I was born in Dayton, Ohio and lived there or in Kettering, for most of my pre-military experience. I graduated from Kettering Fairmont High School in 1964, started work at General Motors, married my first wife, and started back to school part-time. I was living a pretty normal life until March 17, 1968 when I was lucky enough to receive the letter from the government that read “Greetings”. I was married, working, and going to school part-time and definitely not expecting to receive a letter like this on Saint Patrick’s Day. So much for Irish luck!
I reported to the Cincinnati draft board, took my physical, returned home then returned to be sworn in. From there it was on to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. There I would take my training in E-9-2. That was truly an awakening for a young man about to have his 21st birthday. I did turn 21 while walking guard duty and being challenged by a lieutenant to make sure I had been trained properly.
I found out after graduating from basic that I would also be taking Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in Infantry there at Ft. Jackson. In August I would report to Fort Lewis, Washington, I had never been that far from Ohio. I would be going even farther from Ohio as I was being deployed to South Vietnam, to join the 5th Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB), Americal Division. My first glance of Vietnam was at Cam Ran Bay, then on to Chu Lai on the coast of the South China Sea. After arriving there I would receive a few days further of jungle training before joining Delta Company on Landing Zone (LZ) Gator south of Chu Lai on Highway One.
Arriving on the LZ and reporting for duty I was issued a rucksack, M-16, C-rations, and other supplies. I was there for about an hour and then had my first helicopter ride, a lift out to join Company D in the field on the side of a mountain. There I would meet the CO, then the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant of 1st Platoon. That took all of about 10 minutes then we were told to move out. Just as we were standing up we were ambushed by NVA (North Vietnamese Army) troops. (I didn’t even know how drop my rucksack.) The fire fight lasted long enough for us to expend all our ammunition then “Fix Bayonets”. What a way to receive my CIB. It would be like this most of my time while in the field. I was thankful for not ever hearing “Fix Bayonets” again and for our three day stand-downs.
After about my second day in the company, I was designated the new radio operator (RTO) for 1st Platoon, and from then on always carried a PRC-25 radio on operations in addition to the full load of other individual equipment. In late September my platoon uncovered more than 2,872 tons of salt that was being used to supply the NVA and VC. It was extracted from its communist storehouses and distributed throughout the area by the Government of South Vietnam.
In November of 1968 the Americal Division had its two longest running Operations. Operation Burlington Trail had the goal of opening the road from Tam Ky to Tien Phuoc, a Special Forces outpost and district headquarters in Quang Tin Province. Golden Fleece was an Operation, in which the 198th Brigade helped Vietnamese harvest more than one million pounds of rice in the Que Son Valley.
The afore mentioned are operations which I was involved in before Operation Russell Beach which started on January 13, 1969, with Marines, D Company, 5-46 Infantry, 198th LIB, and companies from the 11th LIB. The Marines actually made the largest beach landing since WWII. This was a joint operation by U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Navy, together with ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) forces on the Batangan Peninsula, located 20 miles southeast of Chu Lai. It concentrated on the removal of Vietnamese civilian refugees from the area before pushing forward to root out enemy troops and fortifications The Americal Division units, comprised of the 5-46 Infantry and 4-3 Infantry, 198th LIB, and the 11th LIB.
On January 10th we were taken to a hill west of the peninsula to set up an LZ for a fire support base. On Friday the 13th we left the hill and started toward the peninsula. As we were leaving the LZ we could see the Chinooks delivering the armor that would be giving us support. Little did we know how soon we would need the support?
We had to cross a river and some rice paddies to reach our objective which was a small village with a few hootches. We were going across in two files. I was third in line in the south file, and chest deep wading in the river, when I noticed movement at the village to our front. I saw three Viet Cong (VC) run into a hootch. I radioed the CO who was in the north file with the information and his RTO didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to convey so after his third request of where, I made the mistake of pointing. That is when all hell broke loose. The VC hit us with all they had; small arms, mortars, and machine gun fire. Within the first couple of minutes they had wounded the CO’s RTO and three others. The Artillery Forward Observer (FO) was three in back of me and he called in for fire support from the LZ that we had left just minutes earlier. Their guns were not yet laid and ready to fire and in fact, only two had arrived. So they set the coordinates and guns at the same time. The first round hit to the west of the village but it was on the edge where I had seen the movement. I told the FO, Lt Clark, to have the guns shift their fire 50 meters to the east. It was the first time that I had used the good old finger method and by golly it worked. It was a direct hit on the hootch that the three had ran into. It must have done some damage as the firing started to subside. I later learned that the hit took out the VC communications with three of the enemy killed.
