Fire Support Base Tomahawk
If you would like to add your memories to this thread please email them to David J.
A few years back, maybe even before the 327th Vietnam Eagles web site was launched in 2000 we had a pretty good discussion on the two attacks on FSB Tomahawk that took place almost a year apart in June of 1969 and 1970. At the time we had the discussion thread going there may have been only about 40 or so Brothers participating online with us. I don’t know if anyone has the original saved, but it would be interesting if anyone has it. At the time of the June 19th, 1969 attack the Kentucky National Guard was using Tomahawk in preparation for their rotation back to the world. The attack occurred during a USO show and Bardstown, KY gained the distinction of the American town with the most KIAs during the war.
When I arrived In-Country in September ’69, Tomahawk was the first FSB I was on. Security responsibility belonged to No Slack and I was with A Co. whose CP was at nearby Nuoc Ngot Bridge. Although the devastation of June’s attack was no longer apparent this “Cherry” was warned to pay attention while pulling guard because of what had happened there. The 155 SP had been moved to the upper portion of the hill and the former base area had been bulldozed over leaving a nice flat spot where it had been. The stage where the USO shows were held was left standing outside the new wire and I recall seeing a Korean Troop perform while I was there (day time show). Later in the spring of 1970 the lower area was again fortified and a battery of 105s was placed in the perimeter. I don’t recall if the 105s were still there when the attack occurred in June of 1970. The attackers did not fair so well the second time they came at the hill and enough were killed by the Delta No Slack defenders that a cargo sling hauled by a S’Hook was used to remove their bodies. We suffered one KIA if I recollect right a trooper from the FDC who was struck in the head by the tail fins of a mortar illum round. During the original traffic we had a number of eyewitnesses to the fight of 1970 with us. From a 326th Engineer who was working the perimeter in his mini bulldozer the day of the attack, Sapper Tommy Trott and the Delta Co. Medic who was wounded on the hill during the battle while treating casualties.
For any of you that might be wondering what kind of SP tracked vehicle we are talking about, I am including a couple of photos I took on Hill 88. These are the Kentucky National Guardsmen in question.
Dave “Hawk” Wayne
Here are some photos of the Tomahawk flag that I helped put up when it was new and took it down a day or two after Tomahawk was over run in June.
It means a lot to me………..it is my only keep sake that I was able to bring back. I was wounded in the Ashau July and all of my other things, like war souvenirs, weren’t sent with me when I was medivaced to Japan. The only reason I still have it is because I had carried it in my personal box (7.62 ammo box) with some tapes and a few letters.
All of the damage to the flag is battle damage…….the flag was new when I and some of the guys put up the pole at the CP, some time around early May. We didn’t have any rope to tie it to the pole so the only thing we had to do the job, was a cord from a poncho liner which you can still see is attached on the upper left corner.
I never knew how many men were KIA that night and I would like to know more about the Guardsmen that were there.
I’ll try to keep this story brief.
My stay at Tomahawk
I was sent to Tomahawk some time in early May with 3rd Plt. 1/327. We had been pulling ambushes in the Loc Nock cemetery area, about 10 clicks south, and going to Tomahawk was a good relief from humping.
When we got there some of the bunkers were already there (don’t know who built them) but we needed more. We spent the next month building bunkers out of empty 105 shell boxes filled with dirt, 12 X 12 timbers, PSP for the roofs, and sand bags. We built the CP and about 4 other bunkers around the eastern side of the hill. We also made a shower and one latrine.
I remember thinking that humping might have been a better deal, it was hot and dirty work. We made guard positions, put out Claymores, Phu gas barrels, trip flares and concertina wire around the premature.
The original Tomahawk was built in a bad spot, it was sort of a saddle with the artillery guns in the saddle, but its weakest point was on the west side of the hill which ran off at a slight slope up to the mountains “Charlie country”. The rest of it was a steep hill that could be easily defended. There were only two bunkers up there in a gap if I remember right. I vividly remember being sent up there for night guard duty and I never wanted to pull that post again! I’m no rocket scientist but it didn’t take a PHD to know that if Charlie wanted to take the hill that was where he would come calling. In fact we had a LP just outside the wire that NO ONE WANTED TO BE ASSIGNED TO.
Everything went along fine for awhile, we felt that the hill was about as well defended as we could make it. The artillery was due any day,we were pretty happy because we had our shower, good bunkers and at least one hot meal a day.
One night, I guess some time after midnight,either in late May or early June, I was on guard duty on top of the bunker on the south/eastern corner of the hill facing the mountains on the other side of Highway 1 overlooking the railroad tunnel. As I said, we were really content about then, real laid back, I was standing guard in a “T “shirt and my underwear and bare foot, what can I say, they woke me up and it was hot, besides nothing had happened in a month RIGHT. All at once I see a flash on the side of the hill across the highway. Charlie had been trying to blow up the railroad bridge just south of Tomahawk for some time and that is what I thought was happening.
We had been given one of those new star light scopes that had a lens about 8” in diameter and mounted on a tripod, they said it cost $9,000 and we had better take care of it or they would take it your of our pay!
I remember thinking “I’ll find you, you SOB” I stood up and turned on the scope and was knocked on my ass by a rocket that hit a stack of empty 105 boxes that were stacked up on the right side of the bunker. I was still in the dumb ass mode and jumped back up to try to find this clown when another explosion went off by the latrine over by the LZ. About that time It dawned on me that we were under attack and I had better take cover. I dove to the rear of the bunker where there was about a two foot dip where a trail led to the bunker door. I felt that a rocket couldn’t get me there…….then I heard it………that “POOMP, POOMP” sound, the little guy in my head was saying MORTARS, MORTARS!! I knew that I was screwed if one got even close. I began to scramble as fast as I could down the trail to the bunker door so I could get inside. As I got to the door I run head long into Gomer (I don’t remember his real name) trying to come out!! After some choice words like “get the F#@K out of the way!!” I made it into the door only to remember that I had left my 16 on the roof !! I went back out to get it and by now the perimeter was opening up on the side of the hill coming up to the top. I threw my 16 to my shoulder, flipped the switch to full auto and pulled the trigger……..nothing !! the clip must have dropped out when I drug it off the roof. This was NOT my bunker, Not my hooch. I had no idea where to find any more clips……mine were about 50 yards away and mortars were falling like rain, or at least it seemed like it to me.
