Two ARVN Highland Scout Companies of the ARVN 24th Special Tactical
Zone, the 403rd and the 406th, accompanied by myself and
another advisor, were given orders to try to locate the 24th NVA
Regiment in the vast Chi Ro Bu Mountains.
The Chi Ro Bu Mountains are located in northern Pleiku Province,
just over the border from Kontum Province and just east of Highway 14,
which runs from Pleiku to Kontum.
Nearly all the Scouts were Montagnards while the officers were
Vietnamese. The Scouts were
reconnaissance units, lightly armed with only M16 rifles, hand grenades,
M79 grenade launchers and a couple M72 LAWs.
On August 15th, we loaded into trucks, which drove us from
Kontum to a spot on Highway 14 where we made our way into the mountains.
The two companies of the Scouts had different assigned
objectives, which took them on different but parallel courses.
The idea was that if one of the companies got into trouble, the
other company could come to its assistance.
We advisors were assigned to accompany the 406th
Company. I was thankful for
that, as the 406th Company Commander was an arrogant ass but
an excellent officer.
It was known that the 24th NVA Regiment had plans to attack
Kontum City. ARVN units had
been trying to locate the 24th NVA Regiment in the Dak Akoi
river valley northeast of Kontum City where the NVA were staging for
their attack. Under
pressure from these ARVN units, the NVA moved into the Ia Tower Valley
and then possibly into the Chi Ro Bu Mountains.
The soldiers and officers of the two Scout companies assigned to the
operation knew they were in for what could be a costly fight even though
the Scouts were not supposed to get into a pitched battle with the NVA.
They were just to try to confirm the presence of enemy units and
try to pinpoint their locations and report back.
Before we left Kontum, I noticed that the majority of the Scouts were
uptight and edgy, including the officers.
Because of the stories coming back from the ARVN units in the Dak
Akoi river valley, the Scouts were all taking this operation very
seriously. I had been a
Scout advisor for nearly a year and I had never seen them this
apprehensive. I noticed the
Scouts were packing more ammunition than they would normally carry.
They knew this was going to be a tough operation.
Their apprehension was definitely affecting me, as I also ended
up packing extra ammo and hand grenades after writing what could be
final letters home.
The truck carrying the Scouts from Kontum to the jump off point arrived
near mid-morning. The
Scouts unloaded, formed up and the two companies headed off together to
later split off and take on their own objectives.
The first couple of klicks were on relatively flat ground.
We passed a couple of old deserted villages, which gave me an
eerie feeling, and I could sense the same in the Scouts around me.
The flat ground gave way to foothills and the foothills to the steeper
mountains. The tree cover
went from the single canopy of the flat ground to the double canopy of
the foothills to the triple canopy rainforest of the steeper mountains.
Along the way, we observed heavily used trails leading from the
foothills and heavy rainforest to the highway.
These were probably trails used by NVA units when they moved to
the highway to ambush US convoys.
When we reached the thicker rainforest, we found locations where
NVA units had made temporary bivouacs, complete with foxholes and
bunkers. A sense of
foreboding seemed to permeate the Scout Companies.
We moved on and as light faded the two companies made their night
positions as usual. After
setting up defensive fire positions with our artillery support and
checking with operations for any new intel or operational info, I sat
outside my hammock and poncho shelter and looked up at the stars.
The stars were so awesome that night, so bright, so beautiful and
so peaceful and I wondered if I would make it out of these mountains.
Later I got in my hammock and fell asleep to be awakened by
Some NVA soldiers in the darkness were yelling insults at my Scouts, who
were too experienced to respond and give their positions away.
There was even an NVA soldier who knew some English and would
yell, “You die soon Yankee,” knowing there was a couple of Americans
with the Scouts. The NVA
obviously knew the Scouts were here.
I quietly called in artillery fire on two of the predefined
positions and the yelling stopped.
Dawn came, rice was cooked and eaten and the companies split, each going
its own way further into the Chi Ro Bu Mountains.
The 406th Company numbered about seventy-five rifleman and
two officers. Of the three
Scouts companies, they were the best and I took comfort in knowing I was
with them as we humped to the base of Chi Ro Bu Mountain itself.
The top at 1128 meters or 3700 feet about sea level was our next
objective. So far, we had
not made contact with the NVA but we could feel them watching us as we
moved through the rainforest.
We were in triple canopy, so visibility was mere feet in any
direction. An NVA soldier
could be a yard away and you might not know he was there.
