Thursday, May 11, 2006

Never Forget



I read this over at Cassandra's place this morning. This kind of thing just pisses me off...

I will never forget. Although my father was in the Army for almost twenty-seven years, he never saw combat. He enlisted in December 1964, but instead of becoming a helicopter pilot, as was his first choice, since all four of the available slots went to active duty personnel instead of recruits like my dad, he ended up going to DLI (Defense Language Institution), becoming a German linguist and going into MI. My dad was a Cold Warrior. He would go into the field, and although people can get hurt in training exercises, nothing ever happened to my dad. I can only think how things might be different if he had become a helicopter pilot like he had wanted to. I have no doubt he would have been sent to Vietnam. That being the case, I realize I might not be here today if he had become a helicopter pilot, because he might not have come back to my mother.

Several years ago, while living in Arkansas, I "adopted" an MIA. The MIA I was given is James William Holt. The information I received gave his rank as "SFC", Sergeant First Class. However, I found myself in DC on a business trip in the spring of 1998, and when I looked up his name in the books to find his name on The Wall, it showed him as "MSG", Master Sergeant. Not sure why there was a difference, unless he was promoted after he was MIA. I guess that's not unreasonable, since I've heard of posthumous promotions. James Holt was born in Hope, Arkansas. I don't know if he left behind any family.

Here is the story of how James went MIA from the P.O.W. Network:


Shortly after midnight on February 7, 1968, a combined NVA infantry-tank assault drove into Lang Vei. Two PT-76 tanks threatened the outer perimeter of the camp as infantry rushed behind them. SFC James W. Holt destroyed both tanks with shots from his 106mm recoilless rifle. More tanks came around the burning hulks of the first two tanks and began to roll over the 104th CIDG Company's defensive positions. SSgt. Peter Tiroch, the assistant intelligence sergeant, ran over to Holt's position and helped load the weapon. Holt quickly lined up a third tank in his sights and destroyed it with a direct hit. After a second shot at the tank, Holt and Tiroch eft the weapons pit just before it was demolished by return cannon fire. Tiroch watched Holt run over to the ammunition bunker to look for some hand-held Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAWs). It was the last time Holt was ever seen.

LtCol. Schungel, 1Lt. Longgrear, SSgt. Arthur Brooks, Sgt. Nikolas Fragos, SP4 William G. McMurry, Jr., and LLDB Lt. Quy desperately tried to stop the tanks with LAWs and grenades. They even climbed on the plated engine decks, trying to pry open hatches to blast out the crews. NVA infantrymen followed the vehicles closely, dusting their sides with automatic rifle fire. One tank was stopped by five direct hits, and the crew killed as they tried to abandon the vehicle. 1Lt. Miles R. Wilkins, the detachment executive officer, left the mortar pit with several LAWs and fought a running engagement with one tank beside the team house without much success.

Along the outer perimeters, the mobile strike force outpost was receiving fire. Both Kenneth Hanna, a heavy weapons specialist, and Charles W. Lindewald, 12th Mobile Strike Force platoon leader, were wounded. Hanna, wounded in the scalp, left shoulder and arm tried to administer first aid to Lindewald. The two were last seen just before their position was overrun. Harvey Brande spoke with them by radio and Hanna indicated that Lindewald was then dead, and that he himself was badly wounded. Daniel R. Phillips, a demolitions specialist, was wounded in the face and was last seen trying to evade North Vietnamese armor by going through the northern perimeter wire. NVA sappers armed with satchel charges, tear gas grenades and flamethrowers fought through the 101st, 102nd and 103rd CIDG perimeter trenches and captured both ends of the compound by 2:30 a.m. Spearheaded by tanks, they stormed the inner compound. LtCol. Schungel and his tank-killer personnel moved back to the command bunker for more LAWs. They were pinned behind a row of dirt and rock filled drums by a tank that had just destroyed one of the mortar pits. A LAW was fired against the tank with no effect. The cannon swung around and blasted the barrels in front of the bunker entrance. The explosion temporarily blinded McMurry and mangled his hands, pitched a heavy drum on top of Lt. Wilkins and knocked Schungel flat. Lt. Quy managed to escape to another section of the camp, but the approach of yet another tank prevented Schungel and Wilkins from following. At some point during this period, McMurry, a radioman, disappeared.

