A Day in Hell on the DMZ

The Rocket Attack on Firebase Charlie 2 in Vietnam, May 21, 1971


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About the Book

At “zero dark thirty” on January 30, 1971, units of the U.S. Fifth Mechanized Division left their firebases along the DMZ heading west along Provincial Route 9. The mission, called Dewey Canyon II, was to reopen the road from Khe Sahn Air Base to the Laotian border, in support of a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos (doomed from the start) to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Alpha Company of U.S. 61st Infantry performed commendably in keeping Route 9 open, with just one casualty killed by friendly fire. They returned to Firebase Charlie-2 in April, exhausted but hopeful—the Fifth would be leaving Vietnam in July. They patrolled the “western hills” through May as rocket attacks fell each evening. On the 21st, a direct hit on a bunker killed 30 of the 63 men inside—18 were from Alpha Co. This is their story, as told to Specialist Lou Pepi by members of his unit.

About the Author(s)

Lou Pepi was drafted into the Army in March of 1968. Returning from Vietnam he worked in the construction field and then in building code and zoning enforcement. He lives in West Boylston, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic Details

Lou Pepi

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 213
Bibliographic Info: 105 photos, afterword, notes, glossary, appendices, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8839-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4599-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Dedication v
Acknowledgments xi
Preface 1
Introduction 3
The Universal Soldier—JC Summerlin 3
A Born Leader of Men—Robert Dean 4
1 The Fateful Day 7
2 Sergeant Toler and the Killer Team 9
3 December 12, 1970—Night Mission at Con Thien 15
4 Lam Son 719 Overview 23
5 Red Devil Road 28
6 Lam Son—The First Rotation 38
7 March 3, 1971 49
8 Frank Curry, March 15—The Army Called It Misadventure 57
9 March 19–25, 1971—Relieving the Cav 60
10 Other Memories of the Final Days of Lam Son 719 76
11 April 1971—Captain Robert Dean 85
12 May 20th—Alpha Company in the Field 89
13 May 21st—Alpha Company in the Field 90
14 May 21st—At Charlie 2 92
15 In Memoriam—The Names 103
16 The Combatants Who Contributed to This Book 108
Afterword—Foxhole Humor, by Stephen Wheat 121
Glossary 125
Appendix 1—Battalion Communication Logs 131
Appendix 2—Brigade Communication Logs 162
Appendix 3—After Action Report 181
Author’s Service History 197
Works Cited 199
Index 201

Book Reviews & Awards

“The book is based Pepi’s interviews with 20 men from Alpha Company…As a reporter, Pepi flawlessly did his homework. He follows the overall course of Alpha’s actions and includes interviewees’ comments at appropriate moments for each event, rather than record their recollections separately. Pepi shows the men in combat and the ways they developed as warriors. His account of an Alpha patrol trapped in an unmapped Con Thien minefield illuminates a nightmare of misguided intentions and disastrous results…Pepi does an excellent job incorporating expert opinions about the planning mistakes of Lam Son that doomed the South Vietnamese Army mission practically before it began. A Day in Hell on the DMZ pays tribute to all of the men in Alpha Company, with special recognition for those killed in the rocket strike. As Pepi shows, their courage and dedication went above and beyond.”—VVA Veteran