted and moved like sling-loaded cargo, the team had to secure the ropes during landing to prevent fowling of the helicopter rotors. Adaptations to the basic technique occurred, such as safety wrist straps and linking arms to prevent spinning. The major defect of the McGUIRE RIG was for wounded or unconscious team members, who were liable to fall out of their hookup. The STABO (QV) full-body harness, invented at the MACV RECONDO School, remedied this problem.

Chapter 4: The Absence of All Hope

Written by Heidi Thiess and Kit Jarrell


A tremendous explosion had ripped through the jungle and not a single man from Team 24 appeared to be left standing. What happened? CPT Eklund desperately tried to raise his team on the radio with no response.

In Vietnam the LRPs didn’t worry much about the “bullet with your name on it. It’s the 'to whom it may concern' shit you gotta worry about,” said Riley Cox.1 Whatever it was, it had come from their 6:00 position. Cox remembers how the force of the explosion lifted his 220-lb body along with his heavy rucksack and flipped him over like he weighed nothing. It seemed like the explosion just “rolled across us”, said Cox. The low-hanging foliage was “rolled back” and sunlight filtered down through the remaining jungle cover onto the wounded men scattered around the hillside.


Bacon remembers the explosion too:

“[After the blast,] Contreros was laying across my legs. I knew…oh, I knew I’d been hit, but I had no idea how bad. I was on my side, in like a fetal position, and the first person I could see was Riley [Cox]. He was wearing woodland [camouflage fatigues]…and he started to turn into a Christmas tree, across his chest and his belly. I could see the blood, you know, coming out of the holes.

I tried to turn over and I couldn’t. I finally managed to turn over and Contreros was laying across my legs…I thought he was dead….I could see in his head, you know, in his brain.

I started looking around and the first thing I heard was Gary [Linderer] moaning behind me. Otherwise, I thought I was the only one left.”2



Before the explosion ripped through the jungle and the men desperately defending the small area, Linderer had been inching up the hillside backward dragging his rucksack in front of him for cover. Flattened by the explosion, he felt something slap at his legs as a “large, black cloud of smoke rolled over the top of the hill.”3 Linderer turned to see Clifton a few feet away, his throat torn open by the blast and bleeding out. As Clifton reached toward his friend, he collapsed, dead. Linderer looked over to where he’d last seen Contreros and Bacon kneeling by the radio, but no one was there. He peered around the perimeter. “Where seconds before ten men stood fighting for their lives, now there were none.”

After several frantic radio calls from Eklund, the otherwise steady voice of SGT Bacon, now struggling for strength, came over the radio. “Cease fire, cease fire! Everyone’s down!” He told us later that it was Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to call a “Cease Fire” in that situation in case the team had been hit by a rocket from the overhead gunships.4 Cox remembers thinking the explosion was a rocket at first, too, because Contreros had wanted to tighten the perimeter so the Cobras could maneuver closer, but rocket fire was sequenced and this was a single explosion. “Surely the Cobras hadn’t caused that kind of explosion with their 2.75-inch rockets,” said Meacham.5


The team’s chopper pilots, Meacham and Grant, sprang into action. Grant radioed for a 'dust off' (medical chopper), while Meacham circled his Huey overhead to try and get a look at what remained of the team on the ground. Enough low-hanging foliage had been blown away by the blast that he could see the numerous bodies of dead NVA encircling the team’s tiny defensive position atop the knoll. Grant could also see the team members lying where they’d fallen. Bacon, half covered with Contreros’ unmoving body, was struggling with the radio and it appeared that only Walkabout and Linderer were still moving. While waiting for the dust off, Meacham attempted to drop his McGuire rigs6 through the treetops to the team below, but they kept getting hung up on the trees. He withdrew, knowing that none of the injured men on the ground were in good enough shape to maneuver bodies into the harnesses anyway. Eklund continued to control the Cobras from his vantage point in the C&C chopper as they raked their gunfire and rockets over large areas of the ridgeline.

The LRPs on the ground started to take stock of the situation growing more dire with every minute that passed. Linderer was wounded in his legs, and SGT Billy Walkabout, who had been nearest to Linderer in the perimeter, had lost the use of his hands; they were pierced through with shrapnel. Steve Czepurny’s feet were hit by shrapnel, but he turned back to cover the trail with his M-16. Sp4 Art Heringhausen, who replaced Kenn Miller on Team 24, lay facedown on the jungle floor. Clifton was dead, his throat torn out by shrapnel. On the upper part of the perimeter closest to the explosion, SGT Michael Reiff’s lifeless body was pinned to a mahogany tree by the shrapnel that had killed him.

Bacon was missing a huge chunk of flesh from his thigh, but was still lucid enough to man the radio though he was fading. Linderer and Walkabout shifted Contreros’ body off of Bacon and saw that Contreros had a small dime-sized hole above his ear but a much larger exit wound out of the top of his head. His pulse was weak and faltering. As the men moved on to Souza to address the man's wounds, they saw a neck wound and a sucking chest wound and attempted to plug the holes. While wrapping the bandage around their comrade, they realized he had wounds to his back as well. Turning him over, they saw a back wound that had ripped open his chest cavity; he was missing a lung and some ribs. They rolled him into a poncho to drain the wound and moved onto Cox. “Dozer”, as the men affectionately called him for his physique and constitution, was hit everywhere. His right forearm was shattered and he had tied his flopping hand back to his forearm to keep it out of the way. Cox explained to us the extent of his injuries.


“I looked down and saw there was a hole in my boot, so I wiggled my foot and saw blood bubbling out so I thought, ‘I probably shouldn’t do that’. Then I looked down and saw the ration I just ate a while before…it was in my stomach. My guts were hanging out in my lap.”7


Cox grinned ruefully at his teammates and scooped his entrails back into his body. Stuffing a green sweat towel into the wound to try and keep everything inside, he calmly picked up his shotgun with his left hand and turned to cover the perimeter, continuing to fire down the hill.

“I could hear [Cox’s] shotgun firing when I was on the radio with anybody on the ground that was communicating to me," CPT Eklund said. "He continued to fire until he ran out of ammo.”8

Only three men were able to guard the others. Walkabout and Linderer agreed that if they were overrun, they would shoot their fellow LRPs and then themselves rather than be captured by the NVA.

The surface vegetation on the knoll had been blown away by the explosion, and the men wondered why the NVA didn’t follow up their advantage. The answer came as they heard choppers overhead drawing the enemy fire away from the team. It was 1535 and the first medevac had arrived.

A jungle penetrator9 was lowered to the men on the knoll. As the chopper took fire from the NVA, the penetrator drifted down the hill toward the enemy positions as the pilot attempted to move out of range of the rounds. Seeing that the pilot couldn’t get help to them, Walkabout leapt down the hill after the penetrator straight toward the enemy positions, chasing down the help they needed. Reaching the penetrator, he wrapped his damaged hands around the steel shaft and staggered back up the hill with it. Cox had grabbed a CAR-15 rifle from one of his fallen teammates next to him to provide covering fire for Walkabout. The NVA troops were too concentrated on downing the choppers and at first they didn’t even realize Walkabout was in their position. Making back inside the perimeter safely, Walkabout and Linderer strapped Contreros’ inert body to the shaft but as the chopper started to lift it, they panicked. The chopper had drifted again, and the penetrator would whiplash Contreros’ body into the trees! Walkabout wrapped his arms around the penetrator with Contreros in it and lifted both clear off the ground. He staggered down the hill carrying both the penetrator and Contreros until he was directly under the chopper again and the penetrator could be raised without harming Contreros. Linderer recalled, “I watched in disbelief. A hero was earning a Medal of Honor before my eyes, and I wasn’t going to survive to attest to it.”10

Meanwhile, Cox was keeping his side of the hill defended as best he could. CPT Eklund recalls looking down from his C&C chopper onto the carnage just below.

