My Vietnam Story
by Rusty Scheewe
July 2-3 1966
My Vietnam story: by Rusty Scheeweth
updated July 26th, 2007
Having just passed the 41st anniversary of 'B' Company's July 2-3, 1966 encounter with the NVA, I feel compelled to write about my memories of those several daysth survivors of that short but intense battle have asked me, "why hasn't there been more written about it?" and I don't have a good answer. Perhaps because it did not have a "NAME", like "LZ10 ALFA", or "Chu Pong Mountain", or "Ia Drang Valley" --- and still today, I would not know what to name it! We were not in an LZ, or on a mountain, or in a valley, just in a peaceful forest until someone fired that first shotth
I am borrowing on my memories, as well as those of others in 'B' Company and 1/35th Inf Bn., and others who would have direct knowledge of that time, so I can have some accuracy in this report.
My History with 1/35th Inf
My time with 1/35th and 'B' Company did not start with my assignment as Company Commander on or about 24 June, 1966. I had a 2 1/2-year stint with the 3rd Bde, both in Hawaii and in RVN [Republic of Vietnam], starting in 1963.
I arrived in 'B' Co. in February 1963 as a "shave tail" 2nd Lt., fresh out of West Point [class of 1962], and I did choose the Infantry over all the other branches of the Army --- which I had the option to do. In the time since graduation on June 6th, 1962, I attended the following at Ft. Benning, GA; Basic Officer's Course, Ranger School, and Airborne School, having received certification, and wings, tabs, etc. from this training.
My first Co. Commander was Capt. Raol [sp] Ashby, with Dennis Lees, Bill Farmen, and Tom Simcox as fellow Plt. Leaders. Tim Crotty was in 'A' Co with Cpt. Dudley Budrich . The XO I do not remember other than he was a tall thin 1st Lt.. From the time Feb. 1963 until July 1966, I served in several capacities both in the Bde, and for 1 year as Maj. Gen. Darnell's Aide [USAR Hawaii Commander]. My time spent in 1/35th was first as Plt Leader in 'B' Co. , XO in 'A' Co with Tony Bizantz, XO in HQ Company with Capt. Joe Hoyt [who passed away on Feb. 6th, 2007], and as S-3 Air Operations on the Bn. Staff, before I replaced Cpt. Tim Crotty as 'B' Company Commander on June 24th, 1966.
My time in RVN from December 29th 1965 to June 23rd 1966
We left Schofield Barracks Hawaii on December 29th, 1965, and flew from Hickham AFB to Clark AFB in the Philippines for refueling, and then on to Pleiku at the small landing strip thereth where we disembarked with our weapons loaded and in assault mode.
At that time I was on the Bn staff as S-3 Air " which was a position that had little significance in Hawaii, because we had little in the way of need or capability for any air missions until we had choppers attached to the Bde in early 1966. I worked very closely with Lt. Col. Ed Callanan, XO Maj Bill Bates, S-3, Maj. Fred DeLisle, and others of the Bn. Staff while in RVN.
This included the S-1, Fred Shaffer, S-2 Cpt. John Fielding, S-4 Cpt Joe Hoyt, and others.
The patrol and the relief action 2-3 July, 1966
Change of Command and mode of operation in May ? 1966
Lt. Col. "Barbwire Bob" Kingston relieved Lt Col Ed Callanan in May ?? 1966. Things were changing, and where did the changes come from?
From Bn, Bde, Saigon? At the Company level we had no idea what the "Big Picture" was! I had seen Gen Westmoreland the first time as Superintendent at West Point as a 2-star, and we shook hands as he handed me my diploma. The second time he was a 4-star in Pleiku on 22 January, where he was meeting with Bg Gen Walker, and the 3rd Bde Commander Col Stoutner. The strategy and the tactics we would be using in the time frame May-July were developed at this level with Westmoreland and Walker, and then implemented by all the units under their command.
Gen Westmoreland told those present that they "would have to work like hell, and fight like Tigers"
The objective of the 3rd Bde [now under Brig Gen Walker the Commander of Task Force Walker " 3rd Bde, + Â3/4 Cav ++ arty, +++ other units supporting the task force]] and 1/35th was to conduct continuous screening along the Laos-Cambodian border --- we were considered a "a light mobile screen that shifted frequently, and blocked and engaged the forces that were passing into the Central Highlands" --- and we were placed right in the path of the main NVA troop movement!
Weren't we the lucky ones?
Intelligence showed the presence of at least 2 NVA Regiments [500-600 North Vietnamese Regulars per Regiment] directly in our AO, and 4-5 more across the border in staging areas in Cambodia " which was only about 11 klicks from Duc Co, where we were in a Company base camp in a remote LZ [LZ 27U I think], West of "Oasis" about 27 klicks, that was the Bde. Field base at this time during Paul Revere I.. The 66 RVN Regiment had already been identified in our AO, and at least 1 other NVA Regiment identified as 32nd Regiment of the 325th Division.
In SLA Marshall's book "Battles in the Monsoon" he describes Westmoreland's assessment of the enemy we faced in this wayth
1. At the tactical level this opponent is a capable planner who organizes offensive operations in four successive stages.
2. The plan itself will always accent deception or the staging on an entrapment [Ambush].
3. His intelligence stems primarily from comprehensive reconnaissance of the chosen battleground and forces adjacent to it.
4. He will usually prepare the battlefield, moving up and caching ammunition and other supply; while that goes on, the hitting forces rehearse the attack, using sand tables, mockups and similar ground in the training area.
5. If while that preparation goes on, as a result of counter intelligence, his over-all maneuver can be divined, parried, and blocked, he will have to start all over again.
6. Because of his set-piece approach to operations, he is hurt far more by spoiling attacks than is an average, conventional opponent in war.
Based on these observations and conclusions about our enemy, Westmoreland developed a strategy of aggressive offensive versus passive defensive posturing as the best way to beat the enemy. And this was to be accomplished by relative small sized units deployed to spar with the NVA, and disrupt and destroy their activities.
