The Story of Team 1-5 This web site is dedicated to the memory of Col. William C. Maus, Jr. (1928 - 1998) Made with Xara
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The Story of Team 1-5 (This story also appears in the back section of I Served) Patrols # 195 and 196. Operation Toan Thang II. Story   submitted   by   Les   Ervin,   with   additional   information   from   Dave   DeShazo,   Henry   Bonvillain,   and   Bill   Houser. Edited by Don and Annette Hall. Team   1-5   and   2-2   were   inserted   late   in   the   evening   on   12 August   1968,   near   the   Vam   Co   Dong   River   in   Cu   Chi. Teams   2-2   and   1-5   had   worked   in   tandem   before   so   the   teams   worked   well   together.   What   happened   to   teams 1-5 and 2-2 is chronicled in this story: On   12   August   1968   at   1435   hours,   recon   team   1-5   was   inserted   with   five   men.   Sergeant   Richard   Diers,   their   regular team   leader,   was   on   R&R,   so   Spec-4   Hendrickson   was   substituting   for   him   on   this   mission.   He   reported   a   secure insertion and they laid dog. Two hours later, they moved to their POI (point of interest). At   1626   hours,   team   2-2   was   inserted.   Team   members   were   team   leader   Sergeant   E-5   Dave   L.   DeShazo,   assistant team   leader   Spec-4   Henry   Reed   Bonvillain   (the   old   man   in   the   team   at   twenty-seven   years   of   age),   rear   security   Spec- 4 Les W. Ervin, point man Spec-4 Steve J. Miles, and on the M-60 machine gun, Spec-4 Mack J. Henderson. Both teams were situated close to one another and their mission was to monitor the river. At   1646   hours,   Spec-4   Hendrickson,   team   1-5’s   team   leader,   announced   over   the   radio,   “Contact!”   Moments   later, radio contact was lost. Team   1-5   had   moved   into   a   bunker   complex   near   the   LZ   where   an   estimated   thirty-five   to   forty   heavily   armed   NVA, dug   in   and   waiting,   had   met   the   team   with   heavy   volume   fire   from AK-47s,   light   machine   guns,   and   SKSs. Team   leader Hendrickson, the RTO, and the point man had been killed immediately. One   man   from   team   1-5   was   finally   heard   on   the   radio.   He   reported   that   only   he   and   one   other   man   were   still   alive.   He had   fought   forward   to   the   dead   RTO   to   retrieve   the   radio.   He   was   a   new   man   in   the   company   and   had   received   very little   training   prior   to   being   put   out   in   the   field. As   a   result,   in   the   heat   of   battle,   he   couldn’t   remember   what   team   he   was on   or   where   they   were.   This   young   man   fought   courageously   and   desperately   to   save   what   was   left   of   the   team, relaying over the radio what information he could. Team   2-2,   just   half   a   klick   away   from   team   1-5,   was   situated   in   a   large   artillery   crater   that   had   taken   out   part   of   a   dike. The   crater,   deep   enough   and   big   enough   to   hold   the   entire   team,   separated   them   from   a   river   that   was   about   25   to   30 meters   across. Team   member   Steve   Miles   had   spied   a   docking   area   across   the   river   from   the   team. They   relayed   their find   to TOC   and   requested Aloft   to   fly   over   and   give   them   exact   coordinates   in   case   they   needed   to   call   in   air   or   artillery support. Shortly   thereafter,   they   relayed   that   they   heard   team   1-5’s   firefight   and   requested   to   go   to   the   team’s   aid.   LTC   Joseph Zummo   denied   their   request   and   ordered   team   2-2   to   remain   in   place.   Team   leader   Dave   DeShazo   had   already ordered   his   men   to   pull   in   their   claymores   and   prepare   to   move   out.   Sergeant   DeShazo   ordered   his   team   to   redeploy their   claymores   and   trip   flares,   and,   reluctantly,   they   stayed   where   they   were.   They   all   sat   in   stunned   silence   listening to   the   murderous   firefight   five   hundred   meters   away   with   a   sense   of   hopelessness   and   sorrow   for   their   brothers   from the first platoon. While   team   2-2   stayed   in   place   in   their   artillery   crater,   W.O.   