Joe's Hill 362
by Joe Holt
So many of the guys have submitted their personal recollections of this gunfight. I have learned much. My perspective was limited to only the activities within my sight. There was so much going on. My story reflects only a fraction of what happened those days. Please reader forgive me if it appears that I’m oblivious to other actions that occurred.
On the morning of the 24th of July we started the day in a valley at the base of the hills. This was the most open area we’d been in since we’d landed in the mountains the week or so before. Our mission this day was to proceed to the top of Hill 362. My platoon, the Second, was to be the second platoon in the column going up the hill. Something held us up till almost mid morning before we actually started up the hill. It was a very tough hill. We went directly up the side. We had to make a trail. Very steep. There were times when we were on our hands and knees in an effort to scramble up. The going was slow. I could imagine what a swell time the point guys were having. Not only were they on point, where they had to be aware of everything around them, but they had to chop a trail at the same time.
Not long after I started up the hill I heard gunfire towards the front of the column. Not a lot. Just a few short bursts. The word came back that they had come across a gook listening post. Killed a couple of them, wounded another, and one surrendered or was captured somehow. I don’t know if we had any casualties, but by the time the column had progressed to the area of the listening post, I only saw the wounded gook, and a healthy one being questioned. The wounded one was not long for this world one way or another. I was just passing through, but he was in pretty bad shape.
Someone pointed out that they had sound power phones in their position. The com wire ran right past us towards the opposing hill to our right. Second platoon advanced through the point platoon, and took over the point. We continued to move to the right, across the top of our hill and towards the opposing hill. I didn’t know much, but I thought that we were going entirely too fast. I counted three strings of com wire in the trees going right along the trail. Three strings! The trail we were following was very well used. Under a perfect jungle canopy. Wide, as jungle trails go. Yet we kept moving forward. A good portion of the company was still strung out behind us. Many of them hadn’t even gotten to the top of the hill yet.
This is where I have to editorialize a bit. Private Holt was not normally a thinker. I did what I was told, and tried not to screw up. Standard E-1 procedure. I was pretty good at what I did, though. We all were, but it was at this moment in the advance when Private Holt thought that he knew more than whoever was running the show...a very, very rare concept. Where were we going in such a goddamned hurry?! It was obvious to me that we were on the enemy's’ home turf. It was obvious to me that there were probably a bunch of’em just up ahead, hence three strands of com wire. It was obvious to me that we were advancing in column with more than half the column behind us. Private Holt thought, "Hold on now. Let’s stop and think about this for a while."
Nobody asked for my opinion, so we went. I was in third squad, and just as I started to descend the opposite slope of the hill, out from under the jungle canopy and through some tall dry reedy stuff, I saw a fighting hole right next to the trail. It was perfectly round. A couple of feet across. It was packed with SKS’s. Ten or fifteen of’em. Bore up. The column happened to stop just for a moment, and Presby, the rocket guy, pulled one out of the hole. It was clean and oiled. It was loaded! He and I just looked at each other when it all started.
A firefight started up ahead a ways. It sounded like it was at the front of the column. The trail had gradual bends in it so I couldn’t see more than a guy or two in front of me and the same to the rear. As we continued forward there was an explosion to my rear. Very close, but it was tough to determine how close with all the dry vegetation. In those few seconds the noise had become deafening. Both forward and to the rear.
I thought, "This is it! The shit has hit the fan and I’m right in the middle of it." Through all the noise a guy came up from up forward and yelled for us to move forward fast to help out the guys at the point. I turned to Gaunce, one of my riflemen, and told him to pass the word and follow me. He went to his rear a few feet to relay the order. I started running down the trail. I hadn’t gone more than a few yards when I came across a clearing. About a twenty foot open area in the trail. I locked my brakes up as I got to it. Because of this clearing I could see out to the opposing hill. Muzzle flashes. Many muzzle flashes. I took a step back, took a deep breath, and launched myself across the small clearing.