So although at the company level we were not privy to the "big picture" at any level further up the chain of commend than Bn. But, we knew from LZ10 ALFA, that we were close to the Ia Drang battlefields that the 1st Cav. had operated in during November 1965. LZ10 ALFA was about 40 km North, and from where 'B' Co was only about 23 km North of the Ia Drang battles. And, LZ10 ALFA was only 1 month removed, and several klicks removed from where we were operating in early July.
So, there should have not been any question that we were operating in an enemy infested zone of operation. We were on terrain that they knew better than we did, where they had been operating in large numbers, and from their point of view, they were going to kill as many Americans as they could.
I hope that this commentary adequately sets the stage for who and what we were facing in late June and early July!
In June, Tim Crotty contracted Malaria and was evacuated for medical treatment and I replaced Tim. Tom Barron had filled in for Cpt. Crotty from 17-24th June before I was asked to take over the Company. I talked to Tim before he left for medical treatment, and as soon as we had finished speaking, he left the area.
Where was 'B' Company when I took over?
The Company was in a blocking position West of & close to a fortified ARVN Special Forces camp/village at Duc Co, which was only 11 klicks as the crow flies, from the Cambodian Border. There was an airfield at Duc Co, and the ARVN Special Forces troops operated along a central line of access to Pleiku and the Central Highlands. The 3rd Bde, with its field base in Oasis, directly East of Duc Co --- a CIDG [Civilian Irregular Defense Group] camp -- was to support the efforts to stop the NVA infiltration. We were astride of the main infiltration routes the NVA used to access the central highlands from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our specific mission was to find active routes of entry from Cambodia into RVN for the NVA [these were the uniformed Regular Army Forces of North Vietnam], and then we would engage them as directed by the Bn. Commander.
What units and who were in 'B' Company in the field at that time
The units consisted of; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd platoons, as well as the Weapons Plt, plus 2nd Platoon from 'C' Troop of the Â3/4 Cav, consisting of 3 tanks
[M-60's] and 5 APC's (M-113's).
The Platoon Leader from Â3/4 Cav was Lt. __________.
HQ Group --- Consisted of CO., Cpt Rusty Scheewe
[XO @ base camp Lt Tom Barron]
1st Sgt [field] Sgt Wong [base camp Sgt Joe DeRado]
RTO George Lindbloom [Bn net] and
RTO____________ [Co net]
3rd Plt Members: Lt Jasper Sturdivant, Plt Sgt James Outlaw
1st Plt Members: Lt Lee Nichols, Plt Sgt Joe Lucas,
3rd Plt Members: Lt Jeff Sullivan, Plt Sgt _____________
Weapons Plt Members: Lt Pete Ewing, Plt Sgt_________________
Shortly after I took over command of 'B' Co. on June 24th, I was ordered to send out one Plt. [the 1st Plt. Under the command of Lt. Pete Ewing] to the East several km [3-4] and into an area where I did not have good communications because of a depression in the topography. Also, I felt that they were too far away to support the rest of the Company if we came in to contact with any sizable NVA forces. The area we were in had been very active over the past several months. I remember as the 1st Plt. was mounting up and ready for departure, and suddenly there was a burst of M-60 machine gun fire. One of the men in the platoon was wounded and evacuated, and perhaps 1-2 others also with minor woundsth someone in the unit grabbed the ammo belt and twisted it to jam the weapon and stop the firing. What we found out was that on cleaning and re-assembling the M-60 machine gun, 1 piece was inserted incorrectly [backwards is the way it was explained to me], and caused it to malfunction. This was not a good start for this "patrol". So, on that day we became a Company minus 1 platoon as this unit went on a recon mission " with a very loosely defined mission.
The remainder of the Co. plus a Â3/4 Cav. Plt consisting of 5 APC's, and 3 tanks made up the remainder of the Operational units of 'B' Co. There was an administrative and a supply staff left in Base camp in Pleikuth Sgt Wong was the 'field' 1st sgt. Also there were some of the troops [20+-] who were on WIA, on R&R, rotating out of service, ill from various maladies such as Malaria, and other illnesses.
1st Sgt Joe DeRado & Tom Barron were back at 3rd Bde base camp taking care of the admin, as well as maintenance, supply, mess operations --- North of Pleiku, where we had landed 6 months ago.
I know that Tim Crotty had an experienced unit, that was well trained both in Hawaii, and in RVN, and all his missions in-country were in Company-sized actions as far as I remember, and this is from my experience from the Bn. Operations which is where I was for the first 6 months and this was followed as much as possible --- or at least the Platoon units were within close supporting distance of each other. But as I mentioned previously, this strategy was changing as directed by the Commanders in Saigon, and thus for our units also. What this meant for us in 'B' Company and all of the 3rd Bde would be expected to patrol on a continuous basis in smaller units than was previously done " and this was the new strategy & tactic.
When working with Col. Ed Callanan and Fred DeLisle, the missions were most often discussed with the Company Commanders, and the details worked out, and the Company Commanders opinions & concerns were sought as part of the planning process. This was not the case during my time working with Col. Bob Kingston. He gave the orders and you followed them, no questions asked. Col Kingston had just come in from commanding a Special Forces unit in SE Asia that was trained and deployed as small unit patrols often across the border with neighboring countries. These patrols were detached from any larger supporting force, and this was how he was directed to use the Bn units going forward. I expressed my concerns to Fred DeLisle, but he replied that Col Kingston was "calling the shots". [General Robert Charles Kingston [ret] died on Feb 28th, 2007th he had a noteworthy career in special operations, and rose to the rank of 4-star General]. Lt Col Kingston later was the first C.G. of Central Command [CENTCOM].
His Biography is available on line.
