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1. American POW Escapes and Evades

2. Combat honor Roll

3. Wrecker service on call 24 - 7

4. Rome Plows take on the jungle




Volume 4 No. 18                     TROPIC LIGHTNING NEWS                          May 5,1969


Lucky GI Escapes Enemy Prison Camp

By 1Lt. Mack D. Gooding

TAY NINH – "It’s a GI! Hold your fire!"

These words crackled over the air from a Light Observation Helicopter to a Cobra gunship signaling the beginning of a dramatic rescue operation.

Warrant Officer Carl D. Gray, Vinita, Okla., from C Troop, 3d Squadron, 17th Cavalry, was piloting his LOH over the enemy-infested jungles of War Zone C, 14 miles northwest of Tay Ninh, on a typical early morning reconnaissance for the 1st Brigade.

Passing over a stream bed he spotted a figure clad in black pajamas leaning against a tree by the bank. "I called for clearance to open fire and was beginning my gun run when I saw that he was an American,’’ said Gray. "I thought it might be a trap, because he looked like he was lashed to a tree. His arms were waving back and forth but his body appeared to be glued to the tree."

"When we started to descend we had to come straight down. Trees and shrubbery were right up to the stream’s edge," recalled First Lieutenant Claude H. Nix, Dalton, Ga.

Nix, the observer in the LOH, praised Gray’s flying ability, "I didn’t think we could possibly get in there but he did it. Once we were down, our skids started to sink into the mud and we knew we had to get out fast. Carl pulled up quick, popped the skids out of the mud and hovered there."


ONCE THE SHIP was hovering, Specialist 4 Dale E. Wampler, Everett, Wash., the LOH crew chief, jumped to the ground to assist the GI to the chopper. The soldier was Specialist 4 Thomas Van Patten, of the 332d Engineer Company and a prisoner of the enemy for more than a year. He was captured on February 10, 1968, when the convoy he was on was ambushed between Tru Bi and Phien Ngon north of Tay Ninh.

"When I got to him, he looked terrible. He was extremely thin and seemed dead tired. I helped him over to the LOH and got him strapped into my seat," said Wampler.

THE LOH COULD hold only four people and Van Putten made the fifth man. One man had to give up his seat and remain on the ground. Wampler grabbed his M-60 machinegun and 250 rounds of ammo and made for the bushes. The Cobra circled overhead to protect him. "I didn’t have time to really think about anything," said Wampler. "There was a mission to be performed and I had my part to do. I was scared the whole time but I knew that the Cobra would help me if I got into trouble."

The LOH took Van Putten to the nearest friendly troops, Alpha Company of the 4th Battalion (Mechanized), 23d Infantry, of the 1st Brigade, who were sweeping two miles from the stream bed. It then returned to pick up Wampler.

"IT SEEMED as though the LOH was gone for hours while we circled," said Warrant Officer 1 Jonathan Watkins of Redlands, Calif., the Cobra pilot. "Actually, it was only gone about 15 minutes. The whole time Wampler was down there, he had no means of communicating with us. We lost sight of him when he hid in the bushes and were really getting anxious about his safety." Warrant Officer 1 Eugene Sellon of Anchorage, Alaska, the Cobra‘s copilot, recalled, "When Gray came back to go in for Wampler, I was sure he’d never make it. There were some tricky crosswinds down there and all those trees and shrubs made it doubly deadly. That he made it in and then black out twice just confirms my belief that Gray is the best LOH pilot in Vietnam."

After Wampler had been extracted, the LOH returned to the mechanized column, dropped him off again, picked up Van Putten and flew him to the 45th Surgical Hospital at Tay Ninh Base Camp. From there the escapee was further medevacuated to Long Binh and finally to the States.

Gray commented, "There was nothing particularly unusual about this mission, except the results. Every day our unit flies where ground troops never go. Today was just another example of this."

News update: 17FEB2004
Just found this on the ex-pow website: http://www.axpow.org/
Thomas H. Van Putten
Hometown: Glasgow, KY
POW Camp South Viet Nam
Sent: 1.40 PM - 8/24 2001
Welcome Home Brothers From EX- POW


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Volume 4 No. 19            TROPIC LIGHTNING NEWS           May 12, 1969


Tropic Lightning

Combat Honor Roll

Staff Sergeant John H. Iacovacci (above) of Headquarters / Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 23d Infantry Tomahawks, while serving as Platoon Sergeant of the RECON Scout platoon, distinguished himself during contact with a numerically superior enemy force. During the initial contact, an armored personnel carrier was struck by a rocket propelled grenade, wounding the crew members.

