May 27, 1966

Night’s Hail of Gunfire Disproves Usual Summation of Statements

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is now in the field with troops of the 1st Cavalry Division in Viet Nam.  His reports on the war in Southeast Asia will continue daily in The Enquirer.)

Enquirer Military Writer

VAN HOI - This was the starting place of one of those operations which are found in the latter paragraphs of the big daily story from Viet Nam summed up in a statement like “. . . and a battalion-size element of the First Air Cavalry Division continued to sweep an area north of Bong Son.  Six enemy dead were reported.  Friendly  forces had light casualties.”

The night of May 12 came after companies from Lt. Col. William Allen’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry landed here and secured a dusty, scrub growth-covered hill.  It was ushered in by a hail of gunfire from Viet Cong who bumped into the perimeter just after dark.

It was first thought the battalion had run into another force of equal size, but later events seemed to indicate that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who took part in the fight may have been simply scattered remnants of defeated units running for some kind of sanctuary in the mountains west and south of here.

New Helicopter

A brand new helicopter owned by the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, commanded by its former executive officer Lt. Col. Walter Johnson since the recent departure of Lt. Col. Jack Cranford for a temporary duty assignment in Washington D.C., dropped me off at bare dawn.

A neighbor of mine back in Columbus, Sgt. Alfred Rodriguez, battalion communication sergeant, waved an arm around the valley below the hill when I came up to him.  He was drinking coffee and looked as if his night had been sleepless.

“Charlie, it was like a Roman fireworks show out there last night.  All around us a big ring of fire.  Artillery pounded the valleys up to the north and down to the south.  He never had any chance of pushing anything here, just a heavy burst, then finally some sniper fire,” Rodriguez said.
Allen pointed to a map arranged on an easel in the gully he had converted into a battalion headquarters.

“Alpha Company will go south on that side of this river, on its left.  Charlie Company will go south on the right side, 4,000 meters to Van An 1, then cross the river and join up with A Company at Van Duc 2.  If they are down there, we’ll get them.  If they went up the valley to the north, they had to do it between shells!  Company B is going that way, there are some areas the helicopter scouts have spotted activity in and they will check that as well as sweeping the valley,” he said.

Good Companions

Allen, formerly with the Special Forces at Okinawa, directed me to Capt. Milton Baker’s Charlie Company - I like to walk with C companies because I am superstitious enough to think the name is lucky for me, I suppose.  Capt. Baker’s day would be a hard one, obviously, but he is a quiet, steady officer and his company is one I’ve known since it was a mechanized outfit with the 2nd Infantry Division back in the old maneuver days. They are good companions now, even as they were then.

We started walking down the hill about 7:30 a.m.  There isn’t any possible way to carry a load light enough not to insure complete exhaustion and still fight and live on these expeditions.  The sun was already commencing to get the range as we picked our way down into the elephant grass of the valley and across a leech-filled rice paddy field toward a fringe of coconut palms, banana trees, kapoc trees, etc. on the east.  A line of trees marked the river course to the west where Company A was moving.

Baker kept cautioning his men as we moved.  He kept a crafty screen of security out to the front and along the flanks and kept walking from one portion of his operation to the other.

An hour later I was walking with Lt. Henry (Hank) Palmer’s First platoon, following Sp4 Willie Haverly and PFC Cecil R. Castle, a radioman.  Castle and I lay propped against a terraced bank waiting for the scouts to signal the platoon to move into the first village we had encountered.  We were sweating too much already and I had gone through my first canteen of water and two salt tablets.  We compared experiences with punji sticks.  I showed him an indistinct scar on my left calf  from one of the bamboo splinters I had backed into once.

“I jumped off the chopper up there on the hill and ran right into one.  It ran right smack into my shin, but it caught in my trousers and broke,” Castle told me.  He showed me a tiny  pinprick directly over the shin on his left leg.  “If I’d hit it a quarter of an inch either way I’d have had a purple heart and blood poison, I guess.  As it is, I’ve just got a sore shin.”

Baker had pinked his own right leg as we left the hill and Sp5 Hector L. Borges, the senior medic had doctored it during the break in walking here.

About this time word came for us to move up.


© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
Return to Index