I just returned from Thailand and was reading the "Blackhorse" Newsletter
when I happened on your request for information concerning your brother's fate in Vietnam.
I am privileged to say I was Ron's track commander during the period you referenced
and in the following paragraphs I will attempt, to the best of my ability, to reconstruct
for you what happened.
Ron was the driver of an armored cavalry assault vehicle (ACAV) in 2nd Platoon, Troop
A, 1st Squadron of the 11th ACR. I don't remember him being wounded on April 13 but
that is sort of irrelevant because I was wounded and dusted off to an army hospital in Dau
Tien, Vietnam. I do remember this though, we were going into contact (attacking) a
heavily fortified bunker complex sometime around 2 O'clock in the afternoon on that date.
It was our first "firefight" in quite a while and we were assigned to
support the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in what was then referred to as War Zone C.
As we were approaching our jump off position, one of our gunners, George Rodriquez,
noticed some North Vietnamese soldiers watching us as we maneuvered into position to
support the infantrymen of the 1st Cav. Rodriquez tapped me on the shoulder to point
out their position and I relayed to Ron instructions to turn towards them so we could
engage with all of our weapons. Ron did this and we opened fire. In the
ensuing melee, I was hit by shrapnel in the left cheek and knocked to the floor of the
ACAV. The next thing I knew, Ron was at my side and helping bandage my face.
We proceeded on and got into one hell of a fight. The bottom line being that we
lost seven killed and a whole bunch wounded. Probably where you heard about Ron.
I don't know how he got wounded because, like I said earlier, I got medivaced to a
hospital. I do know this though. When I returned to the field the next day,
Ron was there as our driver.
Henry, I need to tell you this in retrospect. This operation was serious
business. We moved from a place called Cu Chi into this area by road during the day
and kept pressing forward until long into the night. All of a sudden this guy walks
out onto the trail we were following and he turns out to be an infantry major carrying a
full rucksack and weapon - something we had never seen before. Officers didn't do
that sort of thing - move around at night by themselves carrying a full field pack.
At any rate, he guided us to our position for operations to begin on April 13, 1969.
We were all scared shitless. We knew we were going into contact the next day so two
of my fellow track commanders come over to Ron's and my ACAV that night to confer about
the upcoming operation. There names were Terry Jones and Bruce Johnson. Both
were killed in action the next morning. Any way, we drank a half bottle of Crown
Royal and then went to sleep like I said. It was probably the most intense fight I
experienced in my time in Vietnam. We lost a bunch of people and couldn't find any
North Vietnamese dead. This may sound a bit jumbled as I tell it but again, my
recollection of events is somewhat sketchy to this point.
Any way, we pushed on after the 13th of April with intermittent contact every day until
April 18, 1969 when we started the day following a ver fresh bicycle path. Around 10
O'clock in the morning a pair of helicopters were fired upon to our front. One went
down in a ball of flames. We continued on and swung to the left. A tank about
three ACAVs in front of us suddenly was engaged by the North Vietnamese with rocket
propelled grenades, which knocked out the tank, killing the driver and track commander.
The gunner and loader managed to get our and jump on one of our ACAVs. We
were in the middle of a battalion sized (about 750 men) bunker complex and they were
waiting for us! The only way to get at them was to dismount our ACAVs and assault
them on foot using covering fire from our machine guns for protection to the guys on the
ground and then for those guys to throw hand grenades into the bunker openings. Once
that was done our guys (Ron among them) would rush into the bunker and kill any remaining
survivors with pistols. What I'm trying to say Henry is that Ron did one hell of a
job that day in clearing bunkers. It was around 3 O'clock that afternoon that we
finally got control of the battle and Ron returned to our ACAV. We were moving
towards a landing zone we had made to evacuate our wounded and Ron was again back at the
controls and driving us to secure the site. We had stopped and were watching one of
our friends (Andy Anderson) getting carried to a helicopter. He had sustained wounds
to both of his legs doing the same thing Ron had been doing all day. We were
laughing that he had the "million dollar" wounds that would get him back to the
states. Ron gave him the "thumbs up" and we were all laughing when Ron got
shot by a sniper. We killed the sniper and immediately put Ron on one of the
evacuation helicopters. We later learned that he died of his wounds that night.
I know this is a very terse treatment of what happened to your brother but I
felt that you probably wanted to know that he was killed in action as a hero - not that he
"later died on April 18th 1969". He, along with a guy named Tex were key
to our success that day. Had it not been for their willingness to meet face-to-face
with the North Vietnamese, a lot of us wouldn't be around today. Although I was the
track commander, Ron taught me many things that would help save my life in future
operations. He was our demolitions man and showed my how to set up explosives, trip
flares, detonation techniques, etc. All of which made me and my crew better able to
survive 1969 and 1970.
Henry, I guess the only thing of comfort (and small comfort it is) that I can share
with you is that we renamed our ACAV for what Ron wanted it to be called - "Texas
Outlaw". It became sort of infamous later on in the battles (firefights) that
came through May and into June. We lost (under my command) two more ACAVs but we
always renamed them Texas Outlaw in honor of your brother. I hope this letter
answered your query about Ron. Your brother was a true hero among a lot of heroes
and you should be proud.
We have reunions from time to time and if
you ever feel the desire to attend, you have a place with A Troop.
Henry Pongratz of Port O'Connor, Texas submitted
this letter to Contributors Corner as a way to honor the memory of his brother - Ronald
Pongratz. Ron was killed in action on April 18, 1969 while serving his third tour of
duty in Vietnam. Ron was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star and
the Purple Heart. His name is listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in
Washington, D.C. (panel 26W, line 3).
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