With complete disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Iacovacci exposed himself to a heavy volume of hostile fire as he moved through the bullet-swept area to the aid of his wounded comrades. Nearing the damaged vehicle, Sergeant Iacovacci spotted an enemy rocket propelled grenade team and destroyed the hostiles with accurate grenade fire.

Reaching the wounded soldiers, Sergeant Iacovacci evacuated a fallen comrade to safety. Returning to the location a second time, Sergeant Iacovacci destroyed an automatic weapons emplacement as he evacuated a second wounded soldier to safety.

Then crawling again through the bullet-swept area, Sergeant Iacovacci evacuated a third wounded man to safety.

His valorous actions contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission and defeat of the hostile force.

His personal bravery, aggressiveness, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the Tropic Lightning Division.

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Page 8                               TROPIC LIGHTNING NEWS           March 31, 1969


The VTR (LTR) Un-sticks the Stuck

TAY NINH: An emergency call flashed over the radio. An armored personnel carrier from 4th Battalion (Mechanized), 23d Infantry was stuck in the mud off Highway 26, eight miles east of Tay Ninh City, it was imperative that the APC be pulled out immediately.

The distress call was quickly relayed to the Battalion’s support platoon, and without delay the Tomahawk support element went into action.

A VTR (vehicle track recovery) and its three-man crew raced to the scene.

"We were ready to move out seconds after the call for help came in," said Specialist 4 Carol Sigmon of Vale, N.C. "Within minutes we had pulled the APC out of the mud and back onto firmer ground."

This was a typical mission for the men of the Tomahawk support platoon. They remain on-call 24 hours a day to answer any emergency that might arise.

The VTR, better known as the "track retriever," is a machine of many talents, ranging from towing armored personnel carriers to lifting barbed wire out of five-ton trucks. The versatility of the VTR has exceeded all expectations in Vietnam.

"Working the Tomahawk support unit has been a very interesting experience," said Specialist 4 Robert R. Mason of Box 85, Hardesty, Okla. "Though the hours are long, it’s very satisfying to know that what you are doing is appreciated."


A VTR, commonly called ‘track retriever’

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Page 4                          TROPIC LIGHTNING NEWS               May 19, 1969

Tam Dap Forests Flattened By Rome Plow Engineers

By SP4 John Genitti

TAY NINH - Paul Bunyan himself couldn’t do a better job.

The men and equipment of the 501st Engineers Land Clearing Company have it all over the legendary lumberjack, however. Instead of using a big blue ox, the men of the 501st are using massive Rome plows (photos below) to cut down the triple canopy, Tam Hap jungle, just southwest of Tay Ninh base camp.


The land clearing project, has a two-fold purpose:
A pacification program for the Vietnamese villagers, and
The safeguarding of Tay Ninh City and Province itself.

"We are literally cutting down Charlie’s hiding places by getting rid of this jungle," said the company commander, Captain John MacNeil, of Providence, R.I.

"The men we have out here at this time are all doing a real fine job," MacNeil added. With the 16 plows we have now, we can clear about 500 acres a day. We are continually cutting down on the 3,000 acres of land we were assigned to clear on this project. On a good day we can clear up to 600 acres, but that’s really pushing it. These machines can take a lot of punishment even though they need a rest and maintenance periodically."

Security for the engineering company, is provided by various Companies of the 4th Battalion (mechanized), 23d Infantry, "Tomahawks".

The 4th/23rd Mechanized battalion, according to MacNeil, is doing a fine job looking out for the engineers.

A member of the "Tomahawks", Private First Class Sidney Higa, of Honolulu, Hawaii, said, "the daytime security is set up in a "satellite" type defense, because the plows cut out in a circular pattern, it’s much easier to set up a perimeter.

At night, a regular bunker line is set up and our company gets some support from the ARVN troops in the area."

A daily convoy to Tay Ninh is made to pick up food for men in the field. They are also supplied with ice and sodas.

The name "Rome Plow", comes from the company in Rome Georgia, which manufactures the tree-cutting blade mounted on the front of the 32-ton Caterpillar tractor.

Once an area is cut down, it is not cleared for a week. During that time villagers are given a free hand to take wood from the area before it is burned.

Note: This security operations was a standard part of the Tomahawk's daily operational diet throughout the war. Security duty was done by a company sized unit on a weekly basis. As one company and was rotated out another moved in to take their place. The departing company was then assigned to other Area of Operations duty which included, road clearing and  convoy security, Recon in Force (RIF) patrols,  etc.

Tens of Thousands of Acres of Jungle was leveled, all around Tay Ninh City, by the end of our involvement in Nam.

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