Jan 17, 1966

Franco Sketch

Fighting of 1st Cavalry Lieutenant ‘Magnificent’

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, has 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 as he saw it will continue in The Enquirer daily.)

 

By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
Our wounded had gone out earlier in the morning on the very first helicopters which had landed a relief force at the little field near the Ia Drang River.

Among the 21 men was Lt. John Hanlon, Capt. Theodore Danielsen’s first platoon leader.

Danielsen had told me that Hanlon had been hit by a bullet but had kept command of his sector of the defense for three hours until the relief force had come.

“John was magnificent,” Danielsen said.  “I don’t know how much you can say about a man like that.  He fought his platoon when not many men would have even been conscious, Charlie.  He is a real man.”

Welcome Message

I had been with Hanlon on several operations, and the news later that he was on his way to recovery was one of the most welcome messages I’ve ever received.

He had been fighting on a sector of our little perimeter which had been the most heavily threatened during the night, and when the Communist attack there was turned back it was probably the turning point of the whole battle.

Lt. John Tweedy, Danielsen’s weapons platoon leader, had performed magnificently during the night.  He had fired his mortars and had taken part in directing the rifle fight which had swayed dangerously close to his positions.  He fell heir to a rifle platoon, in fact, because of his coolness and effectiveness under fire.

“I told him he had better start training me a new weapons lieutenant because I needed him to take over a platoon of Alphagaters,” Danielsen grinned as he punched the youthful-looking Tweedy on the shoulder.

His executive officer, Lt. John Langston, and his forward observer, Lt. John Cavedo, had shown up at the field by then.

Very Gung Ho

Lt. Langston is a very gung ho officer and is constantly maneuvering himself up into the more active part of an operation despite the fact that his job would keep him further back if he didn’t put a lot of thought into bending the rules about it.

I saw Sp5 Steve Lannegan and Sgt. Maj. Lawrence (Tom) Kennedy waving at me from Lt. Col. John B. Stockton’s helicopter then and got my gear together.  I noticed that somebody had taken a bayonet and scratched a very profane jibe about communism into the flat side of the big black boulder I had first noticed by the anthill where I had spent the night with Maj. Robert Zion.

I also let my morbid curiosity range and was able to count 27 bullet scars on the trees and bushes there.  They had come from all directions and all of them were of the proper height to have been hits if anyone had been caught sticking his head up.

It was my last impression of that little field, those white-scarred, splintered reminders of the death that had stormed around it for so many hours.

Special Forces Camp

We flew back to Duc Co and landed at the little dirt strip by the Special Forces camp.  Choppers were landing and taking off busily, and I saw that the two crippled birds from our ambush fight had already been recovered and landed.

I shook hands with Stockton, borrowed a package of C rations from Sp5 Lannegan and hunted a ride to Catecka tea plantation, Lt. Col. Harlowe Clark’s 1st Brigade headquarters.

There were many reasons for going there.  One was that hot chow was usually available from the mess hall set up there. Another was that Capt. Russ Bronson, the liaison officer for 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry with Clark, had a tent in a pleasant location for a nap, and the other one was that I wanted to find out what else was happening.

Clark had kept a hard pace in his fighting.  The relentless pursuit of the PAVN forces he was waging was unique in Vietnamese history.

Previous Performance

Previously the Communist regulars -- either Viet Cong regular battalions or these North Vietnamese regiments sneaked into the country -- had been able to perform their carefully rehearsed sieges and ambushes, break the contact when they chose and go back into the wilderness to rest, reorganize and move toward the coast and more operations.

This time they had been chased and harried from the start.

The helicopter concept had arrived and it was working. The air assault techniques I had seen forged in those tests back at Fort Benning had effectively multiplied the eight battalions of the 1st Cavalry Division by mobility.

Even as the 1st Brigade was hitting the PAVN 32nd, 101st and 66th regiments along Cambodia, in fact, a Chinook helicopter-lifted artillery force with an infantry security element was supporting the 22nd Vietnamese Division in an operation at Tuy Hoi on the South China Sea.  Col. William Lynch’s 2nd Brigade was protecting the area surrounding the newly arrived Korean marines and “Happy Valley” which the 1st Cavalry had pacified in its early operations.

Savage Fight

I had been told, almost when I got out of the helicopter at Duc Co, that Lt. Col. James Nix’s 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 8th Cavalry was tied into a savage fight 20 miles from Duc Co, over near Plei Me, with a battalion of PAVNs who had been hiding in the forest there and who had not previously been hit by any combat.

“They are having a real fight over there,” Stockton said.  “I don’t know if you can get into it, but they are flying into Falcon landing zone where the battalion headquarters are if you want to go.  You can get back to the tea plantation and go out from there.”

I caught a ride with CWO Bill Combs in a Caribou within a few minutes. Combs had been driving his transport plane all over the area hauling men, ammunition, fuel and supplies, and had unloaded a bunch of fuel bags here.  The 17th Aviation Company had been in the process of setting a record for flying time in South Viet Nam during the previous 30 days, he told me.

“We put in 2,000 hours,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been living in this cockpit, in fact.”

I got out at Camp Holloway, hooked a ride in a helicopter to the tea plantation, and had roast beef for lunch, eating it out of a paper plate in the shade of a tea bush while reading a letter somebody had managed to deliver to me.

It was rather hard to realize that just five hours earlier I had been cowering behind a bullet-scarred tree 20 miles away on the Cambodian border!

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