By Stephen L. Boylan
“I am not sure of the exact date but I remember it was around the 1st or 2nd of April that the team was inserted into Cambodia and started the long walk toward the target area which was a heavily used road and trail system that meandered into and out of the forest several clicks inside Cambodia. It was the same area that Cofer and I with 4 SCU had reconned so successfully a week before. I was the radioman for the team; Cofer was 1-0; RJ Graham was 1-1 and we had 3 SCU with us named Y Kit Nie, Siu Wok, and Y Ray Nie. On the way there Y Ray Nie got sick and complained of double vision and we had to have him med-evaced which irritated Cofer because the door gunners of the medevac chopper opened up on our perimeter in case any enemy were targeting them. The resulting noise pretty much told anyone within earshot that Americans were in the area and I’m sure put the NVA on the alert. I coordinated the medevac by radio and it went without a hitch as far as that went. We continued on with two SCU, Cofer, RJ and myself making five members on the mission which the remaining SCU didn’t like because they considered five to be an unlucky number and they made that superstition known to me and RJ confirmed it to me when I told him I had never heard that before. We continued on and encountered a small abandoned village that we came upon so suddenly and unexpectedly that we were standing in the clearing before we realized what it was. No one was home so the rest of the walk to target was as uneventful as a walk through the jungle could be. When we reached the target area we found a sheer escarpment several hundred feet high and a valley far below where people were burning bamboo to clear an area, I assumed, for raising crops. The burning bamboo sounded like gun fire to our ears at first until we walked to the edge of the escarpment and looked down on the scene below and saw the smoke and fires. The team then moved to a small area that had been cleared with a small bamboo edifice of some kind that was falling in. The roofed hut of some sort was located several yards from the escarpment on the side of a steep hillside with a road system at the base of the hill. We observed several trucks loaded with troops and materiel traveling the road at regular intervals and decided to set up an ambush in the hopes of collecting prisoners and intelligence about the purpose and use of the area. I coordinated our air assets on the radio and arranged for a signal to launch the helicopters to come to our aid. We did not realize the extent of the road system. There were, in fact, two roads running nearly side by side with 100 yards or so between them under the thick forest canopy. We mistakenly set up on the wrong road and after the trucks came down and I called for air support it was only a short while later that we realized we had set up too far from the correct road and could not effectively initiate the ambush. I cancelled the call for air support and the team settled in for a nervous RON position on the steep side of the hill. The rains came that night and I slept on my stomach with my face on the back of my hands so I could breathe since the water was actually flowing deep enough, even on the hillside, to make breathing hard without sucking in water once in a while. I awoke with wrinkled skin and about 5 feet or so downhill from where I had initially laid down.
“Later on that day we started moving down the hill to a flat open area where the road came out of the forest and went fairly straight across an opening for a few hundred yards before reentering the forest. The opening was pock marked with several bomb craters and at first we skirted the edge and then suddenly I noticed our small column was heading farther out into the open area which was not a good idea as far as staying unseen was concerned. I stated my objections and almost immediately heard someone running through the woods away from our position. I told RJ that we had just been spotted by an NVA soldier who was probably running to tell on us to his unit. Realizing our presence was now compromised we quickly decided to make for a bomb crater located more in the center of the open area and away from any forest canopy cover the NVA could use to fire on our position and stay hidden from our air support. We scrambled down into the bottom of the crater and it wasn’t long before we started receiving small arms fire from inside the edge of the forest. We were well protected from direct fire weapons by the deep crater as long as we didn’t stick our heads too far above the rim of the crater. I had already called for an extraction for the team and so we engaged the enemy with our weapons and when my rifle jammed I was reduced to throwing hand grenades which I did to pretty good effect. I would throw the grenades with sufficient height to get them to explode about 8 or 10 feet above the ground. The NVA machine gunners would rake the rim of the crater and then we would jump up in the