NOTES FROM NAM

A blog based on 170+ letters and photos sent home from the Vietnam War.

  • Joe Lex

#07 September 1968, when I turn 21


I am a lifelong Chicago Bears fan. Gale Sayers, aka the Kansas Comet, was the best runner the Bears ever had until Walter Payton came along many years later.

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Battalion Action Report for September 02, 1968

At 1755 hours, an APC from Company A detonated an AT mine while conducting a sweep in the Michelin. Four Bobcats were wounded and the APC was written off as a combat loss.

At 2330 hours, an ambush patrol from Company B set up in the Michelin at XT 517506 opened fire on approximately 15 VC. In the firefight that followed, three Bobcats were wounded. There was one confirmed VC killed.


Battalion Action Report from September 03, 1968

At 1715 hours, Company C was engaged by enemy troops along Highway 239 between XT 4545 and 4645. During the course of the engagement the company received RPG, mortar and small arms fire. In the initial outbreak, one APC was hit and destroyed.

At 1820 hours, another APC was hit by RPG fire and also one towing a downed APC was hit. Helicopter Light Fire Teams, artillery fire and Super Spooky Gunships were utilized in suppressing the enemy fire along with the organic weapons of Company C.

At 2006 hours, Company B moved out of Dau Tieng to the edge of the Ben Cui on Highway 239.

At 2155 hours, Company A moved from the west gate to the edge of the rubber plantation. Company A passed through Company B and proceeded through the area of contact and back again. During the evening's engagement 33 Bobcats were wounded and one Bobcat from Company C died from the wounds he received. There were also two men wounded from the 65th Engineer Battalion.


Spooky gunship = Douglas AC-47 fixed wing gunship, also known as “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Of the 53 aircraft converted to AC-47 configuration, 41 served in Vietnam and 19 were lost to all causes, 12 in combat. All guns were mounted to be fired from the pilot’s left. Each of its three 7.62 mm miniguns could selectively fire either 50 or 100 rounds per second. Cruising in an overhead left-hand orbit at 120 knots air speed at an altitude of 3,000 feet (910 m), the gunship could put a bullet or glowing red tracer (every fifth round) bullet into every square yard of a football field-sized target in less than 10 seconds. And as long as its 45-flare and 24,000-round basic load of ammunition held out, it could do this intermittently while loitering over the target for hours.


Battalion Action Report for September 04, 1968

At 1715 hours, an APC from the Recon Platoon detonated an AT mine while moving through Ben Cui Village. Four Bobcats were wounded and the track was a combat loss.

At 2010 hours, a small VC force made a ground probe of the perimeter of the Dau Tieng Base Camp.

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I am not sure of the exact date of this photo, but I'm sure Tiny was predicting that I would have a gut like in the future - and he was right.




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Battalion Action Report for September 05, 1968

At 0730 hours, an APC from the Recon Platoon detonated an AT mine at XT 447453, south of the abandoned Ben Cui Air Strip. Four Bobcats were wounded and the track received minor damage.

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Battalion Action Reports for the first five days of September showed three occasions when an APC hit an anti-tank mine and "four Bobcats were injured." Many of these injuries happened when men were thrown from the top of the track by the explosion.






Roy Hodge, our new Battalion Surgeon, had a lost look on his face when Blinky and I picked him up at the airstrip. Imagine finishing med school and becoming a Battalion Surgeon less than three months later. He learned fast and eventually earned the nickname “Super Doc.” After his time in the Army, he became a well-loved pediatrician. He died a few years ago.

George Dickel, a Tennessee whisky, mixed with Dr. Pepper makes me shudder even today.

I was wrong about the photo from the Sun-Times, taken during the Battle of Ben Cui. When I put this on our Battalion Facebook page, Gary Young told me that the medic on the left was him. I have since sent him the original photo. The discoloration on the letters shows what happens when you store a newspaper article in a folded letter for nearly 50 years.


Battalion Action Report for September 11, 1968

At 0145 hours, Dau Tieng Base Camp started to receive a barrage of 11 mortar rounds. Company A was in a night perimeter at XT 437451, located about 300 meters west of the Ben Cui Air Strip. The Company C night perimeter was located at XT 463448, about 1000 meters southeast of Company A.

At 0425 hours, Company A started receiving mortar, RPG and small arms fire. They did sustain an unknown number of wounded in the initial contact. An enemy ground assault was also launched against the company perimeter. A helicopter LFT was on station at 0435 hours.

