Local Stories

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Rick J.’s Story

Shared on August 14, 2017


Ambushed @ Hill 861 near Khe Sanh Vietnam. Mike Co. 3/9. We were flown into Khe Sanh Combat Base in the Republic of Vietnam and started humping it as soon as our feet hit the pierced steel plank runway. We followed the narrow foot path into the hills heading west, passing several other Marine units along the way. The order march had us spearheading the assault on Hill 881 South where the North Vietnamese Army had fortified bunkers. On the way, we detoured to check out the hill in front of us to see if the enemy still occupied it. With Hill 881 South to our back, we headed toward Hill 861. I was radioman for Lt. Kresty, 2nd Platoon, and remember it vividly. As we came to the crest of a burned, blasted hill, we all felt the tenseness in the air and smelled the burned napalm that had left no cover for us, only a 2″ stubble of scorched grass remained. As I was stepping over the bloated body of a 3 days dead Marine, I was thinking – there i s something seriously wrong with this picture. The initial burst of automatic rifle fire hit Lance Cpl. Chapen in front of the Lt and me 3 times and the man in back of me had his left arm shattered. The Radioman (me) and the Officer next to him are primary initial targets in an ambush. I knew who they were trying to kill first. The lead elements of Mike Co. were out of sight in a deep, steep ravine dividing our hill and Hill 861. SSgt. Livingstone had organized an assault and our Marines in the ravine had all pulled pin on their grenades. Back on top, Vanderhoof fired all his ammo from his 3.5″ rocket., then yelled to Chapin – I’m coming to get you. Chapin – fully exposed – remained motionless so he would not get shot again. We all provided covering fire and all 3 of our machine gunners stood shoulder to shoulder blasting away at the bunkers across from us. I watched the fire and smoke and brass flying from their guns as Vanderhoof came back with Chapen in his arms. A fter he got Chapen to a Corpsmen, VanDerhoof got in the face of one of the gunners for trying to shoot him The gunner explained that he was shooting at the NVA grabbing at his heel as he carried Chapen to safety. I found myself still pinned down talking on the radio behind a log about 8″ diameter. Woodie piled in on top of me, wanting to “get into one more good fight” before he left for home. I described to him what he would see when he looked up. The most accurate fire was from the bunker just to the right of the lone small tree across the draw from us at eye level. We did not realize that the gunner was sighted in on my radio antenna waiting for us to move. Woodie raised his head slightly to look and was instantly shot. He was hit with 3 rounds about an inch below the rim of his helmet. He fell lifeless onto me. He saved my life with that move, I was just through talking on the radio and was going to do exactly what he did that cost him his life. I had filled out a lot of Wounded In Action and Killed In Action reports and sent them on the radio, but something just took the heart out of me right then. I couldn’t write up Woodie’s report. Such a full of life, enthusiastic young man – dead. I didn’t know him well but I wish I could tell his family that he was a brave and good Marine. I hope that they have peace with him gone. It has to be a big hole in their hearts. I talked to Vanderhoof – he’s doing fine. Talked to Lt. Kresty too. Can’t find Chapen’s name on the wall but it doesn’t make sense that he lived. Woodie’s name is there. I wish it wasn’t. I have found 53 men that I served with in Mike Co. Good men all. Woodie was Cpl. Wayne Woodard from Philadelphia – age 20. God bless you Woodie – Semper Fi.

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Production Credits: THE VIETNAM WAR is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington D.C. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Written by Geoffrey C.  Ward.  Produced by Sarah Botstein, Lynn Novick and Ken Burns.

Funding Credits: Funding provided by: Bank of America; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; PBS; David H. Koch; The Blavatnik Family Foundation; Park Foundation; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; National Endowment for the Humanities; The Pew Charitable Trusts; Ford Foundation Just Films; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and Members of The Better Angels Society: Jonathan & Jeannie Lavine, Diane & Hal Brierley, Amy & David Abrams, John & Catherine Debs, Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, The Montrone Family, Lynda & Stewart Resnick, The Golkin Family Foundation, The Lynch Foundation, The Roger & Rosemary Enrico Foundation, Richard S. & Donna L. Strong Foundation, Bonnie & Tom McCloskey, Barbara K. & Cyrus B. Sweet III, The Lavender Butterfly Fund