Monday, July 16, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Pvt. Charles Johnson Matures Fast-Cong Mortars Make Hoosier A Man

October 20, 1966

Phu Cat, South Viet Nam--Hoosier Pvt. Charles Johnson is 21 years old, but it wasn't his birthday that made him a man, he says. It was a Viet Cong mortar attack on An Khe about a month ago.

Johnson, a member of the First Cavalry Division, was born in Indianapolis and now lists his home as Coalmont, Ind. Johnson has been in the Army 15 months, and in Viet Nam just two months. But the way he stands and the pride he has in his outfit proves he has made the grade.

"The First Cavalry was having a little celebration..the outfit had been in Viet Nam a year...A lot of the guys were really feeling good when we went to bed about 10 o'clock."

"I heard some funny noises," Johnson said, "and then I heard the sentries shouting, 'incoming mail, incoming mail.' Then I heard the first explosions."

"I grabbed my hat and rifle and headed for the bunker as fast as I could run," Johnson said.

Johnson's buddy, Pfc. Rudy J. Domyanich, Jr., Newton Falls, Oh., grinned as his pal spoke and jibed. "You should have seen him run. He passed me with his pants down around his knees and he made a 50-foot dive into the bunker."

"Boy was I scared to death," Johnson said. "And so were you," he reminded Domyanich. "You didn't even have your pants or shoes on."

Johnson and his buddy said the First Cavalry troopers soon began to return the fire and got several helicopters off the ground to light flares to try to find the enemy.

"We didn't find a trace of them. But we know they must have come within a quarter mile of our perimeter guards to do the damage they did," Domyanich said.

The unofficial loss reports listed four Americans killed, seven men were wounded and nearly 60 helicopters were damaged by the mortar attack.

"One shell made a direct hit on a tent on the other side of the camp. Two guys were killed before they could run," Johnson said with a sad nod of his head.

Johnson is the son of Mrs. Ida Day, Bloomington, and has a brother, Jack Day, who lives in Indianapolis. Before Johnson was drafted, he worked at Radio Corporation of America in Bloomington. He plans to go back to Bloomington and his wife when his tour is over.

Domyanich said he plans to go back to school and possibly get married when his hitch is up.

But at the moment, both men are waiting for new helicopters to arrive. Johnson is a helicopter crew chief, and Domyanich is a gunner. Until the copters come, both men are taking their tour of Viet Nam on foot.

"Say," Domyanich said, "If they can't get us a helicopter, see if they'll send replacements for us."

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