Former Platoon members are invited to write down their own memories of the 47th and email them to:
The 47th's Arrival in Vietnam
by Rusty Allen
"I was awakened by the grinding sounds of the gears, as they moved the flaps of the C-141, into position for the plane to land. By the pressure in my ears I could tell that we were descending fast. The land below reminded me of the moon, abandoned and full of craters. As the Starlifter moved forward and lower the villages could be seen along with movement, that appeared to be people "What are those funny looking round things down there?" I asked, looking out the small window and pointing. "I think those may be Vietnamese, squatting in the rice fields, with those round straw hats," Jon Wahl said. Everyone seemed to see something different. Little did I know that was one of the legacies of the Vietnam war, everyone saw a different war. "Look over there!" Frank Bagatta said excitedly. "WOW! Those are artistry or mortar rounds exploding right below us," Marvin Pearce said, looking a little worried. "I wonder if they are shooting at us?" Willie Jones asked a little concerned. "I don't think so. I don't think they would be falling down there. That's too straight down, I said, realizing that the trajectory of a round would make it fall farther from the plane, to one side or the other. Seeing this, my gut began to move around a little. I could tell by the look on their faces the other guys could feel it too. Uneasiness and fear were in everyone's eyes, although no one would readily admit it. Pearce was even beginning to look a little worried. The hydraulics squealed louder as the gears began to wine loudly. All of a sudden there was a startling jerk as the landing of the big jet locked into the down position. From the looks on their faces everyone was startled. Odd, I didn't remember the landing gear making such a hard jerk, the squeal of the hydraulics being as noticeable on the other landings. Maybe because the other times weren't Vietnam. The anxiety was building and my butterflies were flying in my stomach like they wanted to migrate east. The giant wheels hit the runway with a loud squeal, then another as the Starlifter sat firmly on the runway. The massive jets soon began to reverse thrust with a loud rumbling noise, the plane decelerated at a very fast pace. Soon the big jet was taxiing down the runway toward the huge hangers. Fear and anxiety was at it's apex as the large rear ramp was slowly lowered even before the plane stopped. Suddenly the rush of hot air nearly took my breath away. The sickening smell of Vietnam was unreal and almost gagged me. The air was heavy, hot, and very wet. I immediately began to sweat, I'm not sure if it was from the heat, or the anxiety of Vietnam. The massive Starlifter circled as the pilot guided it into position on the hot concrete runway. This was Vietnam. Our home for the next year, and for some maybe forever."
My First Mission
by Doug McCoy
" My first mission was about a month after I begin my tour. This would put it around the late May early June (1970) time period. Teddy Gibbs, Bruce Carroll and I went out together. Three older members of the 47Th were assigned to walk our slack. My slack man was Sgt. Bill Grubbs. The three teams were assigned to 3 platoons of the 3/187. The platoon that I was assigned to was 3rd. Platoon C Company (memory fuzzy). As luck would have it 3rd. platoon's mission was to patrol the mountains. The Area of Operations was near Phu Loc Village and Fsb. Tomahawk. 3rd. Platoon's patrol was on and around the Bach Ma road in the mountains above Phu Loc Village. Bill Grubbs, Wolf (my dog), and I begin the mission by pulling an ambush with a squad from the 3rd. Platoon the first night outside of Phu Loc. The first night was very quiet with a gentle rain falling on us early that morning. The second day of the mission we were informed that we would team up with an ARVN Platoon and then begin our patrol of the Bach Ma Mountains. We rested most of the day and sometime that afternoon a hot meal was brought down from Fsb. Tomahawk and we had our last good meal for about 7 days. I was told a normal scout dog team mission was 5 days, my first mission lasted 9 days. After our meal the ARVNs arrived. Wolf and I lead the 2 platoons out of the village along a trail that led to the mountains. We stayed on this trail for 2-3 hours working our way slowly up the mountain. Wolf made a couple alerts along the trail, but we could find nothing wrong. Late that evening just before dark we took a side trail to the right of the main trail. This trail led to a meadow on the side of the mountain. The meadow covered several acres with no vegetation except tall grasses. We couldn't understand why this meadow was in the middle of triple canopy jungle. The Lt. had chosen this for our NDP. That night I was assigned radio watch. Every hour we were called and asked for SIT REP (Situation Report). To keep noise down we answered with the talk button on the radio. 