“[Cox] had to expend his last few grenades by wedging them between his blood-soaked legs, and pulling the pins with his left hand…He smiled at me [and] made a thumbs–up signal with his left hand. The right hand was too badly mangled for him to move, as I noticed it resting against his side; probably attempting to keep his intestines in.”11


The next medevac immediately replaced the first, and again drew heavy NVA fire. As the second penetrator was lowered, it too drifted toward the enemy positions. Walkabout again dashed toward the enemy positions to retrieve the penetrator; dragging it back to the center of the perimeter. Walkabout and Linderer tried to convince Cox to go out on this medevac, but he yelled back “I’m okay, get somebody else out!” Souza looked like a goner, so the two men strapped him to the penetrator, and he was raised through the trees. Walkabout told Cox that he was going out on the next bird.

“Dozer jacked another round in his shotgun and shouted back that he wasn’t going until he ran out of shells. ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘I ain’t hit so bad!’ I screamed back at him, ‘Riley, you fuckin’ bullshit artist! You’re goin’.’ He flashed back a big grin. I knew he wasn’t going.”12


The Cobras continued to swarm over the hillside, providing cover for the 5 remaining living men on the ground. Eklund was doing everything he could possibly do to get help to his men. The next series of medevacs would be onsite in another 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, Burnell’s team had been ‘laying dog’ in their own AO five klicks away. They were anxious to get back to their LZ so they could lend support to Team 24. The SOP was that when one team made contact, the other would go to ground and stay concealed for the duration. Listening to the disaster on the radio was torture for Burnell’s LRPs. Larry Chambers, a member of Burnell’s team, described as best he could what the men of his team were feeling; listening to the ongoing firefight:

“Contreros had been Burnell’s best friend. The loss showed on his face. He dropped the towel he had draped around his neck. He sat against a tree staring into the radio’s handset, a look of shock and utter disblief on his face.

…We all felt totally helpless. The anger and frustration was clearly visible on the faces of my teammates, who stood waiting, wanting to do something – anything to help our comrades."13


Earlier Burnell had radioed Eklund and offered to take his team overland to aid the firefight. They’d been told to sit tight, but now after the explosion they were told to get back to the LZ where they’d be picked up and reinserted as a reaction force for Team 24. While they were racing back toward their LZ, they were told to go to ground again because a reaction force was already on its way, but then it wasn’t and Burnell’s team was up and running again toward the LZ. The frustration of the chaos was infecting more than just a few of the men. “There was plenty of grief, plenty of worry, plenty of misery, and plenty of anger at the division for pulling support from teams in the field and not getting back when they needed it,” said Kenn Miller, one of Burnell's men.14

Meanwhile, Meacham and Grant arrived back at Camp Eagle. They had radioed ahead for 16 men to be ready for a hastily formed reaction force mission to go save their fellow Rangers. The LRPs and their support personnel had been worriedly monitoring the contact on the FM radio back at camp and jumped at the chance to help.




Meacham described the sight in his book, Lest We Forget:

“People were milling all over the hillside between the helipad and the tents. None of them seemed to be wearing any standard uniform, if you could accuse them of being in uniform at all: some were wearing civilian shorts and tiger-striped shirts, others were not even wearing shirts…However, they all had two things in common. One: they all had weapons. And two: they all had their load-bearing equipment harnesses.”


Grant remembered it similarly:

“The whole company had turned out. They didn’t look like LRPs, the faces weren’t painted. They weren’t all dressed in tiger stripes. Some wore flower-power cammys. Some wore tigers. Some were hardly dressed at all...Tony “Ti Ti” Tercero wore army issue, olive-drab boxer shorts and shower shoes. Of course, he had his weapon, LBE, and several bandoliers of ammo. He obviously didn’t want to be overdressed for the occasion. It wasn’t just LRPs either; the company clerk, Tim Long was there; the supply sergeant, Phil Mueller, was there and ready to go. It was one thing to fight hard when things got hot, but these guys were climbing over each other to go on a ten-minute flight into hell.” 15


Next: To Save Our Brothers


____________________________
1Interview with Riley Cox, 07/02/05
2 Interview with Jim Bacon, 7/7/05
3 Linderer, Gary, The Eyes of the Eagle, pg. 184.
4 Interview with Jim Bacon, 07/05/05.
5Meacham, Bill, Lest We Forget, pg. 288.
6A description of McGuire rigs and a photo are available in Chapter 3.
7Interview with Riley Cox, 7/02/05. When asked how he could focus enough to keep firing in the face of these injuries, Cox simply said that his brothers needed him to.
8Interview with Ken Eklund, 07/07/05.
9A compact device somewhat resembling an anchor, attached to the winch cable of a rescue helicopter and used for extracting a person from dense vegetation or other extreme terrain conditions; also called "forest penetrator".
10Eyes of the Eagle.
11From a letter written by Eklund in support of Cox’s nomination for the Medal of Honor. Eklund went on to mention that “Years later he [Cox] told me this act bothered him as much as anything he was forced to do. Potential instant castration was not an option he wanted to consider.”
12Linderer, Gary, The Eyes of the Eagle, pg. 189.
13Chambers, Larry. Recondo, pg 64.
14Miller, Kenn, Six Silent Men, Book Two, pg. 257.
15Grant, W.T., Wings of the Eagle, pg. 241.

Chapter 5: To Save Our Brothers

Written by Heidi Thiess and Kit Jarrell


Back at Camp Eagle, a madhouse was swirling on the landing pad. The men had been listening to the situation on the radio, and were armed and waiting for Grant and Meacham’s choppers to land. Before the choppers’ skids were completely grounded waiting LRPs rushed the two aircraft. In their eagerness to get back into the bush to help their LRP brothers, the reaction team members fought each other to squeeze into the choppers. Despite the dire situation on the hill, the pilots were amused to see that the first few men into the choppers were pushed right back out the other side as more and more men shoved their way into the slicks.

“I couldn’t help but laugh as the first four guys who got onto the aircraft on the left side were right out on the other side by the weight of those behind them. And there was no way they could fight their way back on board. There was one hell of a free-for-all going on [back] there.”1

Some of the would-be rescuers were in civilian clothes because they had finished their tour and were going home that day or the next. A few were injured and had a cast on an arm or a leg. But the brotherhood of F/58th was such that no one, not even the clerks and cooks, wanted to be left behind on this rescue mission.

“Tony Tercero was due to leave for home the next morning. He was wearing OD boxer shorts and his web gear. On his feet were a pair of flip-flop shower shoes. This guy had to be nuts. I looked him square in the face and yelled for him to get off the aircraft. He smiled, then pointed his M-16 right between my eyes and said, ‘You just take off’’ Well, shit! His argument was more persuasive than mine.”2


The helicopters were usually restricted to carrying their crew and loads of six men and their gear, and they strained to take off with almost a double load of men. Meacham counted 11 in his chopper and Grant carried 12. The pilots instructed the men to get out fast on the LZ because the enemy contact was heavy. When the two choppers, filled with an ad-hoc volunteer reaction force, approached the LZ for their insertion they could see the last medevac hovering over the injured team. It was taking heavy fire from the NVA on the ground and the Cobra gunships were swarming furiously trying to cover the unarmed medevac.

CPT Eklund had now called in six pairs of F-4 Phantoms which were firing up the surrounding ridgeline. The NVA had seemingly multiplied their forces and the knoll was swarming with activity. The LRP reaction force was inserted at the only LZ in the area, about 150 meters down the ridgeline from the injured LRPs. The ridgeline was scoured by napalm from the F-4s and the LZ didn’t even look like the same place where John Sours had broken his ankles while jumping from the chopper the day before. The ridgeline had been cleared by the Cobra assaults and the incoming 105 artillery.

