The Battle of Dai Do ended for me the evening of May 2, 1968.
There were only about 75 of us left that evening, so we set up a perimeter near Dai Do just before dark and waited. About 9 p.m., Ernie Pace and I (along with a young private whose name I cannot remember) were facing west in a dried-up paddy right along a small stream. Ernie and the private tried to catch a nap while I stayed awake on watch. Fritz Warren and a young naval FO were the only commissioned officers left that night, I think, and Ernie and I may have been the only remaining E-5s.
In retrospect, we should have moved our position after dark so the NVA didn’t know exactly where we were. I think that after three days and nights, however, we were too tired to think that clearly.
The NVA started throwing mortar rounds onto us about a half-hour later. The first one hit the water just in front of me, sending up a tall column of water. The next one landed right behind us, hitting all three of us with shrapnel and heat from the blast. My helmet was blown off, as was the wooden stock on my M-14 (nothing but a few splinters left). There was an old cement pagoda about a half-kilometer to the west that I had seen in the light of earlier flares dropped from a Puff. I suspected the NVA mortars were set up inside that roofless building. One of our Marines climbed up on top of an Amtrak and shot up the east wall of that pagoda with a .50. A minute or so later, what appeared to be an entire battery worth of shells from Dong Ha obliterated it, leaving only a cloud of dust.
As I recall, 30 Marines were wounded in the mortar attack. In a half hour or so, three UH-34 medivacs flew in, the first one turning on its landing lights only for a moment to see where the deck was. We loaded 10 wounded onto each of the first two choppers and they took off. I was the last one and waved the third one off, thinking another was coming. But the crew chief waved me over. When I got to the open door, he grabbed the front of my flak jacket and yanked me aboard. He yelled in my ear “There aren’t anymore. This is the last one.” So I literally sat in the open door as we lifted off and flew out to the USS Repose a few miles off shore. As far as I know, that was the last of the firing between 2/4 and the NVA.
Ernie Pace and I spent a month in Ward C on the hospital ship, then we went back in country and spent one night in a field hospital along the airstrip at Danang. The next morning, we flew out on a Air Force medical plane to Tokyo (with a brief stopover in Okinawa to off-load a Marine in critical condition). We spent two weeks at some Army hospital north of Tokyo, then flew from Japan to Anchorage, Alaska for refueling, then on to an Air Force base near St. Louis. The next day, I was flown up to Midway near Chicago, and put on a Navy bus up to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital where I spent the final three months of my three-year enlistment. I got out on Sept. 6, 1968, got married the next day to a woman I’d met only three weeks earlier near Chicago, and we’re still together 48 years later with three grown sons and six awesome grandchildren.
Somewhere along the way, I lost track of Ernie Pace as he was sent elsewhere. I’ve tried to find him over the years, but never succeeded. I just recently learned on the internet that passed away about 15 years ago. Both of us were in S-2 where he was the interpreter. Ernie was a good buddy.
For 30 years or so, I thought you hadn’t made it. You were seriously wounded around midday (I thought on May 1, but I guess it was May 2). I was right next to Tom Williams’ amtrak when you were carried to it and loaded inside.
In 1998 or 1999, I was browsing in a bookstore and found a book titled “After Tet.” While skimming a chapter about Dai Do, I read that you had survived and eventually rose in rank to general. A couple of years later, I met Tom Williams and his wife Kelly through the 2/4 Association. Thanks to Tom and Kelly, you and I re-met in Mason, Michigan, when you gave a Memorial Day speech (I think). Somebody kindly invited my wife Marcia and I to have dinner with you at a private home nearby, we got to talk some more, and Marcia and I got to drive you back to your motel near Lansing after I told you that I was assigned to be your driver when the entire battalion spent a week or two at Subic Bay in March or April of ’68.
I’m glad you made it, and hope you’re doing well.”