Captain A. Danilenko, MID (Post)
Killed in Action 25th April (ANZAC Day) 1968
Photo: Courtesy of David Savage
Captain Anatoly (Tony) Danilenko
Tony Danilenko was an Australian born of Russian parents. He attended the Royal Military College Duntroon, graduating in 1963. Tony served in 2SAS Squadron in Borneo in 1966 and later as SAS Liaison Officer/Adviser on Headquarters Australian Force Vietnam in late 1967 before joining AATTV in 1968. He was attached to the United States Special Forces Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force) based in Pleiku where he served as a company commander. He was killed on operations on Anzac Day, 1968.
John Wast has provided the following account. John joined the US Army in June 1966. He was posted to Vietnam as a member of the United States Special Forces in January 1968 with the rank of Sergeant, E-5. John served with the Pleiku Mike Force until September 1968 when he was transferred to the II Corps Special Forces C Team, also in Pleiku. He was a platoon commander in the Mike Force and also acted as medic and MSF radio operator in the absence of personnel specifically trained in those fields. He was a member of a two-company force sent to reinforce Tony Danilenko’s company and another after the action in which Tony was killed. John was also a member of one of the Mike Force companies involved in the relief of the Special Forces A Camp at Duc Lap in August 1968. John did not know Tony personally but his account is relevant both as it relates to Tony and as an example of the kinds of actions which were typical of what was expected of the Mike Force.
I wasn't with Tony Danilenko when he died but I can tell you what I know of it.
The operation took place in Northern II Corps. It was north of Dak Pek and "shithouse country" it was. This was my second operation up there and I hated it. Worst I saw in Vietnam. Those hills would have been scary during peacetime. You were either going up or down; sometimes in clouds all day; wet and cold at night.
We received word in Pleiku that two of our companies were it a schnitzel north of Dak To and that my company and another were going in the next day to help them out. The two companies in trouble were on a recon in force to investigate a road (known as Highway One Alpha) coming in from Laos being built to intersect with Highway One. This particular two-company operation was outside of artillery range and choppers were always in doubt because of the weather. Some genius had decided to send two Mike Force companies, eight Roundeyes and two hundred and twenty Yards (Montagnards) with carbines, to check on a road with bridges being built with steel girders outside of artillery range and nowhere to land a chopper if they could get there.
After a number of days trooping through some very rough territory with no contact the two companies approached the road and got their lunch handed to them. One of the men with the companies, Sergeant Medic, E-5 Steve Pratt told me afterwards that the NVA were throwing grenades and shooting B-40's from high ground and yelling, in English, "Fuck the Mike Force". First word was that the two companies were split into three groups and Sergeant E-7 Charlie Utz was badly wounded and Captain Danilenko was missing along with Sergeant Pratt. They had not been together. They were lost individually.
The seven other Americans and I with the two companies going in as reinforcements were taken to the TOC across the street that night and briefed on what was known about the situation. We were shown pictures taken by recon teams of bridges with steel girders. This got everyone's attention. We were told that there could be the equivalent of a division building and supporting that road. When those first two companies got too close the NVA said, “I don't think so” and popped them good. I think the NVA could have killed them all, and us too once we got in there, but they just wanted us out their hair. As long as we stayed away from their road they let us alone. God bless the little commie bastards.
We got to Dak To early the next day and I came in with the second lift to land on a two chopper LZ on the side of a ridge just below where the two companies had spent the night. Before we got on to join the first lift we were told that the LZ was hot. It wasn't. We took some wild 51 Caliber fire on the way in but none on the LZ itself. I remember looking out the door and seeing what looked like a thousand feet down and then being 20 feet off the ground. I saw Yards in the blowing grass looking up at us as we went over them. I was ready to unass that chopper quick when I saw Dody Chase laying back in the grass on his rucksack and he lifted his arm and waved his fingers at me so I knew we were not drawing any fire. We went uphill and found the two companies who had formed one perimeter by now.
The wounded, including Sergeant Utz who spent an awful night being treated by Sergeant Medic Pat Ireland and Sergeant Pratt for a wound that had shattered his bicep, were out already. I think he lost the arm and I know that Sergeants Pratt and Ireland thought just surviving the night was miraculous.
Captain Danilenko's body was found about the time we were getting ready to get the dead out. I believe he was in the advance of where they were hit the day before. I did not see him but I was told that he was facing uphill.
We gathered ourselves and headed south a klick or so over very difficult ground to a hilltop. They pulled Captain Danilenko's company out and after a day or two what was left of us got word to head back north and to take another look at the road. The Yards said, "Thanks anyway” and tendered their collective resignations. That's another story.
It is my theory that the NVA left us alone (they could have eaten us at their leisure) because they were told to finish their road and to not attract attention to themselves. When the Mike Force got too close we were addressed but as long as we kept our distance we were only observed.
I did not know Captain Danilenko except by sight. But I can tell you that Steve Pratt was very fond of him and one could pick no better man to be admired by.
* * * * *
I am 60 years old now. I had just turned 22 in March before we went North in April of 1968. Ours was a fairly new company as I remember the training we were going through with the company, especially with a diamond formation. I thought we had an Aussie Warrant with us as well but I just can't remember.
Captain Danilenko was a straight shooter and he didn't let a lot rattle him . He had the calming effect of a true professional. The day before we got hit one of the Yards tripped and had an accidental discharge. If the NVA had not pin pointed our location they surely knew where we were after that. A mountain yard company was not all that quiet in the jungle with the pots and pans as well. The night before we got hit we closed in on the side of the mountain for the night . We were going to send out an ambush but just before dark I caught movement down in the valley and called Capt Danilenko and SFC Utz over to my location to take a gander. I guess we counted well over a 100 NVA moving South. I called in the grid via morse code as we were so far out of FM range that we had to use morse code. I received a QSL and later received a Msg saying that we weren't in an artillery fan, they were not going to move any artillery, and they wouldn't send in any gunshots. I guess maybe they didn't have any to send or we weren't on the high priority list .
