MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's

Vietnam Personal Accounts

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My Two Days at CON THIEN

Original story by John Wear © 2003

As told by

Sgt. Maj. Bill “J.J.” Carroll, USMC (Ret.) & Ken “Piggy” Bores

 

  I joined Ken “Piggy” Bores, with the First Platoon, Alfa Company, 3rd Third Tank Battalion at Con Thien after returning from my 30 days of leave I earned for extending my Vietnam tour.

  I had left Vietnam on July 3rd or 4th (Operation Buffalo) and during my absence, my original platoon (Platoon Sergeant GgSgt R.B. English) got shot up around July 27, 1967. I believe that the “damage” to my old platoon was 4 KIA and 11 WIA during that day.

  The first day I was back at Con Thien, September 1, 1967, I recall working on a tank and talking to a Marine by the name of Charlie Brown. Charlie was well know, he was a LCpl, but had been a Sergeant at least three times. Even though I was a Corporal, had been in country for over 12 months, my primary MOS was shitfister and secondary was tank crewman, so they assigned me as the loader of the tank.

  I thought that our Platoon Leader was Lieutenant Jim Coan. (Now Vice President of this association) However, Jim told me that the platoon leader was Lt Tom Barry. Tom is a current member of the USMCVTA.

   My tank was assigned to guard the south gate of the firebase. The next morning we had a road sweep to the Washout and back to Con Thien with two tanks and a bunch of grunts from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. The sweep to the Washout went without incident. However, on the way back the engineers discovered a mine just south of Con Thien.

 They dug up the mine that was covered in blue protective plastic. They started following what I assume was a wire to the tree line to the left side of the road looking north toward Con Thien. As they approached the tree line, the NVA sent off a command-detonated explosion that was probably a claymore mine. Then all hell broke loose. Almost at once, the NVA fired an RPG at our tank, but the keen eyes of Ken “Piggy” Bores who was the driver, enabled him to stop the tank, letting the RPG fall short of our tank.

  The NVA had the grunts pinned down with heavy machine gun fire. I was the loader on the tank. My COM helmet did not work, so it was hard for me to figure out what was going on in front of our position. One time, I peeked out of the loader’s hatch and saw the NVA trying to outflank our infantry. We were unable to fire at the flanking NVA for fear of hitting our own infantry.

  The grunts must have called for help, because more Marines showed up. I believe they were from Mike Company, 3rd battalion, 4th Marines. When they arrived we were ordered to go into the tree line to evacuate our wounded. We made a run into the tree line and loaded our tank with the wounded.

  Bores remembers; “During the initial firefight, I recall that the firing was so hot that, our TC, had me drive over the top of one badly wounded grunt. He had me open the escape hatch; I then grabbed the grunt by the belt and hauled him inside the tank. We did this maneuver a few times that morning.”

   Once the wounded were unloaded, we were told that the NVA were in a complex of bunkers, and that we were going to attack. As we lined up for the assault, air strikes were called in on the NVA bunkers.

  Those air strikes were so close; you could feel the vacuum pressure inside of the tank from the explosions. Upon the completion of the air strikes, we begin our assault. However, the other tank with us developed a problem with their main gun, and was unable to fire it. I later heard that a canister round had broke open in the breach, and pellets from the canister round jammed the breechblock. Their machine guns were in good working order, so they continued with the assault.

  Our tanks assaulted the bunkers with the Marine infantry flanking us. I had to fire our machine gun by hand because the celluloid was broken. No COM helmet and no machine-gun celluloid……… a fine example of Marine Corps equipment.

  I remember turning the delay screw on our HE rounds to enable them to penetrate the bunkers. I had emptied the turret wall ammo box of .30 calibers and was taking ammo from the deck boxes. The machine gun jammed (ruptured cartilage). I cleared the machine gun, and when I pulled back the charging handle to chamber a round, the whole turret lit up.

  Ken Bores - The grunts started to lose a lot of men. I was buttoned up but I could see a lot of action through the driver’s periscopes. As we approached the tree line, I saw a RPG team getting ready to fire at us. I yelled, “One o’clock, one o’clock!” The gunner had traversed the turret to about the 3 o’clock position so the TC grabbed the TC’s override and traversed to bring the main gun back to one o’clock. He fired a canister round. The gook RPG team and several gook riflemen vaporized in from of my eyes. They got their RPG round off just as we fired at them. At the same time, the gunner said, “Got ‘em!” the RPG hit our tank on the loader’s side.

  Bill “JJ” Carroll - The main gun went off firing the canister round I had loaded. All of a sudden I was “flash-blinded.” I could not even see the other crewmembers. I looked out of the loaders hatch, and it appeared like I was floating in a red cloud. I thought the tank was on fire. I thought, maybe they got us with a satchel charge? I got out of the tank and rolled behind the turret,  as I did this the NVA were attempting to pick me off with rifle fire.

  I remember thinking to myself; ‘Man this is like a John Wayne movie’ the only problem is that I was in it. A grunt jumped on back of the tank when he noticed that I was bleeding all over the place. The artery in my right calf has also been punctured and blood would shoot out every time my heart beat. The grunts dragged me off the tank to a knoll where they set up a hasty aid site for the wounded. I then heard our tank back out and as I looked around I saw our tank filled with wounded and dead Marines. I too, was loaded on our tank that took us to the road for medivac. I was lying on the back of our tank next to a grunt that had been shot in the chest. I remember “Piggy” giving me a piece of the shrapnel that was lodged in the hole in our tank.

  I was medivaced to four different facilities. I first went to Delta Med in Dong Ha then to Alfa Med in Phu Bai. They then sent me to NSA in  Danang and finally the USS Sanctuary. I spent five weeks in the hospital. When I got out of the hospital, I was sent back to 3rd Tank Battalion with a platoon at Con Thien.

  When “Piggy” and I reunited over the telephone just prior to the Minneapolis reunion, he told me that we sent the RPG team and some rifleman to “the big rice paddy in the sky”. Ken said he thought the RPG came in on the right side of the turret. However, I thought it came in on the left side near the machine gun. If it came in on the right the gunner would have been hit harder. As it turns out the turret was traversed too far to the right and the TC attempted to correct the situation but we got hit in the meantime. Ken “Piggy” Bores states, “I rotated back to The World before Bill returned to Con Thien. I sure was glad to reunite with Bill this past year. I thought for sure that he had lost his leg. He had bled like a stuck hog and his leg looked really nasty.”