Argonne and 1154
Written by Charles Lamb.

Alpha company was on Sparrow Hawk. The mission for that assignment was to go to the aid of some unit which was in need of help.
Of course for a Marine unit to ask for help meant that things were serious. dead serious.

Mostly we hung out in the company area, which meant tents that were located near the landing strip at Combat Base Vandergrift.
The accommodations were luxurious as far as we were concerned. The only problem was that the gooks would throw a rocket or two at the strip every once in a while.

We got the word one day that we were going out. We had just a short time to get our gear ready and be staged on the LZ for move. I think it took me five minutes to be ready.
A pack and weapon was all the baggage any of us had anyway. We were inserted in a jungle clearing which was quite a ways from our objective.
I can't remember at this point how long we humped through the jungle, but it was a long way. The brass didn't want the NVA to know we were coming.
WE had a plan and none of us were used to that.

We were headed for LZ Argonne. A small hilltop outpost on the Laotian border. The Marines there had been under virtual siege.
They were taking mortars every time a chopper tried to land. I say tried because they were flaring off and leaving because of the heavy mortars.
The remains of one that hadn't been so lucky sat on the LZ. It was a bad place.

When a chopper would approach the gooks would start tubing rounds. You couldn't here the round when it left the tube or on the way in because of the sound the rotors made.

I don't remember if we spent a night on that hill or not. It seems that we no sooner walked in through the wire and we were walking out the other side.
We headed down a finger into the jungle toward a big valley between Argonne and Hill 1154 which sat on the border of Laos.
I doubt that there was a man in the company who didn't believe we were walking straight into the shit. There is no doubt that I was a walking case of nerves.
No matter how many times you experience it you always question how you will act when it all hits the fan. It was about mid day and near the bottom of the hill when it all broke loose.
They didn't know we were coming and our point element walked right into their observation post.
The gooks opened up with automatic fire from their AK's and the point man went down. So did the second man back.

They quickly broke contact and hotfooted it off through the jungle. We didn't speed up, but we didn't slow down either. I was back in the formation when all hell broke loose.
My platoon was ordered forward. We moved up to the point element and then spread out to the right. We were going on line to sweep what would turn out to be a very large NVA bunker complex.

Second squads M-60 machine gun set up quickly and started firing. The A gunner was in the process of hooking up a belt to the teaser belt when a round from the gooks broke the link right in his hand.
He later showed me the broken links and an M-60 round with a bullet hole in it that he had "caught" in the palm of his hand. He stuffed it in his pocket and finished hooking up the belt.

The gunner had his head down over the gun and wasn't firing. The A gunner shook him but he was dead. It was a new guy on the gun and I don't remember his name.
The A gunner rolled him off the gun and got it into action again. The noise was overpowering. It was difficult to tell where the shooting was coming from in the heavy undergrowth.
Leaves and sticks were flying everywhere. Because of the heavy cover in front of me I had a buckshot round in the tube of my blooker.
I had no target or the faintest hint of where the firing was coming from. I expected to be ripped open at any moment.

As I moved from behind some brush an NVA soldier popped up out of a hole in the ground. He pointed his weapon in my direction.
I swung the short tube at hip level and snapped off a shot. I remember seeing small red dots appear on his face as he slumped back into the hole.

Soon I saw the first bunker. It was masterfully camouflaged. I couldn't believe I was seeing it. I could make out the barrel of a Chi Com machine gun sticking out of the aperture.
It was raking diagonally across our line firing constantly.

I sent an HE round toward the opening but missed. The round burst harmlessly just past the bunker. A second round was on the way as quick as I could. (Which was pretty damn quick!)
It went right through the aperture but did not explode. It was either a dud or I was inside the safety range of the round. They wouldn't go off inside 15 feet.
Something to do with a centrifugal safety to keep guys from blowing themselves up.
That machine gun had to be shut down and it needed to happen as soon as possible. I snatched a frag from my bag and pulled the pin.
The angle was bad to get it in the bunker from where I was so I rushed the aperture.

The plan was to let the spoon fly when I was half way there. Then at the last minute I would throw the frag in the aperture, turn and run like hell back up the hill.
It would have worked had my feet not come out from under me just as I threw the grenade. I went down hard and the frag was knocked out of my hand.
I looked at it for an instant and rolled over twice to get some distance from it. I just knew I had just killed myself. At that moment I was scared but remember feeling really stupid.

