June 10, 1966
Company Spoils Enemy Surprise
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
By CHARLES BLACK
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
“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.