MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
May 17, 1967
By Lloyd "Pappy" Reynolds
I was a L/Cpl. and driving Bravo 11; Lt. Rivero was the Plt. Ldr. Also on the tank was a Cpl. Wallice, I’m really not sure who the other crewmembers were that day. I think L/Cpl. Shuppy was one, or it might have been L/Cpl. Whall or possibly our plt. shitfister Cpl. Griffith. I don’t recall having any special marking on our tank at that time. We had the new Xenon searchlight and TC copula vision rings. Just had them put on. We staged for the operation at Dong Ha.
Above photos taken on Operation Hickory complements of Fred Rivero,
(left) author (right).
I remember in the beginning as we were loading the tanks for the operation. We had just gotten a new Plt. Sgt. A S/Sgt. Reed. I had known him as a Cpl. in Bravo Co. 1st Tanks in 62. He had just arrived that day and this was to be his first (and last) operation. I recall driving along a narrow dirt road with heavy tree lines on both sides. There was a company of grunts in front of us and I was in the lead tank. I heard one shot and a grunt in front of me did a cartwheel to the left. Immediately all hell broke lose, like that shot was a signal. We tried to traverse right but couldn’t because of the trees. We just stayed there for what seemed like a long time but was probably only a few minutes. We did a hard right and broke through the tree line into an open field. Across the field was another tree line and I could see NVA moving around. By now I had the hatch over my head but not locked down as I had a fear of being trapped if I did. (1) The platoon was on line about a hundred yards from the tree line and we were firing everything. I had my pistol on my lap in case we had to repel boarders. One NVA stood up and fired a burst at us from right in front of us. Later I found out that Lt. Rivero got grazed on the right arm, the round spun around the clamshell TC hatch and grazed his other arm. A round also shot off one of our radio antennas. There were RPG smoke trails all over the place. I never saw S/Sgt. Reed again. I found out later his tank had taken an RPG in the turret side and he had a leg taken off. He was on Bravo 15. I don’t recall seeing Bravo 15 again until after the operation. We stayed there in the same spot for quite a while. Long enough for me to go through two packs of cigarettes. There were butts all over the floor of the driver’s compartment.
I could see NVA moving around through the periscope and was calling out locations over the intercom. There was one right in front of the tank down behind a log. Every now and then his head would pop up and he would fire at someone or us. We were trying to get him with the co-ax. He started to dig. I could see his e-tool and dirt flying up. We finally got him when he looked up once to often. Blew him right out of his hole and must have put a hundred rounds into him. It was hotter than hell and the loader was pouring water on the co-ax to cool it down. The tank seemed like a sauna with all the steam. Some fast movers came in and were dropping napalm on the tree line in front of us. We were close enough to feel the heat. It was about this time that we pulled back. I don’t know what was going on around me as I could only see what was visible through the periscopes. Probably a good thing.
The next thing I remember is crossing the trace and almost driving into a very large bomb crater. Probably from a B-52 Arc Light raid. The terrain seemed pretty flat. At least what I could see of it through the periscopes. The brush was fairly heavy except where it had been cleared by arc light strikes. Just after that our own helicopters strafed us. I remember Sgt. Hambelton in 14 coming on the open net and yelling “You fuckers strafe us again and by god I’ll return fire.” We were or at least new we would get some return fire, so I was driving buttoned up.
We were not far above the trace, maybe about two hundred yards. When I hit the mine I was looking out the right periscope just in time to see a grunt get hit by one of my road wheels. He was at about 1 o’clock and maybe 50-60 feet from the tank. It probably killed him. I don't know. The next thing I recall is L/Cpl. Fornwalt, (or Cpl. Boil) the TC of 12 in front of the tank. I opened the hatch and he said. “Looks like you got a flat Pappy. Hang on and I’ll get the auto club.” Kinda broke the tension. I was told to stay in the tank and the rest got out to hook up the tow cables. We were maneuvered off the broken track and it was hooked by cable to the front of the tank. The escape hatch had been shaken off by the blast also and was put on the fender. Bravo 12 towed us back to a grunt Bn. CP area across the trace. Lt. Rivero swapped places with some one and went back up with the Plt. I’m not sure but I think the grunts were from 2/4.
We’d lost the first two sets of road wheels on the right side. The first one was not a problem because it was gone. But the second road wheel arm was still hanging on and we had to get it off. We rigged up a C-4 charge to blow out the torsion bar. Yelled, “fire in the hole” and set it off. When we went around to the other side of the tank. There was a grunt just standing up in his hole with about six feet of torsion bar staring him in the face. If he had not of ducked he might have gotten hit by it. It was hot as hell and the grunts had not had a water resupply. We had seven, five gallon water cans on the tank. Some of them only had shrapnel holes in them but what water we had we shared with the grunts. We kept one can inside the tank down by the gunner’s feet for us.
Where ever we were we spent the night there. We could hear the little rice propelled people all around us. There was very little firing. But we got mortared pretty good all night. Could hear the rounds dropping in the tubes and know that in 15 to 20 seconds we’d have rounds on us. Spent most of the night under the tank.
The next morning a helicopter landed near us and some corespondents came over to talk to us. One of them was David Douglas Duncan. Another was a little blond French correspondent named Cathy Leroy. (More about her later.) Later S/Sgt. “Big” Jim Silva from Alpha Co. showed up and was going to tow us into Con Thien. Some how while we were getting set up our tanks collided and my right drive sprocket got sheared off.
