21 May 1968
By P. Brennan Toohey
In May 1968 Delta Company 3rd Recon Bn was stretched pretty thin. We had a lot of "NIC's" (New In Country), I was one of them. Our understanding was that a team was supposed to get a 5 'n' 5 rotation. Five days in the rear and five days on patrol. But we were getting 3 days in, 5 days out on patrol.
time in the rear area was scheduled as follows:
Day 1 & 2: Rest and Recuperation (R&R) for the team, from the heavy exertion necessary in the bush, stress, the lack of sleep, and food and water. A team was pretty beat up after a patrol.
Day 3: Warning order: Senior team members prepared and planned for the patrol, junior members went on work parties.
Day 4: Entire team packed, briefed by Patrol Leader (TL or PL) and practiced Immediate Action (IA) Drills.
Day 5: Team was inserted on Patrol for the 1st day of Patrolling.
With only 3 days in the rear a team would come in from patrol and immediately get a new a "Warning Order" for the next patrol, there was no "down time."
On 17 May 1968, second platoon was called together and told there was a warning order for a patrol south of Khe Shan. All the teams were out, so a team was being formed from everyone in the platoon that was able to go out. The mission was to Recon a 4-grid square area, 4,000 meters southeast of Khe Shan and 2,500 meters southwest of LZ Stud. A "Sting-Ray Mission", to report enemy activity and call in supporting fire as needed to suppress enemy activity in the and around the RZ.
The eight of us in second platoon who were available for patrol were a mixture of seasoned combat veterans, short timers, and NIC's. We made up the new 2D2, "Hungarian".
Gibson, was a seasoned Recon Marine, who was respected for his "Bush Sense".
He had not been a Patrol Leader long, but was a veteran of many patrols as Assistant
Patrol Leader (APL).
* HM3 "Doc" Rose, a Navy Corpsman, was a very respected member of the Recon family. He had also run APL. This patrol he would run as Corpsman / APL again.
*PFC W.D. Cox was a 5-month Recon veteran and had run primary radio on a number of patrols.
*PFC Galardo had 4 months in country. He was respected as a good "Bush Marine".
*PFC Joe Maschek and I had gone through much of our stateside training together and were close friends. We were assigned to Delta Company's 2nd platoon in early April 1968. We had 4 patrols each.
*PVT DeMott had arrived in country in late April and had one patrol.
*PVT Tracy had been assigned to Delta Company in mid-May, this was his first patrol.
of march as assigned by Cpl. Gibson was as follows:
1) Galardo: Point.
2) Toohey: Second Point / Rifleman.
3) Gibson: Patrol Leader/ M-79.
4) W.D. Cox: Primary Radio.
5) Rose: Corpsman / APL.
6) DeMott: Secondary Radio.
7) Maschek: Second Rear Point / Rifleman.
8) Tracy: Rear Point / Rifleman.
Approximately 10:30 hours, 20 May 1968, we were inserted by CH-46 Helicopters into a Landing Zone (LZ) in a valley, approximately 5,000 meters south of Khe Shan Combat Base and 3,500 meters southwest of LZ Stud. We were inserted about 300 meters south of our Recon Zone and would move to the northeast into the RZ. The terrain was a valley with 6-8 foot elephant grass and a steep jungle covered hill, creating the valley. The valley started in the mountains to the northeast and opened to the southwest down hill. We headed up hill in a northeasterly direction, making very slow progress in the thick elephant grass. There was no breeze and the humidity was almost as high as the temperature, near 100 for both.
By nightfall, we had moved about 600 meters and were now on the side of this steep jungle mountain covered with triple canopy. In our harbor site, each team member had a tree between his legs. We were spread out in the order of march, within arms reach of each other. Gibson chose a Harbor Site that was on a really steep part of the mountain. We were in the middle of the mountain, not near the bottom or the top of the ridge. This made the harbor sight a very secure position, especially with it being so dark. With the triple canopy, the night doesn't get any darker. I could hold my hand in front of my face and not see a thing. It was like having a blind fold on and then put in a dark room, no light, no shadows, and no visual sense. We could have heard them, if they came for us. Nothing of any consequence happened that night, just the normal sounds of the jungle.
Joe Maschek added, "I didn't get much sleep because 'some animal' was messing around in his hair nearly all night". I was so tired I didn't care what it was and just kept swatting it away.
