|To me, April and May 1970, seemed to be the hottest months in Vietnam. I knew the climate was different.
But, this hot air was horribly stifling. I could barely breathe, as I carried my very heavy fully loaded rucksack,
packed with three days of C-rations.
I had carefully selected food products packaged in the smallest possible containers. Like pork steak, chopped chicken, cheese
and crackers. I think they were B or B3 packs, you know the ones that had round chocolate bars and crackers in them. You
could heat the chocolate in water and have like a chocolate water drink. It wasn’t tasty, but it helped kill the taste and bad smell
of the water you got at the bottom of a mortar round pit.
I loaded up -- ready to move out. I strained as I put the rucksack on my shoulders. It weighed about 90-100 pounds or more,
with a full 13 quarts of water and enough ammo to fight the whole Vietnamese Army. This includes 2 claymores, 6 smokes, 4
hand grenades, 100 rounds of machine gun ammo, and 14 clips of M-16 ammo. I had an M-60 ammo box full of writing pads,
cigarettes, dry pair of socks and anything else I needed to keep dry. One of my buddies once told me when I ran out of food and
I had to borrow a can from him, He said, “if you hump it you got it.”
That took me a few minutes to realize what he meant.
The army sent me to train at Fort Benning’s Non Commissioned Officer School. It was 14 weeks of intense training. They taught
me how to become a leader. I graduated from NCO school as a sergeant E-5.
Some called it "Shake and Bake" Sergeant School.
I arrived in Vietnam and went to the 90th Replacement Center at Long Bien. There I stayed for five days. I went through a short
survival course at the FIRST TEAM ACADEMY (FTA) in Hien Hoa. In just five days they were to teach me how to survive -- this
what it took Benning 14 weeks to teach. I remember a Sergeant who was there. He said,” You can forget everything Basic, AIT,
and NCO school taught you,"I’m going to teach you to survive in Vietnam"
-- I listened to him intently!
There were about six of us who shipped out on the fifth day. All going to the same place. We got on a Chinook helicopter (you
know what it is really called), and departed for God knows where. We finally got to a place I learned later to be Tay Ninh. The flat
land with a mountain in the middle of it. It reminded me of a place back home in Georgia called Stone Mountain. Someone told
me the Marines owned the top. The Army owned the bottom, and the Viet Cong (VC) owned the middle of the mountain. I never
found out if that was true. It was getting dark when we arrived, so the company clerk did some quick paper work and sent us to
the armory and were issued weapons. Then, we were taken to a bunker which smelled of urine, had some form of liquid on the
dirt floor, sandbags all over the place,
and scents too disgusting to speak of, but we were exhausted and sleep prevailed!
"Good morning Vietnam!" To quote a popular movie, the hands on my $31.00 Timex watch I had purchased before I left the
states had 05:30. The company clerk was coming through the bunker yelling we’re late and the birds were on the landing pad
waiting. Get up, Get up you FNG’s! That did not sound like my mother calling to awake me to go to school, while living at home.
This was just the first of many things I had no idea how to handle.
The six of us were new to the country. We went to the log pad to catch the Chinook again. I wasn’t sure where we were going. I
hoped someone knew. A soldier ran up to me and threw a mailbag in my hand, as though I didn’t have enough to carry. He told
me to give it to the Alpha Company Commander when I got to the fire base. We were in the air what seemed to be an eternity.
When we stopped I had visions of getting off the Chinook and start shooting my way out like in the movies. The Chinook landed
and was shutting down, the big back door was slowly opening and I got my first look at what was called a fire support base.
Everyone walked around without shirts and not shooting at anyone. They were just doing their thing. I suppose someone told
the Major that the new guys were coming because he was there to greet us I had never had a Major to actually greet me. I
started to salute, he politely said, ”we don’t salute in the field” and just grabbed my hand and shook it --- this freaked me out.
The major led his new six FNG’s off the helicopter. My M-16 fell apart when I got off the helicopter onto the ground. The
breakdown pin came out and I lost all kind of parts, talk about being embarrassed. I thought, "the new sergeant’s weapon fell
apart!" I think the other guys thought the same, but never said a word. They only laughed a little. The Major said,” don’t worry
son, we will give you another one.” He led us to an area where he introduced us to the Captain of A-Company. Captain Terry
Ketter. He seemed nice and escorted me to a platoon leader. I handed over the red mailbag to the captain as led the remainder
of the FNG off. He mumbled something like,"so this is the missing mail, hum!" The platoon leader took me to the squad leader
and introduced me to Staff Sergerant Gerald Lynch. He told me where to sleep for the night. SSgt Lynch told me we would be up
early in the morning, because we were going to the bush. My stomach sank -- this wasn’t a good feeling, "the bush" I thought
how much farther could we go into the bush?!!