So there I stand, half naked, no shoes, with a rifle BUT no bullets in the middle of what I thought was surely going to be a human wave attack! After what seemed like an eternity, but was only a few minutes, I became aware that the human wave attack wasn’t coming and that the M60 to my right was firing at the wrong place….down the hill….the rocket had come from the other side of the highway. I scurried over there and convinced the gunner “Gentle Ben” to let me fire the gun because I had seen the gook fire the first rocket. I started firing at the spot only to watch my rounds fall harmlessly at the edge of highway 1………they were well out of range of a 60. The attack only lasted about 30 minutes at the most, and the rest of the night passed with only our mad minute, keep them honest, drills.
The next morning Army intelligence came out to survey the damage and “back azimuth” the 60mm tail fins to determine where they were fired from. Next they talked to me about the first rocket. I told them that I saw the flash from the first rocket that hit beside my bunker and pointed to the side of the hill the other side of Hwy. 1. After a few minutes one of the investigators came up carrying the tail fin of what he said was a B-40 rocket and told me that I was wrong that a B-40 didn’t have that much range, was I sure that it wasn’t fired from the edge of the Hwy. Being the stubborn 21 year old that I was my answer was something like,”I know what I saw and it came from the side of the hill” he said something about “cherry” and I said something about “REMFS” and it was left at that until right before we were sent to the Ashua they found me again at Eagle Beach and told me that they had just found out that Charlie had come up with a booster for B-40’s and that I probably was right.
In retrospect, I know that Charlie was just getting the range to their target that night. In fact Intelligence should have figured that one out…….the artillery wasn’t even there at that time.
A week or so went by and the great day arrived……the Artillery group arrived with their 155 mobile guns and a lot of heavy track vehicles, each with a 50 caliber on top. We were real excited because not only did we get to use some of the 50’s that would reach out and touch someone, but we also got three hot meals a day. One of the first things I did was set up a 50 on the same bunker and test fired it at the spot where I saw the B-40 fired from……………NO PROBLEM! 50’s are sweet.
The guard guys were great and they pitched in to build a six seated latrine and set up more defensive positions. We thought, what in the hell is a National Guard unit doing here? We weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth……..they had everything. They even got the Seabees to asphalt the LZ so the dust wouldn’t blow everywhere when a chopper came in.
About two or three weeks went by and I was on road guard down by Hwy.1 and one of the local kids that hung around named “Speedy” told me in pigeon English “Three days you go mountain Loc Nock yes?” I thought, this is weird!, so I told the CO and they (I guess Intelligence) came out and picked him up………saw him later just before we went for a battalion stand down at Eagle Beach.
Sure as S % # T in a few days we were told that we were going on a mission, and that a line Co. (the 2/502) had just came out of the Ashaw was going to take our place as security force…….they could use the three hots a day. We were trucked to Phu Loc, then we humped to the old bombed out school house. There we met up with a company of Arvin’s and were CA’ed to the mountain top just east of Loc Noc!! Speedy was right……I guess that should tell you something.
After we recon’ed down the mountain (another story) we were in the valley east of Loc Noc at our NDP when we saw the attack on Tomahawk that night. I remember it too well. I remember feeling so helpless because we were at least 8-10 clicks away and there was no way for us to get there in the dark…….we just had to sit there and watch as the flares were going off and Gun ships circled over Tomahawk, including Puff. The next day we humped out to Hwy.1 and were trucked back to Tomahawk. The rest I don’t like to remember except for a burned out jeep by the CP and looking into the bunker up at the LP. We were leaving and I looked back and saw the flag still flying and I wasn’t going to let some Gook come back and take it so I cut it down and put it in my personal box and carried it until I was hit in the Ashau in July.
End of story.
I would like to say that Monday Morning Quarter Backing is easy now but, I know that we were being prepped that night in early June and that little Speedy knew more than he should have. I have always felt that had we been there, as defense force, instead of being in the mountains. Things would have turned out different. We knew that the hill had a bad weak spot…..the LP, but we knew about it. We had been prepped and we were on our guard………I had even quit standing guard in my underwear. The guys that replaced us (if they ever got there?) had just come out of the Ashau to three hots and a shower, so I know they were feeling like they had gone on an “in country R&R”. I’m not saying anything bad about whoever relieved us…..it is just your nature to relax when you have a shower and hot meals after humping the boonies.
Everything I have written is the truth to the best of my memory, but don’t hold me to the exact dates and times………you know how time changes some things, but these memories will be with me the rest of my life. In Nam you really didn’t keep up with the date until you got short, and I was no where near to being short.
Dave A. Shade
D co. 1/327 3rd Plt. 4/69-7/69
Return to top of page
I did find the book. It is titled “Sons of Bardstown” and authored by Jim Wilson. I am reading it again and will send on to you all a mini-book report. I have looked for the threads from a few years ago about Tomahawk and I will stay alert for the files if I still have them.
The outfit was Battery C, 138th Artillery Bn, Ky National Guard. 105 of its original members lived in Bardstown, KY.
This was the same men who had been on Hill 88. The book also talks about Hill 88.
There was only one infantry platoon (unidentified) at Tomahawk, whose CP was at the high point of the firebase. Because of the sparse number of infantryman, the artillery manned many of the perimeter bunkers.
It was not a USO show but a company barbecue/party with a movie (the Odd Couple). Earlier in the day of the 19th, when the beer supply got down to only Carling Black Label (which I personally liked), the C Battery commander sent some men into Phu Bai for a beer run. Battery B was station at Phu Bai. The guys also found hamburger paddies, stole some ice and grills, and started the cookout on Tomahawk about 5:00pm the 19 June 69. The grunts were invited also…God bless the redlegg
After a couple hours and during the movie, which was in a tent, it started to rain hard and loud. It is thought the enemy used this storm to cover their last infiltration’s. (130 enemy estimated on the initial assault and another 150-180 ready to overrun the firebase once the signal was given)(the enemy spent the waiting time in a railroad tunnel across the road by hwy one.) The train tracks had been blown so no trains were expected.
The rain broke up the party and most went to their bunkers, those who had guard duty went to their positions. The rain lasted only a few hours. About 1:00 am, the 20 June, the attack started with the initial focus on the infantry platoon on the high ground, the FDC, then the big 155 self propelled artillery pieces (six of them in a lazy W pattern).