The blast when it went off rolled me over another time. There was a loud, high pitched ringing in my ears and I was stunned by the concussion. But I was untouched by the shrapnel.

The machine gun was still firing just a few feet from where I lay. I got to my feet and in a staggering run went back up the hill to where I had dropped my pack.
I was mad now and got out another frag. Back down the hill I went.

I actually ran up on top of the bunker this time and threw the grenade down between my legs into the bunker. I was running back up the hill looking over my shoulder
when the top blew off of the bunker and the machine gun stopped firing. At some point during all of this one of the new guys came scooting up to me. He had a jam in his M-16 and was scared bad.
I handed him my pistol and told him to get to his pack and get a cleaning rod to clear it. I also told him not to use it unless he had to. A little time went by before he returned.
He shoved the pistol in my face for me to take and as I snatched it from his hand he turned and ran down the line.
The .45 was fully cocked and later inspection would show that it had been fired several times. I don't have any idea what he had been shooting at behind us.

The gook bunkers were situated in the bottom of the valley and along the side we had come down. We were virtually among and almost right on top of them at times.
At one point one of the guys to my right got my attention. He had a bunker right in front of him but couldn't do anything with it. He wanted me to fire an HE round into the aperture.
It was awfully close to his position and I was worried about not getting the round in the aperture. I didn't want to miss and wound or kill one of my own guys.
He insisted with all kinds of gesturing so I fired one. It missed the hole. He got a small piece of shrapnel in his arm.
I fired another one and it went in the bunker. That settled that.

Time stood still that day in the valley. I don't know how long we fought. It was a long time. The Skipper called for arty at one point.
It was big stuff, 155's. They were shooting from somewhere back behind us and the rounds came in over our heads. A short round landed in our rear security which was the guys from our mortars section.
It messed up five or six guys and I think it killed them. It was a bad deal.

During all of this Skipper was hit in the side of the helmet with a bullet. It just stuck there, failing to penetrate the steel pot.
Skipper never missed a beat from what I was told and kept on giving directions.

One of the guys was hit in the center of the chest, but was wearing his M-16 magazines Poncho Villa style and the bullet hit where the magazines crossed.
It stopped in the second magazine. The force of the impact threw him off his feet. His chest was reddened from it but he was unhurt.

Finally a little green spotter plane came low through the valley and one of the guys in it was shooting out the window with a pistol.
Smoke had been popped at each end of our lines to let him know where the friendlies were. He dropped a smoke grenade and the little plane peeled out of there.

I knew what was coming and so did everyone else. I remember feeling relieved but I wasn't ready for what happened next.

The first Phantom showed up and he was almost right over the top of us. I new they were going to be close but I wasn't expecting them to be that close.
He was firing his cannons and the run was over in a couple of heart beats. Then his buddy came through doing the same thing. Gooks started running everywhere.
As they say it was all over but the shouting.

When the first bird came around he had his Bombay doors open. Oh shit! It was a "danger close" call.
We might get some of this on us and the Skipper knew it, but it was his call and they were going to lay it in.

If I remember right four bombs dropped out of the belly of that Phantom. They wobbled a little at first and then seemed to straighten out and darted toward the ground.
I covered up as best I could just knowing I was dead for sure. The ground shook when the bombs detonated.
I'd made it but I knew there was another bird coming in not far behind that one. Same plan, same results.

On their next pass I got an even bigger shock. What came tumbling out of that bird belly was any man's worst nightmare. Napalm!!
The heat from them reddened our skin and you could feel a rush of air going toward the rolling, boiling flames. Again the second bird came and repeated his brothers action.

It was truly over now. We began counting our losses and regrouping. Night was coming on and we had no time to search the bunker complex.

Skipper made the decision to pull back up the hill a little ways and set up for the night. It was the best plan for the situation.
We were all exhausted and there would be no getting the wounded out because of the approaching dark.

The company was still in the process of digging fighting holes for the night when some gooks sneaked up through the jungle and opened up on us.
It was probably more to distract us than any kind of attack. We took a couple of more casualties including the company Gunnery Sergeant.
He was in a real bad way and the decision was made to saddle up and get the hell out of there. We'd be moving in the dark.
That wasn't something we had ever done before.

