I arrived in Nam February 4, 1968 and was assigned to Disassembly Platoon as crane operator. As I recall, one of my first extra assignments was to help with the building of a new perimeter fence around our compound. The original fence was very weak with just one strand of barbwire. The new fence, much sturdier, was made up of two separate fences 8 to 10 feet apart, with concertina wire and claymore mines. The new fence, however, did not keep the Vietcong from moving in on us the morning of April 9, 1968:
I, along with my platoon, was upstairs in the barracks asleep that night. For the most part I have tried to push it to the back burner and try not to dwell on what happened and to whom, but one just doesn’t forget. Keep in mind, we had several Vietnamese civilians working on the compound daily. They knew where the mines were as well as all of our weak points. During that time only the officers and people on guard duty were allowed ammo making us a perfect target for an attack. According to C.O. we were in a secure area.
April 8, 1968 as I recall went pretty much like all the other days before. We worked on our jobs throughout the day then in the evening had dinner, showered, and visited the club for a cold beer before turning in for the night. That was the last night I went to bed with my pants and boots off.
Small arms and machine gun fire along with several explosions awakened me. The explosions were the stairways being blown off all barracks along with the orderly room, mess hall and supply room being blown up as well. It was pitch black and confusion everywhere. I rolled out of bed, put on my pants, boots, and flak jacket then grabbed my rifle with no ammo. I began crawling hunkered down on the barracks floor trying to figure out what was going on when I bumped into Sgt. Hardin. He was quick to give me word that we were under attack and ordered me to spread the word and help guys on my end of building get out while he went to his end to help them.
The only adjective to describe that horrific night was utter chaos. One by one our men jumped from the top floor to the ground to take cover in the bunkers. When all the guys in my end were out I crawled back to the other end to make sure they had all gotten out. I didn’t see anyone so I crawled back to my end to jump, as it was closest to the bunker. As I was turning the corner to head towards the bunker I found myself looking straight into a AK47 with Vietcong on the other end. He pulled the trigger and by the “Grace of God”, the gun didn’t go off. I reached the bunker after that and the pandemonium lasted until daylight that morning. Our barracks had burned to the ground along with all of our belongings…All we had left was what we had on our backs and each other.
In the aftermath, we began to learn names of those who had died during the attack. I remember helping people to the EVAC choppers when they came in; I didn’t know most of the people I helped. The gun choppers came in before daylight and sprayed the hill behind us; they were late to the scene, but oh what a feeling of safety once they arrived.
The one person I will never forget is Sgt. Kenneth Hardin who I bumped into while crawling on the floor. We were in the same barracks but I had only met him on one other occasion. I would like for his family to know that if it hadn’t been for his alertness, quickness, and dedication that many more would have been killed that night. He was a very brave and courageous human being, one with whom I owe my life. May he rest in peace.
Early morning hours of April 9, 1968 totally changed me for the rest of my life. I grew up in a small community and was pretty much a loner though out my high school years. I didn’t have many friends and stayed to myself most of the time. I learned a lot about myself that night. Family, friends, and fellow troops were not the enemy. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. We were kids, and a lot of us grew up that night.
My wife was searching the internet a year ago and came across a buddy of mine, Don Strine, who served in Nam with me. We planned a time to meet after 42 years and the world stopped between us during our visit. We have plans to get together with him and his wife more in years to come.
God Bless all of our Troops
James D Spencer