June 09, 1966

Machine 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.)

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. Coleman said.

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.

Saves Platoon

“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.

Pistol Club

“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 the trail.

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.

Covered Bodies

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 his shoulder.

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.

NCO Affected

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 again.
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 said.

“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.


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