Stories

The First Sapper Attack

by Carl Caputo

In late June, 1969, my company, Alpha Company, was hooked up with Echo Troop, 1st Cavalry, a mechanized unit attached to the 11th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB).  Being with a mechanized unit is not bad, except for one thing:  the machinery makes a lot of noise.  But for a grunt who humped (walked) everywhere, it was a treat to ride at times.

However, on July 1, 1969, SSG Joseph Howard Kelley was killed by a 105mm round, booby trap while his platoon was on a patrol operating off of LZ Liz.  SGT Bobby Lee McCoy called in for a Dust Off to pick up Kelley's body. The next day SGT Bobby Lee McCoy was killed by an RPG round that hit the APC he was riding on.

I remember returning to the field from R&R shortly after their deaths and starting a patrol with Echo Troop during the night.  One of the tank operators was annoyed and upset that his commander allowed the tanks and tracks to operate at night.  We humped for a while and stopped for the rest of the night.  What we did not know was we were going to start building a base called Fire Support Base (FSB) 4-11.  On our first night there, we were about 100 yards away from the site of the new FSB.

The grunts from Alpha Company wanted to name the FSB after Kelley and McCoy, but that was not to be.  Instead, it was named after the 4th ARVN Regiment and the 11th LIB:  FSB 4-11.

During the construction of the FSB, our company supplied security around the perimeter while the engineers from Company C, 26th Engineer Battalion plowed the brush back and staked out the posts for the barbed wire.  We did not have the razor type of barbed wire because it may not have been invented yet.  The engineers also plowed defensive positions or holes on the hill to put the tracks and tanks into.  The holes were sloped so the tanks could be concealed and yet still be able to defend the hill.

The grunts from Alpha Company filled sandbags and helped with the installation of the barbed wire and the building of the bunkers.  Usually, we did not stay in the bunkers at night, because if they were attacked, they became death traps or you were generally stuck in them.  We used the bunkers only for cover, but we stayed in the back of them under some metal coverts.

Most of us on our bunker had about 90 days or less left to go in-country:  Rich Rowan, Larry Travers, George Wolf, and me.  We also had a new "Shake-N-Bake" NCO in our platoon named Gene Brown.

Each morning before going on a patrol, we would move the wire, secure the flares, and move the position of the claymores.  Every night the wire was secured back into place.  I was responsible for setting up the trip flares and claymores.  I always changed their position each night from the daytime set up, in case someone was watching.  I also set the flares up at the first wire, in the "no man's land" section, and at the last wire.  I always set a flare under a claymore in case sappers tried to reverse them.  My flares were set along the wire and also attached to the wire and overlapping a few other flares.  Each bunker position was responsible for their own section of defense.

One Friday night not long after we started building the FSB, the VC played music for us on loudspeakers located in the distant darkness.  One of the songs they played was "Where Have All The Flowers Gone."  A fire mission from the 4.2 mortar platoon and D Battery, 6th/11th Artillery soon silenced the music.  However, the VC also repeated their performance of the music the next night.

A few days later in the early morning hours (0130 hours) of July 14, 1969, NVA/VC sappers decided to pay us a visit.  That night, an APC was to the right of our bunker and in its hole.  LT Wood, our Platoon Leader, and his RTO were in a position on the right side of the APC.

George, our M-60 machine gunner, had a habit of asking me every night, no matter where we were, if he should take off his boots.  If he did, we usually did not make any contact with the enemy during the night.  If he left them on, we always did.  That night he did not have a chance to ask me.

As it was getting dark, we were talking around our bunker.  I took the first watch.  As the guys went to the back of the bunker, I took up a position about 15 feet from the claymore switches, intending to move closer.  No matter what you were doing or where you were, your M-16 was never more than 1 inch from your hand.  I was moving toward the switches when a flare, slightly to my right and inside the perimeter, went off.  I ran to the switches and blew every one of the claymores, five in all, that we had set up.  They were pointed in different directions, but set up to cover our entire front.  The whole gang was up and moving at that time.  The tracks were firing their 50 caliber machine-guns, and we had a bunch of M-72 Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAWs) that we were firing.  We could see and hear the explosions from the M-72 LAWs.  We spotted one of the sappers down by the wire, and Rich and Larry went down to the wire to flush him out.  The rest of us secured the flares and became the line of defense the sapper would run into if he decided to come our way.  The sapper popped out of the bushes and pointed his weapon at Rich, but it misfired.  Rich's M-16 did not.  The area was soon cleared.  However, a C-130 flare ship (Smokey) kept the area around FSB 4-11 lighted up throughout the rest of the night.  Those streams of red coming from the flare ship looked awful good.

