- 30th Artillery - Viet Nam 1967

Viet Nam 1969
The Hardest Year for the First Battalion
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The 1st Battalion began 1969 in the III Corp Tactical Zone in support of all three Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division. "A" Battery was located at LZ Tracey, "B" occupied LZ Rita and "C" Battery was split into platoons with one platoon at LZ Odessa and one platoon at LZ Eleanor.

From these positions the patrolling elements of the 1st Cavalry could locate and destroy NVA supply caches and interdict the movement of NVA elements toward Saigon. Many of these small Fire Support Bases were positioned on or near major NVA supply corridors and they quickly became a thorn in the side of the NVA. The NVA hated and feared the 155mm howitzer because of its range and the ability of the round to penetrate the jungle canopy and their bunkers. Intelligence reports later confirmed that there was a concerted effort by the NVA to destroy the guns of 1/30 FA.

This was exactly the case of FSB Grant. "A" Battery moved onto Grant in February along with a battery from 2/19 FA (105mm) and the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry. The base was originally an old French position and a concrete bunker was still standing. The NVA had also visited Grant, leaving behind booby traps and mines for the next unit to occupy the position. Two companies immediately went into the jungle to find and interdict the NVA supply route and one stayed behind to improve the defensive positions and protect the Headquarters element and the artillery.

Three battles were fought for LZ Grant. They tested the mettle of a unit and they set a standard for artillerymen to meet in the defense of their unit. An outsider cannot tell their story. What follows are their words: The battalion commander of the 1/30th Arty during the February-March 1969 attacks on LZ Grant in RVN was LTC Dwight Wilson. His time with the 30th was followed by numerous promotions and increasingly important assignments before retiring as a Major General. He has been an Association member for several years.

“A true example of professional artillerymen at their very best.”

Hard Charger Six
Dwight L. Wilson
MG, USA, (Ret)

"LZ Grant went through some of the toughest fighting experienced by the 1st Cavalry Division and certainly some of the very toughest A Btry, 1/30, endured. The battery was very fortunate to have the leadership they had at the time - an outstanding battery commander, CPT Larry Faust; one of the Army's finest First Sergeants, Tom Vernor; and I can never say enough about SFC Norman Wilfong. He alone probably saved the fire base on not one, but two occasions. At one time SFC Wilfong was the most highly decorated NCO in the 1st Cav. He not only did a great job for our battery, but he kept the infantry troops alert, and fighting! A Btry did an outstanding job, though, unfortunately, the price was very high in casualties. They valiantly performed their mission at all times, a true example of professional artillerymen at their very best. We should all take our hats off and say, 'Thanks, A Btry, for an awe-inspiring, brave performance in combat, the kind all members of the Regiment can take pride in and seek to emulate.'

“LZ Grant was not a place where you found humor, but sometimes it just happened.”

Jim Harris
XO, A Btry (1968-69)

"I can remember LZ Grant today as clearly as the day I left, just before Grant came under the big attacks. I can remember the location of all our guns, the command post, the XO post, the mess hall, the infantry TOC, the 105's area, the water point, and the old French fort. LZ Grant was not a place where you found humor, but sometimes it just happened. Grant was initially covered with a very tough, knee-high grass. On the second day of our occupation, I was walking through the grass to our #6 gun. The engineer's bulldozer was working nearby, and as I approached the dozer ran over a land mine and the explosion flipped it over. The operator sailed about 20 feet through the air and landed in the grass at my feet. I knelt to help the young engineer while yelling for a medic. At that point, he sat up and started laughing, saying, Hell, I'm not hurt!" The whole scene got me to laughing, and to this day, I've got a clear picture of the engineer and me sitting in the grass laughing our asses off."

“Our biggest discipline problem was trying to get them to duck and take cover once in awhile.”

Tom Rothrauff
XO, A Btry (1968-69

"After so many years. the primary thing that stands out in my mind is the contrast between the media image of the American soldier at that time and what I personally witnessed at Grant. The soldier portrayed by the media spent his days taking dope, fragging officers, disobeying orders, and refusing to fight. On the other hand, the soldier I saw spent his nights manning and firing the howitzers and his days busting his ass to get ready for the next night. Our biggest discipline problem was trying to get them to duck and take cover once in awhile. Unfortunately, too many of the media's views persist to this day and the hard work and bravery of the soldiers still goes largely unrecognized."