We had what was called a "Mad Minute" on the fire base, where everyone was awakened in the night at a predetermined time.
Then, we went to the perimeter and fired a few thousand rounds of everything we had to shoot. This kept the Vietnamese
snippers from getting too close to our perimeter. And anyone else that might wander too close. Well, no one told me the FNG,
and I almost had to change my shorts -- you know what I mean! Cause when all that shooting broke loose I thought we were
being overrun and perhaps I wouldn’t make it back to the bush now or ever. A few of the old timers said, “I looked a deer
caught in front of a cars headlights at night, not knowing which way to run." Yep, first my M-16 malfunction and the "Mad
Minute." I thought to myself ---- "this is not going to be fun, what have I gotten myself into --- and, how far is it back to home!"
Morning came early. I had gotten any more sleep since the "Mad Minute." I kept waiting for another one --- this time, I would be
ready. An old-timer assured me there would not be another one that night.
Being the “new guy,” I wasn’t taking any chances!
As I said in the beginning, our packs were heavily loaded. We were ready to pull out from the fire base into the bush. Choppers
were in route to pick us up to take us to the LZ (Landing Zone). It was going to be a hot landing. That is where the fire base
shoots a few rounds before the birds get there and the door gunner is rocking and rolling as you made your approach to the
LZ. This was pretty cool riding with your the legs hanging out of the Huey gun slick on the skids. I never had the idea of falling
off -- until now. I guess I am a little older and smarter now! M-60 blazing from the door gunners, we landed and I am on the first
Slick. When we jumped off the slick my team opened up and laid a covering fire so the other team can get in. We encountered
no resistance going in. Kind of exciting ... but, it would get more exciting as the months went along. We had landed in
Cambodia. Alpha Company 2-7, 1st Air Cavalry was the first into Cambodia and supposedly the last company out. At least that
was what I was told!
It took a few days to get that rucksack broken in. The other men in the squad were really helpful to me, telling me, what to, and
not to do. I know they were giving good advice, because I was now part of the squad.
SSgt Lynch was helpful just letting me walk in the squad not being in charge of anything. He was an E-6, and I was an E-5 rank
wise. Kind of like letting me get accustomed to the surroundings. We had just crossed a little creek, and went up to the other
side, when we were told to stop. The first thing that came off was the heavy rucksack.
I remember thinking, "they are just letting us take a break because we had been walking since daybreak." Crowe, another FNG,
and I lit a cigarette and began to check our immediate area out. We found where someone had dug a small foxhole. Then
someone called down from the front of the platoon and said the company had found a big cache of rice. A big amount meant
that the VC was close by.
All of a sudden in the quite afternoon, we heard AK-47 and 30 Cal machine gun fire open up on our position. It came right over
our heads cracking through the bamboo jungle real close. Crowe and I jumped in a foxhole and made it ours. I can’t remember
who was more afraid he or I. I remembering hugging him and he was hugging me. The bullets over our heads hit the dirt on the
top of the hole. Thankfully, we were at the bottom. Big ants were all over us -- but, better ants than bullets. We were told to stay
in our position and that SSGT Lynch would come back for us. We couldn’t do any real shooting. We didn’t know where anyone
else was and didn’t see anyone to shoot at.
It seemed to be another eternity before a team member finally came by and told us that we were pulling back across the creek
to set up a LZ to get the dead and wounded out. As Crowe and I pulled back to the creek bed I saw SSgt Lynch lying on the
ground. He looked like he was pulling cover fire but when I said we are pulling back come on he didn’t move. He had been one
of the first ones to die. I did not know that we had been ambushed by the VC (Viet Cong). The VC had killed the first three in a
patrol who had been sent out to secure the area. SSgt Lynch was leading the patrol. He and some more others got caught in
the ambush between a sniper with an AK and another with a machine gun. They had the squad in a crossfire situation. I was told
that our captain (Captain Ketter) was killed while going to the front line to check on his fallen men. He was trying to get them
out of harms way and was killed.