It was deep, deep rainforest and very quiet, too quiet.
We rested for a while, made commo checks, checked the map and wondered.
Soon we were headed up the mountain.
We knew the NVA were near, and we knew they were watching us but we had
objectives we had to meet.
We came to very steep terrain and an alarm came down the line.
I moved forward to find out that the leading element had found
steps cut into the mountain, complete with handrails in some places.
The Scouts knew we were in deep crap, facing a very large enemy
force. We did not take the
steps for fear of booby traps but instead made our own way up the
mountain. At one point, we
found commo wire running down the mountain.
The Scout CO radioed the 24th STZ HQ and relayed what
we had found and was ordered to continue towards the next objective.
Reluctantly the Scout CO ordered his men forward.
He told me he feared what he was leading his company into.
We continued up the mountain, sensing the enemy but not making contact.
Before long, we came to the top of what amounted to a sort of
hill or high ground on the side of big Chi Ro Bu Mountain.
This hill was like a ridge that started but ended before it went
anywhere. There was
evidence that this area had been used recently, maybe by some NVA unit
for a night position. The
company stopped here on the ridgeline that went nowhere and took a
break. Many of the Scouts
ate from rice balls made from extra rice cooked in the morning.
Soon the break was over and we pushed on up the mountain.
Shortly after we left the ridgeline that went nowhere, a shot was fired
at me from somewhere close by.
The shot seemed to miss my head by a fraction of an inch.
The Scouts formed a defensive position but nothing else happened.
Apparently, the Scout column had passed by the position of an NVA
trail watcher. He waited
for a good target, an American like me (who was six foot two inches
tall, almost twice as tall as the Scouts around me, and stood out like a
flashing neon sign) and took his shot.
Thankfully, he missed and after waiting a few minutes for my
nerves to calm down, we started our advance again.
We did not know it, but about two hours after I was shot at, we were
headed into a cleverly laid NVA ambush.
Nobody knew for sure but speculation was that the NVA had set a
large U shaped ambush into which we were supposed to walk and then be
destroyed from three sides.
The leading element of the Scout column suspected something was wrong
and the column halted. The
point man and two others were ordered to move forward and check things
As they moved forward everything opened up, the rainforest came alive
with more enemy fire than can be described.
It was unbelievable, the intense volume of heavy fire directed at
us. There was automatic
weapons fire, small arms fire, grenades and B40 rockets.
It was impossible to advance into that volume of fire.
The three Scouts who went forward were killed outright.
Sadly, there was nothing we could do to recover their bodies.
Not being able to get to their friends was devastating for the
Scouts. Many of them
believed that the dead had to be buried or their spirits would roam the
We had prematurely sprung the ambush but had to move back down the
mountain or be annihilated.
The NVA seemed to be grouping and moving to get around our flanks as the
Scouts did an organized withdrawal down the mountain.
As soon as the firing started, I was immediately on the radio
calling for artillery support but the artillery fire seemed to have a
limited affect on the volume of NVA fire.
The artillery FDC kept a line of artillery fire behind us and on
our flanks, holding off the NVA, as we moved back down the mountain.
Eventually we made it back to the ridgeline that went nowhere.
Our only chance was to make a stand where we had the advantage of
high ground and this hill on the side of the mountain give us that high
ground. For some unknown
reason the NVA did not press their attack, which gave the Scouts time to
form a good defensive perimeter and dig in the best they could.
We had suffered two more dead and a few slightly wounded Scouts from the
intense enemy fire, but did manage to bring the two bodies down the
mountain with us. Calling
in a Dustoff or medevac chopper was impossible with the triple canopy
rainforest and no LZ near our position.
Even if an LZ had been available, the NVA fire was so strong that
any attempt by a chopper to land or hover would have been a disaster.
The telling of this story is very difficult for me and will get worse as
the next three days unfold.
Some very good friends will die and I know trying to pry the memories
from my mind, where I have tried to suppress them for so long, will be
hard and painful. There
will be tears as there always is when my memory takes me back to this
time and place.
In order to better coordinate US support, the Scout CO asked that we
have an American on the right, or south side, and left, or north side of
the perimeter with the forward, or east side being the Chi Ro Bu side.
The rear, or west side was the side away from Chi Ro Bu.
He took the other advisor with him to the north side of the
perimeter and the XO and I and looked for a position on the south side
of the perimeter.