On the evening of 2 July, 1966, Lt. Sturdivant's Plt. Established an "L' type ambush position with squad-sized positions within supporting distance of each other 10 yds +-, and had claymore mines set up to protect their positions, as well as arty registered in. Sgt Outlaw was in direct command of the 2 squads in the "long side" of the ambush, and Lt Sturdivant was in a blocking position up the trail about 30 yds. During the night, I received radio contact from Sgt James Outlaw [the Plt. Sgt.] that there were 5-7 enemy figures close to their positions. I told him to spring the ambush when the time was right. I don't remember exactly what caused Sgt Outlaw not to spring the ambush, but some time later [15 min] I mounted an APC, with several other troops and went down the road to find out what was happeningth and we arrived to find Lt. Sturdivant in the road and the enemy gone.
Lt Sturdivant was alerted to the contact and was ready to fire on the enemy had they advanced up the road further ftoward his blocking position. It looked like the NVA had smelled out the trap we had set for them and withdrawn. I took the troops I had brought with me back to the Co. HQ, and waited until light.
When Col Kingston heard about the aborted ambush he was visibly disturbed, and commented that he wanted the enemy killed, not counted!
Was the force in front of us just a small contingent of Viet Cong [some reported that they were dressed in black], or something more? What do you think?
Let's look at what was going on in the political arena --
"June 1966, Saigon " Informants in Saigon said Sunday that North Vietnamese troops were sitting on the Cambodian side of the border waiting to spring into South Viet Nam's Central Highlands during the rainy season. Report Denied; Cambodia, a neutral Country, has denied it is allowing North Vietnamese troops or Viet Cong guerillas to use its territory, and did so again Sunday." The report of the informants in Saigon, however, seemed to agree with remarks to newsmen in Washington Friday by Maj. Gen. Stanley R. Larson that "up to six North Vietnamese regiments were massed in Cambodia." His remarks drew a quick denial from the U.S. Defense Department. It said there were unconfirmed reports on North Vietnamese being in Cambodia but no actual evidence of it. Upon hearing of the Defense Departments denial from a newsman, Gen Larson commented, "I stand corrected".
The Saigon informants said their information on the North Vietnamese was based on intelligence reports available to military commanders in South Viet Nam.
Now, why didn't they ask us who we had been fighting in the Central Highlands for the past 4 months? We would have given them the real skinny --- it was both NVA and PAVN forces, staging in Cambodia and
then turning East and rolling into the beautiful and peaceful Central Highlands.
I guess the actions at LZ10 ALFA, on 28-29 May, and the Recon Platoon on 23-25 June were figments of our imaginationth these enemy NVA units just magically appeared from nowhereth
On July 3rd, Lt Sturdivant's mission was to take his Plt and follow the tracks of the enemy and conduct a recon in force --- "find, but not chase them!" were my last words to him as the platoon departed early on July 3rd, heading South and West toward the Cambodian border, and in the direction of Chu Pong mastiff.
In late January 1966 I had gone by chopper to the 1st Cav base camp in An Khe after the Ia Drang Valley fighting in November 1965. This has been memorialized by the movie 'We were Soldiers then, and youngth", and I presented a Bde officer's call at the 3rd Bde base camp in Pleiku in Late Feb., describing the tactics used by the NVA in this battlethmy information was drawn directly from the typed and hand written after action reports of the different unit commandersth and their description noted the ambushes that befell them and how they were set up and sprung by the NVA troops.
At about the same time, 'B' Company received training from some of the soldiers from 1st Cav who came into the 3rd base camp to brief the troops on enemy tactics and lessons learned from their battles since their time in country --- they came in July 1965.
So, when I talked to Lt. Sturdivant that morning I was very specific and direct with, and was eye-to-eye when I told him "you find, but do not chase the enemy!"
Lt Sturdivant took his men and followed the trail South & West, and came to a split in the trail, and he told me that he was going to split the Plt into 2 groups, him going West toward the Cambodian border, and Sgt Outlaw to take the second branch more to the South. I told him to go slowly and maintain contact with the other group only until he could determine the "hot" trail and reunite his platoon. About 45-60 minutes into his recon, I started to get a bit antsy about not knowing exactly where he was, and about not having my third rifle platoon [the 2nd plt] within supporting range.
It was about noon or a bit after that my radio came to life again, and Lt. Sturdivant had seen several NVA moving away from them [in the area of YA819192], and he began pursuit. I told him to stop and not pursue, as the recollections of Ia Drang came to mind. But, his voice was excited and I could tell that his adrenaline had begun to kick in and he was not listening to me to STOP ANY PURSUIT! At this time, I could hear on the radio as all Hell broke loose. Lt. Sturdivant came to a quick realization that he was in contact with a superior force, and he had walked into a trap. AW & Mortar fire was hitting the unit, and they had taken several casualties right away.
The radio conversation became more and more animated and I could hear the firing of weapons and shouts of voices of the combatants. Soon after this contact, they were calling in arty support @ YA826127.
I told the 2/4 Cav's to use their APC's to bring Lt Nichol's Plt back to our Co base. It took about 40-60 min to pick up the 1st platoon from its night time ambush position that was about 5-6 km North of the Co. base off the north-south trail. Then I briefed the troops, and call back to Bn for their concurrence on our plan of action --- which was basically to find and extract the 2 squads that had been ambushed, and find out what had happened to the other Â1/2 of Sturdivant's platoon.
So, at about 12:45 we were on the move to find and support the 3rd plt.. Sgt Outlaw's group had made some contact with the enemy as well, but I could not ascertain by the short radio interchange with the RTO or Sgt Outlaw what was actually happening " and then the radio went dead.
The time-line of events seemed to pass very quickly, and by that time a relief force had been organized, consisting of 5 APC's, the 1st plt and a HQ element. I felt that the tanks would be too cumbersome in the terrain we were going into, and they would become easy targets in the area that we would be working in where some was heavy forest --- so the tanks would stay behind to provide security for the HQ camp & weapons Plt. They would be a final armored force to escort the 2nd platoon to assist us should this be an option --- hopefully the Bn would recover this platoon from their patrolling and blocking position East of our position about 4-5 klicks?
I had stripped the HQ area of most of the fighting troops for the quickly assembled relief unit. The tanks would stay and be the defense for the Weapons Plt., and they would be our ready reserve if we needed them later.
