General Kinnard sent one of his aids, Major Frank Henry, with instructions to help McDade get his feet wet because of his long absence from a combat infantry unit. When McDade was given the option of walking artillery fire in front of the 2nd Battalion as we headed for LZ Albany, LTC McDade said it wasn't needed. That error in judgement may have totally changed the situation in favor of the NVA.
Also, the mortar platoon was carrying an extra heavy load. McDade had ordered that the platoon carry three 81 mm mortars and mortar rounds, instead of the single mortar that had been suggested. The extra weight made the going very tough for the mortarmen and the heavy mortars could not be used with the thick jungle canopy overhead.
At this point, we now had against us, the poor training, heat and humidity, the extra heavy load, no sleep for three days and two nights, poor communication of our situation, missing officers and a unprepared battalion commander getting on-the-job training.
With all the combat of the previous days, a dangerous enemy was still out there, but where? Did anyone care? Now add poor intelligence on the enemy location to our growing list of things stacked against us. We were blindly marching on through the thick jungle, tired to the point of near exhaustion from the heat and heavy loads and definitely not alert. The only thought was to keep moving.
Unknown to us at the time, the enemy was massing in battalion plus strength, only a few hundred yards ahead at one of their undiscovered base camps, to make an attack on LZ Columbus. The enemy hadn't left the area, they were just organizing for another attack.
Sometime around noon or so, some grass huts were found near our column. An order was given to burn the huts. Flames were reaching well above the forest trees as we moved on. Now in addition to everything already against us, we were showing the enemy where we were at! Still no special alert order.
On we went until the two NVA were captured. The march stopped. Still no special alerts were ordered. The Battalion Commander LTC McDade, now calls all the Company CO's forward for a conference, leaving the units all without their main leadership.
Without any alerts and now leaderless, all the men in the column are dropping to the ground to rest, guys smoke, chat and break out rations and generally just mill around. All organization is lost. Nothing can now undo the disaster that is only moments away.
For me and the rest of the mortar platoon, we first heard what sounded like a couple of quick shots somewhere up ahead. Quickly then the firing built up. I was still standing and it took perhaps 3 to 4 seconds to realize what was happening. I shouted, "Ambush!" Seeing that the only cover was maybe 30 yards ahead, closer to the shooting, I started running towards a large ant hill. It's not easy running with all the equipment we were loaded down with. Fred Heriaud followed close behind me. We both made it unharmed to the ant hill but looking back, there wasn't a soul standing. To my knowledge, nobody immediately behind Fred and myself, made it and Fred was killed shortly after that. The platoon Sgt was next to me on my left. He had been hit in his right hand or wrist. I was hit quickly by either two mortar rounds or two grenades bursting, then within seconds a rifle bullet hit me that came down from the trees.