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Preacher and the Rice Bowl

by Harold Titus, member of Charlie 4/3 1970, Survivor (November 10, 2005)

On April 15, 1970 on Hill 238 near "the rice bowl" the most damaging booby trap incident of the entire war occurred. There has been controversy ever since about the events and what lead to the horrendous results. Fourteen men died that day and some accounts list up to sixty wounded, all from what is thought to have been a booby trapped 105mm arty round which initiated a chain reaction explosion of 81mm and illumination rounds in the mortar pit and claymores carried by the grunts.

According to official documents there was no "crater" to suggest where the chain reaction began, or where the booby trap was set. It was suggested at the time that it could have been "command detonated" or that someone wandered from the trail setting it off. One witness insisted that it went off when a guy in the mortar pit pulled a bamboo stalk from the ground that had been standing there all day. Whatever the case was, the results were catastrophic. I was there. I was one of the wounded. My whole squad was either KIA or WIA. Here's how I remember it:

The morning of the event we were in the bush somewhere. We had run out of rations the night before and everyone was pretty hungry. Tempers were pretty frayed. When the orders came down that we were to be CA'd to hill 238 they included a stop at Duc Pho for chow. We were also issued the new 1 gallon soft canteens at that time. When we arrived at 238 there was a great deal of confusion. When I got off the slick I noticed several 'bomb dogs' tied up near the LZ. We were immediately told that the entire area was booby trapped and because of that we needed to stay on the trails. My squad had been split up, being in two slicks, and by the time I arrived most of my squad had "fallen out" further up the hill. When the word came to form up and move out I found myself considerably back from my squad in the line of march and had to hustle to catch up. As I recall my squad had 'point' for the company and Tex was the pointman. The weather was starting to get hot by then and this was our first really hot day. I humped the 79 and had the full basic load (90 HE), M60 belt, rations, personal stuff, and 2 gallons of water, frags, smokes, 79 accessory kit, air mattress, poncho and liner, the works. I had a brand new green towel around my neck. With all that it was no small task to catch up. I steadily worked my way past the other guys and reached my squad. Obviously I was last in line with them. I made a few comments to 'Weasle' who was right in front of me. We were well up the hill by then and I could see the mortar pit about 100 yards ahead and to the right of the line of march. The 'red legs' were all standing easy, shirts off, smoking, taking it easy. I came up to a small bush that forced the trail to jog to the left around it. I had just negotiated that jog and was still looking down at the trail, huffing and puffing and leaning forward as I walked against the weight of the ruck when suddenly, POW!!! Everything went into slow motion. I looked up and forward in time to observe the entire line of men jerk to the left, then the right. The sky was a sickly grey yellow, peppered with dark spots that I think was shrapnel. All the while a bright white massive column of flame rose up from the area of the mortar pit. My next step was with my left foot which had been hit in the ankle. Naturally, I went down at that moment. I only heard the one explosion but it was muffled and in slow motion like everything else was. I hit the ground on my back and immediately pulled the quick releases on my ruck and became attentive to my condition. The inner elbow of my right arm was gone, but my hand and forearm was OK. I could still move my fingers. The skin had been blown back almost over my shoulder. I reached up and slid it back down. I looked at my watch as I looked at my left arm (to check for wounds). I remember it being 13:30 or so. I did have several small jagged cuts on my left arm. My foot and ankle burned like fire. I suppose there was hot frag still in it. My right arm and hand felt numb and stung like it had "gone to sleep". I reached out and shook Weasles foot but he didn't move. That's when I started hollering for the medic. As I laid there I could see Weasle and Merrill lying in a pile. Not moving. Beyond that I couldn't see anything much because of the grass and the rise of the hill. It didn't take long for a medic to find me. I remember he was familiar but not from my squad. I recall him being average build with brown sandy hair. I was treated quickly and put into a poncho and carried by four guys to the dust off. One was a 'brother' and the other one was the medic. I couldn't see the other two. Minutes later I was in triage. Duc Pho (I think). I wound up at Chu Lai but I don't remember being moved. Anyway, Cam Rahn Bay came next (the day we invaded Cambodia), Japan after that, Walter Reed on May 1st. After it was all over I found out Rick Wilcox (4/21st.), a kid I went to school with, was killed there too. I also found out that the guy flying the dust off was also from my school. None of us knew who we were with until later. His name is Bill Schurch.

The hospital part could fill a book. I won't trouble you all with that. It sucked. I have to thank all of you who were there and did your duty especially Sergeant Bassett who came to Visit me in Chu Lai. He was everywhere at the hospital (91st. Evac.) that day and visited all of us!. Five men in my squad died, Jose Rivas, Clarence Templeton, Mike Haynes, Randall (Doc.) Simmons and Charles Merrill. Captain Brooks was WIA. Our new Sergeant Kenneth Gibbs, lost a foot.. Jim Alexander ('Tex') almost lost a foot. There were more and more. I wish the best to all who survived. We will never forget it. ~ Harry Titus, AKA Preacher

Americal Division Unit Patch
The Americal Division is the only army infantry division to be formed outside the continental United States. The Americal division is also the only named army Division. All other army divisions have a number designation. The army later added the number designation of the 23rd Infantry Division to the Americal title. The four stars represent the constellation Crux. Crux is referred to as; 'The Southern Cross'. The Americal Division motto is 'Under the Southern cross'. The patch has been worn in combat by Americal Division veterans who served in the Pacific theatre during WWII and by veterans of the Vietnam War.

This patch (above) is symbolic of the 'Jungle Warriors' of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade. The 11th LIB consisted of the following units:

The 3/1, who declare themselves to be, 'Always First'
The 1/20, who carry the name, ‘Sykes Regulars'
The 4/3, who are 'The Old Guard'
The 4/21, are 'The Gimlets'

Related Links & Resources:
25 Yanks Killed, 54 Hurt in Viet Action

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