Two things happened simultaneously. One. The entire clearing erupted in dirt with the first step I took. Two. I tripped on something close to the ground with my second step. I fell ass over teakettle off to the side of the trail in the bushes. I was muttering all sorts of bad stuff while I was disentangling myself from these tall dry reedy bushes. As soon as I got to my feet I ran down the trail for a few more yards until I made contact with somebody. Can’t remember who it was, but I was surprised it wasn’t Presby. The column had stopped. Gaunce caught up with me, and we both got down on the trail looking towards the front, but there was nothing we could see. Only bushes. Another major burst of fire towards us, through the bushes. We couldn’t really get to any cover. We were on the facing side of the hill. We were taking plunging fire from the opposite hill. I got scared. Directly in front of me I saw a hole appear in a stalk of this dry grass. Not three feet in front of me.
Even though the column had stopped, I had to do something. Just as I got to my feet Gaunce yelled, "I’m hit!" I turned around , and he was holding his shoulder, wincing. I walked back to him, looked him over for a few seconds, and I remember thinking it looked just like a Roy Rogers wound. Right in the meaty part below the collar bone, to the side of the shoulder joint. He looked to me like he was able to get to the rear under his own power. For some strange reason I didn’t feel that he was in trouble. Goodness knows why. He’d been shot, for Christ sakes! He got up and started towards the rear when I realized there wasn’t anybody behind him. I ran back and shouted myself blue,"Second Platoon up!" A few seconds later Corporal Luzietti came round the bend, looking distressed, but able. As it turns out, mortar rounds had landed among the fire teams to my rear. There had been casualties.
The shooting stopped abruptly. I headed down the trail. Kenny Walker was coming up the trail. He was so pissed he was near tears. He was coming up for help. Sgt. Hailey and Daniels had been killed instantly with the first shots. Malone, Lt. Woodburn, Sgt. Drake, Horsely, and Reyes, the radioman had been hit. They needed help. Doc Collins had been shot through the wrist with the first shots also. I went a few yards further down and met the guys carrying Malone up on a poncho. He’d been shot through the lower abdomen. He was conscious and coherent. One of the guys lost his grip on the poncho, and they dropped Malone a few inches to the ground. He complained, "Aw guys, cut me some slack, will ya!" One of the Corpsman's’ large dressings was over his lower belly. He’d been opened up pretty bad. I grabbed one corner of the poncho, and we proceeded to carry Malone the rest of the way back to the top of the hill. On the way up we were passed by guys from the other platoons coming down. The firefight had resumed behind me towards the bottom of the trail. I was amazed to see Lt. Kopfler coming down with an M-14 in his hands, and a radio on his back. Eyes wide as saucers. I thought, "What’s he doing down here? He should stay where it’s safe. He doesn’t have to come down here." Other guys were following us up with some other wounded.
After we got Malone to the top of the hill I turned around and went back down the trail. The firefight had lulled for the moment. I met Felton. He was running up looking for more ammo. He’d either run out of ammo or he had lost his rifle somehow. He was frantic. We happened to be standing next to one of the gook holes with the SKS’s. He reached in and pulled one out. He knelt there for a minute and tried to figure out how to operate it. In his excitement he tripped the magazine latch. (On an SKS the magazine is fixed with a hinge.) All the rounds tumbled out on his lap. He was in absolute despair. He continued up the hill, and I continued down along with the remainder of the column moving forward. It sounded as if the firefight had begun to heat up again.
Near the bottom of the trail there was shootin’ everywhere. More than a handful of new wounded were being evacuated back up the trail. Gunfire was constant, a bunch incoming, yet I didn’t see any distinguishable targets. No one in my immediate area got wounded during this period. As the wounded slowly made their way back up the trail a few of us lingered to cover for them. I expected to see gooks any second, yet I never did. Other guys did. Often. They were shootin’ this away and that away. Every time I looked to the left, somebody would see movement to the right. Every time I looked to the right, somebody would see movement to the left. We were backing up the trail, yet there were still guys going down past us. Why? To retrieve the dead? Were there other men further down the trail than us? I doubted that there were. We were running low on ammo. I went back up the trail.