lull and return fire with our assault rifles. The air support arrived within a few minutes and they began a good job of keeping the NVA well back from the edge of the tree line where they could not bring effective fire to bear on our position. During the course of the fight the FAC informed me that he could see about 65 or 70 NVA troops engaged in the fight with us against our five member team. After several minutes of intense combat with a lot of ordnance being expended on the NVA position in the forest the lead gunship informed me that the air support needed to be withdrawn so that they could re-arm and re-fuel but there were two Cobras on the way to help out. That made me a little nervous because the Cobra pilots were never part of the pre-mission briefings and so they didn’t know our strategy for effective close air-ground support. The FAC was the only air support we had now and all he had were 2 M60’s and no rockets. The Cobras finally showed up and managed to not kill us although at one point they very nearly did with a salvo of 40MM grenades from their nose guns that almost went into our crater. The NVA were kept at bay long enough for the Huey gunships to return and so we began to quickly formulate a plan for extraction. It was at this time that things suddenly happened in a rapid fire…a stream of events that I feel have great bearing on the casualties inflicted upon us. One of the SCU named Siu Wok fired his M79 grenade launcher in the direction I ordered by crawling forward and putting the muzzle of his launcher over the rim of the crater while keeping his head down and not aiming. The grenade exited from the muzzle of the launcher and flew across the opening and hit a tree and rebounded back toward our position without detonating on impact like it should have. Incredulously, I watched as the round tumbled through the air straight back to our position and hit the rim of the crater and bounced around again without exploding and then I lost sight of it in the jumble of rocks near the very edge of the crater. I screamed “grenade” as the round was tumbling in the air because its trajectory looked as if it was going to carry into the bottom of the crater with us. RJ started looking for a grenade when I screamed and I told him quickly that it was a dud. He and Cofer then scrambled back to the top of the crater and started firing at the tree line again when an explosion from the edge of the crater, where the M79 round had landed, ripped through our position. I was knocked backwards by the force and barely stayed on my feet, and then I noticed that Cofer was slowly rolling down the inside of the crater and appeared to be unconscious. RJ and I got his face out of the dirt so he could breathe and we both noticed a little pink fluid coming from a small hole in his forehead. RJ had been hit in the inside of one of his elbows and was squirting blood from an artery on to me. I had received a shrapnel wound to my left knee that looked bad initially, but I was still able to walk fine. One of the SCU named Y Kit Nie had received a shrapnel wound in the side of his mouth that left a dime sized hole in his cheek. The other SCU, Siu Wok, was uninjured. I radioed the gunships that the team had been hit and to lower ladders for us to climb into because there was too much clutter for a landing extraction. I quickly fashioned a makeshift tourniquet for RJ and then he and I got Cofer’s Stabo rig ready and we clipped him into the Stabo rig when the extraction chopper lowered the rope to us. I tried to climb the rope ladder but the pain was too great with the weight of my Alice pack on my back so I jumped back to the ground and pulled on my quick release and the pack fell away from me to the ground. I put a full 20 round burst from my weapon into the pack to destroy the PRC 25 radio inside and then I was able to almost fly up the ladder into the chopper hovering over our heads. As we flew back to the base I checked out the extent of my wound and RJ realized at that time that I had been hit. I leaned out the chopper door and observed Cofer’s body hanging from the Stabo rig, and I couldn’t see any sign of consciousness from him. When we finally made it to the base camp, where we had initially launched the mission from, the chopper pilot gently lowered Cofer to the waiting hands of the medical team below and they whisked him off before we could even touch down. That was the last I ever saw of Everette Cofer and when I tried to hobble my way to him several guys grabbed me and helped me back to the chopper which then took off for Quan Loi where I was off loaded by medics. I turned as they led me away to look into the faces of RJ and Kit and saw the strain of the fight and the realization that they had lost a good soldier and friend. I have left out several minor details that would take a long time for me to type out but that is the gist of it Colonel.”
Written by Stephen L. Boylan
Permission granted by CCS-SOG LTC FRED S. LINDSEY, USA (RET)