Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry

The Gunfighters


Joining the Gunfighters

by Jim Bertrand, 1st Platoon




Recollections of joining the Gunfighters, the Tet Offensive of 1968 and The Battle of Lo Giang

by Jim Bertrand,  Gunfighter Jan 1968 to Dec.1968.

I was a green replacement when I joined the 198th LIB mid-January 1968.

But first, I had Basic at Ft. Dix, NJ. and when the E-9 from my basic training outfit was reading the names and locations for the next assignments he called my name and another GI’s and said - “Ft. Polk and may God have mercy on your souls”.  I thought great! Ft. Polk, LA, Tigerland etc.

After spending 2 weeks of indoctrination on the South China Sea at Chu Lai. We were trucked out to LZ Gator where I began walking up the hill with the half a dozen other replacements. Coming down the steep hill was a jeep with two well seasoned GIs, one sporting a hillbilly hat and pump shotgun, the other was in camouflage fatigues. They stopped and looked us up and down and the GI with the hillbilly hat laughed and said, "Fresh meat". It was the point man Alan Allen, from the 1st platoon and a LRRP driving into the village of Nuc Mou.


Jim Bertrand                   




I reported to 1st Sgt. Rodriguez on LZ Gator, as I had been assigned to Alpha Company which was occupying LZ Chippewa, a small fire base west of LZ Gator. He took all the gear that was given me at the indoctrination facility and put it in a foot locker in one of the tents. As he moved the locker a bunch of brightly colored orange and yellow centipedes scurried out, each looked to be the biggest insects I’d ever seen.

I was choppered out and joined the 1st platoon which was on bunker guard with the mortar platoon. The CP group and 2nd and 3rd platoons were out on maneuvers. That evening I bunked with the 2nd Lieutenant of the 1st platoon, a very young looking William Wendover.

Lt. Wendover, shown at left,  had a very confident military bearing and appeared to be very proud of the Gunfighters. My indoctrination was listening to the Gunfighter’s song, The Spirit of the Gunfighters, which he had on a reel to reel tape recorder. I was impressed. I worked a Prc25 that evening performing Sit Reps (Situation Reports) for 3 hours with the outposts and squads out on ambush.

The next day I met a few of the guys, one of which was Michael Pumillo. He was later killed at the battle of Lo Giang, which was painful as he was a likeable guy.  That morning I was assigned to one of the two outposts that Chippewa had. They were perpendicular to each other a hundred meters or so from the bunker line. I met Jim Fontana there, who was from Lackawanna N.Y., 30 miles away from Batavia where I was from.

I remember while looking over the mountainous valley I heard a strange whooshing sound growing louder. I looked all around, then realized it was a pair of Hornbill Toucans flying by the outpost. I thought to myself, "I’m not in
New York anymore." 


That afternoon I witnessed the Gunfighters in an air combat assault down in the valley in front of the outpost. It was an image that has never left me because of the great viewing position I had. The CP Group 2nd and 3rd platoons choppered into the valley after two sets of gunships sprayed the area.               


From the outpost I could see the first wave arrive, deploy fire tracers, then go out in a circle around the departing choppers. The 2nd wave landed and I watched as the company formed up and chased a squad of V.C. up the adjacent mountain, all the while listening to the action on the radio. This was an important occurrence to me as it set a standard for the gutsy spirit that the Gunfighters had. This was due to the fact they had all gone through basic and advanced infantry training at Ft. Hood together and then shipped over by boat in October 1967. No doubt about it, I had ended up in an ass kicking group and wondered how long it would take me to become part of this machine.



I met Captain Frances Xavier Brennan, who had a bold air about him, which fit the Gung Ho attitude that all the troops had. This was his second tour, the first yielding several citations for valor - see photo at right.  A veteran commanded this company! 


For the next few weeks it was bunker guard during the day and ambushes at night. There was talk about the up coming Tet New Year and in the evening you could hear the clacking of bamboo being struck together by the villagers near by. From the candle lit village, the sound started slowly, speeding to an abrupt end. I was told that it was a form of Sit Reps from the village. The ambushes were long and cold with little or no action.