“We lowered the barrels of the big guns down to berm level and shot direct fire...”

Kurt Cicinelli
Asst Sect Chf, #3 Gun, A Btry

"I thought I'd be able to remember the 1969 attacks on LZ Grant with little problem. There for all three of them, I thought at the time the memories would never leave me. Mentally reviewing now, I instantly recall the attacks coming in after midnight and the unbelievable noise as the NVA attack was answered by our gun crews. But time's done its job, and many of the events are hazy and no longer real. Sitting amidst snapshots, old maps, and letters home, I realized I'd been a veritable weather forecaster to my parents --- every letter contained the latest Vietnam meteorology. Re-reading my letters and looking again at those very young men in the pictures, more pieces fell into place in the LZ Grant attacks.

The six guns of A Battery were on one end of the LZ; I was a gunner on one of them. Shortly after the first attack started, our chief was wounded. I took over as section chief. We lowered the barrels of the big guns down to berm level and shot direct fire with timed fuses at the river from where we thought the enemy troops might be coming. We could see green tracers from Russian .51 machine gun fire from there. Some of our guns shot illumination fire, and we could see NVA nearer the river trying to get through the perimeter wire. Some succeeded. The attack lasted three to four hours but seemed much longer.

The next morning, the enemy dead were stacked onto wagons, more of them than most of us had ever seen. Out past the perimeter we could also see the fire streaks of American fighter planes dropping napalm on the retreating enemy. In subsequent attacks during following weeks, we burned up an M-60 machine gun from constant firing, I received a shrapnel wound in the hand, and John Jackson, a section chief on another gun was killed. The attacks were night fights, led by shadowy enemy figures, unseen except in the bursts of rocket light and mortar fire. The noise from our guns was awesome, and our fear to a man was something we could literally taste. Those of us that survived were grateful but exhausted. The attacks ended, and we moved to our next LZ."

“... the Redlegs had done one hell of a fine job.”

Norman "Skip" Wilfong
CFB ("Smoke"), A Btry

"Though 1969 seems like more than a lifetime ago, I remember several things quite clearly. On the first attack, my shaving kit took a direct hit by a piece of shrapnel. Then I heard shouts of "Incoming!" Gathering up rifle, steel pot, and flak jacket, I started to leave the XO post but was passed by my recorders. Mayo had jumped into a large foxhole, pulling a 155mm projo pallet over his head. Stevens just jumped on top of him. In his familiar North Carolina drawl, Mayo asked, "Stevens is they a-walking them?" (meaning, were the NVA rounds being "walked" across the firebase at increasing distances). Stevens' reply was simply, "Man, I doesn't know and I ain't a-looking!"

As I think back, that was one of the very few humorous comments about the attack. Other days and nights that followed had many stories with different, more serious endings. However, in each case, a soldier was the story. Leaders at all levels had to acknowledge that the Redlegs had done one hell of a fine job. To this day, I marvel at the things I remember those soldiers doing. It was more than just a job, they were proud and that was the root of much bravery. My hat has always been off to all those Hard Chargers! God bless you all."

“Many of our KIAs and WIAs were because those soldiers refused to take even one round of in-coming without giving him ten in return. They were always on their guns, looking after their buddies, and pounding the hell out of the enemy.”

Thomas J. Vernor
1SG, A Btry

"Going into Grant, I knew we were in for some bad trouble. Taking a good look from the air as we approached, I could tell it had been occupied before, by some other unit long before our arrival. An old, well-constructed set of concrete bunkers the French had built sat just outside the perimeter wire at one end of the firebase. A good-sized stream and a large trail ran right by the edge of Grant, as well.

All this told me the NVA and VC had the firebase's center plotted on all their maps. From the time we arrived, there was sporadic contact in and around Grant by the infantry.