The dead were wrapped in ponchos and tied to poles. Two men carried each one and there were a lot.
The wounded were assisted by there buddies and we headed up the trail in the dark.

I didn't have to help carry anyone that night but it was as eerie, morbid and sad as anything I had ever experienced.

We weren't very far up the trail when we heard the unmistakable drone of an airplane engine. It was Puff. Every third man was instructed to strike his Zippo. (We all had one.)
It didn't matter if it lit or not. Just the light from the flint sparking was enough to give Puff our position.

He dropped flares for us to light the trail and fired his mini guns into the jungle along our flanks. The sounds of the bullets cutting through the foliage was like the sound of rain.
Far above puff roared out his song and we felt safe under his watchful eye.

Finally we came up out of the jungle and into the perimeter of LZ Argonne. We would stay in the middle of the outpost. No standing watch that night.
I remember being full of nervous energy. I just wanted to be awake and soak up the safety of our position.

I went scrounging for something to eat and drink. There was nothing to be found and all of us were hungry and thirsty.

One by one my buddies and I went around to the different bunkers. The guys there were in bad shape. No food and no water. At least they weren't admitting to having any.

At one bunker I called in the doorway. I got a reply. When the Marine came to the door I asked if he had any C rats or water to spare.
He told me he didn't and then told me some of the story of the hill. Finally he asked if I wanted a smoke. I accepted his offer.
We were down in the hole leading to the door of the bunker when he extended his hand with a cigarette in it. In the dark I could just see the white shape of the cigarette
and took it from his hand. We came close together as he offered to light it for me.
The Zippo lit up the space between us for an instant--and in that instant--I recognized a boy I had gone to high school with and he recognized me.

We were both overjoyed to see someone we knew. Even under the circumstances. We visited for a while and he gave me a large green can of peaches he had been saving.
I shared it with the other members of the squad and it sure tasted good.

The next morning we went back down into the valley. I guess we were all expecting a repeat of the day before but we made it down there without any resistance.

It was apparent that we had done a lot of damage to the NVA unit that had been there. Weapons of every description were laying around everywhere.
They hadn't come back to carry anything away. They must have really been hurt.

We packed everything we could get our hands on up the opposite ridge. There were Chi Com grenades by the dozen, a few light machine guns, many AK-47's, rocket launchers and gook claymore mines.
Personal gear was there too. Belts and helmets knives and canteens. Not to mention shredded remnants of shirts and things.

Lots of stuff went on while we were up on 1154. Actually we were up there twice. The first time was with the captured weapons which were piled in a big bomb crater at blown all to hell.
One night while we were up there the listening post started calling in that they had movement sometime around midnight.

I was laying there in the dark just down the hill from the CP and could overhear the XO talking to them on the radio.
He thought that they were just scared and kept telling them no, they couldn't come back in. They were friends of mine. Three guys from my squad and I knew that they were scared.
But I also knew that it wasn't the reason they wanted to come in. If they said they had movement, then they had movement.
This went on for the better part of an hour when an explosion sounded down the finger in their direction. We started taking small arms fire and Chi Com frags along my side of the hill.

The LP came running in yelling and shooting behind them. But there were only two of them instead of three.
The gooks had gotten within a few feet of them in the dark before my guys opened up on them and beat it out of there.
Steve Althouse from Pennsylvania had been leading the LP and he took a five round burst in the back as they jumped to there feet to come in. He made it in, but was in pretty bad shape.
Bill, whose last name I don't remember, got hit on the top of the helmet with a grenade which exploded and knocked him to his knees, he made it in full of shrapnel.
The last man I don't remember the name of at all. He was hit by grenade explosion before he ever made it to his feet. We got together a detail when it was over and brought his body in.

The next morning at daylight a chopper came in to medivac the dead and wounded out. There was no place to land so they lowered a sling down and took them up that way.
I had a serious private talk with the XO and let him know what he could expect from me in the future. I was more than a little mad at him for getting my guys shot up.
He went back to the rear and didn't spend any time with us in the bush anymore.

We were able to call air strikes in on the mortar position that had been working over Argonne.
The silly little bastards did hit a Phantom with a 50 cal that they had there before the Phantom's buddy came around and laid fire on the hill and ended the whole party.

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