We moved out before dawn. It was cooler and the animals and birds were very active. Their noise would help to cover our movement. This hill was really steep. Rocks and dirt would occasionally break loose and go crashing down the hill, making all kinds of noise. If we got hit, we had nowhere to go but back down the hill, and we were making a lot of noise for a Recon team. Pulling ourselves up the hill, tree by tree, we were not really in a position to defend ourselves. We crawled up the hill one man at a time, 3-5 feet until each could get a footing, then the next man would move. While one man moved the other seven crouched, watched, and listened for any sign of the enemy. When all eight of us had moved, then we listened a few minutes and then continued the caterpillar like move up the steep mountainside.
At about 13:30 hours, we reached the crest of the ridge which was about 20 meters wide with a bomb crater directly in front of us. We were all exhausted and we dropped into the crater for a break. We were so tired from the climb, heat, and humidity, that we didn't check the other side of the ridge.
I was sitting at the top edge of the crater facing down the hill, in plane sight. I had just opened a can of peaches and pound cake when we heard movement. We all froze. My weapon was leaning up against a tree, just with-in arms reach. I didn't want to reach for it for fear they would see the movement. I didn't even turn my head for fear they would see me. I watched them out of the corner of my eye. I remember thinking how I did not want to loose my peaches and pound cake to the bastards. There was 4-6 of them talking about 25-30 feet away. The leader, doing the talking and giving hand and arm signals, was about 6 feet tall and about 200 pounds. My immediate thought was he was a Chinese advisor.
Galardo and I were facing each other. We looked into each other's eyes and knew we were in a world of trouble. He was below me in the bomb crater. I kept moving my eyes back and forth between him and the NVA, looking to him for a lead on what to do. I could not see any of the rest of the team. I was between them and the enemy. Galardo remained completely motionless and so did I. Then 7 of them moved on up the trail with their weapons at sling arms. They were so close you could see the dirt in their ears. They then disappeared into the jungle. Thinking they did not see us and had moved on, I shoved the pound cake in my mouth and was pouring the peaches in when they opened up on us. They were very disciplined to walk right in front of us knowing we were there. They had split into two groups and we were in a bad crossfire. After the firing started, I remembered the big guy wasn't with the group who continued up the trail. They had split into two groups so they could flank us.
In an instant, I was at the bottom the crater with no weapon and the incoming fire was intense. I climbed back up to get my rifle, only now it was way out of arms reach. I scrambled out of the crater and back. If they had fired at me, the adrenaline was pumping so hard I didn't even know it. Back inside the crater, I started returning fire. My rifle jammed, I yelled, "I got a JAM!". Someone hollered back to take Galarado's weapon. I looked around and Galardo was face down with blood all over his head, apparently dead. I pulled the M-16 out from his hands and started returning fire. There didn't seem to be anything I could do for him and we needed all the out going fire we could deliver. The fire we were receiving was unbelievable. They had us really zeroed in. I was the left flank now that Galardo was down. He was behind and to my left.
I didn't know what was happening on the other side of the team as I was just concerned with returning fire and not letting them flank us. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw Galardo move. He wasn't dead as I originally thought. He had two grazing wounds. Apparently one grazed his left temple, which must have thrown his head back, and the other grazed his forehead. He had been knocked cold by the impact of the two rounds. If his head had not been thrown back, he would have been hit square between the eyes with the second round. He had to be the luckiest man in the world. I got a battle dressing out and wrapped his head, trying not to cover his eyes so he could see to fight.
I continued to fight, firing Galardo's M-16 and throwing hand grenades. One of the hand grenades hit a tree, ricocheted and bounced back towards the crater, about 5-10 feet in front of Joe Maschek. I yelled, "GRENADE!". Our out going fire stopped for just an instant, with the boom of the grenade, dirt showered over the entire team, but no one was hit with shrapnel.
fired on automatic at the bushes about 20 feet out on the left flank. An NVA
soldier bolted upright from the impact of the rounds hitting him. He had a real
surprised look on this face but he didn't yell when he fell over. I counted
him as my first confirmed kill.
I was so focused on what was happening on the left side that I did not know want was going on in the middle or the right side of the small perimeter we had in the bomb crater.