We loaded the troops in the APC's for quicker movement, troop protection, and to save their strength for the fight [as it was very hot and humid " 90's], and the terrain was difficult to traverse when we were off-road and not on trails.
On the Radio Lt Sturdivant was obviously in bad straits. He was wounded & in pain, and said that he was surrounded and described his casualties, and that they were running low on ammo., and that a woman [1-2] in NVA uniform had stolen his medics bag of supplies and killed the medic. He also had been wounded, but I could not ascertain how bad from our conversation. He or his weapons Plt FO, [Sgt Totten] were going to call in arty close to their position, as close as needed! That is when my adrenaline really kicked in, and I knew that I had to move to action then or the platoon would be lost.
I was sitting on top of the lead APC with my RTO George Lindbloom and we moved out in a southerly direction on the track/trailth
Under my direction via radio, Sgt Outlaw's squads were ordered to find and support Sturdivant's unit. Sgt Outlaw's squads had made some kind of contact with Sturdivant, but soon after, I lost radio contact with Sgt Outlawth the reason for the loss of radio contact I never found out.
Once my adrenaline kicked in, I became very nervous and knew that we had to move then and there. And, that is what we did. We moved to where our last contact had been based on the Plt's direction of travel, and from there we would follow the sounds of the fightingth As we made our way South & West, we ran into some of Sgt Outlaw's troops. They said that Sgt Outlaw had made contact with an enemy element, and he had broken contact and withdrawn from the scene of action, and so they found themselves leaderless & a bit confused. We found several small groups of Outlaw's squads in the area by calling to them and announcing our identification. We collected them and they were added to the relief force. We picked up most of Outlaw's unit, as well as Sgt Outlaw. At the same time we offloaded the Relief 1st Plt, and deployed them behind the lead APC, and between the other 4 tracks, because we thought we were close to our foe.
I was still riding on top of the lead vehicle with my RTO. This provided a better vantage point than walking, and the rest of the troops were arrayed/interspersed between the 2nd and last APC's both for protection and ease of walking in the tracks made by the APC'sth Deployment from this arrangement would also be easy to control, and it provided the convoy the fastest way to move in the rough terrain. They would walk in 2 files in the tracks made by the APC's.
This worked well, and since we thought we were close to the ambush site, quick deployment on contact would be imperative when it happened.
My memory was that it was tall grass and shrubs and small trees as we moved down a finger on the high ground. Along the way the lead APC hit a small tree from which a nest of fire ants showered on myself and the RTO, which caused us much discomfort until we could strip down and knock them offth the RTO would remember this distinctly.
This terrain changed as we moved down the finger on the high ground, because I wanted to stay out of any low lying areas. I did not want any enemy force above us looking down on us " for obvious reasons. We approached an area that was heavy treed -- when we were about 100 yards from the start of the forest, 2 men in uniform stood up about 30-40 yds in front of my APC and they ran away toward the forest. I immediately opened fire with a burst from my AR-16th 2 short bursts and the figures dropped from sight. Whether they were hit or not I do not know.
I immediately received incoming AW fire, and some shell fragments or aluminum alloy from the APC hit my neck --- these were minor, but they burned & I had some minor bleeding. I brought the APC's on line and Lt Nichol's/Sgt Lucas's Plt deployed, as well as the other 2 squads from 3rd Plt. --- but I am not clear who was in charge of these men, Sgt Outlaw did not appear to be. We spent a few minutes getting set up, as we tried to get an idea of what we had in front of us --- or around us. I did not have to give a command to do this, it was just done, because these troops had been in battle before.
I had the feeling that we had come in the back door of the enemy's position, which initially I thought was a good position to be in. I dismounted the APC [jumped or fell off is more likely], and took up position behind the line of vehicles, with my RTO, ARTY FO Lt. Bruce Hulin, and his RTO______? , and Sgt Wong " the 1st Sgt. This was about 1-2 p.m., and shortly thereafter [could be 30-40 min.] we made contact with the remaining men of Sturdivant's unit. Again, the timeline is difficult for me to estimate, and from our position on the ground --- lying as flat as we could " it was difficult to see very far in any direction. During this time it was also raining, and there was smoke from time to time as there is always is during battle from the various armaments being dischargedth and the one APC had caught fire because of a direct hit by either an RPG, or M-40 Russian Rocket launcher ?? . All in all I think we were in contact with the enemy about 2 Â1/2 hours.
We did not have any ordinance from the planes land in our immediate area, but the Arty, M-79, hand grenades, smoke grenades, and rockets [Russian M-40] and RPG's were used to make the area rather chaotic, not to mention the hundreds of small arms rounds that were directed in all directions.
We started to receive intense fire as we were initially deploying, and this was maintained off and on over the period of 1 1/2-2 1/2 hrs into the late afternoonth My thinking at that time was to collect any of Lt. Sturdivant's men that we could, and break contact --- I was not there to extend the fight with the few men that we had. I knew that Tim's men knew how to fight, and they would work as the well trained unit that they wereth and that is exactly what they did! But we were in a pickle, and I would rather resume the fight on better terms at a later time.
Sgts Lucas and sgt Wong would report to me the situation, and a decision would be made and then actions carried outth the survivors of the ambushed unit were found by Lt Nichols and moved into several of the APC's, but I don't remember the number but I think it was about 5-7, as I never saw them as a separate unit " they were mixed in with the relief force. The relief force attempted to neutralize the enemy's positions to the extent they could during this time, so we could disengage.
Very soon it became clear to all the men that we had run upon an entrenched and camouflaged unit of large size that had machine guns dug in, and Russian made rockets & RPG's, which were used as anti-personnel weapons as well as against the APC's, 2 of which were hit & penetrated by the rockets. Several of the hit APC's had wounded in them " all of the APC's were designated for wounded personnel. One rocket hit the APC's thin alloy skin, and then hit a spare gas can inside it and the vehicle caught fire.
