Vietnamese Are Flown Into Battle
By 1st Cavalry Division ‘Copters
NOTE: Charles Black, military writer for The Enquirer, is in Viet Nam
activities of the 1st Cavalry Division.
The bulk of the division is still en route from Fort Benning to the war
Following is the second of three articles by Black describing the type
operations the cavalrymen face:)
By CHARLES BLACK
ME THUOT - The chopper I boarded with
Lt. Chang's first squad of the first platoon of the Fourth Vietnamese
at 10 a.m. Tuesday was wearing an Indianhead design which made it one
flown by Company A of the First Aviation Battalion.
were two other companies of
helicopters in the assault, but I didn't have a chance to identify them.
ships had taken off
ahead of us, and four of them circled the formation. The doors of the
were off, letting the wind whistle through. Two sergeants wearing the
the U.S. 25th Division and holding M-60 machine guns suspended on the
in the doors, scanning the ground. I found that they came over from
120 days of door-gunner duty.
had a safety belt and eight men with equipment
and weapons crowds a helicopter. I held onto a seat back and listened
Chang tell me about his recent visit to the United States. He had
Marine training at Quantico for four months, and said he liked the U.S.
fighting ideas very much.
Hohn leaned close to me from the other side and
once more said quite emphatically that he had a mama-san and three
that he had three girls as well. We had been through this once before.
21, single, and was learning English in a fanciful manner.
“You are a number one liar,”
I told him.
grinned proudly and said:
K., number one liar, O. K.!”
Chang leaned across me and said something in
Vietnamese to Pvt. Honh, who grinned bigger and answered.
told him what you said and he said to tell you
that is right: “He is number one liar and he thinks you are a very
It was a pretty subtle kind
of joke, and Pvt. Hohn repeated it to Sgt. Sue on his other side. All
was shouted as the noise of the rotor blades and the wind whipped
helicopter. Sgt. Sue leaned over and said something, shaking his head
“He says you are 35,” Lt.
Chang said. “I have to tell you about that, because in Viet Nam a man
at 35 is
supposed to be very wild. It is when he is supposed to be at his peak
strength. After that, he is supposed to be getting old.”
I looked out and saw that we
were flying much higher than I was used to flying on assaults with the
Cavalry. Later, an adviser told me that this was a matter of logic.
“We figure that we are going
to get small arms fire here,” he said. “Now
there isn't any use in flying low where the small arms can get at us to
away from .50 caliber fire which we don’t usually catch.
“If we have an area where
there is a chance of .50s,” he continued, “we fly low and chance the
stuff, of course. There aren't any .50s in
here that we know of, so we go up to 2,000 to beat the small-arms
I also saw that the armed
choppers were firing rockets into the edge of a clear area just ahead,
the fighters were working over another area about three miles beyond
followed by rocket runs. I got very nervous.
We went in at tree-top level
after a sudden descent by the helicopters. Armed ships were still
around us and driving rockets into the undergrowth, making a hellish
Lt. Chang took off running toward a growth of elephant grass.
The troops spread out and
walked when they got to the grass, and there was a good reason -- it
possible to move quickly through it.
The grass is about 12 feet
tall and has a thick reed stem with sword-like blades. As I write this,
cannot use my right index finger because I slit the end of it on one of
blades during the three days I was with Lt. Chang. It was cut as if by
and despite heavy use of iodine it took dispensary treatment later to
The grass is woven together
with vines which make a hip-deep entanglement. The vines have hooked
about the consistency of cactus spines. A man’s forearms become bristly
moves along shielding his face from the clawed vines. The men in front
sideways, trampling down the grass and vines into a path for those
widen it a bit more.
I came up beside Lt. Chang
and he frowned at me.
“You no have weapon,
Charlie?” he asked. “Very bad! V. C. shoot you like anyone else -
because you are American.”
I assured him that I had
ignored certain concepts of reporting and that I had access to hidden
in case of emergency.
“And if that doesn't work,
I'll show them my press cards.”
“Press cards O. K., but gun
better!” Lt. Chang said. “You follow me now. We move out a ways into
I was surprised to see Lt.
Col. Yen and Lt. Khanh, his intelligence offices, followed by Maj.
Capt. Tki of the battalion and William Lefwich, the U.S. Marine adviser
Yen come up the path behind Lt. Chang's platoon. It looked rather
the equivalent of a brigade commander.
Maj. Lefwich grinned and
winked, nodding toward Col. Yen.
“I told you he wasn't a
political officer. He's going up with the point. When you work with
you are working with a real man,” he said as they went by.
Everybody crouched for a
while while Col. Yen organized his column and I studied the grass with
misgivings. I knew that a squad of Vietnamese Marines was only six feet
- I could hear them talking and cigarette smoke blew through the grass
little puff of wind - but I couldn't see them. Viet Cong wouldn't smoke
if they were in ambush. I could see the problems facing a body of
had to move and who couldn't simply lie in ambush. Men in that grass
couldn't be spotted.
