recollection is from Dennis W. Drullinger, member of the 196th Light
Infantry Brigade, 3rd Battalion and 21st Infantry, Delta Company 2nd
Platoon, describing the operation he was a part of with his unit as a Fire
Team Leader during the period of January 5-11, 1968. Dennis was
stationed in Vietnam about 5 months with Delta Company prior to this
company was to help Charlie Company who had run into trouble around the
4th or 5th of January. Our operation was to search for them and
provide necessary support and backup for a couple of days in Que Son
Valley, better known as Happy Valley (must have been reverse psychology,
because it was anything but happy). Members of Delta Company had
found the helicopter that was downed and it had been booby-trapped.
We also found the co-pilot dead and a few NVA (North Vietnamese Army) that
had also been killed. We didn't find the other pilot. We took
a short lunch break in a nearby village and awaited the arrival of a
couple of new replacements and
c-rations. On January 8, 1968, I was with the Captain, known as
Black Death. Our platoon joined up with the rest of the company at a
village along a river in Happy Valley (Que Son Valley). The village
was up high and the paddies were lower along the river. Black Death
brought with him an artillery forward observer, two radiomen and other
members of the 2nd platoon, including Lee Marvin Capers and myself.
Black Death had quite a
reputation since he had gone on a lot of Search and Destroy missions in
Vietnam. He was well liked by the headquarters commander, Steel
Gimlet. He always provided a lot of body counts and was considered
an aggressive captain. We had lunch at the village and Black Death
had received word from Charlie Company that they were in contact with the
NVA but didn't need any assistance even though Black Death had offered.
It was at this point that we started receiving unfriendly fire. We
had received a report that they were pushing some NVAs down toward us.
Black Death said we were to move up cross the river. The rest of the
Company would remain in the village. He led about twenty of us
across the river, including his two RTOs, artillery observer, myself and
Capers. Capers and I took the left flank as we crossed the river and
set up a reactionary force. Then all of a sudden all hell broke
loose. Mortars started flying and exploding all around us. The
NVA was on top of the plateau and could see us hiding below them.
Black Death and his two
RTO's, forward observer and many others were killed trying to get back
across the river toward the village. Capers and I had the NVA coming
right down the plateau on top of us. We kept shooting them as they
came down the path from the upper plateau. On top of where we were
was another plateau with a path blocking it from the NVA to get down to
us. At the same time, the NVA set up a machine gun on top of the
plateau. The NVA started spraying machine gun fire across the rice
paddies below. From their position, they couldn't see Capers and I.
I threw a grenade and it blew up their machine gun position.
Down along river, we
could see the NVA trying to cross the river. They were covered with
camouflage and many of them were carrying little trees. Capers and I
were picking the NVA off one at a time (8 to 10) as they tried to cross
the river, however they kept moving across the river farther downstream.
Then Capers and I saw two NVA grenades, that had come from the top
plateau, landing in the mud in front of us. Luckily, they used a
type of grenade that wasn't as powerful as ours. However it felt
like we got a concussion from the grenade going off. We were glad it
was mostly mud instead of shrapnel. Due to this commotion, the NVA
troops crossing the river in front of us were now able to see us. I
was shot in the shoulder at that time and actually saw the NVA person that
shot me. Capers asked me how bad I was hit. I thought I have
been hit twice, but actually it was where the bullet entered and came out
of my shoulder.
We then decided it was
time to leave our position and try to make it back to the village where
the others were supposed to be. There were a couple of dikes we
needed to cross. Capers and I moved together to cross the dikes and
Capers was killed as we both were crossing the second dike. I went
up the creek to the top of the paddies to locate the Company. I ran
into Sgt. Williams, Booker, Cannon and someone else. They were all
huddled in the corner of a paddy, seeking cover from machine gun fire.
Each of them had been wounded. With little room for me, I told them
that I was going up the creek. At that time I ran into one of the
new replacements that had come in that day at lunch. I told him I
was going up the creek and he could go toward the other flank.
Downstream, I ran into 3 NVAs along the creek picking up bandoleers.
I shot them with my muddy M-16, not knowing if it would work. Thank
God it did. I spotted another NVA in the creek that appeared to be
dying. He was covering up as they typically do, before dying.
He looked at me and I looked at him, and we chose not to shoot each other.
Since darkness was approaching, I searched for cover in the river because
I was becoming very weak from loss of blood.