Joe Maschek recalls that DeMott had throw all his grenades and was trying to scrounge more from other team members. He was putting out a great deal of indirect fire with the grenades.
got the M-79 grenade launcher and started firing into the trees over the enemy's
head. Many of the 40mm grenades went through the trees and landed way down the
mountain on the other side of the ridge we were defending. The rounds had just
enough time to arm and some were exploding in the trees above the NVA. When
the 40mm "blooper" rounds hit a tree limb and exploded, it sent splintered
tree limbs and shrapnel raining down on them. The enemy fire slowed, then stopped
and they broke contact. I am sure Gibson's quick thinking of firing at the tree
limbs saved our hide.
When I checked on Galardo, I discovered he was in heavy shock. Doc Rose took a look at him. I didn't see what he was doing because I was too busy keeping an eye out for the counter attack we all expected. I heard that Tracy had been hit 7 or 8 times in the legs and was bleeding real bad; I think Doc Rose had applied tourniquets to slow the bleeding.
It seemed like forever, yet only in an instant and we had air support. The Huey gun ships were tearing up the approaches to our position. I was so NIC that I just did my rifleman job and left calling in support to Gibson and WD Cox, they did a great of a job.
was too small for a chopper to land and we could not move the wounded and defend
ourselves if we were hit again, and besides there was no place to go. A CH46
hovered overhead and lowered a harness. The two wounded, Tracy, and then Galardo
were winched up first, then Doc Rose to continue caring for them. Maschek was
next because the grenade that exploded in front of him screwed up his hearing
pretty bad. When the wounded were in the chopper, it left the area on the way
to Bravo Med to insure that Tracy and Galardo got much needed medical attention.
That left Gibson, WD Cox, DeMott and Toohey still around the crater. If need be, we could have gone over the side of the hill to escape and evade if they hit us again. Another '46 came in and hovered over our sight lowering its harness. I think DeMott was first up and then WD Cox leaving Gibson and me on the deck. Gibson told me he was going up next and he would be able to direct fire if it was needed. I said, "Okay, just don't forget me!". We both laughed.
We had not received any incoming fire since the gun ships came on station. Looking back now, I should have been a lot more scared being on the ground alone. I looked around and found some stuff left behind. A pack and cartridge belt, empty magazines, a bush cover, and a canteen. I collected them and policed up the area a little, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for any enemy and at the chopper over head. I also found blood from Tracy's wounds which had begun to draw flies. I kicked dirt over it to keep the flies off and so Charlie wouldn't know anyone was hit.
When I was in the harness going up, I could see the dead NVA lying around the area. I counted 5, and there were undoubtly more dead bodies in the jungle. I think we killed at least 5 with small arms fire and the M-79, because they were so close to the crater. The gun ships had to have killed or wounded a few more from the screaming that was going on while they were firing.
When I was in the harness being winched up to the chopper, I kept looking up and waving to the crew chief to get us out of the area. It was a long ride up just waiting for a sniper to pick me off while hanging in the harness. The chopper continued to hover over the crater. As my head broke through the 3-foot by 3-foot trap door in the floor of the '46, I yelled, "I'm the last one, get out of here!".
The crew chief pushed his helmet mike closer to his mouth and said a few words. The chopper peeled off with me still half in and half out of the trap door. I didn't care. All I wanted was to get away from the area ASAP.
Gibson and the Crew Chief helped me in. I sat on the floor with my feet hanging out of the chopper with a big grin on my face. I got out a canteen to try and wash the taste of fear out of my mouth. When I looked into the eyes of the Crew Chief, he looked as scared as we all felt. I handed him my canteen and he snapped it out of my hand and drained it. I got out another and finished it off. It felt great to be alive and in the safety of the chopper.
As the chopper flew us out of area, someone motioned for us to look out the left porthole on the chopper. We were about a mile away and the fixed wing were bombing the ridge we had just left. I saw a napalm bomb explode, sending a wall of flames up. I was very grateful I was not still on that ridge.
May 21st, 1968 is a day I will never forget.
Tracy and Galardo were medivaced back to CONUS and Joe Maschek was sent home in July '68 because of hearing loss due to the grenade explosion.
P. Brennan Toohey & Joe Maschek
August 5, 2002
above names and events are a true and complete account of the Patrol of 2D2
Hungarian on 21 May, 1968 to the best of our memory.