Due to the darkness and the concentration of friendlies and enemies, only one gun ship made an attack after an hour and a half wait for the gunships. The enemy force waiting outside the perimeter to overrun the firebase, mistakenly got the wrong colored green flare that signaled retreat rather than attack and the main force pulled back. Otherwise Tomahawk would have been totally overrun. At first light, the enemy pulled out.
I will try to send more later.
They supported us for months on Hill 88 (see web site) before we pulled out and they moved over to Tomahawk. We were pretty good buds with a lot of them. And their town now has the distinction of having the most KIAs of any town across America. Ranger Tom Carpenter and their C.O. were pretty tight.
And yes, 155SPs and they were from Kentucky.
I was on the hill across Highway 1 from FSB Tomahawk when it was hit and saw most of the action. I don’t remember the exact number of casualties (about 12 KIA?), but they lost all the self propelled 155’s that they had. If I remember correctly, the NVA lost nine KIA.
I had been on Tomahawk twice (Mike Moreno and John Hargett were also as well as possibly Jim Delamorton) and we considered that it was a death trap if the area being secured included the 155 sites. The bunkers were not situated well, didn’t cover the whole perimeter and the ridge line came down from the mountains overlooking it FSB. At the time of the FSB being overrun, there were no infantry guarding the perimeter, only the Redlegs and they weren’t trained as grunts and spread thin as well.
If there were no guns on the FSB, then only the nose directly overlooking Highway 1 was held. It had two large bunkers of which the one highest up was basically a small fort. If this was the configuration then the site was easy to defend.
The attack went off quickly and was well executed. The NVA had worked their way up to the wire on previous nights and, I heard, had cut and taped the wire the night before the attack so that it was an easy entry during the infiltrate. They had held up on a finger facing north towards Phu Loc and about three hundred meters away which became the new FSB Tomahawk/Roy later in July or August. With no infantry, no patrols had gone out.
Who ever the officer(s) was who had decided not to put a platoon of grunts on the FSB with the Redlegs and who had setup the West facing perimeter line should have been Court Marshaled. There was no logical excuse for what happened on FSB Tomahawk in June 1969.
I was a Nebraska National Guardsman, who had volunteered for active duty so I took a personal interest in the Kentucky Guardsman. Plus, they provided direct support for us off of Hill 88 and Los Banos. Besides that, once in a while I could get a cold beer from the red leg. The battery CO, Captain Thompson, was always eager to help the infantry anyway he could (besides the occasional cold beer). Thompson later died when a recon helicopter he was riding in got shot down.
Their tour of duty was nearing its end in early July 69. The Kentucky Guard 155 self propelled battalion had been brought together, from the various FSB of the Bowling Alley AO, and they had already begun out processing at Tomahawk. It was early evening and they were assembled and were watching a USO show.
Nobody had their weapons except the 1/327 infantry company that was securing Tomahawk. The enemy took great advantage of the USO distraction and the sappers had successfully penetrated before they begin the
I wasn’t there as I was with Delta/NS pulling highway security for the connecting Eagle/Hue and the Ashau.
After the attack on Tomahawk, the 1/327 (ATR) swapped AO’s with the 2/327 (No Slack)
I found, a bought, a book titled “The Sons of Bardstown” that tells in detail about the attack and the outfit. Bardstown, Ky, has the war’s highest per capita KIA ratio. The book but it is still available if you look for it through the internet used book sites. I was unable to find the book tonight, I may have loaned it out, otherwise I could look up the unit designation. Bardstown is more famous for it bourbon.
Three years ago, while passing through KY, I pulled off the interstate and drove into Bardstown. There is
a nice memorial on the court house square recognizing the Guardsman and those who died. The battalion wasmade up of units scattered across Kentucky.
Return to top of page
D CO 1/327th was at the bottom of Tomahawk about 6 or 7 clicks away and we had a night view of the assault on the Firebase. We were by the river down in the bowling alley. I had a link that use to get me to the unit, but after so many years it is no longer there.
I do know that they where getting mortar from across the road on the hill where we spot movement and shot up the side of it. We had a friendly fire casualty that afternoon. Don’t remember if FBS Tomahawk or FBS Roy where providing the fire power, but it seem to me that it had to be Tomahawk. We had a short round and one of the guys (don’t remember who) had his jaw blown away. Any way I heard from a guy that was there at the same time I was there and he said he had friend who was on Tomahawk at that time and that the gooks where coming in teams of three, the guy with the wire cutters, the AK 47 and the sapper, in that order. The date was June 19, 1969 and it also got over run a year later.
Brian Beltman, he might know the unit that was there, since he is a gun bunny.
It definitely was Kentucky. I have several photos of them on Hill 88. I sent them to Hannibal some time ago and I thought he might put them on our website but perhaps he couldn’t fit it in with all the other stuff he has done. If you need a photo of them I could see if I could find them in my files.
There is a book about the Kentucky Nat’l Guard getting overrun. It’s called “The Boys from Bardstown”. Dale and I were with them at Hill 88. A fine bunch of guys. I didn’t get to know any of them very well other than just to say hello. We were back at Eagle one time for a stand down and hadn’t even been there a full day when our CO CO put a halt to a USO show and we had to go on a Heli assault with in the hour. Their CO had been shot down while on a recon flight and killed. We spent the next week looking for the chopper and getting mortared every night. I’m sure Dale recalls also. It rained the whole time and we didn’t have enough time to get all our equipment and ammo, etc. A rotten time. I bet Tom Carpenter recalls it too.
The first time I remember going to FSB Tomahawk was sometime in late Jan or early Feb 69, I had only been with 1st Plt D CO 1/327th about 1 or 2 days. The reason I remember, is that two helicopters had been shot down the day before I transferred to D Co and being with 160th AVN Grp Pathfinders at the time we were suppose rappel and recover the bodies, but the weather prevented that from happening. I remember Capt Chase telling us how all 16 of us pathfinders had to go in get the bodies because we were not going to leave any one behind.
Any way when we went up the road to Tomahawk it was closed and there where bunkers already in place and we had to do repairs, look for booby traps and what not. That afternoon the bodies that I was suppose to have helped recover as a pathfinder were brought in by a couple teams of LRRPs and they were cover up in poncho liners. When the Huey came in to get the bodies the ponchos were blown off and this guy in 1st Plt took a few pictures of the men. I noticed that only 3 bodies were recovered. The reason I say only 3 is that only one leg of a man was there along with 3 bodies that were burned beyond recognition. You could see the faces as if they had been burned alive, but I believe that was caused by the fact that the fire had burnt most of the skin around the face.