Sgt Stickles along with several others pulled the men out --- as this vehicle was no more than 20 feet or so in front of me, and I was using it and several trees as some cover for my HQ group. Some of the men were on fire and tumbling out of the inferno, and several men were severely burned.
The wounded were again moved into another APC, as it was still the safest place for them, otherwise they were targets on the ground without any protection --- we were basically surrounded on 3 sides, except for the side that we punched through on our way in. But that could change at any time, and I wanted to get out before that happened.
As the squads maneuvered to take out the automatic weapons and secure the position, the Arty FO Lt. Bruce Hulin and myself were calling in ARTY [105 & 155's], Navy jets F4 Phantoms, A1E's, in order to cause as much damage & casualties to the enemy and keep their heads down so we could maneuver and eventually break contact without them on our backs.
At 2:20, The S-3 was airborne and assisting in spotting the arty missions.
Sgt Lucas told me that he had seen Fred DeLisle in a chopper above our position through the dense tree cover.
The canopy was very dense with the large trees that we were in at this time, and it had rained some, and it was very hot. With the sweat, blood, rain, soot from the fires, and mud on my glasses and in my eyes, along with the undergrowth, it was very difficult to see any farther than 20-30 yds in any direction. I spent most of the afternoon close to the ground with the other HQ people, as well as one of the medics who kept crawling back and forth between treating the wounded and asking my direction --- this Medic was one of the heroic figures of the day.
I think the medic was, "Doc" Haze Howard of the 1st Plt. He was wounded in one of the APC treating wounded, and then again outside the APC as he was lying beside me by either one of the rockets or ARTY strikes that I called in as we were ready to mount into the APC's to break contactth It could have been another Medic, but I am not sure of that.
The Rounds were hitting in the trees not far from us and some exploded in the trees above us. It was one of these rounds that wounded me [in my left arm, back into my lungs, and fragments in my back] and Lt Nichols [he had been wounded several times previously in the fight]. It was very difficult to distinguish the enemy fire from our own ARTY, and I think it may have been a 155mm round that caught us " but not sure. I called for a cease fire at this time, so we could assess a little better where the fire was coming from. It was at this time that we all crawled into the APC's and guided by a chopper over the APC's radios we were directed to an open area for med-evac.
My last call to the ARTY was drop 50, fire for effect and keep it comingth this was after the call for "cease fire, we are being hit!" , Which was yelled into the Radio several times as loud as I could, like they could hear it better if I yelled! I still do not know for a surety if it was enemy ordinance, or our ownth I guess they could take the piece of shell fragment still lodged in my lung and conduct a metallurgical analysis and find out!
From here, I crawled into which I thought was the last APC in the line, and when the door was opened, men were lying 3-4 deep on top of each otherth mostly wounded. I apologized for causing them discomfort, but they just helped me so they could close the door and get the tracks going. The top hatch was open, and as we were leaving the battle area, I could hear the arty coming in, and hear bullets hitting off the APC's sides --- ping, ping! I looked up to see who I thought was the ARTY RTO, who was smiling and expressed his joy that he was getting out of there, and several moments later I looked at him, and he had a head wound off a ricochet into the vehicleth and I thought how random bullets wereth you think you are out of danger and it can hit at any timeth we closed the top hatch after this incident. I think there were some men on top of the vehicles, and I'm not sure why, as it seemed to be a dangerous place to be --- but perhaps they were providing protection for the small convoy and were able to give direction to the drivers as which was the best way to traverse and not get stuck in a dead end " literally!
What about the APC's role in the battleth
I did not know any of the personnel in the Â3/4 Cav Platoon, and only talked to the Plt ldr. several times the prior week to make a plan for the defense of the Company position on this blocking assignment. Also, the Plt was an escort and transportation for the one Plt that was deployed away from our base camp on this action " Paul Revere I. Without the APC's we would not have been able to save any of Lt Sturdivant's plt., and the .50 cal fire support did some damage to the enemy, but to what extent I do not knowth other than to say, that I was glad we had them rather than the NVA. But others say that late in the fighting they saved the day th mostly because of the inability to effectively use both the Arty & air power we had, because of the difficulty distinguishing the NVA positions from where we were " i.e. the good guys from the bad guys on the ground under those beautiful trees. And, obviously the protection and ride out of the battle area could not have happened without the APC 's.
The one problem we had was that the .50 cal had to be fired without any protection from enemy fire! And being so close to the enemy, with them being in dug-in firing positions, there was no shielding the gunners of the .50 cal MG's from the NVA mg's --- good design from some noncombatant engineer back in the states. Also, because we were right in the middle of the enemy, and they could fire from any direction, and the manning of the .50 was dangerous businessth and we only had one driver, firer of the gun in the APC --- I may be wrong about this? There may have been 2 men from Â3/4 Cav in each APC.
What about Air support " we had it, but because we were not able to accurately tell the pilots of FAC's where our troops were deployed, we could not effectively direct their weaponryth The enemy was among us until we rooted them out and killed them. When you have a radio conversation like the following you may understandth "Bravo six, this is Alpha 46, we have 4 each F4's [from the offshore Navy carriers] with 8ea 500# HE, 4ea Napalm, 8ea 1000 # WP, and have 15 min on target, where do you want it?" Or the A1E's "Bravo 6 ,we have about 1 hour on target, pop smoke to show your positionth overth did you pop white or red? The canopy is diffusing the smoke and we are not sure where you are, can you see the chopper, etc.thcan you shoot up a flare?.....etc." we shot up the few flares but it was daytime and not effective.
Towards late afternoon, we got Fred DeLisle in a chopper on top of us, and that according to Lt. Hulin helped him call in ARTY.
When the pilot of the Navy jets [F-4's] asked me where I wanted the air strike, I gave him the coordinates of a hill West of where we were, and told him to dump it there, with the idea that the hill looked to be a likely place where I would put troops, if I were I the NVA commanderth and it was far enough away so that I knew that none of our troops were located there. You could hear the jets above, but they were a streak, even when they slowed them down, which I requested them to do in order to conserve fuel, and have more time on station. But 200 miles/hr was not any better than 400 miles/hr. You just flinch as you release a bomb or napalm canister and there is real trouble.
