Chapter 55: Efforts Back in Lai Khe

Back in Lai Khe, PFC David Aldridge observed another part of the Xom Bo II events unfolding. He was new in-country and had been assigned to the Black Lions Bravo Company. Since mid-morning he had been sitting around the resupply pad, waiting for a ride out to LZ X-Ray to join up with his unit.

Earlier that morning, after finishing breakfast, Twenty-two-year-old David had hitched a ride to a resupply pad located on the east side of Highway 13 in Lai Khe. When he arrived, resupplies were being prepared for LTC Lazzell’s four companies at LZ X-Ray.  Men were quickly stacking sixty- to ninety-pound crates of ammo onto spread out nets. The transfer of the ammo from the trucks to the nets took some time. Finally, they were done, and three Chinook helicopters arrived at the resupply pad to pick up the heavy loads attached to their underbelly.

When that was completed, David watched the Chinooks take off around 12:15, loaded with ammo, C-rations, water, mail, and even cases of beer. PFC Aldridge was surprised that beer was part of the resupply. The supplies hung in large nets from the bellies of the Chinooks and swung gently in the air as they were raced to LZ X-Ray. The helicopters were like giant storks flying away with loads of ammo instead of a new baby. The Chinooks arrived at LZ X-Ray just as the battle started and were immediately waved away. They returned back to Lai Khe and dropped their nets and, according to PFC Aldridge, flew off empty.

The Jeeps parked on the resupply pad had their radios on, which were chattering away about a battle raging away up near Phuoc Vinh. PFC Aldridge quickly discovered that the reports were about the units he was there to join. He heard one of the S-4 guys at the pad saying that the Vietcong were firing .51 caliber rounds at the LZ. Time ticked by, and finally, a new rumor started that the 1/18th, lovingly called the Vanguards, had been ordered to saddle up and relieve the Ranger companies fighting at LZ X-Ray.

It wasn’t a rumor, it was fact, and shortly after that trucks and jeeps rolled up with men laden with combat gear. They jumped off the trucks and were organized to load into the incoming Chinooks. But before that could happen, the wounded and dead had to be removed from the choppers’ cargo compartments. PFC Aldridge had this to say about what he saw, “As the ramps at the back of the Chinooks lowered, I saw dozens of wounded and dead soldiers come falling and rolling out of the Chinooks onto the ground. Some who were able to walk came stumbling out like they were intoxicated. They had their arms and legs bandaged, and the bandages were all hasty field bandages, half falling off and soaked through with blood. Some of the wounded soldiers who were able to do so assisted others to get out of the Chinooks and onto vehicles. I have never seen blood look so bright in my life. It practically glowed. It was everywhere…on the soldiers, on the Chinook, and on the ramp at the back of the Chinook. All of the wounded had the look of horror and pain across their faces. Medics started showing up in those old box ambulances the army had at the time.”[i]

In the Rangers TOC (Tactical Operations Center), located in Lai Khe, twenty-three-year-old SP4 William Buonanno from North Terrytown, New York, was monitoring the radio nets. It wasn’t his usual job; normally he would be humping a radio around for Battalion S-3 Tony Jezior. But fate smiled on him that day, and he was assigned the job of covering for an NCO, who had gone on R&R. That got him out of the field for a couple days, giving him some time to write a few letters to his wife, eat some hot chow, take a shower, and maybe drink a couple beers.

 That day in the muggy TOC bunker, at about noon, Buonanno was given a message that a man in one of the Rangers units had an emergency back in the world. Whoever that man was, he would need to pack up and be ready to get choppered out of the LZ.  The radio reception between Lai Khe and our operation center at LZ X-Ray was very poor, and Buonanno was having a terrible time communicating with headquarters company. While he was struggling with the transmission, suddenly a large amount of noise  came over the net. There was the distinct sound of AK-47s, M16s, explosions, and men shouting and screaming. The battle had just begun. His message probably never got to the intended recipient.

For the next few hours, SP4 Buonanno stayed glued to the radio in the muggy TOC, listening to the battle of Xom Bo II raging many klicks away. There were frantic transmissions about large numbers of Victor Charlies attacking, need for air support, need for medevacs, need for ammo, and men being overrun. Many of these transmissions were actually coming from Buonanno’s replacement, who was serving with MJR Jezior. Lady Luck had smiled at short-timer Buonanno that day, and two months later he would return back to the world.


[i] Black Lion Newsletter, Last Foxhole for Clinger by David Aldridge

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