When I approached the area where we had all the wounded guys laid out I went through some of the gear that had been left in piles. I got five or six more magazines from those belts. I then learned of our casualties from the mortars. Fenstermacher had been killed with the first one. Gurbal and McGuire had been wounded. Cruz had been killed with another blast.
I was under the impression we had all withdrawn back to this point, but it was immediately obvious that we’d left some guys down the trail. There had been earlier radio communication with Lt. Kopfler. He’d been hit, and was still toward the bottom of the trail, but then we lost contact with him. Someone was organizing a group to go back down the trail and get the rest of our guys. The last place on earth I wanted to go was back down that trail, but we had to. We had to. With the purest sense of duty I’ve ever felt, this column of about ten or fifteen guys started down the trail. We hadn’t gone ten feet when Lt. Williams appeared and said no.
"Nobody’s going back down that trail!"
He then said something to the effect that we’d lost more men every time we went down the trail, and he had just checked the area out, and he truly didn’t believe there was anyone left alive down the hill.
Once that decision had been made we all got busy. We didn’t really form a defensive perimeter at this point, but we had a good sized group on the downhill side of the hilltop in case the gooks came that way. Our main mission was to clear an area for medivac. Ever since the first mortars had fallen, there had been an effort to clear a helozone. All we had were K Bars and machetes. It was slow going. The Corpsmen had consolidated all the wounded at the topmost part of the hill. Marty Morris had taken Doc Collins Unit One, and was, in effect, acting as a Corpsman too. We’d radioed for some sort of tools to help us clear the zone, and when a 34 came swooping in they dropped two axes through the canopy. The helo came under fire the second they approached so I don’t blame them for being hasty in their delivery, but one of the falling axes damn near landed on somebody's’ head. THUD!
There were efforts to medivac the wounded, but each time a helo came in it was fired upon. Heavily. After the second or third attempt, they abandoned their efforts. Then it started to rain.
Caro and I decided we’d start digging holes. We were on the far side of the eventual perimeter just a few feet below the crest of the hill. When I stood up I could look directly at the group of wounded at eye level, twenty feet from me. Things had calmed down some. There hadn’t been any shooting in a while, and we were intent on doing what needed doing. In my case...digging a hole. Once I got through the loose ground cover, it was pretty easy digging. When I got it to the approximate size I wanted I realized Gurbal needed a hole too, and he simply couldn’t dig with one arm no matter how much he tried I told him to sit down and take it easy. I just chopped off one wall of my little fighting hole, and made it big enough for two. I had to get it the right size first. Then I’d make it deeper. Caro was doing the same for McGuire. I had just started to get a rhythm going when the mortars fell. We hadn’t heard them come out of the tube. We had no warning. They landed directly in the center of the wounded.
Horrible. Truly horrible. Someone cried out, "Oh God, can’t they leave us alone?!"
I had recoiled from the explosions to such a degree that I landed on my back down the slope a few feet. I knew I wasn’t hurt, but I hesitated to look at the carnage. One of the rounds appeared to have landed on the chest of one of the wounded. In that area of the wounded there were many more casualties.
Everybody in the area ran to help. In fact there were too many of us. For a moment there was confusion, then somebody started giving orders for some of us to keep digging, and some of us to help with the wounded. Higgy stayed to do what he could, and I went down just those few feet to continue with my digging. If I was digging before, I was digging like hell now.
The rain was steady. Not enough to fill my fighting hole with water, but enough to get everything muddy. Reddish, slimy mud. I had just about completed this two man hole when Higgy brought some other guy down towards me. This fella could barely walk. His whole body had been peppered with shrapnel. Small holes everywhere. Maybe from dirt or gravel, but he was a sight. His face was swollen and bloody. I wouldn’t have recognized him if he was my own brother. He was distressed. He needed a hole to get into, and I was volunteered by Higgy. No problem. I just chopped off another chunk of wall to my hole and kept digging.
