Dec 6, 1965
With Jump From Helicopter
By CHARLES BLACK
BINH KHE, Viet Nam -
Capt. Roger L. McElroy,
Company A, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 8th Cavalry, is a youthful officer
stands exceedingly proud and tall when he talks about his company.
It is his first
he has taken to it with a vast amount of energy and natural talent.
I first met
McElroy when he
was a first lieutenant leading a platoon in the 1st Battalion, 187th
Charlie Company back in the old days when the 11th Air Assault Division
He was out at
in one of the innumerable maneuvers conducted there and was completely
dedicated to the idea that men could go into battle in accordance with
idea for infantry mobility.
Since, he has
had chances to
test his beliefs and has reinforced them, I landed with him and his
top of the mountain at Mang Yang Pass.
When they hailed me over to their camp for chow and a promise
were going to “take off on another ridge-running operation” in the
took them up on it.
First Sgt. John
John C. Miklas, Lt. William J. Marr, Lt. Guinn D. Parrack, Lt. Marty
Lt. Erle A. Taylor briefed me on what the morning would bring.
The 1st Brigade,
by Lt. Col. Harlowe Clark, intended to land on top of ridges commanding
rice fields in this area, drive the Viet Cong out of the section and
friendly population - which had fled to refugee camps in protected
zones - to
harvest the rice.
“Our part of it
here,” McElroy said, putting his finger on a map, then pointing through
rain toward a peak in the distance.
It quit raining
night and the early morning brought only fog, mosquitoes and mud to
the discomfort quota of the day. There
was every sign that the sun would come out and turn it all into a steam
promise of being just what was needed to cause complete physical
I agreed to climb on a UH1D helicopter with P-Sgt. Norman Welch, S-Sgt.
Dailey, Sp4 Billie L. Brandenberg, Sp4 Nathan Johnson and PFC George
incidentally, is one
of the best field NCOs I have met in Viet Nam, and has proved to be a
remarkable man under the extreme pressures of combat.
He is one of the men I have most admired in this country because
he is such an absolute master of his job’s responsibilities and goes at
a no-nonsense approach. He is as much
of a leader as any single man could be, and his personality outweighs
platoon sergeant stripes in getting things done in the field.)
The air assault
followed was one of the most unique affairs you could ask.
The “landing zones” were simply little bare
spots on the spine of the 2,000-foot-high ridges which the battalion
A crew chief
from Lt. Col.
Jack Cranford’s 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion hurried from one
the other, explaining what was going to happen up on top of the
“You guys are
going to have
to jump out of the chopper,” he told the men.
“We’ll get you as low as we can, but there just isn’t room to
there. When the crew chief says ‘go’
you don’t wait, you jump. . . and good luck to you.”
The choppers got
ground with the usual flapping roar, and the top layer of mud had dried
in the already hot sun to create a little dust and to cause the men on
ground to whirl around and hide their faces from it.
and climbed, swept up the valley and crossed the end of the ridge and
whirling back down, swooping up over the tops by following little bare
which ran up to the timered sides of the big hill.
Patch of Grass
At the top was a
brown grass spotted with spiny scrub brush and rocks and about 30 feet
wide. On one side, a sheer slope dove
almost 500 feet to a tangle of jungle, and the same thick mess of
came right up to the top on the side behind.
what appeared to be 20 feet altitude and the optimistic crew chief made
motion for us all to unload.
“We didn’t bring
rapelling ropes,” somebody yelled. “Put
this thing down a little.”
down to about eight feet, his rotor almost skimming the top of a
I landed off
pack pulling me over. I felt a leg
muscle which wouldn’t be the same for a couple of days, then landed
flat on my
back and managed to roll into a rock before going off the long slide
I don’t really
know how the
others landed because there was an immense cloud of dust, grass blades
pebbles, and I had managed to land where I had a worm’s-eye view of the
of the helicopter a few feet above. It
was like looking at an elephant from underneath.
swooping on down the contour of the slope, and I managed to get up and
out of the clear area into the brush just as three more choppers showed
their way to the little bare spots.
it was the safest I have ever made. It
was so obvious that the technique was practically ambush-proof that I
even hurry to move into the semicircle put out by Welch, but stopped
at the view.
It showed the
paddies of the area, the empty villages, the tin roofs of the refugee
the barbed wire and ditches of fortified towns and headquarters, and
the tragedy of this country.
Red lines across
traced out Viet Cong road cuts which were filled in by engineers when
was reopened. The trails up through
empty villages and the crowds moving along Highway 19 in twin lines of
hats and black clothing, with little vehicles in the center, was a good
illustration of what this kind of war does to those caught in the
Most of those
families who had their homes in the villages where Viet Cong terror and
our own actions to clear the VC from the area had made life too risky
The choppers had
full company here before it seemed possible, some having to make two
get into the correct position over the tiny little clear places on the
Not a shot had
and the first thing I knew we were all in a good perimeter, but spaced
when the command to move came it could be accomplished without wasted
motion. The command came in about 10
McElroy led us
off down the
slope first. I thought the downhill
part would be easy, but it was actually harder than the uphill sections
next four or five hours.
Every tree and
had thorns, it seemed, and the ground beneath the canopy was still
slippery. Rocks caught
unwary ankles, and people grabbing at vines
or saplings for support speared themselves.
“If I picked a
water lily in
this county it would have stickers on it six inches long,” Taylor told
earnestly after he managed to mangle his thumb on an innocent-appearing
twig. He finished the last 40 feet of
in a manner which plastered the seat of his fatigues with mud and
of the platoon ahead of us.
each ski-slope descent into the little gullies and draws along the
mountainside, were grueling and the weather was hot, but they weren’t
completely frustrating as the way down.
The pace didn’t
until we came up against a rock structure which I called a cliff and
McElroy spoke of as an “incline,” and it became a real
Up at the top I
the complacent faces of the men of Capt. John Martin’s Charlie Company,
landed up there. They kept calling down encouragement.
“Just turn loose
and roll up,”
somebody yelled as I came to a rock which was too big to hold onto or
and too slippery to climb over, and I found myself hanging onto
crevices in it
with my fingertips.
I don’t know how
got extricated, but we all wound up back down in the last gully we had
from, grimly surveying the slope we had just tried.
Welch, who had just walked around the whole thing, called to us
gently from a nice, smooth trail 100 feet to the left.
“Unless you guys
to, you don’t have to climb that. Just
come around the path,” he said.
comedians who had been watching it all looked disappointed and went
looking out over the distance.
I had the
pleasure of being
there when the word came up that they would go right on back to the
peak we had
just left and take over there, but that they would take a route on the
slope which was even brushier and steeper than the way we had come. I said something about last laughs, as I
The idea behind
position switching, McElroy said, was to keep a steady flow of patrols
movement around the ridge top to clear it of any possible sniper
to wind up with the ridge all clearly
marked U.S. property.
logical, but it
also seemed like more work than I wanted to engage in, since I already
understood the technique so thoroughly, so I shook hands all around,
complimented them on their mountain-climbing techniques and caught a
back down the ridge.
Eight hours of
that kind of
work is enough for anybody.