‘At 2:01 a.m., May 12, 1969 all hell broke lose at Landing Zone Jamie:’ Mick Johnson

 Cpl. Mick Johnson, a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, sits at a 105 mm howitzer emplacement at Landing Zone Jamie near Tay Ninh, Vietnam in 1969 shortly before they were almost overrun by North Vietnam Army troops. Photo provided by Betsy Bracy

Cpl. Mick Johnson, a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, sits at a 105 mm Howitzer emplacement at Landing Zone Jamie near Tay Ninh, Vietnam in 1969 shortly before they were almost overrun by North Vietnam Army troops. He’s holding an M-79 Grenade Launcher.                                      Photo provided by Betsy Brach

Mick Johnson of Bird Bay subdivision in Venice, Fla. was “sluffing off” on a football scholarship at Philadelphia’s Villanova University in 1968. At the end of the school year he was drafted as a minor league pitcher by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I played a half season with the Dodgers. In September ’68 I lost my military deferment when I dropped out of college and was drafted into the Army at the height of the Vietnam War,” the 64-year-old local resident said. “After eight weeks of basic at Fort Bragg, N.C. and several more weeks of artillery training at Fort Sill, Okla. I was sent to San Francisco and put on a TWA flight to Vietnam.

“Seventeen hours later I stepped off the airplane at Bien Hoa Air Force Base in South Vietnam. After an in-country indoctrination I was assigned to the 1st Air Cavalry Division at Landing Zone Liz. When I first got to Vietnam the artillery unit I was attached to moved when the enemy moved.

“Eventually we established an artillery fire base about 20 miles north of Tay Ninh in the middle of a bamboo jungle, along a dirt road at Landing Zone Jamie,” Johnson recalled. “The bamboo was so thick you could be 10 feet from someone and not see him. It was five or six clicks from the Cambodian border near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, used by the North Vietnamese Army to transport military supplies.

“When we arrived there they dropped the guys, guns and material for setting up the base from choppers. The Army Corps of Engineers brought in bulldozers to build the fire base and clear the land. It took them about two weeks to complete building the L.Z.

“All the time the North Vietnamese Regulars were watching us. It almost seemed like they were waiting for us to finish the the L.Z. so they could attack,” he said.

“It started around midnight May 12, 1969 with sporadic gun fire. Then at 2:01 a.m. all hell broke loose. The NVA hit the L.Z. with 200 rounds of mortar and rocket fire,” Johnson said. “Uniformed NVA troops broke through our barbed wire perimeter defenses with human wave attacks and started to overrun the L.Z. Our 130 infantry and 55 artillery guys were surrounded by a much larger enemy force.

Almost immediately one of the NVA’s mortar rounds hit the 105 mm Howitzer providing illumination rounds over the base so we could see our attackers. All but Cpl. Len Duchene was killed by the direct hit.

“For the next 2 1/2 hours Duchene worked by himself on the Howitzer. He did the work of six men. He was unbelievable. Enemy bullets were flying all around him, but this guy was like Superman. He worked all night firing one illuminating round after another. We probably would have been overrun if he hadn’t performed.”

After the battle Duchene received a Silver Star medal for his heroism at Landing Zone Jamie.

“A few days earlier I had been appointed acting corporal. My six man squad worked in the ammo dump or moved ammo around during the battle.

“At the height of the attack the NVA overran three of our bunkers. We had 26 in all in the oval fire base. The ammo base we were protecting was only 20 yards from one of the lost bunkers the NVA held.

“My five guys were as good as it gets. Jim Fuller an 18-year-old San Diego native and ‘Flippy,’ a 140 pound dynamo – stayed with me at the ammo base. The other three guys ran ammo to the gun crews.

“We had five other 105 mm Howitzers, but we couldn’t fire them at the NVA because they were too close. We fired mortar rounds instead,” he said. “By timing the mortar and rockets the NVA were firing at us we pinpointed their fire bases and knocked them out with our mortars.

“During the NVA onslaught I was hit in the shoulder by shrapnel. Spec-5 Greg Hood, this fantastic medic, patched me up. He told me, ‘If you don’t think about your wound it won’t hurt.’ He was right,” Johnson said.