On 23 February 1969 the first somewhat heavier attack occurred by the 95th NVA Regiment and a sapper company. While on an earlier tour in Vietnam, I had experienced enemy ground attacks, but never with this ferocity. From that first night I saw what the soldiers of A Battery were made of --- they were not afraid of anyone and showed courage it is hard to believe any young men anywhere could be capable of.

Sometime in late January we received our first Chief of Firing Battery since arriving at Grant. "Smoke" Norman Wilfong was so young looking and such a skinny runt, I thought he was a "gun bunny" and started to assign him to a gun section, when he told me he was an SFC and my new CFB! After that little fiasco, we hit it off real well, and his courage under fire earned him two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and one Purple Heart within four months. I had me another Audie Murphy! "Smoke" Wilfong was so dedicated to the men and his job, to my knowledge, he never once left the string of firebases we occupied till sometime in September.

On 8 March we were again attacked, this time by an even larger NVA/VC force. We accounted for over 150 enemy dead in the perimeter wire. The last major attack came on 12 March when we were hit by the largest ground force of NVA and VC plus sappers. We counted 97 more enemy dead. The scout company that reconned the surrounding area after the attacks estimated from blood trails that as many as 500 additional enemy casualties may have been killed by the grunts' rifles but mostly from our howitzer fire. The engineers' bulldozers were brought to Grant to bury all the NVA dead, while we prepared to move three of our six guns to LZ Dolly high atop a range of hills just four clicks from the edge of a massive Michelin rubber plantation.

Those three attacks defined the character of A Battery in 1969. Many of our 9 KIAs and about 35 WIAs in February and March were because those soldiers refused to take even one round of in-coming without giving him ten in return. They were always out of their hootches and bunkers, on their guns, looking after their buddies, and pounding the hell out of the enemy. I have been in many combat situations through three wars and with many units but never saw a group of young men show more bravery or such stubbornness about giving the enemy an inch. Because of them, I will always be proud to call myself a Hard Charger."

“The sound of the gun firing and the sound of the round exploding were so close together it sounded like one blast instead of two.”

Jimmie Taliferro,
Gunner, #3 Gun, A Btry

"At the very start of one of the early attacks, our crew started firing
direct fire as our end of the LZ came under a heavy ground attack and plenty of incoming rounds. I remember Chief of Smoke Wilfong got to our gun pit very quickly and got right between the trails with us. Smoke told us to get some HE rounds with time fuzes and gave us a time to set. I was beside the left trail, and as the round was brought to me, I cut the time and handed the round over the trail. As each round was loaded, we all got down flat on the ground and yelled "Direct Fire!" to give all around us (including the grunts) a chance to take cover. As the round went out the tube and exploded, Smoke immediately dropped the time on each round until the sound of the gun firing and the sound of the round exploding were so close together it sounded like one blast instead of two."

“An NVA commander said LZ Grant sat squarely on their most important supply route and getting rid of the base was one of their top priorities.”

Richard "Dick" Sparks,
Bn XO, 1/30th Arty

"It doesn't seem possible those events were 30 years ago. My memory is sketchy at best. I know I wrote a lot of recommendations for awards, well deserved, I think. What we did at Bn HQ was in a supporting role.

I do recall putting reluctant replacements on the log bird from Phouc Vinh after one of the attacks. I always wondered why the NVA was so motivated to take on LZ Grant. We never seemed to have any definitive intel at the time, but on a PBS special a couple of years ago, an NVA commander, interviewed at the location, said LZ Grant sat squarely on their most important supply route and getting rid of the base was one of their top priorities.

I was at Grant one of the "mornings after." I recall a number of NVA dead in the vicinity of the log pad. Several had C-ration candy and gum in their pockets. Both there at Grant and later at LZ Becky [in August, 1969] SFC "Smoke" Wilfong was on hand. I pretty much stayed out of his way. He knew what he was doing and gave confidence to those around him as he went about his business. That's a real leader. They talk about officers, leadership, and setting the example. We all tried, but I always found it comforting to have a good NCO like him with me.

