Manchus at Mole City
by John Senka
Shortly before Thanksgiving 1968, Charlie Company 4/9th 25 Infantry Division, better known as "Manchus," lost 2/3 of their unit when Captain Winters and his men walked into an NVA base camp.
Our platoon had spent the prior night on an ambush patrol. As we walked into the fire support base. I joked with radio operator, Dave Briggs, of North Collins, N.Y. Little did I realize this would be the last time I would see Dave or my other buddies alive.
After this, our unit spent many days in limbo; only a handful of grunts. Most of us hoped we would be sent to the rear. No such luck-- our ranks wre filled with brand new replacements. We nervously awaited for some word of our next destination. Finally we were told to send our radios,and personal belongings to the rear area. We were also issued flak jackets. We would rendezvous with Alpha and Bravo companies about 2 "clicks" from the Cambodian border.
The following days were spent on patrols and digging large, deep bunkers Henry Maul, a quiet redhead from Wyoming was always close by, however, Don Culshaw, a muscular, seasoned rifleman from Minnesota was my partner in the construction of our bunker. Don and I spent several days in the hot sun, digging and filling sandbags. We placed steel over the bunker, and laid the sandbags over the steel. We later dug out the rice paddy dikes and placed the earth over the sandbags. This not only camouflaged our position, but provided an unobstructed view on our side of the perimeter. We were proud of what we had built. We both agreed we could do this for the rest of our tour if it meant not having to confront the enemy. Ironically, neither of us would get to use the bunker.
It was December 22, 1968--Christmas Truce. A prisoner exchange was taking place nearby. We spent our morning walking through a nearby village. We held our empty M16's in one hand and our loaded magazines in the other; our arms were held high over our heads. Several of our group passed out T-Shirts as a gesture of peace and goodwill. We hadn't received mail, or other supplies in several days. We were eating green eggs for breakfast; supposedly from Gook chickens. Finally, at about 9:00 that night, we received fresh supplies, mail, Christmas cards, cookies and minia- ture Christmas trees from home. I remember Don placing a 2 foot artificial tree on top of our bunker. I also was pleased and surprised to get a Christmas card from Bruce Pealer. Sgt. Pealer, a combat Vet from Johnson City, Tennesee had served with me at Ft. Jackson, How happy we were!
At about 10:00, we were given our orders for the evening. Don was going to go out on a night patrol; evidently Intelligence suspected enemy activity along the Cambodian border. Phil Glenn, a lanky, popular 19 year old from St. Paul, Arkansas; and Jose Olea, a seasoned, pistol packing sergeant from Buffalo, NY would also join the patrol, which eventually totalled nine. My instructions were to occupy and defend one of the others bunkers. Our perimeter consisted of deep bunkers, connected by deep trenches. We were 500 strong.
I was glad to see Hank Maul in my bunker. Justin Anderson, a tall blonde Swede from Chicago was also there. I engaged Malcom True, one of the new- est replacements, in conversation. True, who was from Tampa, Florida, had just arrived, along with Jimmy Walker from Red Oak, Oklahoma. The newest "grunt" told me he was married and his wife just had a baby. He was obviously very much in love and a tape recording from his wife was his constant companion.
At about midnight, Lt. Mosher told us to get ready-there was going to be a "Turkey Shoot"! We were told that there were 100 Gooks between the patrol and us, and that the patrol couldn't get back in.
We had no idea that 1500 hard core NVA soldiers were storming in from Cambodia. Little did we know we were outnumbered 3 to 1. I was shocked to find out many years later, that this had been a suicide mission; each enemy soldier had his grave marker strapped to his back. The sky suddenly lit up. It looked like daylight as illumination rounds floated from the sky, dangling from their parachutes. The sky was further brightened as ammo dumps exploded.
The four of us began firing our M16's through the narrow slots in our bunker. We blew all our claymore mines, still not fully understanding the hellish nightmare we were about to face. Malcom True and I climbed out of the bunker and vigorously heaved hand grenades. As we rejoined Hank and Anderson, a grenade suddenly exploded, filling our dark hole with deadly shrapnel. Almost in unison, we screamed, "I'm hit". We were lucky, none of us were hurt badly. We quickly got into position, and laid down a devas- tating hail of gunfire. Seconds later,a tremendous explosion filled the air. Anderson let out a blood curdling scream! He was within inches of me. Look- ing his way, I could see he was dead. My eyeglasses were blown off my face, as was my "steel pot". Not realizing my right leg was shattered, I started crawling behind True, out of the smoke filled hellhole, and into a muddy trench. We found another bunker filled with GI's, many already wounded. A young medic was doing his best to help those most in need. Having barely squeezed through the rear entrance, suddenly a thud hit in the mud next to me. My brain told me that a hand grenade was going to blow- the Gooks were inside the wire! Impulsively, I threw myselt towards the center of the blackened dundgeon.
