May 21, 1967
16 Americans in Convoy Die in
South Vietnam (AP) -
Rolling along a dusty highway past feels teeming with women and children at work, an
American armored column was enveloped in a classical Communist ambush, Sunday and was
destroyed amidst burning and exploding vehicles and dying men.
For the US 11th Armored Regiment, parent of
the unit attacked 40 miles East of Saigon, the bloody ambush was a bitter reversal of a
similar action last December in almost the same area when 100 Communist attackers were
killed with the loss of one American.
In the holocaust of rocket and
recoilless-rifle fire that stabbed at the column Sunday from a distance as close as 15
feet, 16 Americans were killed and 29 wounded. Only three men in the eight vehicle
convoy escaped injury and they staggered with shock long afterward.
The battalion-strong Vietcong that lay in
ambush along both side of the highway for 1100 yards destroyed three armored personnel
carriers and one jeep, put a score of holes in a 52-ton M-48 tank and smashed a truck with
recoilless-rifle fire. The two remaining personnel carriers were hit repeatedly but
Twenty-one Vietcong dead were counted, after
the battle which lasted 15 minutes. At least two civilians were hit.
The ambush occurred only a few miles from the
headquarters of the Vietnamese 18th Infantry at Xuanloc. The attackers were believed
part of the Vietcong 5th Division based in the Maitau secret zone East of Xuanloc.
Ironically, the Vietcong were believed to
have been waiting for a Vietnamese convoy scheduled to pass along the highway. The
American vehicles were on the road a little earlier and took the ambush instead.
One of the armored personnel carriers that
survived five hits and managed to weave in and out of the ambush carrying wounded was
driven by 2nd. Lt. Ted Hendrickson, 24 our Rock Island, Illinois, an engineer attached to
the 595th Engineer Company.
He was the controls for only the third time
in his life. The regular driver had let him take over during what was expected to be
a routine run into the 11th Armored base camp near Xuanloc.
Hendrickson said his vehicle took a direct
hit in its nose when the ambush was sprung just after 9:00 am. "We halted and a
cloud of blue smoke billowed up in front of me, Hendrickson recalled. "Then, as
it cleared I saw just in front of us on the highway, about 15 feet away, two Vietcong
gunners setting us a 57-mm recoilless rifle".
Hendrickson jerked his 13 ton carrier and
charged at the men. "One was just about to slam a shell into the breach when he
saw me coming," the lieutenant said. "The other one holding the barrel
tried to jump aside. I ground over him first. Then I crunched the weapon.
Finally, I ran over the gunner himself." He said he saw a wounded
Vietcong attempting to cross the road and I rolled over him also.
Hendrickson's carrier sustained four more
hits. A piece of metal sliced through his lower lip and and most of the men with him
He drove through the ambush and then returned
and pulled wounded Americans on board as bullets smacked his vehicle.
Eventually, six wounded men were clinging to
the top of the carrier and four inside. The Vietcong melted away from the ambush as
armed helicopters zeroed in.
Article by Peter Arnett
writing for the Associated Press (AP)