15th Combat Engineers BN.
Dong Tam, Vietnam

by: Arlyn Whitchurch
© 2009

Combat Engineers, decal
Jaeger, Dong Tam, Vietnam -
On 25FEB68 I was assigned to the 15th Combat Engineers. As the Battalion Survey Party Chief, I was safe and sound at Dong Tam with a warm bed and hot chow.  Edwards (I still don’t know his first name) was at Jaeger, and I had orders transferring him from B Co. to HHQ to be my rod-and-tape man effective 26FEB68.  I never saw him again.

After my first tour I was an SP4 with orders to go to Germany without my wife and son, who was born in May of that year; I hadn’t met him yet.  I took a second six months tour with the 1/11th FA so that I would get to finish the last ten months of my enlistment stateside.  I transferred to 1/11th, and surveyed for 1/11th and 1/84th.  My tour ended abruptly two weeks early when I got caught surveying in front of a 155 during a scramble fire mission.  I spent what was to be my last two weeks in-country as well as the next four months in various hospitals recovering from a subarachnoid hemorrhage. 

Until a few years ago I never knew what happened at Jaeger and to 23 of my friends of the 15th CEB whom I never saw again.  I went to a reunion in 1999 and asked a lot of questions.  Finally, someone told me to look for Charlie Taylor of the 5/60th.  He was a 1st Lt. on 25FEB68 and was in charge of the 11 tracks that went up.  He wouldn’t tell me what happened, but we talked and cried for hours until he asked me why the artillery needed surveyors.

I explained how we hit targets we couldn’t see and then I told him that I always felt guilty because I was warm and sound while guys like him were catching it in the field..  What he told me made me feel good about what I had done over there for the first time. He said,  “I’m glad we had guys like you back there. When I wanted artillery it was like a taxi, I called for it and it came." He asked, "What unit did you survey for?” and I told him the 1/11th and 1/84th.  He stood up and shook my hand.  “If 1/11th was going to fire the mission, I called for first-round-on-target -- everyone else had to pop smoke first.

I always treated my surveying like my life depended on my numbers. Charlie Taylor was betting his life that I, and all the cannon-cockers of 1/11th and 1/84th, knew what we were doing. Col. Hackworth voiced similar sentiments about C Battery, 1/11th in his book, Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts.  I’m still angry about Vietnam and the government that sent us over there, but I feel better about what I did now.   

I know that a lot of guys have strong, positive memories of guys like you and on behalf of all the guys at FSB Jaeger I want to say “Thank you.” 

By the way, a guy who was the jeep driver for an officer that came out from Dong Tam the next day told me what happened.  Two guys of 5/60th fell asleep and were the first casualties when the Cong climbed up on their tracks and cut their throats.  They then turned the 50’s around and hosed down the engineers that were sleeping in the open.  That would have been the first round of machine gun fire that you heard.  That is the ghost that haunts Charlie Taylor.

I hope that Veterans’ Day finds you warm, well fed and surrounded by your grand kids. 

Arlyn Whitchurch,
A Vet and proud of It

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