11 June 1966
To help navigate we would have pre positioned fire support that we could call for to help determine as to where we were, ie have a round fired to two different known locations, shoot a azimuth to both explosions.
Backing up a little to being afraid at night when you are out on a small ambush patrol. If you have a group of men who know what they are doing, who depend on each other, have the training , you have a group who will follow you to hell. This is a group who will give a good accounting of themselves.
While I was with Charlie company their was only one major battle and that occurred on the 11th of June 1966. Up to that time and afterwards all of our engagements were small and did not last very long at all. This is the story and how it came about.
1st of June 1966 Operation EL Paso began, I don't know how many units were in the field but our Brigade and our sister BN was in the field (1st BN/28th Inf ). Our first objective was the small airstrip at LOC NINH, Loc Ninh is a village aprox 90 miles north of Lai Khe and is about 3 mile from the Cambodia border. There was and still is a huge rubber plantation all around the village. The French had their plantation house and out buildings at the east end of the air strip perhaps a ½ mile from the village. It was here around the air strip that our BN set a perimeter.
From here we ran Plt sizes patrols in every direction. Now I must say that nothing of the big picture every got passed down to the squad level. If our Plt Sgt had any info he kept it to his self . This could have happened, as later events showed that this man was a poor soldier and a coward to boot! We did not have a Officer as Plt Ldr, it would probably not have made much difference anyway.
For the last week their was signs of increasing enemy activity ( snipers, short fire fights etc ) On the morning of 11 June 1st and 3rd Plts were sent on Patrol. 3rd to the west & 1st to the north. The 2nd Plt (mine ) was held in reserve and for area guard. It was about noon when the sound of small arms fire could be heard in the distance to the N by NE. Word came down that 1st Plt had made contact, but there wasn't much in the way of details. The sounds of firing had stopped so every one kinda relaxed. It was perhaps a ½ hour later that the firing started up again at a brisk pace. Almost at once word came for the 2nd Plt to meet up with the BN Recon Plt and to proceed at once to the north to the aid of the 1st Plt. The plan was simple as Recon leading the way we would swing left and come up on the 1st Plts left flank. Recon Plt far left, 2nd Plt in the center, with 1st Plt far right.
As we moved in to position once again the firing slowed and stopped, When in position my squad was closest to the 1st Plt but not in sight. ( later we found the distance to be 200 yards )Our positions were on a low ridge facing another low ridge perhaps 150 yards away, there was a low valley in-between with a small stream bed in about the middle of the valley. ( The whole area was a rubber plantation, with waist high grass and heavy under brush on the ridge facing us.)
W e had just got into position when we started receiving small arms fire from the ridge facing
us ( not heavy , but perhaps 5-8 rds per min) we had good cover being right on the top of the ridge and the rubber trees, after the firing died down I moved to a bigger tree which had a irrigation ditch beside it. ( ready made fox hole) this movement brought heavy MG fire, but either I was to quick, lucky or they were poor shots.(my angel again? ) The GI who was carrying the Plt extra radio soon joined me. It was soon after, that we saw our 1st enemy soldier, he was moving back up towards the top of their ridge, we could only see his upper body, my RTO was carrying a M79 and I a M16. I don't know which, but after several rounds one of us put him down.
While all this is going on the 1st Plt was adjusting 105mm fire on where they thought the enemy was. Well I knew where the 1st Plt was ( to my right but out of sight ) They had been bringing 105mm fire to our right front at perhaps 100 to 150 yards distance. I am monitoring all this on the radio when the 1st Plt called for a adjustment for the 155mm, "Down 100 Left 100" , This was my position, not the enemy, it didn't take long for me to raise the CO and tell him what the deal was, he asked me what I thought the adjustment should have been. I told him left 100 was fine, no drop. This was fired and the rounds hit on the ridge to our right front, At this time the Recon Plt Sgt took over and adjusted the fire to cover the ridge to our front.( he was KIA perhaps 50 min later )
After dropping 105mm shells the length of the ridge all was quite from over there. As I said before, we had up to that time never met the enemy that he didn't withdraw within minutes of the 1st engagement. It is very easy to apply hindsight and to be quick to point out mistakes made. I at the time put a lot of blame on our CO but information that I found years later, made it clear to me at least that part of the blame laid with the Generals who were supposed to be running this war. The day before, heavy contact had been made up and down Highway 1 not 30 miles from our location. North Vietnamese attacking US & Arvin troops, and not backing down.
Where the ball was dropped, I do not know, but someone should have been smart enough to get the word down to company level to expect anything. To many Generals and their staff who for the most couldn't find their ass with both hands !
As it was, after the 105mm fire on the enemy ridge ceased and all was quite, the CO ordered the Recon & 2nd Plts to advance to the other ridge and see if we could come up with a body count or any other info ( assumption that once again the enemy had withdrawn ).( further assumption that these two plt sgts knew what they were doing )
Here any training that the two Plt Sgts had, seemed to have been forgotten , I was not part of the decision but soon word was passed down that we were going to line up ( like police call ) and advance to the top of the ridge to our front .Well that's what we did Recon on the far left had aprox 200 meters to go to reach the foot of the ridge while at my end perhaps just a 100. So as we started off I held my squad back until such time as our police call line was fairly straight.
( I Think perhaps my angel was working hard again )
Training situations such as this, calls for keeping auto weapons in place to provide covering fire. ( not done ), anyway I am not to happy about this stroll to what had been the enemies position not 30 min ago. As we approached the creek bed I threw my 1st and last hand grenade in what could be called a combat situation