30 Years Later:
A Vietnam War

Dan Fisher

It has been 27 years since I served in South Vietnam. Some memories from that time remain burned in my mind. Others are more ellusive, a fog in history. This story begins well before I came in-country, and I only became aware of it recently, some 30 years after it happened, while reading the 6-29 Field Artillery unit history files for 1969.

"During the first two weeks of January 1969, activity was light in Kontum Province as the 6th Battalion 29th Field Artillery continued its operations in the Dak To area. On 21 January 1969, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division terminated operations in that area and established a new Brigade Forward Command Post at FSB McNerney. Contact was very light and sporadic throughout the Brigade AO during the early part of February, however the maneuver elements found numerous huts, fortified positions, weapons, rice and ordnance storage areas. Artillery activity during this period consisted mainly of firing on intelligence targets and firing Night Firing Programs based on target data gathered by the maneuver elements. Extensive aerial reconaissance missions were conducted by the battalion S-2/S-3 elements in order to pin-point selected enemy locations, trail and bunker complexes, bivouac areas and routes of movement. The information gathered during these aerial reconnaissance missions was used to prepare night firing programs.

On 15 February 1969, the 1st Brigade received the mission to move to the southwest Kontum City and conduct offensive operations against the 24th and 66th NVA regiments. Intelligence reports indicated that these enemy elements had been given the mission to attack Kontum City and interdict Highway 14. In order to facilitate command and control the 1st Brigade and 6/29 Arty deployed a Tactical Command Post to Plei Mrong. Contacts with enemy elements throughout the operations were numerous, but small. On 28 February 1969, 1st Brigade terminated operations in the vicinty of Plei Mrong and moved the Tactcal CP, maneuver elements, and artillery to the vicinity of Polei Kleng and subsequent deployment into the Plei Trap Valley area.

The 1st Brigade's mission at its new location was to block and destroy NVA transportation routes in the Plei Trap Valley. The 6th Battalion 29th Field Artillery, as the direct support battalion to the 1st Brigade, moved its operations center, with the Brigade TOC, from Plei Mrong to Polei Kleng to facilitate control of the operation.

The operation began on 1 March 1969 with the CA of A/3/12 Infantry into LZ Swinger. The LZ was considered of primary importance for artillery when the 155mm howitzers of C/6/29 Artillery were emplaced at that location the majority of the Brigade could be supported by their fires. A/6/29 Artillery began its move from Polei Kleng to FSB 20 of the same day. C/6/29 Artillery moved to LZ Pause on 1 March 1969, and B/6/29 Artillery left Plei Mrong, spending the night at FSB Mary Lou. All artillery moves were completed by 3 March 1969.

Late in the afternoon 3 March, A/3/8 Infantry made contact with an estimated enemy company. Initial contact was heavy and the RTO in the Artillery Forward Observer Party was killed in the first few minutes. Elements of 3/8 Infantry remained in contact with the NVA forces through 6 March. B/6/29 and C/6/29 Artillery fired a total of 4478 rounds HE, 58 FC rounds, and 8 CS rounds, primarily in support of the contacts and as preparations for the combat assault of reinforcements.

At 0850 hours on 4 March, the air strip at Polei Kleng received 14 rounds of 122mm rocket fire, which destroyed the artillery resupply Class V waiting on the helicopter pad to be airlifted to the firebases.

The resulting fires and explosions not only destroyed approximately 900 rounds of 105mm HE ammunition but also the five remaining sorties to complete the move of B/6/29 Artillery. During the rocket attack the Executive Officer of B/6/29 Artillery was critically wounded."

This is all that is known about this action. Names of the two casualties, were not specified, and this is the mystery. Who were these two heros?

Research has shown that over 20 men of the 4th Infantry Division were killed in action in Kontum Province on 3 March 1969. Of these, the RTO killed on 3 Mar 69 appears to be PFC Layne Michael Santos, Panel 30W, Line 30. His specialty was 13A10, Artillery. The only casualty with an artillery specialty killed that day.

The XO, critcally wounded on 4 Mar 69, was not mentioned as having died. However, from research into casualties on the very next day, he appears to be 1LT Ronald Leonard Warnett, Panel 30W, Line 50. He died of wounds received, on 5 Mar 69. His specialty was 1193, Artillery. Again, the only casualty with an artillery specialty during the period.

All of the names listed on Panel 30W, between Line 30 and Line 50 are 4th Infantry Division soldiers, for the most part. Except for the two names noted above, all are infantry related specialties, which rule them out as the unidentified casualties mentioned in our unit history files.

Research has not yet positively confirmed these men as the soldiers mentioned in the story. I never knew either of these men, but 30 years after their deaths, I find myself consumed with confirming the identities of these two men. Hopefully, with time I can find some closure in this story, and recognize our unknowns.

Secondary Identity Confirmation Received!

PFC Santos was confirmed as a casualty of 6-29 FA by Albert Jasquez, former A/3-8 Infantry.

1LT Warnett was confirmed by Tom LaCombe, former B/3-12 Infantry, AND Jim Lehmann, B/6-29 FA Medic.

Related Note: The Center For Military History has information which may be pertinet to this story, but it must be viewed "in person" by the reseacher! Copies are not available by request, and personal resources preclude my going there to investigate furthur. After action reports do not usually include casualty names, only units and numbers.

VNIT-588 Company A, 3d Battalion, 8th Infantry
Combat after action report, ambush and attack by NVA, 3-4 March 1969.
Account by a survivor when his 4th Infantry Division unit encountered overwhelming enemy force.

Dan Fisher, Master Sergeant, Retired
email at msgfisher@global2000.net



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