My next recollection was
waking up with the NVA dragging me back through the creek. They
placed me on a pile of dead bodies. I was wearing a rain poncho as
they pulled my arms back and forth. Suddenly, one of them began to
yell at me, speaking broken English, "surrender in the name of the
Republic". I wasn't about to answer. They didn't know for sure
if I was alive or dead. I had no pulse and had leeches all over my
body. They took my watch off. Since I had lost so much weight
in Vietnam, I had switched my wedding ring from my left finger to my
right. I was concerned that it would not come off when they tried to
take it. Typically, they would cut off a finger to get the jewelry.
However, I was lucky once again as the ring slid off easily. They
continued to toss me back and forth, searching for anything I had on me.
I am not sure how I kept silent with my broken collarbone, shoulder and
scapula from the gunshot wound.
Fortunately, I was a
peanut butter junkie, and had 5 or 6 cans of peanut butter rations in my
right fatigue leg pocket. This probably saved my life. They
started playing "grab ass" for the peanut butter and forgot about me.
While lying on the pile of bodies, I could see their shadows moving in the
dark. They appeared to think I was dead and therefore left me alone.
Later, as it got darker,
our guys started shooting flares. It seemed like it would take 15
minutes for it to come down all the way. As it came down, the NVA
would go and hide, so they wouldn't be seen in the open. As the
flare reached the ground, it magnified with light the area it was close
to. I started counting how long it was before a flare was shot and
how long it would take to get down to the ground. This would help me
determine when I would make my move to escape.
I did this for a couple
of hours and then decided to head towards the creek. I planned to go
back where Booker and Cannon were. Hopefully, I would run into our
guys and reinforce-ments. I remembered all the training we had in
AIT and didn't really think we would ever use. "Escape in the dark"
and "avoid your enemy" training really paid off. Finally, I picked a
time when it was dark and quietly crawled off the pile of dead bodies and
headed towards the creek.
I made it back to Booker
and the others, only to find them dead. Williams and Cannon weren't
there and I didn't know what had happened to them. I continued to
the village where we had a lunch break. My position was on the
outskirts of the village, trying to find cover in some banana brush.
Since it was in the middle of the night, I planned to rest until morning.
All of a sudden, I felt someone grabbing the back of my leg with both
hands, and couldn't see who it was, since it was extremely dark. I
decided not to speak since I was wounded and wasn't sure who it was.
Evidently, whoever it was didn't speak either. After what seemed
like an eternity, the grasp of my leg finally was released. I
decided to leave and continue up closer to the village. I found a
spot in some bushes outside the village.
As the sun rose, I
spotted 6 NVAs picking up rifles and bandoleers, and setting up an ambush
across from the village. I was hiding in a hog pen at the end of a
hutch. There was high brush and I was still in good position with my
camouflaged rain gear. I stayed there all day and watched them as
they were building their fortifications. Our helicopters would fly
over and the NVA would shoot at them, but our helicopters didn't return
fire since they didn't know where any of us were.
I could see the jets
making scraping runs with their doors open and could even see our pilots,
but they weren't dropping bombs. Our artillery was shooting but it
was going about 150 to 200 yards to the south of us. This took place
all day. I was lying on my shoulder and the pressure evidently
stopped the bleeding from my gunshot wound. That night, I heard
choppers landing way back in the distance. The noise was coming from
where we had been earlier, by the ARVN camp, at the beginning of our
operation. I thought if I headed in that direction I could run into
our guys that were landing the helicopters. There was still heavy
artillery firing from our guys, and the NVA was mortaring toward our
positions. Whenever the NVA had a bad round, it would come close to
where I was hiding. Several times the bad rounds would blow bamboo
sticks that would land all around me, but not make a direct hit.
The next morning I could
hear our GIs talking in the field saying "spread out and get on line".
I crawled back through the village and got to them. The solider got
his Captain, who knew what outfit I was with. I told him where the
NVA fortifications were. The Captain wanted to get artillery or a
mortar company to hit their fortifications and I went with this soldier to
describe our position. I didn't have any weapons on me, so the
solider gave me one grenade. Since I couldn't throw left-handed, I
decided to go with him. We went by a village and finally got the
mortar platoon and took them to the Captain. Then, the soldier took
me back to where the night position was for the helicopters.
