“What happened to Jimmy?”
That’s the question Alan Worth of Prescott has been asking about his older brother for the past 47 years. And two weeks ago, he finally received some answers.
After a story titled, “Constantly in my mind and heart” was published March 1 in the Creston News Advertiser, and subsequently published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette, some service members, who were present during James Worth’s finally days, started to reach out in an attempt to answer some lingering questions held by Jimmy’s family.
The last person
One of those service men was Daryle Grounds of McKinney, Texas, who served with Jimmy in the U.S. Marine Subunit 1, 1st ANGLICO, FMFPAC, during the Vietnam War. He was also the last person to see Jimmy alive.
Grounds, who enlisted in the United States Marines at the age of 19, was stationed in Vietnam by the age of 20 and turned 21 in January of 1972. In Vietnam, Grounds was stationed with Jimmy at Alpha 2 – a military base in Gio Linh District, Quang Tri Province, in South Vietnam near the DMZ (demilitarized zone), which was a half-mile away, and Route 1 – the only route into North Vietnam from the south.
The Easter Offensive
Grounds said “everything hit the fan” on March 30, 1972, which was the beginning of the Easter Offensive.
“March 30 is when they lit all fuses, so to speak,” he said.
Beginning around noon that day, Grounds said there was a shift in activity coming from North Vietnam. He said it was typical for the Viet Cong, or the north Vietnamese, to “show interest” from time to time by using bamboo rocket launchers to launch 122 millimeter rockets across the border – three or four at a time.
“They were just kind of like bottle rockets,” said Grounds. “They weren’t terribly accurate.”
However, the frequency and size of the artillery increased.
“When those came in ... they sounded like those ... high screeching rwocket sounds you see in the old WWII movies,” he said. “Those huge 240 millimeter anti-submarine warhead rockets ... when those things took off ... were so loud, it didn’t matter if those things came close to you, it scared you.”
At this point, the North Vietnamese soldiers were no longer moving around with bamboo rocket launchers. They were were using Russian-made artillery and mortars.
“All we knew was to shoot back,” he said.
Just beyond the border of North Vietnam near the DMZ in South Vietnam, were Grounds, Jimmy and three other U.S. Marines, who were stationed with more than 1,500 ARVN, or the Army of the Republic of Vietnam at fire base Alpha 2.
Grounds said, at first, as the north increased their fire, they fired back. However, the handful of U.S. soldiers at that location quickly found themselves surrounded, and with very little support, as the north invaded the south.
“I can’t tell you when ... I’m going to go ahead and use this word – abandoned – their post,” said Grounds, of the ARVN soldiers (of south Vietnam) he was stationed with.
Grounds said they found themselves in jeopardy after the ARVN left its post. Also, they were unable to request air support due to overcast skies.
“I don’t know the real details, but over-the-fence gossiping, you would say we had a general that sided with the north Vietnamese and surrendered his entire unit. It was 1,800 men,” Grounds said. “All we really had was our M-16s and our radio to call and tell the ship where to shoot.”
U.S. naval ships stationed at Station Yankee, in the Gulf of Tonkin, were just far enough from shore, which made it difficult to launch a successful attack on the north Vietnamese traveling the Hồ Chí Minh Trail. However, Grounds said the naval crews aboard the ship spent so much artillery, to the point where they could have been court-marshalled.
“Naval regulations require them to hang on to some of it to protect themselves,” said Grounds. “They did it because we were desperate.”
Grounds described the morning of April 1, 1972, as “true chaos.” With the launch of the Easter Offensive – where more than 100,000 north Vietnamese soldiers invaded south Vietnam – two days prior, he said there wasn’t time to rest and their only focus was to get out.
“No one was sleeping,” said Grounds. “It’s the most weight I had ever lost. You didn’t care about eating.”
Grounds recalled the sight of B-52 bombers dropping bombs, with blasts so great the smoke from his cigarette would shake. Despite how close the bombings were, Grounds said the risk was welcomed.
“You better believe it, we were happy they were doing it, because they [The Viet Cong] were not bring more materials to shoot at us,” said Grounds.
As the attack intensified, Grounds said they had finally received a break – two army helicopter pilots volunteered to come to their aid with a low flying helicopter and a high cover Huey Gunship.
“So they put together a plan to come get us, to come in from the east of where were were,” said Grounds.
Grounds said he and the other four members of his unit began to prepare for their departure.
“Jimmy had put on the only radio we had left, the only communications we had, put it on his back,” said Grounds.
Grounds said Jimmy and First Lieutenant David Charles Bruggeman left their normal observation post and sought shelter in a round bunker made of ammunition canisters full of dirt, which allowed them to better communicate with the helicopter pilot. Impatient, Grounds ran out of his bunker and asked Jimmy, “How much longer?”
“Jimmy, who I could see come up above those canisters ... he hollered, ‘stand by,’” said Grounds.
Grounds said he then attempted to run back to his bunker as he heard “whizzing noises.”
“I think they were mortars coming on top of us ... I got behind a timber ... and I don’t know how I got behind a timber that wide, but I did, but the other two guys that I was with, they were there too, waiting for word about when we were supposed to go out and get on the helicopter,” he said.
The rounds hit all around them. Grounds recalled watching a six-wheeled vehicle collapse as if all six tires exploded, simultaneously, from the inside out.
Grounds said it didn’t seem more than 30 seconds from the time Jimmy said, “stand by,” to the moment the rounds came in. He said he then ran to where Jimmy and Bruggeman was and saw Bruggeman laid out near their bunker. Bruggeman had been hit in the head with some shrapnel.
He then ran back to tell the others Bruggeman had been hit. He threw off his pack before heading back out. His sergeant begged Grounds not to go.
“I went out to lieutenant (Bruggeman), and he was breathing very shallowly and very sporadically,” said Grounds. “And there was no sign of Jimmy anymore.”
Grounds said he started to pick Bruggeman up off the ground.
“I looked up and I heard the helicopter and the high cover helicopter was up, and he was probably taking some rounds,” said Grounds. “Brugge came up to help ... and Sergeant Newton ran down south of that landing zone between another row of bunkers and I heard him hollering, ‘Worth! Worth! Worth!’”
As all of this was going on, Grounds said the helicopter popped up from down below a hill and landed on the LZ (helicopter pad).
“And let me tell you, it is something to see when one of these experienced army pilots wants to get on the ground in a hurry and wants to get off in a hurry. It is a lot of wind, a lot of noise and a lot of force.”
Grounds said the helicopter was on the ground for no more than two minutes. Under fire, they were forced to take off – without Jimmy.
On the helicopter were Grounds, three others from Subunit 1, two injured Vietnamese men, two pilots and two door gunners.
“I remember, we were just laying on the floor (of the helicopter) and I had a hold of this Vietnamese guy’s arm because he was bleeding pretty bad,” said Grounds.
Within an hour of leaving Alpha 2, the base had been completely taken over. Grounds said he and others still wonder if they had done all they could.
“I believe we did,” said Grounds.
Grounds said they would have searched longer if they could, but it was too dangerous.
“I don’t think they [the army rescue pilots] knew the depth of jeopardy we had been placed in [prior to flying in],” he said.
James Frederick Worth, who was orginally listed as missing in action, was later determined to have been killed in action. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, National Defense Service, Vietnam Service, Republic of Vietnam Campaign, and Marine Corps Good Conduct medals.