After the sapper attack, we found out that SGT Larry Lester Techmeir from our company didn't make it.  Larry, pictured here, was killed in the area to the left of my bunker.  He had only 21 days left in-country.  Later, we talked about the sapper attack, and we felt that our flares and claymores moved the sappers into the space to our left that was lower than our position.  But, we will never know why they attacked where they did.

I did notice one thing after the attack, and so did a few others.  After the noise and shooting had died down, we each of course smoked a cigarette.  But the cigarettes tasted very funny, sweet and sour at the same time.  We were told the taste we experienced was the adrenaline in our mouths.

The next morning we secured the VC bodies and swept through a village which was about 200 to 250 yards from the hill.  We did not find anyone else or the loudspeakers from the night the VC played music for us.

Almost 31 years later, this is how I remember the beginning of FSB 4-11, the nights the VC played music for us, and the night the sappers first attacked us on "The Hill."

Sapper Attack on Hill 4-11

A Perspective by William C. Mead

It happened during our first couple weeks on Hill 4-11.  We had finished most of the bunkers, and the wire was in place.  It was shortly after the VC had played psychological music to us.  During the night of the sapper attack, the ARVNs were pulling security to our front in the old French fortress.  SGT Shinn was on guard duty in our bunker.  We had orders not to fire without clearance since the ARVNs were out front.  I remember SGT Shinn waking us up and yelling there were sappers coming in.  As I woke up, trip flares were going off as one of the sappers had set them off.

SGT Sailers grabbed a couple of us to sweep a brushy area, which had not been cleared off yet.  The first time through we found nothing.  So he said let's check it again, and this time a sapper jumped up throwing a Chicom grenade at us.  Luckily, no one got hurt from the grenade, and SGT Sailers shot and killed the sapper.  Our Platoon Sergeant, Larry Techmeir, then took three of us with him to go outside the wire to try and flush out the other sappers.  Techmeir was the first one through the wire and took a round.  He was still alive, but died later on the hill from shock.  A machine gunner on one of the tracks shot and killed the remaining sappers.  One hell of a night.  But I often wondered what would have happened, if the one sapper had not tripped a flare.

Sapper Attack on Hill 4-11

A Perspective by Henry (Hank) Vasil

After reading Carl Caputo's and William Mead's accounts of the "First Sapper Attack" on Hill 4-11, which they do a good job of describing the events of that night, I can only add a few things from my perspective.

As noted, Echo Troop Platoon of APC tracks moved from Quang Ngai airstrip toward Hill 4-11 with the 4th AVRN Regiment, an armored unit, on our flanks to provide support.  The week before we were to secure the hill we were told an NVA flag had been flying on it.  It now makes a lot of sense after reading the story of Hill 241 being a NVA R&R center.  There was very little resistance on our approach, but the closer we got the less we saw of the ARVN unit.  We knew there would probably not be much resistance since the "Beer & Soda" kids followed us quite away toward the hill.  I guess that is why the grunts were not hesitant to ride on the tracks, because as noted they made a lot of noise and a very easy target.

Before we could even get on the hill it had to be cleared of mines and booby traps that seemed to be everywhere.  I do remember we called the hill "Kelley - McCoy" but never knew the exact details as to why except for the fact that it was to honor two grunts that had been recently killed.

In the process of clearing the hill, the engineers dug defoliated positions for the tracks to drive into so the tops were at ground level for good fields of fire and to limit their visibility from the outer area around the hill.  This can be noted in the picture of me sitting behind my M-60 by the relationship of the track top to the ground.  The tracks were spread out around the upper perimeter with the grunts position in foxholes in between.  At this time there was no barbed wire around the hill to slow night penetration from sappers.  The ARVNs that were there with us were very nervous and had hand-wired grenades on sticks with trip wires while we were laying down trip-wire flares and claymores.  Not a good situation since we didnít know where they were putting them.  The picture showing the track going down the west side of the hill is actually carrying spools of barbed wire on the back hatch which was lowered to lay the spools on.  The spools of wire were so heavy that it broke the hatch so that it could not be retracted to the closed position.  We tried to lay down at least one spool of wire around the perimeter to hang beer or soda cans on with stones in them to announce any night probes.

My track, the "Glory Stomper," was on the west side of the hill and south of the LP (Listening Post) that extended out into the flat paddy area north of our position.  We could just barely see the tip of the LP and were warned to avoid laying down any fire in that direction.

The morning after they played the music for us on the northeast side, everyone was kind of stunned since they were not sure if it was one of our guys trying to be cute or the NVA was attempting to psych us out.  After the second night of entertainment we were dispatched to clear out the villages around the outer perimeter as shown in the "Zippo Squad" pictures.  We did not encounter any resistance since there were only old people and young women with children.  We were ordered to burn everything down since the villagers were to be moved to a refugee camp.  To add a side note on the guy in the picture running away from the hooch fire, he was not only escaping the heat but also the rats that took up residence in the walls and roofs along with all of the other critters (i.e. snakes, scorpions, millipedes etc.).