1 squelch meant ok, 2 squelches meant a problem. (My memory is a little fuzzy; I may have the Squelches reversed). The night was very quiet in the mountains, but I could hear a lot of noise in the valley below. Sometime during the night I heard a dog barking. The next day was uneventful, except for the fact that we almost ran out of water. We weren't in position for a re-supply, so a squad was sent to find water. Wolf, Bill and I went with the squad and Wolf found a spring. We filled all the canteens and rejoined the Platoon. We continued our patrol up the mountain, and that evening before we set up our NDP we saw something that took our breath away. Back to our east we were able to see the village in the valley and the South China Sea behind it. I will never forget that view. It would have been nice to have a camera with me. The next morning we moved on toward the Bach Ma road. Finally, late in the afternoon we get to the road. We decided to set up our NDP around the road. The ARVNs set up within our perimeter and one ARVN played his radio loud. We were very glad to see them go back to the valley the next day. Instead of using a trail to get to the valley, they traveled down the winding road. I led the 3rd platoon across the road and down into a valley away from Phu Loc village. There was no trail and the journey was rough. When we got to the bottom of the valley, we discovered a stream of water. The journey was easier in the water, so we used the stream. Late that evening the Lt. found the place where the accent was not too steep. Since it was late, we set up a NDP next to the trail we would ascend the next morning. The next morning Bill and I were told that the platoon was to be re-supplied on an LZ several clicks up the mountain and our mission would be over. Bill and I had high hopes that we would get to the LZ and finish our mission. However we encountered heavy jungle, and were re-supplied from the air (food, water, ammo dropped from the re-supply chopper). It was another day before we arrived at the LZ. Wolf, Bill and I left the platoon at that LZ and my first mission was over. It turned out my first 4 or 5 missions were with the 3/187. I became good friends with 3RD platoon. Today the Bach Ma is a National Park with a hotel and other places stay. I would love to go back to Bach Ma."
My First Trip from Bien Hoa to LZ Sally
by John Carter
" ... One of my most memorable recollections in Vietnam occurred on that first trip up north. Our flight was scheduled for late in the afternoon - around 4 or 5 PM. The air force provided a C-130 cargo plane to fly us up to Phu Bai (both a civilian and military airport that served the city of Hue - about 5 or 10 miles south of the city). For some reason our flight was delayed. We had our equipment and the dogs on the ramp ready to load onto the plane - but we had to wait by the plane while they fixed their mechanical problem or whatever the problem was that needed to be addressed. I remember we sought refuge from the hot sun under the shadow from the plane's wing.
Eventually, the pilot came over to us and informed us that in addition to our unit, he would be transporting the body of a young Vietnamese soldier to Hue for burial. We eventually loaded the equipment and dogs on board and went to the front of the aircraft to sit down for the flight. A C-130 is a turbo prop cargo plane that was the workhorse in Vietnam. Seating was a drop-down canvas bench on either side of the plane's fuselage. When we got to the front of the plane, we found the soldiers coffin between us - so that we sat on the canvas benches looking at this coffin all the way to Phu Bai. Accompanying the body was an attractive young Vietnamese girl who was about our age - evidently the soldier's widow. Obviously this was not a good omen for our first trip up to the scene of the action! We had become the reluctant guests at a wake.
The flight to Phu Bai was about an hour and forty-five minutes long. I don't think we said very much on that flight. We all just looked at the coffin and the stoic face of this young lady and probably silently wondered if this would be a precursor of our own fate. We were not able to communicate with this young lady, just glanced at her face and sad eyes for the entire trip. After the plane took off, someone helped her light a small votive candle and a vase with burning incense sticks (customary at Buddhist funerals) and she placed them on the coffin for the remainder of the flight.
Needless to say, I think we were all relieved to land at Phu Bai. It was dusk when we arrived and we quickly got to the business of unloading the plane for our trip up to Sally. It was around 7 or 8 PM by the time we had everything unloaded and we were eager to go. However, we were informed by the powers to be that there was a curfew in effect that prohibited vehicular travel at night. We had to wait until the next morning to go up to Sally. The Army had set up an area located not far from the aircraft ramp as an overnight holding area for new replacements in transit. It was a small camp set up with open-sided tents and cots that we could spend the night. I remember it as being a hot and humid night with plenty of biting mosquitoes to make the stay all the more uncomfortable. I was having a hard time sleeping and at some point during the night I got up and walked over toward the aircraft ramp. I then noticed not too far from where we unloaded the plane the flicker of a flame. It was the votive candle on top of the Vietnamese soldier's coffin. Someone had unloaded the coffin and put it on saw horses for the night. The young widow was seated in a lawn chair next to the coffin and kept a solitary vigil for the entire night. I just looked at that scene for a few moments and then went back to the tent to try and get some sleep. The next morning when I had a chance to look again, the young lady and the coffin were gone.
The next morning, we were ready for the ride to LZ Sally. I can't remember if we had one of the platoon's deuce and a half's (i.e. a two and one-half ton truck) with us for the trip. I do know that we had an escort to show us the way (I think it was some members of the 42nd IPSD - the scout dog unit for the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne). In any case, we loaded the dogs and equipment on the truck (s) and headed off to Hue and then on to LZ Sally.
