Battle For The Unnamed Island
Welcome to TET
By John Gunny Gundersen
On the morning of January 30, 1968, India Company was choppered to a large open rice paddy just south of the DaNang airstrip. Small arms and automatic weapons were firing on us as we landed. We ran to the east side of the rice paddy, taking cover behind a berm that held a tributary of the Vien Dien River in its course, and returned fire. After about five minutes, the enemy stopped firing. We got up and conducted a sweep westward to Highway 1. Pausing a few
minutes, we turned and swept the same direction we had come from. We had just cleared
a treeline and were about 100 meters into the paddy which had served as our LZ.
Suddenly, small arms and automatic weapons fire filled the air. Mortars began falling on
our positions. We returned fire on a well-entrenched enemy fighting for an hour or so.
We had 7 KIA.
F-4 Phantoms began a spotting run, and we ceased firing to allow them to complete their sortie. The aircraft began their strafing run dropping both high explosives and napalm. Our position was only about 150 meters from the enemy's treeline. I remember the concussion from each bomb shaking my face and eyeballs. The explosions blurred my vision momentarily. Small pieces of shrapnel were falling on us, with some larger pieces buzzing over our heads. I was amazed at the power of the bombs. I couldn't imagine anyone escaping such a pounding. After the sortie had finished, we moved about 50 meters crossing a small footbridge. It spanned a small canal which emptied into the tributary. We then began moving towards Lo Giang, (pronounced Low Yong), an enemy-held village. The enemy opened fire on us again. This engagement lasted another hour or so.
I couldn't believe the volume of fire that was coming at us. There seemed to be no
reduction in enemy strength after the bombing run. L/Cpl Petersen approached Captain Kolakowski (India Co. Commander) and volunteered to walk point into the village. We followed the path leading from the footbridge to a walkthrough gate at the entrance of the village. As Petersen was about 20 meters from the gate, a lone sniper shot him in the chest killing him instantly. His squad stopped to tend to him while my squad was sent into the village. At this time, my squad was on point. We were ordered to enter through the gate, turn west along the treeline
about 100 meters, and hold up. As we ran, I remember seeing numerous one and two man fighting holes on the edge of the treeline. After stopping, I was surprised to see that only my fireteam was there. We did a quick ammo check, discovering we were very low on rounds, having only two grenades and two magazines of ammo between us. Luckily, we met no resistance before being ordered back to the rest of the platoon to dig in. We set up our perimeter in the southeast corner of the village.
From the small gate, a path curved around to the right ending at the tributary river.
It was on this pathway that we were ordered to dig in. The path was bout 8 feet lower in
elevation than the rest of the village, isolating our position. The banks of the path sloped
gradually up to the village on both sides. It was incredible that we were setting up in the
vulnerable position. We sat in these holes until dusk. At that time, we were resupplied
and told to move to the top of the slope and dig in again.
It was very quiet until sometime well after dark. I remember sitting there in the pitch black night thinking how hard it would be to see anyone sneaking up on us. Suddenly someone inside our perimeter whistled. I was about to tell them to be quiet, when a wall of tracers ripped through my position from the north. This lasted about two minutes, when a different whistle sounded (These whistles resembled various bird calls.). With that, they hit the perimeter from the west side. With a third whistle, they hit the northwest side. A flareship began dropping illumination canisters. We could see the enemy massing in front of us, so we called in the artillery. To escape the shelling which was right on target, they rushed toward us. Behind us, the Command Post began adjusting fire, by dropping the target a few meters at a time, forcing the enemy into our perimeter. They rushed in randomly, sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups. Most were killed as they advanced toward us, falling onto the pathway. Some, however, broke through our
line becoming trapped between us and the second platoon before being killed. This went on for quite a while before someone found the whistler and killed him. It was obvious that he had infiltrated our perimeter and was coordinating the enemy attack. From that point on, they concentrated their attack on our machine gun emplacement that was near the small gate.
I remember an illumination burst, and I saw a man in black pajamas running along the path from the river towards the gate. He had several grenades cradled in one arm, and he was throwing them into our abandoned fighting holes as he ran. I shot him. As he fell,
the grenades he was carrying exploded blowing him up. He apparently had pulled all the
pins before attacking.
The artillery kept pounding closer and closer while the enemy's 122mm rockets began screaming overhead like freight trains. We could hear them hitting the airstrip. The
sounds of the arty, the rockets, the motors and the grenades combined with the eerie
swaying of the illumination on their parachutes created a hellish vision. Never before, or
since, have I been in such an acute state of fear. The battle was, for the most part, over by dawn. The bodies of the enemy soldiers were strewn about not more than 15 meters in front of our perimeter swelling in depth, in front of the machine gun, to as much as six deep.
I was awed by the sight of all those bodies. It seemed that the enemy never realized that we had moved from the fighting holes in the path spending the whole night and their lives attacking those holes. It seemed amazing we had no KIAs that night. We moved our that morning and swept the area between us and the river to the north toward the airstrip. We then turned around and swept back into the rice paddy passing through the village (both were the same ones from the day before). We then lined up on the bank of the river to the east. The amtracks were there on the other side of the river. I remember watching one that had about 15 prisoners on top of it tied up and blindfolded. All of a sudden a VC sprung out of a spider hole and threw a chicomm
grenade at the Amtrack. I couldn't fathom anyone who would give up his life in an attempt to blow up an amtrack vehicle with a chicomm. One of the amtrack crew walked around from the other side of the vehicle and shot him.
Even though this operation had no official name, the men of India Co. 3/5 referred to it as Operation Alamo.