The Battle Of Soui Cut-FSB Burt
ago - on the night of January 1 - 2, 1968 , the 2-22 Infantry (Mechanized),
3-22 Infantry, and the 2-77Artillery were involved in a massive human wave
attack by four battalions of NVA and VC at a place called Fire Support Base
Burt in Vietnam. Throughout the night, the 22nd Infantrymen, supported by
their artillery brothers and helicopter crewman from the 187th and 188th
Assault Helicopter Companies fought back against the determined enemy assault.
When the firing stopped between 0530 and 0600 the next morning, The Americans
were victorious in repulsing the attack. Over 401 NVA and VC were killed with
American losses at 23 killed and 153 wounded.
From : Dennis
Atkins, C/3-22, 67 - 68
Dear John, I
sit here in awe after reading the accounts of men I have never met but who
were beside me and above me the night of January 1, 1968 at FSB Burt.
The dust kicked up by armored
personnel carriers hung in the hot, still, humid air like a red veil. Upon
arriving at FSB Burt you could feel the uneasiness of the area like some
sinister, invisible force trapping you in its cloak. You knew this place was
Company, 3/22 Infantry had come to join the rest of the battalion , as 3rd
platoon leader I was assigned the last five positions on the south edge of the
perimeter ending on the east side of the road that led out of the fire support
base. The next position on the other side of the road was a platoon of APC's
from the 2/22 Infantry.
The foxholes we
inherited were poorly dug, lacking depth and overhead cover, due to the
extremely hard digging conditions. Entrenching tools seemed to bounce off the
cement-like earth yielding only a chip of dirt with each tiring heave of the
shovel. The heat of the day increased the men's frustration and grumbling.
"This is deep enough, lieutenant." No, it's not. We'll keep digging
until dark if it's necessary. Besides, the dirt that comes out of that hole is
needed to fill sandbags for your overhead cover." I was not a popular man
encroached this section of the perimeter and even with brush cutting we were
only able to clear a maximum of 15-20 meters field of vision before beginning
to lose light at days end. Using the cover of dusk, the men put out a heavy
concentration of trip flares and claymore mines in front of our five positions
on the perimeter. Darkness would soon be upon us.
One by one, as
the men rotated from their foxholes through the chow line several rounds of
incoming mortar fire interrupted the evening meal. I remember the secure
feeling I had during the massive counter-mortar fire barrage that encircled us
for what seemed like more than a half hour. "That kind of firepower ought
to settle things down for the night," I said to my platoon sergeant, SSGT
Alfred Beebe, as I curled up for the night.
Just as I was
about to fall asleep, around 2300 hr.'s, I heard the cries of
"Incoming!" and the unmistakable "bloop,bloop, bloop" of
incoming mortar rounds. Everyone was diving for cover in their foxholes. This
time, instead of just a few harassing rounds of fire, there came a relentless
rain of explosions and hot, jagged steel. As the bombardment began, the three
man listening post one hundred meters out in front of our perimeter called in
a report of massive movement all around them and then silence...this was the
last radio contact we would have from them.
into the shelling the M-60 machine gun positioned at my left most bunker
opened fire with a fury. Before I could check what was going on the radio
crackled with a call from the company commander, Cpt. Fishburne, screaming to
find out what was happening. As I looked out the ground level firing port of
my command post, trip flares began popping to my front like popcorn, washing
the jungle in a sea of white light. The foliage transformed into a moving wall
of humanity as thick as any mob of shoppers in the mall the day before
Christmas. In an instant, my middle bunker immediately in front of me went up
in an explosion and the firing enemy soldiers poured through the gap the way a
mighty flood races through a failed levee, engulfing everything in its path.
As they swarmed over us, screaming and firing wildly into the night, some
would stop and try to enter our bunkers from the rear only to be met with a
frantic hail of gunfire from the defenders inside.
crackles again, Fishburne screaming for help! "The VC are on the roof of
the CP firing down through the sandbags. They're trying to come in the back
door! Help! Send somebody to get them off of us!..." The radio went
integrity of the perimeter in my sector was gone. Each of my remaining four
bunkers had become an isolated pocket of American resistance fighting for
their lives, firing in every direction. There was no way to approach them.
Since I was the only one in my CP who clearly knew the location of the Company
command bunker I instructed Sgt. Beebe to take charge. I told my RTO, David
"Smitty" Smith, to leave his radio, grab his weapon, bandoleers of
ammo and some frags and follow me.
As we crawled
out of the safety of the bunker we entered a world of darkness punctuated with
bright flashes, red and green trails of tracer bullets zipping and cracking
everywhere around us. The acrid smell of cordite singeing our nostrils and
choking our every breath. Trying to avoid detection we only fired at the enemy
soldiers that trampled over us as their hordes rushed to the interior of the
base. In spite of the confusion our gunfire marked our position and the ground
around us erupted in a hail of bullets from a nearby Chi-Com assault rifle.