SGT Tim Coleman was one of the men on the hastily thrown together reaction force. “Something came over me [when the chopper carrying him flew over the battle site],” Coleman said. “Holy shit – it was just wrong! Something was really wrong.” He said he saw NVA everywhere; “like ants on a cake”. In his estimation there were at least two reinforced NVA companies or a battalion down there.3 SGT John Reid, a doorgunner on Grant’s chopper, stated that he witnessed hundreds of NVA soldiers and also saw muzzle flashes from crew-served weapons on the ground.4 The LRPs in the choppers leapt from the skids and immediately dropped into a defensive perimeter. Tony Tercero, an experienced Sp4, took charge of the motley crew by default, though there were NCOs of higher rank. Tercero remembers that no one argued or pulled rank and everyone did their job like a well-seasoned LRP team.




"[Everyone] was very focused," said Tercero. "Even though for some of these guys it was the only action they’d ever see, they were the best team I ever commanded.”

After the choppers cleared the LZ, Tercero and Coleman started leading the reaction force up the hill toward what remained of Team 24. As they charged up the hill, they saw NVA running down the hill and past them. “If it wasn’t scary as shit it might’ve been funny,” said Tercero. “That was more NVA than I had ever seen at one time. They had completely surrounded the knoll.”


The closer the reaction force got to their fallen brothers, the more images of death and destruction surrounded them, giving the men a sense of urgency to help their still-battling comrades. The impromptu rescue force had to run over dead NVA and lost their footing in the blood and human remains.5 Coleman, who later transferred to the Green Berets, said that he’d never seen anything like what he saw on that hill. “It was the worst shit in ‘Nam,” he said. When they reached the remaining men of Team 24, Tercero called it a “bloodbath; everyone was shot up”.

Linderer, who thought for sure he was a dead man, remembered his relief and excitement when he saw the American soldiers cresting the hilltop: “Then we saw them. They were LRPs! Damn! They were LRPs from F Company! Our buddies had come to get us out. By God, when we couldn’t rely on anybody else, we could still count on each other.” 6


After making sure the rest of the reaction force secured the hill, Tercero radioed the CO to let him know they were on site, and there were still Team 24 LRPs alive. Then, he took the pants off of a nearby dead NVA soldier and wadded them up to use as a make-shift bandage to hold in Cox’s guts. Several more LRPs poured into the perimeter and delivered the news that the Cavalry had finally sent their reaction force, about 25 “blues” who refused to come out of the LZ into the mess on the hill.

Soon after, a medevac hovered overhead and lowered a jungle penetrator. Tercero and Coleman man-handled Cox over to the penetrator, ignoring his noisy arguments. Once he was safely onboard, the medics decided to get him back to the hospital in Phu Bai immediately, without waiting for any of the other wounded – his wounds were critical. The next medevac picked up Bacon and Czepurny. Linderer and Walkabout were on the last medevac. The reaction force continued to hold the hill, and Cobras poured suppressive fire down the hill to protect the vulnerable dust-offs. The NVA had tried hard to decimate the LRP team and bring down a few of the choppers, but now there was chaos, and only sporadic fire harassed the LRPs on top of the knoll. Cobras chased incoming NVA in the north and east.

Once the injured men of Team 24 were air-lifted to safety. Tercero, Coleman, and the others medevac’d the six fellow LRPs who had been wounded in the storming of the hill. Meacham then brought his aircraft in low to retrieve the sack of intelligence items Team 24 had stripped from their ambush earlier that morning. He dropped the intel off at the division helipad, and he and Grant went to refuel. They still had the reaction force and the “blues” to extract that night.



Back at the hilltop, one last chopper remained to pull out the bodies of Reiff, Clifton, and Heringhausen. They would not be left behind.

Next: The Legacy of 20 November 1968


________________________________________________

1 Meacham, Bill. Lest We Forget, pg. 292.
2 Interview with Tim Coleman, 07/05/05.
3 Interview with John Reid, 07/02/05.
4 Interview with Tony Tercero, 07/05/05.
5 Interviews with Tony Tercero and Tim Coleman.

Chapter 6: The Legacy of 20 Nov


Written by Kit Jarrell and Heidi Thiess



Unbelievably, the late-arriving “blues” from the 2/17th Cavalry were extracted before the LRP reaction force, and it was well past dark when the remaining seventeen LRPs guided in their own extraction choppers. It was easy for the pilots to find the general area in the dark since the gunships were still making runs but the final approach needed to be marked. Since their race into the jungle had precluded a thorough mission supply of equipment, they had no strobes or flares with which to guide in Meacham and Grant’s choppers. Tony Tercero and a few others improvised with their Zippo cigarette lighters. "[I]t was amazing how well the flame of that lighter showed up," said Meacham in his book. "The only problem was that if you held a lighter for very long, it got hotter than hell!”

Gary Linderer described what it meant for the battered team to see the faces of their fellow LRPs.

“My heart was full of gratitude for the men of the reaction force who had come to our rescue. The pride I felt about being a LRP grew tenfold. How could anyone not admire those men who volunteered without a moment’s hesitation to walk into a hornet’s nest to save their fellow LRPs. They risked their lives for us. Thank God none of them had to pay the maximum price for their courage. I loved those guys, and knew that I would owe them everything for the rest of my life. It was debt that I would never be able to repay. They honored our creed – LRPs don’t leave LRPs behind!”1


The F/58th LRP company, so tight for a year, was broken apart by death, damage, and attrition. Their brigade had entered Vietnam in December of ‘67, and by December of ’68 most of the experienced LRPs were dead, wounded, or returning to the States; their in-country tour over. Following 20 November, they didn’t have enough experienced leadership to field more than three or four teams in the bush at one time.

The heavy losses of Team 24 marked the worst loss their company had experienced in Vietnam. In one day, F/58th had become one of the most highly decorated units in 101st Airborne Division history; but none of that mattered to the men grieving for their lost friends. Their miraculous rescue at the hand of their own fellow LRPs filled them with fierce pride for their brotherhood but also a contradictory guilt for having survived an impossible situation when their friends had not. All of them believed that none of them were meant to survive.

Gary Linderer himself would take the self-imposed blame for the death of his best friend, Terry Clifton; a burden he still carries to this day. Riley Cox sometimes thinks he should have done more and told me not to write about him, even though he has gone through 35 major surgeries in the years following his defense on the hill. Billy Walkabout never quite emotionally made it back at all.

Steve Czepurny was new in the unit; the only person's name he knew was the team leader, SGT Al Contreros. Czepurny has chosen not to participate in unit reunions but the other men still remember him as someone who hung in there and kept fighting against incredible odds. SGT John Sours, the member of Team 24 that was evacuated early after breaking his ankles on insertion, carried a load of guilt that most of us cannot even fathom for not being there when the team was hit. Jim Bacon lives a quiet life in the Midwest. Frank Souza recovered from his injuries as well, and works as a massage therapist on the West Coast. Jim Venable, the first man hit by enemy fire, died in a plane crash a few years ago.

Albert Contreros, Michael Reiff, Art Heringhausen, and Terry Clifton were honored in a memorial service by the men of F/58th at Camp Eagle in December of 1968.

Eight men from Team 24 outlasted the enemy in the jungles of Vietnam. Gone were the bullets, the land mines, the grenades and the unbearable heat. From the day each member of Team 24 left Vietnam until today, they persist with guilt for not being able to save a fallen comrade, the same battle they fought over 30 years ago playing like a movie in their minds and images of all the perils of war ever-present in their thoughts. The guilt that soldiers feel cannot be explained by those who have not seen the same conflict nor can it be described adequately. It is unreasonable for heroes to feel guilt or self-doubt, but that has not stopped the soldiers of Team 24 from these feelings even while sitting in their homes watching television or eating dinner with their family.


