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I arrived in Vietnam in mid August 1967. I was sent to lst Recon and began a two week Recon training. It was mostly physical – running miles and miles with a full pack and weapon, rappelling, etc. I came in second out of 52. I was then sent down to Chu Lai to join Alpha Co. I was shot out on the insertion of my first patrol – it was very exciting. I did two OP patrols in Chu Lai, and then we moved back up to DaNang. I was sent to Demo School for a week, and then went on my first real roving patrol. I loved the jungle, it was incredibly beautiful. I loved sneaking around like John Wayne. On October 15, 1967 we were inserted in the late afternoon into a place called Elephant Valley. We usually went with 10 guys, but we had a bunch of new guys in the Company, and were told to take them to get experience. There were 19 of us trying to be swift, silent and deadly in the jungle. We humped for a while and then set in for the night. The following day we humped incredibly difficult terrain. We don’t walk on trails, so with 19 guys breaking through the jungle, we were not exactly quiet. In the afternoon we spotted 5 VC, so we moved around this finger to avoid them. We then crossed this very well used wide trail. There was no way we could cover our trail with 19 guys. We moved into this valley and set in a 360 harbor site in late afternoon. We normally just sit for about a half-hour and listen before we take off our packs. I noticed a small camouflaged lean-to just in front of my position. Two guys go to check it out. An AK goes off on the other side of the perimeter, and then two guys open up and then quiet. We could hear them moving around us. Then about 30 feet away from me I see 4 gooks walking on line, I reach over and get Kelco’s attention. He says “well shoot them”. I open up on full automatic. All I remember today is the surprised look on the gooks face, and him falling over. Then everyone opens up and there are rounds flying everywhere. I was so excited that I was yelling, “I got him, I got him.” I am rolling around on the ground trying to get another magazine out of the pouch. But, I put too many in there and it was stuck. Rounds were hitting the rotten log in front of me and debris got in my eyes. I could here the rounds hitting leaves. It got quiet again and no one was hurt. We threw CS gas and broke contact. We moved about 500 meters up this ridge line and set in for the night. We called in artillery and an air strike. We set claymores out and were on 100% alert. I could here movement during the night, but no contact was made. At first light we moved off the ridge in kind of a gully to go down to the rice paddies for extraction. I think I was number 3 off the hill. We got about 100 yards down and the tail-end Charlie opened up on automatic. I remember turning to my right and hesitating, just looking for movement. Cpl Lothian yelled “fire.” Then everyone was firing on full automatic. We set up in a 360 and called COC. It got quiet again. The Gunny wants to move downhill to be extracted, but HQ wants him to assault the hill. We know they are up there. The Gunny argues, but this f….ing Maj. Timmons threatens him with court marshal if he doesn’t go back up the hill. Cpl Lowthian tells me to stay behind and set off two claymores facing downhill when we move out. After we begin to move out, I wait until Lowthian signals me and I blow the claymores. I am trying to catch up when Sgt Young is almost to the top of the hill. He opens fire, and then we started taking machine gun and automatic weapons fire from three sides. All hell broke loose, it was complete bedlam. Everyone is firing and yelling and trying to move back downhill and get in a 360. It seems like it is all in slow motion. I am looking right at the Gunny shot in the neck with the Doc holding him trying to stop the blood. There is a big hole in his neck and blood is just pumping out. The Gunny is trying to talk, but is just blowing bubbles. The Doc had the look that said the Gunny would be dead soon. Everyone is yelling obscenities and the gooks are yelling back at us. Wright is sobbing “Oh lord, Collier is dead, Oh lord collier is dead.” Collier had taken my position in the column, I should be the one dead. I am standing firing my M-16 on full auto to the left. I can see muzzle flashes coming from the bushes. The smell of gunpowder is overwhelming. Someone yells at me to get down. Rauch, the radioman is right next to me one arm’s length away. He was from San Francisco. He was calling the COC one minute, and then when I looked back at him he was staring with a hole in his head. His eyes were open with a blank stare. He wore glasses and was just staring at me. Guys were yelling for the Doc. Things slowed down a little, and then I saw a grenade coming in slow motion out of the trees above. It had a wooden handle and was smoking. People