Smitty called out "Hey, there's a hole over here!" In the darkness
he had recalled crawling through a shallow depression about four inches in
depth a few feet to our rear. Oval shaped, it was large enough for us to lay
on our stomachs and intertwine our legs. Smitty facing one direction and I
facing the other we engaged an unseen enemy that zeroed in on our position. In
an instant, with a blinding flash and a thunderous concussion, the night
stopped...the only sensation was that of a great fire in my right leg, dirt in
my mouth and nose, and the deafening ringing in my ears. Then nothing...
From the depths
of nothingness a distant rumble is detected. As though a volume control knob
was being turned, the noise becomes closer and louder. As the mind's confusion
begins to clear, a new sensation is felt. Something is bouncing off of my leg.
Now the noise is hammering my ears and I realize that it is machine-gun fire.
Spent cartridges are bouncing off my leg with every burst of fire. The VC are
using me for cover like some fallen log! I lay motionless as in death, trying
to conceal the beating of my heart, the function of my lungs. My left arm is
trapped under my body and has lost all sense of function. Feeling the presence
of at least two enemy soldiers my mind searches for a plan of action. The
cacophony of the battle rages on. This time a new sound is added, the impact
of incoming artillery rounds. We must have had to call in artillery on our own
positions. All sense of time is lost. Somewhere in that timeless state,
playing dead, wondering if, for the moment, I am the only American alive, I
waited to die.
Again the world
is rocked by a massive explosion, mere feet away. The force of the blast
throws me into the darkness, again filling my airways with dirt and dust. And
again, a force like I've never known delivers me into nothingness. The enemy
soldiers that once had used me for cover had now shielded me from the deadly
shower of shrapnel from an exploding 105mm round which landed ten feet away.
consciousness came back to me I listened intently for sounds of life and
movement around me. Cautiously, I slowly moved my head. Nothing but the raging
sounds of war. In the darkness I slowly surveyed my surroundings. Dead enemy,
my helmet, my weapon, and Smitty's cold, lifeless body. I crawled in the
direction that I hoped would be toward my platoon CP. Although bullets
continued to fly everywhere there weren't any NVA in my path. Stopping a short
distance from the silhouette I recognized to be my bunker, I watched and
listened for clues that might tell me who occupied it. M-16 rifle fire was
coming from it but I couldn't be sure if it was coming from GIs or NVA. From a
position of cover, rifle ready to lay down fire, I verbally challenged the
hole with our pre-determined emergency password. Thank God, I heard Sgt.
Beebe's voice in reply, identified myself and scrambled to safety.
Beebe had given
me up for dead hours earlier when I failed to make the company command bunker.
The enemy trying to take that position earlier had been killed when the
artillery had leveled their howitzers and fired bee hive rounds. He had been
unable to leave the bunker and check on the other positions but a
reinforcement element was on its way from the Battalion Recon platoon. The
platoon medic was wounded but stable, Jimmy Pierce, the other RTO was okay and
unknown to Beebe at the time, he had taken a fleschette from a bee hive round
through the stomach and out his back.
As darkness was
beginning to give way to first light, 12 men from the Recon arrived at my CP.
Starting with my first bunker position on the left we re-established our
defense, leaving a couple of fresh troops at each bunker. The center bunker
that had been blown up at the onset of the attack was still occupied by enemy
soldiers. I maneuvered the Recon squad from one angle and had them open fire
distracting the enemy while I crawled up on their blind side and pitched in a
grenade I had let cook. By the time we had covered and re-established all five
bunkers I had counted six MIA's including the three men out on the listening
post. We had to fight our way out to the LP through the retreating enemy
forces and recovered two seriously wounded platoon members and one KIA. During
the reorganizing at dawn, the NVA melted back into the jungle. Through the
smoke that covered the land in the morning I found ;my three missing men, away
from their positions, dead on the battlefield.
Among the many
brave men that were there that night, Mike Balser, 2nd platoon leader, Charlie
company 3/22 is the lieutenant who made his way back to the perimeter up the
road from south. He had lead an ambush patrol out the
night before and was overrun by the advancing enemy forces. He too, has a
story from Hell, that will be a part of him for the rest of his days.
As the dust off flights were
taking men out I remember sitting on a log looking at the six poncho covered
bodies of the men I lost that night. My tears streamed down my grimy cheeks at
the loss of such fine men. Somewhere a chaplain appeared and placed his arm
across my shoulder and assured me it was all right to let it out.
As I made my
way to one of the last dustoff birds out, I was eager to lift off and leave
that place forever. The night before we had been a platoon of 29 men. That
morning there were six KIA, 16 wounded, and seven left in the field to be the
3rd Platoon of Charlie Company, 3/22 infantry.
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