Darkest Day for Blackhorse, SUOI –CAT
By Robert “Bob” Kickenweitz
21st of May 1967, it was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, the kind of a day you were happy to be alive. I got up, put on clean set of fatigues and went to breakfast at the mess hall. Leaving the mess hall, I noticed steam coming up from our tent as the dew from the night before was evaporating from the heat of the sun into little clouds. Yes, just what we needed in South Vietnam, a little more humidity! After breakfast, I walked up to our chapel about one block from my tent for Sunday mass. Our chapel was located on the southwest corner of an intersection, with the 7th Surgical Hospital on the northwest corner, and across the street diagonally from chapel on the northeast corner was the 37th Medical Group, and on the southeast corner was Regimental Headquarters.
For the longest time,
Father Egan, our Chaplain, would serve mass in an open field, but
now we had our own chapel. Made from a maintenance tent, it had a
center aisle with benches on both sides. At the altar’s base there
were two railings: one from each side of the tent but open at the
center aisle, each with a white cross on it. On the base itself
was the altar with a cross and some candles on it, behind the
altar was a large white cross on the rear wall.
During the mass, all hell started to break loose! We had one dust-off after another coming in with dead and wounded. We were half way through the mass when the word came for Father Egan to come right over to the hospital. So he and Tony Graziano, his assistant ran across the dusty road to the hospital. After 50 years, Tony remembers: “It probably was the worst day of my time in Vietnam. They were bringing in bodies, some so severely wounded and missing limbs that you could barely recognize the person. There was blood all over.” I stayed at the chapel for awhile and prayed for the wounded men on the dust-off coming in from the carnage that they had been through. At 0850 hrs some 19 miles from Blackhorse base camp, K Troop 1st Platoon was providing security for an element of the 595th Engineer Company working at the Gia Ray rock quarry, near Suoi-Cat, South Vietnam. Their convoy was ambushed by a reinforced battalion of the 274th VC Regiment, some of the enemy was wearing South Vietnam Army uniforms, while others wore mixed black pajama and fatigue uniforms. Due to the loss of communication, Captain Hoffman, Commander of K Troop, after some 15 to 20 minutes, committed the balance of his two other platoons as a relief force. At about the same time, Air Cav Troop with helicopter gunships arrived on the scene, and three howitzer batteries were responding along with six USAF air strikes one hour after the ambush started. What started out as a beautiful sunny day for me was hell for my brother Blackhorse Troopers, and in some cases their last day alive. All of 1st platoon vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Of the original 41 men, only the platoon sergeant was not a casualty. 16 Blackhorse Troopers were killed that day and 26 wounded. The enemy lost 30 men.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. Back in the early 80’s on a Saturday that happened to be Memorial Day weekend, I was cutting my lawn and Suoi-Cat popped into my mind out of a clear blue sky. I couldn’t get it out, I stop the mower and sat down on the side steps to our patio and started to cry. I couldn’t stop, I just couldn’t. My wife Patti saw me, came out of the house and asked, “What‘s wrong?” I tried to tell her the story that I had locked away many years ago. At the time I never talked about Vietnam. She sat down beside me with her arm over my shoulder. Our daughter Kristine and son Marc came to the door and Kristine asked, “Is Daddy okay, Mommy?” “Dad is okay, he just remembered something very sad. Go back in the house and watch some TV” she said. I don’t think Patti or I had any knowledge of PTSD at the time. She stayed there with me until I could compose myself and get back to the lawn.
This woman is the most understanding and compassionate person I have ever met in my life, I’m so blessed to have her for my wife! It is said that time heals all wounds, I’m not so sure if that is correct in all cases. Like Tony, Suoi-Cat affected me more than when I personally came under fire. I think in my case, I was so scared and the adrenaline was pumping so hard that afterward I just felt very cold. So cold in fact that my teeth started to chatter and I felt like I was going to freeze to death. But in the case of Suoi-Cat I was an observer of somebody else’s pain, much more than any pain that I ever felt. I have been able to handle my PTSD for the most part over the years and I have found that writing these short stories has helped enormously. I will always hold a special place in my heart for those brothers I loss that day at Suoi-Cat.