Chi Ro Bu - 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 and on to Dak To.
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.
Early on August 19th, we loaded onto trucks, which drove us from the Scout Compound in 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 issued and 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, hand grenades and a second spare radio battery.
The trucks 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 overgrown old deserted villages, which gave me an eerie spooked 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 grass and 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 and ARVN convoys moving between Kontum and Pleiku. When we reached the thicker rainforest, we found locations where NVA units had made temporary positions, complete with foxholes and bunkers. A sense of apprehension 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 voices. 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 knew they were 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 carry out. 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 the crap, facing a very large enemy force. We did not take the steps for fear of bobby traps or ambush 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 ARVN 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.
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, probably by some NVA unit for a night position. The company stopped here on the ridge line 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 ridge line 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 pointman and two others were ordered to move forward and check things out.
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 earth forever.
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 ridge line 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 jumped into 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 antennas.
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 attacked 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 needed 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 couple of minutes, 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 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 hillside. The Scouts suffered four dead and numerous wounded. The cries of 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 the 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 whistles.
A group of NVA soldiers were advancing directly toward 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 reinforce us.
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 three 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 that could, took positions on the perimeter. Some of the wounded that were not able to take positions but were able to fire a weapon if needed asked for a weapon incase the NVA attacked and broke into the perimeter. If possible, they did what they could for their fellow wounded.
Another resupply was requested, ammunition and water. The resupply chopper arrived about an hour or two later and was supported by two helicopter gunships. 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 serious.
The afternoon was turning to dusk and still the NVA were leaving 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 foxhole.
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 of the perimeter. 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 three miniguns or multibarreled machineguns. Its primary function was for close air support for 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 his 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 position.
Obviously, the NVA now knew that Spooky was on location and they feared this wonderful weapon. It was not long and 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 flying around 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 their miniguns. The NVA kept up their attack for a while but soon it became quiet again and was quiet until morning. Spooky came on my radio and said he had to depart for refueling but would come back if needed later.
The return of sun light seemed to bring a sense of relief to everyone but I’m sure all the Scouts were wondering if we would ever make it out of here. 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 non-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 soon.
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 soldiers 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's 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 for extra distance 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 reactionary force incase 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 and 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 setup 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're coming again!
I'm so very scared…I don't 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
I squeeze the trigger but nothing 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 reactionary 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 ridge line, 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 breath.
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 the mountain. It was late afternoon and the attack was basically over. The cries of the wounded from both sides was 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 dust off 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 an 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 the 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 had arrived. 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 eight killed and fifteen wounded. The wounded and dead were added to the dead and wounded of the 406th Company. The remaining water, food and ammunition were 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. Dust 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 here.
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. Two battalions 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 their, battling there way forward towards us.
The night passed with only an occasional mortar round and most of the Scouts got some well needed sleep, including myself. I was physically and mentally exhausted and very happy to be alive.
With morning came planning to breakout and reach a friendly position. Operations estimated that the forward elements of the ARVN 42nd Regiment were 2000 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 towards 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.
We moved out about mid-day, the 406th Company first, interspaced with men from the 403rd for support. Every soldier in the 406th that was physically able carried an 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 me 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 continued. 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 ridge that went nowhere 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 fire fight 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 fire fight was over and we continued moving.
We could hear that the large firefight the friendlies we were moving toward 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 of 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 Kontum. 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 two officers. Of these 19 had been killed and 21 wounded. Of the wounded, six would eventually die. The 403rd Company had nine killed and 17 wounded. Of these wounded, three 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 wounded.
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 three 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 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!
© Charles Schwiderski 11/25/07
Awarded: November 28, 2007