June 07, 1966



GIs Locate Hidden VC Village

(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 second in a series of six articles on the engagement.)



 
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer





BINH DINH, South Viet Nam - We found a trail complex which was a wonderful piece of wilderness engineering leading over the ridge we had left toward the west.  It was four feet wide and heavily traveled, with the earth beaten hard.

Where the slope of the mountain was almost precipitous, bamboo had been cut in lengths and pegged down across the trail with dirt tamped down to make earthen steps.  From a few yards it was impossible to see the trail, which snaked under tree cover to conceal it from the questing scout helicopters the VC has learned to fear so much.

A clear stream rattled down the rocky gorge of the draw which this jungle highway followed and paths threaded across it to the opposite slope.   Big, sweaty riflemen prowled that way and began turning up hidden huts and campsites.  This is an inventory of the things we found hidden there:

1.    Dozens of cunning holes dug for cooking.  A tunnel takes away the smoke and lets it seep up through the earth instead of blowing into sight above the thick jungle canopy.

2.    Mounds of packs containing clothing, wallets, papers, letters and South Vietnamese currency which GIs carefully sorted from the other papers.  The scraps of papers, letters, diaries, documents, etc., were packed up for intelligence men to translate.  The piastres (including 730 in various denominations I found tucked away in a little plastic bag inside a shabby rucksack) were considered to be proper souvenirs of the day by the lucky ones.

3.    A little natural bowl with a huge banyan tree at its base.  Creepers had been strung neatly around this to form a place for an instructor to hang posters or demonstration items.   A tiered seating arrangement for the classes had been formed of logs.

4.    A canal which diverted water from the creek and sent it downhill through the campsite, evidence of even more ingenious engineering than even the trails had exhibited.

5.    Fighting holes pitted the rim of this area by the score.  Each hole is round and has a roofed chamber at the back.  A man can crouch in the chamber and avoid shrapnel, then pop up out of the camouflaged spider hole and fight in any direction.  The Viet Cong is a small man.  A hole like this which would fit a big American would be a major excavation.  GIs don’t stay long in one place in the forays long enough to attempt the kind of excavation work a Viet Cong rifleman does.  An American hole is a hasty and temporary thing soon abandoned.  The VC hole is a semipermanent affair which he expects to return to and use again.

6.    Overwhelming evidence of a very hasty departure during the previous night at the sudden threat of Americans on the ridges and in the valley.

7.    A wounded Communist who said he was part of a company fleeing to the west which had lived here a long time.  He said another 100-man company lived in another part of the ravine and that it, too, had gone.


Camp Tense

Some of this odd lot of success and information fell into order for some intelligence men, and the camp at Binh Dinh was suddenly tense.  The choppers climbed out of the valley and headed on a course which would go over their barbed-wire fortress toward An Khe 10 miles east.  The day’s work had gotten results - a warning that the Binh Dinh camp was a Communist target for the night of May 15-16.

The Communists intended to assemble all of the defeated units from the area where Masher, White Wing and Davy Crockett had humiliated them and strike in the 1st Cavalry Division’s own back yard in Happy Valley.

There was good, concrete evidence of where the Communist soldiers had gone as we lifted over the mountain range and swept up the valley of the Song Ba in the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion ships.

Just as I lit a cigarette (quite a feat in the swirling wind of a doorless helicopter) and passed it to PFC John Thomas riding beside me so he could light one with less trouble, a burst of gunfire broke out below us and three bullets clanged into the tail portion of our chopper.  The door gunner fired with his machine gun but the ground fire continued and the ship behind us took two holes.


Nobody Hurt

Nobody was hurt but the dusk landing at An Khe was more of an event than usual. 

The chopper crewmen said they had a tough day’s work ahead.

“We’re putting a company out on that ridge line that runs to the river, down by the Special Forces camp in the morning.  Somebody thinks the VC are moving into a rendezvous down there and intend to zap the camp,” the crew chief, Sp5 Lynn Moore, told me as we morbidly looked at the jagged holes in the tail boom of his ship.

The company, B Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 8th Cavalry, was commanded by Capt. J. D. Coleman, who had taken command only two weeks ago and was out on his first field expedition with his unit.




 

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