We lucked upon a big tree with a cavity in its root system that gave us
a good view of both the east and south sides of the perimeter.
The hole under the tree made sort of a bunker where at least we
had overhead protection.
The Scout carrying my radio and a Scout carrying the XOs radio also
joined us in the root cavity.
I was somewhat concerned that the two whip antennas in the same
area would draw heavy NVA fire so we added some brush, which hid the
At first, I was freaked out about crawling into that hole in the roots,
imagining all the creepy, crawly things that called that space home.
While I was contemplating these snakes and crawly things, there
was the distinct sound of mortar rounds leaving mortar tubes and I
quickly forgot about any slithering creatures and dove into my new home
as the mortar rounds were exploding within our perimeter.
As the mortar rounds exploded around us, we also started to receive
small arms fire from the side of our perimeter facing the big mountain.
This was followed by a small probing attack.
The Scouts quickly drove off the NVA and thankfully, the mortar
attack also faded away.
The Scout Company Commander radioed the 403rd Company and
told them to try to link up with us but they were heavily involved with
the NVA and could not move.
We were on our own.
In the fading light, I set up pre-defined numbered defensive target
positions with the artillery FDC.
If I need artillery fire, I could call for fire by giving the FDC
the number of the position and any adjustments and the artillery fire
would be on its way. The
advisor on the other side of the perimeter did the same.
A US Air Force FAC, or Forward Air Controller, in his small plane came
up on my radio and told me if we needed his support he would be close
by. We had been receiving
heavier caliber automatic weapons fire from the big mountain, so I gave
the FAC the approximate location from where I thought the fire was
coming and he said he would see what he could do to help our situation.
After a while I saw the FAC fly over and fire smoke rockets into the big
mountain at the location I had given him.
Then came the roars of fast movers as they made their diving runs
on the smoke targets left by the FAC.
These diving runs were followed by the explosions of the
ordinance they dropped and by the terrible roar of their jet engines as
they rocketed away.
Thankfully, that stopped the heavy caliber automatic weapons fire for
the night. I thanked the
FAC and he said if I needed further help to just call.
For the next several hours, we did not receive a full assault but were
subjected to probes as the NVA felt us out.
We also received numerous mortar attacks of a few rounds each
time. As night was barely
beginning to turn into predawn the NVA hit us with a major attack on the
east and north sides of our perimeter.
A heavy mortar barrage began to fall inside our perimeter,
accompanied by numerous B40 rockets fired by the NVA, most exploding
against trees and spraying the area with hot shrapnel.
The fighting on the north side of the perimeter was intense, and for the
first time during my time in Vietnam, I heard the blare of trumpets and
whistles that the NVA were using to direct their troops.
The advisor on that side of the perimeter was directing US
artillery fire support, and from my vantage point, I directed the
artillery fire towards the east side of the perimeter.
Eventually the NVA broke off their attack leaving numerous dead
and wounded soldiers behind on the hillsides.
The Scouts suffered 4 dead and numerous wounded.
The cries of the wounded from both sides was terrible and filled
the dawn. The Scout medics
did the best they could for our wounded as a medevac was impossible.
As the battle developed, some of our wounded would die because
they could not be medevaced.
Because of the heavy fighting, ammunition was almost gone for those
Scouts who received the brunt of the attack.
The Scout NCOs gathered ammo from those Scouts on the south and
west sides of the perimeter and handed it out to those who were out.
Ammunition had become they major concern.
The Scout Company commander radioed for an ammunition and water resupply
but before the resupply, the NVA hit us in force again, this time on my
side of the perimeter. I
immediately called for and adjusted incoming artillery fire, bringing
the fire as close as I dared to our positions and then walking it down
the hill into the attacking NVA.
The NVA just kept coming, moving upwards from tree to tree.
The Scouts were throwing grenades down at the NVA and firing at
the approaching NVA soldiers.
The fire from the attackers was intense, small arms fire, machine
gun fire, and B40 rockets.
Cordite hung in the air like a fog.
Again, there was the blare of trumpets and the shriek of
A group of NVA soldiers was advancing directly towards our hole under
the tree. Ammo was critical
so we were picking our targets, aiming and firing carefully, not wanting
to waste a single round. I
aimed and fired at an NVA soldier who seemed to be looking directly at
me and coming for me. He
jerked violently as my bullet hit him but he kept coming.
I fired at him again and he dropped to his knees but got up and
kept coming. I could not
believe that he was still coming but there he was, almost to me.