Gary   Lucas,   piloting   one   of   the   support   Cobra   gunships, arrived   and   opened   fire   with   his   rockets   and   mini-guns   on   the   enemy   near   team   1-5,   driving   the   VC   and   NVA   from   their bunker   systems.   A   reactionary   force   of   thirteen   men   from   F   Company   filled   up   two   slicks   and   were   inserted   to   assist team   1-5,   followed   by   a   reactionary   company   from   D   Troop,   3/17th   Cavalry.   Sergeant   Bill   “Teacup”   Houser,   one   of   the men   from   F/51st   who   was   the   first   to   hit   the   ground,   found   his   best   friend,   Willie   Whitfield,   Jr.,   a   member   of   team   1-5, dead. At   1745   hours,   F   Company’s   reactionary   force   was   extracted   while   D Troop,   3/17th   Cavalry,   cleaned   up   the   enemy   that still   remained.   The   results   of   this   disastrous   mission   were   three   U.S.   killed   in   action   and   one   seriously   wounded,   who died   the   next   day.   Only   one   man   survived   the   mission. At   his   debriefing,   he   described   what   had   happened   to   team   1-5. Most   of   the   men   of   F/51st      wanted   to   shake   his   hand   and   say   goodbye,   but   never   got   the   chance. According   to   military standard   operating   procedure,   the   one   surviving   man,   whose   name   is   unknown   because   he   was   so   new   to   the   unit, was   transferred   to   another   unit.   The   men   never   had   a   chance   to   get   to   know   the   man,   and   wonder   to   this   day   what became of him. After   what   was   left   of   team   1-5   was   rescued   by   the   F   Company   reactionary   force   and   by   D   Troop,   3/17th   Cav,   team   2- 2   remained   in   the   field.   Still   mourning   the   loss   of   team   1-5,   team   2-2   continued   their   mission.   Steve   Miles,   a   strong swimmer,   took   it   upon   himself   to   swim   across   the   river   carrying   several   pounds   of   C-4,   wiring,   and   blasting   caps.   Miles buried   the   explosives   at   the   docking   site   across   the   river   and   swam   back   to   the   team.   He   reported   fresh   Ho   Chi   Minh sandal tracks on the river’s bank. Accompanied   by   Henry   Bonvillain   and   Dave   DeShazo,   Miles   went   back   out   to   reconnoiter   the   area   across   the   river. They   observed   a   huge   enemy   bunker   system   beyond   the   landing   dock   area.   The   voices   of   Vietnamese   soldiers   inside the   bunker   complex   sounded   like   a   hornet’s   nest   of   activity   underground.   DeShazo,   a   devout   religious   man,   knew   he had some tough choices to make in the ensuing hours. Later   that   night,   team   2-2   heard   laughter   and   Vietnamese   voices   across   the   river.   Flashlights   flickered   as   if   a   party were   going   on.   The   team   heard   Vietnamese   voices   calling   back   and   forth   to   one   another   as   they   approached   from down   the   river,   paddling   in   multiple   sampans   toward   the   docking   area.   The   Vietnamese   were   in   high   spirits   and   were celebrating   what   they   had   done   to   the   Lurp   team   earlier   that   day.   They   thought   they   were   secure   and   were   talking   out loud   and   yelling   to   one   another.   Meanwhile   team   2-2   was   preparing   in   the   dark.   The   team   observed   and   heard numerous   NVA   moving   down   to   the   landing   dock   across   the   river   to   greet   their   approaching   comrades.   Their   laughter and talking continued to echo loudly across the river. Les   Ervin,   overwhelmed   by   everything   that   had   happened   that   day,   began   to   cry   quietly   when   the   team   heard   the voices   and   laughter.   Les’s   thoughts   went   back   to   his   nightmare   experience   on   Hill   875   in   DakTo.   He   heard   in   his   mind the   unforgettable   and   utterly   overwhelming   noise   of   battle,   punctuated   by   the   screams   and   wailing   of   hundreds   of dying   and   wounded   men.   The   tremendous   din   of   modern   warfare   cannot   be   easily   described.   To   Les,   the   only   analogy he   could   think   of   to   describe   what   he   heard   on   Hill   875   during   those   five   days   of   hell   was   to   compare   it   to   the   sound   of a thousand roaring locomotives. Henry   Bonvillain,   the   oldest   man   in   the   team,   was   like   a   father   to   Les.   