company itself was very seldom at the combat base since we were on
operations almost constantly. Ronald came out to the company in the
field around February 1, 1969. Mike Company had just spent some 45
days enjoying a bit of a lull in heavy action, but was just reentering
another phase of it when Ronald got there.
I was officially the platoon guide. but spent most of my time as acting
platoon sergeant when there was none, or when the platoon sergeant
was spending most of his time as acting platoon commander when there
was no lieutenant. I was the platoon sergeant when Ronald arrived.
first glance, he was, as others that came with him, just another young
man who had not proven himself yet, but would have to soon.
quiet, non-threatening manner made him a very easy person to get along
with, and initially worried his squad leader and myself since we knew
what he was going to face in the harsh reality of combat. Well, within
a week there were several contacts with the enemy, and Ronald proved
to be a very stalwart Marine from the first one. In the midst of all
the chaos, he performed his job well, and when it was over he was
still the same easy going, likable guy. And in subsequent contacts,
it became obvious that he had quickly learned to control the fear
that runs rampant in everybody during these fights.
He was a great Marine that could be counted on by all around him.
I was the platoon sergeant then also, and want to relate the circumstances
because of his extraordinary heroism and some special circumstances
that you should know. His death touched all of us as greatly as his life had for several reasons.
Company left a Fire Support Base out in the mountains to the southwest
of An Hoa on March 2, 1969, to cross a valley and climb some mountains
on the other side to find some enemy troops that we knew to be there.
There were some 105 of us. We were ambushed on that morning
by a small force as we made our way into the valley. It only
delayed us for a couple of hours. We spent the night in the
following morning, we crossed the valley and began our ascent of the
mountain range on the other side. By late in the morning on that day,
March 3, we were halfway up when we encountered another ambush of
a little more substance. We were delayed for several hours because
the "canopy" of tree layers above us was so thick that it
was difficult to find a place where it was thin enough to at least
get a sling through to remove our casualties and a very unfriendly
scout dog who would attack anybody that tried to get near his wounded
late afternoon, we found a place and called for a medevac.
It was so late in the day that Company Commander opted to set us into
a perimeter there where the medevac was coming. While we waited for
the medevac, squad-size patrols were sent out in two directions just
to recon the area we were in. One of these patrols ran into
a large, heavily entrenched and camouflaged force some 70 meters further
up the ridge. The squad lost 3 men killed, and one wounded.
at this point, other enemy troops in the area were summoned to close
in on us, and coordinate a complete annihilation of our company. Just
before dark, we intercepted one of the "message runners,"
and were able to translate the message. There were some 3,000
enemy troops within a day's march of us.
Because of the number around us, only one medevac helicopter got in,
and got the dog and his handler out. It barely got out because of
the fire it received.
rest of the day was spent first recovering a wounded Marine trapped
behind a tree in front of an enemy bunker, and then attempting to
recover the bodies of the three Marines who were killed in front of
an enemy bunker. Not all were recovered by dark, and the attempts
were suspended until morning. It gets very dark, very fast in thick
forest. but the fighting continued around our perimeter all night
as they surrounded it on all sides that the terrain would allow.
and I were in third platoon, and were covering an area that was completely
accessible to the enemy troops. We fought all night as they came to
within feet of us in the dense undergrowth. I had assigned Ronald's
squad to a key area next to the trail because of the confidence I
had in that squad. There were two "new" guys there, Ronald
and PFC. Weaver, but both had already demonstrated that they were
extremely sharp and would hold up. And hold up they did. The
enemy never got into our perimeter that night despite repeated attempts
through Ronald's squad.
the morning of March 4th, we expected the enemy assaults to stop during
daylight hours. They did not. They simply focused them on a couple
of positions in our platoon, and launched them every 3 or 4 hours
in the daylight. One of these positions was Ronald's. Ronald and his
squad never faltered, called for reinforcements, or even took a casualty.
