CAMBODIA, DAY 1
By Frank R. Cambria
The events of May 1st, 1970, are etched into the recesses of my mind forever. My platoon (3rd Plt, G Trp), was selected as a scout platoon for the 11th Cav which spearheaded the assault across Fishhook area of the Cambodian border. Because of heavy casualties during the previous month, my 44-man platoon was down to only 31 men and each of my tracks, including my own ACAV, were short one or two crew members as we charged into Cambodia.
After two brief skirmishes, my platoon triggered an L-shaped ambush by two NVA battalions as we scouted an area on the right flank of the Regiment.
The ambush initiated when one of my men on a Sheridan 30 feet to the right of my ACAV suddenly exploded. A 6-inch piece of his torso flew threw the air like a missile and struck me in the face with the force of a baseball bat, knocking me unconscious for a few seconds.
My platoon was on line with two tracks on the right flank positioned in a right enfilade, and each track was firing every possible weapon. “Doc” Paul M. Dailey, my medic who was also a Conscientious Objector, was tossing cans of machine gun ammo up to me and feeding ammo to my left gunner, SP4 Dillon. My driver, SP4 Braun, was popping up and down from his hatch firing bursts with his M-16.
The noise of the battle was beyond adequate description with the fifty’s pounding away, the M6O’s spitting out long lines of tracers, M16’s popping, M79’s thumping, and the tremendous KA-BOOMS! from the Sheridan main guns firing flechette rounds which punctuated the clatter. Added to the incessant blare were incoming RPG explosions, enemy AK-47’s and machine guns and Soviet claymore mines exploding.
A squad of NVA was assaulting the now silent Sheridan to my right and was attempting to mount it to turn its guns on my other tracks. With the Sheridan’s three-man crew either dead or wounded, the track was as defenseless as a dying elephant. I saw this happening but I was having a duel with two bunkers to my front and could not immediately disengage.
Because my track was short a gunner, my right machine gun, which faced the downed Sheridan, was unmanned. I yelled for Dillon to move over to the right gun, but he also was unable to disengage because he and another ACAV were slugging it out with an enemy platoon in trenches.
Realizing the danger to the rest of the platoon if the enemy got inside the Sheridan, Doc Dailey jumped up and grabbed the unmanned machine gun. He screamed like a wild man, perhaps because he was torn between his religious beliefs and his desire to protect his buddies in the platoon. He had never fired a military weapon, but he handled the machine gun expertly as if was a natural appendage of his body. He completely stopped the assault on the Sheridan, killing several enemy, saving the Sheridan’s two surviving crew members and preventing the enemy from turning the Sheridan’s guns on the rest of the platoon.
But Dailey’s heroic actions focused the enemy’s attention on him and a minute later a RPG round hit him in his upper chest area.
The white heat from the blast 4 feet away from me burnt off all of my exposed hair and about 40 pieces of shrapnel peppered my back. The concussion dazed me and burst my ear drums, causing blood to flow from my ears and eyes.
Two more explosions rocked my ACAV. Shrapnel from the explosions hit Dillon in his right forearm. To my surprise, he was still on his feet, cussing up a storm while firing and feeding his gun with one arm.
I could no longer hear the sounds of the battle, but I could feel the impact of bullets against my gun shield and even felt the turbulence in the air as bullets whizzed past me. I pumped through a can of ammo and as I reached for another, an AK-47 round hit my right shoulder, creating a gapping wound. My right arm went into spasms and flopped around like a fish out of water. With my left hand, I grabbed my right arm and shoved it into my trousers to stabilize it.
Now, like my left gunner, I had only one arm with which to fight. My glasses were covered with dust and blood which severely impaired my vision. I quickly wiped the sleeve of my fatigue jacket across my glasses, leaving a red smear across both lenses. Now I could see, but the world I saw was blurred and painted blood red.
The NVA soldier who shot me was standing in a spider hole only 40 or 50 feet away, exposed from the waist up as he reloaded his AK-47. I knew it would take me too long to reload my fifty, so I pulled out my pistol with my left hand, fired .... and missed. My hand was unsteady and my vision was blurred.
Suddenly, everything seemed to move in slow motion, like God had intervened. It takes only 5 seconds to reload a AR-47, but the enemy soldier moved as if he were in a slow motion film. We stared into each others eyes. At first each of us saw hatred, but as I squeezed off round after round, I saw the hatred in his eyes turn to fear as each of my shots became steadier and he could not speed up his movements to reload. My seventh and last round hit him square in the chest and knocked him flat.
Through the thick smoke covering my ACAV, I could see a line of enemy soldiers preparing to climb out of their trenches. My driver saw this too and was putting out as much lead as he could with his M-16.
I considered reloading my fifty but realized that I could not handle the heavy machine gun without the use of my right hand. I reached outside my cupola and grabbed my M-16 and, like a fool, flipped the switch to full automatic. Trying to control an M-16 on rock and roll with one hand was impossible and my rounds went wild. My bandoleer of M16 ammo disappeared during one of the explosions, so I dropped the rifle and reached behind me for the M79 grenade launcher. It was damaged by one of the RPG’s and when I picked it up, the stock fell off.
I then grabbed a hand grenade and tried to pull the pin out with my teeth like I saw John Wayne do in so many movies. It would not budge and all I succeeded in doing was to chip a tooth. My absurd thought at that moment was that in my 3 years of excellent military training as both an enlisted man and as an officer, no one addressed the issue of how a one armed man should pull the pin on a hand grenade!
I was in a near panic. We were about to be overrun and the rest of the Squadron had not yet arrived. I had a Sheridan and its crew down, which exposed the right flank and endangered the remainder of my platoon. All three of my radios were knocked out and I lost all communication. My own ACAV was virtually defenseless with the entire crew wounded or dead. I couldn’t arm my fifty. My M16 ammo disappeared. My M79 was destroyed. I had a case of grenades with me but I couldn’t pull out the damned pins. I was about to drop inside the ACAV and grab a case of M16 ammo, but when I looked down between my legs, I saw Dailey’s body directly beneath me. I could not do it. Instead, I awkwardly reloaded my .45 in a feeble attempt to defend my track.
Suddenly an idea hit me. I grabbed a hand grenade and hooked the ring on the gun sight of my fifty and yanked the pin out. Yelling at the top of my lungs, I awkwardly threw it and dozen or so more. When I ran out of fragmentation grenades, I threw smoke grenades, a CS gas grenade, termite grenades and even trip flares. I threw everything I could get my one good hand on — including empty ammo cans. In less than three minutes, the entire area in front of my track was either burning or covered in a billowing rainbow of thick smoke. I don’t think my fusillade caused any enemy casualties, but it bought us a few precious minutes of time until Captain Menzell rode up with the rest of G Troop.
When the battle ended, 51 enemy bodies and dozens of blood trails were found scattered in the battle area. Figuring we wounded two NVA for each one killed, we inflicted at least 150 enemy casualties.
But my platoon paid a steep price, suffering two KIA and seven WIA. My Blackhorse recon platoon, which had 44 men only a few weeks earlier, was now down to 22 men. Sometimes, even 23 years later, I can still hear the sounds and smell the rancid odors of that deadly battle.
For their actions on May 1st ’70 with 3rd Platoon, G Troop, the Silver Star was awarded posthumously to “Doc” Paul Marion Dailey and Keith Arneson. SP4 Dillon received the Bronze Star for Valor.