Jan 5, 1966

American Medics Aid Wounded Enemy GIs

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, had returned home after four months in Viet Nam.  He was with men of the 1st Cavalry Division during many of their recent engagements with Communist guerrillas, and his articles on the war will continue in The Enquirer daily.)


Enquirer Military Writer

After prowling over the positions of the North Vietnamese battalion which the 1st Cavalry attack had surprised on the Tae River, the patrol from Capt. John Fox’s Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry moved back to the company’s position where the day’s work was being planned.

Fox said Lt. Col. Kenneth Ingram was moving his battalion headquarters and more companies into the landing zone where the attack had started the previous morning, about a mile back through the open woods where the battle had been fought.

American casualties had been light, the official term used to describe the deaths or injuries of a few good men and good friends and a term concerned only with numbers, not with the impact of the loss.

There is no adequate term to describe this impact.  It is a private and grim struggle every soldier and everyone who is closely associated with soldiers must meet - laying aside the overpowering feeling of loss in order to meet the next day’s events and cope with them.

Morning Chores

I found that the morning probably would be spent in securing the area, hauling out captured weapons and medical supplies and getting ready for a sweep in the apparent direction the PAVN battalion had headed when it fled the fight.

An air mobile operation is never static, and it was almost a certainty that Lt. Col. Harlow Clark had other operations already under way as he bounded battalions and artillery out into the woods in search of the North Vietnamese Army units he was fighting.

Few Last Words

I shook hands all around, had a few last words with Lt. Bill Schiebler, of whom I had become a very close friend in recent weeks, and walked off through the woods toward the landing zone.

Helicopters were buzzing in  and out of the field back there.  Two Chinooks had already picked up the choppers which had been disabled by hits, and there were a few infantry patrols and working parties coming back and forth.  It was easy to keep moving in the right direction.

About 50 feet from the last sight of Company A, however, some of the risk of walking through these woods was emphasized.  Two North Vietnamese soldiers who had stayed in camouflaged spider holes suddenly popped up and began firing at anyone in the open, including me.  They both had automatic weapons, one a Russian rifle and the other a Chinese submachinegun.

A quick burst of M-16 fire dropped them.

One was hit in the chest and throat and died at once.  The other had two creases on his temple and died later in the afternoon after being treated by a medic in the field, evacuated to the battalion aid station for further treatment, and finally being helicopter-lifted back to the field hospital at Camp Holloway.  There a surgeon and a full team of medics tried to save him.

I recount this because it was a series of efforts on the part of Americans to save a wounded enemy who was obviously a hopeless patient - wounds were too serious for any chance of recovery.

Attitude Typical

This attitude toward the question of prisoners is typical in American troops.

There have been isolated instances of untypical actions, and they were reported in accounts from the battles involved.  Those came in the heat of battle when anger and grief struck home in the midst of a violent situation.

When killing is going on as a means of survival it is hard to pick the correct niceties to observe.  Wounded PAVNs snipe and fight, as do wounded Americans.  Wounded and unwounded PAVNs sometimes attempt to trick men into an ambush situation by pretending surrender.

Above all, a soldier’s reactions are hair-trigger and violent in the midst of a fight.  Few things cause a quicker reaction than the face of the enemy.

Treat Prisoners Well

Usually, Americans not only take prisoners but treat them well.  In fact, the soldiers realize that the intelligence those prisoners give when questioned is far more harmful to the enemy than any other consideration.

I caught a Huey out of the field.  Four soldiers had brought the dying North Vietnamese down the trail and loaded him on the same chopper.  He lay in a litter and the crew chief, Sp5 John Blake, kept glancing at him suspiciously when his hands moved.  Once he pulled the poncho covering the soldier up over the boy’s chest to shield it from the wind, then shook his head and shouted at me:

“Just a kid.  They are sending them down to die for nothing.  They can’t win and they should know it.  I wonder how many more they will send down here to get killed before it’s finished?”

I couldn’t answer that, so we talked about the vast quantity of weapons and medical supplies and the large number of prisoners who had been taken.

‘Willing to Talk’

“Those guys are all willing to talk,” Blake said.  “They aren’t what I expected.”  They don’t seem to know too much, but what they know they are willing to talk about.

“Maj. Billy Williams (of the First Squadron Ninth Cavalry) captured three of them who waved his chopper down in a field,” he said.  “They were starving and tired and said they had been trying to get captured for three days.”

I found later that Williams landing to pick up the trio, which included a loquacious lieutenant who was exceedingly valuable to intelligence specialists, when they all made for his copper on a dead run - carrying their weapons.

“They piled in, weapons and all, like drowning men getting into a boat,” Williams told me later.  “My crew chief was grabbing those submachineguns away from them like a drowning man grabbing for a boat, too.”

First Blood

He had drawn the very first blood of the campaign on this place the day the brigade moved out, according to Lt. Col. John B. Stockton, his commander.  Three other PAVNs had fled and opened fire on the chopper after it picked up the three prisoners and Williams had finished them with a strafing run.

I met Williams and Capt. John Oliver, the rifle platoon commander from Bravo Troop, back at Catecka tea plantation as I walked away from the helicopter to see what else was going to happen.

“I think Bullwhip 6 (Stockton’s nickname because of his radio call sign) has something laid on you don’t want to miss,” Oliver said.  “You spend the night here and get some sleep and Russ Bronson, will get you in on it in the morning.”

Capt. Oliver had been an outstanding figure in the previous day’s events on the Tae River.  I decided that if he was going out on “something” that it was probably as interesting as could be, so I hunted up Capt. Bronson and took him up on an offer he had made concerning loaning me a place in his tent and the use of an air mattress.

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