The rain stopped. I was making this hole into a trench. We heard two mortars come out of the tubes from the other hill. Everybody heard’em. Everybody yelled at once. "Incoming!" Everybody hit the deck. I threw my E tool to the side, and plopped in my trench.
These mortar rounds can be heard real well when your listening for’em. A hiss that gets louder and louder as they fall. You just know they’re gonna fall right in your pocket. Again, I was scared.
Boom! Boom! Further down the slope a bit. There may have been casualties, but none in my immediate area. I jumped up and grabbed my E tool. Caro and I decided to join our trenches into one monster trench. We proceeded to dig out the dirt between our two positions. Higgy kept bringing us guys who needed help. This trench was getting bigger and bigger.
Again. Thump, Thump from the other hill. Mortars coming out of the tubes. "Incoming!" I plopped in my trench. Boom! Boom! As I got up I heard Higgy calmly say, " I need some help over here."
I figured he was needing help in moving one of the wounded guys, but when I turned around I saw he had blood coming down one side of his face. He was only a few feet from me. Just up the slope a couple of feet. I stepped up to give him a look. He’d been hit in the arm and obviously the head. It only took me a second to see that his scalp and forehead had been cut open, but there didn’t seem to be any holes in his head. It was bleeding all to hell so I pulled my last remaining pressure bandage out and strapped it around the side of his forehead and hairline. I’d already given one bandage to Higgy a few minutes before so he could dress somebody else's wounds. His arm wound was right in the center of the bicep. Whenever he moved his arm there would be an impressive spurt of blood out of the little square hole. I didn’t have any sort of dressing for it so we decided that he would hold a leaf over the hole to plug up the leak. Even in his state we both felt rather clever in coming up with this technique, but it didn’t work worth a damn. Shortly thereafter his arm stiffened up from the trauma so it quit leaking anyway. If he didn’t move his arm, it wasn’t bleeding.
I made the trench big enough to include Higgy. It had gotten long enough, but it still wasn’t as deep as I would have liked it. We could all fit if we sat in it, but I doubted if we could actually get our entire bodies crammed in. There had been two or three more mortars dropped, but then they stopped. It was getting late in the afternoon. As I was finishing one end of the trench, the wounded guys were sitting in the other end. I couldn’t very well ask them to get out so I could make it deeper at this point. We were getting prepared for a long night. The perimeter had been completed. Luzietti came over and let it be known that he would like to make a reservation in our trench. He’d been scrounging grenades from anywhere he could.
By the time the sun went down we had at least nine guys in our trench. Among us we had twelve magazines, and twenty two grenades. Caro, Carroll, Luzietti, and myself were the only able bodies in our position. Luzietti had been wounded with shrapnel in the legs, but he wasn’t complaining Ballog was to our right front, just down the slope from us a few feet. Word was passed that we were on a hundred percent alert. Private Holt agreed.
It got dark quick. Real dark. We were as prepared as we could be. We were absolutely silent.
A few events of that night stick in my mind. The first was the attempt at illumination. Some bright soul thought we needed the jungle lit up for some reason, so an hour or two after dark we got incoming illumination from some sort of artillery. There were two problems with this effort. One, Private Holt didn’t want any illumination. I was perfectly at ease with the dark. Illumination just made the bush come alive with shadows, and perked the hell out of my imagination. Two, as the illumination rounds would pop open, their canisters would fall to the ground...directly into our perimeter. They sounded like they were gonna land in our laps. We eventually got them stopped.
