MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
Capt. Michael Wunsch, KIA
The Last Tank Commanding Officer to Die in Vietnam
As Told By: Col. Paul Goodwin, USMC (Ret.) C.O. Kilo Co., 3/3, 1969
Written by: Dick Carey
Captain Michael Wunsch, KIA
Today ~Col. Paul Goodwin, USMC (Ret.)~ 1969
The death of Capt. Michael Wunsch (Feasterville, PA), Commanding Officer of Alpha Co. 3rd Tanks, occurred in the early morning hours of 28 July 1969, near Con Thein. He would be the last commanding officer of a Marine Corps Tank Company to die in Vietnam.
I interviewed Colonel Paul Goodwin who now resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July 2003. Goodwin is a retired Marine Colonel and an Executive Director for a large law firm of 280. He was a Captain in July 1969, and Commanding Officer of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines.
On July 27, Army Dusters and support infantry were conducting a sweep near C2 when they were ambushed by the NVA. Capt. Goodwin could see the ambush from his position at C2 but was unable to respond with his platoon of men. His small force was the only defense for the base camp of C2. In short time, the Army at Con Thein was able to put together a relief force of Dusters to aid in the extraction at the ambush site.
The following day Goodwin’s Kilo Co., with tanks from Alpha Co. under the command of Capt. Michael Wunsch, began an operation to determine the nature of the force of NVA that had attacked the Army dusters.
Goodwin remembers that Wunsch was due to rotate home within a few days. As they were preparing to mount out for the operation near the DMZ, Capt. Goodwin suggested to Capt. Wunsch that it might be a good idea not to make the sweep since he was a "short-timer." As Captain-to-Captain, all Goodwin could do was to "suggest." Capt. Wunsch was determined to go on the sweep.
At around 10:00 AM, Goodwin recalls hearing an explosion but did not hear the "bloop" of a round leaving the tube before the explosion. As a result, he was temporarily not overly concerned. However, the next 15 minutes would prove to be, as he states: "The most horrific 15 minutes I spent in Vietnam."
In the short period of time that was to follow, the NVA zeroed in with mortars on Goodwin’s position. Eight to ten men were wounded, including the Forward Observer, Art Vanderveer. Eventually as evening was approaching, Capt. Goodwin was able to move his force to higher ground, dig in, and set up a perimeter.
After setting up the perimeter, Goodwin sent out two ambush patrols. At midnight the 1st patrol ambushed an enemy force killing 6-8 NVA. An hour later, the 2nd patrol killed 2 more NVA at their ambush site.
At approximately three in the morning, Capt. Wunsch called in to report movement in front of his tank position. Goodwin moved to Wunsch’s tank; and while standing on the Sponson box next to Wunsch’s T.C. cupola, he called in for illumination. Seeing nothing, Wunsch’s repeated, "I really believe I saw something."
Goodwin asked that Wunsch fire a beehive round to clear the area. Wunsch stated that he only had one beehive round and would prefer to save it in the event they needed it later. Goodwin would later regret not making it an order, although he understood the thinking.
Wunsch had with him an M-79 grenade launcher and suggested that he fire 2 or 3 rounds in the direction he believed that he had saw movement. He fired off the rounds with no results. Capt Goodwin returned to his position.
Thirty to forty minutes later, the NVA cut loose with a barrage of mortars and RPGs. As Capt. Wunsch was about to report the new activity, the first RPG hits the turret next to Capt. Wunsch and kills him instantly. His finger is depressing the mike’s key, thus disabling all communications within Kilo Company.
Once Wunsch’s finger is dislodged from the microphone, Capt. Goodwin is able to call in for arty to repel the NVA force about to overrun his position. As the artillery command bunker is receiving Goodwin’s coordinates, he is informed that these coordinates are "Danger Close" to their embattled position. After a few choice words from Goodwin to the command bunker, the arty is delivered. Within a short period of time, "Puff" will make an appearance and the Marines are able to remove the dead and extract the wounded from the field.
As an aside, Captain Paul Goodwin, Kilo Commanding Officer, had a young 2nd Lt. by the name of Oliver North. Col. North when interviewed about Vietnam will often speak of Mike Wunsch and his untimely death. Both Wunsch and North were Naval Academy graduates. At the time this article was written, North was on assignment for FOX News in Kuwait.