John E. Holbrook
In early July 1967 I was sent to South Vietnam to try to determine why many of the 500 lb. bombs being delivered by naval aircraft were not detonating. I had extensive experience with both conventional and nuclear weapons. The VC would dig up these duds, melt out the Amatol and use the explosive to manufacture crude but very effective anti-personnel booby traps. I was assigned an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team and we would be escorted by whatever Army or Marine units were available for protection. We would remove the fuses and detonate the bombs.
On July 13, 1967, while on one of these missions, we were attacked by a force of approximately 50 Viet Cong. As the attack developed my M16A1 jammed, which left me unarmed. I came across a wounded Marine officer, Captain Eldon M. Martin lying in a rice paddy. Captain Martin, although severely wounded was alert and indicated that he was lying on an M14, which was under water and that he had a fully loaded .45 pistol in his holster.
As I removed the Colt M1911A1 .45 automatic (serial # 23002XX) from the Captain, I observed three VC armed with AK-47s moving toward me in a crouched position through the thick grass which was about 2 meters high. I waited until they were within about 4 meters from me. I rose to a kneeling position using the grass as a shield. I put the front sight of the Colt on the man on the left and pulled the trigger. The man in the middle went down! I had jerked the trigger and was very lucky to have gotten a hit. I then moved back to the man on the left, held my breath and fired again. This round hit the man on the left in the chest and he went down. The last man realized what was happening and began firing his AK in my direction. I could see the bullets hitting the water in front of me as he brought the AK up. I fired my third round which hit the magazine of the AK, then glanced down striking him in the right leg. As he spun around from the impact of the 230 grain bullet, I fired two more rounds one of which hit him in the temple just above the left eye. The gunfight was over!
This action lasted not more that 4 seconds and I got four hits with five rounds of GI 230 grain hardball from a pistol that had mud and water in it. All of these hits were one shot stops against three men armed with automatic weapons. God bless the .45 ACP.
I must thank my father, who was the Sheriff of San Patricio County, Texas during World War II. He carried a Colt Government Model and I was shooting the big Colt when I was 10. I was a very good shot with both pistol and rifle very early in life and took my first deer when I was 11. I must also thank John Browning and Colt for inventing and producing the finest combat pistol ever made, bar none. I believe that if I had been armed with a 9MM, both our names would be on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Captain Martin, although badly wounded, survived the action. He insisted that I keep the Colt and I still have it. The greatest honor was when he named his first son after me in 1971. Unfortunately, Captain Martin died in 1991 of MLS. He was a good man, I miss him as I do all the fine young Americans who died in Vietnam.
After that action, I “lost” the M16 and acquired an M14, and I was in love.
John E. Holbrook
Chief Aviation Machinist Mate
U.S. Navy (Retired)