And this I remember from LZ10 ALFA, where an A1E dropped napalm on the 2/35th HQ group with 7-9 wounded/burned [I think I was in LZ10 ALFA at the time, because I can still see that canister slowly turning as it floated like slow motion into the LZ and exploding]. As much as I wanted to burn the NVA, I did not want to burn our troops even more, so we did without. The Navy aircraft were not allowed to land on the carrier with any of their ordinance load, so they would have to dump it somewhere, and why not where it might do some good in our area, even with the slight chance that it would actually hit the NVA.
I spent most of my time that afternoon in one of several spot behind the APC's on the ground. This way I could be easily located by not moving around too much, and have my biggest assets, with the most firepower at my disposalth and they had radios [that did not get shot up like some of ours did], and were our transportation outth and were more easily located from the air so we could be located & supported better by the choppers flying around above our position from Bn. Because of the size of the APC's, the enemy fire focused much of their attention & ordinance on them --- which proved to be a negative when using them to shield those on the ground like I had done, but that's life. Along with the positives there are always negatives.
I always carried 500 rounds of ammo for my AR-16 in my back pack, several smoke grenades, a .45 cal pistol, several hand grenades, and as many clips for the 45 as I could carry in my pouchesth I was not worried about eating, or other creature comforts, I just did not want to run out of ammo, and could have some in reserve should anyone else need it. I passed out my AR-16 and the rounds sometime during the afternoon, but I had my Colt .45 close at hand.
I can remember very irreverently saying to myself, "Happy, f---ing 4th of July,,," --- because in the States I thought it was the forth of July --- as the day moved from bad to worse, and I became more concerned with getting stuck in this position as the evening approached, and I did not want to spend the night there. The wounded were getting weaker, and the burn victims required medical attention or there was a good chance that they would not make it through the night, and I had heard no talk of additional troops coming in to our rescueth
I asked for a report on the status of Sturdivant's men and to get all their wounded loaded on to the APC'sthwe would come back the next day for those we had to leave behindth this was in motion before I got wounded. I was adjusting in the Arty as a covering strategy to keep the NVA heads down on our departure. I did not want them to get hits with their rockets on what I thought were only 3 APC's, as this would get all of the remaining force in one relatively easy maneuver.
By this time I was having difficulty hearing anything, because of the large amount of munitions that were going off around usth we had been the focal point of the enemy fire, plus the explosions in the 2 APC's that had been hit by rockets. I started directing in ARTY fire closer and closer to our positions, "Drop 100, 1 volleyth "and then listenthbut it was hard to locate because of the competing din of the battle, and I had to rely on the ears of others to assist me. "drop 100, 1 volley" again and then listen!
I gave the directive to load all the wounded into the APC's and get ready to move out, and the chopper above would direct our escape --- Fred DeLisle & company. "Drop 100, 1 volleyth" and then BAMth something shook me and everyone around meth It hurt bad, and further deafened me, as I shouted into the radio, "Cease fire! Cease Fire, you're hitting usth"
Lt Nichols said that he was next to me and got wounded again and both his ear drums were burst.
I assessed my physical situation, and found that I could not move my left hand, and the tendons appeared to be cut about 3" above my wristth and some shell fragments had penetrated my back into my lungs, and I had a hard time breathingth I then knew that I had to get out before I passed out, as I knew that I was bleeding internally, and was starting to feel light headedth I wanted to make sure that I got all the troops out quickly, and not have to leave the task to someone elseth
I gave the order to saddle up, that we were leaving quickly, and the men mounted the APC's quickly. As I lay on the ground I gave the order to "drop 100, and fire for effect!" This was to cover our withdrawal, and as soon as I gave this last adjusting instructions on the radio, I dragged my sorry butt into the APC, and the door was shutth All the occupants of that PC were a mess to say the leastthblood, sweat and tears, mud and rain, and the ash remnants of the fires. As I crawled over the wounded men in the APC I apologized for the discomfort I caused them by doing soth and they said that it was all right as they moaned at my every moveth what a courageous and class act this unit was! Tim Crotty's character was stamped all over this fine group of men --- the American Soldiers of 'B' Company, 1/ 35th Infantry Battalion, of the 25th Infantry Division.
So I called in the Arty on what I thought was our own positions, and since we would be moving out of the area fairly quickly, we would be spared the onslaught. At that time I did not know that there were some men on top of the APC's. Nor was I aware that their may have been some troops still in the combat area --- as Sgt Lucas later told me there was. They were evacuated by the 2 remaining APC's that had been hit with the rockets.
Since apparently Sgt Lucas was still in the battle area, my last adjustment to the Arty fire may not have been as accurate as I thought it was going to be.
I had heard that one of the choppers and/or FAC's were directing both air strikes and Arty into the area after I had leftthand into the night.
I don't know how far we had to motor to find the clearing that became our expedient LZ, but my estimation was that it was no more than 1 km or sothit took what seemed to be 10-15 minutes maybe lessth as time was hard to keep track of, but the roar of those diesel engines were music to my ears, because it meant that we were on the way out, and almost all of the men needed medical attention to some extent. On reaching a clearing, the troops were off loaded, and moved onto the choppers that were landing at various intervals.
At 3:25, the first dustoff was evacuating the wounded from the clearing that was used as an LZth I think Fred DeLisle, Dewey LaFond and several others were in the first chopper to land. I do not remember if Col Kingston was there or not. I was close to being in shock, and as far as I knew, I was on the last chopper out. It was at 4:00 that Cpt Dewey LaFond took command of 'B' Co., and I got on one of the choppers headed back to Pleiku. When we reached the Bn/Bde aid station, they organized the wounded in some orderly fashion for treatment. The men were treated and stabilized, and that night most of them including myself were evacuated by chopper to Qui Non, where there was an Army Field Hospital.