The tank, which was shooting at the camp observation post, was destroyed with a LAW. Schungel helped Wilkins over to the team house, where he left both doors ajar and watched for approaching NVA soldiers. Wilkins was incapacitated and weaponless, and Schungel had only two grenades and two magazines of ammunition left. He used one magazine to kill a closely huddled five-man sapper squad coming toward the building. He fed his last magazine into his rifle as the team house was rocked with explosions and bullets. The two limped over to the dispensary, which was occupied by NVA soldiers, and hid underneath it, behind a wall of sandbags.

At some point, Brande, Thompson and at least one Vietnamese interpreter were captured by the North Vietnamese. Thompson was uninjured, but Brande had taken shrapnel in his leg. Brande and Thompson were held separately for a week, then rejoined in Laos. Joined with them was McMurry, who had also been captured from the camp. The three were moved up the Ho Chi Minh trail to North Vietnam and held until 1973. The U.S. did not immediately realize they had been captured, and carried them in Missing in Action status thoughout the rest of the war, although Brande's photo was positively identified by a defector in April 1969 as being a Prisoner of War. A Vietnamese interpreter captured from the camp told Brande later that he had seen both Lindewald and Hanna, and that they both were dead.

Several personnel, including Capt. Willoughby, SP4 James L. Moreland, the medic for the mobile strike force, and Lt. Quan, the LLDB camp commander, were trapped in the underground level of the command bunker. Lt. Longgrear had also retreated to the command bunker. Satchel charges, thermite grenades and gas grenades were shoved down the bunker air vents, and breathing was very difficult. Some soldiers had gas masks, but others had only handkerchiefs or gauze from their first aid packets.

The NVA announced they were going to blow up the bunker, and the LLDB personnel walked up the stairs to surrender, and were summarily executed. At dawn, two large charges were put down the vent shaft and detonated, partially demolishing the north wall and creating a large hole through which grenades were pitched. The bunker defenders used upturned furniture and debris to shield themselves. Willoughby was badly wounded by grenade fragments and passed out at 8:30 a.m. Moreland had been wounded and became delirious after receiving a head injury in the final bunker explosion. Incredibly, the battle was still going on in other parts of the camp.

Aircraft had been strafing the ravines and roads since 1:00 a.m. Throughout the battle, the Laotians refused to participate, saying they would attack at first light. Sfc. Eugene Ashley, Jr., the intelligence sergeant, led two assistant medical specialists, Sgt. Richard H. Allen and SP4 Joel Johnson as they mustered 60 of the Laotian soldiers and counterattacked into Lang Vei. The Laotians bolted when a NVA machine gun crew opened fire on them, forcing the three Americans to withdraw.

Team Sfc. William T. Craig and SSgt. Tiroch had chased tanks throughout the night with everything from M-79 grenade launchers to a .50 caliber machine gun. After it had become apparent that the camp had been overrun, they escaped outside the wire and took temporary refuge in a creek bed. After daylight, they saw Ashley's counterattack force and joined him. The Special Forces sergeants persuaded more defenders fleeing down Route 9 to assist them and tried second, third and fourth assaults. Between each assault, Ashley directed airstrikes on the NVA defensive line, while the other Special Forces soldiers gathered tribal warriors for yet another attempt. On the fifth counterattack, Ashley was mortally wounded only thirty yards from the command bunker.

Capt. Willoughby had regained consciousness in the bunker about 10:00 a.m. and established radio contact with the counterattacking Americans. The continual American airstrikes had forced the North Vietnamese to begin withdrawing from the camp. Col. Schungel and Lt. Wilkins emerged from under the dispensary after it was vacated by the North Vietnamese and hobbled out of the camp.

