Dec 7, 1965

PFC Braveboy Shows 1st Cavalry’s Spirit of Aggressiveness

 (EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is finding American soldiers in Viet Nam a brave breed.  Following is the first of two articles on individuals of the 1st Cavalry Division fighting North Vietnamese in the South Viet Nam highlands.)

Enquirer Military Writer

AN KHE - The American soldier of 1965 comes in all sizes, shapes and colors and represents a bewildering assortment of backgrounds, personalities and ambitions - but from official reports, comments of commanders and results on the battlefield, it would seem that he shares an almost universal trait.

Almost without failure, the Americans in Viet Nam have shown themselves to be magnificently brave men who fight with an aggressiveness that has dismayed their own officers almost as much as the enemy.

“They are over-aggressive although it seems impossible for a rifleman to be called that.  They won’t pull back from a fight and let the artillery and air take over - they just keep driving in!  They are the bravest troops who have ever fought on a modern battlefield,” Lt. Col. James H. Nix said after his 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry had fought a bitter engagement on Nov. 5 near Plei Me.

The 1st Cavalry Division brought a new dimension to the war in Viet Nam when it relentlessly pursued three regular North Vietnamese regiments on Oct. 26 at Plei Me, finally driving the shattered remnants of the enemy across the Cambodian border on Nov. 26.  It had stories of brave men who illustrated every facet of that trait of over-aggressiveness.

Story of Ordeal

The story of the ordeal of PFC Toby Braveboy was one of those.  It was a saga of fortitude and tough endurance.

On Nov. 17 Braveboy, 24, who comes from the unlikely town of Coward, S.C., was walking on point with two platoons of Company A, Second Battalion, Seventh Cavalry, when a shattering North Vietnamese attack struck the unit.

When darkness fell, Braveboy was wounded in his left hand, his arm and leg.  His only companions were other wounded Americans.  The rest of the battalion had pulled into a fighting perimeter and was embroiled in one of the bitterest battles of the campaign.

I wanted to get help for my three buddies who were with me,” Braveboy said.  “They were all hit.  I knew if I yelled for a medic the Vietnamese would hear me, so I tried to crawl for help.

“I could hear my buddies calling for help,” he continued.  “They had been wounded badly.  I knew I had to get help for them, but the PAVNs (Peoples Army of North Viet Nam) were all around me.”

Feigns Death

He crawled as far as he could toward the sound of the fighting and realized he couldn’t make it.  A group of Vietnamese soldiers came toward him and he feigned death.  They executed some of the wounded they found, he said, blood spraying him once when they decapitated a wounded American, and they left.

Braveboy, who inherits his name from a Creek Indian ancestor although he is a sandy-haired youth with few Indian features, pulled himself to a small stream and hid in the grass.  He had no equipment, no food, but he did have a bottle of water-purification tablets, and he used them.  He had only water for nourishment during the days and nights ahead.
He wrapped his T shirt around a gaping wound in his left hand (Army surgeons were later forced to remove his index finger) and for two days watched enemy soldiers “who passed so close I could have picked up a rock and hit them with it.

At night he crawled into the brush near the creek and huddled beside a bank of earth.

‘So Cold’

But it was cold, every night was so cold. . . I could never get warm . . . the mosquitoes and bugs were terrible,” he said while being treated for his wounds, exposure and malnutrition at Pleiku on Thanksgiving Day.

Once a North Vietnamese soldier showed a strangely uncharacteristic altruism which Braveboy marveled over as he lay on the litter at the Pleiku airstrip and half-whispered his story.

I heard footsteps, then four North Vietnamese soldiers went by me,” he said.  “Three of them didn’t see me, but the fourth one looked me right in the eye.  He stopped and pointed his rifle at me.  I raised my wounded hand and shook my head ‘no’. . . I don’t know why, but he lowered his rifle and walked away.  He was so young, just a boy, no more than 16 or 17.”

Each day helicopters from his division flew overhead, prowling on a hunt for the PAVN units.  Braveboy could not stand to signal and the American Choppers passed him by time and again.

No Food

There wasn’t any food,” Braveboy said.  “The PAVNs had taken all they could find.  They even tore open the C-ration accessory packets and took out the sugar and chewing gum.  I lost a lost of blood from my hand wound the first day and I was becoming very weak.”

The hope of rescue from the air was ironically counterbalanced by the threat of death, Braveboy recounted.
Bombing missions swept over the area where the wounded American was stubbornly clinging to life.  They were pounding the remnants of the North Vietnamese regiments in a mopping-up campaign.

I don’t know how I survived it day after day,” Braveboy said.  “The bombs were landing all around me.  All I could do was to stay flat on the ground and pray they did not hit me.”

On the seventh day, Braveboy said, he had almost given up hope.

Then one of those little choppers flew over me real close,” he said.  “I took off the T shirt I had wrapped around my hand and waved it as hard as I could.  The shirt was bloody but it was all I had to signal with.  I knew he spotted me.  He flew over again even lower.”

It was CWO Marion Moore of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, who saw him.

Braveboy knew he was safe on a Thanksgiving Day he will never forget when the chopper pilot, Capt. Jerry Leadabrand, swooped back one more time and threw him a cardboard box of C-rations which contained, appropriately enough, according to Braveboy “turkey loaf!

The helicopter landed after scouting the area, and the South Carolina farm boy was brought back for medical attention.  Doctors said he is assured of recovery.

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