The pictures that were taken by that guy (can’t remember his name) were shown by him when he got them back, I glanced at them and it still made me sick to look at them. Andy Roy can testify to that part of the story, he refused to look at the pictures.
1st Plt was only on the FSB for about a week and we were relieved by 3rd Plt (Andy Roy, John Hargett took our place). Don’t ask me how we got back to Phu Bai II from Tomahawk because I don’t have any idea all I remember is we are back in Phu Bai II about 16 clicks out in the boonies. (I didn’t smoke or drank at the time, just don’t remember). You guys would have to ask Andy, Dave or John as to who replaced them at Tomahawk. I do know that one of the pathfinders was in the lookout bunker that was on the finger away from the main site lost one of his hands throwing back out a Chicom that was thrown in when the initial attack began in 69. Again I don’t remember his name, but I still see his face. As far as I knew at the time that I was in country he was still alive after the attack.
ATR & NS
I was with Tiger Force on a stand down at Camp Eagle when Tomahawk got hit. At about 0330 the 1SGT woke me up and told me to get all the Tigers on the helipad by 0500 for an air assault to a place unknown. I was Tiger Plt Sgt at the time and by some miracle we were able to round everyone up and get them to the Helipad at the allotted time. We were told we were going to relieve Tomahawk as they were under attack by an unknown size force. We got into the choppers and took off. We flew low following Highway 1. When we came around the curve of the mountain pass just north of Tomahawk, I could see a 3/4 ton burning on the Helipad.
When we touched down, I saw n E-6 who looked to be in shock walking along a pile of dead Americans saying “That’s one of mine. This one too.” He went down the line identifying all the guys that were his. This was a KY National Guard 155 Self Propelled Battery. Their FDC took a satchel charge and it had killed most of the command staff. I heard all but 1 gun in the battery had been knocked out and that gun was firing canister rounds all night to keep the NVA off. From what I could see, this E-6 was the highest ranking survivor from that Battery. The Guard Battery shared perimeter defense with a line company and it was very evident that the NVA had spent considerable time just outside the wire getting ready to hit the Firebase.
Tigers went south and east to try to find the unit responsible for the attack without any luck. Another line company from 1/327 went north and west from the Firebase but were not able to catch up with the unit that hit the FB.
It was the greatest number of American dead I had ever seen in one place in my 18 months in Vietnam. It was the most sobering thing I ever witnessed in my life. I had heard that most of the Guardsmen were from Frankfort, KY After the war I heard that Frankfort, KY lost more men in Vietnam, per capita, then any other city in the US. I do not know if this is true but I wouldn’t doubt it.
I was the duty NCO at FSB Roy 1/327. I was assisting (on the radio) with coordinating arty with the arty officer, dust-off and gunship support out of Phu Bai . On that night FSB Roy took some rounds, and the CB Rock Crusher was hit. June of 69. I totally agree about the illogic of the defense and lack of patrols and checking the wire.
I had been at FSB Tomahawk a few times prior to this incident. What a hump!! was flown by LOH to Tomahawk just hours after incident happened. I was performing additional duties as PIO photographer, replacing another soldier sent home on emergency leave. I was with HHC 2/327th INF when this major incident happened. Tomahawk was almost Overrun by VC and I think some regulars. I might be wrong about this, but I believe time frame was sometime between Aug-Oct 1969. Wire was penetrated by sappers and we lost brothers while they slept!
Some ARVNs were supposedly on bunker line when this happened and just looked the other way. Unfortunately, don’t remember the guard unit’s designation?? My scrapbook of all of Vietnam experiences and picture of brothers I had met was stolen out of my locker stateside duty at Ft. Sill, OK.
John H. RVN 69-70
The Tomahawk Black Panther
It is strange that when men are young they seem to have this urge to kill fearsome creatures such as lions, tigers and bears. Maybe it is something left over from our caveman days, or perhaps it is a genetic thing. Such was the case of the Tomahawk Panther.
The first time I remember seeing this magnificent creature must have been in early May of 1969. If my memory is right we had only one Starlight scope at that time. It was issued to “Adam Rat” (Willard Adams) who had just gotten back from the Big Red One sniper school. We were using it at the guard post on the southern side of Tomahawk because that is where the road leading up the hill and therefore the second most weak point of Tomahawk, the weakest point being the LP. This Starlight was the rifle model, later we got the giant one mounted on a tri-pod.
One night someone called us over to see this big cat that was prowling down by the garbage bump at the bottom of the hill. When it was my turn I pressed my eye to the aperture and after my eye adjusted to the scene I couldn’t believe my eyes. There in the greenish glow of the Starlight was this big cat that must have been black as night. Looking through a Starlight, or any scope as far as that goes, it is hard to judge how large an object is, but the garbage dump was at least 100 yards down from our guard post. I will make a guess that the cat must have been at least 200 lbs, I say this because my rotthwilder, Magoo, is 140 lbs. and this cat made him look like a runt. To me the most remarkable thing about the cat was that the cats tail was as long, or maybe longer than his body, I would estimate that his overall length was 7 feet nose to the tip of his tail.
After everyone had their turn to see the cat the old caveman urges took over and we wanted to kill this wonderful creature. The starlight wasn’t mounted on Rats’ Match M14 so the best way we had to possibly get the cat was to open up with everything we had, 60’s, 79’s 14’s and hope to get him. We had always had a mad minute ( you open up on the premature with everything that goes BANG once a night at different times,to keep the gooks guessing) so why not use it to kill the cat. We tried to use the 79’s firing first but when the grenade went off the Starlight would shut off because of the flash and you couldn’t see the target. For a full minute the 60’s and everyone else blasted away at where the panther was last seen. The next morning we went down to the dump to collect our trophy………nothing but tracks leading into the dump but not a track leading away. That cat must have been able to leap twenty feet or more we could find nothing.
Up until Tomahawk was overrun in June about once a week (two or three times) the cat would come back and we would try again and the cat would win. I really believe that he could hear us take our weapons off safety. Now that I have reached old age, I have gained respect and admiration for Gods creatures and I am glad that we never got to take our pictures with that magnificent animal. I do wish we could have had a camera that would take night photos. We could have used it to take his photo so people would know that this isn’t just another war story.