The personnel in the bunker also left in response to orders to immediately evacuate the camp. They carried Sgt. John D. Early, who had been badly wounded by shrapnel while manning the tower, but were forced to leave SP4 Moreland inside the bunker. 1Lt. Thomas D. Todd, an engineer officer in charge of upgrading Lang Vei's airstrip, held out in the medical bunker throughout the battle. That afternoon, he was the last American to pass through the ruined command bunker. He saw Moreland, who appeared to be dead, covered with debris.

Maj. George Quamo gathered a few dozen Special Forces commando volunteers from the MACV-SOG base at Khe Sanh (FOB #3) and led a heroic reinforcing mission into Lang Vei. His arrival enabled the Lang Vei defenders to evacuate the area, many by Marine helicopters in the late afternoon.

Sgt. Richard H. Allen - Survivor
Sfc Eugene Ashley, Jr. - Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for Lang Vei
Harvey Gordon Brande - Captured - released POW in 1973
SSgt. Arthur Brooks - Survivor
Sfc. William T. Craig - Survivor
Sgt. John D. Early - Survivor
Sgt. Nikolas Fragos - Survivor
Kenneth Hanna - Missing In Action
James William Holt - Missing In Action
SP4 Joel Johnson - Survivor
Charles Wesley Lindewald, Jr. - Missing In Action
1Lt. Paul R. Longgrear - Survivor
SP4 William G. McMurry - Captured - released POW in 1973
James Leslie Moreland - Missing In Action
Daniel Raymond Phillips - Missing In Action
Maj. George Quamo - Killed in Action April 14, 1968
Lt. Quy - Survivor
LtCol. Daniel F. Schungel-appointed deputy commander of the 5th Special Forces
Dennis L. Thompson - Captured - released POW in 1973
SSgt. Peter Tiroch - Survivor
1Lt. Thomas D. Todd - Survivor
1Lt. Miles R. Wilkins - Survivor
Capt. Frank C. Willoughby - Survivor



Never forget.

(Updated 2/4/11 with new link, as Cassandra will eventually shut down Villainous Company, but has given me permission to re-post selected pieces of her writing elsewhere.)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hanna and Lindewald were recovered and officially ID'ed on 08 SEP 04. They were buried with honors in early 2005. Yes -- James Holt was promoted during the years that he was carried in MIA status. He has a brother George who still attends DPMO family updates.

Miss Ladybug said...

Anonymous~

Thanks for the information. If you are in contact with George, please let him know that others still remember and appreciate his brother's sacrifice.

James Tiroch said...

I would yo to pass on this information regarding my Father, Ssgt. Peter Tiroch.

Ssgt Peter Tiroch retired from the Army as a Major in the 1970's. He moved to St. Louis and lived there untill early 2000, When he moved to Oklahoma City. In May of 2005, Ssgt Peter Tiroch Passed away of Cirocus of the Liver.

How do I know this? My name is James Tiroch, his son, born in 1984.

My father was a hero in my eyes, however in his later years, he start to drink heavily, which caused Him and my mother to file for divorce in 1999. I am trying to findmore information regarding his service in Nahm.

Peter Tiroch
1942-2005

Anonymous said...

Miss Ladybug....Thank you for development of this page in memory of MSG James William (Doc) Holt. I am from Arkansas. I grew up not far from Hope, AR where Holt was born and later lived near Hot Springs, AR where he entered the Army. I spent over 30 yrs in the Army and supported the POW/MIA missions into Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam from 1994-96. I have been wearing Doc Holt's bracelet since '94. I say a prayer every day for he and his family.

Miss Ladybug said...

To today's anonymous commenter: Thank you for your service. POW/MIA recover work is important. As a nation, we owe it to them to bring them home and to offer whatever closure we can to the family and friends they left behind. You helped make that closure possible.

Robyn said...

I have a bracelet from William McMurry...well, I didn't....my mother did. When she passed away, I found it in her jewelry box. I see that McMurry was released in 73. I wish I knew how to return the bracelet to him. ananpap

Miss Ladybug said...

Robyn~

I hope you see this. I have asked some of my acquaintances in the milblog community if they might be able to help connect you with SP4 McMurray. If they can help, I currently do not know how to get in touch with you. Please email me at miss-ladybug -at- hotmail -dot- com.