The most significant thing I remember about Grant and Becky was the attitude of the A Battery personnel. You always wondered how they were coping with the situation, but their resilience really impressed me. When I arrived from Bn HQ, the battery was organized, appropriate actions were being taken, and people were doing their jobs despite all the traumatic events. I attribute it to the battery officers and NCOs. Vietnam placed a high premium on small unit leadership. I think all our batteries operated well, but at that time, not all were involved in actions like A Battery. The actions at LZ Grant have to be among the most significant small unit artillery actions of the war. That example is a tribute to A Battery members, but it is something all members of the Battalion and all artillerymen can be proud of."

“The accuracy of the NVA mortar rounds proved that they had FSB Grant's location accurately plotted.”

Phil Speairs
Bn S-3, 1/30th Arty

"I was their S-3 for seven months and am forever in debt for having known so many brave soldiers. They were fortunate to have served under Larry Faust, who was one of the coolest, smartest. responsible, and tenacious young officers I ever met. Remember, he had only been in the Army a little over two years when he took command. He did a few dumb things early on, but he learned fast and became my best BC.

My memory regarding the battle on LZ Grant (21-23 Feb 69) begins prior to the move and occupation there. A-Battery had been positioned next to an old airstrip north of Tay Ninh, called Katum, which was located about 6km from the Cambodian border. I visited A-Battery the morning before/after the occupation to check-out the perimeter defense and discuss ammo resupply with Larry Faust, the BC. I noticed the battery mascot (The Chicken) was nowhere in sight. I asked Larry about "The Chicken" and he told me that the "Infantry's dog" had killed it during the night. Having heard of The Chicken's history as a good luck charm (no MIAs or KIAs) with A Battery during campaigns in the Central Highlands, Khe San, and the Quang Tri area, my superstitious mind instantly focused on the loss. I hoped this wasn't a bad omen.

Later, I reconned LZ Grant with the 1st Brigade's S-3. The position was an old 25th Division firebase and was also plainly marked on the map as a French fort. There were concrete remains of the old fort outside the northern perimeter at the proposed FSB. I argued with the Brigade S-3 that this was totally un-acceptable as a FSB because it was a standing "Lesson Learned" that old FSBs are usually booby-trapped and this location was marked on the map! The Brigade CO overruled my objections and I reported my concerns to LTC Wilson, the 30th FA BN CO.

On the day of occupation, I met the 2/12 Cavalry Bn CO as he landed. To my surprise, it was LTC Dingman whom I had served with in the 3rd Armored Division in Germany in 1966. He was one helluva tank battalion commander then, so I felt somewhat at ease. Although I knew him personally, I still had reservations about an armored commander in an infantry battalion. Nevertheless, I relayed my concerns about the location of the FSB and, while Dingman was understanding, he too had his orders.

That same day on FSB Grant, a jeep ran over a land mine and the driver was killed. And while digging gun positions, a D-6 Cat hit another mine and I think the operator was also killed. The first attack started at about 2300 on 21 Feb 69 from elements of the 95C NVA regiment coming out of Cambodia. I was in the Bn FDC when a radio call came from CPT. Faust informing me that the attack was on. I quickly checked my ammo status board and saw that A-Battery had about 900 rounds of HE on hand. Previous experiences showed that when a battery was under a night-long attack, 500 to 600 rounds were expended to defend the position. I called DivArty by landline informing them of the attack and requesting ARA support to be "bounced" to aid in the defense and for Air Force flare ships ("Shadow").

At some point during the battle CPT Faust sent an emergency request for primers because they were nearly out. My ammo board showed they had more primers on hand than ammo! I assumed the primers (in small boxes) were overlooked in the dark and because these men who were fighting for their lives, couldn't take time for a detailed search. Immediately, I sent someone to the Division ammo dump at Phouc Vinh to get primers and deliver them to DivArty's log ship. Then I requested a "bird" to fly over Grant and kick out the boxes of primers over the gun positions. A little later that night, Faust called to tell us they had found their primers, but I think the DivArty Huey completed the mission anyway.

