||Histories for 6th Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery (1960s to Present)
C/6-32 FA and the Tet Offensive
(This is from an e-mail sent to me by Dave Barber)
When telling war stories like this, it?s important to note,
?I wasn?t there.? I did talk with many who were, which makes me the expert historian on this particu-lar battle. By Tet, 1968, I had been reassigned to the 7/15th Artillery, another 8?/175mm artillery unit farther north. During Tet, 1968, all of the
batteries of the 7/15th and our battalion headquarters were out in the boonies. There was a truce. Out in the sticks, it was quiet as a whisper. On January 31st, the end of the month, I was asked to drive from LZ (Landing Zone) Uplift into Qui Nhon to pick up the payrolls for three of our batteries.
There had been a major attack during the night against most of the provincial capitals (and the much reported attack on the American embassy in Saigon), but our battalion intelligence section typically hadn?t heard anything about it. Qui Nhon made the history books as one of the major battles of Tet. Tuy Hoa was much more significant militarily and in terms of casualties, but isn?t mentioned in any of the history books. I did manage to find the fighting in Qui Nhon, making me the only person in the 7/15th who got shot at during the 1968 Tet offensive. But that?s a different war story for another time.
C Battery. From the time we landed in March, 1967, until they occupied the position on the outskirts of Tuy Hoa, C Battery had traveled all over the country. Most of their positions had been far out in the boonies, where they had seemed particularly vulnerable to ground attack. In late 1967, C Battery was supporting the 173rd Airborne near Dak To in the Central Highlands (see Dak To, Murphy, 1995). When the 173rd moved back to the coast, C Battery came with them. Their new position on the outskirts of Tuy Hoa seemed far safer than any that they had occupied before.
In the Tet Offensive, for the first time, North Vietnam attacked the cities of South Vietnam in strength. They had imagined that the South Vietnamese people would rise up to support them. None did anywhere in the country.
The 5th Battalion, 95th NVA Regiment, was assigned to attack the provincial capital of Tuy Hoa. The attack was opened against our C Battery, which was the most significant military target in the city. The local 85th Viet Cong Battalion was assigned to attack a nearby Vietnamese Army (ARVN) 105mm artillery battery, the only other military unit of any significance in Tuy Hoa.
The attack on C Battery began at 2:00 a.m. The NVA successfully blew up a forward bunker on the western edge of the battery perimeter, killing the two men inside. Within moments, many NVA were running through the battery, shooting people and trying to blow up the guns. But the boys of C Battery fought back fiercely. The battery com-mander, 1LT Dan Kennedy, organized a defense from the gun pit immediately behind the overrun perimeter bunker.
Mickey Peacock. One of the men from the 6/32nd, SP4 Mickey Peacock, did more than anyone else to save the battery. He had just come off guard duty from the bunker that was overrun and still had his boots on when the attack began. Peacock jumped up on one of the tracked M548 ammo carriers (maybe the one hauling bodies in the video), and fired the ring-mounted .50 cal. machine gun at the attacking NVA until he burned up the barrel. The ammo carrier machine gun was a very exposed position, but he wasn?t hit .
Later, Peacock was firing an M16 from the gun pit directly behind the overrun bunker with Dan Kennedy and a couple others. Dan decided to try to rescue anyone still alive in the bunker; he was also worried that the machine gun in the bunker would be turned on the battery. But when Dan ordered everyone to make a dash for the bunker, they came under heavy fire and everybody quickly jumped back in the gun pit ? everybody but Peacock.
Peacock rushed forward firing his M16 until he ran out of ammunition and was then shot in the heel. He continued to crawl forward to the bunker and began to drag one of the men (who was probably already dead) back to the gun pit. At that point, Peacock was shot lengthwise through his body, with the bullet entering his thigh, and coming to rest inside his shoulder. Peacock laid in the open, bleeding, until dawn. He was medi-vaced at first light, but some who put him on the helicopter thought that he was already dead.
The 173rd Airborne. The area around Tuy Hoa fell within the Area of Operations of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Prior to Tet, most of the 173rd had been conducting patrolling operations in jungle-covered mountains behind the coastal rice plain. When the attack on C Battery was reported, two companies of the 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry (part of the 173rd Airborne) were airlifted out of the jungle at night (for the first time ever) to respond.
