The Day Ballanger Died
by Robert Leonard
Cobra Co 1 327th 1967
It was in the month of May, 1967, we had moved north to Du Phu, Vietnam. I remembered this area of operation very well. One reason is I lost my favorite hat on Booby Trapped Hill. When I first got in the army I tried to tell the people that issued us uniforms that my shoes were too tight, and they insisted that my shoes were ok. I complained to the Sgt. that had accompanied us to the depot about my shoes. I didn’t realize what kind of mistake I was making. The folks that were issuing clothing put the shit to me. They went all down the line and told others that I was a hard ass, and began to stick it to me. All of my pants were too short or coats were too big, and especially my field cap. I began to love that hat because it pissed off the Sgt’ everywhere that I went in the army. One day on Booby Trapped Hill a helicopter blew my hat in area that was not cleared of mines and booby traps. All I could do was watch my favorite hat just lay there about twenty feet away from me. There was no way I would risk my life for a hat.
On the 29 day of May, 1967 we were operating in Quang Nagi, Province. Perhaps you read my story about the Honor Company, and if you followed it all the way to the Wall. USA.Com and sought the names of the 13 men that lost their lives in that battle you notice that most of them had not been in country for more than two or three months. In the months that led up to this battle on Aug. 18, 1967 Cobra Company had got hit pretty hard in two previous battles, 29 May, 1967 was one of those dates. We lost 11 of our guys in this battle, and you multiply that by 3 or 4 and that’s how many got wounded. These were hard core Viet Cong that were waiting for us on a slight incline in some thick jungle in Quang Nagi, Province.
I was told this part after the battle, Ballenger was on point, he was in the 3rd platoon. SSgt. Cherry was the platoon Sgt. That day we had a dog on point that looked like Rin Tin Tin. They say the dog got near the enemies’ position and he got down. The dog handler told him to move forward and the dog started to back up while in the down position.
Ballenger was a black brother that told me he was from Chattanooga, Tenn. Come to find out he was from across the border from Chattanooga in a small town in Walker County, GA. Before I wrote this story I had been trying to find some of the guy’s family that was in our unit. You know guys that are from the country and tell you that they are from the nearest big city.
Some of the wounded told me that the cong used Ballenger as bait, because they knew we were coming for our wounded. I was in 2nd platoon that day and we were in a creek parallel to our platoon’s positions. There were three platoons in the attack; we were used as back up. I remember we were stretch out about ten to fifteen feet from each other because the top of the creek was over our heads, about ten feet over our heads and we didn’t want to get caught in ambush in that creek.
Finally, we got the word to come up behind the enemy on this hill. It was in the same area as Mothers’ Day Hill. We got around to the hill and saw that they had cut the brush to get a clear line of fire on our platoons and used the brush to close the trail to keep us from getting to them. I remember that we attacked the hill and the enemy used hand grenades to repel us back, again we attacked but the jungle was so thick, that all we could see were the bullets cutting down the trees in front of us and over us. In the mist of a firefight you lose all track of time because every minute means something to you. I remember that we gave out of ammunition and the helicopter came over the top of us and dropped cases of ammo. I wonder to this day, did some of the enemy escape while we had to reload and attack again.
This time before we attacked, I told my squad to follow me, and flank the enemies’ position before we assaulted the hill again. This spread out our angle of attack. I had a new guy with me in my squad that day and this was his first mission in the jungle. I told him to stick with me and do as he sees me do. I really didn’t know his name, matter of fact I just learned his name last year after all these years. (His name was Michael Owen Shelley from Calif.) Today is April 2, 2007 that I am writing this story. After you read this story, I want you to check the Wall USA.com and type in his name or his casualty Date and check his information. He came in country May 17, 1967 and died May 29, 1967. He died a hero in my book, but had he listened I think he could have live a little longer.
Sp.4 Dailey was also in my squad that died that day, while we attack the enemy’s position from the rear. Dailey hollered over to me that he sees them; I told him “Shoot um damit” He was at the extreme right of our position. Next thing I knew Dailey was hit in the side of the head below his ear. We really started to pour some ammo in their position then. This new kid jumped up and tried to save Dailey and I grabbed him and pulled him down and told him that Dailey was still in their line of fire. It was really tough trying to keep the guys firing and moving up at the same time. We kept firing and Dailey kept reaching for us and the next thing I know this new guy (Michael Owen Shelley) jumped up again and the cong got him this time he got up. He fell dead right on top of me. I hollered to Perry who was on my left to “shoot that M 60 because that cong was about to get me”. Perry opened up with the 60 and some of the jungle began to clear up some. I remember we had two E-6s’ that were behind me, One was SSgt. Griffits and one said that he could see their position. We poured fire on the position while one on the SSgt. dropped a grenade in their position. I swear to you that the jungle was so thick that I did not see the machine gun position ten feet in front of me.
