February 1969:  Red Devils' First Têt Celebration.

"Saturday 1 February 1969: Red Devil Brigade has been increased again, this time by Papa Company of the 75th. Infantry Rangers. Rangers!!! My goodness, how professional!!

2 February 1969: We're moving Easterly from Ðông Hà. Word is of large contingent of NVA moving thereabouts in preparation for Vietnamese New Year.

Monday 3 February 1969: SGT Gordon Gardner 19 years of age from Charley Company 1/77 was killed at the base camp when incoming rounds hit the communications hut and Gardner was hit on the head.  He was an NCOC 1/68 graduate and had come in country with the Brigade in July.  An M48A3 tank has been dedicated in his name in Germany as a memorial tribute to all the 1/77th. tankers who were killed in Viet Nam{thanks to Patricia "Peach" Johnson, who organized the 1/77th. Armor's 30th. Reunion 27-31 July 2000 at Fort Knox, for the details 30 April 2000}. In a firefight, 20 year-old SP4 James Skipper from Alpha Company 1/11th., was killed. In our own excursion, had to pull one wounded from an APC, bullets ricochets everywhere - RPG explosions hitting other squads - lots of Med Evacs, lost count at 9.

7 February 1969: We're vacating much of the civilian population out of Ðông Hà to Quang Tri City, and some of them are getting moved even further south, probably to some safer area like Ðà Nang or Hué.

8 February 1969: 2d. Platoon was ambushed, SGT Ward Evans 28, a family man with Delta Company 1/11, was killed by a booby trap in a bunker complex. The platoon's body count was 26. 26 to 1 is a whole lot better than we used to do, but our body count this month is not meeting quota, ... oops ... I mean command expectations.

12 February 1969: SP4 Bill Brown from Alpha Company 1/11, was killed by a booby trap on 12 February 1969 at age 21 {Bronze Star (Merit), Bronze Star (Valor)}.

Sunday 16 February 1969: SP4 Van Winkle was killed in a firefight in Thua Thiên, south south-east of Quang Tri City between Camp Evans and Hué. He was with Alpha Troop, 4/12th. Cav.   5th. Mech. apparently is gaining a reputation even outside Quang Tri.

From Lt. William McShane:

"Feb 12 Tomorrow I am going back to the DMZ for about a week and a half. Been quiet up there.

Feb 14 Mission to A-2 cancelled. Off to Wonder Beach.


Van Winkle killed on an ambush. AK round hit a M 79 round as he was loading it. This was around a cemetery. Sgt Ski was severely wounded. A guy from Sisters (?) Oregon was slightly wounded. Jerry, the Kit Carson, sprung the ambush early. I think Larry Stone was also on the ambush. (G. Bowers)

I recovered Rip's body after my ambush busted in to get the second platoon ambush out of trouble. Rip's m-79 was hit by an AK. The round went through the loaded 79 before hitting Rip. The 79 round did not explode. The 79 was still with Rip, I believe because it was unserviceable to the NVA. Ski was originally thought to be lost also, but we found him making noises. His 16 was gone. NVA got it. That was one of the scariest nights of my life. The guys on my ambush acted with great bravery and skill, making a long night move on line and in the open to help out the guys from 2d platoon. If I recall correctly I ordered fixed bayonet assault through that graveyard. Sgt. Jerry Jackson was hit in the head by a capsule from a parachute flare round from the supporting artillery. Good thing I had our ambush wear steel pots. I heard Jerry Jackson passed after coming home. I always thought he was a wonderful guy.

Jerry Fallon Thunderchicken"

end of narrative by LT McShane

20 February 1969: Quang Tri City has been put off limits to all US military personnel due to the expected attacks for the Vietnamese New Year called Têt. NVA forces are said to be gathering all around us.

23 February 1969: Apparently this marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year Season, and for us military types in country it is a new campaign - the Têt Counteroffensive.  Major firefight outside Nhi Ha - about 7 wounded on our side and we killed over 78 NVA and VC. On the other side of the stream from Nhi Ha is a deserted village with a cemetery. Most of the enemy casualties died behind hedgerows at the cemetery.  Chat with one of the marines from 3rd. Division and found out that all the fighting we have been doing around Dông Hà, Nhi Hà and Tan Lich, was almost the exact same scenario they and 1st Cav. fought last year at about the same time.  Same hills, same victories over the enemy, same un-noticed heroism, new faces, new bodies.  One of the LP's came back under our wire late at night and called for fire support against unknown numbers of enemy and flares.  Flares went up from two of our bunkers, clearly illuminating the team as it was coming in, but no enemy sighted.  The radio vocabulary clearly noted that it wasn't the team that had called for flares - they would have been sitting ducks.  Two hours later a couple of mortar rounds fell short of the wire by about 50 yards on the northwest edge of camp. 

