6TH HOWITZER BATTALION (155MM) (TOWED) 16TH ARTILLERY
1ST AIR CAVALRY DIVISION
26 January 1967
I would like to introduce myself. I am CPT Robert D Middleton, the new commander of Battery C. I have taken this opportunity to write to first, establish contact with the battalion and secondly to relate to you the circumstances of the battery's heroic and classic defense of the guns at Landing Zone Bird on 27 December 1966.
I assumed command of the battery at 0330 hours on the morning of 27 December 1966. Maj Ecoppi had been hospitalized two weeks prior to the attack for minor wounds suffered in a freak howitzer explosion. Lt. Stricklin was the acting Battery Commander at the time of the attack. He was seriously wounded immediately after the attack commenced and was evacuated from the battle area just prior to my arrival. Maj Ecoppi has since returned to duty with the Division Artillery S-3 section and Lt. Stricklin has been evacuated to Japan and is expected to fully recover.
The attack commenced at 0100 hours 27 December 1966. The attack was made by two battalions of the 22nd NVA Regt, controlled by the Regt Hq. Approximate strength of the attacking force was 1000 men. Units occupying LZ Bird at the time of the attack were Btry C, Btry B, 2/19th Arty, two platoons of Company C, 1/12th Cavalry (infantry), and a three man Path-finder team for LZ control. Total friendly strength at the LZ was 170 men.
The NVA attacked from two directions. One from the north end of the LZ into Battery C position area, and one from the east that turned south into Battery B's position area. It was a typical, well organized NVA attack. Automatic weapons and mortars were zeroed in on the penetration points with further suppressive mortar fire on the length of the LZ. Their infantry attacked into their own fire immediately upon its initiation. The infantry perimeter was immediately overrun due to the NVA ability to creep to within 20 meters of the perimeter prior to the attack and poor defensive characteristics of the terrain. The attack carried into and thru our No. #1 section before the section chief could look up from the prone position he assumed upon receipt of incoming rounds. The chief and two other men did escape to alert the FDC and other sections and continued the fight with the fourth section. The battery's volume of fire steadily increased in tempo to blunt the attack after it had overrun three of the five howitzers. The attack into Battery B proceeded simultaneously with equal success overrunning half of that battery prior to being blunted. It is interesting to note that although the enemy overran half of the battery area, it was unsuccessful in destroying our bunkers around the first three. The personnel that were not KIA or WIA continued to place effective fire on the enemy around them. Many incidents of heroism took place during this time. A "quiet" period of approximately twenty to thirty minutes followed the first ten minutes of the attack. During this period individuals on both sides had run low or out of ammunition and were scrambling around obtaining additional ammo. Friendly illumination was obtained and artillery adjusted into the position by the FO with C, 1/12 at that time. Additional aerial rocket artillery arrived on the scene and commenced firing around the LZ most effectively. Approximately 40 minutes after the attack friendly small arms fire increased and the BC of B, 2/19 with a crew managed to fire a "Beehive" round thru half of his battery directly into the entire length of Battery C. This had a very settling affect combined with increased tempo of fire support and small arms within the battery. At this time, the NVA started to withdraw. "A" Company 1/5th Cav arrived by lift shortly and met no resistance in linking up with the batteries and clearing the Landing Zone. It was shortly after "A" 1/5th had swept the area that I arrived to assume command. The battery had not fired direct fire due to the fact it would have been ineffective due to minus elevation and the closeness of the enemy.
The various acts of valor are too numerous to mention. Hand to hand combat was common and many troops engaged in pitch and catch with enemy hand grenades. Sixteen men have been recommended for awards at this writing. SSG Gregario Nieto has already been awarded the Silver Star for his actions and Sp/4 Caldwell and PFC Bouchard were decorated immediately after the fight by General Norton with the Bronze Star with "V". The battery suffered four KIA and twenty one WIA, (a third of its Landing Zone strength). All wounded will recover completely.
The lessons learned during this battle are so numerous I will save them for later correspondence. I'm sure you will share with me this great pride I have of Battery C. Their action reflects great upon not only themselves and the 1st Cavalry Division but also its parent battalion. Due to the extremely poor U.S. press coverage of great Vietnamese Battles, I request that as much publicity as possible be given to our unit thru the Cannoneer so that all Artillery men everywhere may know that the spirit of "Defend the Gun" is still so very much alive.
We hope to commission an artist soon to paint a picture on one of the battle scenes which will be forwarded to you upon completion. It will also serve as the basis for a mural to be painted on the mess hall when completed.
If we can be of assistance in any way please write. We will be looking forward to further correspondence.
ROBERT D MIDDLETON
Total NVA KIA in and around the LZ was 211. This figure is official. I assisted in the body count. 15 NVA KIA were taken out of our NO.1 section, 5 of which were draped over the trails.
Webmaster Note: This memo contributed by Michael Kreffel, a veteran of the 6/16 Field Artillery. He retyped it from the original correspondence.