Marine Corps Vietnam Tankers Historical Foundation®
Marine Corps Vietnam-era Tankers and Ontosmen Have Made History. Your Historical Foundation is Making it Known.
In the early morning hours of May 19, 1968 my tank was to assist Marines conducting a road sweep just outside the Khe Sanh combat base. A second tank was commanded by Buzz Conklin. Within a short period of time my radio headset came to life with the words, "Charles is in the area." Moments later the dug in NVA triggered their ambush and all hell broke loose. We started firing the .30 caliber coaxial machine gun at likely NVA positions concealed in a hedge row several meters to our front. For some unknown reason during the fight I felt the overwhelming urge to get the turret pointed toward a tree line that lay almost 90 degrees to the right. I grabbed the TC Override to spin the turret as fast as it would go and just as I completed the spin there was an explosion that violently rocked the tank. At first I thought my gunner had fired the main gun and I was going to yell at him because there were other Marines around our tank. But a split second later I realized we had just taken a hit in the gun shield from a RPG. The RPG team reloaded another rocket and stood up to get a second shot. My gunner yelled over the intercom that he could see them preparing to fire another anti-tank rocket from point blank range. Realizing taking the time to reset the firing switches to machine gun could lead to our death, we immediately fired the main gun. The gun tube contained a high explosive round (HE) and I was worried that the NVA were too close for the round to arm itself. A micro second later the rocket team vaporized as the 90MM round detonated.
The fight continued to rage and we continued to fire everything we had (.50 cal, .30 coax, 90MM main gun) wherever the NVA were seen or likely to be in no particular order: I was firing the .50 caliber machine gun and directing the driver where to go when I saw a grenade thrown from a spider hole. The spider hole was concealed by a small bush and I had seen the smoke from the burning fuse as the grenade arched through the air. It landed a couple of yards in front of our tank so I directed the driver on how to maneuver until the grenade was under our vehicle. There were several Marines nearby and I was afraid they may be killed if we didn't do something to prevent it. Several seconds later the grenade detonated harmlessly, the shrapnel being contained by the road wheels and the armored underbelly. We then did a neutral steer on top of the bush.
The NVA were too close at times for us to engage them because we couldn't depress the tank's weapons low enough. Therefore I grabbed the M3A1 submachine gun (commonly called a grease gun) and fired it from an exposed position out of the TC's hatch. This was made even more difficult because the magazines had weak springs forcing me to fire the weapon upside down to make it work.
Marines were pinned down by enemy soldiers firing from numerous bomb craters. The Marines were unable to get close enough to engage them and because tanks are a direct fire weapon system we couldn't engage them either. Therefore, I directed my driver on which way to turn etc. until I was close enough to throw hand grenades into the bomb craters. We did this until I had exhausted my supply of 19 hand grenades.
Looking for the other tank I noticed its blast deflector canted approximately 45 degrees. I radioed that information to Conklin's crew -telling them that their gun tube may be out of trunion. If it was then firing the main gun could have catastrophic consequences. Conklin radioed back that he had been wounded and he wasn't going to stick his head out again to take a look. Realizing that they were all but defenseless, I ordered our crew to put ourselves between Conklin's tank and the attacking NVA. We were still in the fight and we would protect them as long as possible.
When we were in position we were hit by a barrage of small arms fire so we began delivering machine gun and cannon fire into the attacking NVA. The fight continued to rage and we continued fighting until we were hit by another RPG. This anti-tank rocket struck the right side of the turret just behind the blister for the range finder. This area is approximately two inches thick and the jet of plasma generated in the explosion cut through the armor. Unfortunately for me I was standing on the other side directly in the path of the explosion. I remember seeing a blinding yellow flash and then it felt like I had been hit in the chest by a baseball bat swung by the mightiest of major leaguers. The impact was so severe that I couldn't control my body as I fell head first to the turret. I knew I was hurt, but I didn't know how badly. I was later to learn that I had been hit 73 times in my face, neck, chest, both arms and both hands.
Our tank was on fire after the explosion and as soon as possible we disengaged by backing to a safer location. Sometime afterward I was lifted out of the turret, placed on a truck and taken to the aid station at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. There, I was treated and prepared for helicopter evacuation. However, the incoming was too intense for helicopters to land so my stretcher was placed on the floor (I thought to die). Within a very short period of time it was as if God had raised His hand causing the incoming to stop. Helicopters began to land and the wounded were rushed on board. However, I was hurt too badly to travel alone so I had my very own corpsman assigned to go with me. The helicopter had only been airborne a few seconds when the door gunners opened up with their machine guns. I remember saying a prayer asking for safe passage because I would not have survived if we were shot down.
During the flight to the hospital ship waiting off shore, I looked up to see a frantic look in the eyes of my corpsman. I had lost so much blood the doctors had inserted four simultaneous IV bottles and all were now empty. I tried to yell for the corpsman to look at my legs, but he couldn't hear me over the noise of the helicopter. After three or four more futile attempts to yell at him, he put his ear next to my face and he heard, "My legs! My legs!" He felt the outside of the blanket covering my body before telling me my legs were fine. Again I tried to yell for him to check my legs. This time he threw back the blanket - the doctors at Khe Sanh had put four more IV bottles between my legs for the flight to the hospital ship. He gave me the most wonderful grin as he immediately changed out the bottles. When we landed on the hospital ship I was transferred to a gurney and I remember people running as they pushed me along the deck. A few yards from the flight deck I was stopped by the triage doctors and one immediately said, "You're going to feel a stick." He then pushed a large bore needle into my femoral artery. While this was taking place someone else leaned over and asked, "Do you want a priest?" To this day I remember my exact words, "Do I need one?" I was taken below for surgery and stayed onboard for six days (I think) until I was strong enough to be moved. I was eventually transferred to a US hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. After two weeks in the hospital I was put on a plane (C-141 Starlifter) for the flight to the United States - eventually reaching Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland, California.
Fred R. Kellogg 2274495
3rd Marines, 3rd Tank Bn.