Dave Shade ATR
Return to top of page
Mini-book report “Sons of Bardstown” , Tomahawk Battle June 20, 1969
Notes from Sons of Bardstown book by James Wilson, by Crown Publisher, concerning the NVA attack on Firebase Tomahawk, July 20, 1969
Twelve men in Battery C, 138th Artillery Bn, were killed that night or died within a month from wounds of the battle. Seven of them were Guardsman, five were non-Guardsman. 37 artillerymen were wounded..
About half of the men, in Battery C, 138th Artillery Bn, were new to the unit as‚ infusion had been started. Infusion was the practice of gradually replacing members of a unit, a few at a time, with men from other units who still had time remaining of their tour of duty. This phase in was done so that when the men whose tour was up were rotated home, the unit would still be up to strength and would remain combat functional. The infused men were often screw-ups as the other artillery commanders were reluctant to send their best and used the chance to get rid of their trouble makers.
The 101st platoon, (identified by David Shade, as from a line company of the 2/502) that was located on the high ground. Four were killed and thirteen were wounded. The NVA knew that the platoon holding the high ground needed to be eliminated or contained for the attack on the artillery to be a success.
Between 25-30 NVA were killed. An estimated 150 RPGs and satchel charges were expended by the NVA. Three 155 self propelled howitzers were destroyed, a fourth was rendered unfireable. The howitzers were replaced the next day, pulling them from the other batteries of the Guard battalion in the same general AO.
Also destroyed were an ammunition storage area, nine bunkers, the mess hall, the dining tent, the maintenance area, four self-propelled ammo carriers, three two-and-a-half ton trucks, two three-quarter ton trucks, and three jeeps
Survivors admitted there was a complacency was a problem, one of which was a failure to keep small arms and helmets with them at all times. Also, because the AO had been very quiet for the previous ten days, several bunker guards were thought to have been asleep. Especially among those men who had been recently infused into the outfit.
David Parrish, a Guardsman who survived the battle, retrieved the US flag flying above the artillery FDC (Fire Direction Center). That flag, like Shade’s flag, also had battle damage of shrapnel holes but not near as bad as the one flying above the infantry’s position.
The book has several photos, showing Hill 88, Tomahawk before and after the battle, the memorial monuments in Kentucky, the flag that flew above the FDC at Tomahawk, photos of the men in Vietnam and in Kentucky after the war. There is a group photo of a twenty year reunion. Info from sources other than the book, “Sons of Bardstown”.
According to David Shade, to date, the infantry platoon is unidentified except for being from a line company of the 2/502 infantry battalion. They had been working the Ashau AO and they thought that the duty on Tomahawk was a nice break.
Dave A. Shade D Co. 1/327 3rd plt. 4/69-7/69 retrieved the US flag atop of Tomahawk that the infantry had flying above the platoon CP The Listening Post, men survived the battle but melted two M-60 barrels in the process.
The outfit was Battery C, 138th Artillery Bn, Ky National Guard. 105 of its original members lived in Bardstown, KY. This was the same men who had been on Hill 88. The book also talks about Hill 88.
There was only one infantry platoon (unidentified) at Tomahawk, whose CP was at the high point of the firebase. Because of the sparse number of infantryman, the artillery manned many of the perimeter bunkers.
It was not a USO show but a company barbecue/party with a movie (the Odd Couple). Earlier in the day ofthe 19th, when the beer supply got down to only Carling Black Label (which I personally liked), the C Battery commander sent some men into Phu Bai for a beer run. Battery B was station at Phu Bai. The guys also found hamburger paddies, stole some ice and grills, and started the cookout on Tomahawk about 5:00pm the 19 June 69. The grunts were invited also…God bless the Red Leg
After a couple hours and during the movie, which was in a tent, it started to rain hard and loud. It is thought the enemy used this storm to cover their last infiltrations. (130 enemy estimated on the initial assault and another 150-180 ready to overrun the firebase once the signal was given)(the enemy spent the waiting time in a rail road tunnel across the road by hey one.) The train tracks had been blown so no trains were expected. The rain broke up the party and most went to their bunkers, those who had guard duty went to their positions. The rain lasted only a few hours. About 1:00 am, the 20 June, the attack started with the initial focus on the infantry platoon on the high ground, the FDC, then the big 155 self propelled artillery pieces (six of them in a lazy W pattern).
Due to the darkness and the concentration of friendlies and enemies, only one gun ship made an attack after an hour and a half wait for the gunships. Puff also joined the battle, with its mini guns and flares. The enemy force waiting outside the perimeter to overrun the firebase, mistakenly got the wrong colored green flare that signaled retreat rather than attack and the main force pulled back. Otherwise Tomahawk would have been totally overrun. At first light, the enemy pulled out.
This is just a small synopsis of what happened on 10 June. I had been with D company I think Elephant Valley or Ashau and we walked out of the bush straight to FSB Tomahawk for a 3 day standdown on the 9th. I had just gotten off radio watch about 2 AM and was sitting on the side of my bunk in bunker 2, “I think”, when there was a call from bunker 10 that there was gooks in the wire (sappers).
They had made it to the last strand when one set off a trip flare and the 60 gunner cut him into and then all hell broke lose. I was head medic and was told if anything happened to gather all my medics and take over the Colonel’s bunker and that’s where they would bring the wounded to us.
The Top Sgt? came in and said to deploy the guys around the hill and we left the Colonel’s bunker and spaced 1 medic everyother bunker to take care of the wounded. As we were leaving 122 rockets started hitting the compound. The colonel’s bunker was destroyed and I was headed to bunker 2 and got thrown into the air by concussion from the rockets. The Top Sgt sent me to bunker 3 or 4 because our first casualty was there. I got into the bunker with 4 or 5 guys and asked which one was wounded they said none and that the guy in the hole 25 yards away was hit. I crawled to the hole and looked in and I saw an empty canister roun sticking out of the guys head. He was not wearing a helmet and we were firing straight up for illumination and the canister came down and struck him in the head. If he had been wearing his pot maybe he would have made it.