As we started to withdraw back from the river we were being shot at by a sniper. He would fire and watch for the water to kick up in the rice paddy, when it didn’t he figured he had made a hit and most of the time he had. The troop in front of me was hit in the helmet and the round penetrated the liner then under his scalp and followed the skull around his head and out his forehead and into his hand. (What a keepsake) Then it was my turn, I saw the first round kick the water up in front and to the left of me, heard the next shot, and felt the heat of the projectile burn my neck on the right. There was a pause in his firing and I figured he didn’t know if he hit me or not. He wasn’t sure as the next shot hit my PRC-25. I didn’t move. I waited until he started to fire at another target. We all crawled ever so slowly to cover on a small island that was between rice paddies. There we started servicing our weapons as it began to rain. I had to replace my radio because the round that hit it was causing jamming of the other radios.
When we finally finished with our weapons and were waiting for further orders, the rain stopped. Platoon Sergeant Coffee said that the CO wanted to see me. I was having trouble getting to my feet and as the Sergeant helped me to my feet a shot was fired by another sniper and the round went through my poncho and between my legs. That was my second close call of the day. I was glad that the CO had wanted to see me; at least I thought I was. It was starting to get dark and we needed a better place to dig in for the night. The CO had sent for me as well as Spec 4 Sam, a very muscular individual who carried the M-60 machine gun and fired it like Rambo. Also joining us was Spec 4 Perkins. Known as Big P, he was a large individual from Hampton, VA, who carried an M-79 grenade launcher and fired it with great accuracy. So why did the CO want the three of us? He said that we needed to secure higher ground for our night lager position and the only spot suitable was on the other side of the river that we had tried to cross earlier. They were going to cover us with fire as we crossed and secured the area. I wasn’t too excited about doing this and neither was Sam or Big P, but it had to be done.
We set out crossing the river and planned to head for the highest ground on the other side and then I would radio back what we found. As we came up on the bank and headed toward a piece of land we heard a couple of shots, but we continued to rush forward. As I approached a downed banana tree a VC jumped up in front of me. With the reaction of my training I let loose with a short burst from my M-16 and continued on by jumping over him as he fell. I didn’t realize it, but somewhere during the run I had lost the entire sole of one of my boots. Within an hour the company was all together and preparing for the night.
After a few days we were finally in our position for cordoning off the peninsula. They had dropped leaflets telling the population that they needed to leave their homes and head inland. We watched during the day as people by the hundreds fled. At night we would watch for the ones that didn’t want to be caught. We did this for just a little over a week. Then it was time to start our push. There was another company from the 198th south of us and a company from the 11th LIB south of them. We had also been joined by some engineers from the B-26 Engineer Battalion as we started out.
On the morning of Monday, January 27, 1969 we had to wait for a chopper to make a drop-off before we could head out. The only thing the helicopter had on board was a dog handler and his dog. We were told that the dog was good at sniffing out booby traps and then some Engineers (from B-26 Engineer Bn.) that were with us would blow them.
We finally started our daily sweep. During our first break I was standing by a well reading my New Testament when the dog handler approached me and asked if I could help him with a personal question. (I don’t remember his name, but his dad was a Pentecostal Minister). The question was about his dad. We talked for a few minutes, he thanked me, and we started to continue our morning sweep of the area.
A while later (still morning) we finally met up with one of the Marine Companies and a unit of the 11th LIB. We were told to take a break while the Engineers were still doing a sweep to secure the area. The next thing that I knew I saw smoke moving away from me and the shocked look on the Marines faces on the other side of a small rice paddy. I then heard multiple troops crying and moaning. I looked behind me and the first and only thing that I saw at that moment was the dog handler that I had talked to early. He was missing both legs and his left arm. He made eye contact with me and started asking for help. I remained on the ground and radioed for a priority evacuation, the CO asked me what had happened and I told him that a booby trap had just gone off and that one of the troops had multiple injuries. He asked if there were any others, because it sounded more like a bomb, and that is when I started looking around only to realize that there were more, some just as serious as the dog handler injuries. I informed the CO that there were multiple injuries and possible KIA’s. He wanted to know how many, and that is when I handed the radio to the Platoon Sergeant. I then started a count while doing what I could to help the injured around me. The Engineer next to me was crying and calling for his grandmother to help him. I reached over to pull him to me but when I reached into his flak jacket my hand became covered with his blood. While still on the ground I relayed to Sgt’s Groff and Coffee my count. I gave my count as four KIA’s and 15 WIAs. Sgt Coffee then told Sgt Groff to make that 16 wounded. I asked him who else was wounded and he told me to look at my boot. I did and the whole side of my left boot was gone. I realized that I had never gotten up after the explosion or paid attention to myself. I later found out that the dog with us had tripped the wire that set off a 250 lb. bomb that had been the booby trap.