Following the explosion there was a deadly silence. Trying desperately to regain my senses, I discovered three of my comrades still able to fight. One of them was a new replacement who had just arrived in country. I recall he was from New York City, was slightly over 5 feet tall, and fired a blooper (M-79 grenade launcher). Roger Cantrell, also a newcomer, was in good shape, as was Lynn Welker, a respected squad leader from Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Unable to move my lower body, I urged the others to keep firing. Un- believably, concussion grenades were tossed in; I still remember being hit in the face and hesitating to open my eyes for fear that I was blind. I'll never forget the sudden silence as my eardrums exploded and blood streamed down my face. My lungs and nostrils smelled like and felt like the inside of a gunbarrel, as yet a third grenade exploded, filling my belly with hot steel. As I laid there, I prayed that this would soon end. As I gazed into the area outside of our bunker, the bright light was again visible. The shadow of someone walking in a zombie-like manner appeared. Remarkably, Henry Maul had somehow found me, he crawled into our hole and collapsed by my side. He was somewhat delirious, and I urged him to stay quiet. From the corner of my eye, I could see Sgt. Welker climb out of the bunker and into the trenches. The silhouette of him firing his M-16 has been etched in my mind for 21 years-I remember seeing him hit by small arms fire and roll- ing past me into the bottom of the bunker. My many attempts to get a response from him were futile. He appeared to be dead.
Hope filled my head and mind as the gunships approached. Their guns rattled away, the enemy became silent. When the choppers departed to resupply, the enemy once again could be seen and heard scurring amoung us like deadly rats. At one point, an enemy soldier jumped into my shelter- this was probably the only time I thought I might die. What crazy thoughts were in my mind? Math! As a high school student, I was lousy at it, absolutely hated it. All I could think of was, "If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn't have worried so much about math.
Slowly, reaching for my weapon, and aiming at the Gooks heart, I suddenly was painfully aware that the gunbarrel was filled with mud. Gently, the weapon was placed beside me, my legs were curled up to protect my vital parts, and groping in the dark I found a fruitcake tin, which I plopped over my head in a desperate attempt to protect my head Miraculously, no bullets hit me as the "Dink" sprayed the interior of our bunker. How much time had passed? I don't know. Unconsiousness engulfed me.
When my eyes were again opened, there was daylight outside, but complete silence. A different kind of fear came over me. Who won the battle of Mole City? Were the NVA in control? Would I be taken prisoner? How bad are my wounds? The only other person moving was Cantrell. He mechanically told me his leg was no good, and he wanted a drink of water. Feeling a canteen under my torso, I dug with my fingers until I freed it and tossed it to my buddy.
The most beautiful sight I've ever seen was when a black Mortar Sergent poked his head into our blackened grave and rejoiced, "There are some Americans alive in here." I urged him to get Hank out first as he was hurt worse than I. He said,"You get out first, because you're blocking the entrance. Besides, your friend is dead.
I was flooded with emotion when became apparent that I was saved. The reality of what had happened these past seven hours struck me like lightning. The realization that most of my buddies were dead caused me to sob uncontrollably, as tears filled my eyes and fell onto my bloodied uniform. I was filled with anger and hate for having had to go through this. As the second shot of morphine entered my body, I sucked the life out of a Winston. Everyone could hear me screaming, "I hate this place." "What a horrible experience!" "Send me to L.B.J. (Long Binh Jail), because I refuse to come back."
The medics, who were picking steel out of my gut and leg, assured as I wouldn't have to return because, "You're going home." And I did.
When the medivac chopper landed at the 12th Evac hospital, I was shocked and thankful to see Lynn Welker, whom I thought was dead. We spoke briefly from our stretchers. I made contact with him again in 1990, via telephone. He is an accountant today. Hank Maul, Malcom True, and Justin Anderson all died. Phil Glenn and Donny Culshaw both died heros, as part of the patrol; Jose Olea survived that patrol and is a fireman in California. I've corresponded with the Glenn Family and have met personally with Don Culshaw's family. Jimmy Walker survived this battle unscathed, completed his tour and owns his own construction business in Oklahoma. Jimmy filled in many of the gaps of the Mole City Battle for me, as did Dan Gregory, another platoon member, now living in Montana. After 21 years, X-"Manchu" John Yelton from Newton, Utah is spearheading an effort to get all Charlie Company 4/9 25th Division members who served during 1/68 to 1/69 together for a reunion, especially those of us in the 2nd platoon.