“About dawn the fighting slacked off a little bit and then the NVA sent in another human wave attack. It was like they were never gonna stop. You’d knock one down and another enemy soldier would keep on coming.

“Then they sent in ‘Puff the Magic Dragon,’ a C-47 twin-engine transport equipped with Gatling guns, that covered the ground around the outside of the L.Z. with bullets every five inches. After that the Air Force sent in fighters that strafed the area. Then ‘Cobra’ gun ships came in and finished it.

“Things started quieting down. We were just about out of ammo when we got resupplied. The twin-rotor Chinook helicopters brought in bulldozers that immediately began digging a pit that was used to bury the NVA dead. I don’t think anybody ever counted, but there must have been hundreds of them.

“We lost about 40 killed and a bunch more wounded,” Johnson said.

“During my year in Vietnam I lost one man in my squad. We were both hit by a single NVA rocket fired at 9:15 p.m. on Aug. 13, 1969. He lost his left arm and leg and I had minor shrapnel wounds.

Mick Johnson, a 6-feet, 4-inch pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968, stands besides his mentor, Dodger's Manager Tom Lasorda. They said: "'Mick had a fast ball he could throw through a brick wall.'" Photo provided by Betsy Bracy

Mick Johnson, a 6-feet, 4-inch pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968, stands besides his mentor, Dodger’s minor-league manager Tom Lasorda. They said: “‘Mick had a fast ball he could throw through a brick wall.'” Photo provided by Betsy Bracy

“They called for a Medevac helicopter and requested a doctor be on board.The chopper came in and picked us up an started flying us back to the closest MASH hospital about 30 minutes away. They were working on this guy in flight. As fast as they poured blood into him it poured right out. At one point the doctor told the medic helping him, ‘Just let him go. There’s nothing else we can do for him,'” Johnson recalled the doctor saying 40 years later as he shook his head.

“My tour in Vietnam was up on Feb. 6, 1970. We flew into San Francisco where the Army was at its best. It put money in your pocket, made your airline reservations and gave you a clean new uniforms,” he said. “This was the height of the Anti-War Movement that was in full swing. We got a rude awakening about the war when we took a cab from the base to the airport even though we were dressed in civilian clothes the people yelled insults at us.

“Seven Army guys got aboard this big Northwest Airline jet from San Francisco to Minneapolis. Shortly after we took off the pilot came back to where we were and told us, ‘My boys fly first class.’ “Then he took us to the first class section and told the stewardess,” ‘Whatever they want give it to them.’

“We hadn’t drunk any beers in a year so we had a few on the way to Minneapolis. We switched planes there and flew on to Philly. There were only three of us left on the flight to Philly, but the captain invited us to first class once again. We had some more beers.

“Forty relatives were waiting in Philly to greet me. As the three of us stood at the top of the stairs looking out over the crowd we had to hold on to each other in order to stand up,” Johnson remembered.

“‘Look at him. He’s still wounded,’ “my poor mother said.” ‘No he’s not,’ “my father said,” ‘He’s drunk!'”

“I got out of the regular Army a bit early, on June 19, 1970, and went back to playing major league baseball with the Dodgers. Dodger’s Manager Tom Lasorda took me under his wing because I had grown up in Morristown, the same town he was from.

“In those days I was a 6-feet, 4-inch, 220 pound pitcher. Because of my size they said I could throw a fast ball through a brick wall,” Johnson recalled. “All I threw were fast balls when I got to professional baseball and that didn’t cut it in the majors.

“I played a couple more seasons for Tom. He use to say, ‘I had the best 58-foot curve-ball he ever saw. It was a shame home plate was 60-feet, 6-inches away.’

“Tom worked with me and eventually I developed a change up and a curveball. But one day I blew out my elbow trying to throw a curve. Tom had been so good to me, but at that point he told me, ‘Mick, I can only use you against certain hitters. Trouble is these hitters are all retired.'”

He was released from  baseball in 1973 after injuring his elbow.

Johnson returned to Villanova’s engineering school. Later he went to work for an outfit in Pottstown, Pa. that did engineering site work for a company that built banks. He worked for the firm until he developed a brain tumor in 2000 and was forced to retire at 51.

