Happy Thanksgiving, Vietnam Style:  November 23, 1969

by SGT Larry Carr (11B)



The night before Thanksgiving we were out in the field. We were told that we would be going in to celebrate Thanksgiving with a big Thanksgiving meal. We were all very excited. All we talked about the rest of the evening was how much turkey we were going to eat. After nothing but C-rations, for quite some time, a hot meal sounded great. I could hardly sleep that night. The next morning, we arose early and began to pack our rucksacks when we all heard gunfire off in the distance. I turned to my squad and said, "We are not going in, but over in the direction of the gunfire."  By this time in my tour of duty, I had been given my own squad. I was a squad leader in 1st Platoon. My Lieutenant was LT. Rees. The other members of my squad were Johnny Harvey, Thomas Nesbitt, Richard Tuttle, Wolfe, and Leary. My guys turned to me and said, "No way! We are going in for Thanksgiving dinner because the choppers are on their way." We had no more gotten the words out of our mouths when LT. Rees yelled, "Saddle up! Take only your web gear and weapon and leave your rucksack behind."

One platoon stayed behind to guard all of the rucksacks but it wasn't 1st platoon. So, off we went toward the gunfire. When we got close to the hill where the battle was going on, I could see a small trail coming down the hill. There was a soldier leading another soldier by the arm and he had a bandage wrapped around his head. It was red with blood. There was another soldier who had his arm wrapped in a bandage and it was also red with blood. I knew we were in a bad place. Instead of going up the trail leading up to the hill where we heard all of the gunfire, we crossed over to a smaller hill next to it. We were told that jets were enroute to bomb the hill. As we lay on the ground we could hear the jets in the distance. They came in low and we could see the pilots in their planes. When they released their 50 pound bombs, we could see the fins pop out to stabilize the bomb. They looked like they were going to hit us. I remember thinking that if they skip over that hill; they will land right in our laps. But of course that did not happen. When the bombs exploded it literally lifted us off the ground a couple of inches. The sound was deafening. Next came the napalm. We could see the long silver canisters tumble end over end. When they exploded you could feel the heat and it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked right out of the air. I thought to myself, "No one could live through that."

After the bombing run, we moved down off the hill and formed up at the base of the other hill. LT. Rees told 1st platoon to get on line and advance up the hill. I got my squad on line and thought to myself, "This is just like in the war movie, Pork Chop Hill, where they get on line and charged up the hill." The base of the hill itself was not barren, but had lots of small trees and bushes and was very thick. After moving only a few meters, we lost sight of each other and had to shout to each other just to keep in touch so as not shoot each other. It was impossible to stay on line. As I continued to advance up the hill, I came upon a claymore staring me right in the face. Fortunately, no one was on the other end. I heard and saw trip flares go off on either side of me.

I thought, "These NVA soldiers have got their you know what together." If they went to this much trouble, they meant to stay and fight. As we got closer to the crest of the hill, the vegetation opened up and we could see bunkers all along the hill. My squad and I began to lay fire on the bunkers to our front. LT. Rees shouted for us to take out the bunkers directly to our front. At this time, we were not receiving any return fire. As my squad continued to lay fire on the bunker to our front, I crawled close to the bunker. They lifted their fire and I tossed in a grenade. We then took on the next bunker the same way. I think we destroyed three bunkers.

About that time, we heard AK-47 fire coming from the other side of the hill in the direction of the firing. We now could see the top of the hill. It was completely barren except for a few dead trees lying on the ground from past bombings. There were bomb craters everywhere. This hill had seen action before. There was still smoke and a few burning patches from our bombs and napalm. As we got closer to the firing we could see one lone NVA soldier in a foxhole at the end of the hill. At this point, we figured out that during the lull waiting for the jets to arrive, the NVA escaped off the hill and into the surrounding jungle, leaving behind one brave soldier to hold us up, while his buddies escaped. He would jump up and fire, then duck back down. Then he could only raise his AK-47 above his fox hole because we were putting so much fire on his hole. We tried to get him to surrender but he would only fire back at us. His situation was hopeless, but he would not give up. So LT. Rees told me to have my squad keep him pinned down while he crawled forward. When he got within grenade range he threw a grenade in the NVA's hole. After it exploded, LT. Rees threw in another just for good measure. Then there was nothing but silence. We all then stood up and started to mill around. I had never seen a dead NVA or for that matter a live one. So I walked over to his hole and looked in.

What I saw made me gag. Evidently, this NVA soldier thought by putting his head down he could avoid the explosion. Man, was he wrong! By dropping his head the shrapnel blew the top of his head clean off, leaving a shell of a face and spraying his brains all over the foxhole. It was a sickening site I will never forget. About that time his buddies decided to join the war and started dropping mortar rounds on the hill. We all started jumping into craters, foxholes and anywhere else we could find for protection. I jumped into a hole and the mortars started to fall closer and closer, so I decided to move to another location. I ran and jumped into a small crater with another guy. The rounds came closer and closer. It was sort of funny because the guy in the crater yelled for me to get out. He said, they were only after me and not him. I was beginning to wonder, when all of a sudden the rounds stopped coming down. We waited a few minutes and then came out of our holes. To my knowledge, no one was killed or seriously wounded. Some of the guys started calling the hill Turkey Hill.

I have seen the movie Pork Chop Hill; now I have fought on Turkey Hill. There has not been a single Thanksgiving since that I don't recall that Thanksgiving Day in 1969. Happy Thanksgiving, Vietnam Style!




Charles  Ames


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