Staff Sgt. Cornealus Pumphrey, Jr.

Corcoran, California

20 May 1968

Born on New Years Eve in 1940, Cornealus was an ‘old-man’ when he arrived in Vietnam in Feb⁄1968. A career Army soldier, he was proud of his 11B status…..Infantryman. He was one of the first waves to arrive as replacements for the many that had just died during the TET invasion.

Assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, he was infused into the A Battery of their 3⁄13th Artillery Unit located NW of Saigon. The Army had built a cleared out area called a Fire Support Base, one of many that dotted across South Vietnam. FSB Maury was located in Hoa Nghia Province near a city called Chu Chi….known infamously for it’s miles and miles of tunnels that the VC had built. The FSB mission was to protect the northern entrance to Saigon and support the troops with fire power.

Consisting of just over 100 men, A⁄3⁄13 had a unique feature: eight of the M109 – 155mm self-propelled howitzers. Consisting of a large canon, it included a turret with a 50cal machine-gun on the top. Throughout the summer of 1968, these 26 ton behemoths would provide steady artillery support to infantry troops in the area. SSgt Pumphrey was a gun chief, and well-liked and respected. Men remember him as an easy-going black man, with a slight stutter in his voice that belied his experience. The soldiers that served with him knew he could be counted on.

By early August⁄68, the NVA had been planning another major offensive….and US intelligence was fully aware of it. The 25th Inf Div implemented Operation Toan Thang to start the sweep and destroy of infiltrated NVA. On the 9th of May, all hell broke loose.Four miles north of Chu Chi, the 23rd Infantry Battalion and the 11th Armored Cav Regiment made contact with a huge, organized NVA force. Within hours, they had 9 soldiers killed and 68 wounded.

But prior to the NVA offensive, they wanted to make sure that they would eliminate some key strategic problems…one of them being FSB Maury. At 2AM on the 9th, a large VC force attacked the firebase hoping to wipe it out and ensure US artillery would not be an issue for them. The first casualty was SP5 Leo Rupert, who was manning a 50cal machine-gun at the perimeter.

Before the human wave attack, the NVA started showering the firebase with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’s). An artilleryman manning the turret 50cal remembers either the 2nd or 3rd incoming RPG hitting SSgt Pumphrey’s howitzer, and he had lostboth of his legs. Another came in and took out the five howitzers to his right. But one should never underestimate the fighting power of US soldiers in a precarious situation. Air strikes were called in and the Air Force started dropping napalm bombs just outside of the FSB. Reinforcements were quickly dispatched, and a mechanized unit came in to set up a security perimeter to the allow the Artillery to do their job.

But it was not without it’s losses. Four men died immediately that day and four more succumbed to wounds received, including SSgt Pumphrey on August 20th.

Cornealus Pumphrey’s name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 64E, Line 7.

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