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Platoon: the Real Story

By Michael Pectol

Sgt. Pectol was inspired by a new television show on the Fox Channel called Heroes. It brought to mind for him some special heroes who are part of his personal history. He sent this letter to John Kasich at Heroes and has agreed to having it posted here with some editing for clarity of content. Thanks Sgt. Mikie!

John: I have been inspired by your series Heroes! That young 11 year old is a truly awesome human being! I have many Hero stories. This one is about 2 heroes of a particular battle.

An interesting note: This story is about the battle upon which the final scene of the movie PLATOON by Oliver Stone is based. Oliver, about 500 other men of the Division, and I were all there that night. I thought it might be interesting to know more details of the story of that battle, or at least part of it. It really was a 10 hour long battle with roughly 500 stories. I know around 10 of them. I think you will find that the true stories are even better than fictionalized ones. Professionals, and draftees, were doing a soldier's job, which is essentially the same it has always been: go into hell, raise more hell than the enemy, and get the hell back home to the country you helped make safe.

As a side note, Afghanistan was not the only Cold-War effort that bled valuable resources off of the Soviet Bank Book, and in the end, speeded up their demise as a system. They spent a lot of money in Vietnam too.

Platoon, Bravo Company, written by Bob Hemphill, details the truth about that platoon. He commanded it as a platoon leader during the time it was at Burt.

I am a former Sergeant, and was in one of the 2 Artillery Units helping to defend the Firebase that night. Artillery people were used to help the always under-strength Infantry beef up security at the perimeter of Firebases, and to act as Reaction forces to run to sectors in danger of being over-run and provide additional firepower. Or, in my case, that night, I and my men were assigned to the Medical/Resupply Reaction Force. Our mission was to go up to the gun pits, and the aid stations, and get the wounded from up there, and get them back to the aid station, and care. Then, from the aid station to the chopper pad for the serious ones, so they could be medevac'd to the evac hospitals for critical care. NOW On to the story.

Jan 1st 1968. At about 5:00A.M., around 500 men of the 3d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division noticed, almost in unison heard, Quiet. Sunrise coming. They stood with heads and ears cocked, listening, .at first unable to quite realize it. They stood with faces camouflaged by smoke from burning diesel and rubber, containing the ashes of several of their comrades in arms; dust turned to mud in their sweat; grass blown into the mud by the rotors of choppers, the winds of hell created by Napalm Strikes, and the Beehive rounds fired by the artillery. The "camouflage" effect on their faces was from the cris-crossing tracks their tears of anger, frustration, and sadness had made through the dirt on their faces, as they realized that not only cordite or gunpowder, but the ashes of some of their comrades in the Armored Personnel carriers that had been blown up and onto them.

Set out during the Christmas "Truce" of 1967 as bait, the base was only about two kilometers from Cambodia, and sat astride the Ho-Chi-Minh trail. The 25th, at the time, was charged with a sort of glorified Border Patrol for interdiction of supplies and troops the NVA were trying to infiltrate to support the Tet Offensive of Feb 68. We needed a base small enough to look tempting. If the enemy moved fast and furiously, they had to think they just might pull it off. We needed a base large enough to hold out until all the priority Air support reserved for our sector of the border could come on station. Most of all we needed to be sitting astride their route, so they more or less had to act against us or cause themselves untenable delays by going around us. And we were going to stay. We stayed for a month after the big battle there, performing our mission of interdiction. We stopped a lot of men, and equipment from reaching its destination-TET Offensive.

From the beginning, with increasingly heavy mortar barrages at intervals at just after dusk on Dec. 31st, it had escalated into a full-scale barrage of the Softening up type that we all knew was preparatory to the inevitable Human-Wave Assaults. All night long they came at first one part of the perimeter then the others. After a couple of feints to throw us off, the most concentrated attack for most of the night was upon the sections of the perimeter to the South, where a portion of the trail came in from Cambodia to meet the roads in Vietnam.

Those sections of the perimeter were guarded by Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry, (Mechanized), Charlie Company, 3d Battalion, 22nd Infantry (Foot/Helibourne Infantry)

Now my version, and there are many versions of Two of the Heroes of The Battle of BURT. Some of this I found out about as I read the book "Absolution, Charlie Company, 3/22 Infantry", By Chuck Boyle, who is himself one of the heroes of the battle. I guess I will write his story later. His book is on Amazon. Chuck is one of the men from whom I was given a gift of life.A gift also from the people who were there with me that night, who did not return!

Outside the base, there was a night patrol, I believe from C/2/22(M). They had been out when the waves started. All night, a young Staff Sergeant named Mark, Ridley I believe was his last name, was spotting the in-going waves. They were trying to stay hidden, needing to defend themselves, when they were discovered. Losing more and more men all the time, he was calling coordinates for counter mortar fire by the Artillery and Infantry on the base, and aiding greatly in slowing the enemy waves down several times. If not for him and his men, forcing the enemy back past the perimeter we on the base would have been overrun more than the 3 times we were overrun.