“I loved to golf and I had a cousin who lived in the Venice area. I moved down here in 2000 and went to work at Calusa Lakes Golf Course in Nokomis. When I’m not golfing I drive the fairway mower unit. The biggest decision I make these days is whether to turn the mower to the left or the right,” he said with a grin.

Johnson has two grown children: Michael, Jr. and Heidi.

Johnson’s File

 This is Johnson today at 64 at his home in Venice. Sun photo by Don MooreName: Michael Joseph Johnson
D.O.B: 27 Aug. 1948
Hometown: Norristown, Pa.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 20 Sept. 1968
Discharged: 19 June 1970
Rank: Sergeant
Unit: 1st Air Cavalry Division
Commendations: Two Purple Hearts, 2 Bronze Stars with Combat V for Valor, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 2 Bars, Air Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal with Palm, OS Bars (2), Republic of Vietnam, Expert Qualifying Badge
Battles/Campaigns: Landing Zone Jamie – May 19, 1969; Sept. 7, 1969; June 6, 1979

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Jan. 6, 2013 and is republished with permission.

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  1. I graduated high school with Mick. I am proud to know him. Thank you Mick , for all you did for our freedom.
    Marion Calamaro Gibbonsj

  2. I’m not sure if anyone will see this, almost a year after this story was posted.

    My husband, also with the 1st Cavalry, was at LZ Jamie on May 12th. He doesn’t talk much about the battle, other than to say that good men were lost.

    Thank you, for sharing your story.

    God Bless!

  3. And sometimes I receive email into my personal inbox. The following from someone else who was there. He gave me his name but unless he comments here, I’ll keep it private.

    February 16, 2014


    I just read Mick Johnson’s account of May 12, 1969 at LZ Jamie in Vietnam – it is quite accurate, but perhaps a bit too conservative.

    Although 45 years have passed, It seems like yesterday, – everyday.

    1st Air Cav. 2nd of the 7th

    • I was there with you on that gun- Len, everyone that helped recover after Moose and the others died– were heroes in providing alum rounds so the others could fend off the gooks.
      If you are still around, I would l like to catch up with you.
      I am 70 years old and still going strong.

      • Hi John of course I remember You. I am also 70 in reside in Las Vegas now. I also remember Ace racing. You can reach me at 7023314245.

        Len Duchene

  4. I flew for Blue Max that night. that was one heck of a fight as we were firing rockets inside the perimeter into the bunkers…the .51 were active to say the least.
    Blue Max 29 Echo 4

  5. Michael, Thank you for the narrative on LZ Jamie. After discharge from hospital I was placed on light duty and sent to Jamie in which I occupied a perimeter bunker. Delta Company was manning Jamie at the time and I was still assigned to Bravo Company at the time. That was some light duty. A terrible night. Garryowen Sky Trooper!

    • As a Blue Max pilot that night it is “interesting” (to say the least) to get different perspective of that night. I had no idea of the date.

  6. My brother Bob Sabo, from Lansing, Illinois was killed in a bunker, on May 12, 1969 at LZ Jamie he was also in the 1st. Cav. Air Division. Company D 2D Battalion.

    • I was your brothers squad leader
      delta company 2/7 1st cav 3rd squad
      3rd platoon. I may have a photo if you are interested .

  7. Thank you for your story of what happened May 12, 1969. A childhood neighborhood friend of mine, William James (Jimmy) Burke, Jr. from Menlo Park was killed that night. I still think of him, marvel at how brave he was to go back for a second tour, but also I get bogged down sometimes in how tragic (and other boys) he died at age 19. I always wondered what he went through when he died, and now, thanks to you, at least I have a small picture. I miss him all the time, especially on Veterans Day. I am glad you were able to come home and live your life. And I am sorry for all those who were killed or maimed (mentally or physically) in the war. I know that if I had been male, I would have been drafted and fought in Viet Nam, just like you, and I wonder how I would have measured up. On a lighter note, I sure loved the part of the story where the airline pilot made sure you were in First Class with whatever you wanted, and you wanted beer. Cheers!

  8. Thank you for the story,many great men were lost not only that night but the days leading up to that night
    Heavy bones 36

  9. I was part of this battery as the supply sgt. That night both our battery commander (CPT. Day) and our first Sgt. (1st. Sgt. Lara) we’re Kia. Both were outstanding leaders, men and friends.

