Feb 2, 1966

U.S. Flag Is Flown From Shattered Tree

(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 could see running figures about 100 yards from the bullet-scarred saplings growing from a huge anthill (they get 10 feet high in South Viet Nam) where Lt. Col. Hal Moore had commanded the battle at Chu Pong Mountain.

The infantrymen were throwing grenades and I heard firing.  They seemed to be working their way into a thickly brushed rise of ground.  Men crouched in holes to my right front, watching the action narrowly, sticking close to business even while the troops taking over from the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry moved ahead.

I went up to some holes occupied by Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry, who had come in and taken the pressure off the long-embattled Charlie Company of the 1st of the 7th.  Sgt. Robert Goodson made room for me in his hole.

“Get in here, we’re still getting fire from over there.  I thought sure that was the last of them and they just opened up again,” he said.

Gets Into Hole

I got into the hole and took note of the litter of M-16 brass and empty magazines around it.  The PAVN fire was light and not particularly aimed at our sector, apparently.  I looked over the edge of the hole and I could see the greenish-gray bundles of clothing that were North Vietnamese soldiers killed in front of this position during their desperate attacks.

“We had to move some of the heaps of bodies out there.  They were in our line of fire.  Just as far as you can see up that slope there are bodies piled up.  There must be 2,000 of them killed around here,” Sgt. Goodson said.

The firing took on the continuous, crashing uproar of heavy contact then.  I still couldn’t determine if there was anything coming in but the M-16s around us suddenly opened up, lacing a line of trees to the left of where the Americans had been maneuvering when I came up.

“Hold that fire!  They’re clearing that area, hold your fire,” somebody shouted and the rifles around me stopped.  The shooting in the woods kept hammering and then it stopped.

Took Care of Them

“They ran into some of them.  They took care of them,” Sgt. Goodson said grimly after the shooting tapered away.

I was with Capt. Myron Diduryk’s company.  Lt. Henry Dunn and Lt. Bill Lund were running sections of this perimeter and both maintained they had “the best bunch of people in the U.S. Army” in the holes in their sector.  The company had made a fierce assault in clearing the area of PAVNs and relieving the men who had made the do-or-die stand here in the battle’s opening hours.

I heard about Lt. Joseph Marm’s now-famous feat in this section of the fight.  His platoon had been held up by heavy automatic fire from behind a big anthill.  PAVNs had dug in behind its shelter, turning the mound into an impromptu fortification.

“He shot a LAW rocket into it and blew it half away.  Then he assaulted with a sergeant, throwing grenades.  The sergeant was killed but Lt. Marms got right into them.  He threw grenades over the mound and then went around it shooting with his M-16.  There were 18 dead men when he got finished.  He got hit   going on into the next PAVN defense line.  He was hit in the neck but he was in good shape when they put him on a chopper for evacuation,” Sgt. Goodson told me.

Coming Into Zone

Choppers were coming into the landing zone behind us now and I heard no fire in our vicinity so I moved back from the perimeter.  Lt. Col. Moore was talking to Brig. Gen. Richard Knowles and Col. Thomas Brown, who had just come in.

Men were now laying smoke screens, throwing smoke grenades along the edges of the perimeter to veil the landing zone from the commanding heights of Chu Pong Mountain.

I joined what had turned into a sizable group of reporters around the assistant division commander and third brigade commander after they finished their conference with Lt. Col. Moore.  Joe Galloway of United Press International was there, looking very tired and dirty.  Lt. Col. Moore came over and pointed to Galloway.

“He was here with me right from the start.  He got in on the whole fight” he told me.

I felt jealous of Galloway for a minute and then realized that I was too tired after the last 30 days or so to have had any business in the early, desperate part of this battle.  I still felt as if I had not quite done what I was supposed to do by taking that day in Saigon and not going in with my friends from the “Gary Owen” battalions.

I told Galloway I was glad he had been along with them and he made me very proud of the 1st Cavalry Division then.

“Charlie, these are the greatest soldiers that have ever gone into a fight!  There hasn’t been any outfit like this one before.  It’s something I wish every American in the world could understand, what these kids did here.  Look over there, doesn’t that make you feel good?” Galloway said.

Tree Shattered

He was pointing to a tree, shattered and broken about 10 feet from the ground.

Some tired soldier has climbed it and put up an American flag, a very small one tied to a little stick he had cut from the South Vietnamese undergrowth.  He must have carried it in his pack for a long time waiting for the best possible moment to put it up.

He couldn’t have found a better one.  The flag had never had a prouder moment than here at the foot of Chu Pong Mountain.

Henri Huet, one of Associated Press’ very best and very bravest photographers, whom I had met during a 101st Airborne Division operation three months ago, came over to where Galloway and I were sitting.

“They are going to pull back from here.  Gen Knowles said it is to expand the killing zone.  This is a bad place anyway, right under that ridge, but I think what he  meant was that they have something else up their sleeve.  If you want to go back to Pleiku, we can catch that chopper over there,” Huet told us.

I was tired, physically and spiritually beat and feeling the first twinges of some kind of vague ailment (Vietnamese ailments are often the bane of medics trying to get descriptive information from feverish, stomach-troubled, aching men who can’t quite explain it all) and I was glad to get the ride.

© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

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