At 0444 hours, Company C fired mortar illumination over Company A.

At 0509 hours, Company C was alerted to be ready to move dismounted to Company A's location.

At 0533 hours Company A reported that they were receiving mortar and small arms fire from the south.

At 0542 hours, Company C was ordered to maneuver to prevent enemy movement to the northeast. The Recon Platoon was dispatched to relieve Company B providing security at the bridge site on the Saigon River.

At 0545 hours, Company B was ordered to prepare for air deployment.

At 0600 hours, Company A reported that they were receiving more fire from the northwest.

At 0611 hours, Company C reported that their lead element was pinned down by heavy sniper fire and that they had some wounded.

At 0630 hours, Company C reported that they were fighting off an assault on their position from the west. Airstrikes with napalm were utilized as well as helicopter gunships.

At 0745 hours, Company B was air inserted at XT 454434 and then proceeded north toward the Ben Cui Airstrip. Company A, 3/22 Infantry was flown in from Tay Ninh to an LZ to the north at XT 440463.

At 0711 hours, the Dust-offs for Company A, 1/5th(M) were complete.

At 0833 hours, Company C was instructed to move from their night perimeter due west.

At 0905 hours, Company C established a blocking position and Company B swept towards them.

At 1100 hours, Company A, 3/22nd Infantry was extracted from the area. Company B swept through the Ben Cui Village and then joined Company A, 1/5th(M) and helped in policing the area of VC bodies and equipment. It was estimated that the attacking enemy force had been near battalion size.

At 1635 hours, Company A closed Dau Tieng Base Camp. Company B established their night perimeter at XT 438451, where Company A had been the night before. Three Bobcats were killed and 20 were wounded during the encounter.

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3/22nd Infantry = the “Regulars,” temporarily assigned to the 25th Division; we also worked with the 2/22nd (Mechanized) or “triple deuce”

This was the day on which Ron Soppe's actions brought him the Distinguished Service Cross. Ron was a line medic with Alpha Company.


You would think that I remembered doing shoulder surgery on a monkey, but nope. Maybe it was all the George Dickel and Dr. Pepper. Or that the whole experience of being there was so surrealistic that I, a 20 year old, was taking shrapnel out of a snarling furry creature was just another day-in-the-life.



I am no triskaidekaphobic, but even today reading the account of track #13 on Friday the 13th strikes me as spooky. That would be the second track in the Battalion Action Report

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Battalion Action Report from September 14, 1968

At 1250 hours, an APC from Company B detonated an AT mine on Highway 239, two kilometers east of Highway 26. Two Bobcats were wounded. A short time later a second APC from Company B detonated another AT mine in the same area, wounding six Bobcats.

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My paternal grandmother Marie C. Rohan Lex lived a long life (1890-1991) and is buried in Springfield, Illinois. My middle name "Rohan" was her maiden name. She was a very religious Irish Catholic who married a German Catholic, John A. Lex, and had four children. I remember conversations with her about growing up in central Illinois. She would tell stories about how it was published in the newspaper the day before a fancy new airplane would fly overhead, so everyone was outside looking up when it happened. She was born in the time of horse-and-buggy and died during the Gulf War.

Cousin Dick and I were close growing up, as we were only two years apart, but we have lost touch since. He might be referring to a letter when I said that all the line medics were put in for Silver Stars during the Battle of Ben Cui. I was not a line medic.

đi đi mau is Vietnamese for "Get lost!" or "Hurry up!" If you've seen the movie "The Deer Hunter," you'll remember it from the Russian roulette scene. If you're a Simpsons fan, you may recall Bart humiliating Principal Skinner, a former Green Beret and prisoner of war, by shouting it at him in the episode "Skinner's Sense of Snow."



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Battalion Action Report from September 16, 1968

Company A was set up in a night defensive perimeter at the Ben Cui Air Strip near XT 443451.

At 0020 hours, a flare ship was operating over the area of the perimeter. Enemy movement had been observed to the south of the perimeter since late evening.

After 0100 hours Company A received heavy RPG, small arms and automatic weapons fire as well as a ground assault against the perimeter.

At 0122 hours, contact was reported as still heavy and that two Bobcats had been killed and three wounded, so far.

At 0150 hours, Company A reported a renewed ground assault coming from the west.

