June 06, 1966

Troops Describe Happy Valley as ‘Most Miserable Place Imaginable’


(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer now in Viet Nam with the 1st Cavalry Division, was in on a big battle with the Viet Cong near Binh Dinh recently.  This is the first in a series of six articles on the engagement.)

Enquirer Military Writer

BINH DINH, South Viet Nam - This Special Forces camp is nested in a curve of the Song Con river and thrusts its barbed wire perimeter into the very center of “Happy Valley” like a thorn in the Viet Cong’s side.

The Vinh Thinh Valley was renamed “Happy Valley” by 1st Cav. Division (airmobile) troops because it was the most miserable place imaginable.  The Viet Cong has controlled it for years and the rice farmers and their families had either run to refugee camps in the squalor along Highway 19 or accepted the terror of Communist guerrillas and the bombs, artillery and other assorted means of death rained in by government forces.

The valleys toward the coast also were Communist property.

Happy Valley is now a secure area.  The 1st Cavalry considers the place its own civil affairs and pacification zone.

Batters Communists

In those other valleys, between the ridge line which rings the Vinh Thinh Valley and Bong Son, the helicopter division has battered and slashed at Communist forces since last October, dealing humiliation and death in wholesale lots.

The latest of these forays into the Communists’ remaining zone of contention found the VC battalions running, hiding, scuttling away from battle - except for one unlucky battalion which was trapped and crippled by Col. Harold Moore’s 3rd Brigade (which has now killed more than 3,000 Viet Cong in operations in South Viet Nam).

It was little wonder, then, that the brooding Communist tacticians were desperate for a chance to re-establish their ruined fortunes.  The rice bowl of the Central Highlands, a real price in this sector of the Vietnamese war, had been turned into a death trap for them.  Stunning psychological defeats had been inflicted by the American battalions, which roamed at will in the Crow’s Foot,  An Lao and Hoi Son Valleys and claimed Vinh Thinh Valley as a division symbol.

In the final days of operation Davy Crockett, Moore sent one of his Gary Owen Battalions, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert Litle, over to the Seu Le Coi Valley, the mountain-enclosed ribbon of broad rice paddies containing the hamlets of Hoi Son 1 through Hoi Son 5, where the division’s first combat had come during Operation Shiny Bayonet last October.

Lands on Mountain

I landed on a bare section of the mountain behind Hoi Son 5 with a UHID helicopter load of water and C-rations destined for Capt. Martin Adams’ Company A the evening of May 13.

Adams’ company and the other companies of Litle’s battalion were perched above draws containing trails, or on fingers of the main ridge so as to cut traffic up and down the valley.  It was a poor place to sleep.

I rolled in a poncho and managed catnaps but had slid 20 feet down the slope of the hill by sunrise. The elephant grass up there bent and made a slippery carpet, and men fell as they moved around rolling up equipment to move out.

It was the tag end of a week which had produced a physical beating for all of the troops, a week given to dogged walking and prowling in high heat and high humidity as the 3rd Brigade stubbornly cleared every nook and cranny of the valleys to the east.

Last Day

There was more of it to do that day, but his was to be the last day of it.

Company A moved down the finger toward where a platoon had received sniper fire during the night and had made sleep less possible by calling in a constant shower of mortar and artillery fire.

It had gotten hot at 7:30 a.m., and the troops slipped and fell, walking sideways, some sitting down and simply skidding along on the elephant grass toward a grove of trees - with the inevitable gloom of tightly woven jungle crowding under the 175-foot-tall ceiling of the higher tree growth - where the real work would start.

This article is essentially an introduction to other events of the past few days.  Those of us who walked down into the jungle and many sweaty hours later caught helicopters in a leech-ridden rice paddy to come back to An Khe had walked with visions of the devil lurking a few yards away in the tangle of vines and twisted jungle growth - but we only found where he had lived until the night before.

There was a moment of trigger-tense readiness once when the point riflemen shot down a North Vietnamese running through the brush, but those shots were the only ones fired during the day.


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