We all should recognize it as a sacrifice that the few makes for the majority. It is a sacrifice we should all be ever thankful for the few who make it and we should cherish our heroes as just that; they are heroes and deserve recognition.

Through our many conversations with the heroes of 20 November 1968, none of them ever said they were a hero and in fact changed subjects when their medals or awards were mentioned. They are selfless and extraordinary in their own right. How does a living hero who went through what they did not think they at least in some way acted heroic? How does a man who fought while his intestines were spilling out of his body tremble over the phone describing how he feels he let his other team members perish?

Sadly though for the men of Team 24, the perils of war are not just being replayed in their minds. Perhaps the uglier side of the war for Team 24 surfaced in 1996 when accusations were thrown like hand grenades used to be. Gone is the recognizable enemy of an NVA soldier and gone is the threat of one's life. They are now fighting for their dignity and peace of mind.

Next: The Accusations

_____________________

1 Linderer, Gary. The Eyes of the Eagle pg. 192
2 Linderer, Gary. The Eyes of the Eagle pg. 203

Chapter 7: The Accusations, Part 1

Written by Kit Jarrell and Heidi Thiess

In June of 2005, Operation Homecoming USA took place in Branson, MO. It was the homecoming event that Vietnam veterans all over America had never gotten. Parades, air shows, a golf tournament, and a week of simply being in the company of others who had shared the same experiences. For thousands of veterans it was healing that had taken almost 40 years to come.

Financed partly by multi-millionaire and former Presidential candidate Ross Perot, Operation Homecoming USA was the brainchild of Gary Linderer. He had lived out of a suitcase for two years, shuttling back and forth between his home south of St. Louis and the event site in Branson. Linderer's wife quit her job and took a position helping Linderer work on his vision. The event took shape and promised to be something incredible for tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who deserved to be honored as heroes. However, a shadow would fall on the event in the form of accusations against Linderer, all having to do with one day long ago on a Vietnam trail.

On February 15, 2005 an email went out to “Operation Homecoming USA board members, entertainers and celebrities appearing at the event, the media, Internet sites, and to various veterans,”1 stating that the men of Team 24, and Gary Linderer specifically, had targeted unarmed female rice porters in their ambush instead of the NVA nurses and staff officer that the team claimed. The email to the above addresses pertaining to Operation Homecoming had been written by Annette Hall, the wife of Vietnam veteran Donald C. Hall. Don Hall had served as a team leader with F/51st, another Long Range Patrol unit that operated near Saigon, almost 650 miles south of Camp Eagle and Team 24’s ill-fated mission.

The email, later posted on the Halls’ website, outlined the Halls’ strong belief that Linderer and Team 24 had purposefully targeted unarmed female rice porters after letting 30 Viet Cong go past them throughout the night. According to the Halls, Team 24 was afraid of the dark and did not want to engage the enemy. Although the people involved with Operation Homecoming had not heard anything of these accusations before, to Linderer and his fellow LRPs, this was just another attack by the Halls; one of many in the last 9 years.

The Halls cite an Army document called a DA-1594 as proof of their claims, which is a Duty Officer’s Radio Log that ideally chronicles a summary of the radio traffic reported to division level. The Halls believe that the 1594s refute the version of November 20th told by the survivors and expose a cover-up by the LRP team.

The next few articles in our series will deal with some of the accusations one by one.


a. The Ambush


1. Allegation: The Halls believe that the mission of Team 24 was not to find an enemy base camp, but to kill 30 VC that had been “terrorizing” a “nearby village.” From the Operation Homecoming email, Annette Hall stated: "The 101st Airborne Division sent out two 12-man Long Range Patrol 'heavy teams' to locate and ambush the 30 VC."

Also from the Halls' website:


The ambush of the small group of "armed" "NVA staff officers and nurses" on the morning of 20 November 1968 was actually an ambush in broad daylight on a group of unarmed female rice porters from a nearby village, all of whom were killed, though according to their books, one of the women took awhile to die. The night before, according to their books, Linderer and the rest of the 12-main[sic] "heavy team" of Lurps (LRPs) of which he was a part, had let the 30 VC who had been their primary objective go by unmolested. Instead, the next day, Linderer's 12-man team ambushed the rice-carrying women.


The Halls claim Page 2 of the 1594 log for 20 November 1968, entered at 10:00 am, confirms this as the mission objective.

"G2 recd msg fr 1st Bde[1st Brigade] stating: At 2400 [midnight] to 0400H vic [in the vicinity of] An Nong 1 YD 918093 & An Nong 3 YD 933106 in Loc Bon village[village name and coordinates], info came from village chief to A Co [Alpha Company] that 30 VC [Viet Cong] last night came through loc [location] above. Primary purpose was to collect money, but would accept rice instead. They came fr [from] south and returned south.”



The first notable point is the time. According to the entry above, chiefs from the village of Loc Bon had come to the 1st Brigade to complain that some "VC" soldiers had visited their village "last night" demanding money or rice. Team 24's mission, as relayed to them on the 18th, was to find the large enemy forces in the area and there is no record anywhere of their mission being altered after insertion. They received the warning order for their mission on November 18th and were inserted on the early evening of the 19th. At midnight on 20 November 1968, Team 24 had already been laying in the jungle with an injured Sgt John Sours for over 6 hours between two large forces of NVA.

According to our research, these villages were also not located near the ambush site. Without exception, every veteran we spoke with who worked in that area (both from F/58th and other unrelated units) stated that there were no villages left. U.S. Army maps confirm that all villages in the Ruong Ruong Valley at that time had been long since abandoned and moved to the east side of Highway 1, a major thoroughfare. The coordinates of the village in question are 22 kilometers north and 10 kilometers west from the place where Team 24 ambushed the enemy. In order for the rice carrying detail mentioned above to have encountered the LRPs in the jungle, they would have had to travel approximately 27 kilometers on foot in half a day’s time through craggy and mountainous terrain in a straight line.

Another notable point is that these villages were only 4 kilometers east southeast of Camp Eagle in the rear. The Halls do not explain why 2d Brigade would send twelve men 27 kilometers away to deal with a problem that was only 4 kilometers away. The team was also inserted to the southwest; in the opposite direction.

The message in the 1594 also came from 1st Brigade, which was not the Brigade that F/58th was attached to. The LRPs of F/58th, though part of the 101st Airborne Division, came under the operational control (OPCON) of the 2d Squadron, 17th Cavalry. According to the report, the village chiefs spoke with someone from Alpha Company within the 1st Brigade. The LRPs of Team 24 were from Foxtrot Company, 58th Infantry, under the 2d Brigade.

2. Allegation: The reason Team 24 did not blow their ambush is because they were afraid of the NVA and the dark.

Although there is nothing in the 1594s to support this particular contention, several emails and notes written by the Halls offer reasons why Team 24 did not engage the enemy during the night. The reasons range from outright cowardice to the fact that Contreros was due to go home soon.

SGT Alberto Contreros was, by all accounts, an excellent soldier. He was an honor graduate of both MACV Recondo School and stateside Recondo School. More importantly, he was described by his commanding officer and fellow soldiers as “bold”, “gung-ho” and “motivated” In fact, some describe him as “medal-hungry”. Originally from Cuba, Contreros’ dream was to return to his former homeland and liberate it from Fidel Castro, according to the men who served with him. Several veterans have told us that Contreros was one of two people in the unit (the other being SSG Richard Burnell) who seemed to enjoy combat. There is no evidence, written or otherwise, to suggest that Contreros would have shirked his duty to engage if the situation had been conducive, and as the Team Leader, it was Contreros' call to engage.

