Overrun in Cambodia: Artillery Under Fire

Medic received this extended account of LZ Ranch being overrun from retired Command Sergeant Major, then Chief of Section, B Btry 1st/21st Field Artillery, Mike Dunn.

Prior to the CambThe building of LZ Ranch. Photo: Mike Dunnodia invasion B Btry 1/21st FA was staged at an airfield outside of a Special Forces Camp which I believe was Bu Dop.  I choppered into Ranch late in the afternoon of 11 May. My crew had already emplaced the howitzer and was breaking down ammo and preparing to build a parapet. It was starting to get dark and everyone was tired from the long day of work. I drew up a guard roster and took first watch. The crew went to sleep and I sat there in the open field with my M16 locked and loaded. The next thing I remember,I woke up at daybreak with my M16 still in my hands. My crew was still asleep so I woke them up.Then I looked around and saw soldiers building the LZ. Over the next few days we built our bunker, ammo racks, parapet and continued to improve our position.  Sector of fires were established, range cards made up, and supporting fire missions were conducted. When I had time I looked around to see how the LZ was set up and saw how close we were placed to the tree line. I wondered why the ground commander chose this spot: there was plenty of open field on the other side of the LZ. I felt uneasy about this but didn’t say anything about it.

Sometime between 11-13 May ’70 the LZ had several 107 rockets fired at it. They wLZ Ranch during monsoon. Good luck staying dry. Photo: Mike Dunnere all duds and aimed very poorly, as they went over the LZ and landed at the tree line. I remember them sounding like a freight train coming down the tracks at a hundred miles an hour. On 14 May ’70, while performing maintenance on my howitzer, I had an uneasy feeling about something, so I looked up to see a Kit Carson Scout standing at the entrance to my parapet. I saw him looking around smiling and told him to get the hell out of here. For some reason I stood there and watched him walk to the berm,talk with a soldier,and then turn around and walk straight toward the opposite side of the LZ.

Immediately I knew he was pacing the distance of the LZ. I told PFC Maggard to follow him and let me know what he does. Several minutes later Maggard came back and told me he was sitting on the latrine,and then he walked over the berm into the jungle, where the gook training site was located. I immediately went to the battery commander, Capt John Alton (now a retired colonel) and told him of what I saw. Later that evening all dhiefs were called up to the CP where Capt Alton told us that he had passed the information to the ground commander, who suspected the Kit Carson was VC. The captain said if we got hit that night, the Kit Carson would be the first one shot.

Just another day on LZ Ranch for Chief of Section Mike Dunn. Photo: Mike DunnThe fifteenth was a normal day. I remember that myself and PFC Maggard (he was wounded on LZ Bronco when my parapet was hit with mortar fire) went over the berm after notifying the grunts in the bunkers, and walked into the tree line. I saw the sapper training area with the vines looped like concertina wire, benches made from chopped down small trees,and the cooking bunkers. I looked in one and saw a live US grenade just lying there. We started to walk further into the jungle but after a few steps we stopped. I remember it being really dark, and the hair on the back of my neck was standing up, so I told Maggie (that was his nickname we gave him) let’s go back. When we walked back to the berm I starting talking with the grunts about starting to walk further into the jungle. They told me they had automatic ambushes set up and that we did the right thing by turning back.

That evening after pulling my guard shift, I went into the bunker and went to sleep. At approximately 0230 hours on 16 May I was awakened by PFC Maggard,who was on guard. He said “something is up.” Even though it was dark in the bunker I saw his eyes, and they were as big as silver dollars. I immediately heard the sound of AK-47’s, M16s, M60 machine guns,explosions and howitzers being fired and told everyone to get out side. Every one of my crew came out without hesitation and we covered our sector of fire with direction fire. After it was all over I conducted a head count to ensure I had everyone. I had a cook staying with us and he turned out to be aMike Dunn's first gun crew on LZ Ranch. Left to Right: John Neubauer, Kenneth Johnson, Robert Hinton, Mike Dunn, Richard Applegate-Kneeling Left Robert Maggard, Robert Roberson. Photo: Mike Dunn coward! Lt Mark Miller, the battery XO, was at my parapet when I went back into my bunker and found the cook huddled in the corner. I asked him (not nicely) why he didn’t come out and help. He replied, “I want to live.” I then lost it and told him we all want to live, and then called him every name I could think of. Lt Miller was my saving grace; if I’d had my M16 with me I probably would have shot him. Instead I kicked him out of my bunker and passed the word around the battery.

As we left the bunker I placed a guard at the entrance to our parapet and told him to shoot anyone that wasn’t friendly. The sappers had cut my commo line to FDC and we were kind of on our own. I told PFC Hinton to go find the cut and fix it. He crawled out looking for the problem and returned shortly saying it was repaired and he was right.

During the fight I remember the Cobras coming in right in front of my howitzer and firing into the tree line. What an awesome sight that was! Man, they were really something. While firing I heard someone call for help so I crawled outside the parapet and found our medic had been hit; he had a large size hole in his leg. PFC Snowden was kneeling over him when I got there. I grabbed the field dressing from Snowden, wrapped itDonald Snowden on LZ Ranch. Photo: Mike Dunn around the Doc’s leg, and told Snowden to take him to the aid station.

During the fight I was hit in the back of my left arm with a large piece of shrapnel but fortunately it hit me flat and only left a large red mark and soreness. I looked for that shrapnel to keep but never found it. I also experienced rounds flying right next to my head and hearing the whizzing noise as they passed. Needless to say I got a little lower at that time.

SSG Frank Hyke on LZ Ranch. Photo: Mike DunnWhen the engagement was beginning to end our Chief of Firing Battery, SSG Frank Hyke, came to me and asked me to start firing illumination for the LZ. Shortly afterward the fight was over and it was beginning to get light. It was at this time I learned that Base Piece (the center howitzer that does the initial firing) had been hit with satchel charges and my good friend SSG Charles Hamilton (posthumously promoted to SFC) was killed and everyone else inside the bunker was hit. He did have one crewman who decided to sleep outside that night under a trailer and he was not wounded.

Later I went over to the area of the berm where the sappers came in. There was one sapper laying there, faceless, still clutching his AK-47. I can only guess that he was hit in the face with an M-79 round. A sergeant was using his knife to remove the clothing and see if there were any documents that he may had been carrying. There was nothing. The dead sapper bodies were dragged to a bomb crater outside the berm. A couple of days later the smell was terrible and they were covered up with dirt and lime.

After the attack:a bullet struck American steel helmet. Photo: Mike DunnThe following day, around dusk, I remember walking back to my parapet after talking with SSG Hyke when a trip flare went off in the tree line near where the sappers had infiltrated. I remember all hell broke loose from the grunts on the berm as they opened up with M16’s, M-60’s and set off Claymore mines. Because I was not at my howitzer I squatted down to stay safe. It was at this time that the Cobra’s showed up again, in front of my parapet, and were firing rockets into the tree line. I have no idea where they came from but man they got there fast. The next thing I knew I was hit in the throat by something really hard that came from the rockets fired by the Cobra’s. Again the good lord was watching over me; the object bounced off of me and all I had was a stinging sensation. It was then that I started low crawling for my parapet. I’m not sure if there was enemy fire coming from the tree line but it didn’t last long.

Ranch was closed on 31 May and we then moved to LZ Corral and then LZ Bronco. But those are stories for another day.