February 6th or 7th. the entire company was ordered outside the barbed wire bunker line to do a familiarization of weapons. Test firing our M16s, M60s and M79s etc… An E7 was responsible for demonstrating the M72 LAW. The company was split in half to accommodate the back blast and SFC Robert C. Van Horn went through the cocking procedure. He placed it on his shoulder and depressed the firing button on top....nothing. He then went through the recocking procedure 2 more times, which yielded the same results ...nothing .  On the 3rd attempt to close it, the LAW jammed open. He was fumbling with it and in an attempt to close it, hit the end on the ground and yes sir, that baby fired. Fired straight up!  We had no where to run as behind us was row after row of concertina and tangle foot.  I just remember hitting the ground and covering up as the rocket from the LAW came down 30 or so yards in front of us. The startled Van Horn was burned on his legs and arms and was evacuated so someone could tend to his injuries.




The 7th of February was a day spent re-supplying our C-Rats and ammo. I was given a radio to carry for one of the squads in the 1st platoon. The rest of the day was spent sitting on the Tarmac waiting to see which direction the battalion was sending us.

In the late afternoon we loaded into choppers and headed north some 50 miles. Our destination was just south of the Da Nang airbase, by a Marine encampment off Highway 1, I believe. By the time we had all deployed it was dark and I mean no-moon dark.

We got in column and started heading north walking on the top of a rice paddy berm a couple meters across. The CP group, 2nd, 3rd, and the mortar platoon were in front leading the column. We knew we were in close proximity to the Marine camp, but not quite sure of its location. From our left front we received heavy fire hitting the berm at the head of the column. We all jumped down on the opposite side into the rice paddy. It looked to me like a 50 cal. but I couldn't confirm that. It's my opinion that the fire came from friendly forces as nothing came of it.

We humped for what seemed to be half the night but I'm sure it was only a few hours. I remembered
Ft. Polk Tigerland training and doing the same thing in the dark, but this time it was different, there were real bullets and every step could have been my last. We entered a wooded area, across the 500 meter rice paddy from the village of Lo Giang, through a graveyard and loggered for the night just in the woodline.




Throughout the night there were flares and small arms going off which seemed to be all around us. The morning came grey and cool, and for me a feeling of not knowing what to expect for this was the first full-company operation I was on. We ate our C-Rats and prepared to cross the rice paddy on-line. The mortar platoon set up in the rather large graveyard that was just outside the wooded area where we had loggered.

Moving from the graveyard toward Lo Giang (1) , the 2nd Platoon was on the left and the 3rd was on it’s right side. The 1st was slightly back and on the right side. I was on the very end of the right side as we began to take the slow walk, some 500 hundred meters to the woodline across the rice field. The ground was dry and the rice was brown, which gave a feeling of autumn or early winter.

We had traversed about three-quarters of the field when I saw the 2nd Platoon take the full force of the salvo unleashed at us. Had the NVA dispersed their fire wider I might not be writing this account. We pulled back and as the mortar platoon fired the 81MM across the field. I heard zip snap, zip snap repeatedly over my head. I saw 5 to 6 NVA with khaki colored outfits and the large looking pith helmets hunched over, moving lateral to the woodline, their rifles at their sides. I had not been given tracers so the best I could do was empty magazine, after magazine into their general direction.

Within a very short time of the initial encounter, a Marine chopper dropped additional ammo on our position. I had 40 magazines with me and was told later that the Marines go into battle very light and that is why we were re-supplied so quickly.

There were a series of air strikes and artillery. I thought they were Navy Corsairs doing the bombing, at least that’s what the memory says. One of us, dressed in a black tee shirt, unarmed and dazed, was walking back toward the graveyard when a Huey fired rockets at him. I just don’t remember if he made it or not. The rest of the day was spent loading our dead, and blood soaked equipment, into choppers. I was numb, never having experienced a firefight and one with such intensity.

Night came and we were 25 or so and I was shaking in my boots. There weren’t any RTOs left so I was conscripted by Lt. Wendover. We had to go across the field and west toward the sea to check out the village. I believe later a portion of another company joined us to bring our strength up. 

We went into Lo Giang to check out the
CAP Echo 4 Marine post that had been abandoned, see photo at right.  Then we were trucked to LZ Baldy to lick our wounds and get replacements. One Hell of a Tet!  I remember feeling great sadness in thinking that the crack unit I had been assigned to might never be the same. And, I had 11 months to go. 





Jim Betrand

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