Later that night Sgt. Hayslip kicked the shit out of a gook. We would throw grenades every once in a while just to keep the enemy away without giving away our exact positions. Up until this time we didn’t know for sure if they were probing our lines, but I just figured they were out there somewhere, and I was ready. We were so silent that any noise at all was magnified in the night. Suddenly, from my left rear, I heard a loud, "Ugh". A big breath gushing "Ugh." I spun around, ready to shoot at anything, when I heard what sounded like somebody punching somebody else, accompanied by the low tones of somebody saying, "I got you, you little son of a bitch!". As it turns out, this little gook fella was supposed to harass us or whatever, but somehow he managed to jump into Sgt. Hayslips’ fighting hole. (Much later I learned the gooks’ motive. Not everybody had grenades to spare. The word was passed that if anybody suspected movement to their front, throw a rock at it. There was the odd chance the enemy would think it’s a grenade and make a move prematurely. Sgt. Hayslip did. The gook did. The rest is history.) If it wasn’t for the sound of Hayslips’ imaginative muted mutterings, I would have been scared. From the sounds you couldn’t tell if somebody was being stabbed or bludgeoned or what, but I was pretty sure Sgt. Hayslip was winning.
All of the able guys in our position had a couple of magazines of ammo, but I had most of them so I was the designated shooter for the position. If I heard a noise, or just thought I heard a noise, I’d sit up a bit and let go with four or five rounds down the hill. Before I’d do this I’d cup my hand over the next guys’ ear and I’d whisper my intentions. After the message was relayed to everyone, only then would I rearrange my position and start shootin’. I didn’t want to surprise anybody, or worse, scare anybody with my haphazard bursts. The wounded, who must have been in pain, never made a sound all night. No moans. No whines. To me this is unbelievable even to this day.
To me the most memorable event of that long night is almost comical now that I look back on it. Joe Luzietti took it upon himself to be the designated grenade thrower. He had scrounged all the grenades before dusk, and he didn’t give anybody any of’em. He must have been sitting on’em because I know none of them were stashed outside the trench, and there wasn’t an inch of spare room in the trench. Most of us were sitting up with our legs crossed in front of us. All crammed in. After an hour or two of numb butts we independently decided to lay back and extend our feet and legs out over the rim. We could all maneuver our limbs to a limited degree, but for the wounded guys it was just another misery to endure. If anyone could have seen us we would’ve look ridiculous. Our feet were actually higher than our heads.
Intermittently through the night Joe would toss a grenade to keep any enemy away. Using the same logic as me, he wasn’t sure how many gooks were out there, but pitching a grenade whenever we heard a noise sure made us feel better about it. He was using the same protocol too. He’d whisper to the guy next to him his intentions, and when everybody got the word he’d untangle himself enough to stand up and give it a good throw. He was silent, and it was completely dark, but you could hear the rustle of his clothes when he threw it, the release of the spoon, and then you could really hear it fly through the jungle. Flapping through leaves and snapping twigs. A faint thud, then detonation.
We wouldn’t even try to get our feet out of harms way. He was tossing it a country mile so we all felt there was no immediate danger to us. Besides, I couldn’t imagine everyone fitting in that trench if we tried to get all our limbs in.
Joe must’ve thrown four or five already, and he was standing up to give it another go. I faintly heard him get to his feet. Then the sound of him throwing it, but the instant he threw it we heard, Thunk! Directly in front of our position! He’d hit a tree with it! All of us, in unison, wounded or able, whispered, "Oh shit!" I tried to get my feet tucked in. Everybody did. All at once. Joe immediately dropped down, and was trying to squish his entire self into any nook or cranny he could find. Those few seconds took a while, believe me. Then, WHAM! Dirt, leaves, all sorts of crap and corruption pelted us. I was surprised by the effect. Just the noise was a shock to the system.
It took us a few seconds to determine if everybody was OK. Then everything went as usual. Legs outstretched in front of us over the rim of the trench. To no ones surprise, Luzietti didn’t have the opportunity to throw another grenade that night.
There never was a legitimate attempt to overrun us that night. I reckon their mission was just to keep us occupied while the rest of their unit made a hasty retreat off the opposing hill. For sure, come dawn, we were gonna blast that hill to hell.
