June 09, 1966
Gun Squad Saves Its Platoon
(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 fourth in a series of six articles on the engagement.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
BINH DINH - “There is a heavily
traveled trail up the draw and we were going to cover it.
All hell broke loose up front then, just about 2 p.m., ” Capt. J. D.
The first platoon was out in front of the company, a squad on the
left - a machine gun squad containing PFC Dave Ruth, 25,
Philadelphia, Pa., - was suddenly fired on from the thick brush only a
few yards to their front.
Sgt. McClellon Whitt, 35, Hazard, Ky., had his squad behind this one
with the platoon’s other squad ahead on his right.
“The machine gun squad sacrificed itself and saved the rest of the
platoon. When the firing started, they leveled their weapons and
opened up. Almost at the same instant more than a platoon
of Communists jumped out of holes and charged at us right through
the brush, right at us. I was running, getting my squad into line
with the others, toward them. We would have been in a pretty bad
fix except for the machine gun squad,” Whitt told me.
The eight men on the left who had opened fire first saw the charging
Communists and, with the universal aggressiveness which has astounded
so many seeing this fighting for the first time, charged directly at
the attacking Communists.
“Those eight guys smashed right into them, they smashed right though
them. They were fighting with everything over there. They
shot and swung rifles and went at it hand to hand. I saw PFC Ruth
firing his .45 and swinging it for a club at some VC within a yard of
him. It looked like a big mob scene. They swung the
Communists off the rest of us, turned them off to the left.
“They tried to charge again but we were in line then and shot it out
with them for 20 minutes, falling back toward the company. They
never got it done. I shot my M-16 dry at people 10 yards from
me. I saw six drop. I won’t say I killed them because we
were being pushed back. There were too many of them to stand and
fight, but I saw those six drop when I put fire on them. They
took a hell of a beating from this platoon,” Sgt. Whitt said.
He found himself in charge of the platoon before the fight was
done. He kept sending wounded back and finally had eight men
still unhit to walk down the ridge when I met him.
PFC Ruth had fought his way through the PAVN charge with a buddy.
Both were wounded, Ruth in the right arm, his buddy in the shoulder.
Ruth was still missing when I talked to Coleman and Whitt. People
were fanning out through the wooded area. Somebody shouted.
“Hey, they found Ruth! Ruth is coming in,” and a crowd swirled up
Ruth is a red-haired boy whose face looked pale and he had a dressing
on his wounded arm. His helmet was gone and all of his
belongings. He walked carefully, stiffly, a grinning soldier from
the First of the 12th holding an elbow helpfully.
Ruth sat down heavily in elephant grass and stared at the poncho
covered bodies on the knoll, waiting in two rows for helicopters.
Wounded men were being helped aboard a ship which had just
landed. Mortar fire was still exploding on the lower slopes from
where we all gathered around the PFC and I watched his buddies as they
ran to see him.
The muddy men (their fighting holes had been flooded by the heavy rain
the afternoon before and they had fought in soupy mud until just
minutes before this) made a circle around the machine gunner. His
clothing wasn’t muddy because he had lain in the open, caught behind
the Communist holes his squad had charged through when the survivors of
the VC attack had returned.
Somebody gave him a can of C-rations. Somebody gave him a canteen
cup of coffee. Another PFC crouched and put his hand on his head,
just holding it there and grinning at Ruth. Ruth would turn and
his face would light up and he would reach out his left hand and touch
his buddies. They hugged him and patted his shoulder and some of
them would hold his hand and talk to him. He broke down and cried
twice and didn’t seem ashamed of it.
A PFC held the coffee for him and kept giving him sips of it, patting
his knee. There was a constant little circle around him of muddy
youths loaded with weapons. Their faces all lit and they always
touched his shoulder or his head, patted him or held his hand when they
ran and knelt beside him. He would grin and then cry again.
He put his head down and one of his buddies kneeling there pulled it to
Ruth sat for a minute, then a big, muddy sergeant came and knelt and
Ruth raised his head and the sergeant put his hand on the back of
Ruth’s neck and smiled at him.
The sergeant kept swearing, calling Ruth bad names and patting the back
of his neck, grinning at him. Ruth grinned, then cried again and
the tough NCO knuckled his head and left with tears on his face, too.
Ruth talked in jerks, sometimes elated, sometimes showing irritation
and stopping, then saying a few sudden words and full of jubilation
He had feigned death, lying beside his wounded buddy.
Communists were held down by the savage American fire and he had feared
that death. Rockets and artillery had slammed around him.
During the dusk hours his buddy had raised his arm to try to get hold
of his rifle and a Communist saw him and came over and shot him, Ruth
“I simply laid still. They rolled me over and searched me.
They took all of my web gear and my equipment and they kept coming
around and rolling me, looking at me,” Ruth said.
He had gone through this from 2:30 p.m. the previous day, through the
night, until 6:30 a.m. when he knew the Communists had gone and he
crawled to hiding until the friendly patrol showed up.
A chopper landed and the men watched Ruth walk to it and get aboard,
back from the limbo of the Missing in Action, now alive, in shock and
wounded, but home again.