Caputo's and Mead's description of the sapper attack makes me wonder if we were the track he describes as being to the right of his position.  When it happened all I know is it was very close to the left side of our track as we were facing west.  It was toward an area on the hill where they had built a latrine that looked like a set of parallel bars so everyone could see a guy straddling his leg over them while they took a dump.

After the first explosion all I heard was someone screaming a God awful scream of something like "they got him, heís dead" and then all hell broke loose.  We let go with everything we had on the track:  the 50 cal. and our M-60s.  I took my M-60 off of the track and tried to get into the foxhole that we had dug on the front left side of the track, close to the edge of the hill for a better firing position looking down the embankment.  There was so much crap in the foxhole I couldnít get down far enough into it to lower my silhouette. I started throwing so many C-Ration, beer and soda cans over the hill, and I swear I probably hit a gook in the head with one.

Then there was kind of a lull, and we were told to hold fire because a couple of grunts were going to sweep down, the hill to flush out a gook almost in front of us just a little bit to our left.  If I go by Mead's account, I may be the one that got the rest of the sappers, I honestly donít know.  Like I said when asked to recount that night, it has been 30 years of tears and beers trying to put it behind me.

After that, Smokey spent most of the night dropping high level high intensity flares over the paddies and tree line to the west of our position.  To this day I still feel uneasy when Iím driving at night around "High Intensity" lights high above the Interstate exits.  I still remember the eerie shadows in the tree lines on that night and wondering if someone is sneaking around in them.

The tragedy of the whole event was the grunt that died on the hill that night could have been saved.  He basically died of shock without being given the right medical attention since they could not get a MEDIVAC into a hot LZ.

Needless to say, I hope this helps to shed some light on the events that happened on Hill 4-11 during the night of the first sapper attack.

Sapper Attack on Hill 4-11

A Perspective by Bruce "Doc" Nugent

First of all, I wasn't even supposed to have been there that night.  My field duty was up, and I was sent back to the rear on July 12 to spend the rest of my tour working in the aid station at battalion headquarters in LZ Bronco.  Once I arrived, I was informed by my sergeant that my replacement had an absessed tooth and needed to see a dentist and that I would have to go back to FSB 4-11 the next morning.

I remember from "day one" when the firebase was first being built that we were mortared almost every night.  It was nothing earth shattering, but it was never considered to be a joke.  One hour before dark, everyone was up milling around, and a half hour before dark, all the guys started moving closer to their holes or bunkers.  At dusk, there wasn't a soul moving.  If you didn't hear the "thump," then there was always someone yelling "shot out."  After the one or two rounds of incoming or outgoing, everyone would settle down and get some sleep.

On the night of the attack, I don't recall any incoming, because I remember the uneasiness I felt about something was going to happen.  Just call it a hunch, but I would have been surprised if we had a quiet night.

So that night, I laid down where I could hear the CP radio and tried to go to sleep.  I figured if we could make it until 2:00 a.m. then everything would be okay, because "Charlie" doesn't attack after 2:00 a.m.  At least, that's what I was always told.

My worst fear was getting overrun.  I was afraid someone would holler "medic," and I would go running and get shot by a "gook" or a trigger happy "FNG."

Well, before I could go to sleep, I heard the claymores go off.  I said to myself "I knew it! I knew it!"  I just knew something was going to happen, and I wasn't even supposed to be here.

I was on top of the "Hill" with CPT Tyson and the RTO.  I heard the chaos and saw the tracers and the flares going off.  After a while, SGT Techmeir gets on the radio and tells CPT Tyson there is a hole in the wire and he thinks there are still some "gooks" out there beyond the wire.  He tells CPT Tyson he wants to go out and secure the area.  CPT Tyson tells him no, but SGT Techmeir keeps pushing. Finally, CPT Tyson gives in.  I thought "That crazy S.O.B. Techmeir."  I knew SGT Techmeir was "short" and this wasn't the time to play "John Wayne."

Shortly afterwards, we heard another explosion, and someone hollered "Medic!"  So, here I go with just three months and days left "in country."  I'm running around in the dark with "gooks" inside the wire, people are shooting at anything that moves, and I'm not even supposed to be out here.  I thought "This will make one hell of a story for the guys to talk about:  Hear about Ole Doc?  He got zapped, and he wasn't supposed to be out here."