were yelling and diving out of the way. More grenades started dropping in. Hancock is screaming at me to get the radio to him. He is hit in the right side bad with shrapnel. Rauch’s legs are blown off. I cut the radio pack off of Rauch and give it to Hancock. He is screaming hysterically into the radio “We are going to be overrun.” I was completely shocked. I looked around, and all I could see was bodies of dead and wounded. It finally dawned on me that I was going to die. I took my K-bar out and stuck it in the ground next to me. I thought this was it. At this point I made a deal with the god that I grew up with – get me out of this one, and I will go back to church. All they had to do was keep coming then and it would have been all over – but they didn’t. Firing became more sporadic, but you could see the gooks moving around really clear. Doc Mecurio is walking around patching guys up like nothing is going on. He seems to be moving in slow motion standing up in the middle of a firefight with rounds going everywhere – he never got a scratch. He tells me to help Basco. He has a hole in his chest under his left arm with clear gooey shit oozing out. He seems OK, so I put a bandage on him, and he keeps shooting. We haven’t been able to get any gunships or Medevac because of the weather. We can hear the gunships, but they can’t see us because it’s raining and the canopy is thick. Cpl Lothian is now in charge, and he is calling in arty on our position. The gooks stay real close to us, so there really isn’t a choice. Shrapnel is flying through the perimeter. An RPG comes right through the middle of the perimeter, and doesn’t hit anything. A machine gun is keeping us down low. At this point there are only six of us not wounded. Things were slowing down a little, and we had been pinned down for about 6 hours. I was out of ammo, and the Doc collected magazines from the dead and wounded and passed them around to us. The weather started to clear, and Lowthian signaled our position with an air panel because we were out of smoke. The gunships began strafing, some of it coming into our perimeter, so we called them off. A medevac chopper hovered and lowered a jungle penetrator for four of the worst WIA’s. I was later told that the helicopter took 8 hits from a .50 cal while trying to get in. Once the weather cleared, the firing slowed way down. We were told that they were sending a company of grunts to save our ass. It had been quiet for about an hour when I heard something directly below me. Someone yelled Marines, and then the grunts came up to us. I remember feeling completely exhausted, and just kind of sitting there staring off in shock. The grunts formed a perimeter around us, and began checking for gooks and blood trails. I remember getting up and walking uphill to one of my kills. There were a couple of grunts kind of standing around him. I went up to check the body and cut some ears. I remember stripping him and checking his pockets. He had some money, a lighter, and a picture of a woman holding the hand of a young little girl maybe five years old. I stared at the picture for a minute or so and then I put it back in his pocket. I then took out my K-bar and the grunts said “Yeah, get some.” I knelt down and put my knife to his left ear. Then I just looked at him and noticed he had a fresh haircut. I stood up and walked away. Those few moments changed my life forever. It was starting to get dark, so the grunts put us in the middle of their column and we moved out down a trail that was close by. We walked all night. I remember feeling so tired I could barely walk. In the middle of the night the point man opened up on three gooks coming up the trail. I remember just sitting down in the middle of the trail – I didn’t give a shit anymore – it just didn’t matter. We got down to the rice paddies about mid morning. Helicopters took the rest of the wounded and the dead bodies. The bodies were stacked on top of each other. Rauch’s legs were on top of him, and my buddy Covington sat next to them. The five of us not wounded got a ride out down the river in an Amtrack. We then hitched a ride on a 6x . Along the way we came across a truck with some donut dollies on the side of the road. They had milk and cake. I remember just stuffing the cake into my mouth by the handful. The donut dollies were just smiling and looking at us not saying a word. Then one of them got this strange look of either disgust or shock on her face looking at me. I kind of looked around and then looked at my hands that were stuffing the cake into my mouth. They were caked with dried blood. I felt like an animal…….

I feel really sad when I think that just going through this event was not enough. I am so tired of thinking about it for the last 38 years – it just doesn’t seem right………………..
Michael Harder
Team Texas Pete
Alpha 3rd Plt.
Aug. 67 May 69

Michael Harder, Alpha 67/69