June 08, 1966

B Company Is Hit Hard in Fight

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

Enquirer Military Writer

BINH DINH - Capt. J. D. Coleman is the biggest officer in the 1st Cavalry Division.  He looms over everybody and weighs 245 or so.  Boots and clothing have been a major problem for him since he arrived in Viet Nam with the first contingents from Fort Benning.

I saw him just before he took his company over to climb on the choppers going out on patrol in an attempt to locate the Communist battalions that intelligence believed were rendezvousing to strike this Special Forces camp just 10 miles east of An Khe.

“I’m calling this one ‘Operation New Management.’  I’m going to have a chance to get acquainted with my outfit and let them find out about me.  We’re probably going to do a lot of walking and a lot of hard work and that’s about it,” he said.

As I had just finished doing an immense amount of walking and hard work for several days with the Third Brigade - and even though I have been on B Company’s official roster since Fort Benning days and have an old sentimental attachment for the “Mustangs,” - I firmly turned down an invitation to go along.

I hooked a jeep ride over to Maj. Chuck Siler’s press tent - which leaks but looked luxurious after the other places I had been sleeping - and went to work on the neglected end of my business here, writing.

A near cloudburst came during the afternoon and drove me out of the dark gloom of the little tent reserved for correspondents, to one belonging to Capt. Henry Thorpe of the Public Information Office.  This tent opens toward the Golf Course, the center of Camp Radcliffe’s circle of tents and clusters of buildings the result of solider construction efforts.  Gunships were buzzing out of the field just after the cloudburst, heading to the west like wasps.

The next morning, writing in the same tent (Thorpe was on PIO business in Saigon) I saw medical evacuation choppers landing, then the lift ships of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion commenced coming back singly.  Ambulances waited and raced away toward the field hospital set up here, after each ship landed.

Vicious Fight

An Khe information is sometimes slow afoot as it was this time.  I found out there was a vicious fight going on over where Coleman had taken his new company.  I ran to where the helicopters were still landing, letting off tired young men with bulky field dressings on arms who helped other tired, young men limp toward the ambulance.  Also surrounding the helicopters were tense-faced medics sweating from their run with a litter to carry the more seriously hit men.

“You should have been out there, Charlie.  They hit old B Company hard but we handled them!  But you sure ought to have been out there with us,” an NCO I have known a long time told me.

I got onto a helicopter and it flew low to First Brigade’s area.  Col. Jack Hennessey was pouring troops into the area.  B. Company of the First Battalion (Airborne), 12th Cavalry was loading and four paratroopers ran over and climbed on my ship.

Company Hit

“Alpha Company went out last night and they got hit this morning.  The First of he Fifth and the Second of the 12th is going out, too.  They ran into a big force out there,” PFC William Meyers told me as he climbed in.

We landed on a little flattened patch of elephant grass high on a ridge. The Special Force Camp here was visible in the valley below and the gloomy woods of a higher knob just along the ridge was where the fighting was going on.  It was almost over here.

The landing on the preceding night had been perilous.  The elephant grass was high, the ridge steep and this little landing zone was narrow.  One Huey had actually toppled off the ridge after discharging its troops, rolling to a stop 50 yards down the slope with its rotor smashed under it and its skids in the air looking like a bird suddenly thrown on its back and stunned.  (I never was able to find out who its occupants were but the infantrymen said the crew escaped without any serious injury and that the troops aboard had already left it.)

Coleman was easy to find.  He was mudcaked, his face tired but not tense, and he was leading other mud-covered, tired men in a file down the ridge from the woods.  He carried a light machine gun in one hand, a Communist weapon, and had an M-16 slung on his shoulder.  Both weapons looked very small compared to the magnificent bulk of Coleman.

“I guess I should have come along when you asked me,” I told him apologetically.

“No, maybe not.  It was a tough place for observers up there.  I don’t guess I’m so red hot at picking command posts because almost everybody got killed in mine yesterday afternoon,” he said.

He found some scant shade in a clump of elephant grass - which cut off any possible breeze and acted as a retaining wall for heat so the bargain was a hard choice - and between the sounds of mortars being fired 20 yards away talked about his first field trip with Company B.
He had picked up a Special Forces sergeant, plus his Vietnamese radioman and rifleman, to act as guides, crossed the river and scaled the ridge top.

At 2 p.m. his company was hacking its way through the jungle top of the ridge about 100 yards from where he intended to dig in and spend the night.


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