I fired and hit him again, this time he fell to the ground and
then tried to crawl his way towards me.
When he finally died, he was within arms reach of my hole, his
eyes seemingly looking at me, with a leering grin of his face.
For the rest of the time on the hill, every time I looked out of
my hole I had to look at that leering grin.
The artillery fire I was directing was continuing to crawl up and down
the hill, killing the attacking NVA soldiers, but many NVA had gotten so
close to our positions the artillery fire did not affect them and they
were in a hand to hand fight with the Scouts.
The Scouts beat them off but the NVA continued to attack.
Scouts were sent from the other side of the perimeter to
The US FAC came up on my radio and asked if he could help.
I asked him to target the areas at the base of hill and likely
approaches to the hill.
Shortly after that, he had air support blasting these areas.
The NVA attack slowly dissipated and finally stopped.
NVA dead and wounded littered our side of the hill.
The trees and vegetation, both inside and outside the perimeter
and around the hill had changed from dense rainforest to blasted
skeletons of what they had been.
The Scouts had suffered 3 more dead and numerous wounded, some
able to continue fighting, some not.
Again, the Scout medics did what they could.
A resupply chopper arrived and tried to hover over our position but
intense NVA fire drove him off.
He circled then came over our position at a high rate of speed,
kicking out crates of ammunition.
Most of the crates landed out side of our perimeter and those
that landed inside broke open upon impact with the ground, sending
rounds of ammunition flying in all directions.
Scouts were running around trying to pickup the individual rounds
while NVA snipers fired at them.
Once the ammo was collected, it was issued out to everyone.
The ammo we were able to collect would certainly help but it was
not enough to hold off many more attacks.
After the last attack, it was mid afternoon.
It turned eerily quiet with no probes and no mortar attacks.
The Scouts took the opportunity to reinforce their positions,
take care of the wounded and rest the best they could.
It was amazing how the wounded who could took positions on the
perimeter. Some of the
wounded who were not able to take positions but were able to fire a
weapon if needed asked for a weapon in case the NVA attacked and broke
into the perimeter. If possible, they did what they could for their
Another resupply was requested - ammunition and water.
The resupply chopper arrived about an hour or two later and was
supported by two helicopter gunships again.
The gunships did their best but again the resupply chopper was
driven off by the NVA and again flew over our position at a high rate of
speed kicking out the water and ammunition.
Most of the water containers burst open when they hit the ground
but some water was salvaged and saved for the wounded.
As before most of the ammo crates fell outside the perimeter and
those that landed inside the perimeter burst open but not as bad as the
first resupply and the ammo was collected and passed out.
The ammo situation was improved but it was still precarious.
The afternoon was turning to dusk and still the NVA left us alone, more
than likely regrouping for more attacks, certainly licking their wounds.
There was a large number of NVA dead on the sides of our hill and
some wounded still cried out.
Dusk turned to night and flares fired by our supporting artillery
cast an eerie light on the hillsides and our perimeter.
The light from the flares was welcome as it helped us see the NVA
if they tried something.
About the same time the flares started, the NVA decided to start lobbing
mortar rounds at us again, two or three at a time landed inside our
perimeter. Everyone was
safe if below ground level, unless a mortar round landed directly in a
Small arms fire rose to a crescendo on the west side of the perimeter.
The NVA seemed to be hitting just a small area of our perimeter,
slowing moving their attack along the perimeter to the north side.
The NVA were probing us again, looking for a weak spot.
Shortly the firing stopped.
Again, it was quiet except for the incoming mortar rounds.
I received a call on the radio from operations that Spooky would
soon be over my area and was eager to help.
Spooky was an AC-47 US aircraft specially equipped with 3
miniguns or multibarreled machineguns.
Its primary function was to provide close air support to ground
troops. Spooky could stay
on position for hours, providing very effective suppressing fire.
A three-second burst from all the miniguns in a Spooky could put
one round in every square foot of a football field.
Within minutes, Spooky radioed that he was over my position and ready to
help. I told him all was
currently quiet except for the mortar rounds that were hitting inside
our perimeter. Spooky said
he would try to spot the flash from the mortar tubes when they fired and
take them out. Sure enough,
the next time the NVA mortars fired, Spooky spotted them and knocked
them out with a burst of fire from their miniguns.
I thanked Spooky and asked them to work over the approaches to
our position in case the NVA were grouping for another attack.