We probably wouldn't have made it till dawn. They always broke contact at dawn, as we could see them much better, and they don't stand a chance then. I believe Mark got either the Silver Star or the Distinguished Service Cross for that one. Well deserved too. He saved a lot of our bacon! I don't know the Gentleman, but I heard about him watching an interview conducted with Cpt. William "Wild Bill" Allison, Commanding Officer of Charlie 2/22(M) the day after BURT by CBS news

Above the battle, except when landing, there was a young helicopter Pilot from the 187th Assault Helicopter Company (Crusaders), out of Tay Ninh, alsoclose to the Cambodian border.. He had started the evening on a run to the major 25th Infantry Division Signal Relay Installation on the top of Nui-Ba-Dehn, the most famous Mountain in our area, the site of many of our Signal relay antennas, etc. for very important communication stuff. While he was on that run, the New Year's Eve party back at Tay Ninh had started without him, and he was looking forward to getting back to the steaks, war Stories, and Champagne, and a good night's sleep. Not to be. He and his trusted buddy, Flight Surgeon (an Airborne Ranger type) David Warden "Doc" as all medical personnel end up being nicknamed were getting settled in, and the night people came to wake him up and tell him to get to the shack right away. His C.O. had that Ominous look and said "You're it. BURT is getting hit.” The 187th did a lot of "Airborne Truck Driver" work for us "Electric Strawberries" as they lovingly called us, due to the patch we wear. It does look like a strawberry, with a lightning bolt through it, kind of. His C.O. said "Our boys of the Strawberry are getting hit really hard out at Burt, and you are the only sober pilot I have. Git on it." As it turned out, Warrant Officer Wayne "Crash" Coe turned out to be the very first Chopper Jockey into Burt that evening, and from then on, he flew mission after mission all night long. From mission one, he brought in desperately needed ammo re-supply, and took out our critically wounded. Those were the ones that needed to be taken to the hospital NOW or they would die. Many of our wounded were bandaged and sent right back into it if they were not serious. There was a veritable rain of gunfire and every time he landed, he was taking hits, and it is a miracle he survived the night! Since I was on the landing pad, emptying the ammo and loading the wounded, I know that I was kinda choked up at the bravery of a man who would fly into that in such a slow, incredibly big target, and hover for even the few seconds it took us to turn the load around so he could lift off. It was so hot that he had to come in fast, with a fire team of gunships running cover for him on each side, and his two gunners cookin’ their M-60 Barrels also to have even the slim chance they had. This battle was not all that spread out, as was the Ia Drang Valley, it was concentrated on a small circle of land around 500 Meters in diameter at the most, to which everything the NVA had was enroute to do us very grave dishonor! And of course, Doc Warden his co-pilot and the man who jumped out of the chopper every time, and "triaged" our critically wounded, in the middle of a fire fight, with all hell breaking loose, just as calm as you please! I am told Doc shook hands with me the first time in, but in all honesty, I was so numb with anger, and fear, as an 18 year old Buck Sergeant, I do not remember it. Therein lies one of the many tragedies of the Vietnam War, and it's time. I notice that in a lot of stories you've shown so far men do not know the name of, or don't remember for sure a lot of important detail about things. I surely would like to remember having shaken the hand of one of the Bravest 3 men I have ever had the pleasure to be associated with. His company lost some Aviators in the gunship crews, and Wayne, and Doc, who landed the morning after, had the added indignity heaped on them, of having to go and recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. Doc had to issue cause of death certs and I know it was a heartbreaking experience for him just it has been heartbreaking for those of us whowere fighting for what we loved most, our buddies and America, to have our beloved Country break our hearts by treating us like they did for years.

It is time the real truth about the heroes who served then be told! For in reality, they are just the "Average run of the Mill American Hero"that America so far, knock on wood, has been able to come up with in the necessary quantities at the necessary times, since what, 1776.

How does the saying go?..."Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to the cause we now embrace." Not meaning in any way to take anything away from them, for I love them like brothers. But the important point I am making is…it needs to be known who they really are, as opposed to the special, psychotic, different types people said we were. All those heroes are just the previously standard American Army, Marine, sailor, Airman, etc. fresh out of average American High Schools, Junior Colleges, Universities, West Point. All very special people, but not one single one in any different than the Men who raised the flag at Iwo, WTC, jumped into hell in Normandy, bled and died on the beaches of Omaha, and Utah, etc. Africa, Inchon, Chosin, Khe-San, Ia-Drang, etc.

So, there are a wealth of stories coming to you, I am sure. I even have more. I have a recent reunion of the loved ones of one of our Artillery Heroes, who received the Silver Star Posthumously for his heroic deeds. For 30+ years, the pain and anguish of watching him die, and taking his last confession was carried by his friend, a friend of mine, who just recently "found" the soldier's family through our web site, and they were able to "meet" and achieve some "closure"

What were his final words? Thoughts? Yes, they were of you, his loved ones, and his buddies he died protecting.

Alrighty, then. Keep up the good show. This sort of thing could last a long time, with all the stories you get and it is really good for America to realize that there is still a lot of strength here in this Country. As a side benefit, as Osama and his cronies watch, and don't think they don't, they like to find out all they can about their enemies, they might take pause, and say geez, did we ever peg these people wrong! Maybe they will think twice; ..not to mention the fact that though I don't hear it mentioned that much and I feel it is important, so I will mention it here. Man of the people who are out there bravely fighting our countries battles right now, today are the sons, nieces, daughters, even younger brothers in some cases, of the Vietnam Generation, the very same people who still love America, and taught that love to their children, even with their hearts broken by their beloved country. They continued to love, and hope, that someday, some fine, sunny day, their country would realize how deep was their love, and how badly they broke our hearts, and cut our souls with their treatment of us, and that the healing could really begin. In the last few months is the only time when true realization is starting to break through.

Mikie Pectol




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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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