Vietnam Journeys was contacted by Liz Mata, whose father Leonel Mata, fought at the battle of Hamburger Hill. She had stated that he is mentioned several times in the Samuel Zaffiri book, Hamburger Hill. I re-read those passages relating to her father and he was right in the thick of the battle. I had read this book prior to my first trip to Vietnam and used it as a research guide for when I would actually walk the battlefield on my return trips. As I reviewed the book recently, I noticed that I had made special reference to one particular passage on p. 259:
"To the left of Sullivan, Sp.4 Leonel Mata and another squad were likewise advancing rapidly up the side of the mountain. While Mata laid down a base of fire with his M60 machine gun, six or seven other men in the squad, using smoke and fragmentation grenades taped together, were moving around the face of the mountain blowing up bunkers. The men went about the work coldly and professionally, and it seemed to Mata as if they were actually enjoying it. Within fifteen minutes, they knocked out about ten bunkers, and soon, two and three men at a time, the rest of Charlie Company started topping the mountain. Seeing the approaching men, the NVA in the bunkers on the military crest of the mountain began deserting their positions and running down the west face of the mountain, through the saddle between Hill 900 and 916, and out of the western draw toward Laos."
I had marked this portion of the text because I wanted to try and explore these NVA escape routes when I finally got up to the Hill. It was actually not until my 1996 trip up to the top of Hamburger Hill that I was able to roam around the top of the Hill. As I've described elsewhere in this website, the top of the Hill is covered with eight to 10 foot elephant grass with the occasional shattered stump of a tree. As you move off the top, toward the east or the "face" as described above it becomes a little more jungle and you are actually in the shade. However, this appears to be new growth that has sprouted since the battle. You can still walk in and around this jungle on the eastern face; however, you have to be very careful where you are stepping. I did find several positions with decayed sandbags and barbed wire. As I said, I really wanted to explore the westerly escape routes of the NVA. From the blown Hill top, I walked in a northwestern direction through the elephant grass looking for the ravines the NVA might have used to flee. I found several; however, they were incredibly thickly vegetated. I didn't try to push through them. As I have stated in another narrative on this site, whenever I walked in dicey areas I tried to never walk where I thought no one else had walked. That was especially true around Khe Sanh and Con Thien. Since we were finding unexploded ordnance in the undergrowth at the top of Hamburger Hill and I can only assume these escape ravines could be even more dangerous and filled with ordnance as the arty was brought in on the fleeing NVA. On another trip with more time, I would liked to have camped out on the Hill and then taken the trail down into Laos and try to back track up the ravines toward the top of the Hill.
Sp4 Mata's story is an amazing story and he survived. The fact that Mr. Mata was a draftee is even more interesting. Back then, many of us were doing all kinds of things to not be drafted--stay in college, flee to Canada, join the National Guard or in my case simply go ahead and join up. It is a testament to this country through Mr. Mata, that when his country called and drafted him, he did his duty and then some, in one of the most horrific battles of the War.