The fighting that ensued was fierce. We pulled across the creek and were told to throw our smoke grenades as far as we could
that Max was on site. Max, being Cobra gun ships. I don’t know how fast those mini guns can shoot but they were shooting
about 20-30 meters, not real far from us, to our front and I was hoping they had killed everything out there that was trying to kill
us. Between gun ship runs and reloading. Mortars and 105 and 155 from the fire base was firing. When they fired you could
hear them whistle, "whoosh --- boom," as they went by only at tree top level. Medivacs were on station to get the wounded and
dead out. I think Crowe and I carried SSgt Lynch to the Medivacs that day. I was very sad that day!!
We pulled back to our NDP (night defensive position). We had gotten a new captain whose name I can’t remember. Our FO
(Forward Observer) called "Artillery Strike and an Arc Light" (bombs that came our of a 130 fixed wing aircraft) and CS (like
pepper spray now days) on the area where we were ambushed. Bombs and mortars fired all night. We were only about a click
(kilometer) away at the NDP from this firepower. Man I tell you, when that Arc Light went through it shook us off our air mattress
with all the vibration and sound. I think we were too close. No one could have lived through that on the other end. Or, did they
--- could have they?
I got appointed to SSgt Lynch 's squad because I was the extra sergeant. I was told it was our turn to be point squad. I don’t
really know that maybe some of us got volunteered to be point was because we were FNG ‘s. My squad and I led the company
back to the area where we had made contact the day before. That was May 10, 1970 --- It was rough going. The Arc Light that
went through blew big trees down and the ants were all over the ground and all over us. We were also coughing from the CS
gas. We had to go over the trees or under them. We searched for the body of Captain Ketter and another trooper. We were
not going to leave anyone behind. I carried Captain Ketter to the Medivac chopper. All the way to the Medivac I was thinking he
was a "Hero" as he to have tried to save his men. This time I got sick and had to go behind a tree for a minute.
All was quite for awhile --- but it soon changed. We went back across the little creek that was muddy from all the shelling the
day and night before and it wasn’t so pretty now . I thought -- not pretty at all, like the creek on my Dad’s place back home. Yes,
...... back home. I had only been in Vietnam a total of one and a half months.
Today is May 11th, 1970. Home seems so far away! The Lieutenant told me and my squad to stay on a trail line, for rear guard that
the rest of the company was going to do a line assault through the jungle in the area where the shooting came from the day
before. I told him we would gladly stay and watch their backs. Alpha Company got on a line formation and assaulted the jungle.
M-60s and M-16s roaring through the jungle. About 10 minutes went by and the Lieutenant called and told me to secure the
landing zone. We had some wounded coming out and we had been taken fire all the time. The Medivacs were already on call.
I told Crowe to follow me, I think I had heard that phrase once before, from Ft. Benning NCO school yea, "Follow Me." Anyway,
we were crossing a little dirt field with termite mounds about 4ft tall when someone started shooting at us. I could see the
rounds hitting near my feet as we ran across the field. Crowe was my radioman, and I jumped behind a termite mound the rest
of my squad dove behind one also. I loved those mounds! We couldn’t shoot because we would be shooting at our company
For a minute, I thought my platoon was shooting at us. I looked up in the trees and saw a shadow and radioed the lieutenant
that someone was shooting at us and I thought it to be a sniper in a tree and told him which tree. The Lieutenant shot the VC
out of the tree. He said it was probably the same one that today wounded three more of my platoon members. My squad
secured the landing zone and we got the wounded out. We loaded about 2000 pounds of already bagged rice into choppers
headed to feed the people in the villages around the Tay Ninh area.
The next day we got a "Replacement Captain" to replace our temporary one. He was now the commander in charge of Alpha
Company 2-7. This was his third tour in Vietnam. His name is Captain Robert Powell. Alpha Company then became known as
"Cold Steel Alpha" - I will have to tell you about him in another story. This is the way I remember my first few month in Vietnam.
It isn’t a pretty story, but it is what happened to me. The rest of my time there just got worse!
SGT Kenneth Ed Landers
Alpha 2-7th Cavalry NAM 70-71
SGT Kenneth "Ed" Landers
"My First Two Months In Vietnam"
April and May 1970