They beat back every attempt. In the meantime, the platoon that
had lost the men the day before continued to assault the enemy bunkers
in attempts to recover the dead.
By noon, there was still one body left, and many more casualties had
been taken. The enemy’s movements around our perimeter were increasing
and artillery fire, helicopter gunships, Phantom jets, and "Spooky"
AC-130 planes with large rapid fire machine guns began to be employed
in a circle around us to try and keep the enemy back. The canopy had
them all firing "blind," and the closeness of the enemy
required that we talk their fire in as close as possible which made
it very perilous for us also. This support continued non-stop through
the night, and into the following day, March 5th.
March 5th, all platoons began to assist in the attempts
to recover the last body, but after multiple attempts throughout that
day, our casualties had risen to the point that the Battalion Commander
ordered us to get out of there. But there were not enough of us left
to carry all of the dead and wounded. The Battalion Commander ordered
another Marine company to come to our assistance. They were moved
to a point where they would be ready to fight their way in on the
following day, March 6th, and our platoon was selected
from Mike Company to fight our way out to link up with them.
evening of March 5th was a repeat of the previous two nights.
We had now been in almost constant contact with the enemy for some
54 hours. In our platoon, I don’t know of anybody who had gotten any
sleep during the previous two nights. Some had tried to cat
nap a bit during the daylight hours when there was relatively less
fighting, but that wouldn’t last long since the enemy was so close
when they fired on us it had everybody too scared to not be watching
every bush and tree in front. The
lack of sleep was taking its toll. That night many of us finally slept
some. Even in the midst of the fighting, I slept some 2 hours total
that night. Each of the others in my position also did.
first light on the morning of March 6th, we began
preparing for the breakout. I learned from the squad leaders that
their men had also given in to fatigue, and each had got some sleep.
It was in the conversation with Ronald’s squad leader early that morning
that I learned that Ronald had “the dream” during the night. When
one is living in the midst of constant death, and the threat of it,
there are senses that are often made more acute. I, and others,
knew about “the dream” because it happened to others who, like Ronald,
communicated it to somebody. I will explain this as best I can because
it is a true blessing as far as I understand it.
I was trapped in the “kill zone” of an ambush during my first day
in the field in Vietnam. I was the only survivor, and the company
pulled back leaving me for dead, after calling all of our names
and not getting an answer from anybody. The others couldn’t answer
because they were dead. I couldn’t answer because I was laying right
in front of an enemy machine gun playing dead. What I went through
in my mind was all the terror and horror about my own impending death.
I cried for myself, and for my family. I prayed to God. After about
45 minutes of this, a stark bolt of something struck me, and my mind
and body snapped as my tears stopped, acceptance of my own death washed
over me, the fear left me, and a quiet peace came to my mind, body,
and soul. Of course, as it turned out I escaped what seemed
to be an inescapable situation.
“The dream” was when one had the dream of their own death prior to
the situation occurring. This was not a standard dream or nightmare.
Somehow, this “dream” gave each what appeared to be absolute knowledge
that it was going to happen. None ever gave particulars of the dream,
so I do not know all that they saw and felt in it. But in each case,
they made it clear that they knew they were going to die that day.
It always happened the night before, and was never wrong.
knew nothing about the others. But he knew what he knew. His relating
it to his squad leader was in the form of making the statement that
he had the “dream,” and asking him to insure that his personal gear
was taken care of. Of course, the squad leader told him to stop talking
like that, but he insisted that the squad leader take care of his
stuff.The blessing of “the dream” was that those who had it were already
at the point when they woke up in the morning that I arrived at after
45 minutes of stark terror and misery, when I thought it was going
to happen to me. They not only had no fear of what lay ahead, but
had a calmness and serenity that was complete and thorough, and could
be felt by others around them. And they never did not do their job
correctly on their last day, so it eliminates any thought that they
“welcomed” or “allowed” their death to happen.
about 7 that morning, we had our last minute briefings on the course
the other company was following to come to us, and how far out they
were. All of us knew that what we were about to do was going to very
difficult and dangerous, but also that the survival of the Company
depended on it. Even at that point, if the enemy knew how few of us
there were fighting, we would have been in deep trouble. The platoon
commander and I moved down to the edge of the perimeter and the platoon
commander yelled to Ronald's squad leader to put his squad on point.
