A Long Walk to Thuong Duc


Road to 52
Top Culverhouse on Road to Hill 52

Thursday, June 13, 1968

Rising with Sumo at 0400, I brewed coffee.  Reb doubled his production of doughnuts and prepped trays of biscuits.  Sumo improvised a creamy sausage gravy, and that was breakfast (doughnuts, biscuits with gravy, coffee and assorted canned juices).

The squad leader (Bart) from India Company was first in and first out of the mess hall; I joined him as I said goodbye to Sumo and Reb.  He helped me attach my rucksack to the sideboards of one of the Kilo battery trucks, and we headed down the road to Route 4.  The road sweep began, and the engineers led the way, followed by an Amtrac.  We spread out in increments of 10 yards and occasionally stopped to take a knee.  It was slow going.

The sun was rising to our backs, and the day-old full moon was sitting on Charlie Ridge, smiling down on us.  We reached the halfway point at 0900, where the engineers and Amtracs reversed direction.  The convoy moved slightly faster now, but it was still a slow pace.  The truck with my rucksack pulled alongside; Corporal Diaz was riding shotgun.  He recognized me and gave a thumbs up.  BOOOM!

There was a large explosion up ahead with automatic weapons fire.  It was an ambush, and our training taught us to move to the flanks and secure the area.  Diaz jumped out of the truck and moved 10 feet to my left side.  POP!  One round fired just ahead of us, and everyone opened fire.  A helmet rolled in front of me as I was laying prone and reloading.  It had a bullet hole, dead center.

I looked to my left — Diaz was face down, bleeding from his head.  I rolled over to him and removed the battle dressing from my helmet.  His forehead was bloody, but there was no wound; the blood was coming from the top of his head.  I pressed the dressing over the wound and tied it under his chin.  Bart was yelling, “Corpsman.”  There was no incoming fire.  I rolled Diaz onto his back and tried to sit him up.  He was conscious and said, “Bring me my guitar.”  A Corpsman arrived and opened a larger bandage, replacing mine.  We picked up Diaz and carried him to the truck . . . sitting him in the cab next to his guitar.

Bart came out of the bushes where the one shot had been fired.  He was dragging a dead body in black pajamas and dropped it on the shoulder of the road.  It was a young boy, about 12 years old.  Bart had the boy’s weapon, an M-1 carbine which was out of ammo.

The convoy moved on toward Hill 52, and as soon as we arrived, a medevac helicopter picked up Diaz and three other Marines.  It was 1130, and the plan was to move on to Thuong Duc at 1300.  We were issued C-rats, and I opened a can of fruit cocktail and slurped it down.

Ahead of us was a stretch of deep sandy beach.  It was next to a wide bend in the river.  A tank with a disabled track was in the center of the beach, and we had to pass it to get back on the solid road.

The convoy was ready to go, and a Captain (the convoy commander) pointed to us and said, “Move out!”  No one walked on the beach so I rode shotgun in Diaz’s place.  As soon as we started to move, mortars began hitting the beach near the tank; they came in threes.  We neared the tank, and three mortars landed as we held our breath.

Reaching the road, we were stopped again.  Bart said, “Take a knee.”  We waited as the mortars kept firing, and then a WP marked the mortar position.  A jet came in with a load of Napalm and lit up the mountain.  As a second A-4 completed the airstrike, the convoy was moving again.  I got out of the truck and walked.  One of the jets screamed over us heading toward Da Nang, and I saw the other swooping in at a low angle coming at us over Route 4.  Then in a steep climb, he spiraled in a victory roll.  During my three years at El Toro, I never saw anything like that!

We arrived at the Ha Tan airstrip which paralleled Route 4 in Thuong Duc.  The Kilo (-) guns were formidable on the runway.  I retrieved my rucksack and was assigned a plot of ground to dig a fighting hole.  It was 1600 once the convoy was secure, and everyone was caked in dust.

With no notice, it started pouring rain (a torrential downpour).  Corporal Shoemaker was in the back of a truck, stripped naked, soaping down in the rain.  Everyone in the battery was laughing as he scrubbed his hair and started to rinse . . . then the rain abruptly stopped.  Canteens were passed to him, and he managed to get most of the suds off his head.  It was a hilarious and memorable event.

Digging my fighting hole went quickly, and the runoff from the rain left my plot dry (it was on slightly higher ground).  The battery Gunny issued me a stack of sandbags and a box of C-rats.

Top Culverhouse and Captain Cavagnol were talking when I approached them.  I was carrying Diaz’s helmet and M-16 and asked, “Where should I put these?  They belonged to Diaz.”

No one knew Diaz was missing, and there was complete shock in everyone’s eyes as I recounted the story of him being shot.  The helmet with the hole was graphic evidence of how serious it was.  The Gunny took the M-16, attached a bayonet and stuck it in the ground.  The helmet was placed over the stock end, and we all knelt in silent prayer.  Diaz was our entertainer.  He played a sweet Mexican guitar Sunday afternoons during recreation time at the club.  His guitar was still in the cab of the truck.

Command Chronologies – Kilo 4/11 – June 1968

Next Edition:  Special Forces Camp A-109

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