Lee Miracle, with Terry Bender
Several days before Christmas 1967, we were sent out on patrol. The main task was patrol, but we did lots of ambushing also. We were right in the middle of Monsoon season, and it was raining day and night. It would get so cold at night, that I could not sleep for the chattering of my teeth. The only cover we had was our pochos and liners.
We had been on patrol for several days, and everything we had was soaked beyond belief...soaked to the point where your skin begins to wrinkle. I was a machine gunner, and we were trying to keep our weapons clean in all the rain; we would take turns with the cleaning.
We had a very good Platoon Leader, Lt. Terry Bender. He had moved us to the top of a hill to setup for the night, as he felt that would be a good place. The hill had some big boulders on it and would give us some protection.
The hill overlooked a rice paddy that appeared to be one-half mile long from where we were to the other end. From our left, as you looked towards the rice paddy, was a steep hill that was covered with heavy woods. There was a wide trail that ran along the rice paddy and the bottom of the hill.
Lt. Bender had a policy that, whenever possible, he would always plot either mortars or artillery in the event we needed help during the night. Well this evening was no different; the Lt. had charted artillery since we were out of range for mortar support.
We split our platoon into the three squads and placed them around the perimeter so the hillside could be covered. Each squad would always decide where they felt an approach point would be, and that is where the machine gunner would setup. Then we would place the CP in the center of the secure area.
The guys started scrounging for food because, being out for several days, we were running real low on supplies. We were practically out of food, cigarettes, and ammo. On our last resupply, we were mistakenly sent tracer ammo for our machine guns.
We were so desparate that we would take the aluminum foil from the candy in the C Rations, place our wet cigarettes on it, and roll it back and forth while holding it over a heat tablet, hoping to dry them enough to smoke. We had more heat tabs than we had food.
All went well that night; we had dried enough cigarettes so that everybody could have a smoke before dark...nobody smoked after dark.
At daybreak the next morning, whoever was on guard at the time would wake everybody in the squad. As we got up that morning, in our water-soaked stupor, we did like all GIs...we took a leak, cleaned our weapons, and ate whatever there was for breakfast or drank a cup of coffee. Someone would always be on guard because you could never relax for a minute.
Just as we finished cleaning our weapons, our guard, on the side of the rice paddy, notified the CP that he thought he saw movement along the tree line at the other end of the rice paddy. Immediately everyone focused their attention on the site.
Shortly, a Vietnamese soldier stepped put of the tree line and just stood there looking around for awhile. He was waiting to see if he had been detected or if he could detect any enemy in the area. Apparently he felt that he was all alone, so he proceeded out of the wooded area and began walking along the trail that ran between the hillside and the rice paddy. He was walking point.
After he made his way into the open, there came another, and then another. Those soldiers just kept coming out of that tree line. We were just sitting there counting Vietnamese soldiers, but Lt. Bender was on the radio with Hdqtrs. deploying our backup support. He knew that we would need help with a group this big because we were almost out of ammo, except for the tracer rounds. We were still counting soldiers as they came out of the tree line.
Lt. Bender had arranged for the "Sharks" Gunships to hover behind the hill until he gave the order to open fire. Since we had so many tracer rounds, we were to pinpoint the targets for the gunships. Everyone else would open fire with their M-16s. At the same time, the gunships would come from behind the hill and zero in on the enemy. Once the gunships had finished, the artillery was supposed to take over and saturate the entire area, which was the hillside and the wooded area directly in front of us.
We were still counting soldiers coming out of the tree line, right at our postion. There were so many that they looked like ants lined up along the rice paddy. Our count was up to 111 soldiers when four guys came out of the tree line carrying something wrapped in canvas that was so big, it took all four of them to carry it. Well, this was enough, 115 Vietnamese soldiers heavily armed. Lt. Bender knew that we could wait no longer for some help.
Lt. Bender gave the order for the gunships to come on in; and, at the same time that they came over the hill, we all opened fire...all three machine guns, spitting out tracer rounds to mark the target, and everyone else firing their M-16s.