This was done because we needed the best there for this, and they
were that. As usual, the most difficult task for a squad leader is
picking a point man. It is a dangerous spot, and nobody wants to be
the person that sends somebody there.
squad leader, Curtis, turned towards his men with the pained look
on his face about that decision. Ronald saw the look, and in his very
easy going manner, stepped forward and said, "I'll take point."
He followed it up with something like, "I haven't done it in
a while. I think it's my turn." It was an obvious downplay of
his own action. He was simply trying to make things easier for his
squad, not be a hero. With what we were about to do there was
no safe place anywhere in the column.
though we all knew this, Curtis and I exchanged glances in silent
communication. Curtis went over to Ronald, and asked him if he was
SURE he wanted to walk point without directly mentioning “the dream.”
I chimed in with something, and a look to make it clear to Ronald
that I, as platoon sergeant, had no problem with him changing his
mind. He insisted he would be fine, didn't mind walking point, and
without hesitation walked over to the trail. Again, Curtis and I looked
at each other. We each had the authority to change his decision, but
knew that there wasn’t anything to change it to that we could have
any degree of certainty was safer.
point was dangerous, there were also times when the point was the
safest place. At that point, we could really only pray for ALL
of us, so we just moved to our places. His calm and serenity
had passed to us in some degree as we turned to face our jobs.
The platoon assembled, and Ronald's squad began moving out of the
perimeter. They would be followed by the platoon commander and
his radioman, the next squad, myself as platoon sergeant, then the
last squad. Ronald's squad moved around a bend and I lost visual contact
with them as the squad in front of me began moving. I moved in behind
this squad, and was just preparing to leave the perimeter.
I was standing by a large tree when the air exploded into the sounds
of battle as bullets and explosions came from around the bend. I fell
behind the tree for cover, but this was only momentary since I had
specific duties to fulfill once it was determined that it was an ambush
as opposed to an entrenched force. That didn't take long. Fifteen
or twenty seconds. My job was to mount an ambush reaction force from
the rear squad. The rear squad leader was to insure rear security
with one or two men.
heavy fire and terrain made it very difficult to get an effective
group together there, but two of us wound up attempting a flank assault
on the ambush site that we couldn't see. I believe that the fury with
which Curtis' squad was fighting combined with the two of us running
through the bush and yelling and shooting (to create the image of
many) made the enemy pull back far enough that we could get into the
area of the point squad and secure it.The two of us who made up the
reaction force got to Ronald first. Both of us could see something
unusual had happened because of the number of rounds that he had taken.
I moved back up the trail to insure troops were spread out for security,
and to get a poncho to bring Ronald back on.
On the way, I checked with the rest of Ronald’s squad members. Pfc.
Weaver was very painfully wounded, and the others were behind bullet-scarred
trees. They were able to confirm exactly what had happened. Ronald
had managed to save at least a couple of lives. When Ronald's squad
had moved into the "kill zone" of the ambush, the enemy
had sprung it. But in their haste, the enemy had not picked a good
site. They could not get to others with Ronald upright.
were 5 enemy gunners in the section where Ronald was, attempting to
wipe out the first 7 or 8 of our men. Somehow, he managed to keep
himself upright, and between the enemy and the others, for several
seconds allowing them time to get cover and prepare to fire.
From all I ever witnessed there, this required some incredible effort.
In a nanosecond, Ronald knew the position he was in, and he chose
to protect others as the end came. Those few seconds he stayed
up saved many lives.
as a person was easy to know and like. Ronald as a Marine was a giant
among men. He has not been forgotten by any who served with him. His
sacrifice is known and respected by all of us.~Mike McFerrin