(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is finding American soldiers in Viet Nam a brave breed. Following is the second of two articles on individuals of the 1st Cavalry Division fighting North Vietnamese in the South Viet Nam highlands.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
ANKHE, Viet Nam – PFC Toby Braveboy’s lonely ordeal (described Tuesday in The Enquirer) had a counterpart in the story of Sp5 Daniel Torez, 25, Corpus Christi, Tex.
However, Torez, a medic with A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, volunteered for his vigil and came through unscathed -- with 35 wounded Americans “owing their lives to him” according to his company commander, Capt. George Forrest of Columbus.
Capt. Forrest’s company had been attached to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, on Nov. 17 when that outfit was hit by a North Vietnamese battalion in a surprise attack which cut the American column into three segments and resulted in a bitter, all-night struggle which the Americans finally won, but with heavy losses.
“The company in front had been cut off and they were heavily outnumbered and were overran,” Forrest said. “I got a radio call from ‘Ghost 4-6,’ which was the call sign of one of their platoons. He said he was wounded and that there were many wounded men who needed help.”
His first platoon, under the command of Platoon Sgt. Fred, Kluge, who had taken over when the officer had been hit, "volunteered to go out there and help," Forrest said.
At 11 p.m. the 21 men, including Torez, took seven litters and threaded their way through the darkness.
“We actually found about 45 men out there, most of them in a big group near one of those big anthills,” said Sgt. Alfred Montgomery, 38, of Columbus. “We put the most critically wounded ones on our litters and got the ones who could walk, 18 of them I guess in all, and were heading back.
"Sgt. Kluge said, ‘we can’t leave these men here by themselves while we make this trip. Somebody is going to have to stay to help them,’ ” Montgomery continued. “Torez just said ‘I’m the medic, it’s my job. You infantrymen wouldn’t know what to do anyway.’ ”
Torez said he was “real scared” of the idea of remaining, but added that “I knew it was my job, it was what I was trained for and I knew anyone else would be as scared as I was, so what else could I do but stay?”
He gathered 18 of the men close to him and treated them, he emptied the medical kits of two medics who had been killed in the bitter fighting as they treated wounded in order to obtain morphine and bandages.
“Then out in the dark I began hearing those PAVNS moving,” Torez said. “Then I heard one of our GIs scream and say ‘No, no… somebody help me.’ Then I heard an automatic weapon fire. I knew what was going on. They were hunting the wounded, like I was, but they were killing them.”
He said those American cries stilled by shots “kept up all night.”
He kept crawling and caring for men, but the prowlers drew closer to his area and he turned to another soldier’s job He found an M-60 machine gun and clips for an M-16 rifle and opened fire.
“He killed three PAVNs that we found, and he must have hit a lot more,” Forrest said. "They pulled back out of there. He kept on treating those men and firing his weapon.
“I’ll put it this way: We got back there in the morning and we were able to excavate 35 wounded Americans,” he continued. “I don’t think those boys would have been alive if Torez hadn’t been out there fighting for them and treating them.”
Torez said he didn’t think he “would live to see daylight,” but that hour came. A radio message from Forrest had assured him that he would have friends back “at first light.”
“It was a long time, a real long time,” Torez said. “A chopper came over and radioed for me to throw smoke A wounded officer was there and he operated the radio.
"I only had red smoke, which is used to mark an enemy target, and there was an air strike 400 meters from us.” he said. “I threw it, and as soon as the chopper spotted it I threw a poncho over it so it wouldn’t give away our position to the PAVNs or be seen by those airplanes.
"Then there was a lot of M-16 and M-60 machine gun fire and I knew our guys were chasing the PAVNs out of there,” Torez continued “They got to me by using the helicopter’s report of our position. It was like starting a brand new life.”
There were enough other stories of bravery from the 1st Cavalry soldiers’ ranks to fill a wonderful book. Some examples:
-- Sgt. Eugene Pennington, 25, Owensburg, Ky., who on the night of Nov. 3 took a position as first man in an ambush set up by a rifle platoon from 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry.
At 9:30 p.m., lying in short grass under a brilliant moon, Pennington carefully counted the North Vietnamese soldiers -- 84 of them -- and noted their weapons -- rifles, machine guns, four mortars, five pieces of recoilless artillery -- then gave the signal for 10 claymore mines to be fired which desolated the entire weapons company of a PAVN battalion.
Pennington then sat up and fired M-79 grenades into the milling survivors of the am-bush, counted the shots fired by the enemy -- only two -- and left with his platoon and turned in a neatly written tally to Capt. Robert Knowland, who had commanded the bloody little action.
“That was what Capt. Knowland said I was to do," Pennington explained.
Sp5 Nolan King, of the same platoon, on Oct. 29 ambled over a battleground south of Plei Me where a hospital regiment and a battalion of fanatical defenders were overrun by the Flying Horsemen.
The tall, gangling, sleepy-voiced King, who comes from a Negro settlement near Brunswick, Ga. (at 20 he is the youngest of a family of seven), snapped off shots from his deadly little M-16 rifle and brought down PAVN soldiers like squirrels. His tally at the end of his first two hours of combat was listed at 19 killed, 21 prisoners and seven weapons captured.
“I walked off by myself up this little creek and there were five of them up there by a little straw hootch they had made,” King said. “They were just sitting there cooling it. They saw me and they reached for-their guns. I shot four of them. The other one gave up so I turned him over to one of the guys in my troop.
“Then I went on up the creek some more and three of them jumped up,” he continued. “They acted like they were going to shoot so I put my rifle on them, then they all took off running so I shot them.
“I saw five of them over around a little ditch,” he said. “I shot four of them and one of them jumped down into the ditch, so I went over. There was about 20 of them all laying down there with their hands put on the ground. They wouldn’t move at all. I went down and had to pull on them to get them to even wiggle.
“I got to thinking maybe I couldn’t handle them all myself, so I hollered and a couple of guys came over and helped me get them up on their feet so we could walk them on back for the choppers to come and get them,” King said. “I went on along through the woods then. They kept jumping up and shooting and missing, and I kept shooting them.”
King said he probably shot some more during the rest of the day but “I couldn’t hardly claim then. They was over on top of a hill and a lot of guys were shooting at them, too.”
As opposed to the complete efficiency and courage of King and Pennington, many young Americans found themselves suddenly aware of courage as a possession they had never been quite sure of before. The discovery was almost the undoing of big Lt. Bill Shiebert, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, on Oct.29.
Lt. Shiebert, 25, of Albany, N. Y., who intends to become a Catholic priest when his Army service is done next year, was in the thick of a fight and running his platoon with complete concentration on the business at hand.
Suddenly, to the amazement of ground-hugging companions, he stood straight up, squared his shoulders, grinned in the direction of the oncoming hail of fire and shouted in amazement:
“Why, I’m not afraid…Hey... bring on your fight!”
It was as apt a demonstration of what is making the men with the big yellow and black horsehead patch walk proudly these days as any man could have given.