June 10, 1966



Coleman’s Company Spoils Enemy Surprise

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer now in Viet Nam with the 1st Cavalry Division, was in on a big battle with the Viet Cong near Binh Dinh recently.  This is the fifth in a series of six articles on the engagement.)



 
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer




BINH DINH - Capt. J. D. Coleman may have been new in the management of B Company, Second Battalion (Airborne), Eighth Cavalry when he took that outfit up on the mountain east of this Special Forces camp, but he was old in the way of the infantry.

The big officer, 35, of Kalispell, Mont., was a squad leader in the 177th Airborne Regimental Combat Team during Korea, making two combat jumps there.  He came into the commissioned ranks via the tough route of Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning and has been an airborne soldier a good bit of his life.

When he heard the terrific brawl his lead platoon was engaged in, he hurriedly took stock of the situation and made a decision which proved exactly correct by events which were quick to follow.  He put his company into a tight circle, a 75-yard radius of a circle, letting the squads of his embattled lead platoon fall neatly into their arc.

 “We were like a boy out in the middle of  a man’s job.  You take your choice of what was there.  We had run into communications wire just before this so we were traveling edgy and ready for trouble.  That is why that wonderful squad over on the left saw those people, opened fire and assaulted them.  They were all ready for it.  I’ve never heard of these people putting out communications wire for less than a battalion.  I saw a reinforced company in front of me at one time, on my part of the perimeter, so it was a big lot of trouble we ran into there,” Coleman said.


To Secure Base

He said he believed the platoon which desperately charged and was countercharged by his machine gun squad up front was there to “secure a battalion base.  I imagine a company joined in, then the rest of the battalion worked into the fight before it was over.”

The Special Forces sergeant from this camp, who was guiding the company, radioed to his home base at the height of this battle:

“This is Raspberry One Eight:  I feel like Custer at Little Big Horn.  We have run into the center of a regiment.”

The sergeant, a few feet from Coleman, his Vietnamese radioman and a Vietnamese rifleman  and two of Coleman’s men were killed just after this by a burst of automatic weapons fire as the Communists attempted to charge the command post.  

Coleman carried a light machine gun taken from a Communist he had killed about 15 yards from him and he had a bloodstained piece of paper which had come from the Communist’s pack.  It was a neat sketch of the Special Forces camp, easily visible from the nose of this ridge, with arrows outlining the proposed assault on the camp.

One big arrow hit the north side of the camp.  A line indicated automatic weapons and mortar support for this assault.  Two arrows arced out inside of the camp, one circling just inside of the wire and slashing into the command post where the American advisers headquarters is.  The other hooked to the left where a smaller arrow from outside showed a diversionary attack.

Looking from the bloody paper to the camp, shimmering in the sun across the Song Ba river, the tactics were easy to follow and they had a very deadly simplicity.  The object was to overrun the camp and wipe it out, cut it into sections so it could be chewed up in detail once the major assault drove through the wire.


Coleman Stopped It

Coleman’s company stopped this with its bloody fight in the jungle of the ridgetop, however.  It wiped out the battalion’s hopes of surprise and - more - it hit the battalion with its eyes open and ready to fight.

“Right after I got the perimeter set up and my people in, they hooked around and tried an assault on the left.  Then they tried the right.  Then they came around and tried it from the rear, which was when all hell broke loose in the command post.  They never got in.  That last assault they made bloodied them badly.

“We were fighting in the middle of the cloudburst part of the time.  My boys were magnificent.  I felt ineffective, I was tied to the radio and tied to moving people in fire and maneuver and I felt out of it, but you can’t command a company playing platoon leader.  When they hit into the rear I was right in the middle for a while and I still had to concentrate on keeping control of the rest of the perimeter,” Coleman said.

The fight went on for five hours without a lull - the assaults were spaced out over this time.  Artillery and aerial rocket artillery from An Khe battered the Communist positions.  The Second Battalion 20th Aerial Rocket Artillery once more earned the accolades of the infantry here - it has been so blessed on thousands of large and small occasions like this since last fall.

“The ARA saved us.  That was the secret, those choppers coming down and smashing them up right in front of our lines, pinning them down and holding them there, giving us a chance to get the edge on them,” Coleman said.

About 5:30 p.m. he heard choppers landing on the end of the ridge.  Company A, First Battalion (Airborne) 12th Cavalry was on its way to help.  The paratroopers from Lt. Col. Rutland Beard’s battalion, commanded by Capt. Jackie Commings, had a hard time getting through the circuitous route the situation made necessary.  They fought through jungle and darkness fell.

“We held hands sometimes it was so dark, making a foot at a time.  In the jungle we scuffed up those phosphorescent routes and leaves you see out there, the ones that are kind of rotting, and we put them in our helmets so we could keep contact on the move.  It was a hard walk.  We got a little sniper fire but they just seemed to pull back and let us come on into the perimeter,” PFC Rene Couture, a radioman from A Company told me.

Couture, 22, Fittzburg, Pa., said the company was “fed into” the perimeter and almost as soon as it got into fighting position the fire became heavy again.

“It was like . . . well, as if they had pulled out of in front of us, not knowing what was happening, and then decided to go ahead and fight some more and crawled back again,” Couture said.


 

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