May 27, 1966
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
Asia will continue daily in The Enquirer.)
By CHARLES BLACK
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
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.
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.
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
About this time word came for us to move up.