Name: KERKHOFF DAVID L
MOS Title: Military Police
Mail von David L Kerkhoff:
The picture of the lighter brought back some old memories, some not so pleasant. I would guess that I purchased the lighter at the commissary at Bien Hoa Air Base, Bien Hoa. The lighter would have been purchased after my first engagement with the 11th Armored Calvary, 3rd Squadron, on 21 July 1967. This was named Operation Emporia and the subsequent Emporia Ambush. This is the reason I had the raised black horse and the 11th Calvary engraved on the Zippo lighter. A Vietnamese craftsman somewhere in the city of Bien Hoa did the engraving. I will explain the significance of the raised Black Horse.
I am very proud to have served with the 11th through the Operation Emporia and surviving the ambush. There are lots of weird stories about Vietnam and I have even observed or participated in some of them but my memory of the 11th Calvary and the men that I served with remains to this day one of the most significant events I have ever witnessed. There are some recollections of the ambush survival on the 720th MP Project website and one is written by the brave man that was driving my armored jeep vehicle, Lynn Jorgensen. ‘Jorgy’ and I, among others received Purple Hearts for wounds and Bronze Star with ‘V’ devises for deeds done in combat 21 July 1967. Here is my account preceding the Emporia Ambush.
The 3rd Squadron of the 11th Calvary left their home base in Xuan Loc and proceeded north into the Central Highlands. We of 615th MP Company of the 720th MP Battalion, had moved up to Xuan Loc two days before from our headquarters at Long Binh some 20 or so miles to the south. If I remember correctly we were mostly from one platoon but the mission was deemed dangerous so guys could opt out, as was there wish. A couple of guys did as they explained to me they were married and I think one or two of them had little children. No body that I know of considered them cowardly in any way. And I believe some others joined us from other platoons that had some experience, some with V-100 (armored, 4 wheel drive, twin 30 Cal. Machineguns on turret, vehicle),and some guys with combat experience with other units of the 720th, Allan Portnoy was one. The morning we left Xuan Loc the 615th MP’s were divided into two groups with the V-100 troop of four accompanied with two armored machinegun jeeps with three MP’s in each jeep. I commandeered one jeep and Allan Portnoy the other. Our group was selected to lead on point the whole of the 3rd Squadron and ‘M’ Troop (the unit of Tanks that went with us). We were joined by an armored personnel carrier with 4 personnel aboard (the commander on the 50 caliber machine gun up front, one man on each side with an M-60 machine gun, all had steel plate shield in front), and a driver plus one tank with I think 4 or 5 personnel on board. Our orders were to retain a constant speed (I forget the MPH now-maybe 15 or 20 MPH) and stay approximately one half hour ahead of the main assault group in convoy. The rest of our squad was in machine gun jeeps and dispersed through out the 3rd Squadron convoy.
I am not sure of the timeline but I remember being slowed down once in that our heavy vehicles, the tanks, could not cross a couple of ancient bridges because of their weight. So an accompanying group of engineers pulled up in these enormous vehicles and in a jiffy had put together a bridge we all used to cross the Song Dong Ni River (?). This was kind of scary because our jeeps were much narrower track than the armored vehicles and top heavy with armor plating so we crept over the erector set bridge with trepidation and fear of falling through the gaping hole between the two tracks of bridge. After this we proceeded along the highway to view the glory and majesty of that country. We were told we were going into an area that had not been patrolled by allied soldiers since the French were there years ago. We did see beautiful rubber tree plantations, surrounded by jungle with some of the highest trees I have ever seen (I am from the Pacific Northwest of the USA and I have seen some BIG trees) and the different hues of green. This was awesome! We saw some French villas that were stunningly beautiful with red tiles roofs on all the building and white stucco walls, all very luxurious and handsome. The talk among ourselves and not verified is that French companies were still running the plantations and paying tribute to the VC so as to not harm them. On a couple of occasions a French person would come to the gate of the plantation entrance and wave at us. From a distance we all thought they looked like movie stars.