However, Team 24 had been inserted into an area that was literally crawling with NVA. There were 12 soldiers on the team and Sours was already injured. The NVA were aware the team was on the ground and sent small units down the trail followed by larger ones in an attempt to draw the team into an ambush they could not get out of. To the team, engaging a much larger force at night with a member of the team unable to walk was not a prudent course of action. The ambush was blown soon after Sours was extracted the next morning.

3. Allegation:

From an email to these authors from Annette Hall dated 4 July 2005:

[Don] believes the 5 female and 4 male rice porters that the team ambushed on 20 November were young villagers transporting rice to the VC to fulfill the demands made by the group of VC who had been terrorizing the local villages demanding rice and/or money. He cannot say absolutely whether or not there were VC or NVA in the group or not.


According to every single veteran we spoke with, the entire area that the LRPs worked in was occupied by North Vietnamese Army regulars, not the Viet Cong troops that could be found in the southern provinces. In late 1968, after the Tet Offensive the NVA troops had literally poured in through the North Vietnam border according to military intelligence. Of the many veterans from different units that we spoke to unrelated to F/58th, such as the Delta Raiders that operated out of LZ Sally, they all state emphatically that they never saw or engaged a VC soldier in their entire time in the field.

“In my whole year over there, I never fought VC,” said Gene Robertson, a platoon sergeant with the 2nd platoon, Delta Company, 501st Airborne. “I fought NVA.”

According to the U.S. Army at the time, the area west and south of the city of Hue extending all the way to the Laotian border and north to the North Vietnam border was a free-fire zone. This vast area was home to thousands of NVA soldiers who moved frequently between mobile base camps. A free-fire zone meant that there were no friendly forces in the area; including civilians or innocent villagers. Anyone encountered by LRP teams in the area were legitimate enemy targets.

“The entire AO (area of operations) was a hostile area,” said Chuck Leshikar, platoon leader for the 3rd Platoon. “There was no civilization within 9 miles; no civilians and no villages.”

Jerry Head, another member of 2nd Platoon, agrees. “Even if they were women, they had no business being on that trail. I’d have shot them.”

According to members of Special Forces units unrelated to B-36 or F/58th that we consulted, as well as sources knowledgeable on Vietnam and its history, actual “rice porters” in northern South Vietnam traveled in groups of 20-50 and were usually accompanied by an equal-sized group of ammunition porters. Rice porters carried 50 pound bags of rice or the metric equivalent and were slow moving. They were heavily guarded by NVA troops who went along with them as security. A standard ratio was 30-40 porters for 70-100 NVA troops. According to the 1594s for Nov 23, the 1st platoon of D/501 found only 20 pounds of rice in a tube at the ambush site; assumed to be daily rations for the medical team the men ambushed. This confirms what the men of Team 24 remember seeing on the bodies.

3. Accusation: The .45-caliber pistols found on the females were “in all probability” planted by the team, and were in actuality the weapons carried by the two M-60 gunners and their assistants.

From a taped conversation between Don Hall and these authors dated 3 Jun 05:

Don Hall: Now, if you’re on an ambush in a LRP team, on the flanks of the ambush, you have 2 M60 machine guns that cover the flanks and the M60 machine gunner and his assistant who carries ammo for him. That’s a total of 4 .45 pistols that the Americans setting up the ambush carried. The VC normally carried the North Vietnamese, Chinese 9mm pistols most of the time.

Heidi Thiess: Are you implying that there were no weapons captured?

Don Hall: More than likely, yes.


Hall’s belief that the 45s came from the M-60 gunners and their assistants is apparently a new speculation that has evolved over the last three years. In an email dated 8 June 2003 and sent to 37 people within the veteran community, Hall derides the LRP team for not having one.

"Keep in mind, that this team DID NOT have even one M-60 machinegun in support of themselves on this date of 20 Nov. 1968 as they claim," Hall writes. "RED FLAG, RIGHT?"

In Don’s own book, I Served, on pg. 124, he states that “the M16, while a good weapon, is not suitable to LRRP operations as is the CAR-15 because it is too long and catches in the brush.” The M16 was approximately 9 lbs, and 40” long – the M60 was 23 lbs and 44” long – a significantly larger weapon. The ammo came in 250 and 500 round belts, and were significantly heavier also. The M60 gunner usually had at least one, possibly two assistants, also carrying heavy belts of extra ammo. Two M60s would eat up six personnel – on a small, fast, moving LRP team, in difficult mountain/jungle terrain - unwieldy, unlikely and more trouble than it was worth.

As Hall was evidently aware at the time, the LRPs of F/58th rarely if ever took M60s on missions and did not have one on the mission of 20 Nov 1968. The mountainous and wild jungle terrain did not provide the required fields of fire for a weapon of that weight and power and were incredibly hard to carry in that type of situation. F/58th personnel also did not carry .45-caliber pistols at all. The unit only had one and it was assigned to the payroll officer, according to one veteran of F/58th.

Three of the four females in the ambushed party carried .45-caliber pistols. One of these females had her firearm concealed in her rucksack along with her medical supplies. CPT Eklund stated that there was an intelligence report of a field hospital in the vicinity.

In an email to the authors dated 4 July 05, Annette Hall explains her theory that the party ambushed was not a threat to the team.

Don cannot say whether or not there were any actual VC or NVA with the rice-porter detail, but even if there were, he says that since the group was made up of five females (according to the DA1594) and the group carried only two .45 caliber pistols (according to the DA1594), they offered little actual threat to a heavy team of 12 fully armed Lurps waiting in ambush. And, it was broad daylight, so the team should have been able to see what visible arms the group of rice porters was carrying and what sort of threat, if any, they presented. If no weapons were visible, why did they blow the ambush? Even if two of the group had been brandishing their 45's, would that have made them so formidable that the Lurps' first action would have been to blow all their claymores on the group? Linderer says in his books that one of the 45's was found in the bottom of one of the female's rucksacks. How much of a legitimate threat could they have possibly been?




According to our research, the ‘assessment of threat’ was a foregone conclusion by the U.S. Army, who had ruled the entire area a free-fire zone. In a phone call on 21 July, Hall stated to these authors that "a braver man would have stepped on that trail and taken those people prisoner instead of just blowing claymores on them." The Halls’ contention that Team 24 blew an ambush instead of taking the party prisoner to “ascertain what kind of threat they actually posed” demonstrates a misunderstanding of the mission of a hunter/killer team.

This photo of the ambush site was provided to us by Jerry Head, a member of the 2nd Platoon, D/501. His unit was inserted in this area on the basis of the intel Team 24 had recovered in their ambush. Out of respect for the dead, we have blurred the bodies of the enemy soldiers caught in the LRPs claymore mines.

The unnamed soldier from D/501 is standing at the break of the trail, and to the soldier's left is the ridgeline. The bodies are laid out in a row down the trail. To the right and above the trail are the ambush positions where the team laid no more than 10 feet from the enemy soldiers as they passed. Further right is the knoll where they fought for their lives.

4. Accusation: The team sat around for over an hour trying to decide how to explain that they just killed unarmed rice porters.

The Halls claim that the hour spent at the ambush site was for the purpose of creating a cover story that would explain the LRPs apparent murder of unarmed civilians. As evidenced above, those killed were not civilians but rather NVA, they were armed and the area was a free-fire zone.

According to CPT Eklund, their commanding officer, the men remained in the area to wait for a chopper that would bring a reaction force. The team was instructed to meet the reaction force and board the choppers where they would be re-armed and reinserted in Burnell’s area of operations five klicks away. Team 24 had one LZ and could not move far. No cover-up story was necessary because the LRPs had executed their mission as a hunter/killer team.

