|Name:||Samuel Arthur Sharp, Jr.|
|Rank/Branch:||Lance Corporal/US Marine Corps|
3rd Reconnaissance Battalion,
3rd Marine Division (Reinforced)
Khe Sanh, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||09 February 1947 (Bonners Ferry, ID)|
|Home of Record:||San Jose, CA|
|Date of Loss:||10 May 1967|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Malcolm T. Miller; James N. Tycz; Heinz Ahlmeyer Jr. (missing); Clarence Carlson; Carl Friery and Steven Lopez (rescued)|
REMARKS: KIA WHN PTRL ATKD, WNDD RCV-J
SYNOPSIS: Because the war in Vietnam lacked a defined front line, the enemy strategy made Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) a needed tool to gather intelligence about communist activities throughout Southeast Asia. The ground commanders who fought the day to day war readily recognized the need for special reconnaissance units at the onset of the fighting. During 1965 provisional LRRP units were formed with all assets they could spare.
When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.
On 9 May 1967, 2nd Lt. Heinz Ahlmeyer, Jr., team leader; Sgt. James N. Tycz, assistant team leader; HM3 Malcolm T. Miller, corpsman; PFC Steven Lopez, radio operator; LCpl. Samuel A. Sharp, Jr., Clarence Carlson and Carl Friery, riflemen; comprised the 7-man long range reconnaissance patrol, call sign "Recon Team (RT) Breaker." Their mission was to locate, identify and report on enemy activity along a suspected infiltration route used by the NVA as an extension of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the rugged jungle covered mountains northwest of Khe Sanh.
At approximately 1700 hours, the reconnaissance team was inserted by helicopter onto a hilltop covered in elephant grass approximately 20 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Vietnam. The landing zone (LZ) was slightly over 1 mile east of a secondary road generally running northwest to southeast through the mountains, 7 miles northwest of Khe Sanh and 12 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
After the helicopters departed, the team set out security then noticed that the area was heavily dug in with bunkers and fortified positions. Because it was late, the team was forced to remain on the LZ instead of moving to a different night defensive position. The NVA bunkers were placed in strategic positions around this entire hill where they could overlook the valley below. RT Breaker was right in the center of the crest of the hill. The closest bunkers were approximately 10 meters (roughly 12 yards) away.
Unaware the Americans had been inserted into the center of their stronghold, the NVA returned to their fortified position on top of the hill just after mid-night. The members of RT Breaker waited until the enemy troops were nearly upon them before opening fire and killing several of the closest NVA soldiers. The rest of the communist force pulled back to the bunker complex and immediately began throwing grenades and satchel charges at the entrenched Marines. Within two hours, all but three of the Americans were dead, and one of those still alive was unconscious.
In order to keep the NVA from overrunning their position, Steven Lopez, the radio operator, kept calling in artillery fire support missions from the batteries located at Khe Sanh. From time to time all night long as the artillery came in he adjusted it around the hill to wherever he saw enemy movement. PFC Lopez kept directing the artillery to come closer to their own position because the enemy was continuously moving through the brush closer to the team. Fearing they would kill their own men, the artillery gunners refused to move their fire on top of the hill. According to PFC Lopez, "because they were dug in at the crest of the hill, he believed the team would have been safe from the close-in artillery fire."
In his debriefing, Steven Lopez reported as daylight broke over the hilltop, "I thought they were going to walk on us this morning about dawn and finish us up, so I kept calling in the gunships. They strafed right next to us." He added, "They had to; I had to let them strafe right next to us because they (the NVA) were so close to us." One of the .50 caliber rounds from the Huey hit the only other live and conscious Marine. At that point Steven Lopez did not know if his teammate was dead or alive, but thought he was alone.Between 0220 and 0630 hours, three attempts were made to rescue the embattled reconnaissance team. The first attempt came when Capt. Paul T. Looney, pilot, brought in his CH46 Sea Night troop transport, call sign "Yankee Tango 5," while it was still dark. The aircrew dropped flares all over the area to light up the hill. Even with the artillery and Huey gunship firepower pouring in the enemy positions, in the end the rescue attempt proved an impossible task because the ground fire was so heavy. The NVA had small arms and automatic weapons situated all around the hilltop, and possibly an anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gun dug in and hidden from view on the east side of the hill.
Capt. Looney brought the Sea Night in to approximately 20 feet above the ground when enemy fire erupted from all sides forcing the aircrew to climb up and way from the hill. Later the survivors learned that all but the co-pilot had been wounded. Paul Looney crawled from his seat with a severe chest wound and died a short time later at the Khe Sanh aid station. When inspected, the Sea Night had 23 holes in it from NVA small arms and automatic weapons fire.
Another Sea Night helicopter made the second attempt to snatch RT Breaker off the hill. Again the troop transport proved to be too bulky and sluggish to rescue the team with the speed and agility required under the circumstances. It was also driven back by the intense and accurate ground fire.
At 0912 hours, the Marines tried to insert a ground team as a reaction force to assist the beleaguered Americans. This insertion attempt also failed due to the heavy volume of NVA small arms fire directed at their helicopters. The reaction force returned to Khe Sanh in tact.
At 1007 hours, the last attempt to reach RT Breaker by helicopter was made. This time the Marines used a force of three UH1 Huey gunships flown by aircrews from helicopter squadron VMO-3. While two of the Huey's laid down a withering carpet of machinegun fire to keep the NVA back, the third gunship slipped in under fire to retrieve the wounded. Major Charles Reynolds and Lt. David Myers, the aircraft's pilots; kept the Huey at a low steady hover as Cpl. Jackie Acosta and Cpl. Ronald Zaczek jumped out to assist the three survivors, Clarence Carlson, Carl Friery and Steve Lopez.The Huey was overweight as it struggled to pull away from the hilltop battle site. Jackie Acosta and Ronald Zaczek were the last Americans to see the bodies of 2nd Lt. Ahlmeyer, HM3 Miller, LCpl. Sharp and Sgt. Tycz lying where the men fell amid fires ignited by napalm that were located throughout the extraction zone. Under the circumstance, it was not possible to retrieve the bodies of the dead at the same time. Because there were a large number of NVA known to be on the hill, airstrikes were called in after the rescue aircraft cleared the area.
The survivors reported that Malcolm Miller and James Tycz died from fragmentation grenade wounds. They also reported that Samuel Sharp and Heinz Ahlmeyer were killed by small arms rifle fire. Because of the constant communist presence in the area of loss, no ground search was ever possible to recover their remains. At the time the formal rescue operation was terminated, Heinz Ahlmeyer, James Tycz, Samuel Sharp and Malcolm Miller were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
In the late 1990s, Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) interviewed the RT Breaker's survivors along with the aircrews who participated in their rescue. In May 1998, a Joint Field Activity (JFA) search team reached the summit of this remote hill and found small remnants of American uniforms. While there, JFA personnel interviewed local mountain tribesmen and learned they kept away from the area, considering this isolated hilltop to be haunted. During this JFA, the team was able to conduct a site survey, but not able to begin any recovery work.
While the fate of HM3 Miller, 2nd Lt. Ahlmeyer, Sgt. Tycz and LCpl. Sharp is not in doubt, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all possible. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American Prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.