I covered him up and crawled back to the bunker and treated a couple of guys for shrapnel wound such as I had gotten coming across the compound. I threw at least a case of grenades out of that bunker down the hill. We medivaced close to 200 guys and I only remember losing that one. We swept the hill and I could see the VC running down the hill to QL1 and taking a truck over to escape. We took 4 prisoners and we stacked their dead up on the chopper pad and the Top Sgt. Took a pic of me on top of the bodies holding my M-16 in the air. I believe there was 30 to 40 dead VC My Sgt. in charge was at TOC just down the road and he came up to Tomahawk later and treated me for shrapnel wounds and checked over the situation. His name was Robert Ryan and the other Sgt., I only remember calling him Peaches.
No Slack Doc Burton
Return to top of page
This unit also killed as many 2/11 folk as the N V A did, I think the Battery from Bardstwon KY, holds the distinction of the one town who lost the most men in the entire Vietnamese war, I THINK, but not certain, that between Walt Tangel and I we Have pictures of our rear area destroyed by “Friendly” Kentucky Artillery, Maybe its something to do with the brain constantly on bourbon?
Roger H Dent
WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN THAT THE KY GUARD FIRE ON EAGLE? NEVER HEARD THAT ROGER I GUESS YOU WOULD BETTER THEN MOST. I KNOW EAGLE WAS HIT 1 TIME BAD WHEN I WAS THERE. BUT IT WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE FROM WHERE THE 27TH WAS
A Co 27th Combat Engineers
Vietnam August 1968–November 1969
Camp Eagle to the A Shau Valley, Route 547/548
Thanks to all the units who supported us on route 547.
Web Site for 27th Combat Eng Battallion Vietnam http://www.geocities.com/rt547/
I was on FSB Roy when the incident you describe, occurred. I was standing in the chow line talking to my squad leader John Coleman when I head a whoosh and felt a flash of heat go past us. Between us, stuck into the sandbag bunker was a red hot piece of steel from an arty round. It was the length of a machete, glowing red, and only our Guardian Angels prevented it from killing both of us. I was on the deck when the rest of the rounds hit. This had to be sometime in early November of 69. They told the grunts it was FSB Tomahawk’s 155SP zeroing their mutual supporting Delta Tangos and they got a little over enthusiastic. This was long after the Kentucky National Guard left country, does anyone know the Arty unit that was on TomaHawk at time? Brian Beltman you got your ears up? I don’t know anything about the Guard firing on Eagle it was either before or after I was In-Country but other 327th Brothers may know something.
NS/ATR! & OTOT!
I forwarded your info on KY NG’s to the arty mailing list and LTC Dent had this to say about them. A different point of view from one who is on the other end of the shell running the same size barrel. Just thinking about this reminds me of an incident at Roy in the latter part of 1969. A 155 unit was landing rounds near us and walked them up the hill towards our gun pits. It became life threatening. I witnessed our FDC calling the 155 battery and threatening to fire in there direction with two 8 inch howitzers. They did cease fire upon our signoff signature of HEAVYWEIGHT,,,OUT! This would have been in October or November. We could see Tomahawk from Roy. After their over run, did the KY battery resupply with troops and stay in country? The 11th was always in the Valley and out of range from us as were also from them. It may have been the SP unit that fired on us too. The 11th may have also been on Roy with us during those months. CRS kicking in again..
Dan A/1/83RD ARTY
I don’t know anything about the Guard firing on Eagle it was either before or after I was In-Country but other 327th Brothers may know something.
They fired up the 2/11 rear area, demolished the mess hall and some hooch’s, killed about 12 I think, to include a 1st Sgt ( Perhaps Alfa Battery) when a round impacted directly on him, not much left and not a pretty sight
Roger H Dent
Return to top of page
I read the book “Sons of Bardstown, and according to what it said, the KY NG unit left sometime around the 22nd of Oct, 1969. Due to the way that men rotated, the KY NG had been split up prior to June 19 (when Tomahawk had been overrun). Again according to the book 10 men from the arty unit were KIA that night (5 from the NG, 5 from the RA) and it also stated that everyone in the Paratrooper Plt was wounded or KIA, which from what I remember our largest Plt in D Co had around 22 to maybe 25 guys if we were lucky. I believe that it said that 17 men from Bardstown were KIA and that the pop was around 6,000. I came from a town of around 80 total population and we had 4 KIA during Vietnam and if I remember correctly about 3 more from the farms and ranches in the area
Glad to have a chance to respond. For late 1969 I only have limited info with respect to the 105s of the 2/320th Arty. On October 22 C Battery moved onto FSB Tomahawk from Roy, where it had been through most of September and before that at Los Banos in the latter part of August. But on November 8, C Battery moved from Tomahawk to Pistol where it and a 155 ARVN battery (A/34th ARVN Arty) both provided support for some operations in the eastern end of the Ruong Ruong valley carried out by elements of the 2/327th and 1/501st. This action lasted through most of November. Then on December 1 C Battery returned to Tomahawk and stayed there for the remainder of that month and at least until year’s end. Meanwhile, A/34th ARVN went from Pistol to Anzio. This info thus leaves a gap in time as to who was at Tomahawk from early November until December 1. Unfortunately I have no other info that includes more references to Tomahawk. The wild firing may have come from the 155s of the ARVN unit noted above. Certainly not improbable.
Take care. As ever,
I know that when I arrived In-Country (Sept. 69) there was only the Battery of 155SP on Tomahawk. Being Cherry I had too much going on in my brain to ever recall what battery it was. The lower level of the hill was flat and I was told that the guns had been moved to the upper hill after the attack in June 69. The only thing down their that was still standing was a small stage that held a USO show the first time I was on the hill and could have doubled as a movie screen. Sometime later that year or early the next the lower hill was again refortified and a battery of 105s was brought in again I don’t remember which battery it was or if I ever knew. We worked to exhaustion each day on the wire, fu-gas barrels and other defenses and pulled 50% alert thru the night. After that brief stay there our AO (A Co. 2/327th) moved over to FSB Los Banos where the 1/321st had their 105’s based ( I have a picture of me in front of the battery’s sign). Thanks for the Intel.