Sometime during the attack Faust called again to report a heavy concentration of NVA north of their perimeter and asked permission to use "firecrackers" (Improved Conventional Munition or ICMs). At the time, it took either Brigade or Division permission to use ICM and I gave it instantly. Later, Faust was excited as hell to report about how astonishing it was to see the first two rounds of ICM completely silence an NVA unit. Apparently the next morning's body count showed 64 NVA KIAs in that area. (The ICM was devastating because each 155 round contained 38 bomblets which bounced from the ground and exploded at waist height.)

The next morning LTC Wilson and I visited FSB Grant and were briefed by CPT Faust on the night's attack. Reports indicated A Battery had one KIA and six WIA, but my distinct recollection is two body bags laying on top of some ammo boxes. I can't erase that memory from my mind.

Several afterthoughts relate to the original faulty decision to occupy that LZ. The accuracy of the NVA mortar rounds proved that they had FSB Grant's location accurately plotted. Additionally, while walking the battle area outside the wire, I discovered that about 100 feet from our position was the remains of an old French bunker where an NVA 51-caliber gun raked us all night! On the ground in front of the bunker were several 155 HE rounds that were split in half, but didn't explode. (All HE rounds are "bore safe" for 250 feet; these had just hit the bunker and split.)

Around March 1st at the Phouc Vinh airfield, I met LTC Pete Gorvad arriving in-country as I was going on R&R. He told me he was taking command of 2/12th at FSB Grant. I briefed him on the situation and warned him to expect continued attacks on the FSB's 155s and 105 batteries since Grant was a very strategic position along the Saigon infiltration trail. By the time I reached our rear location at An Khe to be processed out, there were more A Battery casualties, plus LTC Gorvad. He and his Ops Sgt took a direct hit by a 106 mortar round set on fuse delay. When I returned from R&R, I was immediately informed of severe losses incurred on or about March 11th . So much for "Lessons Learned."

"What in the Hell is this place?"

Stanley Rabesa
Gun Crewman, #4 & #3, A Btry

"I'm not sure why I can't remember certain items about Vietnam, but there's one place and time I remember too well. That was LZ Grant. Landing there in January '69, I thought to myself, "What in the Hell is this place?" The first person I met was Top Vernor, who immediately let me know in so many words this was not going to be a fun place.

Assigned initially to gun #4, I met "Dog Man" Shanks and Ken Lackey, who didn't make me feel like the "new guy." Things were a little on the slow side, and we'd talk about how the days dragged by. I talked to the grunts and heard their stories of fire-fights they'd experienced. I wondered what it'd be like to actually be in one of those extreme situations.

On February 23rd I learned! We were hit with mortar and rocket rounds, and the gun-pit next to mine took some direct hits. Sadly, we lost a few brave men. I'd never been through anything like that in my life, not even close. I became one apprehensive and worried man. On March 8th all Hell broke loose again! A 122mm rocket dropped directly on top of the firebase's TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and killed the grunt battalion commander. We must have been hit with everything the NVA had. The #3 gun was again hit so bad, it took the gun and whole crew out of action this time. I remember Top coming over to our gun, yelling at us to keep firing until he said otherwise. As the sun came up, you realized just how lucky you were that no one, including yourself, was killed on your gun. It was a long night, one I'll never forget.

After the first two attacks, we all talked about how we didn't want the sun to go down because it meant we'd be waiting for the same shit to "hit-the-fan" again. I was moved someplace I didn't want to go --- to #3, the gun hit so hard earlier. We had a new gun and a few more men from other guns. Then, again on March 11, our gun was hit by mortar rounds. Some men were wounded, but fortunately no one was killed. The #5 gun took it hard that night. The very next day, we moved our gun and two others to LZ Dolly. There are times when, out of the blue, out of nowhere, I still think of LZ Grant and what we'd gone through. God Bless those brave men who fought for A Battery, especially those who died there."

“The NVA hated and feared the 155mm howitzers ... they were wreaking havoc along the NVA’s infiltration routes from their safe sactuaries in Cambodia.”

