By Rick Belcher
I just returned from Thailand and was reading the "Blackhorse" Newsletter when I happened on your request for information concerning your brother's fate in Vietnam. I am privileged to say I was Ron's Track Commander during the period you referenced and in the following paragraphs will attempt to the best of my ability to reconstruct for you what happened.
Ron was the driver of an Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) in 2nd Platoon, Troop A, 1st Squadron, of the 11th ACR. I don't remember him being wounded on April 13, but that is sort of irrelevant because I was wounded and "dusted off" to an Army hospital in Dau Tien, Vietnam. I do remember this though; we were going into contact (attacking) a heavily fortified bunker complex sometime around 2 o'clock in the afternoon on that date. It was our first "firefight" in quite awhile and we were assigned to support the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in what was then referred to as War Zone "c". As we were approaching our "jump off" position, one of our gunners, George Rodriquez, noticed some North Vietnamese soldiers watching us as we maneuvered into position to support the infantrymen of the 1st Cav. Rodriquez tapped me on the shoulder to point out their position and I relayed to Ron instructions to turn towards them so we could engage with all of our weapons. Ron did this and we opened fire. In the ensuing melee, I was hit by shrapnel in the left cheek and knocked to the floor of the ACAV. The next thing I knew, Ron was at my side and helping bandage my face.
We proceeded on and got into one hell of a fight.....the bottom line being that we lost seven killed and a whole bunch wounded.... Probably where you heard about Ron. I don't know how he got wounded, because like I said earlier, I got medevaced to a hospital. I do know this though; when I returned to the field the next day, Ron was there as our driver.
Henry, I need to tell you this in retrospect. This
operation was serious business. We moved from a place called "Cu Chi" into this
area by road during the day and kept pressing forward until long into the night.
All of a sudden this guy walks out onto the "trail" we were following and he
turns out to be an infantry major carrying a full rucksack and
weapon.....something we had never seen before (officers didn't do that sort of
thing.... move around at night, by themselves, carrying a full field pack). At
any rate, he guided us to our position for operations to begin on 13 April 1969.
We were all "scared" shitless. We knew we were going into contact the next day
so two of my fellow Track Commanders came over to Ron's and my ACAV that night
to confer about the upcoming operation. Their names were Terry Jones and Bruce
Johnson...both killed in action the next morning. Anyway, we drank a half bottle of Crown Royal and then went to sleep. Like I said, it was probably the most intense fight I experienced in my time in Vietnam.... We lost a bunch of people and couldn't find any North Vietnamese dead. This may sound a bit jumbled as I tell it, but again, my recollection of events are somewhat sketchy to this point.
Anyway, we pushed on after the 13th of April with intermittent contact every day until April 18, 1969 when we started the day following a very fresh "bicycle" path. Around 10 o'clock in the morning a pair of helicopters were fired upon to our front. One went down in a ball of flames. We continued on and swung to the left. A tank about three ACAV'S in front of us suddenly was engaged by the North Vietnamese with rocket propelled grenades, which knocked out the tank, killing the driver and Track Commander. The gunner and loader managed to get out and jump on one of our ACAV'S. We were in the middle of a battalion sized (about 750 men) bunker complex, and they were waiting for us!! The only way to get at them was to dismount our ACAV'S and assault them on foot using covering fire from our machine guns for protection to the guys on the ground, and then for those guys to throw hand grenades into the bunker openings. Once that was done our guys (Ron amongst them) would rush into the bunker and kill any remaining survivors with pistols. What I'm trying to say Henry is that Ron did one hell of a job that day in clearing bunkers. It was around 3 o'clock that afternoon that we finally got control of the battle and Ron returned to our ACAV. We were moving towards a landing zone we had made to evacuate our wounded and Ron was again back at the controls and driving us to secure the site.
We had stopped and were watching one of our friends (Andy Anderson) getting carried to a helicopter (he had sustained wounds to both of his legs doing the same thing Ron had been doing all day) and was laughing that he had the "million dollar wounds" that would get him back to the States. Ron gave him the "thumbs up" and we were all laughing when Ron got shot by a sniper. We killed the sniper and immediately put Ron on one of the evacuation helicopters.....we later learned that he died of his wounds that night.
I know this is a very terse treatment of what happened to your brother, but I felt that you probably wanted to know that he was killed in action as a hero.... Not that he "later died on April 18th 1969." He, along with a guy named "Tex' were key in our success that day. Had it not been for their willingness to meet face - to - face with the North Vietnamese, a lot of us wouldn't be around today. Although I was the Track Commander, Ron taught me many things that would help save my life in future operations. He was our demolitions man and showed me how to set up explosives, trip flares, detonations techniques, etc., all of which made my crew and me to survive 1969 and 1970.
Henry, I guess the only thing of comfort (and small comfort it is) that I can share with you is that we renamed our ACAV for what Ron wanted it to be called....."Texas Outlaw". It became sort of infamous later on in the battles (firefights) that came throughout May and into June. We lost (under my command) two more ACAV'S, but we always renamed them "Texas Outlaw" in honor of your brother. I hope this e-mail answered your query about Ron.....your brother was a true hero among a lot of heroes and you should be proud!!
We have reunions from time to time and if you ever feel the desire to attend, you have a place with "A" Troop.
Note: This "story" at first seemed not to
belong on the Tales from Nam page as it is a letter from Rick Belcher to Ron
Pongratz who had contacted this site asking if anyone had know his brother Ron.
Rick saw the posting and responded with this letter. Since it is a story of one
of our brothers, and that of a genuine hero it seemed only fitting that it be
placed here for all to read. Both Rick and Ron have given permission for this
posting. 28 May 1998