After we had overrun their position I had everyone get on line and shoot off a couple of magazines to kill everything all around us. I learned that part at Fort Bragg. (Fire and Maneuver). We pulled about six to eight VC out of their bunker that we had been hitting, one at a time. After we finished on line we came off the mountain on the other side to where our other three platoons were. Man, I think I went into shock. The only other people that were standing were the CO and the Dog Handler. One of the worst part for me was when one of our guys ask me was he hurt badly. When he asked me that, tears shot out of my eyes, because his brains were on the ground and I shot him with morphine and laid him over to put his brains back into his head. The bullet had knocked his scull off on one side.
As I walked all down the trail men were laying dead and wounded all the way back to the end of three platoons. Went I got to the end of the trail, I heard the VC running through the jungle trying to get us to chase them again. They were making plenty of noise, which I think help bring me out of shock. I summoned some guys down to the end of the trail just in case that they tried to counter attack us. Then I went back to where my two guys were that I lost, and Dailey was still alive and asked for water. While I waited for the medic Dailey died in my arms. I was really saddened because Dailey was my Spec 4 and who I built my squad around. He was my point man and I was his slack until we got orders for all NCO’s to be at least three people back. I really did not know the new kids name until I checked the Wall USA.com. We were hit pretty hard that day and they brought “A” company (a couple of platoons) to spend the night with us. The next day as the rest of “A” company was coming in we had to hurry to the Landing Zone to get out of there. These were the same Viet Cong that had kicked our ass in less than a week.
On May 25, 1967…….. Our 3rd platoon walked into an ambush and 11 men died in the attack. I contributed this loss of life to the fucked up dog. We found him dead with an enemy in his mouth. I knew this dog wasn’t any good, because he growled at us when we went around him. Checked the Wall USA.com and you will see all of our guys that got killed in that ambush on May 25, 1967.
My squad was on point that day and we were paralleling our platoons again. We did not know that they had walked into an ambush. I remember Lt. Stevenson wanted someone to climb a tree to pop smoke, the CO wanted to let the gunship know exactly where we were in the jungle. I climbed the tree and popped smoke and as I was coming down I could hear the enemy below us. We came up a little higher on the hill. I mentioned it to my platoon leader but we moved on to come up behind the hill where they had walked into the ambush. As we moved towards the hill my point man Dailey ran across one of the enemy and only fired one shot at him. I remember jumping in his case about having his weapon on semi instead of automatic. I also remember my platoon leader telling us to get off the trail. The VC were in the process of pulling away from that hill when we ran into them. We still did not know that they were in the ambush. We eventually made it to the hill and found SFC Tieman and the platoon leader and and nine of our guys dead in the ambush. Including the fucked up dog. I know a lot of you remember that dog around Mothers Day Hill. I remember complaining to the CO that the dog was not the right one for us; He was a sentry dog instead of a scout dog. We had a lot of wounded that day also. If you check the WALL USA.com and type in the casualty dates that I have mentioned, you will see that a lot of these guys that died August 29, 1967 were replacements for the above two battles. A lot of them had only been in country Two to Three months. I believed that if we had the right dogs we would have been ok. I know some of you remember the Hispanic dog handler that had the skinny red German Shepard that he let his dog a loose and he would go up the trail and come back and let us know what’s going on. We did not loose a single man the whole month that this guy was with us. I remember that we offered to double his pay to stay out with us longer. (Dog Handlers only stayed out 30 days) His response was, “No way Jose”. Remember the day that dog went up the trail and came back and told his handler it was two VC up on the trail eating, and we went up and killed two, while eating. I remember the CO asking him how the dog tells him they were up there. The dog raises his leg and touched the ground two times to count and raised his nose in the air to let you know that they were cooking………………
Thank you for reading this story. We lost some very good men in Vietnam, I will always remember and I still wonder to this day why I made it out and others did not. I am writing this because a guy at VA said that we did not see a lot of action in 1967. Check the record in August of 1967. All 13 companies of the First Brigade were fighting at the same time…and Cobra company was the Honor Company… Airborne….I had to get this stuff out of my head and on to this computer; I am still suffering some serious PTSD effects.
Check out the Wall USA.com and it will tell you a lot about our boys…………. Dak To was our largest Battle with casualties.