Mix-Up in Reports Is Explained To Correspondents by General
(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 Write
Brig. Gen. Richard Knowles, assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, called in the entire press corps billeted at Pleiku MACV compound and talked to it about the mix-up in reports concerning what had happened out on the battlefield where the Second Battalion Seventh Cavalry had made its heroic fight the previous day.
The word back at Pleiku (and it was the same for everybody, military or civilian) had been that the fight was not a big one. The next day it became very apparent that the Second of the Seventh had been in a savage battle.
The question most correspondents were asking concerned the fact that the fight had been conducted in a kind of communications vacuum. Brig. Gen. Knowles, for example, had been in the dark concerning its early intensity, and he said so at once when his quarters had become filled with reporters.
I had already talked to some men returning from the scene and they had told me that there was a good tactical reason for the guarded communications from the battlefield.
“Lt. Col. Robert McDade had air and artillery, he had control of his fight, and he knew that his communications were being monitored by the enemy and that there had been some American radios and SOI cards captured,” one officer told me.
(SOI means “signal operations instructions” and contains the radio code used for operational reports. Anyone possessed of this card and a radio able to pick up the right frequencies could have monitored and understood the battalion’s radio messages. Lt. Col. McDade, according to the officer I talked to, didn’t choose to give the enemy information.)
I left the conference quickly. The major single fact I wanted to hear had come already.
The Second of the Seventh had fought to a remarkable success after having all of the cards stacked against it and the PAVN battalions which had struck it by surprise while the American units were strung out in columns had once more been hacked to pieces.
There had been more than 400 Communist bodies counted and the American units had pushed on out of their perimeters and recovered their wounded and dead, while capturing the litter of equipment and casualties left behind by the fleeing Communists.
Capt. Myron Diduryk, whose Bravo Company had been called out of church to go to the fight, had once more come onto the scent of battle when the scales seemed delicately balanced.
His company had been the one which had assaulted into the fight at Chu Pong mountain and had turned the tide around Company C, First Battalion Seventh Cavalry, when that unit had been in a fierce brawl with a full battalion of PAVN’s who had tried to overrun the company in three “human wave” attacks.
When Capt. Diduryk’s company arrived at Landing Zone Albany, where the Second of the Seventh fought its historic day and night battle, the Communists had already been battered by air and artillery and the heroic defense of the surprised Gary Owen units.
The extra riflemen had smashed the hopes of the PAVN commanders and the hardest single contest of American troops in South Viet Nam had tapered into mopping up operations by the GIs.
Nov. 17’s action had been the subject of confused reports in the beginning, but the final ones filed when it was all understood made the Second of the Seventh a name which will be associated with heroism in the war in South Viet Nam.
During all of this, the Third Brigade had been turning over the rest of the campaign to Col. William Lynch’s Second Brigade and the final action of the campaign was quick in coming.
Col. Lynch put his battalions into a blocking position and the Vietnamese Airborne Brigade had moved in a sweeping action from Duc Co to the Ia Drang river.
The tough paratroopers had cornered a PAVN force and had killed and scattered the remnants of the Communists still in the area. Once more that helicopter-borne artillery of the 1st Cavalry Division had been a telling factor.
A Vietnamese radio message had come to one of the batteries firing typical close support for one of the paratrooper battalions. Translated, it had said:
“Artillery too close! Artillery is too close. . . but very nice! Keep shooting.”
The pinpoint accuracy of the division’s artillery had been thoroughly appreciated when the Vietnamese troops came back to Du Co.
One of their advisers told me that “. . . they were all still talking about it when the fight was over. I guess they will be talking about that close support the rest of their lives, in fact. They haven’t seen artillery like that.”
Col. Lynch’s joint operation had produced a final body count of 188 PAVN dead and more loads of captured weapons and equipment. He met correspondents at his headquarters at Catecka Tea Plantation the day before Thanksgiving and made a terse and nationally televised announcement which ended the campaign. He said the PAVN’s had had enough and had run to Cambodia.
I went over to Camp Holloway where the Second of the Seventh was getting aboard trucks to ride down Highway 19 to An Khe. It was raining hard and there were less miserable methods of transportation available, but it seemed the right way to go.
Highway 19 had been the scene of historic events in 1954. It was a highway the Viet Cong had controlled often enough since.
I liked the idea of sitting on top of a load of equipment with half a dozen young infantrymen wearing American fatigues. They answered the hails of Montagnard and Vietnamese peasants, who waved and cheered as we rode through villages, with a big shout of “Gary Owen!”
I don’t imagine the peasants knew what the words meant, but I’m certain they got the message of victory from the ones shouting them
© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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