Spooky obliged by placing withering fire on the approaches to our
Obviously, the NVA now knew that Spooky was on location and they feared
this wonderful weapon. It
was not long before I could hear “Spooky, Spooky,” with a definite
Vietnamese accent coming from my radio.
The NVA had found my primary radio frequency and were trying to
call Spooky. “Spooky,
Spooky,” was heard again and again from the NVA.
Spooky came over the radio and said, “It sounds like our little
friends are trying to call me.”
He laughed and said he could drop flares if needed and would be
circling over our position until he had to leave for refueling.
The night passed as quietly as it had since the terrible battle on the
hill started. The quiet
ended with the explosion of grenades thrown by the Scouts on my side,
the south side, of the perimeter.
They had heard movement just down the hill. The grenade
explosions were immediately followed by intense small arms and B40
rocket fire from the attacking NVA.
The forward elements of the NVA attackers had been able to crawl
within feet of our perimeter before being discovered. They were most
likely a special sapper outfit, specially trained to advance with
stealth and remain unseen until the moment of attack.
Spooky had seen the firing and immediately started dropping flares and
opened up on the attackers, spraying the hillside with fire from his
miniguns. The NVA kept up
their attack for a while but soon it became quiet again and was quiet
until morning. Spooky came
up on my radio and said he had to depart for refueling but would come
back if needed later.
The return of sunlight seemed to bring a sense of relief to everyone but
I I’m sure all the Scouts were wondering if we would ever make it out of
there. At this point, I had
lost count of the Scout casualties but I knew they were high.
Ammunition was low and food and water were basically none
existent. Water was
becoming as important as ammunition and if we did not get some soon,
many of us would be falling from dehydration.
The Scout Company Commander radioed for the badly needed resupply
and was told supplies were already gathered and a drop would happen
The morning was quiet, no mortar rounds and only minor small arms fire.
Taking advantage of the battle damage to the trees that used to
stand tall around the hill, some of the NVA had pulled in close to our
positions, where they were safe from artillery fire.
The NVA hiding among the fallen trees below were yelling insults
up at the Scouts and the Scouts were yelling insults back.
Occasionally a Scout would throw a grenade down the hill towards
the NVA followed by mock laughter and insults from the NVA who were
hiding just outside the throwing range of the Scouts.
I was watching this event taking place when I heard a Scout shout for me
to come to his position. I
low crawled over to the Scout and he handed me a grenade and pointed
down the hill. He then
yelled an insult down the hill followed by insults from the NVA.
From the sound of the insult yelled by the NVA, I pinpointed a
likely location and threw the grenade at that location.
My reach with the grenade was further than the Scout and landed
right on target. The Scout
then yelled an insult down the hill with no response from the NVA near
the suspected location. Of
course, after helping that Scout, I was being yelled at by other Scouts
along the perimeter. I must
have thrown fifteen to twenty grenades with a baseball throwing motion
that morning and my arm was very sore.
A resupply chopper tried to hover over our position and was driven off,
showing smoke as the pilot flew away and tried to make it to a friendly
location. The other
resupply chopper made the flying fast and kicking out the supplies
maneuver with most of the supplies falling outside our perimeter.
It was sure death to try to retrieve the supplies that fell
outside the perimeter. We
did not get much ammunition but we did get much needed water.
The resupply over for now, it was quiet again.
A short time later, our perimeter was hit with numerous mortar
rounds. We also received
automatic weapons and B40 rocket fire from the big mountain that
overlooked our location. I
immediately radioed for a FAC to come to our location and for artillery
fire to blast the mountain.
The artillery fire did little to alleviate the enemy fire.
The FAC arrived on location just as the NVA were initiating a strong
attack on the north, south and east sides of our perimeter.
This attack was the strongest attacked we received during our
stay on the hill.
I radioed the FAC and told him what was going on.
He said he could get Spooky and fast movers here in 30 minutes
and would help adjust artillery fire.
I adjusted the artillery fire from the big mountain to the sides of the
hill to try to blunt the NVA ground attack.
Some of the Scouts from the west side of the perimeter were moved
to the middle of the perimeter to act as a reaction force in case help
was needed anywhere along the perimeter.
About this time, the NVA jammed the advisory team main radio frequency
by playing Vietnamese music over an open handset.
The main frequency was unusable.
I switched to our alternate frequency and within an hour, the NVA
had found and jammed that frequency also.
We were without radio communications.
