Reporter Is Airlifted Into Middle of Fight(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
I kept an M-16 trained on the landscape which flashed by and almost fired several times at the still bodies of PAVN soldiers lying in a litter of death around the field the helicopters were using.
There was firing nearby and men were crouching under the steep bank of a small creek to my left as I left the chopper on the run before it settled.
Carroll hooked one thumb in the air and whipped right on out of the field, dodging and twisting through the trees and disappearing behind a slight ridge before I had made the comparative safety of the creek bank.
I had landed in good company here. The reconnaissance platoon of Lt. Col. James Nix’s 2nd Bn. (Airborne), 8th Cavalry was firing into trees just in our front, all intent and eager.
“Right there. . . right there. . . get him!” somebody shouted.
I saw a fast movement of brush, just some leaves that seemed to be running, and then an M-79 coughed and the 40mm projectile made a flash and the bushes fell.
“There’s more in there, keep that fire on them!” Somebody from down the creek a ways shouted. Nobody stopped firing. The racket was a solid wave all around the area, seeming to stretch off into the woods across the 100-yard-wide field in a circle.
I heard a radio speaker from a patch of bushes just below me, down close to the bed of the creek, and the conversation was an indication of the heat of this fight.
“We’ve got that bunch flushed out of the trees. We got one sniper knocked down out of a tree. “We’re moving on in. . .
“Drag that VC body in, we want a body count. Drag him back to the creek before you move on out. Get those VC bodies out on the trail. . .
“He’s in four pieces. He got a direct hit from an M-79. . .
“Hell, leave him! Just count him once, though.”
The reconnaissance platoon had been on the perimeter at battalion headquarters the afternoon before and had pulled out to infiltrate into the fight by foot early in the morning. I had been perturbed at missing them, and I think Carroll had offered to airlift me in on a very dangerous landing zone because of my disappointment.
The men doing the shooting around me were Sp4 James O. Morrison, PFC Myron M. Mims, PFC Johnnie Powell Jr., PFC Charles A. Moeller, Sp4 William J. McKeen, PFC Paul P. Risons, PFC James V. Snider, PFC Harold L. Queen, SP4 Jerry M. Patterson, Sp4 David W. Wilson, P-Sgt. Clint R. Marshall and S-Sgt. Harold G. Rose.
Lt. William A. Ward was in charge of the platoon. I missed Lt. John Wiest, who had been ramrodding the outfit the afternoon before. Risons said Wiest had come down with an attack of malaria and had been evacuated early in the morning.
“He’d been fighting it and it knocked him right out,” Risons said. “He didn’t know where he was when we put him on the chopper.”
Another friend, Sgt. Robert M. Wilson, a vastly competent NCO whom I always enjoyed talking to wasn’t there. I found out that he had been wounded in a fight two days before and had been evacuated.
“We killed 25 of them,” Risons said. “They fought like tigers. Company A was in on it, too. We jumped them and then they laid right into the fight with us.
“It was over around Falcon LZ when we secured that area,” he said. “We hit eight of them right on the LZ. They were shooting at us when we came out of the choppers. They couldn’t stand that M-16 though. We’ve got the medicine for them with that little dude.”
“That little dude” was making its wicked racket more heavily on our left flank, and I noted that there wasn’t any firing going on in our area.
The bullets coming in had been high and the firing I heard as I ran for the creek bank had been sporadic. Apparently a PAVN group was moving around our perimeter, either looking for a weak point or trying to break contact and run.
The comforting thunder of 105 howitzer shells came cracking from the woods where I had seen the twisting course of a small creek, and I knew that Lt. Col. Joe Bush’s magnificent 1st Bn. (Airborne), 19th Artillery would make life miserable for any Communist attempting to use that route for a retreat.
The shells were bursting into the air just below the treetops, and a piece of hot metal thudded into the grass by me.
“That’s good!” Risons said. “When it’s falling on us it’s hitting them where it hurts.”
I edged back down the creek bank during the local lull and spotted S-Sgt. James Townsend of Bravo Company grinning and holding up a flak jacket for my inspection. He was in the little gully where the creek ran and it was as safe a place as was available, so I sat down with him for a few minutes.
The flak jacket, a nylon vest designed to keep out fragments and just too bulky and hot for extended walking but comforting in the kind of a fight this one had shaped up to be, had a small rip.
“Look at that! I’d have got that one right here,” Townsend said, touching a place on the back of his right shoulder.
The slug had angled into the jacket and buried itself someplace in the layers of nylon. We got a little twig and traced its path and then cut it out from the inside. Only one layer of fabric “armor” was between it and the inside of the jacket.
“I’ve been sitting here thinking,” Townsend said. “If I hadn’t have had the jacket on I would have been down lower and it probably wouldn’t have hit me anyway. But since it did hit me and the jacket stopped it, I’m sure glad I had it.
“How do you figure out that kind of a thing?” he asked. “Did I get hit because I had on the jacket or did I get saved because I had on the jacket?”
I told him I would take the bright view. It wasn’t his day to get one, jacket or no jacket, and to just consider himself bulletproof. We heard firing then, a volley of shots from our front.
“Incoming! Snipers again,” Townsend said.
We said a hurried farewell and I scrambled back up to the firing line along the bank and he hurried off in a crouch to some men working an M-60 machine gun a few yards away.
I noticed he was moving very fast and very low and not taking my statement about him being bulletproof a bit seriously. He also was wearing the torn flak jacket.
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