24 February 1969: The VC and possibly NVA have hit Quang Tri hard. 3rd. Marine Division got there and said that rockets and mortar fire destroyed the buildings of the orphanage, but then following that attack, brave communist thugs in soldiers' uniforms assaulted the orphanage, killing some of the children as well as all four nuns. The trip from Camp Red Devil to the City was grim, having an APC in front and one behind did little to bolster our confidence for those of us in the back of the deuce and a half.  We never saw them but not one nun survived the attack, and their bodies, mangled, were left in front of the archway entrance - a grim testimony to the advanced state of Communist Asian cruelty on harmless old ladies. The silent message is clear, if you're a gook stick with your own kind or your own kind will kill you no matter how young or old you are. Locals are not hostile to us, but they are avoiding us like the plague. Can't blame them. 27 Med Evacs, including many South Vietnamese who fancy themselves as soldiers. They are so brave but maybe just foolhardy - so many of them died today trying to defend the orphanage area. The communist forces failed to penetrate the city center.  They were pushed back in a matter of hours.  I can't help but wonder whether the home press reported this as a Communist victory, carefully avoiding mention of their massive casualties and retreat, or whether anyone bothered mentioning the fact that {again} 5th. Mech. kicked some ass here or maybe they just said we got the city back at the cost of so many casualties {dead Americans, ensuring that the public would never see the victory as such but rather as a bungled enterprise.  49 enemy dead around the orphanage alone.  The Third Squadron, 5th. Cav. from the 9th. Infantry Division, which had been detached to 1st. Cav. Division [whose patch paintings were found on so many ruined buildings throughout the Quang Tri area] joined the Red Devil Brigade.

Fig. 1: February, 1969: Outside Camp Red Devil.
Fig 2: February, 1969: Approaching Quang Tri city from the West
Fig 3: February, 1969: Quant Tri City.
Fig 4: February, 1969: Civilian burials from Têt '69 casualties.
Fig 5: February, 1969: 5th Mech convoy approaching Quang Tri city after VC Têt attack.
25 February 1969: We provided security for the burial detail for 7 children and four nuns. The children's corpses are surprisingly light - flies are everywhere, the stench of death stifles the will to breathe.  Sporadic encounters by our patrols with the enemy yielded another 22 in our mounting body counts, McNamara style {Thank you Mr. President for putting a bean-counter in charge of a War! He should have been buried along with the Edsel}.  Clean-up details just plain suck.

Thursday 27 February 1969: Another major encounter with the enemy. With good air and artillery support, we wreaked havoc and let loose the dogs of war on them. Pay-back time for the orphanage. Killed my first face to face - from 30 yards away, so it wasn't really face to face, but close enough.  Prior to this I most often had been shooting at positions, at gun flashes, at bush movements and had not seen an actual face in my sights.  It is much easier when they're far away and you can't see their face. He must have been all of 16 years old, scrawny, underfed, but a patriot in his own way. The age of our enemy matters not, they are just as deadly to us independent of their age.  Picture of a very pretty young girl carefully wrapped in a plastic strip and taped to his body. Too bad he was not looking at me because he was busy aiming his weapon elsewhere, so he didn't shoot first and it seemed important to get him before he got his shot off, but he should have stayed with that girl. He was one of 17 we killed that day by our company. Almost sorry I had to shoot, but then if I had not shot first, I might be there and then would he feel sorry for me? Because of my constant check for casualties from other units, I'm being kidded a lot about my morbid fascination with death.  3 med.-evacs.  These chopper guys are fantastic.

Friday 28 February 1969: On the move, and killed 9 more enemy. Mortally wounded one, which I then had to finish off - not a pretty sight, no glory here, wish I were somewhere else. 7 med-evacs. Our Cav. unit had firefights with the enemy and that continued for 3 days and this action escalated support from 8 battallions of artillery and fire support from the huge guns of the USS New Jersey."

From Lt. McShane (4/12th Cav).

"I'll never forget how bad Ken Dye felt on the night of Feb. 28th, 1969 when we were riding with Herb Parsons on track A-13, on our way to setup a night ambush near hill 101, and we hit a land mine. I got hit in the head and leg and was bleeding like a stuck pig. Ken, the cool calm guy that he was, took the situation in hand and made sure I got medivaced to Quang Tri. He would have carried me on his back if he had to. Ken and Herb felt so bad that I hardly hurt for myself because they were so hurt that it happened. I remember I was gone from the Troop for about 8 to 10 days and when I got back the guys was all in camp and man what a welcome I got when I came in the A Troop area. (Jim Rinaldi)"

end of narrative by LT McShane.

 The latter part of February [23 through 7 March], 1969 saw the celebration of Têt Ky Dâu - the lunar New Year, with particularly intense offensives undertaken by the Viêt Cong and North Vietnamese Army. It is the Year of the Chicken/Cock/Rooster and the ruling natural element is wood that has been prepared for burning.    

RIP: SGT Gordon Dwight Gardner, C CO, 1ST BN, 77TH ARMOR, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 3 February 1969, 19 years old, Artillery round, near Firebase C-2, Quang Tri Province, RVN

RIP: SP4 James Earl Skipper, A CO, 1ST BN, 11TH INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 3 February 1969, 20 years old, fragmentation grenade, near Gio Linh, Quang Tri Province, RVN

RIP: SSG Ward C. Evans, D CO, 1ST BN, 11TH INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 8 February 1969, 28 years old, Booby trap in bunker complex, near Dông Óng Dó (~8 km South-SouthWest of Qua?ng Tri), Quang Tri Province, RVN

RIP: SGT William E. Brown, A CO, 1ST BN, 11TH INFANTRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 12 February 1969, 21 years old, Booby trap, ~5 km South-SouthWest of Qua?ng Tri, Quang Tri Province, RVN

RIP: SP4 Harold J. Van Winkle, Jr., A TRP, 4TH SQDN, 12TH CAVALRY, 1ST BDE, 5TH INF DIV (Mech), USARV, KIA 16 February 1969, 20 years old, Firefight, near O'Reilly Range (~15 km West-SouthWest of Phông Dièn ), Thu’a Thiên Province, RVN

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