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Posts Tagged ‘3/187th’

I still vividly remeber the first time I saw the Rakkasan’s symbol.  It was outside the battalion headquarters at Camp Evans.  I came around the corner of the building and saw it standing there.  It was in stark contrast to the olive drab, the Vietnam dirt and the gray brown wood of the buildings.  I pretty much stopped in my tracks and just looked the big red inverted arch.  I thought it looked asian, like Chinese writing.  I thought it odd that the 3/187th would have such a symbol.  I never took a picture of it.  I think it was becasue I hadn’t received a camera from home yet.  I do remember that it was big and solid, not some flimsy thing.  I vaguely remember a ring of rocks around it and the ground was well kept.  It felt like a shrine or somehting.  I probably asked a few people about it, but I don’t remember.

It wasn’t until years later that I really came to understand what it really means.  The symbol is actually a Tori.

I took the picture of this Rakkasan Tori at this years “Hamburger Hill” Reunion Ceremony, which was held at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 

Active duty soldier at the Rakkasan speakers poudium

Active duty soldier at the Rakkasan speakers poudium

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Huey taking off from fire base with troops, headed to an LZ in the jungle.

As my squad readied weapons and gear we were given final instructions by our squad leader, Sgt Dunn.  He told us that our squad would be one of the first ones to be dropped at the LZ, which the buzz was about it being “HOT”.  Sgt Dunn checked and made sure we had enough ammo, and that every man had ammo for Raines’ M-60.   He told us that we were to have our weapons at the ready and be prepared to return fire as the helicopters descended onto the LZ.  We were instructed to dismount from the helicopter quickly and move into position at the edge of the LZ to the right of any men already on the ground.  He stressed how important it was to return fire and secure the LZ as quickly as possible.  We knew we had to stay low to the ground and move to cover on perimeter of the LZ.

It wasn’t too long after we had been given our final instructions before we heard the rythmic thumping of the approaching Huey’s.  Everybody saddled up and checked their weapons one last time to make sure they were ready to “rock and roll”.  As each chopper touched down we loaded up and were airborne.  The helicopters trailed one after the other towards the LZ.  We sat in silent contemplation, myself thinking about what lay ahead for us.  The thought crossed my mind that our helicopter could get shoot down before we had a chance to unload, or maybe we would get shot up while we were still on board, or pinned down on the ground by hostile fire.  I wonder about who might get hit and hoped that one of them wasn’t me.  I looked around at my  friends as we rode high above the jungle, the cool wind buffeting us.  I could tell the were ready to go with their weapons at the ready and I some how felt better.

As we approached the LZ we were given the command to lock and load.  We readied our weapons and prepared to hit the ground running.  Our helicopter was one of the first to drop into the LZ.  I could see the ground rushing up toward us as our Huey made a quick descent into the clearing.  The clearing was big enough for a number of helicopters to drop their troops at once.  As the chopper ahead of us picked his spot to drop in our pilot picked a spot to the right rear of it.  I could see that the LZ was overgrown with brush and the wash of the helicopters blades was blowing it out and down in a circle.  I expcepted our helicopter to touch down, but the pilot stopped his descent about ten feet from the ground.  I looked down at the swirling brush and thought to myself, “There is no way I’m going to jump that far, the pilot needs to get closer to the ground.”  The I heard the door gunner yelling for us to hurry up and jump, that they wanted to get the hell out of there.  I hesitated another second or so and then with my feet on the skid I jumped to the ground.  I knew that with all the weight on my back the I needed to drop and roll.  I hit the ground and rolled over onto the right side of my pack.  Amazingly I didn’t break anything.  The rest of my squad was soon on the ground and moving to the perimeter of the clearing.

There wasn’t any enemy fire and all the helicopters made it in and out without incident.  Once we knew the area was clear we moved out toward our objective somewhere in the jungle.  Needless to say we were on high alert, wondering where the enemy could be and why they didn’t show at the LZ.

Maybe next time we won’t be so lucky.

I believe, Trautmann, Dunn, Schmitz, Crabtree, Crutts, Raines, Winder and Brown were all a part of this story.

Another air-assault into the jungles of Vietnam.

Usually when we were dropped at an LZ the pilots would touch the skids of the helicopters on the ground.  Occasionally we would be dropped at an LZ that was either covered with bushes and other large plants.  Or, on rare occasions the LZ would be consider “hot”.  An LZ was considered hot if it was known that there were enemy in the area and they could be laying in wait near the landing zone.  As the helicopters came in to the LZ the enemy would ambush the helicopters and troops as they unloaded. 

On one occasion we were told that we would be hitting an LZ that could be hot.  Our platoon was briefed by our platoon leader.  We were instructed that as soon our helicopter touched down on the LZ we needed to hit the ground running and fan out to establish a perimeter on the edge of the LZ.  We were told to be ready to return fire if we came under fire.

We talked among ourselves about what to expect and what we needed to do to secure the LZ.  We were all quite nervous about being fired upon while we were in the helicopters and while we were unloading and running for cover.

to be continued…

Jack Schmitz at one of the 101st Airborne fire-bases near the A Shau Valley
Jack Schmitz at one of the 101st Airborne fire-bases near the A Shau Valley

I took this picture of Jack Schmitz as he took a smoke break.  We were on a fire-base near the A Shau Valley.  I’m not sure which fire-base it was but there was trucks and heavy equipment there.  You can see one of the trucks in the back ground of this picture.  You can also see some of the hotches that we built.  You can also see the 101st Airborne patch on the shoulder of his fatigue top, as well as the cross on the chain around his neck.

I sent this picture along with some others to one of Jack’s good freinds in his home town.  Jack called me today and told me that his good friend, Frenchy, had enlarged and framed this picture of him and hung it in the local tavern that Jack frequents.   Jack said the picture had “Thank You” inscribed on it.  I was quite moved to know that Jack’s friend thought enough of Jack’s service in Vietnam to recognize him in this way.  I’m glad I took this picture of Jack.

We will always miss you Ralph.  You were a great friend and a true soldier.  You gave your life for your country 41 years ago today.   The Rakkasan’s commemorate your heroism and that of the other fallen Rakkasans on Hamburger Hill, at a formal ceremony at the pylon on the Ft Campbell army base.  Your name is engraved on the wall for all to see and know the you are not forgotten.

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