Christmas Eve Accident Memories
These memories were brought forward by a request from the families wanting to know what happened to their loved ones
My name is Mike Carretero. Paul Shaffer has sent me Email stating that you were looking for any information that anyone might have about your father Jaime Laboy. I was with 3rd platoon A CO from July, 1970 through November 1970 before being transferred from the bush to HHQ/TOC (Tactical Operations Center) for the 1/327th. I was working in TOC when the accident happened.
I know that you have been communicating with Paul Shaffer also and he has been kind enough to forward your Email to me . He was with 2nd platoon when the accident happened and was one of the fortunate ones to survive the tragic ordeal. His name is on this Email. I have also included some of the names of the other veterans that are also familiar about what happened that day. They may be able to give you more information as to what happened that day and the day after.
As I said, I was on Firebase Bastogne when it happened. Colonel Hilbert (battalion commander at the time) was bringing all of the Company’s in closer to the firebase so that hot Christmas meals could be choppered out to the troops.
I received the following Email from Mike COLAs who was a forward observer (FO) with 2/320 Arty, and was with C-1/327 from Jan. 1970 through September 1970.
“I was in the FDC at Camp Eagle when this happened. All the Arty side was according to spec, but someone in the field had misrepresented where the platoon was on the ground. Then when the regular defensive targets (delta tangos, as we used to call them) were fired in, the rounds landed right in the middle of where the platoon was set up. I forget the FO’s name, but he was wounded and survived.
I remember a thorough investigation being done, but never saw the outcome. It was definitely a plotting error by either the platoon leader or the FO or both. Don’t know if this sheds any further light on it, but this is what I know.”
Just recently we had another ABU by the name of Mil Thorton who found the 327th website. He was with 1st platoon.
In an Email to Paul Shaffer Mil Thorton also recalls some of what happened that day, and wrote:
“I was the RTO in 3rd platoon. My name is Mil Thornton. I just found the 1/327th site. I’ve been looking for any contact with others from the 1/327th for years. When I was surfing through the names I got to yours (Paul Shaffer) and its’ the first that I’ve seen that remembers XMAS eve of 1970.
My heart is jumping right now and I just want to say, Welcome home.
I knew Mike Bertell, real well. He was the RTO for your platoon. We did a lot of things together at Eagle Beach when we would get together.
As I recall there weren’t too many that made it unharmed from that incident. I remember that it was the stupid new platoon leader you got that screwed everything up and didn’t know what the normal routine for setting up artillery coordinates etc. At least that is what we had learned in 3rd platoon. I have a vivid memory of hearing the RTO letting us all know that you had takin’ 2 H.E. rounds and the fire center saying to get your heads down because there where 2 more on their way. I was listening on my radio and it was really frustrating.
We lost a lot of good friends that day. I remember that your platoon had the guys with the shortest time left also.
I have come to learn over the years that so many of our soldiers in different wars lost their lives in friendly fire incidents.”
Dave Hansen was the Captain I worked for in S2 in TOC. He sent me the following Email:
“From what I remember, the platoon was setting up their NDP’s (Night Defensive Perimeters) for the night and the platoon leader plotted his position about 1000 yards (or meters) off and then called in a round and it landed right in the middle of his platoon. If you remember, they had him out of the field within hours of this happening. Well, I reread it, but If I remember correctly they were setting up before the cease fire time of 6 pm.”
Captain Hansen and I remember that they brought the platoon leader out by chopper to Firebase Bastogne. Colonel Hilbert dressed him down in front of everyone on the helipad in front of TOC. They then put him on a chopper again and we think they sent him somewhere to the rear. If they would have left him out in the field, he would have been dead meat. I remember he was a 2nd louie who had just graduated from ROTC.
There are a few conflicting points, but they are still almost along the same lines. What I can remember is that, as Captain Hansen stated, the Platoon Leader misread his map and he was about a 1000 meters off from the actual map coordinates that he stated he was located. One of the other platoons, and for some reason I want to say Bravo Company had an FO (Forward Observer) also. He had called for a marking round for his squad’s Delta Tango’s (Defensive Targets). When the marking round went off a safe distance from their location, he then called the Arty Battery to fire for effect. Unbeknownst to the FO, the round went off directly above 2nd platoon of A Company. The RTO’s from ABU tried to call in to report the incident about the marking round but it was too late. The next round landed directly in the middle of their NDP (Night Defensive Perimeter).
Here is some information provided by Bruce Swander. He is a historian who has looked up information pertaining to various incidents that occurred during the Vietnam era for the 1/327th.
