23 Nov 1999
Marion "Butch" Eakins
and the other men of
9th Infantry Division, 4/47th Battalion, C Company - 2nd Platoon -
"Mobile Riverine Force". Area of Operation: Mekong Delta.
This is also for Phil Ferro, a fellow platoon member and a fellow graduate of my high school class in Northridge, California - Cleveland High - Summer of 1964.
It's been more than 30 years since that awful day when we lost these young men, yet I can remember it almost like it was yesterday. Throughout all of these years I have never forgotten the friends that were lost and much of the circumstances that wiped out so many lives.
This is my memory of July 11, 1967:
The day started out like so many other days - another "search & destroy" patrol. We were dropped off by the Navy's landing craft very early that morning and for several hours, it seemed like we were on another long, boring, hot and sweaty, hike from one dry rice paddy to the next. Each rice paddy was bordered by a tree line. Lieutenant Jack Benedick ordered each squad to take turns going recon over the rice paddy to the next tree line. The idea being that if we encountered VC in the trees then the whole platoon would avoid ambush. My squad had just completed a recon and then it was SSGT Smith's squad that ventured into the next paddy towards another treeline. To that point, it seemed like another tedious patrol.
When Sergeant Smith, Harold King, Phil Ferro, Butch Eakins, and the others reached halfway into the clearing, Lieutenant Benedick ordered the rest of us to advance from the trees into the paddy. SSGT Smith's squad was almost across the paddy and the rest of us were well out there when all hell broke loose. The whole platoon was immediately pinned down. The Viet Cong had been laying in ambush for us and they waited to open fire until the recon squad got really close. At first, we didn't know what happened to our recon guys; we were all trying to lay low and crawl out to them.
Everyone was firing like crazy and bullets were flying all over the place. You could barely lift your head without a bullet zingin' by. I was carrying a radio that day and I stayed in contact with Lieutenant Benedick and the other radio men - there were no messages coming from the recon squad. Lieutenant Benedick really wanted us to reach the guys out there, but it was impossible. He called in "willy peter" artillery for a smoke screen so that we could reach them, but it was too windy. I can remember how afraid I was when the shells started coming in and I just knew we were all going to be blown to smithereens. Luckily, the shelling was on target.
We laid out there and tried to reach the guys all the rest of that day, but when darkness came, Lieutenant Benedick called for us to pull back to the last treeline. None of us slept that night, but we could see some nightime map lights moving about out there in the paddy. We were tempted to fire but we couldn't because our guys were out there.
The next morning at first light, two of the recon guys came walking up to us. Frank Swann, our machine gunner, had been hit in the chest and he was being helped by Henry Hubbard, who miraculously escaped the ordeal without a scratch. They told us that they were lying all night behind a rice paddy dike fairly close to Phil, Butch, Harold, and Sergeant Smith. They were holding grenades with the pins pulled in case the Viet Cong found them. The map lights that we had seen during the night were used by the enemy to collect the weapons and ammo from our fallen comrades. Lieutenant Benedick called for a chopper to take Frank out and then we went across the paddy to find our guys lying there.
I'm certain Phil never knew what hit him and it was obvious that the others had returned fire for as long as they could; empty shells were laying all around them. When the chopper came in for our dead, myself and a few others were asked to help put them on the chopper. That's when I broke down and I couldn't help - it was just too painful to see my friends like that.
As for the Viet Cong, they had cleared out during the night. Except for one that apparently didn't have time.
After the mission ended, I learned that another buddy, Elmer Kenney, was also killed during that same action. I don't recall the circumstances, but I do recall being shaken up upon hearing about Kenney. He was a really decent guy from Canoga Park and I remember that he was married. I can't even imagine the pain that was felt by all of the family members to these men.
All of us in the 2nd Platoon were upset and beginning to believe none of us would get out of Nam alive. We had endured a large battle and many casualties just several weeks earlier.
I only hope that this letter serves to honor these men - they should not have died over there. I, and the other soldiers that served with them, will forever remember them in our hearts.
P.S. If other Charlie Company soldiers read this and can add to my story, it would be very much appreciated. Welcome Home!!