Jan 29, 1966
Porthole Reveals Terrain Is a Hodgepodge
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
The trip back from the Saigon adventure
was accomplished in two short bounces.
The first landed me at the now-bustling An Khe Army Airfield after
another Caribou tour of the country between Tan Son Nhut air terminal
and the 1st Cavalry Division’s home in the mountains.
The view from a Caribou porthole is worth reviewing because it
emphasizes the problems which come up in the face of any really simple
tactical ideas about South Vietnamese fighting - the ones which are
typified by suggestions of “. . . and then marching from the
south end right on up to the north end and. . .” or “. . . just seal
off the borders and the sea coast and. . .”
First, it is well over 300 miles as a Caribou flies just from Saigon to
An Khe. The country has about 69,000 square miles (give or take a
few rice paddies, mountains and an odd jungle or two) which makes it 12
per cent larger than Georgia.
I lost count but somebody has figured out there are 750 miles of border
to contend with as well as about 2,200 miles of coastline and not even
the mapmakers know how many river mouths, deltas, inlets and other
Mountains, jungles, rivers, valleys turned into man-made flood zones by
rice paddies, canals, hamlets and village systems, tunnels,
holes. I have heard the country described in its entirety by a
weary Special Forces officer as “. . . the world’s biggest single
You can appreciate this flying over it. It’s worse walking!
Simplified tactics of the kind which would put a line across this
military mess - and we did do such as that in Korea in a similar
country - are further complicated by the problem of being selective
concerning who we shoot.
The surest road to a simple solution, of course, is an intelligence
system which could locate and identify the VC and signal their
plans. Establishing such an intelligence system would be one of
the most complicated and diplomatically touchy problems imaginable,
It would be very hard, for instance, to set up our own complete
espionage system in South Viet Nam and have it fully appreciated by the
South Vietnamese authorities who are in charge of the country.
Yet, without such a system we are sometimes operating in fruitless and
I bounced right out of An Khe across the 65 kilometers of mountains and
open plateau country to Pleiku because Lt. Col. Raymond L. Kampe, the
division supply officer, Maj. John R. Jones, Maj. Jimmie M. Chaffin,
Maj. Floyd Eberhard, Maj. Alfred E. Brodeur, First Sgt. Edgar Ross and
M-Sgt. Joseph Marazio - all of the G-4 shop - offered me a cup of
coffee at their office up on the hill where division headquarters is
I rode over with them in a muddy group of jeeps, trucks and walking
soldiers plodding along the knee-deep perimeter road (all were
plodding, vehicles and pedestrians, because it had been raining for 10
days and the road surface showed it) and somebody told me Col. Thomas
Brown’s Third Brigade had a fight going.
The scene of the fight was Chu Pong Mountain, the 2,500 foot high peak
south of the Ia Drang and which straddled the Cambodian - South
Lt. Col. Hal Moore’s First Battalion Seventh Cavalry had been heavily
engaged when they landed on the rolling ground at the foot of the
mountain in a clearing called “Landing Zone X-Ray.”
I talked to PFC Michael Richardson, PFC Ronald Gilham and Sp4 Ernest
Salyers in the G-4 office and they let me have a ride with them back to
When I got to Pleiku, via a 17th Aviation Company Caribou again, I
found that there just wasn’t any chance of getting to the LZ X-Ray that
(Joe Galloway of UPI had managed to get there on a resupply helicopter
about 8 p.m. and wrote some vivid stories about the first fierce
fight. Galloway, a young and sturdy reporter who can walk and
knows how to live in the brush, had done similar on-the-scene reporting
of U.S. Marine operations.
He is sometimes inflicted with over-eager desk men who add imaginative
phrases and insert gratuitous paragraphs. This is a problem faced
by almost all of the correspondents of major news media who are
battling deadlines and competition but still endeavoring to do good
Men in Saigon or New York offices sometimes just can’t understand why
the man on the scene doesn’t know as much as they do about what is
going on and correct him accordingly.)
I finally gave up trying to get out to Chu Pong Mountain that night,
made arrangements to go with Capt. George Forrest’s Company A, First
Battalion Fifth Cavalry which was being sent to the scene early in the
morning, and accepted an invitation from Capt. Paul Leckinger, adviser
to the 22nd Vietnamese Ranger Battalion, to an empty cot over at the
I was glad to see Capt. Leckinger. I had met him first in the
Mang Yang Pass and he had been one of the men who was involved in the
initial relief of the Plei Me Special Forces camp.
“You’re in time for a reunion. Your old buddy Capt. John Averra
was the artillery liaison officer with us that day. He is here
and we’re all getting together,” he said.
Capt. Averra was from the Second Battalion 12th Cavalry and I wanted to
He had been having a tough war.