In Hall’s own book, I Served, he describes a mission in Chapter 14 wherein a LRP Team 24 (and the CO was “Six”, just like F/58th’s Team) was spotted by an enemy soldier “about 9 or 10 years old” who came with 2 feet of the team and escaped unharmed. They knew the Team was in trouble because the enemy would report their position and draw the VC “like flies looking for a turd”. Indeed, in Don’s version of events, Team 24 did not quickly move off site, but instead set up a “tight perimeter” and was eventually surrounded by “what was estimated to be an NVA company”. He describes a 2-hour firefight, incoming artillery, claymores blown on “gooks” and the eventual successful extraction of Team 24. Hall does not say whether the threat was "properly ascertained" or if the taking of prisoners was considered.

Back in the rear, when asked by Maj Maus, F/51st's commander, why the Team didn’t move to the LZ after being compromised , the team leader said he” didn’t want to lead them to the landing zone and be caught waiting for the slicks”. “Excellent decision," Major Maus acknowledged. The situations seem quite similar, but for whatever reason, the actions of F/58th's Team 24 are worthy of ridicule and the actions of Hall's own team are not.

5. Accusation: One of the females “took a while to die”.

The Halls cite the 1594, page 2, item 17, which states in part:

8 VC were killed outright, one was captured but was seriously wounded. This VC later died after attempt to evac him was made. No friendly cas.


The female that survived the initial claymore blast was horrifically wounded. She died within 3 minutes. There was no attempt to evacuate this female according to CPT Eklund.

The Halls claim that the 1594s are a perfect and accurate account of all action within the division. However, in one of the many errors, the 1594 gives the gender of this NVA soldier as male. In this instance, the Halls themselves disagree with what the 1594 says. In Annette Hall's email, she says the wounded soldier was female.


6. Accusation: Linderer blew his claymore without the team leader’s signal.

In the 4 July email, Annette Hall writes:

Don believes that Gary Linderer blew his claymore, thus initiating the ambush, and did so without the team leader's signal. Don believes that Linderer blew his claymore as soon as the rice porters came into view, without first giving the team leader the chance to ascertain just what kind of actual threat the group of rice porters presented to the fully loaded 12-man Lurp team, and whether or not they were a valid target. In Don's LRP outfit, the team leader was the one who was authorized to initiate an ambush, not team members, not unless the team leader was dead. If he were dead, then then[sic] assistant team leader would take over command decisions. It was always the team leader who popped the first claymore and the team followed suit.


In all the documentation provided by the Halls, there was no evidence that confirmed that Linderer blew his claymore without a signal by the team leader. In our research, we found that in this case the team leader gave a predetermined signal by snapping his fingers. Upon this signal, all members of the team blew their claymores at the same time. This was confirmed by Riley Cox, Gary Linderer and other members of Team 24.


7. Accusation: Team 24 did not at any time during the day, engage a force larger than a reinforced enemy squad.

As previously noted in Don’s Book, Chapter 14, it is most likely that a large number of NVA are drawn to a compromised team. It is highly improbable, with as many NVA units as were reported in this area, the ambush would go unnoted except by a small squad.

Note: It is unlikely that 6 pairs of F-4 Phantoms flew multiple sorties, and at least that many Cobras spent six hours bombing and strafing the area for only one “squad” of NVA. Everyone at and over the battlesite could see that there were hundreds (CPT Eklund estimated considerably more) of NVA soldiers that had converged on the battle zone. All eyewitness accounts, both from the ground and the air support the estimate of a battalion-sized enemy force.

CPT Ken Eklund, Commander, F/58th: “Intel indicated there were two regiments and one sapper battalion in this direct vicinity. There were approximately 15,000-20,000 ‘gooks’ in the Ruong Ruong/Ashau area.”

SP4 Tony Tercero, leader of the reaction force: “More ‘gooks’ than I have ever seen. They completely surrounded the knoll…When we ran up the hill, there were at least a hundred NVA running down the hill…I never saw so many dinks face to face.”

SP4 Tim Coleman, member of the reaction force: “The NVA looked like ants on a cake. There were at least two reinforced rifle companies or a battalion on that hill.”

SP4 John Reid, door gunner for WO2 Grant’s chopper: "I distinctly remember, as we took the last of the reaction force out AFTER DARK, the crew of the aircraft overhead, telling us on the radio that they could see the muzzle flashes of over two hundred weapons firing at us, some of them big crew served guns."


Gene Robertson, Platoon Sergeant , 2d Plt, Delta Raiders: “There was a heck of a force in the [ambush] area…We came across many enemy fighting positions, spider holes, and the like.” The Delta Raiders found a vegetable garden in the area. “We knew we were in the area of many enemies,” he said.

The Nov 1968 MACV Battle Summary, on page 34, details graves found containing 55 enemy soldiers killed by air strikes and artillery.

CPT Eklund directed six pairs of F-4 Phantom fighter jets in defense of the LRP team.

On 20 Nov, the US Air Force Daily Summary states that 31 jet sorties were flown in support of Operation Nevada Eagle, of which this mission was a part.

The MACV Order of Battle for both September and October 1968 showed the 4th NVA Infantry Regiment moving south through 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne’s area of operation.

Intelligence for the month of November, 1968 at 101st Airborne level indicated the additional presence of the 5th NVA Regiment. After 20 Nov, intelligence indicated that the executive officer was killed in that area during that timeframe.

Multiple members of the reaction force plainly stated that they had a difficult time getting to the team at the top of the hill due to the carnage of bodies and body parts that littered the knoll. They specifically describe slipping in the copious amounts of blood. Captain Eklund described a wide swath of blood on the side of the hill in front of Riley Cox, who the other men credit with singlehandedly keeping the NVA in front of him at bay while Linderer and Walkabout tried to get the wounded off the hill even while he tried desperately to hold his own intestines in.


8. Accusation: The team leader called in artillery on the team, causing the explosion.

- Al Contreros was an acknowledged expert in artillery.
- We investigated the possibility of an artillery round falling short. However, based on the position of the firebases lending artillery support and the trajectory (or gun line) of incoming rounds, any rounds falling short would not have reached the team at all.
- There were multiple aircraft in the immediate airspace directly overhead and around the team at the time of the explosion. CPT Eklund states that artillery ceased at least 15 minutes before the explosion. However, in order for a Cobra rocket to have hit the team, the gunship would have had to turn almost vertical on its nose.
- Based on the experiences of LRPs on the ground and the medic from Burnell’s team, the shrapnel was consistent with a Chinese Communist (CHICOM) 40-pound claymore mine.


Next: More Accusations.


_______________
1 From the website the Halls made to outline their accusations against Linderer.

Chapter 8: The Accusations, Part 2

Written by Kit Jarrell and Heidi Thiess

It is important to note that the reason these authors investigated this story at all is because on June 3rd we were contacted by Don and Annette Hall, who were looking for military blogs to post their allegations against Gary Linderer. We were one of quite a few blogs that were sent the information. The refutation of their accusations comes after nearly two months of full-time research. We believe the results stand on their own.

1. Accusation: Don Hall states in an email dated 04/02/2003 and sent to Peter Schinkle of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (provided to us by the Halls):

"...Gary Linderer was never MACV Recondo School qualified. Gary arrived in Vietnam a Pfc. and left a Specialist Fourth Class. These guys, over the years, have had remarks and are jealous that I made Staff Sergeant (SSG) E-6 and was promoted by General Fred Weyand. I was the first young E-6 that the Army promoted at 19."


We are in possession of Gary Linderer's orders promoting him to E-4 on 3 November 1968, and E-5 on 10 February 1969. He had been scheduled to attend MACV Recondo School on November 23rd. Unfortunately, when it came time for him to attend the school, Linderer was in the hospital recovering from his multiple wounds after the battle on the hill. Hall has claimed that Linderer was not "jump qualified", referring to him as a "leg", a derogatory name for non-Airborne personnel. We are in possession of Linderer's certificate stating he graduated from Airborne School in April of 1968.


