DANNY L. BAKER
Patriot, Chapter 1919
“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
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
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
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 WIA’s. 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
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 children’s 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.