I ran down to this draw where all the commotion was and saw a couple of guys by the wire. One of them was SGT Ron Sailors.  I asked where the wounded were.  He said it was SGT Techmeir.  He said "Come on, I'll show you the way."  He then dove down through a little hole in the concertina wire.  I thought "Where in the hell is he going?"  All my experience in "Nam" told me that inside the wire at night was "good" and outside the wire at night was "bad."

On the other side of the wire, SGT Sailors showed me where Techmeir was.  Doc Henyan had already put a field dressing on Techmeir's head, so I didn't recheck the wound.  I wrapped an "ace bandage" around his head and told Henyan we needed to get out of there.  Techmeir was in pretty bad shape, and he was getting worse by the minute.  I was afraid he was going into shock.  With Henyan on one side and me on the other, we finally dragged Techmeir to the hole in the wire.  I recall that Techmeir was awfully heavy and his legs weren't working real well.

I couldn't figure out how we were going to get Techmeir through the wire because Henyan and I didn't weigh more than 140 lbs. each and Techmeir was well over 200 lbs.

I couldn't believe what happened next.  With Henyan on the inside of the wire and me on the outside, we got Techmeir in the hole in the wire.  I was pushing and Henyan was pulling, but we couldn't get any leverage.  All of a sudden, Henyan jumped up and started cursing at Techmeir saying "Get your ass over here!  Come on!  Come on!"  I just kept pushing, and, believe it or not, Techmeir started to slowly move.  Then, Henyan started yelling "Move!  Do you want a beer?  I'll give you a beer!  I'll give you all the beer you can drink!  Just crawl!"  And, Techmeir crawled.

We finally got Techmeir a little ways inside the wire, but he was going into shock.  I knew we needed to get him "dusted off" fast.  I figured the "dustoff" was already on the way so I jumped on a track and took the machine gunner's headset and tried to reach the CP.  I wanted to get the "dustoff" to land in the hollow we were in instead of hauling Techmeir to the chopper pad on top of the "Hill."

Then, all of a sudden, a "gook" jumped up and started running in parallel with the wire.  The machine gunner on the track and I saw him at about the same time.  The gunner said "Ah shit!" and swung his "50" around and started firing.  He got him.  I could see the tracers going right through him.  I nearly shit in my pants, and I fell off the track.

I tried to get the CP on the radio again, but no one would answer me.  I then told the guy on the track to open up the back of the track.  We hauled Techmeir into the back of the track, and we rode up to the chopper pad.  SGT Techmeir died on the way.

I found out later that the "dustoff" wouldn't come out to a "hot LZ."  I also found out that SGT Techmeir's wound was not survivable.  So, it didn't make much difference anyway.

That's about all I remember, except CPT Tyson asked me to watch Techmeir's body so the ARVNs wouldn't rob him.  And, one last thing, I remember "Smokey" working the perimeter for the rest of that night.

Sapper Attack on Hill 4-11

A Perspective by James "Sparky" Cronkwrite

My memories of Hill 4-11 start as an "FNG" with three to four weeks in country.  I drove an M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) for LT Kosnan who was the 1st Platoon Leader for E Troop, 1st Cavalry.  When we reached Hill 4-11 around July 1, I parked my APC on top of the hill in a dugout which was used as the CP for E Troop.  All of the other tracks were parked around the perimeter in dugout holes.

I had heard that Nam was called the "rock and roll" war but couldn't believe the two nights of music played by the VC.

On the night the sappers hit, we could hear the shooting and see the tracers, but from our position, we didn't know what was happening.  LT Kosnan was on the radio but couldn't find what was going on either.  Then he told me to go over and find out.  So, I grabbed my M-16 and took off.  As I recall, I had to go around backside of the artillery unit to southside of the hill.  I believe the mountains were on my right.  When I made it to a partially built bunker, everyone was firing LAWs and everything they had down the hill.  So, with adrenaline flowing, I joined in.  I layed down and shot a big burst from my M-16, it pulled.  The guy next to me said "Hey you asshole!"  I never saw any gooks.  I guess they were taken care of before I got there.  Then Smokey was there with flares and mini-guns going off.

Then someone told me to help move a body.  I remember that well because he was a big man, over 200 lbs., and he was the first dead GI that I had ever seen.  I almost forgot about LT Kosnan.  It seemed like hours since I had left the CP, but it wasn't.  Upon returning, he said "You're bleeding!"  But I wasn't.  My clothes were covered in blood from carrying the body.

For 30 years, I have always wondered about that GI.  Now, thanks to this Web site and all you guys, I am sure it was Larry Techmeir, because, like someone said, there weren't too many guys over 200 lbs.

So, now I have some peace of mind.  Now I can say, "Rest in peace Larry Techmeir."

NOTE:  If you were on FSB Hill 4-11 during the night of this sapper attack, please submit your perspective for posting on this page.

Hill 4-11 Homepage