PFC Darrell Wheeler was the first to die. The point man was killed instantly in the initial burst of machine gun fire that also claimed the life of the man behind him PFC Clifford Stockton.
Augustine Lugo, the third man in the right file of third platoon, managed to swing his M79 grenade launcher in the direction of the tree line to his right where he thought the firing was coming from and got off one single, 40mm high explosive grenade in the direction of the trees before a second burst of machine gun fire began chewing up the asphalt and dirt and pieces of Lugo before dumping him unconscious on the edge of the road.
Squad leader and machine gunner Sp4 Thomas Mork and his ammo bearer Andy Rodgers were right behind Lugo. They hit the ground and Mork immediately began returning fire with the M60. Mork’s heavy volume of fire seemed to be keeping the VC’s heads down but even so Rodgers couldn’t seem to move without drawing fire. At the rate he was firing Mork would soon run out of ammunition if Rodgers couldn’t get more belts to him. A couple of dozen yards behind Rodgers and Mork, PFC James Elliott was also down on the road, looking for, but not finding any cover.
Then, while the men still had no real sense of what was happening and exactly where the enemy machine gun was located, automatic rifles opened up, from a second position at the right front. Then, fire was coming from behind them too, from positions even closer, maybe a dozen yards back in the small trees that hugged the edge of the left side of the road. There was no going forward, no going back. The enemy was on both sides of the road and they had set up interlocking fields of fire covering the entire 400 yard long stretch of road running all the way back to the bridge they had just crossed. All but a handful of the Charlie Company was trapped inside the killing zone.
Charlie Company Commander Capt. Willie Gore raced for cover in the orchard to his left but found none. Gore and his command group had been walking down the center of the road when the ambush was sprung. While they stood completely exposed like the rest of the men, they were not initially targeted as the machine guns and automatic rifles were raking the files on either side of the road. Everyone dove to the ground for cover, Gore, one of his RTO’s Danny Young and the members of his command group nearest him went down on the east side of the road, Sp4 Danny Luster on the West. Gore told Young to call 3rd platoon sergeant Jesse Lunsford to see if he could find out what was happening. Maybe Lunsford had an idea where the fire was coming from. Gore used his second radio to get Henchman to tell him that Charlie Company was under intense small arms fire from both sides of the road.
The third RTO, Danny Luster, was alone on the opposite side of the road and, like everyone else he was laying flat on his belly. The deafening noise made it impossible for anyone to hear spoken commands but Luster didn’t wait for an order. His radio was tuned to the artillery net and he immediately tried to call in artillery support. He rolled onto his left side, brought the radio handset to his right ear, keyed the push to talk switch and screamed.
“Manchu fire mission! From my position XT 843…” That was as far as he got. The copper jacketed-bullet of an AK-47 slammed into his right bicep knocking the handset from his hand. A second bullet hit his head just above his right ear. The impact knocked his helmet off and left him momentarily dazed. Ignoring the pain in his right upper arm and head he rolled to his right side and reached across his body with his left hand for the handset that lay just beyond his now useless right hand. The third bullet struck his left arm just below the elbow, scraped along the bones of his lower arm before exiting just above his watch band, tearing out a handful of soft tissue as it went and again knocking the handset out of his hand. Then, wham, wham, wham, wham, wham! Five hammer blows in his back and side. His PRC-25 radio deflected the first three bullets but two slipped below the radio’s metal housing and cut through his left side just above the liver.
The radio, now useless, was only causing problems. Luster knew it was the radio the VC were after and that if he was to have any chance he would have to get away from it. He wriggled out of the radio pack, bounded to his feet and raced toward his company commander on the east side of the road. He only got a few steps before a sixth bullet hit his right ankle, sweeping his legs out from under him and sending him sprawling on his back on the asphalt just feet short of the slight depression Gore and the rest of his command group were in.
If Luster had harbored any hopes that he might survive despite the six bullet wounds he had already suffered they were erased when the RPG struck. The 3 and a half pound projectile struck his midsection just above his right hip. It glanced off his hip bone raked his lower abdomen and tore open a gash 4 inches wide and more than a foot long. It took skin, the muscles of the abdominal wall and a large section of intestines as it went, the hot gasses of the rocket propellant cauterizing the flesh and soft tissue with a sizzling sound. The grenade did not explode but the force of the blow lifted Luster off the ground and flipped him over face down on the road. The seventh bullet struck Luster’s left side at an angle, collapsing his left lung and fracturing the vertebrae in the middle of his spine before exiting above his right hip. Again the impact of the bullet was enough to roll him over. He was again flat on his back, staring up into an almost cloudless sky and bleed
ing from 8 serious wounds. He was still conscious.