Interview with PFC Steven D. Lopez (transcribed from copy of original)

 

TAPE #1115 - PFC STEVEN D. LOPEZ (A Co., 3d Recon Bn), "A recon Patrol near Khe Sanh"

 

Interview conducted 10 May 1967 at Phu Bai

Lopez of (DATA MASKED)

7-man recon patrol, one of 3 surviving members—they were out about 24 hours

 

We were set down by a helicopter approximately 5 PM yesterday evening. After the choppers left we provided security and we noticed that the area was heavily dug-in with bunkers and fortified positions. It was late, so we couldn’t move out of our landing zone to a different harbor site, so we stayed there in the LZ. And approximately ten o’clock that night it seemed to be at least a company of NVA returned to their fortified position on top of this hill, and we were set up in a perimeter, a security defense up there, and they walked right up to us and we cut a few of them down, they pulled back and they threw grenades, sniper rounds, at us all night long. By midnight we had two men remaining in the patrol, the 3d man was unconscious for the entire evening.

Attempts at extraction were unsuccessful. The enemy fire was too thick, and twice CH-46s were shot out of the air.

(Interviewer: Steve, from what I heard, you were carrying a radio and calling in artillery—tell us about this:)

I was radio-man on this patrol, and throughout the night, as long as I could, I called in artillery to keep the enemy in their positions. The artillery came and they adjusted it all night long around the hill to wherever we saw the enemy move from time to time. And this morning they brought in air strikes and fixed wing and HUEYs provided pretty good ground cover for us.

(Interviewer: Steve, on the artillery, I heard you kept calling it closer and closer to your own position with not much fear for your own life, and the people who were firing the guns were not afraid to bring it in close)—

We kept asking for artillery to come in closer and closer because the enemy was within 10 meters of us, and it seemed as though the artillery batteries wouldn’t cooperate; they wouldn’t bring rounds for us. And we kept calling in for "Fire for Effect" and they wouldn’t fire for effect. And after awhile we just told—we called—actually if they would have shot the rounds were they were supposed to we would have been alright in our position, but they refused to do this. I don’t know, we were lucky to get out of there.

(Interviewer: Steve, how did you feel yourself—you were calling in this artillery, you were calling it in on close to keep the enemy off of you, that you might get yourself, how did this make you feel?)

Pretty scarry, because artillery is a pretty potent weapon, but I felt that the Gooks, the enemy—if the artillery walked on both of us, at least it wouldn’t be a complete loss, because they were out there and it is our job to call artillery in on them.

(Interviewer: You mentioned these bunkers. Were you right in the middle of them at this time, Steve?)

These bunkers were placed in strategic positions around this entire hill where they could overlook the valley below. And we were right in the center of the top of the hill. There was no bunkers near us—approximately ten meters from us in sort of a perimeter around us, where they were lobbing grenades and sniper rounds—they were in these bunkers.

(Interviewer: Steve, there was a time, I’ve heard, when you thought you were the only man left in the patrol, is this correct?)

Yes, that’s AFFIRM. Last night—well, maybe it’s this morning—I was on the radio—we could hear the enemy in the bush. I thought they were going to walk on us this morning about dawn and finish us up, so I kept calling in the HUEYs, the gunships, for ground cover, and they strafed right next to us. They had to—I had to let them strafe right next to us because they were so close to us. And at this point that I’m not sure, one of the .50 calibre rounds from the Huey hit the only other man that was conscious. At that point I wasn’t sure if he was dead or alive, and I thought I was alone. He got it pretty bad.

(Interviewer: Steve, I believe they made one unsuccessful attempt to get out by helicopter before they did get you out. Could you tell us about this?)

Well, the CH-46 is a troop carrier, they came in last night while it was still dark with flares all over the area to light up the hill. And at this time it was impossible for them to come in because the ground fire was so thick from the Communists who were entrenched around us. They couldn’t, they didn’t have a chance. They had an automatic weapon possibly an anti-aircraft gun that it sounded, possibly, over to my –to the east of me. They got down approximately 20 feet off the ground. They were forced to go back up. I think that on this one, somebody, possibly the pilot got hit.

(Interviewer: Then the second time they picked you up?)

It was the 3d time actually. 2 times they tried to pick us up with troop carriers. The 3d time—I told them it couldn’t be done: they were too big and too bulky and they were too slow and too slugish, so I told em to try to bring a Huey, gunship, cause when the gunship comes in they throw out a lot of firepower on the Communists and they keep their head down. The gunship came in and landed about 20 meters to the left of our position and then skipped right in to us, and we weren’t taking much fire at that point at all.

(Interviewer: Steve: How many NVA did you kill, do you have any idea?)

Myself or the rest?

(?

I confirmed 6 myself, KIA, and I believe the other 2, LCPL CARLSON, had a confirmed killed count of 5 or 6 also for him. I counted about 15 bodies in the area, and the probables are much more. They dragged them off during the night.

(Interviewer: I heard you face-to-face with one?)

Yeah, the day before we was extracted. I was sitting in some elephant grass and I heard him coming and he came up from the elephant grass and I looked at him and he looked about 14 years old. And he wasn’t ready at all. He didn’t expect me to be there. I fired several rounds at him with the rifle. He was extremely young, I didn’t even know if I should shoot him or not, he didn’t even look like a soldier.

(Interviewer: Did he have a weapon?)

He had a weapon and military gear. He didn’t look like a soldier. He was young.

 

This is Major Davis again. This recon patrol of 7 Marines from the first platoon of ALFA Company, 3d Recon BN, was inserted by helicopter on 9 May in grid square 7553, approximately 13 kilometers northwest of Khe Sanh. At 7 minutes past midnight, the recon team began receiving small arms fire. Between 0220 and 0630 three unsuccessful attempts were made to extract the team. The helicopters received numerous hits from small arms fire. At 0912 an attempt was made to insert another team as a reaction force. This attempt was not successful due to the heavy volume of small arms fire. At 1007 the 3 remaining members of the team were extracted by gunship. Total results of this contact: 4 USMC KIA, 3 USMC WIA, 7 enemy KIA confirmed, 20 enemy KIA probab. Helicopter crews sustained one KIA and 7 WIA.