Saber Article Index

2020 Jan-Feb

When I had gotten no information from anyone, I had asked about who invited D 1-5 Cav Platoon Leader Joel Chase to the 15th MED Assn Reunion, I just asked Joel himself. Joel said it was Tom Garnella, whom Joel had been an instructor for at Ft. Benning Infantry OCS. I wondered what Tom, as an infantry officer was doing in the 15th Medical Battalion, so I researched his email and contacted him.

Tom Garnella got back to me and said, “Yes, I certainly and proudly know Joel. He is one of the five most important men in my life. Do you know the Ft. Benning and FSB Buttons story for the two of us? “I was already to be commissioned as a 2nd LT, Infantry but when that day came, I was commissioned as a 2nd LT Medical Service Corps. When I went to Nam, I was assigned to the 15th Med Bn, Company B, First Air Cav, Jan 70 to Jan 71. Became a 1LT six months at FSB Buttons and then remainder of time at HHC, Phouc Vinh. I was a 3506 which was sort of an administrative/ logistics type of guy. Worked alongside such fine men as: CPT Jon Lundquist, Richard Schroder, Rich Leonard, and CPT Dean Stoller. It was Stoller who helped me ‘find’ Joel after 45 years or so.”

I emailed Tom a lot of questions. He replied, “It’s been fifty years, just call me.” So, I called Tom and we spoke at length. He said at the time when he graduated from OCS the Army wanted infantry minded officers to be MSC (Medical Service Corps) Officers. Tom said he had the qualifications the Army was looking for, both mentally and physically, so he got that commission.

Tom said he had grown up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. I remarked that I too lived there about the same time, we both in Van Nuys, and I later in Granada Hills. I was there from ages four to seven, and Tom was much older. My father worked for the VA at Wadsworth and Sepulveda, then took a Chief Physical Therapist opening at Leeds, MA, and I was there until I joined the Army in 1968. Tom said something about moving to Montana with his mother. After the Army Tom said that he taught school in Beverly Hills, CA. This could be the reason he is a good communicator and listener.

I had mentioned in past columns SGT Howard Anderson from my platoon in C 2-7 Cav. Mainly, because he was my influence to extend for six months after I had DEROSed to fly on MEDEVAC, because he was so impressed with the way they had come in for us to pick up our wounded. Howard had a unique way of looking at things and he always kept us spirited in the platoon.

Howard told us that when he was in Infantry AIT at Ft. Lewis, WA, being sent to Vietnam with that MOS concerned him so he asked his sergeant how it would be. Howard said his sergeant told him he should be OK unless he got in the 1st Cav. To probably allay him some, his sergeant told him, “They could make you a clerk.” So, here’s Howard with some optimism about his future. He gets to Nam at the Replacement Center and his orders say “15th Admin,” so he thinks, ‘Yeah, they’re going to make me a clerk!”

Well, all who were in the 1st Cav know that the 15th Admin was the 1st Cav’s replacement center. With a critical 11B MOS Howard found his dream of being a clerk went up with the smoke of the battlefield.

So, here’s Howard as a lowly infantryman wanting to survive as a clerk. And here’s Tom, who was destined to be an infantry officer with a very questionable survival rate but ends up as a clerk.

Tom said that he was in the emergency room at 15th MED on FSB Buttons in Song Be when the casualties came in from FSB David in June 1970. Tom said he saw Joel come in very badly wounded and was so affected that he had to tell the doctor that he had to leave. It was very emotional for him.

 I got a telephone call on the morning of December 5th from Ronnie Mays who was ecstatic because he had read my column. Ronnie said that he was at FSB David throughout that fight. He was in C 2-19 Artillery, which were 105 mm howitzers. We talked for a good hour. I asked a lot of questions, and he answered them all, and told me a lot.

15th Med Bn VietnamRonnie said he was about a hundred yards from the aid station. He said the wounded were being brought there and were also being shot on the way. Ronnie said his battery got involved immediately when it started to happen. He said they were shooting “Killer Juniors”- which were mechanically short timed fuses for direct fire. I asked him about flechette rounds and he said they had them, but the Killer Juniors were better.

15th Med Bn VietnamRonnie said that a good friend of his, Larry Diesburg, was also very badly wounded. Larry said on the Echo Recon site that he was on the berm. He said he was to be on radio watch in the tactical center when the trip flare went off and he went to the berm with a couple of guys. He says he was hit with several pieces of shrapnel and took a bullet through his upper thigh. He crawled over to the mortar pit and applied pressure to his wrist area where the main artery was cut. Larry says it seemed like forever before the firing stopped and he was carried to the triage area. Larry says he was originally with C 2-19 Artillery, but a month earlier took an assignment carrying the radio for the infantry. Ronnie says that would have been for the artillery FO in the infantry unit.

Ronnie said that he saw everything. He said that the aid station area was littered with the wounded who had been treated by the doctor and were wrapped in the plastic like Dr. Walker said. Ronnie told me, “I don’t know how they did it-because the place was socked in with fog, but a MEDEVAC came in and hovered over the aid station but was taking so much fire it had to leave.” No one else said anything like this. I asked Ronnie if that wasn’t the MEDEVAC that came in at 6 am but he said, “No! That was in the middle of the night! I saw it!” I had to believe him the way he said it.