As the sun came up so did our spirits. Many of us were just happy to be alive to see another day. At first, movement was cautious. We spoke in whispers. It was difficult to have faith in this new day. The horrors remained around us. Our dead. Our wounded. The first news I heard was that Malone had died in the night. For some reason this affected me much more than anything previously. I lost a lot of friends the day before, but Malone was a star. For the first time I felt a sense of loss.
Immediately after hearing of Malone's loss we had better news. There was quite a bit of commotion on the opposite side of the perimeter, and when I went to investigate, there was excitement that Bednars had somehow survived the night, and had crawled up the hill. He was horribly wounded. He’d been bayoneted and left for dead. Unbelievable. He was a sign of hope for us. Could any more have survived down the trail? None had.
The gook that Sgt. Hayslip had pummeled in the night was in the middle of our clearing. Hog tied. Complaining all to hell. About what, I’m not sure, but I do remember thinking he had balls complaining about anything. Any one of us would have been more than happy to cease his complaining. I’m not sure if anyone did.
Our little clearing had to be enlarged. We had dozens of casualties to evacuate, and the gap in the trees was only large enough to lift guys out by sling. Not enough room to land a helo.
The engineers were turned loose. With a gleam in their eyes they systematically went about blasting the shit out of the jungle. At the same time we had helos come in and lower us chain saws. Between the blasting and the sawing there was quite a frenzy. The more serious casualties immediately went up in a basket type of arrangement. Hoffman. Horsley. Others I didn’t know. The basket kept spinning. The process was too slow and chaotic, but it was all there was. Sometime in this time frame we had more corpsmen lowered to us. They were desperately needed. Most of our corpsmen had been casualties, and the remainder were out of supplies. They were frantic.
I was stunned when I realized the first guys down the sling were reporters. Reporters! Photographers! Many of us have stories of these worthless assholes. They were no help when any help was necessary. The only memory I have personally is when I was holding up one end of a poncho carrying a casualty up the slope towards the helo zone. This guy stood right in the middle of the trail and said, "Hold it a second, will ya?" He was trying to take a picture! All four of us hesitated for just a second, then realized what he was doing. If we weren’t so busy any one of us would’ve slapped the shit out of him.
The noise and the prop wash of the helos only made a bad time worse. After the firefights of the day before I couldn’t hear much as it was, but with all their racket, the tension was doubled. Thank God the gooks had disappeared.
The casualties were eventually evacuated. Now our job was to evacuate the dead. Then all the gear that had been piled around the area.
I know I have a problem dealing with dead bodies. I had a helluva time the morning after our streambed ambush. I was one in a long line of guys that moved our dead to the top of a hill for evacuation. They were wrapped in ponchos as best as could be managed, but with all the lifting and hauling some of the ponchos were just barely hanging on. The rest of the guys appeared to me to be managing this task a whole lot better than I was. To me this was obscene. The indignity of it all. These were my friends. My brothers. Marines. Yet here we were handling them like meat. Nobody felt much different than me, but I just about came apart at the seams. With Daniels’ understanding and assurance I somehow made it through that ordeal.
Two days later, here I stood with the task at hand. Move and coordinate our dead for evacuation...Daniels among them. We couldn’t even recognize his body. It wasn’t that he was mangled or disfigured, but without his life he was simply nobody. More than a few of us inspected his body hoping for visual ID. Somebody eventually cut the wallet out of his pocket and we were all astonished to learn it was Daniels. Another slam to my heart. More so than learning of Malone. I didn’t need to cry, but I was beginning to seize up. I forced myself, one step at a time, to approach one of the bodies and do what needed doing. All this going on with helos still making all their racket. I yelled at someone to give me a hand with the body at my feet. "You take the feet", I said, trying desperately to be strong. I leaned over the draped, loose poncho, estimated where this mans’ head and shoulders would be, and tried to grab them. There was none.