Checked the date and I show 9 from A/1/327 lost that day. I’m also seeing a pattern here with your Unit in the 70/71 time frame. For most Units, when guys were killed due to friendly fire, they coded their cause of death as ‘Misadventure’.
But with 1/327, all 9 of these men (and similar friendly fire incidents); they’re being coded as ‘Non-hostile, Other Accident’. This latter coding is a little misleading…..esp with these 9….as it usually infers a unique accidental death (such as Wilken in the race relations incident). As time goes on, your Assoc needs to clarify these type of deaths as to what they really were. Chances are that the families of these fallen soldiers have never been told as to just what happened.
Mike, here are the names that I show:
SP4 Paul D’Amato
SP4 Gregory Felker
SP4 Larry Heen
Cpl Calvin Mack
SP4 Thomas Noble
Sgt Michael Nugent
Cpl Vern Odom
Cpl Wesley Phillips
SP4 Steve Pohancek
Beyond Christmas Eve, I did find three more that died of wounds sustained, and they were probably also hit that day:
SP4 Anthony Brese Died 12/26/70
Cpl Kenneth Griffin Died 12/28/70
Cpl Jaime Laboy Died 1/8/71
All 12 coded to A/1/327, and all due to Non-Hostile, Other Accident. If you guys can corroborate that these last 3 were hit on the 24th, please let me know so we can annotate our Master List accordingly.
Hope this helps,
I have also been in contact with Terry Berkbigler who also was with 3rd platoon during the time of the incident. He wrote me a letter of what he remembered that evening and the next day. I will have to transcribe the letter and send it to you via Email. Their platoon was sent to provide aide and security during the night for the wounded and to pick up body parts on Christmas day.
Below is the memorial web-page for your father that is on the 327th website. If you happen to have a Vietnam picture of your father or could provide one to Dave Cook, he will put it on the page also.
So far, you are the third person who has found this website and has ask for information regarding one of the ABU’s who lost their life that day. Welby Schrader the cousin of Steve Pohanchek and Angel B the friend of Thomas G. Noble have both requested information.
I hope this gives you a little more information as to what happened that day. We don’t know what information any of the families received from the military as far as what happened that day. In his entry on the 327th Guest Book, Welby Schrader stated something about a 105 round that was short. It wasn’t due to a short round if that is the picture the Army tried to paint. It was due to human error. The platoon leader reported his coordinates a 1000 meters from where he was actually located on the map.
If you have any additional questions, or if I can be of any additional help, don’t hesitate to ask. All of us still remember and grieve the loss of your dad and all the other ABU’s and veterans who didn’t make it home.
They will not be forgotten!
Above the Rest and Among the Best,
More memories from this tragic event…….
My name is Bernie Davies and I was with D Btry, 2/320 FA, located on the upper position at FSB Birmingham, Christmas 1970. I just found you web site and read what was written bout that day and would like to add some perspective from Arty. We were located on the top of Birmingham and Alpha battery, 2/320, was located at the base of the hill. My recollection is one of devastation, there is no other word to describe how I felt or the others in my unit felt when we heard of the friendly fire incident that had been fired by Alpha battery. We were told that it had happened and that 9 of our brothers were killed. A friend of mine from our battery had even been down there visiting and helping hump ammo when it happened. Please accept this humble note that the grunts in the field and the families at home were not alone in grief. Every Christmas since then that day is prominent in my mind. If I can be of further assistance please let me know.
Regarding the Christmas Eve friendly fire incident that occurred near Fire Base Bastogne in 1970. I was the chief computer for C Btry, 2/320 Arty, stationed on Bastogne. The incident occurred while we were celebrating Christmas eve services in our unit, less than an hour before the Christmas cease fire.
I did not know any of the people who were in the unit that was hit. It was my understanding that the infantry platoon had left the fire base earlier that day. The platoon leader was anxious to adjust in a couple of defensive targets prior to the cease fire. That platoon was supported by the artillery unit at Fire Base Birmingham because it was too close to our hill for our unit to effectively support it.
Standard procedure for that kind of fire mission would have been for the artillery unit to fire a first round marking round – a 200 meter up white phosphorous air burst. D Btry apparently did not have any white phosphorous rounds and, instead, fired two consecutive smoke rounds. Smoke rounds are not as obvious as white phosphorous. When the smoke rounds were not observed, the people on the ground assumed that it was safe to fire the high explosive round. Only one hp round was fired and you know the result.
It is a memory that I can never forget.