Jan 2, 1966

Reds Can't Buck 1st Cav

By CHARLES BLACK

Ledger-Enquirer Staff Writer

The firing from the perimeter of A Company, Second Battalion, 12th Cavalry, began to die down about 7 p.m. as darkness fell.  There had been only some sporadic sniper work done by the PAVN troops who had made an unsuccessful counter-attack and who had then been pushed back by the charging First Air Cavalry Division company.

Lt. Bill Schiebler described our situation to me as we lay on a poncho in a little natural bowl behind a tree trunk with the platoon spread out along a line a few yards ahead of us.

“The reconnaissance platoon from the First Battalion of the 12th is on that slope to our left.  Lt. Col. (John) Stockton got orders to pull his Ninth Cavalry out about 6 p.m. so we own this whole bunch of woods tonight.  We’re in a full perimeter circle.  Company B, First Battalion, Eighth, is holding the big clearing back there where the choppers are.  All the wounded are out.  We have plenty of ammo.  I would say that we’re in good shape.  We have the helicopters, the Air Force is going to send Smoky Bear to drop flares and the artillery is supporting us,” he said.

The fire from the other side had sounded like a battalion working out before it had been weakened by the American fire, artillery and air, and had died down.  Still, the little hill made A Company top dog so far as terrain was concerned and the big GIs had slammed right into the PAVNs, running them out in a standup fight, so the night didn’t look too risky.

At about 8 p.m. we obtained the password from a dark shape sneaking over from a little gully where Capt. John Fox had his company command post located.  We also got a message from Capt. Fox on the radio.

“Come on in for a conference.  Bring Charlie with you.  Tell him I’ve been saving him a cigar,” the message on the radio went.

I had a memory of turning down a big cigar offered by him back at Lt. Col. Earl Ingram’s battalion headquarters a long time ago and Capt. Fox saying “. . .some time I’ll give this one to you and I bet you’ll be glad to get it.”

It made me believe the infantry commander lived up to that last name of his when we crawled into the crowded little gully, sprawled against a muddy bank, and I lit the stogy.  It was just the kind of gesture needed at the moment.  We talked in whispers for a while, Capt. Fox telling me what he thought had gone on during the day.

“The Cavalry scouts located a field hospital, Charlie.  They landed in the rear with some of their rifle teams and moved right on up through it.  They were sending prisoners back all morning and killed 70 or 80 of these security soldiers back there who put up a fight.

“We landed here about noon, back in that big landing zone where B Company is.  The Cavalry rifle teams - about two platoons of them I guess - had pushed on up to here and been hit by a violent counter-attack.  There must have been a battalion of PAVNs dug in on this end who didn’t even know what was happening behind them.  We came on in and got into the fight.  We took most of our casualties beginning about 2:30.  We got a lot of fire then, some from our rear. That was when the mortars were coming in, before the gunships got them,” he said.

I remembered the violence of the fire then and also remembered the way the mortar barrage had shattered my own somewhat delicate nerves.  The hawkeyed helicopter gunners from Lt. Col. Stockton’s squadron had saved that situation by den behind a slope and slamming rocket and machine gun fire onto them.

“I think they have broken contact except for snipers.  They get up in those trees and shoot down.  It will take more than what they have to get in this perimeter, I’ll tell you that.  These troops are splendid!  They are aggressive, they move right into a fight, and they are just too much for the North Vietnamese to handle.  We will have plenty of air and artillery, too.  In the morning, we’ll move right on ahead and scout out the area and see if we can pick up another contact with them,” he said.

He told me that a clearing 500 yards from us was “piled up with weapons and medical supplies.  There is enough stuff to stock a full field hospital over there.”

As Lt. Schiebler and I left, sneaking back to his platoon’s position 10 yards away, I heard Capt. Fox and a sergeant working out a plan to go over and pick up the surgical tools and medicines which had been stacked in the field earlier in the fight.

“I don’t want them getting that stuff back.  I want to take it and see that it gets to the Vietnamese refugee camps.  The Communists ran those people out of their homes and I want them to have to supply them with medical equipment, if I can arrange it.  Get all of that stuff that 15 men can carry and get it inside the perimeter.  If you get into trouble, try to hide it and come on back, but don’t leave anything for them you don’t have to,” Capt. Fox said.

Lt. Schiebler and I whispered a challenge back - a half-moon was up now and the woods were very light - and eased into our own position.  We put his poncho on the ground, pulled mine over us, and then smoked cigarettes and talked, cupping the ends of the cigarettes and whispering.  We talked about the war, about home, about food, about what we figured the PAVNs would do during the night and in the morning, and unbelievably I went to sleep, quite soundly, waking up just at dawn after a completely quiet night.

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