The Scout Company Commander said the NVA were jamming his
frequency also. The other
advisor and I had destroyed our SOI’s because of the imminent danger of
our position being overrun.
The SOI was a small, soft cover booklet we carried that contained radio
communication codes used to keep messages secret, friendly unit radio
frequencies, call signs, and other secret information that would be
disastrous if it fell into NVA hands.
I was on the radio turning the radio frequency dials trying to establish
contact with a friendly unit.
Eventually I did make contact with a maintenance unit out of
Pleiku to the south. It was
difficult to convince them that I was legitimate, but eventually they
did start relaying messages for me and with their help, we were able to
set up new main and alternate frequencies.
Before long, though, the NVA did discover our new main frequency
and jam it but they did not discover or jam our alternate frequency.
The NVA were hitting us with everything they had.
This was the big one, kind of like do or die for the NVA.
All around our perimeter the Scouts were holding their ground but
the pressure was intense.
Ammunition was becoming critically low and the Scouts were forced to
fire on single shot to make every round count.
The NVA were hitting my side of the perimeter extremely hard.
I radioed the FAC and he said he had a good view of what was
going on below and would handle the artillery.
I turned my full attention to the NVA advancing up the hill.
I wrote a poem that describes the next two hours of so of the battle
better than I can with words.
Here is that poem:
Oh my God, they are coming again!
I'm so very scared…I do not want to die!
I look over the lip of my hole and see
the gray floating shapes below
shapes moving from tree to tree
shapes moving up the hill
shapes moving to kill me
shapes moving to take away my dreams
I raise my rifle and aim at a floating shape below
now closer…now more clear
I pull the trigger and a shape falls to the ground
grasping at itself
Other shapes…clearer still are coming at me
shooting at me
throwing grenades at me
coming for me
I can see the smoke from the barrels of their rifles
feel the closeness of the passing bullets
the concussion of their exploding grenades
the screech of passing rockets
the wail of their trumpets
the shriek of their whistles
I'm screaming and shaking with fear
but I aim carefully at shapes below
pulling the trigger…over and over again
Can't miss…almost out of ammo
can't miss…can't waste a round
there are shapes everywhere
so many shapes
God help me - please
I squeeze the trigger but noting happens
Oh God - I'm out of ammo!!!
I pull the magazine from my rifle and reach for another
I search and can't find one…panic, panic, panic
I find one…my last, and jerk it into place
Aim and fire, aim and fire and fire and fire
more shapes falling to the ground
death is all around me.
Shapes are coming
shapes coming at me
so many shapes
We were extremely short of ammunition and luckily, a resupply chopper
was in route to our position.
Spooky had not yet arrived but the fast movers had and the FAC
had them busy blasting the side of the big mountain and likely
approaches to our perimeter.
The resupply chopper arrived and had to kick its load out as he flew
over at a high rate of speed.
The fire this chopper received was intense but he hovered just
enough so most of his load landed inside our perimeter.
Luckily, he was loaded with ammunition and wounded Scouts
gathered and passed the ammo out to the Scouts on the perimeter.
We had hope thanks to this chopper pilot!!
The NVA were breaking into our perimeter at various locations and the
reaction force went after and killed those that made it inside the
perimeter. They also took
up positions where needed along the perimeter.
There were new NVA dead and wounded all over the hill and inside
our perimeter. I radioed
the FAC and had him bring in the artillery fire “danger close” to our
perimeter. We were in
serious danger of being overrun.
The artillery fire was nearly falling inside our perimeter but it
was raising hell with the NVA attack.
After some time Spooky arrived on the scene.
Spooky was immediately given the task of blasting the sides of
our hill with his miniguns.
The artillery fire was stopped while Spooky did his thing.
The Scout carrying the radio for the XO was hit in the head and killed
but before he died his blood covered the bottom of our hole in the
roots. As the battle
progressed, we in the hole were covered in that poor soldier’s blood.
While the attack was at its heaviest, a B52 strike occurred on a
neighboring ridgeline, far closer to us than would normally be allowed.
The result of the exploding bombs was incredible.
The ground moved from side to side like in a huge earthquake and
the oxygen in the air was drawn to the explosions making it difficult to
The arrival of Spooky seemed to change our fate by blunting the NVA
attack on our hill with his miniguns.
As the NVA withdrew, Spooky blasted likely avenues of withdrawal.
We on the top of the hill were still receiving heavy fire from
the big mountain and the fast movers went to work on it.