At 0209 hours, Company A reported that the enemy contact had ceased. An occasional RPG round was fired at the perimeter during the remainder of the morning.

Dust-offs were completed at 0402 hours. It was an estimated reinforced enemy company that attacked the Company A position. Company A suffered two Bobcats killed and ten wounded.

Later in the day at 1136 hours, an APC from Company C detonated an AT mine on Highway 239, about 200 meters east of the junction of Highways 239 and 26. Four Bobcats were wounded. Company B, 1/5th(M) relieved Company A and occupied the night defensive position at the Ben Cui Air Strip.


Battalion Action Report from September 17, 1968

At 0202 hours, Company B reported that they were receiving mortar, RPG and small arms fire from the north and east.

At 0220 hours, Company B reported that it was receiving a heavy ground attack.

At 0325 hours, RPG and automatic weapons fire was still being received.

At 0422 hours, Company B reported that enemy contact had ceased. Air strikes were being employed in the area.

At 0435 hours, Company B requested a dust-off.

At 0452 hours, another enemy ground assault was launched against the perimeter. Enemy mortar fire was also received. The assault was short lived.

At 0516 hours, dust-offs were again requested.

By 0640 hours, the dust-offs were completed. Two Bobcats from Company B were killed in the contact and fourteen were wounded.

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Battalion Action Report for September 20, 1968

Company A was again occupying the night defensive perimeter at the Ben Cui Airstrip.

At 0005 hours, the night base started receiving a heavy volume of RPG and mortar fire. The Communists then launched a ground assault with an estimated battalion sized force. Artillery, helicopter gun ships, air strikes and a “Spooky” gun ship were all used in repulsing the assault. Five Bobcats were wounded in the attack. Three more Bobcats from Company A were wounded when a booby trap was detonated as elements policed up enemy bodies and equipment from around the perimeter.

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I wish that I could remember what was so exciting in the "box of books" that required "16 man-hours before all the colors showed on four sides. Some sort of pre-Rubik's Cube?

We had many mascots that came and went, both at base camp and forward. I don't remember what happened to any of them. I wonder how dumb I thought my parents were. “Cannabis” means something in Latin my ass.


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Battalion Action Report for September 23, 1968

Dau Tieng Base Camp was hit by 7 rounds of 82mm mortar fire.

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Unlike my mother, who kept everything I sent home, I - to my great regret - kept nothing. This was my 21st birthday and I had gotten many cards and gifts, none of which have survived. Julie Johnson was the youngest sister of my girlfriend Becky, Karen was her older sister and Bette her mother, who was sort of my second mother while I was growing up. Big Foot Charlie was one of their cats, a polydactyl.



I would put good money that the 3-star didn’t say “The enemy hasn’t learned that they just can’t FOOL with that outfit.” Even though it says “A TRUE COPY.” We did receive the Presidential Unit Citation, but only long after most of us left country.



Why did I change from cursive to block letters? I have no idea. I must also have been one of the few soldiers who preferred writing with a fountain pen over ballpoint or pencil. I am still picky about my pens and very pen-retentive. Sitting in front of me is a pen that I used from 1982-86 in medical school and 1986-89 in residency before I retired it. The pen I currently use is one that I received as an award for being the first member of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine to be made a "Master of Emergency Medicine" in February 2012. In between, I believe that I used four other pens.



Ron "Soupy" Soppe was a farm kid from Iowa who actually acted like a farm kid from Iowa, except that he kept a diary, which he eventually published. I have a copy of it in front of me now. It reminds me that what he and the other line medics did was very different from what I did. I cannot emphasize that enough.


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Battalion Action Report for September 29, 1968

The Recon Platoon provided convoy escort between Dau Tieng and Tay Ninh.

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The French villa was definitely one of the high points of my stay in Viet Nam. I wish that I Had pictures of it. I still can't believe that we had our own bar in the aid station, although that didn't last long. It is also amusing to read about the fascination we had with finally being able to flush a toilet. It was like being in a 1-star motel and we were in heaven, having spent the last several months sleeping on the ground or cots or my hammock in the BIg Angel.

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During September 1968, ten Bobcats died in Viet Nam. They were: Richard A. Akin Jr. Albert L. Lazzarotto Akos D. Szekely Thomas W. Roberts Donald R. Butler Dave C. Dahlin Lowell E. Lunzmann Colombo P. Del Terzo Ronald W. Zydel Arnold B. Wimberly

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