Dan Gillotti
Historian, 30th FA Regiment

The primary purpose of our Association is to preserve our Regiment's history and to honor those Hard Chargers who made the ultimate sacrifice. We will always remember those Hard Chargers who were killed and wounded in the February-March 1969 time period. Many of those KIAs occurred at or near XT387626, a hell-hole named Landing Zone (LZ) Grant. This LZ had been used by an element of the 25th Division, and years before it had been a French outpost, a concrete bunker still lay in ruins. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) knew the exact coordinates for the position.

Alpha Battery occupied the LZ along with the Headquarters of the 2/12 Cav, an infantry company for security and a 105mm howitzer battery. The infantry lost two men KIA and had several WIA during the initial occupation of the position to mines and booby traps set by the NVA.

The NVA hated and feared the 155mm howitzers because of their range and the ability to penetrate the thick jungle canopy that covered the terrain between the LZ and the Cambodian border. Intelligence reports later confirmed that there was a concerted effort by the NVA to destroy the base and the 155s. The first evidence of this came on 23 February when A Battery repelled an attack by elements of the 1st NVA Division on LZ Grant. The battery expended 595 rounds in direct fire and were credited with inflicting 13 enemy KIA. Alpha battery suffered 1 KIA and 2 WIAs.

CPL Jesse B. Montez was killed while continuing to man his gun in true Hard Charger fashion during the attack. For his actions under fire, CPL Montez was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device and the Purple Heart Medal (Posthumously).

Having not accomplished their objective, the enemy foolishly mounted a second attack on 8 March. The attack started with a withering preparation by 120mm mortars and 122mm rockets. For the second time in less than three weeks, A Battery lowered their tubes and placed direct artillery fire on the attacking forces. During this second attack, A Battery suffered 3 KIA and 6 WIA while receiving credit for 39 of the 154 confirmed enemy casualties. Killed in this action were SP4 Thomas J. Roach Jr., PFC Glenn Stair, and PFC Roy Wimmer. All three died while serving their gun in spite of the intense enemy fires. Each was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" and the Purple Heart.

Note: Intelligence reports confirmed by the capture of the Chief of Staff of the 1st NVA Division indicated the A Battery hit an NVA Battalion preparing for the attack. The POW reported that A Battery had hit them with preplanned fires consisting of several volleys of "Firecracker" (ICM) rounds which killed many NVA soldiers and destroyed the battalions initiative in the attack.

On March 11, the 1st Battalion again took casualties. SGT Stephen Harder was killed by an exploding mine while serving on a remote mountain top Radio Relay Station. That evening A Battery on LZ Grant was subjected to a third attack, this time by elements of the 95th NVA Regiment. Although A Battery again repelled the attack, several weapons were damaged by 82mm and 120mm mortars and Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPG). The retreating NVA left 62 behind, with numerous blood trails testifying to many more casualties suffered by the attacking force. Again, A Battery had taken the brunt of the attack and had suffered 5 KIA. Lost were SP4 Roger E. (Doc) Denny (the Battery medic), PFC Whitney T. Ferguson, PFC Michael Gruenwald, PFC Tommy Robinson and SGT John R. Jackson. SGT Jackson was manning Gun 5 during the attack and trying to protect the men wounded by the first mortar rounds when he was killed. "Doc" Denny was aiding the wounded at the same gun position when he was killed by a second 120mm mortar round that landed. Most of the Hard Chargers killed this night were part of the crew from Gun #5. Ignoring the intense enemy fire, they were serving their gun and doing a job that, no matter how dirty, had to be done. SGT Jackson and SP4 "Doc" Denny were awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. PFC Ferguson, PFC Gruenwald and PFC Robinson were each awarded the Bronze Star with "V" and the Purple Heart.

In addition to the 5 KIA, A Battery also suffered 26 WIA including 1LT (later CPT) Thomas Rothrauff, the Battery XO. Subsequently, A Battery was awarded a Valorous Unit Award for their heroic and tenacious actions during the period 7-11 March 1969. It was painfully obvious now that the timely, accurate and deadly firepower being delivered by the 1st Battalion was wreaking havoc along the NVA's infiltration routes from their "Safe sanctuaries" across the border in Cambodia. Undeniably the big guns of the 1st Battalion were being marked for destruction and specifically attacked by the NVA. This information has been confirmed by several different intelligence sources.

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