We were being towed along the north side of the trace. I believe there was four tanks. Three from Alpha Company and mine from Bravo. Two towing and two being towed. Some grunts were with us. One was riding on my track that was attached to the front of the tank by a tow cable. It was very hot, dry and dusty. We were going slowly so as to not raise much dust. This grunt was riding the track like a surfboard. I had to shit. The escape hatch was still on the fender as the tank was to belly down to put it back on. I dropped the seat and started to shit while carrying on a conversation with this grunt. He was accusing me of living in a traveling shit house and I was telling him how lazy he was for ridding on the track, ect. We were having a friendly conversation. It’s not easy taking a shit through the escape hatch of a moving tank. Just about the time I got my trousers back on and the seat back up all hell broke lose again. We were receiving a heavy volume of fire from my left. The north side of the trace. The grunt had disappeared. The crew was yelling at me to turn on the master switch as they were traversing by hand. I did. I may have even started the engine. I don’t remember. One RPG trail went by right in front of me. The two guys in the turret were yelling for me to get up in the turret. We were not moving then and somehow I got into the turret and took over as the TC. I tried to get the .50 to fire, but it would only put out about three to four rounds before jamming.
This I remember very vividly. The firing had died down. I heard a banging/rattling on the outside of the tank. I stuck my head out and there was the track-ridding grunt. Banging on the water cans. I said, “what the hell you want?” He told me his buddy had been gut shot and he needed some water to put on his intestines as they were hanging out. I told him we were out of water. We’d given it all to the grunts yesterday. Then I remembered the can down by the gunner. I got the gunner to give it to me, and I gave it to the grunt. I ducked back down and watched him through the vision blocks. He crawled about fifty feet away dragging the can. When wham. A mortar round must have hit him right between the shoulder blades. Just a dirty black and pink explosion. His body did a little flop and just lay there from the chest down. I’ll never forget that.
I must have been in shock because I don’t remember the rest of the trip until we got to Con Thien. We were towed around to the back of the hill and put into position over looking the helicopter landing area. A bulldozer pushed dirt up around us and we were told to watch the area. L/Cpl. Brown’s tank was about a hundred yards away and bulldozed in too.
Con Thien was dry, dusty and extremely hot. Had to be over a hundred and there was no shade. All the brush and trees had been cleared. There was a lot of engineer activity as they were still building heavy bunkers. We were advised to stay in the tanks, as there was constant intermittent incoming artillery fire. At this point I only remember myself, Cpl. Wallice and L/Cpl. Brown being there with the two tanks. I don’t recall what happened to the rest of the crew’s.
We were out of water. Not even a canteen full. I saw a water trailer about two hundred yards away. From one of the tanks I got water can with out any holes in it. I went over to it to get some water. An engineer Lieutenant came running out of a bunker and started yelling at me that the water was his and I couldn’t have any. I was hot, tired, and hungry probably in shock and now pissed. I pulled out my pistol and pointed it at the water buffalo. Told him that if I couldn’t get any for my people I’d shoot that thing full of holes and nobody would have any. By then there was a S/Sgt. up on the buffalo looking in to it. He told the Lt. that there was enough that they could afford to give me some. By then I was already filling the can. He probably saved me from another office hours.
Sometime later that day Lt. Rivero with two tanks came over the hill. The tanks were covered with wounded and dead. They went to the helicopter-landing site. We all went down to help. One of the wounded was that blond French correspondent Cathy Leroy. (2) About all we could do was hold ponchos over them to keep the sun off them. When the choppers came in we loaded them aboard and went back to the tanks.
None of the radios in either tank was working. We had not gotten the new push button channel select radios yet. I don’t know why they would not work. I found a service support unit and used their PRC 25 to call in a sit rep to Battalion. Begged some C-Rations off them too. Bn. knew about the mine damage but not the broken drive sprocket. They said they would send a retriever for us the next day.
I don’t recall much of the night. There was some artillery incoming, but nothing that sticks out in my mind.
The next morning while we were waiting for the retriever I went over to L/Cpl. Brown’s tank. We were sitting on the tank just bullshitting. When an artillery round landed about two hundred yards away. Near the water buffalo. Blew a lot of holes in it. Retribution? A little piece of shrapnel hit the tank, bounced off. Hit Brown’s helmet. Fell into his flack jacket pocket, burned through and landed on his leg. He wasn’t hurt, but got a little burn on his leg. We decided to wait in the tanks.
S/Sgt. Hatfield came up with a retriever and towed us both back to Bn. Forward at Dong Ha. I later served with Hatfield when he was a Warrant Officer and I was a Sgt. at Tracked Vehicle School.
These are my recollections of operation Hickory. All this took place up around Con Thien.
(1) I don’t recall ever fully locking down the driver’s hatch, and I always insisted that the tube was not at 12:00 o’clock. I had a fear of being trapped if we got hit and the hydraulics went out and the tube pined me in. One of our drivers was killed when his tank took an RPG in the turret and the shrapnel got him. He had his hatch open. I pulled mine over me but did not lock it down.
(2) I recall hearing that at that time Cathy Leroy had been interviewing some grunts. A mortar round came in and killed two of the grunts, wounded her and one other grunt. She looked pretty messed up that day. I recall reading about her years later. That she had been captured by the NVA in Hue but let go because she was French.