We were dusted off, on a CH-47 Chinook, to the USS Tripoli, which was also acting as a Sanctuary ship. But, it only came in after a heated discussion between the field commander and the pilot, who did not want to land in the rice paddy for fear of setting off another booby trap. It was still morning when we all arrived on the ship. They placed us all in a single row starting with the most severely wounded to least. The KIA’s were placed behind a partition. I was one of the last to be operated on, so my turn only came later that evening. I still remember looking out at the South China Sea and wishing for some water and something for my severe headache. I made the same complaint to the Chaplain each time that he came by only to hear the same reply. “Not till after you go to surgery.” It wasn’t till after 8 that evening when I was taken into the operating room. Then after my surgery I was offered a drink and asked if I wanted something to eat. I couldn’t believe they offered me a steak sandwich. I was hungry and that sounded soooo good. Things changed when they brought it. They brought two sandwiches and they smelled so good, but all of a sudden I started throwing up. I asked the two Marines that were in the beds behind me if they would like them and they were more than willing to take them. It was not until they began bantering with each other that I realized that they had both lost their legs when an RPG had gone off in their APC. One Marine wanted both sandwiches and the second one said that if he took them both he would get up and kick his ass. They then both busted out laughing as the first man replied, “I’d like to see that since you don’t have any legs”. It was on the ship that the Engineer next to me died, and later another Engineer died. The following morning we were flown by Chinook to the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai.
By the middle of February I was back at LZ Gator when insurgents got inside our perimeter using small arms, grenades’, and satchel charges. It started at 3 in the morning and the fighting didn’t end until after the sun came up. It was shortly after that I was asked if I would like to replace Sgt Brian Reynolds as the liaison at the 312th Hospital. I had just received word that same day that my favorite childhood uncle had been killed in an auto accident in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it would be helping others so I jumped at the chance. After the interview I was offered the job.
The position would mean that I would keep a log of all the Americal Division Soldiers that were admitted to the hospital and help in the emergency room when there were incoming casualties. I was on call 24 hours. I would list all wounded soldiers by Company, Battalion, and Brigade. Then I would be prepared to escort the different Company and Battalion Commanders who would come on Sunday to visit with their troops who were wounded that week. If time allowed I was also prepared to take them to visit others who were in for medical reasons. There were many sleepless nights, when we had casualties coming all night.
There were many traumatic experiences but the one that really weighs on me is the night of May 12, 1969. We had been receiving many incoming wounded starting before sunrise on May 11th, and there wasn’t a lull until after Midnight on the 12th. I went to the mess hall with a couple of other guys to get something to eat. They usually served sandwiches and soup at that time. We headed back to our barrack to get some much needed rest and sleep. I had just laid down when the Duty Officer approached me and asked if I was from the 5-46 Inf. When I said I was he informed me that LZ Gator had been attacked and the Headquarters Company had been hit the hardest. He then asked me if I knew the CO and I said I did. He then asked if I could come down and identify his body. Needless to say, I would be up for another 16 hrs.
On Sunday, June 8, 1969 I was just finishing my list for the Colonels or Generals that would be visiting that day when the 312th Evacuation Hospital at Chu Lai was hit by enemy 122mm rocket fire. Another sergeant and I could tell by the sound that one of the wards had been hit. We didn’t have to run far to see that it was the first ward. There were two lieutenants on duty there, one on each side. The one on the A side was just getting to his feet when we arrived. We started checking the ward for casualties and called out for Lt Lane who was working the B side. We would find her at the end of the ward where she had been giving meds to one of the troops. First Lieutenant Sharon Lane died from shrapnel wounds. She was also a Buckeye, as she was from Canton, Ohio. She was a month short of her 26th birthday, and although there were other nurses who died during that war, she remains forever the only American servicewoman killed by enemy fire in Vietnam.
I remained at the 312th Evac and it would be changed to the 91st Evacuation Hospital. I left Vietnam in August of 1969, finished my active duty obligation at Fort Knox, Kentucky with HHC, 4-54 Infantry (Mechanized), and was discharged December 22, 1969.
I returned home to work and school, and to son, Danny Jr., who was five months old. Then, in February 1971 we had a little girl (Danise). Later I would divorce from the childrens mother. I was fortunate to meet my present wife, Jane, shortly after. We would become good friends then eventually realized we would spend the rest of our life together. She had a daughter who was four (Angela) whom I would help raise. The children gave us eight wonderful grandchildren, six girls and two boys, and that would lead us to this great State of Texas.
Danny discovered the Military Order of the Purple Heart after arrival in Central Texas. He has been a Life Member for two years and currently serves as a Department Executive Committeeman and as Chapter Trustee. This month, Chapter 1919 and PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot Danny L. Baker.