Matt Kamanu of Santa Rosa and Jim Medeiros of San Jose located three names on a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall erected Thursday in Sonoma as part of a four-day Veterans Day tribute.
"This was our battalion. We were Charlie Company," said Kamanu, a Native Hawaiian who was drafted, along with Medeiros, into the Army's 34th Armor Regiment, at age 18.
Standing by the 360-foot-long traveling wall — flat black aluminum panels etched with the names of more than 58,000 American casualties — Kamanu and Medeiros, both 66, recalled the horror of the night of March 1, 1967.
Their tank unit was stationed outside the village of Dau Tieng in southeast Vietnam when enemy forces opened fire from what was supposed to be friendly territory.
"Not on that night," Kamanu said.
The big tank guns initially remained silent, as their company commander had to radio for permission to shoot back, Kamanu said.
He was running toward another tank, carrying ammunition, when a rocket-propelled grenade pierced the tank's side, triggering a white phosphorus explosion that killed three crewmen and blew the driver, who survived, out of the tank.
Kamanu said he was moments away from climbing onto the tank, a move that likely would have taken his life.
Heavy fire from an AC-47 gunship, nicknamed "Puff, the Magic Dragon," ended the deadly firefight.
"It was a rough time," Medeiros said, recalling their tour from 1966-67.