May 07, 1966



1st Cavalry Division Takes Over Plantation With Little Trouble
 

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is back in Viet Nam flying missions with the 1st Cavalry Division.  Today’s installment concludes a two-part series on the awesome might which the division can muster in just a few minutes.)


 
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer



The artillery kept pounding, sending strings of explosions down each side of the landing zone and dropping rows of flashing bursts into likely spots along brush draws or hillsides.

Exactly eight seconds after what seemed to be the final artillery burst a network of smoke trails suddenly appeared, tracing thin plumes into the dust and smoke raised by the inferno which had already bubbled down there.

It was hard to spot the helicopters from the 2nd Battalion, 20th Aerial Artillery, but the rockets, machineguns and 40 millimeter grenades they launched into any tiny spots overlooked by the bombs or artillery shells were spectacular.


Big Flight

A big flight of Hueys came darting in behind the aerial artillery ships, flying low and fading into the trees.

As the formation came near the smoke gunships on either side of the troop lift ships sprinted ahead and their rockets and guns pounded into the very edge of the landing zone, rockets from the 229th’s gunships seeming to make a continuous ripple of explosions as they came in behind the aerial artillery.

Lt. Col. Robert Kellar dropped his control ship down then, tagging into the lift ship formation, and even as the gunships swept off to the left and right and circled like questing hawks, the rattle of machine guns from door gunners in the HU1D lift ships took up the noise of all of this.


Gunners Keep Up Fire

The door gunners kept tracers pouring out of their machine guns into the brush and trees along the landing zone until the very second when the heavily loaded and sweating infantry in the first company to land dived out the sides of the Hueys and took up the fire themselves, slamming bursts of bullets from M-16 rifles and M-60 machine guns into the ripped and riddled areas they were moving toward.

The control ship moved up above this even as 16 more Hueys came in and the infantry fanned out to build up the number of sky troopers already moving out into the brush.


13 Minutes to Set Up

Flight followed flight until 64 ships had landed and sent their cargo of fighting men into the area, with companies, platoons and squads fanning out into carefully planned sweeps of the vacant plantation.

Exactly 13 minutes after the last lift chopper, the big CH47 Chinooks, which had come in with artillery and shells dangling beneath them in slings and nets, roared off.

The 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Max Clark had landed an entire artillery battalion and the guns were in position in just that length of time - 13 minutes.

Helicopters bearing supplies, equipment and more men kept winging into the area.

It took less than an hour and the long-vacant tea plantation was turned into a U.S. Army post with a battalion of infantry out securing the area, a perimeter defense, battalion headquarters, 105 howitzers firing into likely target areas, and GIs in full possession.

The only opposition the Viet Cong had mounted was some sniper fire from the vicinity of some huts hidden along a river south of the new base of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry.  A platoon of U.S. riflemen had already gone down there and a helicopter had followed them to pick up several crest-fallen captives who had not run for the hills quite fast enough.

There hadn’t been any troops in there since the French left here in 1954.  The 1st Cavalry Division landed from the sky line a big thunderbolt in an area the Viet Cong considered their own by right of conquest and where they had been so sure of a serene area that they had long ago quit bothering with any elaborate defense setup.

This was the same area where the 2nd Korean Battalion of the tragically famous Group Mobile 100 had been surrounded, annihilated and left to its fate in 1954 when the Viet Minh had defeated French hopes in the Central Highlands.

The positions of the French soldiers who were overrun by the Viet Minh and left to their fate because relief from Pleiku was impossible were still visible, worn and grass-grown trenches, holes, etc.

The GIs who had suddenly taken possession mostly ignored the historical jetsam as they walked by the old positions on business of their own.  The country was littered with old holes, new holes, old scars and new scars.

The course of fighting in 1966 in the area of the 1st Cavalry Division bears no resemblance to the way things happened in 1954 and the tough sky troopers have long lists of their own memories of battle now.

They sometimes look curiously at one of these old scenes of tragedy, of course, and wonder about exactly what happened.

“We’ve always whipped them.  They haven’t managed to win a thing from the Air Cav. No matter how sure a bet they seemed to have right at the start it always has wound up with them taking a hell of a beating.  It must be tough on them to see us move into places like this where they can look at an old victory and not be able to do a thing except run and hope they can stay alive,” Kellar said as he flew from the biggest landing of them all toward another chore his helicopters were performing elsewhere.


 

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