I know I shouted, but I couldn’t tell you what. I stood up. I just walked off like I had somewhere to go. I could not do it. I just couldn’t. I knew if someone had ordered me to continue I still couldn’t. The guilt at failing to do my duty was completely ignored by my horror.
I went about doing other tasks. Gathering and stacking gear mainly. When the dead were gone so were the helos. It got quiet. Murmurs. Even a laugh or two. We knew the gooks had gone, and Lima Company was going to show up any minute. We relaxed. We had survived. It was about this time I realized I was missing a small chunk out of the tip of my right boot. After a minute or two of superior deductive reasoning I concluded that I hadn’t tripped on something while running across the clearing in the trail. I’d been shot in the tip of my boot! As the years go by I’m more and more impressed with that boot.
Lt. Williams ambled up and announced that it was his birthday. As usual, just the act of wishing him Happy Birthday cheered us up a bit more. In the years since I’ve wondered if it really was his birthday.
Not five minutes later Lima Company made contact with us. No shouts, but a potful of smiles. The first guy I saw when I got to the trail at the edge of the hill was Bob Cote. We’d enlisted together. I’d never been so happy to see anyone in my life, and the same went for him, I’m sure. Lima had been ambushed on the way to reinforce us. They lost some guys and couldn’t get to us till this afternoon. All night they’d heard the mortars, imagining horrible things. In the morning they heard explosions again on our hill, but it was our engineers blowing trees, not the gooks hammering us again. Some of the guys I spoke to heard the chain saws. It had sounded creepy to them, but salvation to us.
I was happy to give this whole damn hill to Lima Company. Private Holt thought the remainder of India Company would be helo’d out any minute. It didn’t appear to Private Holt that there were enough of us left to do much else. One of our Platoon Commanders had us fall in to Platoon formation. Just to get us reorganized. When Second Platoon formed up there weren’t many of us left. I was the only Fire Team Leader left out of the whole platoon so I was designated, to my guys’ glee, to be the Platoon Sgt. until further notice.
After this we got our gear together and prepared for evacuation...or so I thought.
A firefight broke out. After my immediate reaction I concluded that even though the fire fight was only fifty yards or so away, most of the gunfire appeared to be going outbound, and any incoming was going in the trees above my position. I stayed low, but I felt no fear. This was Lima Company's’ fight now. Leave Private Holt alone.
Thirty something years later, after reading the story of Harris and talking to Capt. Tatum, I finally realize how close India Company had come to being overrun that day. There were more than a few gooks coming to continue the fight, and Lima had set in not a minute too soon. We of India (Private Holt for sure) were acting like the fight was over.
As this firefight ended I was told that we were not to be evacuated out by helo. Now I got scared again. It was near dusk and I didn’t even have a hole to get into. I feared another mortar attack after dark. The call was sent for the Platoon Sgts. to come to the Company CP, wherever that was. My first and last official duty as Second Platoons’ Platoon Sgt. was to get my men spread out among the Lima perimeter and dig in. After a few minutes of total disharmony we all managed to find somewhere to plop down for the night.
There were no mortars that night. We never did get helo’d out the next day. We walked out. Eventually to the Battalion CP. Sixty, maybe seventy of us. Not near enough guys for Private Holt’s comfort, let me tell ya. It took us two days to get back to the Pickaway, but that’s another story.Epilogue
I’ve had this account on paper for a few months. I’ve hesitated to send it to the India site. The more I thought about those days, the more I wrote, the more unbelievable it seemed. No matter how many times I think about it, I always came up smelling like a rose. As the events unfolded on Hill 362 I feel that I was never a true participant. I might have been an observer, but not a participant. Everything happened just ahead of me or just in back of me or just after I’d turned around or just after I’d left or just before I got there. Nothing happened to me. Then why should I be the one to tell the story? The truth is that I shouldn’t be. There are scores of guys who have much more personal, dramatic tales to tell. They should. They must. If only to honor the guys that are no longer with us. I will remain Semper Fidelis.