But the NVA battalion had spent itself against C Battery by the time that the first troops of the 4/503rd In-fantry arrived at first light. There were still two or three NVA trapped inside the extreme southwest corner of the battery position, around a counter mortar radar van (labeled ?super snooper? on the enclosed map). The rest of the NVA had retreated to an area of new shanty homes, usually called the ?refugee village,? about 500 yards south from the battery position.
Landing on a gravel airstrip beside the battery, the first Airborne troops came under fire from the NVA still trapped at the counter-radar van, and from the retreating VC battalion across Highway 1. The rest of the Airborne troops landed farther south on the gravel airstrip, entered C Battery from the west, and swept the battery position.
By that time, wounded NVA prisoners had informed C Battery that the attacking force had been the full 5/95th NVA battalion. But due to the light resistance that his forces had encountered during the landing, the commanding officer of the 4/503rd Infantry battalion, LTC James Johnston, believed that the enemy was at most a reinforced platoon. Johnston believed that the enemy had probably fled the area, but a couple squads were detailed to patrol toward the south.
Snatching a Near Defeat from the Jaws of Victory. This seemed to happen after so many battles in Vietnam, and ultimately, in the war itself. To have survived with just three killed and eleven wounded, C Battery had made a very good showing for itself during the night. By January, 1968, the battery was mainly comprised of new replacements and a very large percentage of draftees. The 5/95th NVA battalion had first entered South Vietnam three years earlier, and had been battle tested against the 1st Cavalry, the 101st Airborne, and earlier against the 173rd Airborne.
But after C Battery had fought so well during the night, after the defeated NVA had ?gone to ground? in the nearby ?refugee village,? how did the responding 173rd Airborne lose 19 men killed and 39 wounded at Tuy Hoa?
When the first patrol of the 4/503rd Infantry walked rather incautiously into the ?refugee village,? they came under heavy fire. More probes also met with heavy fire. Eventually, Johnston moved his C and D Companies up to the north and east sides of the refugee village. The occupied area faced open rice paddies on the west, and the wide Da Rang river on the south. The enemy was trapped.
As Hiep Tran reported in his e-mail, most of the civilian population had been seen fleeing away from the fighting, toward the center of Tuy Hoa, during the night and at first light. But the American and Vietnamese authorities were still afraid that there might be some civilians in the enemy held ?refugee village.? They were at first unwilling to call for artillery or bomber support.
Shortly thereafter, LTC Johnston landed from his command chopper and took over personal command of D Company, 4/503rd Infantry. According to an account by his Sergeant Major, Ted Arthurs, ?Johnston (then) screamed an order to attack, sprang up and forward with (Arthurs) at his heels and led the troops in the initial assault.? The troops of D Company suffered most of their killed and wounded in this fruitless attack. The commander of the 173rd Airborne, Brigadier General Schweiter, then intervened, ordered LTC Johnston to withdraw his troops into holding positions, and called for the fighter bombers from Tuy Hoa Air Force Base.
Only a handful of wounded NVA survived the night attack and the next day?s bombing. The 5/95th NVA Battalion had been annihilated. Over 200 enemy bodies were collected for burial. There appeared to be a few Viet Cong among the dead, but most of the 85th VC Battalion appeared to have slipped away among the fleeing civilians.
When the NVA attack faltered against C Battery, the 85th Viet Cong battalion had diverted their planned attack on the ARVN artillery battery; and, of course, their combined forces were unable to attack into the city center. Many Americans died due to the initial reluctance to bomb or shell the surrounded NVA in the ?refugee village.? From my perspective, it would be fair to say that all of the Americans killed and wounded at Tuy Hoa gave their lives to protect the Vietnamese people.
But there were less noble explanations. Most of the 173rd Airborne troops were experienced and highly skilled in jungle fighting; but they had had no training or experience fight-ing in populated areas. And then there were the judgements and command decisions of LTC Johnston. How would you feel if your son had been killed at Tuy Hoa, and you knew this history?