He   talked   calmly   to   Les,   asking   him   if   he   was   all right   with   the   plan.   They   were,   after   all,   on   recon,   not   on   ambush   patrol,   and   didn’t   have   to   do   what   they   were preparing   to   do.   Les   Ervin   regained   control   of   his   emotions   and   prepared   himself   mentally   for   combat.   He   came   to grips with the fear and said to Sergeant DeShazo, “You can count on me, Dave.” The   anticipation   of   combat   is   the   hardest   part.   Once   engaged,   an   eerie   calm   overtakes   an   experienced   soldier,   which quite   literally   is   the   body   preparing   to   deal   with   possible   wounds   or   death.   It   is   a   surreal   time   only   a   few   men   will   ever know. At 2008 hours, team 3-7, positioned north of team 2-2, reported another large boat heading toward team 2-2’s position. At   2018   hours,   team   2-2   reported   another   sampan   passing   their   position.   DeShazo   let   the   boat   pass   and   waited   for   the possible   landing   of   a   sampan   at   the   dock   across   from   the   team’s   position.   The   team   laid   low   and   waited,   shivering   in the   cold   rain   that   had   begun   to   fall.   The   team   members   quietly   said   their   prayers;   moist   hands   gripped   their   weapons; hearts   beat   hard   inside   their   chests.   They   took   their   dextroamphetamines   and   codeines   to   get   their   bodies   ready   to deal   with   whatever   was   coming.   The   waiting   is   the   hardest,   when   each   man   performs   his   own   internal   gut-check   and wonders if he’ll be brave or a coward. The jungle noise grew steadily louder with each passing minute. Sergeant   Dave   DeShazo   quietly   and   calmly   went   over   the   plan   with   the   team   again.   “Throw   the   grenades   after   you’ve counted   to   three-one-thousand.   Don’t   open   fire   until   we   absolutely   have   to.”   Everyone   knew   what   they   had   to   do. When   it   came   to   hurling   grenades,   it   would   be   good   old American   baseball-thawing   skills   that   would   send   the   grenades unerringly to their targets. At   2330   hours,   the   team   heard   more   Vietnamese   voices   across   the   river.   Team   3-7   alerted   team   2-2   that   there   were four   large   sampans   with   four   to   five   NVA   soldiers   in   the   boats   heading   toward   the   team.   Flashlights   wielded   by   the enemy   across   the   river   flickered   over   the   team’s   position.   The   C&C   and   Spooky   (aka   Puff   the   Magic   Dragon)   were gearing   up   off   in   the   distance.   WO   Gary   Lucas,   in   charge   of   the   three   Cobra   gunships   that   were   preparing   to   move   out, got his men ready with their game plan. LTC Joseph Zummo was sober this night and was getting ready to do his job. At   0003   hours,   team   2-2   set   about   to   ambush   the   approaching   twenty   NVA   and   called   the   C&C   ship,   which   was   now flying   high   overhead.   The   four   sampans   on   the   river   docked   and   were   greeted   with   cheers   and   laughter   by   the   NVA onshore.   They   were   so   happy   over   their   victory   earlier   in   the   day   and   were   cheering   each   other.   As   the   sampans docked   across   from   the   team,   flares   were   dropped   from   the   C&C   slick   over   team   2-2’s   position. As   the   first   flare   lit   up the   night   sky,   the   NVA   were   starkly   illuminated   in   a   weird   tableau   of   immobility   as   they   were   caught   in   their   vulnerable positions   out   in   the   open,   at   the   landing   dock.   Hands   still   waving   to   each   other,   flashlights   flickering,   the   enemy   was caught   in   the   unworldly   glare.   Just   as   a   deer   freezes   in   shock   the   moment   it’s   caught   in   the   glare   of   oncoming headlights, the enemy froze, just for an instant. Before they had time to think or to act, Team 2-2 acted. Sergeant   Dave   DeShazo   whispered   over   the   radio,   “Charlie,   2-2,   contact.”   Dropping   the   radio   handset   to   the   ground he   stood   up   in   the   center   of   the   bomb   crater   and   fired   his   M-79   at   the   cluster   of   stunned   and   confused   NVA   in   the   four large   sampans   and   at   the   landing   dock.   