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FIREBASE HENDERSON

 

See Commanding Officer Ed Mitchell's account of the battle of FSB Henderson here.




From the article titled "Hell Night at Henderson" by Charles F. Hawkins
http://www.e2501airmobile.com/stories/HellNight.html

About 5 A.M. on May 6, 1970, members of the 33rd NVA Sapper Battalion attacked Henderson from several directions. Alpha Company (2/501) counted the most fatalities with 11. General Mitchell was the company commander on FSB Henderson when the attack occurred. He carried the names of the deceased on a 3 X 5 card throughout his career. His list only includes 9 names from Alpha Company so we're missing two names! He commanded A/2-501 through mid June 1970. In regards to the casualties he says, "Most I knew well...I loved them all!".

FB Henderson after the sapper attack on 6 May 1970

 

 

Base Henderson

The 29 U. S. troops killed at Fire Base Henderson, 16 miles south of the demilitarized zone, were the most American soldiers slain in a single action in 20 months. Fifteen North Vietnamese were reported killed.

 

101st Airborne Division

Twenty-nine enemy soldiers were killed May 6 during a furious attack, on Fire Base Henderson, 10 miles south of Cam Lo in Quang Tri Province. Troopers of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) and gunners of the 11th Arty. received mortar and RPG- fire, followed by a ground attack from an unknown-sized enemy force.

Division soldiers were engaged in a daylong battle in mountainous jungle 20 miles southwest of Hue May 9. Troopers, from the 2nd Bn., 502nd Inf. (501st Inf.), were searching the area when they were attacked by an enemy force firing small arms and RPGs. The Communists were hidden in a bunker complex laced with inter-connecting tunnels. Cobra gunships and airstrikes swept in to support the Screaming Eagles, who killed 18 enemy soldiers.

In the northern I Corps area of operations May 7, an air observer supporting the 3rd Squadron, 5th Armored Cav., engaged 20 enemy soldiers. Helicopter gunships gave support in that action 10 miles southwest of Cam Lo and 10 enemy soldiers were killed.

Screaming Eagles killed another 18 enemy soldiers during four actions in mountainous jungles 20 miles southwest of Hue May 5.

Elements of the 2nd Bn., 502nd Inf. approaching an enemy bunker complex were engaged by an unknown-sized force. The battalion soldiers quickly surrounded the bunkers and returned fire killing five enemy soldiers..

The Army Reporter
May 25, 1970

 

 

Fiery 5-Hour Battle

"I've Got A Company Full of Heroes"

CAMP EVANS, Vietnam - A battered 101st Airborne Div. unit which fought North Vietnamese for five explosive hours Wednesday morning at and on Fire Support Base Henderson, 45 miles northwest of Hue, returned here Friday. Although the soldiers say they lost more than the NVA, their captain said flatly, "I've got a company full of heroes."

Their captain is James E. Mitchell, 25. Mitchell and his men Friday recounted the story of an hours-long attempt amid fiery and fog-shrouded death to rescue a reconnaissance element trapped between the NVA and an exploding ammunition dump. Nearly all the while, the NVA was fighting all around the hill.

From the time the battle started, according to Mitchell, he had been unable to make contact with the reconnaissance element guarding the far end of the hill. And when the fighting began, he said, he told S. Sgt. Robert Nichol to get men and go down to find them.

Nichol, a veteran of heavy battle on the so-called "Re-Up Hill" and on Fire Support Base Granite during the past month, said he was on guard when the enemy touched off flares on his side of the hill. By the time he was ready to move down to contact the guards at the far end, Nichol said, the ammo dump straddling the hill in between was on fire and rounds were popping off.

As Nichol tells it, he told his captain, "there's a big fire down there. You can't imagine how big it is."

Still, Nichol moved his men toward the area. He pulled them back, he said, when he saw a pallet of ammo smoldering. Minutes later, he said, the pallet blew.

Then, Nichol said, they tried another approach. The explosions from the ammo dump had been, as Nichol and others described them, like an earthquake. They said one pilot in a chopper overhead radioed that one blast, almost blew him out of the sky.

One of the men Nichol took with him was Sgt. Joe Waage, a former dice-dealer in a Reno, Nev., Casino. Waage had been in Vietnam a week and he said he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

They said at one pointer a soldier, "a big farmer" who they knew only as "Silent Sam,". ran up dangerously close to the roaring fire and dragged to safety a soldier who was screaming that his foot had been blown off.

It was several hours, Nichol and Waage said, before they were able to get around the searing fire. They said that as they tried to get around the flames, risking the explosions, they could hear the trapped soldiers calling for help, yelling "GIs, GIs."

