June 08, 1966
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.)
By CHARLES BLACK
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.
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.
“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
“I guess I should have come along when you asked me,” I told him
“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
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