The convoy was uneventful except for the sites. The road was much like the asphalt country roads that I drove on in the hinterlands of the State of Washington. The trees were magnificent and we focused on the abundance of wildlife therein of monkeys and rare, colorful birds. The one thing that was rare is that there was hardly any traffic!
Eventually we reached a village, Xa Gia Tan, and experienced some new events. Kids ran along side our vehicles and we threw some C-ration items and candy out to some of them. Just as we were about to exit the village we noticed a roadblock of vehicles, trucks that were placed across the road ahead of us. I do not remember if Allan’s jeep or mine was in from but we motioned the tank to come ahead and push the vehicles aside. I cannot remember the tanks rolling over them or pushing them and think that the drivers eventually came out and moved them before the tank squashed them. After that we were somewhat on alert.
We left the village and I think our jeep took the lead on point. We went out of town some two or three miles and encountered another roadblock. This time some trees had been chopped down and placed across the roadway. They were big enough so our jeeps could not cross or pass them. On our right side (east) lay a terrain of gradual incline of rubber trees and to our left was perhaps ten or so acres of elephant grass that eventually ended with jungle in the background. I waved for the tank to come up and remove the trees from the roadway. They maneuvered the tank around us and Jorgy backed our jeep down the road a bit to make more room for the tank. The tank began to push the trees and all hell broke loose. Two RPG rockets hit the tank simultaneously, one on the turret and one on the track, lifting the tank up a bit and tearing off the tread. The V-100 pulled up ahead of our jeep and the now mortally wounded tank. The V-100 turned its turret of twin 30 Caliber machine guns on the elephant grass and laid down a significant fire, but the guns somehow jammed and became inoperable for the rest of the battle. They buttoned up their vehicle and hunkered down until we could get them help. The other jeep with Allan Portnoy pulled up along side us and said they were going to go up further toward the disabled tank and trees and secure an area ahead. I felt in our maneuver to back down the road to give the tank some room we had dropped some away form the major surface of the roadway and were under the enemies line of fire.
At the same time I laid some M-60 fire into the elephant grass but in standing to do so I felt some ‘buzzes’ from behind and realized that some shots were being fired from the rubber trees, up and to our right. I directed my rider and driver to fire at anything they thought was live in those areas. While all this was happening I saw one of the two helicopters that had been overhead spiral down in the jungle just ahead and beyond the elephant grass. The other helicopter stayed and fired until they notified us they were out of fuel and had to leave for re-supply. I continued firing on the elephant grass but gave my M-60 a rest from time to time so as to not let the barrel overheat and warp thus being rendered useless. My radio was hit and we could not receive any more messages. It still seemed like it was working so I periodically kept sending out messages of ‘Ambush and location’. Once when I raised myself above the armor to fire I looked behind me and saw that the armored personnel carrier had been hit and was burning. Three or four enemy dressed in khaki uniforms rushed the vehicle and were trying to pull weapons off the APC. I threw a grenade at them but duck and do not know if it ever got that far. When I peeked up again they were gone and the APC was really aflame. We were running out of ammo real fast so I told the guys to hold their fire in front and save something in case we got rushed.
My M-60 used 7.62 caliber ammunition as did our guys M-14’s so I broke down some of the remaining belt of ammo for them to fill one clip for each rifle. That left me with about two and a half feet of an ammo belt to fire if we were going to be run over by the enemy. We also had our .45 caliber pistols. While we waited I remember Allan’s jeep coming back down the road all shot up and steaming with bullet holes in the radiator. From what I heard he had cleaned out an enemies machine gun nest and rescued some wounded guys, which he was transporting down the road away from further harm. Some 11th Cav guys wanted to take our jeep and use it as an assault vehicle but I wouldn’t let them. I told them we were in some kind of road dip and the enemy hadn’t readjusted their fire to hit us yet, so it was safe for them to remain around this area and try to defend the position. Seems to me like Allan returned to the point area later and cleared out more of the enemy so that we could medivac out our wounded. One of the bravest men I have ever heard tell of. Strange in that we worked together many times late but never shared our stories. I guess just being there together was enough.