He   scored   a   direct   hit   on   one   of   the   sampans,   blowing   it   in   half,   sending bodies   hurtling   into   the   water.   The   enemy   soldiers,   still   confused   and   in   shock,   were   trying   to   figure   out   what   had   just happened.   Then   the   second   M-79   round   blew   apart   another   sampan.   This   galvanized   the   enemy   and   they   began   to return   fire.   What   they   received   in   response   was   another   killing   blow.   Like   many   American   boys   with   throwing   arms strengthened   by   years   of   playing   baseball,   the   Lurps   could   accurately   throw   a   grenade   a   long   distance.   To   give   the enemy   no   time   to   react   when   the   grenades   hit,   the   team   pulled   the   pins   and   first   counted   to   three-one-thousand   before unleashing   a   deadly   fusillade   into   and   around   the   throng   of   panic-stricken   enemy   soldiers.   The   NVA   could   do   nothing but   watch   in   utter   confusion   as   grenades   splatted   in   the   mud   all   around   them   and   then   immediately   exploded.   Spec-4 Steve   Miles   blew   the   C4   charges   he   had   hidden   in   the   riverbank. The   enemy   that   hadn’t   been   killed   outright   staggered away from the blast, heading into the water, trying to get away, returning fire. The   gunships   swooped   into   the   panicking   NVA   and   caused   eight   secondary   explosions   with   their   first   gun   runs   over the enemy and the sampans.    Sergeant   Dave   DeShazo   ordered   the   team   to   blow   their   claymores   and   move   to   the   LZ. After   the   claymores   blew,   an enemy   soldier   crawled   over   the   lip   of   the   bank   on   the   team’s   side   of   the   river   and   moved   toward   Steve   Miles.   Les   Ervin swung   around   and   shot   the   NVA   in   the   chest   full   auto.   The   last   two   rounds   from   Ervin’s   M-16   were   red   tracers,   which alerted   the   enemy   across   the   bank   to   the   team’s   location.   It   was   too   late   for   the   hapless   NVA.   The   six-man   team opened   up   on   the   enemy   with   everything   they   had.   Spec-4   Mack   Henderson   exhibited   his   strength,   manhandling   the Pig (M-60), firing short, quick, deadly bursts. His   five   teammates   opened   up   with   semi-automatic   M-16   fire   that   tore   into   the   enemy.   The   enemy   corpses   filled   the river’s   bank   and   floated   downstream.   Gary   Lucas’s   Cobra   gunships   roared   in,   diving   in   on   the   enemy   from   all directions.   The   distinct   burping   of   their   mini-guns   sent   a   tremendous   hail   of   death   into   the   enemy,   blowing   them   to pieces. The   radio   had   stopped   working   during   all   the   chaos,   but   team   was   able   to   get   it   operating   again   and   directed   the gunships   with   trip   flares   thrown   from   their   bomb   crater.   The   Cobra   gunships   ran   in   protective   circles   around   the   team, firing   at   the   enemy.   The   enemy   was   closing   fast   on   the   light   team   only   to   be   stopped   by   the   firepower   from   the   team and   the   gunships.   The   gunships   soon   expended   all   their   ammo   and   fuel,   and   the   team   was   preparing   for   a   final   stand in   the   bomb   crater   when   the   voice   of   Smoky,   the   U.S. Air   Force   C-47   gunship   high   above   in   the   darkness,   greeted   the team, “2-2, this is Smoky. I have 45,000 rounds for you. Where do you want it?” Sergeant   DeShazo   pulled   his   strobe   light   out,   turned   it   on   and   stuck   it   in   the   barrel   of   the   M-79.   He   handed   the   weapon to   Les   Ervin   and   instructed   him   to   hold   it   up   as   high   as   he   could.   With AK-47   rounds   cracking   all   around   the   team,   Les thrust   the   M-79   barrel   skyward   so   Spooky,   high   above,   could   fix   their   location   in   order   to   avoid   hitting   the   team   in   the barrage   that   was   to   come.   The   enemy   was   closing   in   fast   on   the   team   in   their   position   at   the   bottom   of   the   bomb crater. “Smoky, 2-2. Strobe is my position. How copy, over?” DeShazo spoke into the radio. “2-2, Smoky. The strobe is the good guys, Good copy. Get your heads down, 2-2.” The   team   members   heard   the   Vietnamese   screaming   and   shouting   orders   to   get   the   team   on   the   other   side   of   the river.   