The first man we saw," one of them said, "was a recon medic and he was holding his head with part of it gone."

Despite his wounds, the said, the medic was tending to another wounded soldier.

The medic was telling the more seriously wounded soldier about his home town, trying to keep him out of shock. "I'll tell you," Waage said, "a medic is the greatest thing in the world to see."

Just as great, they said, were dustoff medevac pilots who landed their chopper amid exploding rounds and incoming fire to rescue the men at the end of the hill. The recon element, they said, took 100 per cent casualties. Had it not been for the dustoff, and perhaps for the rescue through the fire, it might have been 100 per cent killed in action.

Waage said he couldn't tell what made men do what they did. Silent Sam, one of the said, "could just as easily have said he didn't hear anything." But they said he acted on what he heard. That Waage explained is why he himself acted. " You just had to hear them calling," Waage said.

Spec. 4 Seth Upksy
 Stars and Stripes
Staff Correspondent

 

This event took place May 6, 1970, rather than in April, and the individual is known as more than "Silent Sam." His name is Richard Takos. I was with him that night. Someone ran over to our hole, which was right on the edge of the ammo dump, and asked for help carrying the wounded soldier mentioned. With my heart full of terror, I said, "I'll go," but I had no sooner said it than Dick jumped out of the hole saying, "Nah, I'll do it," without a quiver in his voice. I saw a book listing all the recipients of the DSC in Nam. I was disappointed to not see his name there. - Dave Schmidli

 

Details Recounted by Brigadier General Edwin James Mitchell: (more)

As I recall, the first shot fired was a burst of automatic small arms fire at about 0505 on the 6th, coming from along the southwest perimeter. My Forward Observer and I were sitting atop my CP working a call-for-fire on a series of scheduled defensive targets with the fire direction center on either FSB T-Bone or Sarge. A hail of small arms fire immediately followed along with raining satchel charges and RPGs. I don't recall hearing or seeing a recognizable NVA mortar round until later in the morning when a round hit a few feet from the 54th ARVN TOC entrance killing CSM Long.

The NVA main attack came directly into their sector on the southwest side of our perimeter at 0505 and I desperately tried to contact Rick immediately after the first shot was fired to my right rear but there was no radio response. To the best of my recollection, all of Recon was either killed or wounded and when the remnants of the A Company Combat Team were extracted under fire later I carried Recon as 4-KIA, 1-MIA(Hawley), and 9-WIA. While still under sporadic mortar attack and recoilless rifle fire I personally searched for Hawley's remains in and around his fighting position that had been completely destroyed by fire and explosives but found nothing. I was heart broken that we were ordered to leave Henderson without his remains for he and I were good friends having served together as Platoon Leaders in Charlie Company. I left Henderson also having no knowledge that we could not account for Refugio Teran or Larry Kier, both later listed as MIAs; remains finally recovered in 1993. I'm certain these two were lost in the head count and the chaos of casualty and KIA evacuations that were ongoing as the fighting subsided around noon on the 6th. As you might imagine, the LZ just below my CP was overloaded with the seriously wounded and the KIAs...a gruesome scene.

For the record (and as best I recall) Recon, led by 1LT Rick Hawley (also killed on Henderson), joined us with a strength of 14 men. We had no "by-name" roster of Recon and all it's leadership was either killed or severely wounded. My confusion has always been that when we CA'd off Henderson my reported casualty count for Recon was 4 KIA, 9 WIA, and 1 MIA(Hawley). I never thought 9 Recon soldiers could have survived the carnage in their sector for all their fighting positions were virtually unrecognizable. Sadly, your great research after more than 40 years is proving my best instincts were accurate after I had searched their perimeter.

I should also make known my affection for the guys in E Company-Recon that were killed or wounded in that I had known many of the platoon's leadership having commanded them before moving to A Company.  Like us, they had taken a beating before joining us on Henderson and LT Hawley had not been with them long either.  I think they had lost their Platoon Sergeant to return home about 3 weeks earlier who was one of the best NCOs I ever met.  Lastly, I really opposed having Recon on Henderson because they really were not accustomed to Fire Base defense stuff and they'd had very little experience in static defensive operations other than Hawley who had come from Charlie Company.  To be blunt, they were the immediate weak link along our perimeter...not because of their heart, but their strength, experience as a fighting platoon, leadership, and training.  Bottom line...they were not a combat ready platoon and our leadership should have had them returned to a rear area for reconstitution/retraining.  The fact that this didn't happen was a major leadership failure at the LTC/COL level.

 

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