June 04, 1966
Hangout Cleared by Soldiers
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Black has
been confined to a field hospital in Viet Nam, where his illness has
been diagnosed as either amoebic dysentery or malaria. Army
doctors say the symptoms are similar. In the meantime, dispatches
he has written in the hospital will continue in The Enquirer.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
CHOU PHUAI HAI - All night
long the artillery pounded across the river and around our positions.
Firing broke out twice in answer to bursts from the darkness.
About dawn I heard Capt. Milton Baker on the radio and got up, putting
on the air of a man who had slept well despite hard ground, a
steam-heated atmosphere, mosquitoes, artillery, sniper fire and
perimeter answering service.
“We’re going back over and clear that hamlet (Van An 1),” Baker
said. “There were six choppers hit out of there and the firing is
still going on. It is a VC hangout. There aren’t any of the
regular people left in it. It is just a hiding place for
The company got up and heated up coffee and C-rations. A radio
call came in from the platoon that two men had been injured and needed
One of them had started down the river for water. A wooden gate
barred a path. He opened it. A hand grenade booby trap went
off, injuring him and his companion.
I at first decided against going with Charlie Company. The
village was the same problem we had faced the day before. I decided to
go by the battalion command post and see what else was on the agenda.
As the company moved out, a young GI walked by with a bandage on his
arm, his buddies kidding him.
Nicked by Shrapnel
He had been nicked by shrapnel the evening before and had happily
reported to Sp5 Hector L. Borges, the medic, for treatment and
evacuation out of all of this.
Borges had treated him, slapped his back and congratulated him on not
being seriously enough hurt to be shipped out of the operation.
He was bitterly parrying the kidding, insisting that “when a man is hit
he is supposed to get on the Med Evac chopper, and you know it!”
At the last minute I decided to tag along with the company, and I
walked across the coconut grove toward the end of the column.
Out in the river the testing squad was just in the center of the
channel. A line of men was spaced along the white sandbar
watching the other bank warily.
Firing broke out, the heavy boom of that M-1 rifle and carbine
fire. Puffs of sand were kicked up. The men in the river
seemed to be unnoticed with all of the Communist fire directed at the
A man staggered and fell, then got up and limped, dragging his left
leg. His buddy ran back and put his arm around him, helping him
Borges ran over and worked on him for a minute and then word came from
Capt. Baker to hold off on the river crossing until the platoon on the
hill and the men already crossing had pushed back the opposition.
I walked back with the wounded man. He was helped by a man Borges
believed was coming down with malaria.
Sp5 Willie Maverly had a wound in the flesh of his thigh, the bullet
going through cleanly after making a neat hole in the broad blade of a
machete he had strapped to his belt.
Haverly didn’t show any sign of pain except for an occasional grimace,
and he moved slowly but steadily, leaning on the man with the fever,
talking about the machete.
“If it had been an axe I bet it would have stopped that slug. I’m
going to hang this old machete on the wall when I get home,” he told
me. “Besides, it is Friday the 13th! I’m the only one hit
because I’m unlucky!”
Managed to Cross
I walked back to the river and found that another platoon had managed
to cross, but that was all Baker wanted just yet. There was heavy
firing over there now and I felt left out of it, wishing I had shown
more ambition earlier. Two more men had been hit, both in the
leg, and a call for a chopper went out.
Later the buddies of the man who had been nicked with the shrapnel told
me he had been hit almost the same way Haverly was, only nearer the
“All the time we were carrying him to where the chopper could get in he
kept telling us ‘see, if they had evacuated me last night when they
were supposed to, I wouldn’t have got hit. I told you they were
supposed to send you out when you got hit’ ” one of them said.
The second man to get hit in the village had powder burns from a close
shot. He was shot from a hole concealed in brush just two yards
Finish Off Hamlet
Baker’s riflemen finished it then. They grenaded every hole they
could find. They fired every hootch. They finished the
remaining guerrillas in the hamlet of Van An 1 and left the little
hamlet a leveled, smoking ruin.
They recrossed the river and the battalion left the coconut
grove. I walked with the headquarters group with Lt. David P.
Sigle and Capt. Richard C. Hansen.
Sigle, the communications officer, and Hansen, the Air Force forward
air controller, were talking about the heat when the spang of
rifle shots came from the coconut palms someplace.
We all scattered and found cover. An infantryman crouched behind
a palm trunk pointed down the trail.
“He’s down there. He fires down the trail here. I thought I
had him spotted when he shot at you guys, but I guess not. He put
that round in that tree right in front of you or he would have hit one
of you,” he told me.
I complimented him on his consideration at letting us walk along
without being worried about a sniper.
“He ain’t hit nothing yet and I thought I could spot him. He
hadn’t shot lately or I would have hollered at you,” the unperturbed
We crouched, all straining our eyes and looking for movement.
Suddenly rocket ships swept down and blasted an area to our front.
“There are some guys from A Company up that way. They must have
spotted the area that shooting was from and put the choppers on it,” my
infantry friend said.
A group of sweaty men came down the trail, warily hugging the edges of
it, from up front. The lieutenant in front said it was “as secure
as it gets. There are probably snipers all over the place but they have
calmed down now. Those rockets make them hunt a hole for a while.”
We walked another 1,000 meters without incident, fast movement and
tension making the sudden heat of the morning even less bearable than
We sat in a deserted village and helicopters from the 227th Assault
Helicopter Battalion swooped in, gunships hawking in low circles,
picked us up and carried us to Bong Son without any incident, the fire
in Van An 1 making a pillar of smoke visible from the hill the Special
Forces camp at Bong Son is built on.
It was all wrapped up in that phrase “light contact and light
casualties.” It took two days and one night.
A Viet Cong guerrilla squad died.
Five Americans were wounded.