"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Michael Lansford: Hill 937, Part 4

Michael Lansford - Hamburger Hill

"Hamburger Hill" 

10 MAY '69 through 20 MAY '69

At first sight, it looked like any other hill out there.  Problem was, this one was alongside the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  It resupplied the south through the mountain pass between North Vietnam and Laos, right down the middle of the Ashau Valley.

It had been prepped before going in, but the NVA were dug in and they had high ground along with booby traps, mines, and claymores in the treelines and it was pretty well set up. Nothing moved them.

I was with a 155 split trail artty bttry, 2nd 11th Bttry. We set up at the base of the hill for more direct fire, very direct.

Before all that, I had volunteered to do recon with whomever was going out, just to get away from base camp, so we had a first hand look at what was really there. They were in for the long run.

The elephant grass was about 12 ft high, or more, it seemed anyway, very thick and very sharp. We cleared an LZ so we could get troops on the ground.

Hill 937 - Day 1
It started out real quiet the first day. Troops were in, 155s set up, so off we went.  It didn't take long before traps went off, etc., small arms fire, then the big guns started in on us.

Their advantage was, they shot at us from Laos, the old "Neutral" country, with 122 rockets and 85 pack howitzers, mortars, and the usual stuff. Add a few snipers and volia -- Combat 101.

Three of our 155's got taken out, so I went out with one of the grunt units.  We had several: 2/501st, 3/187th 1/506th, and a few others. I don't remember any South Vietnamese there, but there may have been. Most of them hid behind us anyway and if it looked like we were losing, they switched sides. Just one of their specialties.

As time wore on, we all just got numb to everything around us, except each other. When someone got hit, the medics were always there first, regardless, but we were all trauma trained a little so we did what we could and moved on up the hill.

Each day got worse.  More and more got hit.  All of us carried morphine with preset injections.  If you got hit, you just find anywhere to stick them. Only thing is, you could only get one injection. The dose was too strong, so two shots would stop your heart.

We lost track of time there.  Life was measured in seconds. One danger was NVA in spider holes.  As we passed by, they jumped up and shot as many as they could before getting eliminated. Time stood still.  It was either day, or night.  Period.

I remember one day our choppers flew over from the back side and started shooting us, thinking we were the enemy. I don't know who messed up those coordinates.  The pilots had no clue either, but we were sitting ducks.

Time wore on and as we brought our wounded and dead down, new people took their places. To us, they all looked so young and innocent, like kids. They didn't last long, but it wasn't their fault. They just had no in country combat experience. It was a hard way to learn.

Towards the end, there weren't many of us left. Someone took a c-rat box top and nailed it to a piece of tree with the words, "Welcome to Hamburger Hill" on it.  Under that, someone wrote, "Was it Worth It?"

I didn't even know I was hurt, until close to the end, when someone told me I needed medevac. The adrenalin rush in combat makes you numb, it truly does.

Most of the hill was pretty much repeated every day there.  You either lived or died, period.  I was extracted on 21 May, but as medevac was lifting off, it was shot down, as I mentioned before. Eight of us were in there at the time.  Three of us lived, me, the pilot, and one door gunner.

All I remember after that was numbness. I had no clue where I was sent until later, when I found out it was the 95th Evac in DaNang.

    Michael Lansford - FSB Currahee 20 May 1969 B/2/11
In the picture, the guy laying face down in front is me, wounded from a bayonet in the back. I was hit in the right leg, too, somewhere under the picture. This pic was taken on 20 May but I was evaced on 21 May. The place was still pretty hot.

You can see my commander, Roger Dent, in the background holding a plasma bag. That's the kind of leader he was and still is. He was always right out front with you.

I did learn we gave The Hill back three or four days later, which holds true for the words written on the c-rat box, "Was it Worth It?"

I saw bravery every day that words will never be able to describe. People doing things without hesitation or thoughts of self worth. Things happen so fast in combat you don't have time to think, reflect, analyze. You just know someone needs you so it is a done deal. 

Combat brings you closer than anyone will ever know. Still see and feel the loss every day and night. Nights are hardest, and May is the absolute hardest. Others have stories like mine but all have different feelings inside and different ways to say the same things. Guess that's what makes each of us unique in some way.

Had times we didn't realize what we did til days later when reality sunk in. Mostly back then we never really had time to reflect on much. If we did that's when we got hit. Combat tactics-- always be watchful, never ever let your guard down. Always believe everything out there was hunting you and were the enemy.

There are more stories in beween the lines, like how much bravery was seen over there. Lives were given to save others. Heroes all. Just ordinary men who did extraordinary things  There are more like this one, too, as we all have different memories from the very same place.

You also see it in every day life where two people can see the same thing and yet have different memories about what they saw. It's the same thing in combat. All that matters in combat is that exact moment in time. 