I was also in D companies 3rd Platoon 1/327th on Tomahawk and can say for a fact that guard post on top of the hill was very scary. I was on guard there one night prior to the attack and could hear activity outside the chain link fence. I called on the land line and said I was going to throw a few hand grenades. I tried to let them cook in my hand for a second or two before I dropped them over the edge of the bunker. My count was very fast so the grenade rolled further down the mountain than I had hoped it would, none the less it did the job of keeping them out that night as the next morning we looked at the fence and sure as hell they had started to cut through it. We stayed there a little longer or a day I can’t remember but watched it get overran the night of the day we left. I was the radio operator so we all listened and watched and not a thing we could do. I remember the mini guns from one of the airplanes and the lieutenant said it had the perimeter preprogrammed to shoot all around it. Go figure the Army would have something so sophisticated in 1969. We had gotten to know the Kentucky National Guard guys quite well so when we went back there the next day it was hard to hear which of them had been killed. They said the gooks were on the barrels of the 105’s and dropped satchel charges down the barrel and the gun powder burned the guys inside when it blew and some of those guys died a week later. I did not like the way the fire base was laid out with the guns down in the saddle and our main post was facing the ocean and the look out was all by itself on top of the other side of the saddle and that is where they came in from. I passed the fence cutting info on but the time was so short I guess that’s why they didn’t double the security up there. My heart goes out to the Kentucky unit as I think they were close to rotating out of Viet Nam.
I actually entered this picture after a rain into a photo contest. It shows two officers walking from our position down into the saddle with a rainbow in the back ground in the fields below. They asked me to name it so I called it Peace at War.
Right: Tomahawk and the guys are me, Jim Hallila, holding the fork, Sgt Cox and Alabama. Smith standing in the back and Jesse bent over and Sgt Welch holding the plate.
Return to top of page
My memories are cloudy the last few years, old age I guess, but if I am not confused I was with a small mortar squad on hwy 1 just under FSB Tomahawk the night it was hit. I never saw such fire and explosions. I didn’t think anyone on the hill could have survived. I served the first part of my tour in the bush with an m 60 and talked my way into the platoon with an 81 mortar along hwy 1. It was far more comfortable, but with only 5 us soldiers and a platoon of south Vietnamese to defend the little bridge we were defending, our *&^% would have been weak if we had ever been attacked. We stayed by our mortars all night when Tomahawk was hit expecting the worse, but it never came. We were told that all the positions along hwy 1 were hit that night that were close to tomahawk, but ours. Did not have first hand knowledge, but was told many of the NVA were killed trying to get over the fence, we strung fence around the thing every time I was ever up there. Was exhausted from stringing wire and guard duty and ready to go back to the field every time I was there. Also have some pictures from there, they were usually with a red glare from the red dust on the lens. I was impressed with the big artillery pieces on the hill, wasn’t there some 8 inch guns up there for a while. They looked like tanks and would shake the dirt loose from the bunkers when they fired.
Lots of good men served. We were lucky more did not get killed when I think back.
I was the FO with the infantry company on FB Tomahawk when it was hit in June, 1970. I agree with your comments about the single KIA that got hit with the illumination canister. I knew the guy at the time, but can’t remember his name.
I’m trying to find more contacts from that unit. Does anyone have names or links that I might try? I’d especially like to find the first sergeant and the recon sergeant that came with me from the artillery battery as the FO detail.
Tonight I found the name of the CO, Capt Robert Cox. As I remember it, we came in from the boonies one afternoon and partied all night long. The next morning the old man was sorely pissed with the level of security. A number of folks hadn’t even put out their claymores. Needless to say he and the top sergeant kicked our asses all day long and that night when the VC hit we were ready. I think the old man saved a lot of lives that day. The only thing that I have from the war is a sapper knife that I got the next day. It came from one of the dead VC.
I happened across this link leading me to an event I’ve been trying to read about for many years. I thought perhaps this one particular night was huge in my mind only. I was medevaced to 65th Evac. that night of 19 June 1969 and haven’t heard another word about it.
I was with 1st. Plt.,C co. 2/501, 101 Abn. My bunker was at the top of the hill, facing S. A great view of Hiway 1, and the hill across Hiway 1 to the SE. I remember sitting atop my bunker, a perfect target, enjoying what little breeze there was coming off the south China Sea This was mini-R&R time for me, just coming back out of the A Shau.
I heard the first “thump” from across the street and thought” No way!”I think the mortar landed behind me on the pad. I was in mid-air heading back into the bunker when it hit a 3/4 ton truck, I think.
The bad guys had the top precisely zeroed and the incoming started in earnest. My bunker was hit but withstood it nicely, however I remember thinking it may not survive another. I headed for the small opening to take a position outside. A little claustrophobia was setting in. With my head partially out of the opening, I heard the unmistakable sound of small projectiles breaking the sound barrier. This can only be perceived when bullets are moving in close proximity to ones head. I moved back inside, thinking this is very bad. The moment the incoming stopped, I emptied a magazine from inside the bunker toward the declining ground in front. No particular targets in sight,just frantic spraying from a terrified kid.
I then noticed a glow of what I thought was a cigarette on the floor and asked Becker “What’s that?” He had no time to offer a guess. The explosion was incredible. All three of us wounded, some worse than others. I caught a glimpse of someone in the the doorway a few moments later. Brought my 16 around and thought this Gook is HUGE, and very Black! It was the platoon Sgt. getting anyone who could walk and shoot to get outside NOW!. He assembled a ragtag group of guys, mostly wounded and bleeding and began an online assault toward the west end of perimeter. 8 or 9 of us online blasting away at targets unseen. I remember a black guy next to me firing his 60 from the hip. The muzzle blast buffeting my pants. I dropped back a half step to avoid losing a leg.
This is where I picked up Roger Thurston, who had dragged himself from under a couple of dead NVA. I hauled him back to the pad where Dustoff’s were starting to come in, and some sort of triage was happening. I went out on the second Dustoff and my account of 19 June 1969 ends there. Sort of.
P.S. Went back about 5 yrs. ago. Spur of the moment, no tour group. Scary at first but after a couple of days, began to enjoy it. Nothing left to identify Sally. I think there is a cement plant in the general area. Went up Hai Van Pass, still some old French arty placements, but Tomahawk is simply a grass covered hill. Hue was beautiful and the people beautiful always ready with a smile. Saigon a major metropolitan city with all the comforts of home.