I know that Capt D was frustrated
as hell, as we all were . The ambush didn't go out.
We had another company on our left flank (up hill) that was Captain McDanial's
company . Patrick Ireland was the medic for that company. I
also remember that the yards were antsy as hell.
The next day, my platoon had just rotated from the front to the rear
of the formation. I believe Captain Danilenko had decided to make
a run down a finger into the valley. I wasn't privy to commo between
the two Company Commanders and I can't remember just what the other Company
was going to do. We had stopped for lunch on the side of the hill and
it was a big hill, very steep. I remember eating a bag of rice watching
the Yards to my North and the next thing I remember is that all hell had
broke loose. The amount of small arms and B-40 rockets that we took
during the next 5 minutes was devastating. The Yards didn't want to move--we had already lost 2 Yards that I knew of , I saw them get hit by a rocket. I talked with Capt Danilenko.................. as if he really needed to be advised of the situation. He was below me and I knew damn well that he was receiving the machine gun fire that we were . I went up that hill as Capt D ordered. That was the only way we could have gone . It was from tree to tree and a crawl and all I can remember is that shit was flying everywhere. One minute I had Yards with me moving up the hill, the next time I looked around I had one Yard and that was Big John , my radio operator.
I went up the hill a bit further
thinking I could get bead on an NVA gun position and by that time
the heavy firing had quieted down some. I couldn't make
commo with Steve , Charlie Utz or Captain Danilenko. I didn't know
it than but I believe John Wast was correct in his assumption that all
they wanted was to kill as many of us as they could and then move most
of their support out. I cannot remember a solid
time line from that point . I was alone and quite frankly wondering just where the hell everyone was and what my next move would be. There was still NVA moving around. Big John and I hunkered down to see what we could see here before we made a move, when we heard movement to the North and a bit down hill from us. It turned out to be Patrick Ireland from the Western Company (up Hill). We had a quick talk and agreed that we would try to make it back to our respective Company's.
Just after my link up with Ireland
I managed to make contact with Steve Pratt. Apparently his mike had
been blown off the radio and
somehow had managed to find another mike. The little guys in black almost got Big John and myself with a couple of grenades, but in the meantime the explosions gave Steve Pratt a location to guide us in from. Out of a Company of 110 Yards there were 30 with Steve Pratt and Charlie Utz. The rest were gone and we still couldn't find Captain Danilenko.
It was getting dark, we began
to set up on a small flat area. They were sniping at us and firing
burst of AK down the hill. I remember that
Charles Utz was moving in a crouch on the down hill side of a big rock and got hit high in the right arm. I remember firing up the hill trying to fix this guy and got the Yards to start firing as well but we received a Msg over the radio that we were firing into the upper Company's' formation. They knew who we were, they were in between the two Company's' and that night was indeed a very long one with probes, grenades and small arms coming into the small formation that we had managed to put together. After digging in the Yards that were left the next day we called in gun ship runs between the two Company's' and executed a link up.
Yard bodies and equipment were
all over the side of the mountain and we still had not found Captain Danilenko.
When we did
find him he was in the up hill position. He had moved into from a down hill and was preparing to make another move up hill when he took the fatal hit. Weapon in the right hand, both hands in the push up position left leg straight with his right knee drawn up as if he were going to push up and move out. He had managed to make it a ways up the hill . His Yard radio operator and the radio were not found near him.
The 4th infantry Division commander,
as I understand it made the comment (what ta hell are a few Yards).
They wanted us to go back into the
AO. The Yards refused and as far as I know the Mike Force never went up there again. I believe to this day that we were used as cannon fodder on that operation but most of us were very young and we had very brave commanders. For the short time that I knew Captain Tony Danilenko, my impression of him, from experience is that he would not have understood the word 'retreat'. He always had time to talk if you wanted to talk. He had an aura that I have not forgotten for almost 39 years. He was a good officer.
The area North of Dak Pek was indeed a hell hole. It was their front yard and they didn't want us playing in it. I think that the NVA had us pegged from day one but the politics drove combat operations in those days and someone above the Mike Force command put us in a place we shouldn't have been, at least without proper support. It was not a well supported operation from the get go. I have often wondered why the hell the 4th Infantry Division Commander didn't send his own troops up there. I remember that the Yards were antsy before we kicked off, and during our move North we had a couple of accidental discharges. That damn sure didn't help our cause a bit.
As I understand it we were in
contact with the 2nd NVA Division. John Wast and Steve Pratt
had it right, I just happened to be a bit higher on
the hill when we got hit. It's weird that I should be surfing on this Saturday and find your site and after reading John's narrative, I felt the need to say ........something. His family, if he has one should know that he is, in my thoughts, a very brave and honorable soldier. I work -still after 15 years of retirement with combat soldiers on Fort Bragg, assisting in any way that I am able. Combat actions and reports of Afghanistan and Iraq along with new training techniques are the business of the day. I will tell you that for the past 38 years and most recently since 9-11 that there has not been a week, and sometimes days when I have not returned to thoughts of the combat actions on the side of that mountain North of Dak Pek in April 1968 with Captain Danilenko as my commander. I have never forgotten him.
Lawrence G McCauley
(Tony Danilenko was awarded a Posthumous Mention in Dispatches for his part in the operation.)
I would like to thank David Savage, John Wast and most recently Lawrence McCauley for their efforts in piecing together this tribute to Capt Tony Danilenko.
Lest we forget
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