June 04, 1966

VC 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.)

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 guerrillas now.”

Evacuation Needed

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 medical evacuation.

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 sandbar.

Buddy Helped

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 to cover.

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 knee.

“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 from him.

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.

‘Down There’

“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 rifleman said.

We crouched, all straining our eyes and looking for movement.  Suddenly rocket ships swept down and blasted an area to our front.

Spot Shooting

“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.”

Without Incident

We walked another 1,000 meters without incident, fast movement and tension making the sudden heat of the morning even less bearable than usual.

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.


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