I was anxious to see the city of Hue. It had been the scene of heavy fighting just a few months earlier during the Tet offensive of February 1968. While at Fort Benning, I remember watching the news clips on TV of the fighting between the Marines and the North Vietnamese in the city and the battle for the Citadel - the ancient imperial capital along the riverbank. As we drove into the city, I had a sense of deja vue as I recognized many of the sites I had seen on television. The city was heavily damaged during Tet and little clean up or repair had occurred between February and July. In fact, the only way to cross the Perfume River (I think its real name was the Song Bo and it ran through the center of the city) was by a pontoon bridge that was constructed by the Army engineers. After we crossed the river, we drove right past the Citadel and continued onward toward LZ Sally.
The road north of the city on the way to LZ Sally was a fairly narrow two-lane wide dirt road. It was a bumpy and pot holed road and you couldn't do much more than 25 mph most of the way. (Eventually, the Seabee's widened and paved the road that made travel between LZ Sally, Hue, Camp Eagle and Phu Bai an easier trip). The sides of the road were lined with various small villages with huts made of scrap wood and cardboard. Other areas were open rice patties where you would see the villagers cultivating the land with water buffaloes.
I remember the day as being a crystal clear day with the sun shining brightly in a crisp blue sky. I was intrigued with the passing scenery and noticing a big gray cloud in the distance. I asked the fellow sitting next to me in the truck - what is that cloud. His response was "Welcome to LZ Sally". As we got to the little road leading up to the main entry gate - I could easily see the reason for the cloud. Sally was one huge dirt pile in the middle of nowhere. The coming and going of the Huey helicopters combined with the aviation maintenance units and their hovering choppers created one huge dust bowl. ..."
by Jonathan Wahl
"My first impression was feeling the intense, searing heat when we landed at Tan Sonh Nhut and stepped off the C-141. It was as if we had gotten much closer to the sun than I had ever experienced. You had to seek shade or you would fry in place. Also the humidity was overwhelming, wrapping you in a constant blanket that made the air heavy and caused you to sweat continuously, even if all you were doing was sitting there breathing. Your fatigues were always wet and sticky and there was no relief anywhere. Also I remember the big, puffy clouds that built up into thunderclouds down in the Bien Hoa area.
LZ Sally wasn't any different initially than down near Saigon. We were out in the open, in July, and the temps were consistently in the high 90's, while inside our brown canvas tents it was easily 120-130. Unlike the surrounding countryside, there was very little vegetation on base. We had no ice, no cold drinks - everything was warm. During the summer the days were mostly sunny, very hot and humid, with very little breeze except for when the helicopters landed. No one wore shirts because it was way too hot. The handlers in the field had it tougher having to haul all that equipment around and also control their dogs. Any cut or scrape took forever to heal and you just imagined that the air was dripping with bacteria. Sally was located on a coastal plain with mountains in the west and toward evening the wind would pick up and cool things off a little. When we finally obtained a generator we also got some electric fans which helped make the tents more bearable.
As we got into the winter rainy season the humidity stayed but it was cooler and we got used to the weather. There were some cold, rainy days in the winter months and if you were wet out in the field I am sure you were probably pretty cold. I don't ever recall wearing my field jacket or having to bundle up under a blanket. We had some torrential downpours that created rivers of mud around the camp, especially on the roads. The motorized vehicles cut tracks through the mud as if they were driving through unplowed snow. The handlers dug a system of drainage ditches around the dog cages to keep the dogs from having to live in standing water."
Marvin Pearce's Death
by Stan Stockdale
"Here's what I remember about Pearce's death - although given that it happened so long ago who can be totally sure. Pearce and the unit he was supporting were just starting out on a patrol (traveling through an open area on a trail with knee-high grass on either side). Pearce was leading with one of the platoon's sergeants acting as shotgun. Somewhere back in the middle of the patrol someone hit a booby trap. Standard operating procedure in a situation like that was to get off the trail, get down, and take cover. In this case, Pearce turned to look and the sergeant with him dove off to the side. Unfortunately there was another booby trap that the sergeant hit. Pearce fell down and lay on his back. For a period of time the members of the patrol couldn't understand what was wrong with Pearce - he looked fine. It turns out that a single piece of shrapnel had entered the back of his head and killed him. The saddest thing was that if Pearce had been wearing his steel pot he probably wouldn't have been injured at all.
Pearce was proud to be a scout dog handler and loved wearing a jungle hat with our insignia on it. He was suppose to have the steel pot on but he didn't.
I also remember the memorial service that we held at LZ Sally. A chaplain gave a very generic service and hadn't really taken the time to learn anything about the individual being remembered. I found it especially disappointing - for Pearce, personally, and for my platoon."
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