Ronnie said that in the morning a bunch of guys from the artillery went down to see the dead NVA bodies before the grunts did their sweep of the area. That wasn’t a good idea because an NVA straggler was hiding behind a foo gas barrel and opened on them.

15th Med Bn VietnamRonnie said he has been in touch with Larry Diesburg in the past after Nam but has lost contact even though Larry posted on the Echo Recon site. Ronnie says his message to Larry wasn’t answered. Ronnie says Larry was from Wisconsin. Ronnie says he is from Indiana and driving down to the 1st Cav Reunion in Louisville will not be far and plans to go. I asked Ronnie what he did after he got out of the Army and he said that he was a machinist. Because I had been a machinist, I knew of the Cincinnati CNC mills with which he said he worked. Ronnie said that he had gotten Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma due to Agent Orange which he beat with chemotherapy, but the side effects of the chemo still bother him. Not everyone who were treated for that with chemotherapy survived.

 Ronnie said that he got in country in Vietnam in December of 1969. He said he was originally on LZ-FSB Ike but went to many other places after that. He said he lost count. He said that when the Cambodian Incursion happened, they were sent up to Loc Ninh and attached to the 11th ACR. When they went across the border C 2-19 Artillery was flown up to where they were at FSB North. Ronnie said, “I never saw so many tracks!”

15th Med Bn VietnamRonnie said that they eventually went up to FSB David. He agreed with me and said the rolling green hills there were beautiful. He said it reminded him of Oklahoma, which he should know well, going through Ft. Sill in Artillery AIT. Ronnie said that before the attack at FSB David his battery went out on a MEDCAP and met some Montagnards, who were nice people. He said they hated the NVA and said that on another visit their elders said that some drunken NVA had come, took from them what the Americans had given to them, and were bragging about how they were ordered to kill everyone on that firebase.

I had put Joel Chase in touch with Ronnie. I never heard from Joel about him but when I had to talk to Ronnie again, he said Joel had contacted him. He said that Joel asked him how they were able to shoot out and not hit any of them. Ronnie told me they set up quadrants and would, believe it or not, yell “Look out!” like down in front.

Ronnie told me that after the battle at FSB David they were told to pack up, that they were leaving. Ronnie said that just before they left his first sergeant told them to unpack, that they had to stay overnight. This was not good news, as you can imagine.

Ronnie said that there was another company of grunts from 1-5 Cav that stayed with part of his battery on the then abandoned FSB. Ronnie said that there were also NVA beyond them who all night fired recoilless rounds (RPG-B40s) at them. They managed to kill one grunt whom Ronnie said was in a hammock. Ronnie said that it was thanks to Puff the Magic Dragon, a gunship that kept the NVA off them until they finally left the next morning.

Ever since I was first contacted by Joel Chase, we have been trying to find out who had MEDEVACed him-how he went out. Joel at one point said that he and the E 1-5 Cav CO concurred that he went out on the hook. Then, Joel more recently one day told me that it was MEDEVAC pilot Henry Tuell, and Medic Dan Brady who brought him in. When I asked where he got that information, Joel said he was told that by Terry McCarl in the 15th MED Assn. Terry gave Joel Henry Tuell’s email address and Joel made contact. Okie said, “Joel, fairly certain I flew this mission. Remember a hook coming in after one of our runs to take out some walking wounded. With a thousand hours of combat flight time in a year the missions blur. Am impressed with some of the crew guys that remember many of the flights. Am going to try to make the reunion in Idaho in April. We spend February and March in Arizona riding horses so will depend on getting back to Montana in time. Keep smiling, Hank.”

Still, that was nothing conclusive to Joel. I asked him if he contacted Dan Brady, and as Medic would have hands on, if Joel was on board. Joel said” Yes, I have been in contact with Dan Brady, and he says he doesn’t recall ‘walking wounded’ on his lift-Okie probably meant the walking wounded went out on the hook when he saw them come in. However, he does recall one severely wounded Troop who could have been me as I was in serious condition on a stretcher. That was the first bird out of David and then the hook landed as I understand it. Dr. Walker could probably clear this up if he would return my calls left on his phone.”

Then, right after he sent that to me Joel emailed, “Mike, you aren’t going to believe this, but I just got off the phone with Jon Walker! He remembers my situation and indicated I was in bad condition. We had a half hour conversation which brought tears to my eyes because it’s kind of filled a void in my life and answered some questions about why I am still alive today. It simply wasn’t my time to die and Dr. Walker had a significant role in enabling me to turn 75 this year in relatively good health. Dr. Walker confirmed that I went out on the Huey piloted by Hank Tuell and medic Dan Brady. Case solved.”

Always remembering our 1st Cav Troops on duty around the world; over and out.

FIRST TEAM! Garryowen
Mike Bodnar 2\7 '69 MEDEVAC 1-7\70

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