A Recollection from Vietnam Spring of 1968
The Death of Sgt. Apimenio Lara.
SGT Apimenio “Manny” Lara
C Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Group, 18th MP Brigade
Killed In Action ~ 30 May 1968 ~ Vietnam
I was on duty at the OP, as we called Outpost #3, on the night the Sgt. Lara was killed, but actually working on the roving patrol with armored jeeps in which we were to patrol the village. Early in the morning – before dawn – Sgt. Lara and his driver stopped by the OP on his way to meet up with some ARVNs to go out on an ambush patrol. There was no one else with them. He was in an open jeep, not an armored jeep like we had. We chatted some and then he and his driver drove off towards the center of the village and the river.
Moments later we heard small arms fire including one RPG round. We scrambled into our armored jeeps and sped down the road to render assistance. There were four of us MPs. I was driving the second of the two jeeps. We had two ARVN soldiers with us (perhaps they were reservists as were the ARVNs that Lara was going to meet up with?) When we got to the area of the Buddhist Temple, which was on the left hand side of the road, we started receiving small arms fire from the temple grounds. The MP in the first jeep, braked briefly, causing me to brake to a stop, then he sped off through the ambush kill zone. This if I remember correctly is the proper procedure, drive through the ambush. However, I stopped my jeep and we bailed out. I fired several rounds into the temple grounds with my M79 (grenade launcher) while the others fired their M16s. After a short time there was no return fire and we went looking for Lara. His jeep was in the shallow ditch opposite the temple. The driver had pulled Lara from the jeep into an open area between two buildings. Lara was unconscious. The driver told us that the VC had fired an RPG round which went under the jeep and then struck the road; the shrapnel blow back caught Lara on his entire right side. He said the VC came up to him and Lara huddled on the ground but did not attempt to harm them any further. The VC stole the radio from Lara jeep. I don’t remember if they took anything else like their weapons.
The first MP jeep returned and we set up a defensive parameter on the road to cover Lara and the driver. We took one of the M60s off of a jeep and set it up facing the temple. As we set up this parameter I thought I saw movement in front of us on the temple grounds and fired at the movement, but there was no return fire. Later we were told that there was some indication that we at least wounded the VC attackers as blood was found on the grounds of the temple. Although I was only a PFC and the lowest rank MP there, I called in a medevac, but it was called off by a Lieutenant who arrived very quickly on the scene. We loaded Lara onto the laps of two of the MP who sat in the back of the Lt’s jeep and Lara was driven to Long Binh Hospital (24th Medevac). After they drove off with Sgt. Lara, the rest of us got into our jeeps and drove up to the road (highway 317?) sat in front of the bunkers on the Long Binh parameter and waited for the shift to be over.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the names of anyone that was there that night except for Sgt. Lara. A number of years ago I went to the National Archives and attempted to find some records about the 720 MP unit in Vietnam – a very frustrating experience. I could find no information on this incident, except for one scant mention in a log.
In 1995 I went back to Vietnam and return to this area. What a odd and sobering experience! The free fire zone between the village and the location of the Long Binh is now completely filled with houses. Long Binh is gone. I thought that when the country fell to the communists that they would move in. They tore everything down. Perhaps they moved some of the Adams huts elsewhere, but nothing stands on the base… NOTHING! The old French OP tower had been torn down. Standing there on the old concrete pad on which the OP had stood, I remembered the two young girls who lived next to the OP. They would stay up late to sell us candy, soda and cigarettes. They were around 11 or 12 during my tour (August ’67 – August ’68). But by the end of the war they were older and dating Americans, mostly MPs. The villagers reported to me that they were killed by the communists when they took over. Their mother is still alive and lives in the next village to the East. I learned that my memory of the ambush was somewhat distorted. In my memory the Buddhist Temple was only a few hundred meters from the OP; but my memory was wrong. The temple is nearly a kilometer from the OP. The temple still stands – a quiet and peaceful place.
A few years ago I started writing plays, stage and screen. The first screenplay was called “By the River Dong Nai.” In the screenplay I greatly expanded the ambush and populated the story with a number of totally fictitious characters. I was never able to sell it, but it did get me an agent. I have a stage play about the Negro Baseball League on the day that Jackie Robinson first played in the Majors that is to be produce Off Broadway hopefully in a year or so.
If anyone is interested in reading “By the River Dong Nai,” I would be happy to forward it.