The Unanswerable Questions. Why didn?t the NVA just bypass C Battery and go after the South Vietnamese civilian authorities in their homes? An American artillery battery would have been in no position to oppose such an attack on the ground. Why didn?t the NVA commander commit more forces to follow up on his initial successful surprise? If he had, it probably would have been C Battery, not the NVA, that was eventually annihilated. And why didn?t the NVA have a better plan of withdrawal? The ability to disengage and disappear had always been one of the enemy?s great strengths on the battlefield. Nobody will ever answer these questions for the NVA.
Postscripts ~ 1LT Dan Kennedy. The C Battery commander was a friend of mine from our battalion training days at Ft. Lewis. I ran into Dan at our higher headquarters in Nha Trang about a week after the battle. Dan had a little cut on his cheek, for which he had been given a Purple Heart. I gave him a hard time about it. Dan was killed in a helicopter crash during his second tour. His wife, Nancy, never remarried and lives in Colorado.
SSG Ralph Clark. Officers and enlisted men were never friends. That doesn?t mean that they didn?t get to know each other well and respect each other. Two of the men from the 6/32nd who were killed at Tuy Hoa were new replacements; one had been in the country for about two weeks. The third was SSG Ralph Clark, who had trained with the 6/32nd at Ft. Lewis. Before Tet, Clark had had a choice whether to work in supply in the battalion headquarters, or as Chief of Firing Battery in C Battery. Clark had chosen C Battery and had taken charge of training all the new replacements. I had spent many
Nights teamed up with Clark as Duty Officer and Duty NCO, and knew him fairly well. Clark lived in Yelm and left behind a wife and six kids. The kids have kept in touch, particularly through his son Robin. A few years ago, we had a new barracks at Ft. Sill named for Clark.
SP4 Mickey Peacock. The day after the battle, Dan Kennedy and the 6/32nd Battalion Com-mander, LTC John Frankenberger, wrote up Mickey Peacock for the Distinguished Service Cross. The DSC is military?s second highest award for valor. At the time, Kennedy was uncertain whether Peacock had lived or died. In nominating Peacock, Kennedy was motivated by guilt. Kennedy had ordered his little party to rush the overrun bunker; and then he and everyone else, except Peacock, had run back to the gun pit under heavy fire. Also at that time, Kennedy did not know that it was Peacock who had so effectively fired the .50 cal. on the M548 ammo carrier. In other words, if Kennedy had known the whole story, Peacock might have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Peacock still carries the bullet in his shoulder. He says that the bullet appears rather small in his x-rays, more like the .223 cal. of an M-16 than the .308 cal. of an AK-47. Peacock has some fairly significant disabilities and has occasionally sought treatment through the VA. Peacock was and still is a very laid-back, good ole southern boy. He has had some trouble with the VA though; when he ran into some PTSD claimants at the VA hospital, he felt com-pelled to challenge their war stories as bogus. PTSD provides full employment for a large number of VA mental health professionals, and Peacock was labeled as ?difficult.?
Peacock also found that his award of the DSC was not reflected in his own military records. With a little help from some active duty people at Ft. Sill, I was able to find the General Order awarding him the DSC, and get it entered in his personnel records. Peacock and his wife Sioux now live in Kinston, North Carolina.
LTC James Johnston. Was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the same decora-tion awarded to Mickey Peacock, for his heroic actions during the battle. The DSC can be very helpful to an officer?s career. Johnston eventually retired from the Army as a Major General, and now lives in Murrell?s Inlet, South Carolina.
The Valorous Unit Award. In 1999, I was contacted by James Oerding, the former Opera-tions Officer for the 4/503rd Infantry, who wanted to nominate his battalion for VUA. The VUA is the equivalent of an individual award of the Silver Star for everyone who participated in the battle. I sent Oerding copies of all my correspondence and research, and the nomination was submitted.
In March, 2000, both the 4/503rd Infantry and C Battery, 6/32nd Artillery were awarded the VUA by the Army?s Personnel Command. PERSCOM takes a dim view of this sort of thing all these years after the fact. The VUA awarded to the 4/503rd and C Battery was one of only two decorations awarded in 2000, for actions during the Vietnam War. I was more than a little surprised to read in Oerding?s nomination how the 4/503rd Infantry had rescued C Battery. I feel very strongly that the 173rd Airborne troops who were following Johnston?s orders certainly earned the VUA, but the spin on their unit?s role in the battle was typical hogwash.
Posted by Troy Angell
Mar 03 2004 04:59:31:000PM