It was late afternoon and the attack was basically over.
The cries of the wounded from both sides were horrible.
I pretended not to see as NVA wounded inside the perimeter were
shot. This was the only
time I ever saw the Scouts kill wounded NVA.
For the Scouts, walking wounded remained at positions on the
perimeter and the dead and those that could not fight were moved to
positions in the middle of the perimeter.
The Scouts I observed looked almost like zombies, functioning but
shell-shocked and extremely exhausted.
I assumed I looked the same.
I knew I felt like it.
Ammunition from the dead and non-functioning wounded was gathered
and spread out among the Scouts on the perimeter.
Spooky and the fast movers continued to blast possible locations for the
NVA but our position was quiet.
The Scout Company Commander received a call on the radio from the
403rd Company stating that they were attempting to move to
our location. A dustoff
chopper tried to hover over our location to try to hoist out wounded but
was driven off by NVA fire.
The NVA were still around and if we wanted to get our wounded and dead
out we would have to move to and area where we could secure an LZ.
Another resupply chopper arrived at our location accompanied by
gunships. The gunships
worked over the sides of hill while the resupply chopper hovered as best
he could and dropped his load of supplies.
The resupply included cases of C-rations and water.
The C-rats and water were handed to the Scouts with some set
aside for the 403rd Company.
Afternoon was turning to dusk and Spooky had to leave to refuel as did
the FAC. The fast movers
had all ready left. The
Scout Company Commander received a radio call from the 403rd
Company to hold fire as they were close.
Shortly yells from down at the base of the hill on my side of the
perimeter, were heard followed by cheers and yells from the Scouts on
the hill. The 403rd
The 403rd Company moved up the hill in single file and into
the perimeter, their dead and wounded on makeshift stretchers.
The 403rd Company had suffered 8 killed and 15
wounded. The wounded and
dead were added to the dead and wounded of the 406t h
Company. The remaining
water, food and ammunition was given to the Scouts of the 403rd
Company as they moved into defensive positions on the west and north
sides of the perimeter. The
406th Company Scouts occupied positions on the east and south
sides of the perimeter.
Dusk turned into night and NVA mortar rounds were again falling inside
the perimeter. I directed
artillery fire onto likely firing locations of the mortars.
The rate of incoming mortar rounds was decreased but occasional
mortar rounds continued to fall inside the perimeter throughout the
night. We did receive a
couple of ground probes and a heavier attack on the north side of the
perimeter but the Scouts drove them off.
It was time to get out of there.
Our ordeal with elements of the 24th NVA Regiment had been
the catalyst for a much larger battle involving both South Vietnamese
and US forces. A battalion
of the ARVN 42d Regiment, a battalion of the US 4th Division,
and an element of an ARVN Ranger unit were committed against the NVA.
The closest friendlies to our position were the forward elements
of the ARVN 42nd Regiment.
The sky seemed full of choppers, gunships and planes supporting
these units. It was
comforting to know that friendly units were out there, battling their
way forward toward us.
The night passed with only an occasional mortar round and most of the
Scouts got some much-needed sleep, including myself.
I was physically and mentally exhausted and very happy to be
With morning came plans to break out and reach a friendly position.
Operations estimated that the forward elements of the ARVN 42nd
Regiment were 700 very long yards away to the west.
The plan was for the two Scout Companies to move in the direction
of the friendly unit under a surrounding curtain of artillery fire.
Helicopter gunships were to work over the terrain in front of us as we
moved forward. Fast movers
were to work over the hill after we left and be available if needed.
There were certainly enemy units in the intended route as the
friendly unit we were to head toward was heavily engaged by the NVA.
Before we left, a dustoff chopper tried to hover to take on
wounded but was driven off again by heavy small arms fire. The NVA were
not giving up.
In any plan there should be an option on what to do if your original
plan fails. We moved out
about mid-day, the 406th Company first, interspaced with men
from the 403rd for support.
Every soldier in the 406th who was physically able
carried one end of a makeshift stretcher.
We were carrying out all of our dead and wounded.
I carried a young Scout with a bullet wound in his abdomen on my
back, his legs and arms tied in front of my so I could use my radio and
rifle if necessary.
Immediately upon leaving the perimeter, the Scouts outside the perimeter
came under heavy NVA small arms fire.
I moved forward and called in artillery fire on the NVA.
