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In the midst of this grim business, at 1050, an infantry squad, on strongpoint 2, about 500 meters east of us, came under fire from the woodline 50 meters to the south. We literally dropped everything and rushed to aid the infantry squad which was busy returning fire with their M-16s and M-60 machine gun, and the caliber fifty on their M-113. I called the Oscar track to report the attack as we roared out to the road and east to strongpoint 2.
We pulled up a discrete distance from the APC and began firing at the woodline with the main gun and our coax and fifty. I couldn't see any NVA, so I trained our weapons in the direction the grunts were firing.
No sooner had we begun firing than several streams of green tracers arced in over our heads from the woodline. I trained the weapons on the apparent source of the tracers and fired canister and HE rounds. After I fired two rounds I saw what looked like an explosion in the tree line and was astonished to see a B-40 rocket flash by our tank and impact on a bank behind us. I traversed the turret to point the main gun at the spot where the RPG backblast had betrayed the enemy antitank gunner's position and we proceeded to fire canister and HE as fast as the loader could get the rounds in the tube. At some point during this frenzied activity I realized that the green tracers were now directed almost solely at us and were making a racket as they hit the armor on the turret and the front slope. We continued to fire until I had expended all the main gun rounds from the ready rack and turret bustle.
Behind us, on Hwy 19, a convoy, which had been the apparent target of the ambush, and not the grunts, was also returning fire from their gun-trucks. After we expended the 1,000 rounds of coax ammo in the ready rack I ceased fire and positioned the tank so that we could traverse the turret around in order retrieve the ammo stowed in the honeycombs on either side of the driver. During this procedure we would be unable to fire and would therefore be vulnerable but we had no choice.
However, I noticed that no rounds were striking the armor and decided to stick my head out and have a look. To the best of my knowledge, we were no longer receiving any incoming fire at this point. But the grunts and the convoy gun-trucks were still smoking the woodline, aided by two Huey Cobras making west-to-east firing passes into the woodline.
We retrieved a dozen rounds from the honeycombs and stowed them in the ready rack and repositioned the tank to resume firing. However, there was so much smoke I could no longer see the grunts to our flank. I fired one more round into the woodline and then searched for targets. I could see none. Since we had no clearly defined targets to shoot at, I decided to cease-fire, save our ammo, and ask the grunts what the hell they were shooting at.
When I ceased fire, everyone in the convoy, and the grunts, did also. In the relative quiet that followed it became clear that the NVA/VC had withdrawn, possibly surprised by the unexpected appearance of our vehicle at the ambush location. The NVA also seemed to think that firing at our tank was more important than firing at the convoy, and the majority of automatic weapons fire and one of only two B-40s fired had been directed at us.
Fortunately as a result there was only one US WIA, and the combined fire of all US vehicles accounted for 3 confirmed VC/NVA KIA. The radio continued to crackle with reports of other ambushes up and down Highway 19, and we were ordered to move to the aid of the scouts at Bridge 26. By the time we arrived the enemy had disappeared and things settled down. It's worth noting that on 18 January, two days later, elements of the 1/50th Infantry on a sweep south of strong point 2 found an additional 25 dead NVA buried in two freshly-dug shallow mass-graves. They had been killed on 16 November while attacking us and the convoy.
When we had a chance to take inventory of the damage we found that all of the cases of C Rations strapped to the infantry rail had been thoroughly shredded by automatic weapons fire. Amazingly the Xenon searchlight mounted over the gun tube had not taken any hits and was operational. The ammo boxes on the turret bustle had also been riddled by automatic weapons fire, perforating our clothes and other possessions. But there was no damage to any critical systems.
We were all at a rather heightened state of awareness for quite some time until the adrenelin rush that occurs when you are fired at began to subside.
It wasn't lost on us that we had gone some three months under Grohman's command without suffering so much as a scratch, and now we had one KIA and five WIA, all in under twenty minutes. Scavella's death was probably unpreventable, as was the wounding of his loader, PFC Patterson. But it had been questionable judgement for Hatcher to load Brewer and his crew onto the outside of his tank and race off alone right into an ambush. Brewer and his crew were sitting ducks on the outside. It would have made more sense to load them into the APC I had borrowed from the Redlegs where they would at least be behind some armor, albeit thin aluminum armor. That way when we did get ambushed, we would have had two vehicles and could have manoevered to outflank the ambush, one vehicle supporting the other by fire. As Stretch would say, "Good initiative, bad judgement".
Meanwhile, back at LZ Uplift, Stretch Grohman was declaring a Tac-E, or Tactical Emergency. This was a mechanism whereby resources could be allocated to go to the aid of a unit in trouble. All Stretch really wanted was a Huey so that he could fly out to our location and take command. He had asked for volunteers to accompany him, to replace our killed and wounded, from among the guys in the company back at LZ Uplift. Everyone volunteered, including track mechanics, cooks, and RTOs. Such was the respect Grohman commanded among the troops. PSG Nye, who was on a medical profile (he had two detached kidneys, a result of years of pounding from riding in tanks) volunteered to go, and when Stretch told him no, Nye demanded to go. We later learned that Nye had been Scavella's gunner during the Korean War, and they were tight. He took Scavella's death hard.
Mercifully, early the next day, Stretch Grohman came back from LZ Uplift on a Huey to resume command of the platoon. He had left 1SGT Maurice Ferry in charge of the company. We were certainly glad he returned. He brought with him two additional NCOs: PSG Nye for Scavella's tank, and an E-6 named Edwards for Charlie 12. I returned to my old job as his gunner for the few weeks I had left in the Army. He also brought PFC Victory, who replaced Gingery on C-16, and three other FNGs named Rolfe, Anderson, and Goering. There were a lot of new faces. I can't remember any of them except PFC Victory, who was a baby faced kid. I felt suddenly very old at the age of 22.
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