We moved out in single file,
down a hill and under trees which look massive oaks. They went up 175
were festooned with vines. Smaller trees grew under this roof and then
was a third level of brush, vines, elephant grass and thorns. The
have been brutally hard for those up front who had to clear a way and
keep on course to hit the bridge we were aiming for.
wound through a “clearing” where trees had been
cut away. A hootch was burning and the area had been rocketed and
2.75 rockets from the Hueys made a deep hole, charred black, and the
the explosion of the warheads was almost nauseating when mixed with the
“normal” smells of the dank brush we were going through.
the clearing, Lt. Chang's platoon spread out, and
I approved of this until I noticed that they had spread out in order to
melons growing there, and not for tactical reasons. They came
back to the path as it entered the woods, tying the melons to
their gear. Some of them were stuffing big cucumbers into their
Sue handed me four little mangoes and two
oranges he jerked from shrubbery beside the path we followed. They were
was already sweating and breathing heavily, bent under the pack, and
was very fast. I finished one of my two canteens.
buffalo path came into being then. The big cow-like
tracks had beaten it bare, and we headed down this very fast. Corn grew
the path, a single row on each side, two or three ears to the plant.
kept grabbing-ears and chewing them raw.
Cong corn, supplies for them. I don’t like to
help it grow,” Lt. Chang said.
kept breaking off stalks as he walked, kicking at
them with his jungle boots or hitting them with his carbine.
I took his word for it being
V.C. corn and grabbed five or six ears, putting them in the cargo
pockets of my
pants. I had acquired a melon from Pvt. Honh and had it tied to my
realized I was beginning to look like one of the group.
There was a sudden burst of
fire up front. I heard the thudding of M-79 grenade launchers and
weapons firing. We moved off the trail and watched the sector on our
The firing stopped, then started again, then it died and somebody
After about 10 minutes, during
which the heat became more oppressive as the sun beat almost straight
the canopy, Lt. Chang snapped his fingers and we moved on.
We came across shell casings
about 100 yards up and a hootch was burning to our left, three big
and some tobacco plants flanked by a scraggly patch of corn showing
that it was
occupied. Pots and jars were in the smoldering wreckage of the
hut. A basket with black pajama clothing was kicked into the underbrush
‘He Get Away’
“Somebody saw something and
then the man they saw ran away,” Lt. Chang said. “They shoot at him and
him, but he get away. Maybe V. C, maybe just scared. Most people in
V. C. You must remember that.”
I didn't have any feelings
about it, to be truthful. The area had been V.C. controlled for a long
Any farmer out in this underbrush probably had no choice but to help
There wasn't any sign of women or children here, just a single hootch
hacked-out clearing with a garden, so it seemed probable that somebody
leading a guerrilla existence.
Besides, I had troubles of
my own. We had been going about four hours by now, and that was through
most depressing undergrowth and overgrowth imaginable. The heat was
it seemed possible to bear, and my other canteen was half gone. The
impossible. Then the path plunged down a slope, down a slippery mud
into a hip-deep river.
I joined the Vietnamese.
They splashed water on their heads and arms, and filled their canteens.
filled mine and put iodine pills in them. Lt. Chang borrowed some and
“Very bad drink water
without fixing, but I not always able to get,” he said. “Can I buy
pharmacy in Saigon?”
I told him if he didn't that
tincture of iodine in a bottle would work, a few drops to a canteen. He
The bank on the other side
of the river was very steep, and the mud was slippery and stinking. I
twice and my hands got so muddy I couldn’t hold to a stick Pvt. Honh,
radioman friend, held down to me, but I finally made it. The wetness
cooling but my mud coating was odorous. It seemed to attract a swarm of
as we pushed on up the hill.
About halfway up the hill, I
saw a marine lying in the grass, sweat running from his face, his
into the brush. He was almost unconscious. We went by him, our own
and legs aching. I hoped he could get up before the column had cleared
area. Almost immediately we passed another boy and then another, both
and lying on their faces.
There was another burst of
fire ahead. The column didn’t stop, but the firing seemed to grow
the area we were moving into. It stopped just as we topped the hill.
“They shoot to make sure
this is clear,” Lt. Chang said. “Bad place for ambush after men get
tired as we
I heard a thunderous racket
on our right, a quarter of a mile off. I could see four F-105s above
us, but it
was impossible to see them dive because of the trees and vines.
The rocket fire made a
swishing noise and a series of hard explosions, then there was the
and big bag of bombs. There were at least 20 big explosions and many
runs just to our right, so there may have been a big strike over there,
know because nobody in our column knew what was going on outside of the
of keeping up.
Suddenly it was over. Just
at sunset we came out in a skirmish line onto a blacktop road. A
concrete bridge was on our right, jungle behind us and ahead of us. The
little strip of asphalt under our feet was slashed with ditches where
had ruined it. This was Objective 1