After a eventful
night on alert at the Birdcage, I was awakened (trying to sleep
in bunker) at first light to the sound of a M-60 chattering away.
The weapon was aimed at the newly built and painted (orange-white
checkered) water tower by the main gate. I asked one of the men
"What are you firing at? " and the gunner replied "VC
on the water tower". After telling them to stop shooting
unless they could see someone, I went to our Operations shack
to check-in and see what was going on, and found myself the only
About the time
I arrived, a jeep pulled up with a Army MP Major May who asked
me if we could get up to the top of the water tower. He said
that there were VC snipers and had shot two of his MPs at the
front gate. He said they couldn't get up from the ground, as
there was an unfinished small opening in the bottom, and the
VC opened up whenever they approached. He asked "Could we
get some CS gas up there?" I sent an NCO to get some CS,
and called the CO (MAJ. Bill Bradner) on the radio, as he was
on short final, and asked him to keep his ship running, we needed
a lift to the water tower.
I had 4 fragmentation
grenades on my flak jacket and traded them for 6 CS, and gave
6 to the Major. I had an AR-15 and six clips loaded with straight
tracer, two .38's, and Major May (in Khakis) had an M-14 with
The MAJ Bradner
picked us up and headed for the water tower. I told the Crew
Chief to keep his M-60 trained on the tower as there were VC
snipers up there. As we approached, I could see no VC, but spotted
a metal hatch covering approximately a 3' x 5' opening on the
top and gate side of the tower. I realized dropping gas on top
wouldn't work. As we approached, I asked the CO to get us closer,
and he hovered about 6' over the tower. I got out on the skid
and jumped onto the tower, looked up and motioned for the Major
to follow. He was shaking his head in the negative, so the Crew
Chief "helped" him out with a gentle shove. Guess he
didn't want to leave me there alone.
The Major and I
took cover behind a slight bubble in the tower's center, an 18"
rise. Then MAJ Brander left and it got real quiet. The Major
said, "Crawl over there and put some gas down inside."
He had the rank (I went over a WO1 and had received a direct
to 2nd Lt in November 67'). Soooo, I said" Cover me",
laid my AR down, and low crawled over to the hatch cover. As
I came along side, I found a small number of brass casings, so
knew there had to be someone inside. I rolled on my back, took
a CS grenade, held the handle down and pulled the pin. With my
left hand, I eased up the lid far enough to slip the grenade
inside. Pulled the pin on a second grenade, and repeated the
motion, hearing the handle "pop" on the first one as
I let go of the second. I then scurried back to the Major and
I began to smell
the CS gas, and my eyes started to smart. No gas mask! As I looked
around the surface of the tower, I could see small fissures and
small chunks of concrete missing , evidence of the Bandits and
other guns attacking the tower. The Major said " Go put
some more gas in there" I replied, "It's your turn."
So, he crawled over, and flipped in two of his grenades.
Still no sound
was heard from inside. Getting bolder, I moved over and put in
my remaining four grenades, two of the Major's, and retreated
to our shelter. Now, with all that gas in there, it was coming
up through he cracks in volume! The Major suggested I go put
some rounds down inside. I approached the hatch, my AR on full
auto, flipped the hatch completely off the 4" lip it covered,
and "opened up." However, only one round fired. I quickly
re-cycled the weapon and tried again: Only one round fired again.
I moved back to the shelter and told the Major that there was
a steel ladder going down into the tower at a 45 degree angle,
and suggested he try to fire inside while I covered him with
my .38. He moved over, stood up and "click"--- the
M-14 didn't fire. I think the sear must have broken when the
weapon fell to the tower when we "landed". Sooo, had
we been greeted by VC when we first arrived, we would have had
one shot, thinking we had one full auto and a semi-auto!
I set the selector
at single shot and moved over to the opening and proceeded to
empty my AR, as fast as I could pull the trigger. Interesting
to see tracers zipping around in the dark in a round enclosure!
I emptied the first clip, and pulled a second from my left jacket
pocket, reloaded and emptied it. 60 rounds inside. No sound from
inside. Pulled the second clip from my left jacket pocket, reloaded
and emptied that clip. 90 rounds were fired and still, no sound
from inside. I'd been using my right hand to pull the clips and
load the weapon, while cradling it in my left arm. Now with having
to change hands to get at the clips in my right flack jacket
pocket, it was awkward, and so for the first time, shifting the
weapon to my right arm, I stepped back from the edge of the opening.
As I did, an automatic weapon opened up from inside, knocking
concrete from the lip of the opening. Had I remained where I
was while changing clips, probably wouldn't be writing this now.
Now I'm mad! I reloaded, moved to the narrow side between the
hatch and the edge of the tower, and proceeded to pump two more
clips down inside, expending all my AR ammo. Pulled one .38 and
fired all five rounds. Decided to keep my other .38 "just
in case". Now there was only silence, and a lot of gas!
After about 30
minutes, we tried to get the attention of someone to come and
get us off, but no luck. After a short while, we decided to climb
down a small, thin, shaky, built for 110 lb Vietnamese, bamboo
and vine ladder left from the construction. I had no sling on
my AR, so slid it up under my flack jacket. Ouch! The barrel
was still hot! As I started down the ladder, I was probably as
scared as any time during my tour! I don't mind flying, but am
not fond of tall ladders and high places, and this was about
three stories off the ground! I'd just gotten down about three
rungs, repeating the Lord's prayer quite fervently, when the
Major started down. I yelled "NO! Not two on this ladder!
Wait!" No dice, here he came! The ladder held and we managed
to get down. The Major's MP's on the ground had a jeep and two
six packs of cold orange soda waiting for us. We both finished
off at least four of the sodas. CS will really dry you out!
to the Villa, the CO called me into his office and proceeded
to let me know that I was an aviator, not a grunt, and the Army
had a lot of money invested in me, and the idea was NOT to get
off ON the tower, only DROP the CS gas, that I was due to rotate
home in a couple of weeks, was going to get myself killed, etc.
etc., and to get my gear and hop a R&R flight anywhere! I
think he said all that in one breath! He probably did
save my life!
The next morning
as I was being driven to the base, we passed Major May, who pulled
over and I got a "after action" report. He said there
were three VC inside, so full of holes they looked like "Swiss
cheese". No gas masks. Must have kept their faces down in
a slight depression in the bottom of the tank to breathe (most
of the gas was rising to greet us!). Four weapons, an AK 47,
Chinese sniper rifle, and don't remember the other two. He thanked
me for my efforts and air support, and promised to save a weapon
for me to take home as a souvenir. Well, never saw him again,
no souvenir. That's my recollection of the life and times of
my first day of Tet 68. Lonnie G. Schmidt, Thunderbird One