Skyraiders Fly Close Support
(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
It had been noisy for a few minutes, of course, and had caused everybody at the forward base to sit up, take notice, and then lie down again - in a hole.
Lt. Col. James Nix’s battalion had a fight going about 2,000 yards away where its Bravo and Charlie Companies had tied into what was apparently a full battalion of fresh troops from one of the North Vietnamese army regiments attempting to flee the Plei Me area and find sanctuary in Cambodia.
During the night I kept hearing the radio at battalion headquarters, which was actually only a tense little group of men crouched under a tree with maps spread on the ground. I heard a platoon leader from Bravo Company radioing a plea which emphasized the close quarters of the battle, which was still going on at midnight.
Air Force A1E Skyraiders had come on the scene and were dropping napalm in an attempt to take some of the pressure off the fighting lines and allow some semblance of form to come to the scene so that reinforcements could be helicoptered into them.
Bravo Company had penetrated deeply into dug-in PAVN positions before its assault had been stopped, and it was fighting in all directions.
The same was true of Charlie Company, which had attacked from the other direction. There was no fixed line. The Americans were in wagon wheel perimeters 200 yards from each other with PAVNs in between and all around.
When the Skyraiders made their first run I could watch the big, silver propeller craft dive and see the flaming belch of napalm. I also heard the radio:
“Bravo Six . . . Bravo Six . . . Bravo Six” it stuttered with an urgent voice obviously shouting into the microphone. “Stop him, stop him! Call it off. He’s getting it on us, too. I’ve got two casualties.”
I didn’t hear the answer because we had more firing from the 105mm howitzer battery nearest us then, but I heard the platoon leader’s voice again, much more calmly now.
“Bravo Six . . all right. No, they aren’t serious but it was close,” he said. “I guess you’re right. Watch the next guy, though. He’s making his run right now and it’s coming right at us again. Keep it coming, but for God’s sake don’t get it in any closer!”
Nix, his face lit by flares which were being dropped now from “Smoky Bear” - the Air Force C123 which circles such areas at nights kicking magnesium flares out on parachutes - talked to somebody.
“We’ve got to get some room in there!” he said grimly. “Our guys won’t pull back from it and the PAVNs are laying in close to get away from the artillery and air. We have got to expect some of anything we put on the PAVNs, so keep the fire going in there.
“They’re taking a licking and I don’t think they can stand that close rifle fighting much longer,” he said. “When they break the contact they are going to pay like hell for it, too.”
A little OH13 helicopter came in about 5 a.m. and I heard Maj. Anthony (Tony) Carroll, Lt. Col. Jack Cranford’s executive officer of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, talking to CWO Arthur Smith as they came over toward the command post. There wasn’t any sleep available around this place anyway, so I went over and Smith told me what they had been doing.
“That major is a tiger, Charlie!” Smith said. “You know what we’ve been doing? He got two M-16s and filled a C-ration carton up with magazines and came over to talk me into flying that OH13 Bell for him. We’ve been over there all night, flying right around the perimeter along a trail and along a creek. I’d put it down on the trees and he would cut loose a magazine.
“I got worried because every time he would cut loose those Communists would cut right back,” Smith continued. “I told him ‘Major, every time you shoot that thing we get a big burst of automatic fire right back.’ He cranked off another magazine and said ‘Well, Smitty, fair is fair! We shoot at them and they shoot at us. Fair is fair.’
“He shot until one rifle got too hot, and then he switched to the other one,” he said. “He must have put a thousand rounds down. The guys kept radioing to us to ‘keep it coming, keep it up.’ I think it made them feel good seeing that little bubble chopper up there strafing.
“I’d been complaining about not getting enough action, but I’m not complaining any more, not since that ride with him,” Smith concluded.
Carroll and I went down to the artillery area to get some coffee (Cannon men always have coffee because the nature of their work keeps them up and moving at all hours) and I made a deal with him to cart me up to the fight.
“I’ll get you into that landing zone where they are getting the casualties out,” he said. “It’s hot, but we’ll get that little bird in there. There is a lot of fire in those woods around there, but I know a way to get to that field in one piece.”
I asked him about his use of the little Bell as a gunship during the night and he grinned.
“Smitty and I were so damned frustrated knowing that fight was over there and not being able to get into it,” Carroll said. “I figured we could lend some moral support, and by golly I think we got some of those jokers, too. I know I feel better now after getting in some licks.”
Later, when the fight was turned into a pursuit of fleeing Communists, a patrol I was with found three bodies lying on the trail where Carroll and Smith has been blazing away. There were half a dozen weapons left there. He had definitely “gotten in some licks.”
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