Hamburger Hill at Sunrise
Something we did out there every day was watch for the sun to come up and then we would know we lived another day. I still do that to this day. I am up before the sun comes up and I remember it all.  I always will.

I almost forgot to answer your question about what my thoughts were about the movie, "Hamburger Hill". Many thoughts.

First time I saw it, I had to leave the room. All the sound effects in there are exactly like it was: chopper sounds, firing, especially mortars firing and the sounds when they thumped. Even artillery sounds when you heard rounds out.  It's like choppers.  You feel even before you hear them. Sounds we all hear still. I know if I hear any sudden noises it makes me want to find a low place to hide.  Old habits. 

Hollywood will never copy actual combat, nothing can. I'm amazed at how the younger generation is so caught up in combat video games. Games are all about killing, then they hit reset button and start over. 

Real combat is no game. As I see it, in war there are no winners, only survivors. If one of my people died and we won a battle, then who won?  I lost someone, so what did I win? Something to ponder I guess. 

To finish Hamburger Hill, most of the rest of our time there we either spent reloading, patching up, making sure our dead and wounded were taken care of---Priority 1. Then we started the climb all over again, every day and sometimes at night to set claymores, etc.

Funny thing about claymores is, the enemy sometimes would sneak up and turn them around, then jump up shout, so you would look up. Then when you set it off, it blew you away.

I fixed that problem. Just dug a hole under a claymore and placed a contact grenade under it. You had to be real careful when you pulled the pin, as when the handle released, it went off via whatever touched it. So when Charlie came up to turn one around, Boom. End of problem. Kind of gave them something to worry about for a change.

As time wore on, it seemed like the more ground we took, the more we gave back, like we were fighting in circles. There really was no front. At times we were surrounded -- not a good feeling, especially when low on ammo, but that was an advantage for me, as I carried an AK. Better weapon for me. It didn't stop, break, etc,, and the best part was, the other guys always had lots of spare parts, weapons, and plenty of ammo.

Nothing scared the enemy worse than hearing an AK firing back at them. Problem was, they didn't know who was shooting and they thought one of their own was behind us, so they didn't return fire. That gave us an advantage we used very effectively.

Towards the end, they all vanished back to North Vietnam, or slid into Laos, the "neutral" country that fired at us from the side, causing major damage to our ranks.

B-52's fixed that not long after. I have never been around an earthquake, but a B-52 strike, called an ARC Light, is pretty close, especially when it was only 2 clicks away. Couldn't stand up period. Plus we called in the New Jersey off the Gulf of Tonkin coast. One round from him wiped out the whole hillside.

Later in life, I met the shooter on the New Jersey. He asked what it sounded like coming in. I told him it sounded like Death coming to get us.  I remember thinking, "Please don't let it be short". He was always right on.

In the end, as we were mopping up, our worst fears were snipers shooting at us along the borders. Special ops teams fixed that too. Great people all. Volunteered to go out on a few with some of them. It was the safest I ever felt.

I was afraid every day, but that's all we had was each day. Whenever we were out we always wondered if we were coming back and who wasn't.  Scary thoughts. Yet none of us ever backed down from protecting each other. You either have it, or not. 

Had lots of big talkers come in bragging about how tuff they were.  Day 1 in combat answered all those questions.  Then we had guys come in that looked like they couldn't hurt a flea and were all business when lives were on the line.  

It's what was inside of us that made us different.  Life had more meaning to us.  Death too.  Been close to both. I've been so scared that I wasn't scared anymore. Dangerous combo. Makes you do things unheard of to save someone, knowing you weren't going to make it, but the people that needed you could, with your help. 

Out in the jungle, that was how life was, still is, in some ways even today. Sorry to tie up your day. You have more going on this Sunday than listen to an old Vet. 

I can't imagine what you have endured all these years. Definitely harder for you than us, but like I said you are one of us always, so you are in our prayers also. "A Vet Never Forgets" holds more truth than can be realized.

I do hope all I have reflected on is helpful in some way. I probably left out some details, but that was the world we lived in daily and when we came home, people had the nerve to call us names. That still hurts all of us, even after all these years.  So, I will ask them the same question, "Was it Worth it?"

Wounds of the heart never heal ...

Other Posts by Michael Lansford:

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale


  1. Was it worth it, looking back my answer would be no, maybe yes. I think the biggest thing we were able to accomplish was to post a sign, "Enter at your own risk".

    1. Great answer Mr. Ramsey. Pretty well says it all. In any combat situation we all knew our situations. I sometimes still ask myself that very question. Even with todays wars that question seems universal still. Thanks again for all you do for us.

  2. Michael LansfordJune 8, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    Sorry Mr. Ramsey I meant to use my name. Still lots to learn on computers.


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