The 3rd Platoon of Alpha Company 3rd Tanks was attached to Battalion Landing Team 3/3 and we trained together all the time on Okinawa. 3/3 had several mount outs for Camp Fuji and the Philippine Islands before we actually embarked aboard LSD 28 USS Thomason from White Beach in the middle of the night during late May of 1965. The most exciting thing about that was loading up with live ammo. Sgt R. B. Johnson, my drill instructor, also a tanker, was there to send one of his former recruits to combat. 3/3 was tight and we were part of it.
In August 1965, we had out first quota for R&R. SSgt Don Clark, our Platoon Sergeant, put all the names in a utility cover and someone drew Cpl Charlie Denton’s name. Charlie selected R&R for 3 days and 2 nights in Hong Kong - off he went.
I was the second one to get R&R and, based on Charlie Denton’s account, decided Hong Kong was where I wanted to go. So, on or about 17 August, I got on a C-130 for DaNang and then on to Hong Kong. Little did I know what would happen to our platoon during the next 3 days.
After Sgt. Kaleleiki rotated out of Vietnam, I became 32's Tank Commander, but because of my R&R, Cpl Bill Laidlaw, who recently joined the platoon, was tagged to fill in.
While in Hong Kong I read a newspaper that had a story of interest to me. It was about Marines being engaged in a battle south of Chu Lai in the Republic of Viet Nam. I couldn’t help but wonder what the platoon was doing but knew I’d be rejoining them in a few short days.
I came back from Hong Kong on a C-130 to Danang and right away left for Chu Lai on a R4D (DC4) full of blood plasma. Hitched a ride to the beach and saw litters all over the place while also witnessing BAS going at warp speed. A few days later the company 1st Sgt assigned me to accompany our dead (Cpl Bill Laidlaw) as part of the 3/3 detail. There was a Chief Corpsman in charge and an NCO from each company and attached unit. We were supposed to go to Danang, but the plane went to Saigon instead. A long, sad flight I will never forget.
After I got back from Saigon and was with the platoon again, I noticed changes. We went about our daily business much differently because the men now had an edge. Most of the platoon had been wounded. Lt. Thompson had been medevac’d and was rumored to have had his heel shot off. Sgt. Ed Sipel, also medevac’d, was rumored to have had his leg amputated. I cleaned up the TC cupola and turret where Laidlaw’s and McQueary’s blood had been and the platoon spent a lot of time picking small shrapnel flakes just beneath the surface of each others skin. Seeing that, reminded me of how the Vietnamese women picked lice from each others hair.
Our original platoon leadership (1st Lt Ken Zitz, SSgt. Don Clark and Sgt Sam Kaleleiki) rotated out in mid-August so now we had new leaders. 2nd Lt Ky Thompson and S/Sgt Joe Wilder had the reins. Although Lt. Thompson really was new, S/Sgt Wilder was a combat-tested Korea vet and new the ropes well. Both were tested sooner than anyone expected.
When Laidlaw was killed some of the shrapnel wounded Pinnetti but not Sgt. Mac who was wounded later. During a subsequent fire fight a Viet Cong rifle round ricocheted off the blast deflector, leaving a clearly visible ding on it, into the gun tube and travelled the entire length of the 90mm gun tube leaving Sgt Mac with a huge gaping wound on his right forearm. Sgt Mac was in the process of loading a 90 round into the breach. Every time thereafter when we cleaned the bore or bore sighted the main gun I’d see the evidence of that day and remember how Dan McQueary got wounded. I do recall later on some of the men were recounting that: “While on the beach, ‘shooting the bull’, someone mentioned that Milo was seen shooting at some VC with his .45 from the driver’s hatch during one of the many firefights.”
In retrospect, there was Divine intervention for me during those fateful days in August 1965. Instead of me being killed on 32, Cpl Bill Laidlaw died. Instead of me being on the C-130 that crashed into Hong Kong bay, I departed on a flight before.