Charlie Co's first big ambush
Bill Comeau was kind enough to share this story about Charlie Co in the early days of the war that was published in the Alpha Co Association newsletter some time back. In a exchange of emails between Bill and myself, he added some personal thoughts about that period of time and of Charlie Co.  --Sarge

.....I said that the story was somewhat foggy until I read the day reports and the lights went on in my head. In those days, competitiveness between the companies was encouraged to the point where each one of us thought that he was serving in 'the' company in the battalion. While I was there, my company was never surrounded or ambushed. Probably just sheer luck, but in those days we were encouraged to believe it was because of superior training. In those early days, C
Company was unfairly depicted as 'F TROOP' by the NCOs in A Company, comparing it to the comedy "F Troop" that was popular on TV in those days (you may remember Forest Tucker as a cavalry NCO).

Heck, us enlisted men didn't know better one way or the other. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to them being drawn into that trap south of Dau Tieng. Sometimes, it is just plain bad luck, but you had to give the enemy its due. They were outstanding soldiers who had a long history of engaging men in combat. They certainly demonstrated their superior experience on that day.

That was the low point for C/2/12 on that day for many months. They learned a costly lesson and it saved countless lives as their tour progressed. I have nothing but admiration for the way they conducted themselves in the jungle.   

In the words of Forest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that." Bill Comeau, August, 2012

April 1, 2012                                                    A/2/12, 1966-67
                                         Volume 12, Issue 4


In April 2011, I read this entry in our internet website guest book.

D. Glenn Thursday, 4/28/11, 2:31 PM  
My father was in "C" Co. of the 2/12th infantry, from Jan 66  until Dec 67. I was wondering if anyone in "A" co. might be aware of a battle, operation, or ambush that took place the first week of Jan 67 that seemed to be rather devastating. His letters to his father didn't mention what happened, but were rather incoherent ramblings about how something went down that left a lot of confusion and had most of the men out of their minds. (Dated January 7) Can anyone suggest where I would go to get more information?  

From: Seattle, WA
This got me thinking back and lo and behold, a light bulb went on. I did recall that incident in early January when C Company walked into an ambush and was the first company to suffer major casualties.
I had both the Day and Operation Reports to bring the history to light so maybe I could help this man.

I first examined the battalion casualty listing, to determine which day the incident happened. This jumped out at me. The battalion landed in Vietnam on October 14th, 1966. The unit suffered its first death on October 21, exactly a week later. The man's name was Robert Frederick Ehlers from St. Paul MN. Cause of death was attributed to friendly fire. He was a Heavy Weapons soldier, from C Company.

The next revelation will surprise anyone who served in the 2/12th in the Vietnam War. The 2/12th incredibly went 74 days before another man lost his life. Sure, there were many Purple Hearts passed out, but it was not until this January 3rd that the battalion suffered another KIA. In 1968, the closest successful gap in between deaths was 39 day. The year 1969 was even worse as the battalion moved south to Cu Chi and the longest that it went without suffering KIAs was 13 days and that happened only once all year. They lost men at least once a week for the entire year.
2/12th KIA totals per year:
1967:  68
1968:  100
1969:  115
1970:  29
1971:  10
This brings me back to that question asking me what took place in early January.
On January 2nd, the 2/12th was flown south near Thanh An, that large village known to contain many Vietcong sympathizers.

The Operation's objective was to search the areas around the rubber plantations for enemy units known to be in the area.

A rapid aerial movement of troops into the areas to the northeast followed this to prevent their escape.

The first three days shows a number of encounters with squad sized units that were mostly hit and run incidences. On January 3rd, both B and C Company suffered one KIA in their companies.

On the morning of January 5th, the battalion was split up and sent to different locations. We went to LZ Bambi, back near An Thanh. B Company was sent to an LZ named UP, and C Company was sent to another clearing to the west, named LZ MULE. As a quick sidelight here, check out that red explosion icon in the northeast corner. That was where A/2/12 was ambushed 10 months later on October 25th.

It was an uneventful day for the rest of the battalion, but C Company got into action almost immediately after they landed. Their objective was to head west towards the B Company's area where a blocking position was being set up. They didn't make it very far before they ran into three snipers.

A brief exchange of fire took place resulting in three C Company men being hit and needing to be moved back to the clearing for medical evacuation. Meanwhile, the rest of the Company was in hot pursuit of the snipers. Heading south along a jungle
trail, the company discovered a blood trail and a hat that had blood on it. They noted in radio conversation that they would be following cautiously as they feared an ambush. Judging by how events played out, they were correct.  While the snipers were causing a diversion, a platoon of Vietcong were setting a trap to the south of the LZ. The trail of the snipers brought them around a protrusion of the jungle.  They walked east until the ambush was triggered and a violent exchange ensued.
Before artillery could come to bear, the Vietcong fled the scene. They headed southeast with the artillery following their escape route.

When the smoke cleared and the Vietcong fled, C Company suffered five KIAs and 5 WIAs. Most of the damage caused done by enemy rifle grenades and automatic weapons fire.

C company learned a hard lesson on that day, but they learned it well.

C Company had 12 men killed during 1967. Only seven more men were killed after Jan 5th. A Company lost 11 men. B Company 14 men killed, the most casualties of all the companies during that first year.
I asked Jon Palmer, A/2/12's original commander when that tragic ambush took place, what he recalled from the incident. This was his response:

"Here's what I remember
about the Charlie Company
ambush: It was the first
engagement involving the
Battalion where we took
a serious number of
casualties. I do not
remember the exact
numbers but it seemed
like a lot at the time. I
am not sure if it involved
the whole company or just
one platoon or parts thereof.

The ambush was of interest to me and our platoon leaders because we knew the officers who were involved. As I remember, the company had taken fire, probably the point squad of the lead platoon. I think a platoon-sized element took off after the VC in hot pursuit and ran into an ambush. I remember hearing that the VC were on both sides of the unit, that they jumped out of spider holes, waved flags, had a bugle, and charged right over the top of the troops in the kill zone. Most of the casualties took place right there in a very short burst of time. I guess the rest of Charley Company ran off the ambushers in short order. I do not think I had very much of the above info that day. I think most of the details came out after we had returned to base camp. I suspect most of this info was gleaned at the Officer's Club as the Battalion Officers discussed the event.

Looking over the map, I remember the operation particularly the first day because it involved two chopper rides, which was unusual. I do not specifically remember that this ambush happened during this operation. However, it most surely did because it involved so many casualties in Charlie Company.

I think it is a stretch to say that this ambush was a result of Charlie Company slacking during training at Ft Lewis. I think that those allegations were made by our leadership for the expressed purpose of
motivating our soldiers to work harder. Our Battalion S-3 shop was outstanding in their planning and scheduling of our training. They had officers and NCO's checking everything to make sure that training was conducted in accordance with the plans and that it was effective. In my opinion, nobody in the battalion was slacking. I just think Charlie Company ran into a situation that overwhelmed them at first, but they recovered quickly as they were trained to do.
I wrote that man an email and passed on what I had discovered in the old records. He never wrote me back. 

Charlie Co's first big ambush