  10. I remember Jamie from may 12 also it was mother’s day and it sets off a nerve in me every year on mother’s day.

    I was in echo co in the radar guys In the tower near the arty not the big radar but the anti personnel radar. That night we were pulled from the tower and put on a bunker with the rest of e company re-con platoon which I had been in earlier. The corner bunker got over run and the fifty taken by the gooks but Bobbie Morgan got it back somehow. They got thru to my left but John Gallagher and ??? Ellis from Tennessee. Repelled them. Dennis Randall on our bunker kept the 60 running all night and someone on a mule kept coming around with more ammo.

    The next morning it was amazing that our guys on lap were still alive. I met them halfway out the wire to guide in James “Cool Breeze” Johnson (worked nyc subway). And I think the Rodriquez bros…. not really bros but we called them that, Travis ? And Housch. Next morning back at the tower heard we lost 18 KIA and goes 180. Always thought someone just multiplied by ten.
    Remember it every mother’s day. Thinking those moms remember it getting notified. 49 years later decide to search google. Georgecassidy@gmail.com

    • George, the information you shared is very accurate as I remember it. Although I had shrapnel wounds and was sent to the rear, (to get stitches and be patched up), I didn’t help with the clean-up, or know an accurate KIA count.
      I know that Bobbie and Carl have passed, but I have wondered how many of us are still kicking.
      If anyone would be interested in a meeting, please let me know and I will attend.
      jcgall@btes.tv 423-646-1608

  11. My name is Jim Maurer “Gray Fox”. I was a squad leader in Alpha Co.3ed platoon, 2nd of the 7th when that battle took place. Our Co. was in the boonies when it took place, but we had a guy on Jamie who was on sick leave when we left Jamie. I remember when he got back to the Co. he said he played dead with another GI laying on top of him, who was dead, inside one of the bunkers, while one of the NVA was on the top step of the bunker shooting at the GI’s. I remember being on Jamie on two other occasions when NVA sappers attempted to come through the wire. Fortunately, the set of trip flairs early on and we were able to suppress them before they broke through. Gary Owen to all you great men, for your service, 50 yrs later!!!

  12. My brother in law , James A Bailey (Tony) was at L Z Jamie. He was KIA November 20 1969. If anyone remembers him I would love to hear about him.

      • I was on LZ Jamie when “all hell broke loose” Stars and Stripes articles talk about the 2/7 Cav (I think 2/7 was Charlie company but it’s been a very long time so I could be wrong) and true they were at the center of the shit but so were we…the 2/19 B, a 105mm artillery battery supporting the 2/7 operations with mussels into anti-personnel position and firing charge one flechette rounds into our own wire thru much of the night. That night we lost almost ½ of our Battery including our Battery Commander and First Sergeant. I didn’t really know Mick Johnson but I do know he was there and in 2/19 B Battery. There was also 3 155 guns on our LZ but I can’t remember much about them…

        As normal daily operation, 2/19 after dark we relocated out gun positions except for Base Piece that routinely handled most of the fire missions so as not to give away the other gun positions.

        We had advance intelligence about what was about to happen so we are on the ready…
        Body sniffers pickup up lots of activity in the jungle so the LPs were talked back in and Blue Max was on station and ready for us, flying above silent and blackout until they were called to engage!


  13. I was in B Battery 2nd of the 19 artillery
    On gun 5 we provider alumination for the LZ we lost our sgt and others that night!
    If you know me- I would like to chat with you!

    • I remember SSG Rios, a crazy Mexican with a deformed thumb and Eddie Kimbro our cook, a black E7 with a no nonsense attitude and terrific cook. Smitty was the company clerk.

      you are welcome to call me at your convenience. I am pacific time..

  14. Richard nobles i was in that battery left April 23 69 going home how many in the battery got killed

    • Richard I remember three soldiers that were killed on the base piece, the crew chief Charles (Moose) Barbiere from New York , John Eland from Michigan, and John Drane from Arizona. There were also others but I remember these three because I was on this gun.

      • Everyone that were there that night should have received medals, for holding on to our landing zone!
        But those that were wounded an killed will always be the real heros!
        God bless all!

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