By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
PLEIKU, Viet Nam - The Second Battalion, 12th Cavalry, is an outfit which has some special significance for me.
Lt. Col. Earl Ingram’s staff was made up of men I had long known in the Second Infantry Division at Fort Benning when they had served with the First Battalion, 23rd Infantry, in armored personnel carriers and had done such a beautiful job in their role of aggressor against the 11th Air Assault Division on maneuvers at Fort Stewart, Ga., and in South Carolina.
Sgt. Maj. Jesse Easterwood never has forgiven me for what he maintains was “sainted” coverage of those maneuvers. Jesse says his battalion won and I wrote it down the middle, being caught in a dilemma. Besides, they don’t write the maneuver scripts for aggressors to win - even though a redoubtable man like my old friend the sergeant major isn’t convinced. (One battalion of APCs couldn’t handle an entire corps of any other kind of forces.)
I hooked a ride over and met Maj. Thomas McAndrew, the executive officer; Capt. Raymond Robinson, operations officer; Capt. Joseph Segers, intelligence, Capt. Steve Zoliski, the adjutant (S-1, they call that job now) and Lt. Bill Commec, the supply officer. I remembered almost all of the company commanders, Capt. Gene Fox, A; Capt. Graham Avera, B; Capt. Bill Childs, C; Capt. George Miles, D, and Capt. Clyde Albert, headquarters.
Capt. John Averra, the artillery forward observer, and Capt. Don Hubbard (a member of the poor man’s Air Force which I will talk about a paragraph or so from now) and I immediately hit it off well, all of us being more or less guests of Lt. Col. Ingram’s outfit. I had just concluded one or more sessions with Sgt. Maj. Easterwood over the year-old argument about that maneuver when Capt. Hubbard pounced on me about the neglect I have shown where the forward air controllers have been concerned.
I had received a letter from a group of these same Air Force officers’ wives which asked me exactly the same question. I admitted being amiss.
I admitted that I had simply said the “air was called in and . . .” without saying who had called it in or even noting that this group, to a man, volunteered to come to Viet Nam with the 1st Cavalry Division and that practically all of them had served with the Fort Benning units which make up the first team now since the time the air mobility tests started way back in 1963.
These are the men who have save my personal hide on three occasions by now and to whom almost every infantryman who has seen an airplane help him out of a tight spot offers a word of thanks:
First Brigade (All USAF forward air controllers) - Capt. Al Voeglin; Capt. Jack Gilchrist; Capt. Bill Crum; Capt. Hubbard; Capt. Chuck Corey.
Second Brigade - Capt. Norm Rice; Capt. Dick Kuiper; Capt. King Mills; Capt. Jim Swanson and Capt. Carl Granberry.
Third Brigade - Capt. Gordon Eells; Capt. Andy Terpening; Capt. Chuck Hastings and Capt. Roger Knopf.
Lt. Col. John Stoner is the man in charge of this jungle-boot wearing group of pilots. I know that Maj. Kane is the fighter officer and that Maj. Jackson is the reconnaissance officer but I haven’t been able to run down their first names. I know both of them and I ought to have been more thorough in my memory but at least my intentions are good.
These pilots don’t lead the kind of life usually associated with the bright, clean blue uniforms. They, in fact, live a sweaty and harrowing existence, walking along with the infantrymen or flying around poking after trouble in their little single-engine reconnaissance planes.”
Their eyes and brains bring in the napalm and rockets, bombs and other destructive devices provided by the Air Force for the aid and well being of the 1st Cavalry Division - and they take an infantryman’s risky and dirty life to do the job.
Any writer who has to be reminded to give credit to men like that owes them an apology, but I intended to get around to it on my own hook anyway. I enjoyed hearing from all those Air Force wives even though they were a little miffed at me.
I talked to Capt. Averra and he produced what can only be called an artifact - some authentic charcoal-filtered corn whiskey from the mountainous regions of North Georgia. There were exactly four tablespoons of this in a plastic medicine bottle which he had carefully transported to Viet Nam in what is probably the longest moonshine hauling venture in history. I talked him into a taste of it and then into putting a tiny portion aside in a bottle for me.
(It sufficed to give a taste to two city boys and an Englishman in the press corps here and the Englishman, Robin Mannick of Associated Press, who wears a goatee and was graduated from Oxford, expressed interest in taking out Georgia citizenship after the sample.)
The staff was up late working on the Boon Song sweep operation and I like the common sense approach Lt. Col. Ingram was taking. He had worked out a simple proposition which kept his men on high ground and always working downhill as they moved out in patrols from the main attack.
As it turned out, of course, it was all just good practice. The battalion never got to Boon Song and for a while it looked as if it might not get out of An Khe, in fact.
About midnight, I believe the word came that the Special Forces Camp at Plei Me had been hit with a violent attack which came from all sides and which brought in a barrage of mortar and recoilless artillery fire from the besiegers. The new alert was to get ready for action over in that district.
In a few minutes, the mission of the battalion was suddenly shifted from just northwest of Qui Nhon over on the South China Sea to just Southwest of Pleiku near the Cambodian border - which is testimony enough to the mobility which the 1st Cavalry Division brings to a combat situation but which can make a staff just sit down and swear.
Several of them, as I remember, did just that as they looked over their wasted work, but then went right back to work again on the new proposition.
In the next couple of days, they were going to have a thorough test of their patience. The switch in missions was just a foretaste of the frustrations yet to come before the fighting started in the Plei Me campaign which Lt. Col. Harlowe Clark, First Brigade commander called “Operation All the Way.”
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