The   NVA   were   moving   in   and   the   Lurps   were   getting   low   on   ammo.   Ervin   and   the   team   members   could   hear   the NVA   running   toward   them,   AK-47s   blazing.   The   team   cut   loose   with   their   final   burst,   screaming   back   at   the   North Vietnamese   regulars,   “This   is   for   team   1-5,   mother   fuckers!”   The   team   dropped   down   flat   into   the   crater   and   covered their   heads   just   as   the   barrage   from   Spooky’s   mini-guns   spewed   thousands   of   rounds   all   around   the   beleaguered team, slaughtering the enemy. When   the   battle   was   over   and   the   gunships   had   returned   home,   LTC   Zummo,   high   above   in   the   C&C   ship,   instructed Spooky   to   drop   flares   to   illuminate   the   site.   He   contacted   the   team   and   instructed   them   to   search   the   riverbank   and canal   area   for   wounded   and   not   leave   anyone   alive.   He   said   he   wanted   a   body   count.   The   five   men   crawled   out   of   the muddy   bomb   crater   and   searched   among   the   bodies   on   the   battlefield.   Zummo   wanted   his   body   count   and   his   ranting insistence   for   exact   statistics   continued   over   the   radio.   The   team   counted   twelve   dead   enemy   on   their   side   of   the   river. Four   wounded   enemy   were   found   and   immediately   killed.   The   team   started   to   take   fire   from   somewhere   across   the canal, so Sergeant DeShazo forced everyone back into the bomb crater. Zummo   called   from   the   C&C   ship   asking   again   for   body   count.   DeShazo   responded   over   the   radio   that   it   wasn’t   safe exposing   his   men   for   the   sake   of   an   actual   body   count.   Zummo   insisted   that   the   team   get   a   body   count   and   collect   any weapons   and   documents   they   could   find.   DeShazo   angrily   replied   to   Zummo,   “If   you   want   a   body   count   or   any   fucking thing   else,   you   can   get   your   fucking   chickenshit   ass   down   here   and   do   it   yourself!   We’re   almost   out   of   ammo   and   if   we don’t get picked up NOW we may be overrun at any time. There are bunkers, tunnels, and gooks everywhere!” Zummo   finally   acquiesced   and   ordered   the   slicks   to   pick   up   the   team.   “2-2,   this   is   control.   Mark   position   while   en   route to LZ, guns will cover your movement. Slicks inbound ‘hot’ in 05 mikes. How copy, over?” DeShazo responded, “Control, this is 2-2 team. Marked with strobe light. Good copy, out.” At   0120   hours,   team   2-2   crawled   out   of   the   muddy   bomb   crater.   Les   Ervin   blew   his   remaining   claymore.   He   climbed   up the   slippery   side   of   the   bomb   crater,   but   slipped   and   fell   backward,   landing   headfirst   in   the   muddy   water.   Spent   ammo cartridges   bobbed   all   around   him   as   Henry   Bonvillain   pulled   him   out,   laughing,   telling   Les   he   had   done   all   right.   The team   ran   the   50   meters   to   the   waiting   slick,   which   was   racing   toward   the   LZ   with   guns   blazing.   The   slick   flared, touched   town   and   the   team   leapt   aboard.   The   slick   was   airborne   again   in   seconds   and   took   them   home.   None   of   them could   believe   they   had   made   it   out   alive.   Only   one   of   them   had   been   wounded—   Dave   DeShazo   with   a   piece   of shrapnel in his right leg. The   men   returned   to   the   company   area   and   were   greeted   by   the   whole   company   of   jubilant   men.   The   men   had   all been   monitoring   the   radios,   listening   to   everything   that   had   been   happened   to   team   2-2.   They   helped   the   team   carry their equipment and what was left of their ammo, and congratulated them for doing such a great job. At   first   light   the   following   morning,   D   Troop,   3/17th   Cavalry   made   a   combat   assault   into   the   site   of   team   2-2’s   battle. They   found   three   wounded   enemy,   whom   they   took   prisoner,   and   counted   forty   dead   VC/NVA.   LTC   Zummo   had   his body count and team 1-5 was avenged.