When these members of Apache Troop look back on the Vietnam War, there are three battles that stand out more than others for them.
March 19, 1970 “The day they should have died”:
When they think back on the Vietnam War, March 19th hold a special significance for the men of Apache Troop. They refer to it as the “Day They Should Have Died”. They headed out to the Dog’s Head Area of Vietnam at first light that morning. The area was surrounded by Cambodia on three sides and was a hotbed of activity as an NVA exit point from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Intelligence had told them there was an abandoned bunker complex they needed to check out. The intelligence report turned out to be very, very wrong.
They entered the complex and all seemed secure. They checked bunker after bunker and they were all empty. It was just about when they let their guard down that it all went to pieces. Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson rested his foot on a bunker only to find the barrel of an AK-47 preparing to fire on a teammate. Kregg ripped the AK out of the bunker and killed the NVA soldiers inside. Then the battle was on as bunkers all around the complex opened fire at once.
The battle raged for hours as wave after wave of NVA charged their position. The fighting was up close and personal with some enemies dropping just a few feet from their positions. In the end, it was estimated that their 21 man platoon had run across an NVA battalion of 300-500 soldiers. Apache Troop didn’t lose a man that day. Official estimates say the NVA lost 100.
There may have been a cake waiting for them when they made it back to base, there may have been several Silver Stars, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts awarded that day, but the men of Apache Troop will always know. of all the battles they fought in, this was they day they should have died.
March 25, 1970 “The day Sergeant Jorgenson was shot on the Nightly News”:
Of all of their battles, this day is the most famous. Apache Troop had not seen the last of the Dog’s Head Area during the Vietnam War. Just six days after their harrowing battle, the troop was sent back to the exact same area. This time they had some extra personnel along for the trip, a CBS News crew. They were looking to capture combat footage from Vietnam and there was no better place to look for it than the Dog’s Head.
Upon landing, they could see signs everywhere that the NVA had been fortifying their positions in preparation for a possible Round 2 with Apache Troop. The first part of the patrol went by quietly and it seemed they may make it through without event. It was on the way the pickup zone that everything went south. Sgt. Kregg Jorgenson noticed fresh footprints near their route. He bent down to inspect them and saw that they were not the American boot pattern. He looked up and met the gaze of an NVA soldier looking back at him. They both opened up on each other at the same time. Sgt. Jorgenson’s rounds struck home, killing the soldier he was facing, but not without cost. He was shot through both legs with one round severing his Achilles’s Tendon.
Laying on the trail, unable to get back to safety, and assumed dead by the NVA, Kregg could only wait for rescue. It didn’t take long for Specialist 5 Richard “Doc” Del Valle to charge into the gunfire and rush forward to bandage Kregg up while his teammates and the NVA traded gunfire over their heads. They were able to get Sgt. Jorgenson back to safety and he was medevaced out to safety. The footage CBS News captured that day went on to become what Walter Cronkite called some of the greatest footage to ever come out of the Vietnam War. While the report is excellent. Sgt. Jorgenson would like to clear up one misconception. It was not a one way ticket out of the Vietnam War for him. He actually checked himself out of the hospital and hitchhiked his way back to the unit.
You can hear Sgt. Jorgenson’s recollection of that day here.
June 17, 1970 “A harrowing flight to save an ambushed Ranger Team”:
On the night of June 17, a five man Ranger team was out on a reconnaissance patrol. In the dense mountain jungles, they had no idea they were about to walk into a well planned enemy ambush. Two Rangers were killed right away, two more severely wounded and the radio was destroyed. It was up to the one healthy Ranger to run through the jungle all the way back to the operating base in order to bring help.
It was the men of Apache Troop who answered the call, boarding their helicopters in the type of heavy fog most sane men don’t fly in. The fog was so thick, their pilot hung his dog tags from the ceiling so he could judge the orientation of the helicopter. They landed to overwhelming enemy opposition but did not shy away from the heavy firefight. Crawling through the blood soaked saw grass, they were able to reach the surviving Rangers and bring them back to safety but it was not without their own peril.
CSM Tony Cortez earned a Silver Star that day, when not once, but twice he gave up his weapon to break from cover and run into intense enemy machine gun fire to drag a wounded soldier back to safety. Unfortunately, due to politics and a high ranking officer being upset he didn’t get a medal himself, the Silver Star took over twenty years for it to finally arrive in CSM Cortez’s hands.