Sgt. Joe Lucas tells me that after the 3 APC's left, he was still there, and that all of a sudden the one vehicle that had been hit, someone inside got it started up, and that the last 2 vehicles motored out of the battle area also, and all were evacuatedth but I don't have any personal knowledge of this.
The men of 'B' Company had done what was asked of them. They had been asked to go into the face of machine gun emplacements, and had done so, even if it meant the possibility of great harm and/or deathth I remember one Sgt E-5 with Red hair maneuvering his fire team to a gun emplacement, and either Sgt Lucas or Sgt Wong coming back to tell me that he had been killed. I knew the risks that we faced that day, and it is never easy to commit men to battle in any situation, but there was no other wayth
As they say, once the first shot is fired, then the training kicks in, and that is what happened on July 3rd, 1966 in the Central Highlands of Pleiku Province, very close to the Cambodian border. These men were fighting for our Country, as well as for each other. And once the fighting started they fought together to preserve their friends lives and accomplish their mission.
Tim Crotty and I were roommates for several years, and good friends.
I respected the fact that 'B' Company was his outfit, and I was just a temporary commander until he returned from his medical treatment.
I was not about to do something stupid or put his troops unnecessarily in harms way. We were now expected to operate in small unit patrols, platoon or less in strength as part of the new mission we were fulfilling. But the risk factor was increased several fold as a result of this decision coming out of Saigon. The only way to lessen the risk in this kind of action would be to have a strong, mobile ready reserve that is capable and ready to move quickly to reinforce any engaged unit of the Company or Bn, and to have other adjacent units ready as well in a supporting role.
But when you unexpectedly get your ox in a ditch " i.e., one of your patrols is ambushed, then it is imperative to move swiftly to the point of contact to act as shock forces and extract the surrounded friendly unit as quickly as possible. And, unless rigorous and forceful action was taken right away, I feared the possibility of getting the patrol annihilated. We did what we had to do, even though I would have liked to have my other platoon [3rd Plt] in support --- or at least on the move to come up in support to the point of contactth but that contingency never developed. I was ordered to send out the 1st platoon "first thing in the morning".
After the battles with the recon platoon on June 24-25, and 'A' company, 'B' Co and other units earlier in the month @ LZ 10 ALFA I saw what to expect in this kind of encounter. I went into LZ10 ALFA on May 29th, and experienced some of the fury of the NVA troops, say the 5 - 12.7 cal machine gun on the edge of the LZ which fortuitously were captured before the guns were used, and many emplacements with signs of 200 + of the enemyth and the bodies of NVA everywhereth and they were well equipped and they fought like dogs and were heavily armedth and I was sure that we would face the same kind of opposition that dayth
I did not underestimate the capabilities of the NVA troops in our area of operation [AO]th they wanted a fight and they were aggressiveth So we were up against a determined enemythand they knew how to fight!
This account is just an outline, a first cut of a more complete account to include more of the names of the participants and their input into this narrative of 2-3 July, 1966th I have had several accounts emailed to me in the last 2-3 weeks that have helped me jog my memory of 3 July, and I will reference in my next versionth and I get renewed remembrances every day as I think about what happened 41 yrs ago, and talk to others who were thereth
I really need the organization of the units, and the Company staffth perhaps Tom Barron and others can assist in thisth I have some rosters, but I cannot verify them without others input.
I am calling and emailing every day, and get some responses and commitments to bring their stuff to the reunion to add to the information by way of pictures and written accounts of this time in their livesth
I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this project, and it is my hope that some of your questions have been answered, and you will realize that sometimes battles are very hectic, and sometimes we get our tail in a ringer, but in my opinion the troops of 'B' Company fought well and stuck together to pull ourselves out of a fight with a very determined enemyth and there is no doubt in my mind that they knew they were in a fight.
We loss some good men, but we can hold our heads high even as we mourn them, because we fought bravely, period! We make No excusesth none are needed.
The Epilogue " Lessons learned and perspectives gained
Lt Sturdivant's patrol was not the first nor was it the last to be ambushed/surprised by the enemy's actions in Vietnam, nor any other military encounter.
And we should not forget that the NVA were masters of concealment & camouflageth and stealth was their middle name!
How about their ability to pin a unit in place and "RUN" to surround themth we had seen this in LZ10 ALFA and other smaller engagements.
Later when the relief force was moving close to the battle area, I saw 2 NVA get up from their concealed position, and run away from me " and I engaged them immediately by fire. The APC's after the initial fire by the enemy in response moved forward and formed a line of assault and engaged the enemyth How was this any different than what
Lt Sturdivant had done?
It was different in that we were forcing the issue with them, because we were there to break up their positions and the ambush formation --- with the aim of finding the survivors of the initial ambush. This was the second ambush so to speak, that we forced upon ourselves in order to break through their line of encirclementth We could not, however, back off and bomb or use artillery on their positions, because we did not know where the survivors of the ambush were.
So one of the questions that remains is "Why the big hurry to go after the 5-7 enemy troops that were spotted on the night of July 2nd?
A new modus operandi [ method of operating, or method of working] by our new Bn Commander, Lt Col Bob Kingston, or at least that was my take of what was going on, consisted of a more aggressive approach to engaging our foe --- This was the new strategy that came down from Saigon and Gen Westmoreland directly. To my way of thinking that was ok, but why in such small units? And given the recent operations over the past 40 days, it wasn't like we didn't know we were in a 'hot' area where large NVA units were operating.
My earlier mention of the visit I took to the 1st Cav base camp In February 1966 to collect the information about the Chu Pong Mastiff [mountain] & Ia Drang ops. from the after action reports should have been warning enough to be wary of operating in platoon and smaller size units without adequate reinforcing units in close proximity to themth not that this could always be the reality of the situation, but we had another platoon that could have easily been moved before 1st platoon was sent out on patrolth especially since the contact on the evening of 2 July was a real indication that there was an active unit in our neighborhoodth we were really tempting fate! The Bn Commander Lt Col Kingston ordered me to send out the 3rd Plt as early as I could and to make enemy contact!
