All Vietnam vets remember the sound of
the rotor blades of a Huey Helicopter. They made a very distinct “wop-wop-wop-wop”
sound, it went through the air: “wop-wop-wop-wop”. Every morning, every evening, a chopper
would fly in and bring in breakfast or bring in dinner, you got people wounded
and you had to have a medevac. That sound of the chopper
blades is unforgettable. I can forget a lot of things about life
but I wont forget the feel, the sense, the smell, the look of LZ-XRAY. (Col. Tony Nadal)
I was born in Fort Benning, Georgia. My dad was an army officer, a West Point
graduate, but both he and my mom were born and raised in Puerto Rico.
He was one of the first Puerto Ricans ever to attend West Point.
The only thing I can ever remember wanting to do, was go to West Point
and be an army officer. I mean, I had no second thoughts.
My first duty station when I was commissioned and after I finished Airborne Ranger,
the basic course, I was assigned to Germany where I spent three and a half years in Munich.
As my tour of duty was about to finish I started hearing little rumblings.
We had special forces units in Laos. I always felt my duty was to move to the sound
of the guns, so I immediately volunteered for special forces. (Lyndon Johnson)
I have today ordered to Vietnam the Airmobile Division, and certain other
forces which will raise our fighting strength from 75,000 to 125,000 men,
almost immediately. Our Commander gets called by the Brigade
Commander and says: the Division has intelligence that says there
may be something up in this big ridge called Chu Pong Mountain
and it’s covered with heavy jungle. He said: we don’t know what’s there
but we think that there may be some activity, so we want you to take your battalion
and go check that out. We get on the helicopter and we fly
over the area, looking for a place big enough to land, that’s how we found
LZ-XRAY. We only have 8 helicopters, Hueys in those days
could only lift about 6 troops at a time, so, 8 x 6 is 48.
So every lift could only bring in 48 guys, so to get the battalion in there took
a couple of hours. Well we’re flying in the helicopters.
It was all done fairly low level. The chopper paws got really down low.
And you’re going fast, it’s like being in a roller coaster.
It’s a fun ride. When we landed, recon had just captured
a prisoner. And I remember, scared little skinny kid. They interrogated him and asked him:
What are you doing here? “Well, we’re here to kill Americans.”
Where’s your unit? He points to the mountain, which is
200 yards away. So that changed the plan. The most essential thing we had to do was
secure the landing zone, not lose the landing zone. Colonel Moore quickly realized that
for us it was gonna be a battle of survival. I immediately sent my first platoon
to take up the corner where the creek bed ran up into the mountain.
I started hearing rifle fire from that platoon and the enemy
starts coming in from that mountain. As soon as the last platoon landed I run down
and I start hearing machine gun fire and I run into the platoon Sargent, who is
lying on the grass, and I said: Where is Lieutenant Taft,
who was a platoon leader. And he says:
Lieutenant Taft is dead, sir. I had told my soldiers, as Hal Moore had,
that we’re not gonna leave anyone behind. So, myself and my Communications Sargent,
went forward as the fight is going on and I find Taft, but I also find another soldier
and he’s shot in the gut. Because of the heat of the moment
or whatever my mind said, we have to go get Lieutenant Taft.
So I grab Lieutenant Taft and I bring him back, but knowing
that I have to go back a second time, cause I have to bring back the other soldier.
And again, under fire, we go forward, and this time they’re throwing hand grenades
at us. We get the soldier back and the crescendo of the fight starts building up
and at that point we’re defending the creek bed, and a corner.
The enemy is coming down of Chu Pong mountain
in large numbers and running right in front of my rifle,
and we’re killing a lot of them. But during that period, B company
has a platoon that gets cut off. Hal Moore calls me on the radio and says:
we have to go out and get that platoon. I didn’t have good vibes about that.
My troops had been fighting now, pretty hard and they were tired.
For the first time ever they had the experience of seeing their
friends killed and wounded, and I thought they needed a boost.
I gave them a little pep talk about, you know, we have a platoon on B company,
they’re your friends, your buddies, we have to go out and get them.
And they responded wonderfully: Yeah, let’s go!
So, I got up on the edge of the creek bed, said “follow me” and I led the assault.
I was the first guy out. I was ready to give my life for my soldiers.
I had gone 50 meters or something, talking to my artillery forward observer,
Lieutenant Tim Blake, and he had a compass on a strap across his chest,
and I saw that compass explode, and Tim Blake drops dead.
On his side, he had a radio operator, he drops dead, on my side I had
Sargent Jack Gell, who’s a friend, he drops dead, and myself and
John Clarke, who’s standing behind me as my other radio operator, unscathed.
I always said that the machine gun hiccuped, because the “boom-boom… boom.”
We couldn’t see the enemy, if the enemy could see us.
I needed some way of hiding our movement. On my radio I called for them
to fire smoke. Unbeknownst to me, only thing we had was white phosphorous.
If phosphorous gets on you, it’ll burn right through your skin, and when I saw
that stuff go off in front of me, I thought: I’ve killed my rifle company.
I can tell you, that was the first time in the battle that I felt fear.
Fortunately, it landed and it went it made this huge, thick, dense cloud
of smoke, and we stayed out there until all my guys were back. On day number 3, word comes out,
we have to evacuate because Air Force, they’re gonna come in and they’re gonna
drop bombs all along the side of that mountain. I really hadn’t slept for two days.
The reason I’m sitting there looking at the AK is because I didn’t have enough energy
to do much anything else. We flew out and then we went to Pleiku,
just kinda the start of the recovery period. I feel the loss of all my soldiers.
When you get through all the bravado and whatever and so forth,
what you’re left with is anguish. But I have found help, and the help is:
the soldiers who fought at LZ-XRAY have been gathering together for the last
22 years and we have annual reunions where we have gotten very close.
We know each other’s families and that is a major healing event,
for not only me but for the other guys. It’s important to remember the quality of
service of these people. We took soldiers with us that had 14 days
left in the country. And several of them died there.
They sacrificed their life, not for a cause, because the fact of the matter is that
most of them didn’t give a rat’s ass whether South Vietnam was
liberated or not liberated. They were there because they were told
to go there and it was an expectation, that when your country calls, you go.