Let’s get one thing straight about tomahawk; we regular army boys were not all misfits. The date was 19 June 1969. The movie that we watched was James Bond “you only live twice”. I have never watched another Bond movie. I left the mess tent for my night duty on number four gun. SGT. “Skip” Stone was the gunner, Fred Hutchins was the A.G. Others on the crew beside me were David Burr Collins, Mike Blazek, and a little skinny kid from Michigan named “Spider” Roberts. The mess SGT also was named “Spider”. I joined this outfit on hill 88, up to this point we hadn’t seen any action. They were cherry, I wasn’t. I served as RTO, recon SGT. FO for Charlie Company 1/20th INF. 11th lib. I’d had just about everything you can think of thrown at me including AK 47 rounds at close range. Any how on that night I was in the ammo bunker, Mike B. was in the powder bunker. It wasn’t to long till some ran into our pit saying there were “gooks” in the perimeter. He had seen them in the mess hall that was just behind the powder bunker. I went back over to the ammo bunker, when the powder bunker went up. I caught Mike in mid flight, his back was burnt bad. I laid him down face first, got some time fuses for skip, and told him I was taking Mike to number six hooch. While there I stood guard at the door, that’s when we heard stay in side because puff was making a couple passes on our pod. Then a fellow called claymore came in the other door. As the flares from puff popped I could see Dave Collins on the floor beside me, then a guy behind me screamed, he had a piece of shrapnel in his neck. I decided I’ll take my chances outside. I yelled at SSgt. Diaz to let him know I was coming. I pulled guard duty at the gun pit. Myself and a long tall Texan carried rounds from number four gun across the open to number six gun, which by this time was the only operational gun in the battery. Day light came on and we were still getting mortared. It was coming from the hill across highway one. Diaz turned the gun around, fired a WP, and it was over. if these guy hadn’t got their shit together as quick as they did the casualty’s would have been even worse. By the way, Intel. said it was the 22nd NVA Division that hit us that night. If the bunch from the 2nd 138 that was deployed to Iraq is as good as what the bunch as was in Vietnam our boys are well protected. if any one from those days reads this, try to figure out who I am.
The next to last post by Mark Tury, of Modesto, Ca., and the last post by email@example.com are correct regarding the events that happed.
It was the 1st Platoon, C Company, 2/501 that moved in to form perimeter defense around the artillery and mortar crews and amounted to about 35 guys. The big black person mistaken for a big gook was platoon sergeant Lawrence and in fact he was going around to those bunkers, not already destroyed, to get people out to fight. Sergeant Lawrence (also a veteran of the Korean conflict) woke me up from our command bunker and as I went outside to fight, a satchel charge landed at my feet bouncing off the chain link fence covering the bunker entrance. The fuse popped before I could even move. The platoon leader was Lt. Cooper. I was the RTO that coordinated artillery at Tomahawk requested via an adjacent firebase (because the ammo dump, 155’s, arty CP, mortars, were all blown up or inoperable). I called for Dust-off 90 and his team and coordinated getting the wounded up to the pad for evacuation.
They were apprised that we were under fire and not at all secure, They came in doing “touch and goes” as we threw on the wounded we could gather. One was my friend, Dick Horn. He was shot through the back and gut spillage that was wrapped in a poncho to get him on to the Medivac. He was our M79 gunner and was from Royal Oak, Michigan as I recall. Sgt. Lawrence assigned all the “pot heads” (about 4 or 5) along with a buck sergeant squad leader on the finger leading away from the base called “the outpost”. They were the first ones hit and killed, all within the outpostbunker itself.
I called for Air force “Basketball” to fly overhead and drop illumination canisters as the entire hill was dark and foggy. Also I coordinated “spooky” to fly an orbit and hose the perimeter with the Gatling guns. The adjacent firebase rejected my request to fire even illuminationlet alone hotel echo because they “needed clearance and approval from some village elder”. I explained our arty was gone and we had no means of firing illumination or hotel echo. Meanwhile “Silver Eagle Alpha” kept drowning out my net requesting a situation report every couple minutes as he was getting underway with his “Charlie Charlie” (command chopper). Finally I got pissed and told him to get the fuck off my net.
At the start I was confused but quickly killed 3 dinks in hand to hand combat and a few more while doing a recon of the perimeter to see who was still alive. I ran into one guy that I thought was a bad ass. He was a guy I wouldn’t want to tangle with. We were in a crater together as I went around the hill. He was hunkered down crying his eyes out. I thought shit here’s this guy hiding and crying and I have to go around the hill. Meanwhile the shit was going on everywhere.
As I went around a sergeant named Wall (I think) was shot and collapsed near me and I tried to comfort him as he died. Meanwhile I started chucking grenades at the sappers by rolling them down the crest. Lt. Cooper had ordered me to see who was still alive by going from squad position to squad position around the perimeter and I did the most dumbest thing. I ran across the hilltop to the other side and almost got killed by our own guys as they whirled around with the M60 ready to shoot me. I immediately raised my hands above my head and they made out who I was.
As near as I could figure it, there was about 65 artillery folks and 35 grunts at the start roughly around 1:15 AM. I found that there were only a few of us actually fighting against the sappers and regulars. I think there was a fairly large group as they kicked our ass.
What bothered me years later was to find these arty folks were NG. Most of them stayed in bunkers and wouldn’t come out and fight. That is why many got killed or wounded. That cigarette glow on the bunker floor mentioned by another is exactly what the dinks were doing, namely blowing up the bunkers.
If you ran out you got shot or hit by RPGs or mortars. Damn, we were all scared shitless but you have to get out and fight. I know the NGs were brave but I don’t think they were prepared for this. All the while I was humping this hill like some fool, shooting, killing and handling traffic on my PRC25 with Silver Eagle Alpha blasting away. We had no relief until dawn. At dawn Lt. Cooper, Sgt. Lawrence, the other RTO, Vince Sciula and the medic, Doc Youngblood all sat together on the crest, tears and tonsils, drinking a beer for relief, and as I remember well I started smoking a cigarette when Silver Eagle Alpha came up from behind me and touched my shoulder and asked are you “Cures Kilo”? I said “Yes Sir” as I tried to get up. He said “Don’t get up, fine job, I would have told me to get of the fucking net too”. He understood. As you can gather, I did all this without knowing how much I put myself in danger.
That morning we found 4 engineer/surveyors under a truck that had blown up. I took the 45 including belt and holster off one of them and strapped it on for my duration in Nam. It was okay per the command sergeant major. After all I just went through Dong Ap Bia (Hill 937 aka Hamburger Hill) a month earlier. Of our platoon that night at Tomahawk only about 5 to 10 or so made it without wounds or being killed.