2. Accusation: Don Hall casts doubt on the medals earned by Linderer, citing a Freedom of Information Act request that Hall filed to obtain copies of Linderer's military records. In his request to the National Personnel Records Center, Hall listed the reason for his inquiry into another veteran's records as "Research for a book and documentary about the unit in which this individual allegedly served. Need verification of service and awards." He also used Linderer's social security number on the form, which Linderer had not provided to him. It is not clear how Hall obtained this private information, and no such project to write a book or film a documentary on F/58th has yet been produced by the Halls in the nearly five years since.

The awards listing Hall received did not mention the two Purple Hearts Linderer claimed to have. Hall states that this proves he was never awarded them. Indeed, he ridicules the idea that a battle of any magnitude happened at all. From the Operation Homecoming email written by Annette Hall:

"He claims to have won 2 Purple Hearts for the wounds he suffered that day—one Purple Heart for a wound to one leg and another Purple Heart for a wound to his other leg. He explains winning two Silver Stars using the same type of reasoning, i.e., one as a result of the ambush by his team of the small group of "NVA and VC" and another for the battle they supposedly fought later that day with the 200+ NVA and VC. The records do not back up any of this. He has no Purple Hearts, for that day's combat, or for any other combat wounds."

The Halls not only question the authenticity of the medals Linderer claims to have received, they state that he is a "Purple Heart pretender and prevaricator extraordinaire". In the same email to these authors Annette states:

I'd like to tell you a story about a man who is not so honorable, and who is making a living out of misrepresenting his war record in Vietnam. If Gary Linderer, the president and co-organizer of Operation Homecoming USA, is allowed to continue misleading people by faking his military record, he'll give a bad example to our present-day military..."


Don Hall has said numerous times in emails and by phone to these authors that if in fact Gary Linderer was awarded two Purple Hearts for the same day's combat then he is the first in Army history.

We are in possession of two Purple Heart certificates, dated 21 November 1968 and 15 December 1968. Both certificates are for "wounds received in action on 20 November 1968 in the Republic of Vietnam." The LA Times ran a story about two Marines in Fallujah that are in line to receive multiple Purple Hearts for wounds received November 12, 2004. This is one of several examples we found. Linderer may not be the first to receive two Purple Hearts in one day, and he certainly isn't the last.

3. Accusation: Linderer's claim that he extended in the Army for 2 months so his wife could have their child at the end of his enlistment in 1970 is false. Hall claims that Linderer "doesn't have a child that old and the Army does not allow extensions on enlistments. Period."

On Linderer's DD214, it states that he extended voluntarily for a two-month period. We are in possession of the birth certificate of Linderer's son, who was born in October of 1970. Linderer was released from active duty two months later in December, 1970.

The issue of medals and awards are a subject several times in Don Hall's book, I Served. He describes an incident wherein his platoon leader stresses that he wants to see "more citations written up...I have yet to see any applications for Army medals. Half of you have been hit by shrapnel or have been burned by claymores out on patrols, but you have to go to the aid station and have the doctor record your wound. No matter how slight it is, it's a Purple Heart."

Upon his end of tour, Hall recalled his pride in his own citations: "I excitedly placed in their proper locations all my awarded ribbons and medals, some of which I had to purchase at the PX." He then chewed out a hospital captain who "obviously intimidated by the uniform I was wearing, nervously glanced at the polished brass, ribbons, and citations."

Don Hall's awards and citations:

National Defense Service Ribbon
Vietnam Service Medal
Parachute Badge
Combat Infantryman Badge
Bronze Star Medal w/ Device


Gary Linderer's awards and citations:


Silver Star
Purple Heart (2)
Combat Infantryman Badge w/ 2 OS Bars
Bronze Star w/ Valor Device
Bronze Star
Vietnam Service Medal w/ 4 Bronze Service Stars
Vietnam Campaign Medal w/ Device
Army Commendation w/ Valor Device
Army Conduct w/ 1 Oak Leaf Cluster
Parachute Badge
Air Medal
Expert w/ M16
Sharpshooter w/ M14
National Defense Service Ribbon

Note: To date, Gary Linderer has never worn his awards or citations.

4. Accusation: In July of 1968, then-commanding officer of the F/58th, CPT Shepard, was injured outside his tent by a small explosion. The Halls allege Linderer stated under oath that if he knew who was responsible for what the Halls claim is a 'fragging', he would not reveal that information.

Annette states in her 4 July email to these authors:


It is NOT Don's contention that Linderer is personally responsible for the fragging of Capt. Shepard. Linderer was CQ at the time of the incident, so he may, or may not, have had some negligence in it, but that doesn't mean he was responsible for what happened. Don does not know if, and has never said, that Linderer was personally responsible. Don cannot say whether or not Linderer actually knew who did it. Only Linderer can answer that question. Don's issue with Linderer is that Linderer says that even if he KNEW who did it, he wouldn't tell, not even in a court of law.


Contrary to what Annette wrote, Don Hall himself stated on 2 February 2005 in an email to Larry Bailey, from Vietnam Vets For the Truth, that Linderer and his unit lied to the CID about their involvement.


You think fragging officer (planting a toe-popper mine in front of his tent), lying to the CID about it and getting away with it are good things?



Sp4 John Reid, a member of the F/58th, commented on this incident at Wizbang after Kevin Aylward posted the Halls' accusations:

I reported into F-58th LRRPS right after that "incident" when the CID(Crimminal Investigation Division) was still conducting it's [sic] investigation. It was never proved that it was a "fragging". I defy Mr Hall to prove otherwise. The CO's tent was off by itself, had a distinctive shape and was located close to the outer perimeter of Camp Eagle, the 101st base camp. The head of the division reconaissance unit would have made an attractive target for an enemy that did penetrate our defences [sic] and kill our personnel.

A few of the youngsters in our company did spread a rumour that the CO was fragged in order to create an image for themselves. Foolish in hindsight but not criminal. I would be interested to know if Cpt Shepard ever received a Purple Heart for his wounds. The only official action the US Army took was to order a heavy duty inner perimeter placed around the LRRP compound and order that no local civilian personnel were to be employed inside that wire. As I remember it the CID investigation revealed that the only personnel seen near the CO's tent the day of the attack were Vietnamese civilian employees who may have placed the explosive.


The Halls insinuate that Linderer would not reveal the identity of those involved in the possible fragging incident even if under oath in court, and cite Linderer's statement in a deposition conducted during a lawsuit that the Halls brought against Linderer in 2001. However, the actual quote from that deposition is somewhat different than the Halls' portrayal.

Question [by Don Hall's attorney]: And no one found out who actually did this?

Answer [by Linderer]: No, and if I knew I wouldn't tell you, but I don't know. I have no idea.


The attorney went on to press Linderer, asking if he would report a fellow LRP who had committed a war crime. Linderer stated that it would be hard to do so in this hypothetical situation, and explained the closeness of the brotherhood between men who serve together in combat.

The Criminal Investigation Division (CID) interviewed everyone in the company and made no arrests, nor was any type of punishment recommended against any member of F/58th. In their report, the CID bureaucrats stated that in their opinion, "40% of the men in the company were psychotic. Another 40% of the men suffered from delusions of grandeur. The remainder were merely criminally insane."

Linderer related in his book that the men of F/58th thought that was great. "My God, they did understand us! And we had thought that they just didn't like us very much."

Note: In Hall's own book, I Served, he mentions 'fragging' officers several times, at one point thinking that "perhaps I was looking at the real enemy here." "Finally, the fucking brass gets shot at. That's what we need - more officeers getting shot at..." "'Here's the leader of this zoo! Fuck a bunch of generals!' I said, patting the plastic barrel cover of my M-16....Fighting the urge to lift up my M-16 and spray [the generals'] tent with death..." He also describes with admiration a scene wherein the company is formed up to witness the physical beating of Major Zummo at the hands of their 'Top' [1st Sergeant]. CID also investigated his unit for an alleged 'fragging' wherein an officer was wounded.