This is where I ran into
Lt. Landry and Sgt. Page. The artillery fire was still landing in
the wrong place, so I gave Lt. Landry the coordinates to adjust their
fire, where the NVA fortifications were, from where I was hiding the
previous night. Lt. Landry got hold of Belock, Guichoni and Doc
Preski. They were out of medical supplies and all they had was a
couple of Band-Aid plastic strips. They put them on my back and
Belock and Guichoni had
put my stuff on the death ship the day before. They were friends of
mine and couldn't believe I was still alive. We all cried in
disbelief. It was good to see a familiar face. They then tried
to get me on the next Red Cross helicopter out of the bush. Doc
Preski fixed me a cup of coffee while we were waiting on the helicopter.
As they got ready to throw flares for the chopper, the NVA popped smoke
too. They had evidently captured the flares and radio when they
killed Black Death.
Fortunately, they didn't
know the right color of flares to throw so whenever we turned around, they
threw the wrong color. They didn't realize when the Red Cross ship
made a pass, it would be accompanied by a gunship. The NVA was
trying to position themselves to shoot the Red Cross ship, and the gunship
was able to fire on their position and get quite a few of them.
The Red Cross ship landed
hard and they got all the wounded locked in the back of the helicopter.
They put me in the gunner chair, to hold all the weapons. Since many
of our troops were killed or wounded, they needed to get their rifles and
firearms out of the field. This prevented Charlie from scavenging
more of our weapons. Of course, I was in no position to shoot,
holding all the rifles in my arms. Luckily, we received only small
arms gunfire as we departed the position, with no gunfire hitting the
We then went to Hill 35,
to a MASH or hospital unit. I had lost my dog tags about the second
week in Vietnam. They asked me what my name was, since I didn't have
dog tags. I told them "Drullinger", and that I was allergic to
Novocain, so they decided not to give my anything for pain. Holman,
a Chaplain's Assistant, was there to see me. He was a buddy of mine
from Lawton, Oklahoma. He had noticed that they were sending the
letter to my family advising them that I was "missing in action". He
ran to stop the letter. The Chaplain soon came by and used a grease
pencil to put my name on my chest. This helped the doctors, who were
always asking me who I was, and why I didn't have my dog tags.
While I was on Hill 35, I
realized my wound was a lot worse than I expected. They operated on
me there, and then sent me to Da Nang. After Da Nang, they sent me
on to the Philippines, and then on to Japan. In Japan, they put me
into a body cast, since I had broken by shoulder, my scapula and my collar
bone. From there, they sent me on to California, then on to Fort Sam
Houston, where they took the wire stitches out of my shoulder.
Finally, they transported me to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I was in the
hospital almost a year, doing physical therapy and rehab.
Looking back on my
experiences, I realized a lot of things happened to me while in Vietnam.
Why was I one of the few that got shot, captured and escaped? While
in basic training, I was the only one, of over 270 men, that made the
maximum on the proficiency test. This test included escape and
evasion training. Another unique coincidence was that a year, to the
day, that I was shot and captured, my son was born. It makes you
think about what you were doing then, and what you are doing now, and how
God has a plan for your life. Then you go back and think about what
gave you the drive to escape. Perhaps, my high school football
coach, Larry Miller, and one of his many teachings...."that you can, if
you think you can". This mental toughness paid off for me.
Also, I have to think about getting through all the trials and
tribulations of my experience in Vietnam, and where I am now. Here,
I have had a good life with my wife, Tommie Lyn (married 37 years now),
who has stayed with me through thick and thin, and always supported me.
As I previously said, having my son (Tommy Wayne), born, to the day, one
year from my being shot and captured. Having a daughter-in-law
(Shelly) and twin granddaughters, Macey and Darcey. I just feel
lucky to be alive, and they make living all worthwhile.
In closing, I would like
to thank Tony May, who works with "Locate a Brother" for the 196th.
I understand that he has been doing this work for about 16 years. He
contacted me and I had no clue about the book that Zalin Grant wrote
Additionally, I would
like to thank Zalin Grant for writing this book. If it had not been
for this book, and reading the stories of the 9 guys and what they had
been through as a POW, I wouldn't have known what happened to Williams and
Cannon, who were on the same operation as me. It hurt to learn that
they were wounded, captured, and still didn't make it back alive.
Without books like "Survivors", the American people would not know the
personal stories and human sacrifices made during Vietnam. This was
a war, not a conflict. People need to know the living hell that Dave
Harker, Jim Strickland, Willie Watkins and James Daley all went through.
After hearing their story, I now realize how lucky I was to have escaped
after being captured.
contact Dennis at