John Woodward Sognier, JrSecond Lieutenant
A CO, 3RD BN, 7TH INFANTRY, 199 INF BDE
Army of the United States
18 September 1945 - 06 December 1967
Panel 31E Line 054
The database page for John Woodward Sognier, Jr
Seventy That Day
I led the honor guard burial detail for this lost hero, 2LT John W. Sognier, Jr. in mid-December, 1967 in Savannah. At the time I was a young 2LT about the same age as he was, stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, about six months out of OCS and about six months away from starting my tour.
The detail consisted of six pallbearers, a seven man rifle squad and a bugler to play Taps, all of which were young troops from my platoon. We did not know Lt. Sognier personally or the circumstances of his being lost. I have researched and discovered through this site and through www.thewall-usa.com that 16 men from the 199th Light Infantry Brigade lost their lives on December 6, 1967, the same day as Lt. Sognier. I believe this was his unit. It must have been a major battle. An additional 54 men were lost that day in other units throughout Vietnam for a total of seventy.
Shortly after the funeral, the commanding general of Fort Stewart received an especially gracious letter from Lt. Sognier�s father, John Sr., thanking us for our contribution to the services for his son. It was dated December 22, 1967, a few days before Christmas. I remember thinking at the time that it was most considerate of him to recognize others when he was in such grief. I imagine John Jr. to have been the same type of gentleman had he lived. I still have a copy of the letter, which is how I remember his name.
The burial detail was an assignment which we drew from time to time as the fallen were brought home for the last time. I remember the casualties from other details from other days but not their names anymore.
There was a young medic who was a conscientious objector, I believe a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, who served to save lives not take them. He must have been an exceptional young man as he was president of his high school class and many, many people attended the funeral. His potential will never be fulfilled, as he is now forever young. He left a valiant wife who personally thanked each of us and shook our hands after the service at the cemetery. She was carrying the flag which the pallbearers had triangularly folded only a few minutes earlier. It was so strange through my tears to see all of my brave troopers in tears also.
There was a young black soldier from a much different background who we honored at a Baptist church. The common element had been the uniform and now it was the grief. It was in Jacksonville I believe.
The services at the cemeteries were always the same. Everything was slow, muted and respectful. After the final words, the rifle squad would fire three volleys for the 21 gun salute. The loudness and surprise of the gunfire immediately followed by the playing of Taps would be the catalyst that caused the mourners to no longer hold back their tears and wails.
"If you are able,
From the leader of his burial detail,
A Note from The Virtual WallThe 199th Infantry Brigade arrived in Vietnam on 10 Dec 1966 and for nearly a year operated in the rice-paddy country around Saigon. That changed on 04 Dec 1967, when the Brigade established Fire Support Base NASHUA about 17 kilometers north of Bien Hoa Air Base. NASHUA was located in hill country that was covered with double- and triple-canopy jungle, an area which had been controlled by the Viet Cong for years. The 199th's move north was intended to locate and destroy NVA/VC forces and to disrupt the NVA/VC infrastructure. Although NASHUA itself was located in a relatively large cleared area near Ku Tru Mat village it was surrounded by jungle.
Recon teams from F Co, 51st Infantry had begun conducting recon patrols several days before the four companies of the 1st Bn, 12th Infantry arrived by air assault on the morning of 04 Dec. By nightfall FSB NASHUA was a going concern; artillerymen from C Btry, 2/40th Artillery had their howitzers in place and D Troop, 17 Cavalry's armored personnel carriers had arrived by road march from FSB HANOVER, 12 kilometers to the southwest. On the morning of 05 Dec 1/12 began its patrols around the new fire base. While 1/12 had little contact on that day, two patrols from F/51 did make contact 4 kilometers south and southeast of NASHUA - and had one man killed in the contacts.
At dawn on 06 Dec NASHUA received 20 to 25 mortar rounds from the southeast. The 1/12 commander responded by sending two platoons from Alpha 1/12 out to locate the mortar sites. Charlie 1/12 was sent on patrol to the west, Echo 1/12 was sent to the north, and 1/12's remaining forces concentrated on construction at the fire base itself.
The enemy made their presence known by ambushing D/17 Cav's morning road-clearing patrol from FSB HANOVER. The ambush was initiated at a point where the cavalry's five ACAV vehicles were forced into column; the VC destroyed the leading and trailing ACAVs with command-detonated mines, leaving the remaining three trapped in a killing zone. 1/12 responded by airlifting two platoons from Bravo 1/12 into the area; the infantrymen dispersed the enemy but two cavalrymen had been killed and others wounded. After medevacing the dead and wounded the combined force turned back toward FSB HANOVER.
As the day progressed both Echo 1/12 north of NASHUA and Alpha 1/12 to the southeast made contact with enemy forces. While Echo 1/12 encountered only small groups of NVA/VC (but enough to cost two dead), the 78 men from Alpha's two platoons ran into a hornet's nest - a well-constructed, well-manned VC battalion base camp hidden under triple-canopy jungle.
Alpha 1/12's initial contact rapidly degenerated into a vicious close-range firefight, with Alpha's forward elements pinned in place and in desperate need of fire support and reinforcement. 1/12's ability to respond was limited - Charlie and Echo Companies were on patrol, 2 platoons from Bravo Company were with the ACAVs, and NASHUA itself could not be left undefended. Charlie and Echo were recalled, but could not be of immediate assistance. Five D/17 ACAVs and the remainder of Bravo Company moved out at 1515 [3:15 pm]. Outside reinforcements also were made available - Alpha Company 3/7 Infantry was airlifted to the north of the base camp with instructions to conduct a flanking attack to the south. Although helo gunships, fixed-wing aircraft, and artillery support all were available, their effectiveness was limited by the jungle canopy - who was where? - and the available munitions ... 20-millimeter strafing and 105mm howitzer high-explosive shells failed to make much impression on the enemy bunkers. The contact began and would continue as an infantry fight.
Once Bravo 1/12 and the ACAVs linked up with the surviving elements of Alpha 1/12 (17 men of the original 78 were still functional) they were prepared to renew the attack. Because the two US elements - the 1/12 elements and Alpha 3/7 - were not in physical contact their movements had to be coordinated via radio. Attacking from the north, Alpha 3/7 did manage to penetrate to the center of the base camp before being forced to withdraw. The 1/12 attack did not penetrate the enemy's inner perimeter but did allow recovery of additional wounded before withdrawal. As night fell, the two groups established defensive perimeters and cut mini-landing zones so their dead and wounded could be evacuated. Although enemy assaults on the defensive perimeters were expected, they failed to materialize.
At dawn on 07 Dec the base camp area received heavy attacks by air and artillery supporting fire, followed by a ground assault - but there were no live NVA/VC to be found. The enemy had withdrawn from the camp, disappearing into the jungle. They did leave 62 hastily buried bodies behind - and they had executed wounded Americans who had fallen within the base camp's perimeter.
The fighting had cost the lives of 26 Americans - one from F/51 Infantry on 05 Dec, 24 killed in the actions on 06 Dec, and one who died of wounds on 07 Dec. The American dead were
Mr. Lazarczyk is correct in saying 70 American servicemen died in Vietnam on 06 Dec 1967 - 37 soldiers, 30 Marines, 3 Air Force aircrewmen, and 1 Navy Swift Boat crewman. Five of them died in accidents, 65 by hostile action ... God rest them all.
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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 09 Aug 2007
Last updated 08/10/2009