5. Accusation: The Halls claim that Linderer and other men from the F/58th have threatened his life and the lives of his family. Hall calls these men "a bunch of punk thugs", "goons", and other terms.

While the men of F/58th are not happy about the accusations being made against them, there is no evidence to suggest that they have personally threatened Don Hall, Annette Hall, or the Halls' daughter. The leads that the Halls offered us failed to yield any evidence, as the people they asked us to contact to prove their claims had only secondhand information from the Halls themselves. The Halls claimed to have audio and video proof of threats and threatening behavior that were made both by Linderer and members of a Special Forces unit that Hall claims he trained with in Vietnam. When asked for the taped telephone call in which the Halls claim they were threatened by the Special Forces soldier, the Halls sent us a blank audio tape. The other party on the phone call provided us with a copy of the complete call, which had been recorded by Don Hall without permission or notification. In the call, there are no threats made toward Don Hall or his family. [Note: In this phone call, Don Hall does mention that in the past he worked for the FBI and DEA. According to the other party, FBI records show that the only "Donald Hall" they had in their employ was in 1960, when Don Hall would have been 12 years old.]

The video of Linderer and his "thugs" intimidating and threatening Annette Hall physically was also never provided to us. The Halls claimed first that they had perhaps misplaced it and later claimed that one of their prior attorneys must have kept it. We attempted to contact the person who the Halls claimed shot the video but were unable to reach him. No one else we contacted on behalf of the Halls had knowledge of the video tape's existence. However, multiple witnesses told us that the events described by the Halls did not occur.

In all actuality, the only threats that we were able to uncover between Don Hall and F/58th members were made by Don Hall himself. These threats are listed in email after email, in varying tones and levels of severity.

In an email to Gary Linderer on 7 February 2005: "You have bumped heads with a man the likes of which you have never met in your entire life, fatso...I will pick the time and the place and you…. Well, you’ll see. How’s Barbara and your only son?" Linderer replied, "Thanks, Donald." Hall's next email stated "Heading your way, fatso."

To Gary Linderer on February 4, 2005: "We'll see exactly how brave a fat man you are --- real soon fatso."

In an email to Ed Emanuel, a member of Hall's own unit who has come under fire for both supporting Linderer and for other issues arising with the Halls, yesterday on 28 July 2005: "Hey fat Black guy! Check it out: www.f58lrp.com You didn't show up in court today? Are you still hiding? Are you afraid to give me your address? I'll come to your address if you do..."

In another email to Ed Emanuel, dated June 26, 2005: "You are going to round that corner one day to check on your mail or heading to your golf course and I'm going to step in front of you. You have two quick decisions to make. Run way which I know you will or stand there and take it."

In an email to Joe Chiarella, a retired Special Forces medic recently returned from Iraq, on February 9, 2005: "You got a wife, Joe? You have a daughter, Joe? Where are they at? I have some PTSD friends that I could “share” your wife’s name with who would like to call them." Hall goes on to say, "Who is you [sic] Company Commander? Who is [sic] Battalion Commander and their phone numbers, please? Where are you stationed and what is your phone number? Joe, you are in the Army so, LET’S ROLL, KIDDOl[sic]"

We are in possession of hundreds of emails from the last 9 years that are much like this. Hall uses racial slurs such as "spearchucker", "spic", and more when referring to his fellow vets. In the above email, Hall references www.f58lrp.com, which Annette purchased in February of 2002 and holds until 2006. Anyone visiting a site that, from its domain name, would be expected to be about F/58th LRP, 101st Airborne Division may be surprised to find that the entire site is dedicated to the Halls' accusations about Gary Linderer and the other brave men who served in his unit.

Other Inconsistencies

1. The Halls sent us an email that they claimed was from Kenn Miller, a member of F/58th who was on SSG Burnell's team during the battle of 20 November 1968. In it, Kenn appears to be bragging about "hacking" into another person's computer. The Halls claimed that this showed what kind of people Linderer associated with.


-----Original Message-----

From: Kenn Miller [mailto:xxxx@earthlink.net]
Sent: Tuesday, June 8, 2003 01:57 AM
To: Don C. Hall
Subject: computers
Cc:


Donny Boy,

We know what the men in your own unit are talking about. We hacked into your
rep. Bob Edward's home computer. That's right--- Donny Boy.

We know all that is going on and what you are writing.
We have the complete low-down on your pathetic and reckless ways.
You're a dumb bunch of computer illiterates. They don't have a skirt
to hide behind like you. Must be nice for--- a skirt to set your computer with a firewall
but we'll get into that. On our list---- Donny Boy.

Clueless in Seattle. Your own men don't like you.
[...]
You will never get any book deal, and that's fact.

You and your skirt are-- BLACKLISTED.

Kenn



Readers are asked to note that June 8, 2003, the date listed on the email that Kenn Miller allegedly sent, was a Sunday, not a Tuesday. This was apparently an oversight on the part of whoever created the email.

2. The Halls claim on Wizbang that they contacted the commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division, General Melvin Zais. From their comment on Wizbang:

Don tried to get him to answer some questions a few years ago, but he refused to cooperate. When Don tried to contact him again, the phone number had been disconnected.


These authors suggest that the reason General Zais "refused to cooperate" is because he had been dead for over two decades, having passed away due to cancer in the late 1970s.

3. In the email to Operation Homecoming personnel in 2005, Annette Hall claims that she and her husband support the event.

A welcome-home event for Vietnam veterans is a wonderful idea (my husband Don was a combat soldier in Vietnam from 1967-68), but if one of the main organizers has a background that if brought to the public eye would bring extremely negative attention on the event as a whole, and by association, on the Operation Homecoming organization, on its board of directors, on its entertainers and celebrities, and on the Branson community as a whole, I think they are entitled to that information.


However, in the February 7 email to Linderer, Don Hall has a different perspective where he mentions the city of Branson, MO as a potential target for a lawsuit:

Think what I could do to you and everyone connected to you? The City of Branson, Wishcamper and all his old law firm buddies and current ones, your fellow authors, Random House and I am not going to let you know who else, but they’re not going to be all too happy with you when they get the papers. You want to go that route? Knock yourself out because that’s what I want you to do. If we could pay out a half million bucks for a documentary and still live very comfortable think what I could do to you if I wanted too. Branson and the E&E insurance would pay me well, plus my attorney fees and the PR we’d get from it all. I want you to sue me. PLEASE DO!


There are several other instances like this which we have omitted for the sake of brevity.

During his ongoing email campaign against Gary Linderer in 2003, a Gold Star Mother Advocate chided Don Hall for his accusations against Gary Linderer and the men of the 75th Ranger Regiment Association:



"You sir came back from your war. My son and many others did not. It is not the number of kills or medals that are the value of real Rangers. Their legacies are so much more than that. Be grateful for what you have and find a way to be of better service to yourself and others. What you are doing now is not something to be proud of."






We leave you with the following quotes from the Halls:

Don Hall: "I kick ass with the facts and the documentation."

Annette Hall: "Read the documentation about Mr. Linderer and decide for yourself who is telling the truth."

Indeed.




Quick Links:
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Ambush in the Ruong Ruong
Chapter 3: The Firefight
Chapter 4: The Absence of All Hope
Chapter 5: To Save Our Brothers
Chapter 6: The Legacy of 20 November 1968
Chapter 7: The Accusations, Pt. 1
Chapter 8: The Accusations, Pt. 2
_____________________________________

Next: Why would a fellow LRP bring accusations of murder and falsehood against his brothers? Why would someone wish to threaten not just the heroes of F/58th, but anyone who supports them? We have the answer.