It sounded like ALL hell was breaking loose; I mean, here are 25 guys on the ground firing simultaneously, including three machine guns, and then the "Sharks" Gunships. Those babies are BAD NEWS for the enemy. Once that all started, the Vietnamese were trying to sprint up that wooded hillside.
As soon as the gunships had cleared the air space, Lt. Bender followed up with artillery. Those guys completely saturated that hillside. This seemed to last all day, but it was probably no more than an hour. When it was over, we could hardly see the rice paddy for all the smoke and fog mixed together.
Well, now we were in one heck of a mess...already short on ammo and now even shorter, out of food, and the choppers could not get back in to land and pick us up due to the weather. And, we could not move from our postion because it was open all around us. I know the Platoon Sgt. was expected to extend for another tour; but I heard him call Hdqtrs. and tell them to get his papers ready, that he was going home when we got in.
I think that Lt. Bender and our Platoon Sgt. must have threatened somebody's life. Here we were, several days without resupply, wet, cold, out of ammo; and we could not get any help. So, on our second day of being stranded, we finally got a chopper pilot to fly down the valley; and one of the crew kicked C Rations out the chopper door as they flew by. We sent a patrol down to dig the C Rations and a little ammo out of the rice paddy. At least we could finally eat and protect ourselves.
Now, I'll tell you, these were really scary times because the enemy knew where we were, but the terrain was so open that we could not move our position. We had the best there was to offer at the time. We were just stuck there until the weather broke.
Finally, late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the choppers were able to come in close enough to pick us up and get us out of there. Man, were we ever happy. Here it was Christmas Eve, and we were going in for Christmas. It was finally over.
We were on the choppers and heading back to LZ Thunder, when we had to make a detour. Bravo (B) Company was pinned down and could not get out. So, Fox Force gets the call to stop by and try to help Bravo out of a mess.
The choppers landed us about one-half mile from where Bravo Company was pinned down, and Lt. Bender had everybody drop their rucksacks He left three guys there to guard the equipment, and everyone else took all the ammo they could carry. We headed for the sound of gunfire.
On our way, running as hard as we could carrying ammo and weapons, we came upon a creek that looked to be only about five feet wide. It was a little hard jumping that far, carrying 1,000 rounds of ammo and a machine gun; so, I went in the water. But, I was not alone...there were other guys that could not make the jump either.
The bad news is, the creek was almost as deep as it was wide. Here we were, chest deep in a creek. We got out OK; but, as was the case with all those creeks, once you got out you were covered with leeches.
We finally got through this mess and came within eyesight of Bravo pinned down by snipers in a hooch. Lt. Bender got on the radio and called for artillery, moving us in under the fire of 8" guns. The whole time, he was on the radio walking and talking, charting the artillery as we walked. When I heard those rounds whistling in over our heads, I did not think this heart could take it. I said, "GOD, please don't let him screw up." Well, he didn't.
We got Bravo Company out of trouble, went back to where our rucksacks were, and got some choppers on in to LZ Thunder.
When we got to LZ Thunder, we had to stay in some abandoned artillery bunkers; but they had a roof, and they were dry inside. We even got to eat hot food from the mess hall. Some of the guys scrounged up some candles, and one of them bummed a guitar from someone stationed there. We all sat around candles that night, singing Christmas Carols.
There was supposed to be a ceasefire because my parents sent me copies of the newspaper articles saying so. The next day...Christmas Day, however, we were up and out at the crack of dawn, heading back to the field, eating Ham and Limas again. The Vietnamese had broken the so-called ceasefire. Hell, we already knew that.
With all that we had just been through, it was amazing that all these grown men sat in those hooches on Christmas Eve, around candles, singing Christmas Carols, knowing that GOD had saved our lives, again. It was made more glorious by the fact that we were of different color, but all Americans. Now, this is what America is all about.
Christmas sure has been lots nicer ever since that day, and I really do appreciate everything that GOD has given me, including my life. I hope and pray that everyone has a great Christmas, especially America's Vietnam Veterans.
Merry Christmas, Fox Force.
1st 14th. Inf., 3rd. Bgde, 4th. Div.
Fox Force Recon