I took command in February, 1969. For several months B Company, 1/35th Infantry Battalion was involved in a number of small skirmishes. We had a few minor casualties.
I had several encounters during my first tour with an enemy that had been trained in North Vietnam conventional tactics and usually fought battles with forces large enough to stand and fight. When they massed forces we used over powering air and indirect weapons to inflict significant casualties.
The enemy we confronted this time employed smaller units to strike and run. By using alert security teams permitted B company to anticipate where and when the enemy was likely to strike and take aggressive action to counter his plans and take the fight to him. Sometimes it was difficult for soldiers to maintain a high level of alertness when no evidence of enemy activity for days on end.
In fact, in those cases where we suffered casualties, the enemy had capitalized on lax security. But sometimes we suffer from our own mistakes. Such was the case on this day.
It was Saturday, June the 21st, 1969 when I called a halt to our search mission. We had been on the go for several days and needed a few days rest. We found an area suitable for security and could be easily defended. Of course, the area was near a stream where men could bathe, fish or just relax.
Platoon Sgt, SFC Freitas and I were sitting in the shade and talking about something that I cannot remember. As infantrymen do, our talk turned to our profession. We were sitting near the command post and overheard the battalion operations announce pre-planned artillery fire in an area about 4 kilometers from our location.
SFC Freitas asked if they needed a forward observer for the planned fires. The company RTO passed the question to Battalion Operations and the reply was affirmative. I decided to go with him. I told my friend and RTO, Sgt Dill to inform the platoon leaders what we were going to do.
We found an elevated area about 600 meters west of our base and SFC Freitas made contact with the firing battery and started his fire commands. With our binoculars, we could clearly see what the Sergeant was doing as he walked the fires along a ridge line and into a ravine.
Suddenly, a radio voice barked “SHORT ROUND, SHORT ROUND”. We didn’t have time to react. A loud explosion shook the ground as I could hear shrapnel whizzing all around. SFC Freitas was hit by a large piece that took off his right arm at the shoulder.
I was kneeling no more than three feet to his right but was unharmed. I tried to stop the bleeding as I tended to SFC Freitas. I believe he was immediately knocked unconscious. I called for help and continued my efforts to stop the bleeding to no avail.
I cried and cried as I tried to stop the bleeding. But I could not. I lost a friend. After 50 years I am now able to reconcile his loss. (see preface to the “First Battle”, for comments about my reconciliation struggle.)
NOTE: A short round occurs when an artillery projectile does not have sufficient charge to reach the intended target and falls short.
Note: I was contacted by the niece of SFC Freitas a few weeks ago thanking me for writing this story. She had found the story I had posted over two years ago on the 1/35 Infantry Regiment website and contacted the website manager who forwarded her inquiry. I responded by telling her what I could remember about her uncle.
She was one of several relatives that I have had discussions with about a loved one lost in the Vietnam war. This is the most important reasons I maintain this site although I no longer write.
In fact, the Lord has impressed upon my heart to provide comfort to as many as I am able to find, or who find me. God has blessed me and I aim to bless others as I am able.