Paratroopers Find Air Mobility Valuable in Killing Viet Cong
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, has been recuperating from a pongee stick wound in Saigon, but reported that he has now joined the 1st Cavalry Division. Black is in South Viet Nam to cover activities of the division. The following dispatch was written before his return to the field.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
SAIGON - Almost at the close of its combat tour in South Viet Nam, the 173rd Airborne Brigade has become a booster for air mobility. The paratroopers killed a lot of Viet Cong using it.
On March 16, the brigade fought the most successful action in its Vietnamese experience of 10 months. And it went “airmobile, all the way,” according to officers from the battalion involved in the hottest action of the operation.
“It was the first time we used the method for everything, assaults, artillery placement, resupply, reinforcements and maneuver. It really worked for us. It was our most successful action,” Lt. Col. J. Walsh, Jr. said.
Walsh, a veteran of Korean fighting with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (RCT), took command of the 2nd Bn. (ABN), 503rd Infantry on March 3 and 13 days later led it in a battle which killed 303 Viet Cong by body count with probably 200 more carried away, according to field estimates.
“Women and children were seen pulling bodies and wounded away,” Capt. Clay Mobley, A Co. commander, said.
Capt. Dan Buttolph, Headquarters Co. commander, showed a hinged steel collar and snapped it shut.
“A chain led from this to the 75-pound mount of a .50 caliber machine gun. It was shackled shut around a 15-year-old boy’s neck. He was killed at the gun by an M-79 grenade,” Capt. Buttolph said.
The Communists abandoned the heavy weapon and the boy they had chained to it. They also abandoned others in their ranks whom they left as involuntary suicide fighters.
“We found other young boys killed by our fire when we counter-attacked. The VC had tied them to trees, leaving their arms free to fire a rifle but tying their bodies upright with the knots on the other side of the tree so they couldn’t reach them before we came upon them,” 1st Sgt. Desmond Jackson, C Co., said.
The battalion had its big fight during “Operation Silver City” in the jungles it has fought in since it arrived.
The 173rd, operating out of Bien Hoa near Saigon, has made repeated thrusts into two areas notorious for VC strength, Zone D and the “Iron Triangle,” generally to the north and west of their base.
The 503rd had walked from a helicopter landing near a deserted village to the place of the fight. It had landed March 10, moving in search of a reported headquarters of the “Region Seven Main Force” Viet Cong.
March 14, the paratroopers had smashed light resistance at a VC training camp and seized many documents, supplies and equipment.
There was a “feeling” that enemy scouts were trailing them as they slashed through the jungle at about 500 yards an hour on March 15. At 5 p.m. that day the unit put a dug-in defense around a landing zone about 50 yards wide and 80 yards long.
“We pushed out as far into the brush as our numbers permitted. It was thick. It made it a close-range fight at hand grenade distance in some places,” Lt. Col. Walsh said in summing up the battle.
© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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