Sp4 DANNY YATES
Artillery Surveyor

I was drafted in October, 1965 and did my basic training at Ft Leonard Wood, MO.  After basic, I was assigned to Ft Sill, OK for training in Artillery Survey.  After six months of survey training, I received my orders for Vietnam.  I took a 30-day leave and was about to fly from Illinois to California when the airline strike hit and not a single airline was flying.  I went to Chanute AFB at Rantoul, IL and asked if they had anything going west.  I hitched a ride on a C-119 flying boxcar to some place in Nebraska.  There the government stepped in and started chartering airlines for us.

I arrived in Vietnam on July 24, 1966 where I was assigned to the 2/9th Arty, 3rd Bde, 25th Inf Div in Pleiku.  I made it home on July 21, 1967.

WE WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO GO THERE!
Shortly after we arrived at Duc Pho, someone wanted coordinates of the top of the hill, so another surveyor and I were sent up to the top -- by foot.  Along the way, we found a trip wire across the trail, tied to a potato-masher style grenade.  When we got to the top, everyone was so upset that we had walked up, telling us that the hill had been mined by the French, the Marines and the Viet Cong!  When we finished our survey, a Huey was sent up to get us:)

ENEMY ENTICES FRIENDLIES TO FIRE ON EACH OTHER

In the early part of 1967, we had just moved out of the Central Highlands to the flat, coastal area of the South China Sea, not far from Phu Cat, at a place called Bronco Beach.  One night as I was in my tent writing letters home, a machine gun on a nearby perimeter bunker suddenly started firing.  I threw on my helmet, grabbed my web gear in one hand and my rifle in the other, and started running in the darkness toward the bunker.  As I was running, I noticed three or four reddish-orange lights lined up horizontally in the distance.  They seemed to be wavering a bit.  To this day, I do not know if I figured out what they were, or I tripped, or just plain divine intervention, but my face hit the ground as the bullets screamed by, a few inches over me.  The lights I saw were tracers, and I had been running head long into a burst from an M-60 fired from a nearby Army camp a short distance away.   A soldier behind me was hit in his bunk.  The VC had fired a couple of rounds into our LZ, and some into the other Army camp, and the two camps started firing at each other.  The sad thing was this went on for several nights with a mini firefight breaking out between the two Army units for several minutes just after darkness fell on Bronco Beach.

 

Footnote: Danny adds that there was lax discipline on Guard Duty at times.  It led him to pull
          all-night duty for his own peace of mind and security.

 

This story appeared in the Denver Post on 26 Jan 1967:

100 N. Viet Soldiers Trapped in Big Cave

SAIGON, South Vietnam (UPI) U.S. Infantrymen Thursday trapped an estimated 100 North Vietnamese soldiers in a cave where the Reds held women and children hostage and shot to death an American officer when he tried to save the civilians. It was not immediately known how many women and children were being held by the Reds in the massive granite cave fortress. The cave-clearing operation took place in the Bong Son area in the Central Highlands.   A group of American paratroopers made one of the rare combat jumps of the war on a sandy peninsula along the coast to clear the way for a helicopter assault by the 1st Air Cavalrymen driving inland toward the cave fortress com-plex. UPI Correspondent Leon Daniel was with the American infantrymen in the dangerous operation of clearing out the natural caves honeycombing a jungle-sloped mountain in the highlands about 280 miles northeast of Saigon.
When soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division, supporting the 1st Air Cav in Operation Thayer II, first ran onto the huge cave complex, they heard voices of women and children inside one of the dark, dank tunnel mouths.

The commander of one of the infantry companies went up to the mouth of the cave and tried to talk the civilians into coming out. First Lt. Jerry Orenstein, 23, of New York City, said a North Vietnamese soldier pushed a woman and child out of the tunnel, using them as a shield. The company commander, Captain Steven Childers, B/1/14, lowered his gun, and the North Vietnamese shot him through the head, killing him instantly.

The cave was blown up with explosives, sealing in the Communists.

I spent about 5 days with the infantry there.  My job (as Artillery Surveyor for the 2/9th) was to get coordinates of the caves for subsequent B-52 bombings of the caves.    At the time, I thought the B-52's were a little overkill, but having read the article after all these years, it makes more sense if you never wanted anyone to see what/who were in those caves.

Comments from both Arty Surveyors Danny Yates & Bob Wilson, re: destroying the caves

Cave Explosion in the Hon Noc Mountains

When the engineers set off that huge explosion, shown in an aerial picture, it sucked all the CS gas that had been sprayed in out of the cave, and we got caught in it.  We tried to escape the gas by going up the hill, but it moved faster than we did.  I remember lying face down with my hands covering my face, my nose, mouth, eyes and lungs burning like fire.  But the worst part of that ordeal was listening to the screams and cries of the women and children that were trapped inside.  Their cries were muffled by the tons of rock that had crashed in on them.  It was the most haunting sound Ive ever heard.  And I had to listen to it all night because the few times I was able to doze off, I was awakened by rats crawling all over me.  I had the opportunity to fly over the site after the B-52s had bombed it, and what was once a hill was now just a pile of rubble.  Sad experience.

Back