The firefight lasted about 20 or 30 minutes with the NVA pulling
away. We had more wounded
to help. The curtain of hot
steel was called for to the front of the Scouts and the breakout
continued. As the first
half of the Scouts cleared the perimeter, the NVA started to hit us with
mortar rounds and some B40 rockets.
The helicopter gunships went to work on the mortars and the march
Both companies cleared the hill, the ridge that went nowhere, and
continued west towards safety.
The curtain of steel was called for the sides and rear of our
formation and the fast movers blasted the hill after NVA were seen
moving around on the hill.
We were moving forward slowly, the terrain tough, the artillery screen
seemed to be keeping the NVA away.
The poor Scout I was carrying was moaning with each slight jar.
I could feel that his wound was bleeding again from the warm
wetness I could feel on my back.
I found a medic and he said there was nothing he could do until
we linked up with friendly forces.
We could tell we were nearing the friendly forces as the sounds of their
firefight with the NVA were becoming much louder.
It was nearing mid to late afternoon when the NVA hit us hard
with small arm fire on the forward and south sides of our long single
file formation. The Scouts
returned fire and I adjusted the curtain of artillery fire on the front
and south sides to meet the NVA attack.
Within minutes, the firefight was over and we continued moving.
We could hear that the large firefight the friendlies we were moving
towards had been involved in had quieted down to sniper fire.
Radio calls were made to advisors with the forward unit of the
ARVN 42d Regiment and to the officer in charge of the forward unit and
told we were close and to watch their fire.
About 30 minutes later the Scouts in the front of our formation
made contact with soldiers of the 42d Regiment and we slowly moved into
their perimeter. We
continued forward until we linked up with the headquarters company for
the ARVN 42d Regiment battalion that was attacking the NVA.
There was a landing zone at this location so we placed the wounded and
dead near the LZ were the medics from the Scouts and the headquarters
company cared for the wounded.
The young Scout I carried on my back was still alive and smiled
at me as I helped place him on the ground.
Dustoff choppers had been called for the wounded and dead and were soon
landing in the LZ and then flying away first with the wounded and then
the dead. A chopper landed
with food and water for the Scouts and ammunition for the battalion of
42d Regiment. When the
medevac was over, choppers started arriving to carry the Scouts back to
Thankfully, an advisor from the 42d Regiment took care of this operation
while I a found a place to lie down and rest.
I know I started sobbing and the Scout that carried my radio came
to where I was and tried to sooth me.
I think he understood that the stress of the ordeal was coming
out and we hugged each other.
We were alive!
I talked with the 406th Company Commander and he told me 50%
of his men were killed or wounded.
The 406th Company had started the operation with 77
men, including 2 officers.
Of these 19 had been killed and 21 wounded.
Of the wounded, 6 would eventually die.
The 403rd Company had 9 killed and 17 wounded.
Of these wounded, 3 would eventually die.
What a terrible price and I felt guilty and still do for not
being able to do more to protect these wonderful men, my Scouts.
The NVA paid an extremely high price.
There was no way to accurately count their dead but based on what
I could physically see, there must have been 250 to 300 dead just around
our hill and inside our perimeter.
There had to be more NVA dead on the big mountain and in the
approaches to our perimeter.
In addition, the NVA had to have had an extremely high number of
Just as it was getting dark, the 42d Regiment advisor told me the next
chopper was going to carry the other advisor, the two Scout Company
Commanders, the last 3 Scouts and myself to Kontum.
We loaded on and the chopper rose into the sky and headed north
to Kontum. The 406th
Company Commander held out his hand to each of us advisors and thanked
us for helping most of his company survive the ordeal then he turned and
looked out the chopper at the passing terrain, his grief evident.
We flew over the Kontum and landed in an LZ near the Scouts compound.
The remaining Scouts from the two companies were waiting in
formation, their families waiting for their husbands and fathers to be
released. Some wives of the
dead were also waiting and wailing loudly because of their losses.
In another group were the wives of the Scouts whose bodies still
lay on the big mountain.
Their wailing was terrible and did not end.
They somehow wanted their husbands’ bodies found and buried.
For days, they continued their wailing and pleading outside of
the 406th headquarters.
The company commanders gave their men rousing speeches and then released
them. Sadly, the 406th
Company Commander was surrounded by the wailing wives and children of
the dead Scouts, still lying on the big mountain.
The other advisor and I walked to our jeep; throw our gear in the
back and drove to the MACV compound.
It was over!
© Copyright by Charles Schwiderski