I continued to try and reach others on the radio and was sure by that time we were not being heard. I heard a ‘thump’ against the armored side of the jeep on the elephant grass side and peeked over the top of the armored plate to see what was happening. Sure enough, dumb me I spotted a grenade and before I could pull back it exploded. I think that is when Jorgy and the guy-riding shotgun got wounded as well. Once shrapnel got inside the jeep it bounced around like a ping-pong ball without an exit. That made me real mad so I fired a little burst in the grass beside our jeep. I could see more and more enemy silhouettes walking or running around in the tall elephant grass. Then an amazing thing happened.
We were waiting for the enemy to come and get us, wondering what happened to the rest of the 3rd squadron, and all of the sudden out of the sky what should appear? Three phantom jets flew over us and waggled their tails as they passed by. They swooped over again, I think just to make sure what the landscape was and to assess where to drop their stuff. Well, they came back, and felt like sheering, just like in the movies, and one by one they dropped their whole load on the area of elephant grass and west side jungle. I swear we had little bits of White Phosphorous (WP) hit our jeep. That is how close these guys could lay in their ordinance. WOW! When the last Air Force jet left he waggled his tail as if to say good-bye and good luck. I peeked over the side of the jeep and holy moly there was a scene of mass destruction. Burned grass and holes everywhere. The enemy was moving around again but by that time I heard massive outburst of cannon and automatic weapons fire from behind. Not too far from the burned out APC. Just seconds later an APC arrived firing all their weapons into the elephant grass and I saw tanks firing ‘buzz’ bomb cannon shots into the jungle and into the rubber trees. Poor rubber trees, I do not think there would be anything to harvest there for years to come. I motioned to the APC driver our need for ammo and he threw us several belts of M-60 machine gun ammunition. I gave one belt to Jorgy and they immediately broke it down and refilled their empty ammo clips. Whew! We were rescued by the Calvary (among others)! I was patched up later that day and was able to remain with my unit in the good service of Operation Emporia and accumulated hundreds of stories. But in short I observed some of the bravest men in action I have ever heard tell of, and that darn ol’ Zippo lighter with its engraving represented these guys. The 720 project has the details of KIA’s, wounded and other sad statistics so I will not bore you with those.
One other story about the lighter. When I would run out of lighter fuel to use I would substitute good ol’ army ‘mo-gas’. This was gas we used in our vehicles. The gas burned slowly enough to set on fire in a C-ration can and warm our meals. So I figured it would work well in the lighter. It did! However, On one operation I developed a huge rash on my right thigh that would just not go away. It got worse and worse until I was forced to go to a doctor in some firebase that we were to depart from for convoy duty in an operation name I cannot remember. I felt bad about missing the take off that AM but the rash was really hurting and not healing. Soooooooooo, lo and behold the doctor and I figured out that ‘mo-gas’ was leaking out of the lighter and irritating my skin and causing the rash. This was all a huge embarrassment for me. I don’t think I told any of my buddies because they were pretty jealous anyway with me going to sick call that day whilst they had to pound pavement in front of convoy’s and observing vehicles that had gone before them blown in half by mines and such. That damn lighter J ! I cannot remember how I lost it. I received a quick early out of Vietnam so I could be home for Christmas 1967. In my haste I had packed a bag of memorabilia that I paid someone to ship home for me. It never made it home. So it could have been in among all that stuff. The story above is the reason the lighter was the reason that the lighter was engraved with the ‘Raised Black Horse’ and the11th Calvary insignia. I coach high school basketball these days and use that as a play that I call out though no one knows what it means. Except me!
Abzeichen des 720th MP Battalion