A BATTLE AT LZ ST. GEORGE - III

Duty Log, 1/14th Inf Regt - Action at LZ St George

 

SSG Charles "Chuck" Wahlquist recalls "less-than-ideal" conditions at LZ St George that led up to the infamous attack. 
 
He credits the
Battery Commander for his leadership in restoring military discipline to the Firebase..

Once again...that night in November, 1969 will never be forgotten.

My recollection is that we got hit by an NVA Sapper battalion.  Their attack coordination was compromised when they fired their mortars prematurely.  Iím the guy with the artillery battery who heard the first mortar round pop and hit the siren.  I was the FDC Section Chief.

 

That mistake is the only thing that saved the base from being fully overrun.

 

The base was targeted by the NVA for general performance degradation and complacency by avoiding combat over a prolonged period and by providing drugs in quantity. I was told we learned that later from prisoners.

 

In my first three days there, I saw enough drug use and sloth to believe this to be true. On my first night on the base, the Infantry  duty officer called FDC and asked me to check to see if the main gate was closed. Imagine my surprise, first at the question, and later when I found out I had walked 50 yards outside the open gate while looking for it on a dark night. I finally saw it against the night sky behind me and snuck back in.  I could have been court marshaled for the things I said to the duty officer.

 

The real hero of this action was a new artillery battery commander, just beginning his second tour, who recognized the problem when he arrived and turned the artillery battery into a combat ready unit in the three days prior to the attack.

 

We all arrived on the same day, three days prior to the attack.  During those three days he, a new First Sergeant on his first tour, and myself, on my second tour, were all threatened with fragging because of the actions we took to insure the ability of the battery to protect itself. We took turns sleeping to cover each other. When the attack started, it was my turn to be up.    The attack started at about 23:00, I was standing in the FDC doorway enjoying the cool air when I heard the first mortar. There is no other sound quite like it and I learned it well during my first tour as a forward observer with the 101st and 173d Airborne.

 

On the night of the attack, the artillery battery was the only safe haven for a firebase that had been partially penetrated by NVA Sappers. Their penetration of the Infantry interior sleeping spaces and the perimeter bunkers was not fully completed only because of the alarm sounded at the Artillery FDC Bunker. The Sappers avoided penetration of the Artillery positions because of the new security. My recollection is that they penetrated only the mess hall of the artillery.

 

When I sounded the alarm, our howitzers immediately fired flechettes (beehive round) in close support, direct fire rounds that cleared sappers, already in the wire,  that were about to attack our positions from our immediate front and those about to attack the flanking perimeter bunkers. One or two guns fired self illumination that allowed M60 machine gunners in the artillery positions to provide heavy initial suppressive fire on those left standing. Three days previously, the artillery battery was not prepared to protect itself and would have been overrun.

 

The artillery continued to provide self illumination and high explosive close support around the perimeter throughout the night. Both Artillery and Infantry fought from the Artillery gun positions with small arms for hours and we were capturing prisoners inside the wire at daylight. Although the Artillery battery occupied only a portion of the perimeter, our fighting was conducted on a 360 degree front at times because of the sapper penetrations.  Many of the infantry had to fall back to the artillery positions.

 

Firebase St George was so badly damaged that it was abandoned.

 

I have many memories of that night. They helped me keep focused on duty, leadership, and training during the next ten years I spent in the military. I only had to remember that the lack of it created that night at St George.

 

By the way, that Battery Commanders name is Gary E Yurkas. There are a lot of guys, wives, and kids out there who should be thanking him now.

 

 

SSG Wahlquist adds to his memories (March, 2011):

Reading my awards (action at LZ St George), I remembered several other bits and pieces of the action that stand out in my memories. They include: Finding an Artilleryman slumped over the parapet sandbags in one of the gun positions. He was obviously killed while fighting. His wounds required that he be observing and probably firing when he was hit.  I always wondered who he was and now I think I know. Tom Jones provided a link to the action report that identifies a ďGambleĒ from the 2/9th as the only Arty KIA that evening. The action report identifies his wounds as being caused by a rocket. I disagree. I am sure it was small arms.  {Webmaster Note.  There is a "PFC David J. Gamble" listed on the "A" Battery pay roster, KIA 6Nov69.}

I remember a gun crew that was hiding in their bunker because they were afraid to go punch out a mis-fused round. I could not convince them to do it and get back into the action. After I crawled away from them I met a Lt, whose name I do not remember. I told him about the problem and he headed that way. I think he may have inspired them to get it done. I am sure they were firing later.

At one point I was in desperate need of a medic to assist me. I learned where one bunked and made my way there in hopes of finding him. I found him hiding under a bunk. He is the only medic I ever met who failed to impress me. I could not get him to leave his bunk. I canít remember for sure, but I think I took his bag. I know I got bandages somewhere.

I remember that after first light we found someone, I donít know if he was Arty or Infantry, who was so shell shocked he was catatonic. I think he may have come over the parapet from one of the bunkers on the line. I must have passed him several times in the night without seeing him because he was curled into a ball and not moving.

I remember 50 guys ready to fire on a sapper that was trying to hide on the rear axle of a duce and a half. He was captured alive.  {Ed. Note: this coincides with Sp5 Rick Ericksen's war story}

I remember that one of the guys I was helping had lost four inches of his skull from the left eye socket to behind the ear and he was mostly alert but a little slow. I had him taking care of a very badly gut shot guy who we managed to keep awake until they were both evacuated in the morning. I think they probably kept each other alive. I often wonder if they made it. I have seen others who were hurt worse do so. I was proud of the help all the wounded provided to each other.

I remember that after it was over, just when I was beginning to wind down, Capt Yurkas asked me to search the American KIA in the Arty position, gather their effects, and tag their bodies. It was a bad end to an interesting night.

Funny, how the more I write the more I want to write. It doesn't feel like 40 years have passed.

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November 13, 2014 - Addendum:

SSG Wahlquist hears the audio file of the attack and more memories return to him

Because of the references to Medivacs in the audio and in the command logs, I suddenly flashed on a group of perhaps ten of us gathered and attending to the wounded, both artillery and infantry, that were being assembled near the FDC bunker in preparation for a Medivac arrival. I was bandaging and several guys were using flashlights to assist.

Specifically, I remembered a soldier with a bullet wound to the leg that I was asked to treat and that I was frustrated beyond words that I could not find the field dressing I had just opened. I opened it before unwrapping the field expedient bandage someone had applied to his leg because I knew I would need it fast.  It only took a few moments to find the bandage, but it seemed like hours.  I was so mad at myself I was shaking. I donít know if any one saw me shaking, but Iíll bet that someone else remembers a comment from one of the observers in the group that the dressing ďlooked just like a training videoĒ as I finished wrapping the leg and knotting the bandage over the dressing to increase the pressure. I remember being proud of that compliment at the time.

 

Submitted by SSG Charles "Chuck" Wahlquist

 

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