Was there a plan at the Bn level that provided for another platoon from another Company element to support 'B' company --- as a contingency?
If there was, I never heard of it, and it was not implementedth but the clear choice of back up plans was to have the 2nd platoon [Lt Ewing's] repositioned as the ready reserve.
Lt Col Kingston had participated in the battle of LZ 10A, on 28-29 May, 1966, only a little over a month earlier, and he and the Bde & Bn staff knew that there were large units from the NVA 66th Regiment and another Regiment in our AO " the 32nd. They also knew their order of battle, their tactics, their weapons, and their fanatical aggressiveness, etc. And the reported 4-5 other Regiments in staging areas over the border in Cambodia.
Gen Westmoreland had said in a written report earlier in the year, thatth " I figure one U.S. rifle company, when backed up by the artillery we have, can stand off a VC or NVA Battalion[Regiment] any time," he said. "If we move the rifle company too late, or put if so far away that it cannot be supported by the guns [or their supporting Platoons], then the supply problem can whip us. Such a risk can only be offset by getting in a lot of claymore mines, with defensive wire, and getting everybody to dig deep." "As for a platoon, you cannot shore it up by itself, even with the use of artillery. The position is too small, the front too narrow. If it is hit by a larger force --- or hit with surprise by another platoon on flank or rear --- it practically has to move. Then getting in artillery [and/ or air support] to help it becomes a large problem." [italics mine]
Why has not there been more written about this battle?
Perhaps the reason why more has not been written about this battle, is that there never was a "NAME" given to itth like "LZ 10 ALFA", because we did not have an LZ. Or "Chu Pong Mastiff", because we were not on a mountain, or the name of a village or a valley like "Ia Drang Valley" or "Kontum". And even now I have a difficult time trying to give it a name!
After Action Reports " where were they?
This action was part of Paul Revere I, and I only found cursory after-action reports for 'B' Company on 2-3 July, 1966 --- at least so far. My take on the reasons for the lack of an 'after action report' would be that most of the men directly in enemy contact were either KIA or WIA [and medivaced from RVN]. Additionally, "B' company was in the throes of reorganizing and rebuilding immediately after 3 July in order to get them back into the field & operational ASAP. Let's say 50% of the leadership was turned over in the several weeks following 3 July, and most of those who could do the reporting were not in the Bn as a source of information.
Who was to write the After Action report?
Certainly from the other actions in RVN that year " 1966 " the Bn's and the individual attached units for all the other units attached to TF Walker all had after action reports that were written by either the Bn, or Bde Staffs!
I have been trying to find the S-3, Fred C. DeLisle to help me on this oneth
Things often go wrong during most combat encountersth some worse than others!
On 28 May, LZ 10 ALFA was supposed to be prepped by Arty, but the fire mission was plotted incorrectly, and landed 3 klicks away, and 'B' Co 2-35th went into an un-prepped LZ where 5- 12.7 mm Anti-aircraft gun emplacements were located. But this mistake didn't cost the Landing element any lives, because the gun emplacements were not manned --- The NVA were up in the woods seeking shelter from the monsoon rains, and caught off guard. But as soon as the enemy recovered from this move, they were on the attack, and they moved quickly to recover. So from the actions from 26-31 May in and around LZ 10 ALFA, we all knew the size elements which we could expect to face, and the armament they had at their disposal. There should have been no surprise when we found enemy units patrolling our AO on 2 JulythSouth of LZ10 ALFA.
Nor did the fact that both air power and artillery may not be effective or accurate in support of a battle be a surprise, because once again all we have to do is go back 5 weeks to LZ10 ALFA --- the A1E that dumped a napalm canister on the Bn HQ troops [in a cleared field, with good visibility], nor the 105 artillery, that because of the hills and the distance was not able to effectively support the battle area. Additionally it was known that the NVA plans called for the advance through the Central Highlands to start during the Monsoon season --- and why was this? Because our ability to reinforce ambush areas would be hampered by the rain, clouds, bad roads, plus the forests would have a resurgence of growth and it would be more difficult to move troops on the ground and concealment of prepared positions would be covered by the new growth caused by the heavy rains --- Monsoons.
We also knew of the aggressiveness of the RVN troops in closing with their targets --- why? Because the closer they were to our troops, and the fact that they would "run" their troops to encircle their prey, made both air support and arty fire less effective because of the proximity to our men. Friendly fire incidents were fairly common from what I have read recently in the AAR's [after action report]th
All the leadership of the Bn and Bde knew the problems well enough to realize that going in headlong after the lead elements of NVA in our AO could with a high probability lead to a situation like it did --- a small unit being ambushed and using them as bait to lure a larger reinforcing unit into the battle. What will keep this from occurring would be an awareness of this contingency, down to the platoon and patrol leader level. This was the case on 3 July, and Lt Sturdivant did what he was supposed to do by being aggressive in finding the enemy, his mistake was in not stopping to wait for reinforcements and he was lured into the trap. However, aggressiveness is a desirable trait in your line leaders, but this has to be tempered with caution developed by experienceth
As unit commanders, we want aggressive troops, but we also want disciplined troops. And the balance between these two competing emotions and modes of operating are often difficult to achieve.
There were many, many other actions like this that are well documented in the Military annals of all fighting units throughout history, you just don't want it to be a part of your history!
All I know is that the men of 'B' Company 1/35th Inf fought bravely under difficult circumstances, and have nothing " I repeat NOTHING " to be ashamed about that fateful day, where many lost comrades in arms and friendsth Their memories will live with us forever, and that is good. Or should be good, because we cannot turn back the hands of time, nor should we, just live the best lives we can, and remember these men in all that we do.
Company Commander of the brave men of 'B' Company and the 2nd Plt 'C' Troop Â3/4 Cav on 2-3 July, 1966 in Pleiku Province, RVN, doing what we thought was an honorable thing to do for our Country, the people of South Vietnam, and our fellow soldiers in the fight