(For photo's please refer to LTC Neilson's photo album)
Diary 14-20 Aug 1968
14 Aug - Start 14 week. 95 days. Quiet nite - C Co. Dismounted sweep through Rubber to NE to suspect BC [NVA/VC base camp]. R mtd sweep through rubber. A Co. swept road. B Co. OPCON D. C Co. got contact with several individuals. AK47. 2 WIA. Discovered 2 BC - total 35 bunkers. 11 destroyed. B & C Co's switched at 1700 hrs. 2 scout dog teams arrived.
Bunker construction. GOCHOLA [entry in pencil; do not know significance.] 2 weapons AK47-carbine. Letter from & to ML, package Letter to Pop & Shirley
15 Aug - Quiet nite - B Co. RIF'd north of rubber. R & F [Flame] formed block. [this is the first mention of Flame Platoon committed to a mission.] A Co. on road. C Co. OPCON D. R OPCON at 1600. A Co. returned.
16 Aug - Quiet nite - B Co. stood down. A Co. went OPCON to D to open road from 0600-1200. Returned to NDP at 1300. C Co. OPCON 3/22 [3d Battalion, 22nd Infantry, a leg outfit normally assigned to 1st BDE). R OPCON D. Arty battery left for Prek Lock [probably Loc or Lok.] at 1600. Wrote ML.
17 Aug - Quiet nite. C Co. OPCON 3/22. A Co. (-) stand down. Arty btry returned 0800. B Co. swept rubber to NW. Got 3 VC suspects. Rec'd intel at 1200 of VC conc (500) in rubber to NE. [In retrospect, these sightings were probably of NVA troops moving into position for the Battle for Tay Ninh.] A (-) & B Co's moved out 1430. Swept area until 1715. 3 VC fired at - neg results. Returned at 1900. AP Patrol 3/22 spotted large VC formation.
Noise on opns.
Security on opns.
2 letters ML.
18 Aug - [This was the first day of the 9 day battle of Tay Ninh city.] Capt. Montgomery [CO, A Co.] departed R & R.
During my 6 months in command, I had 8 Captain line company commanders:
A- Montgomery, Beech;
B- Hales, Campbell, & Marlow;
C- Mellis (WIA), Phillips (KIA), & Lincoln.
They were all effective, brave officers and I and the soldiers of the 4/23 who they led were lucky to have them.
Their normal command tour was 6 months; Montgomery served the longest under me and was a soldier's solder. Of the eight, he was the most careful of his men's lives, and the hardest one to convince that I really wanted him to put the men of A Co. in danger's path.
Unquiet nite - attack on Tay Ninh, Nui Ba Dinh, FSB Buell. All quiet at FSB Rawlins. At 1st lite, A Co. moved out to sweep road to [checkpoint] M. B Co. to move to Soui Da. Plans changed to move SE of Tay Ninh. Enter TN at 1400. Contact at 1715. D Co 2/27 OPCON [2nd Battalion, 27thInfantry Wolfhounds]. Fought to 1930. A Co & D Co. CO wounded. [Butch Sincock (in April 2004); thinks the acting A Co. CO may have been a Lt. Hirsch.] Denied arty clearance. Gun ships used. Extracted & night laager on east end of bridge. C OPCON 3/22. 7 wounded plus 10 from mine. 1 A Co track dest. D -2/27 had 2 KIA, 4 WIA. Did not get [recover bodies of] 2 KIA.
My remembrances of this day:
Tay Ninh was the headquarters of the powerful anti communist Cao Dai sect and the location of their "Vatican" the Cao Dai temple complex. The Cao Dai adherents were virulently anti-NVA and the US had always gone out of its way to encourage their support of our efforts.
The temple complex area was composed of several large buildings in the middle of extensive grounds and surrounded by an impressive masonry wall. It was on the city's outskirts and immediately adjoined the built up area of one side the city. There were roads leading to it and homes surrounding that side.
The walled grounds of the Cao Dai "Holy See"
Located ESE of downtown Tay Ninh Vietnam (photo CN)
Holy See main gate and inside the "Holy See" Temple (photo Rick Lewis)
The Cao Dai "Holy See" looking Southeast. (photo CN)
My remembrance cont.
The US had always been careful to avoid combat in the temple complex area. The rules of engagement (ROE) explicitly forbid the use of weapons of any kind on or near the temple grounds.
We entered the city close to the temple and at 1715 discovered the NVA had seized it along with probably 500 worshipers, monks, and townspeople. We were faced with a dilemma: obey the ROE and see the NVA occupy part of the capital of Tay Ninh Province or disobey the RoE, engage the NVA, and risk the deaths of hundreds of innocent Cao Dai civilians.
After we discovered the NVA entrenched in the temple and on its grounds, we began "self defense" fires (always allowed under RoE) while I sought permission to fully engage. Permission was granted to use only organic small arms and to absolutely minimize civilian casualties.
It was quite a sight seeing the Tomahawks on their bellies lined up along one side of the temple grounds firing while across the grounds and in the temple itself uniformed NVA jumped up and fired then dropping down. All the while terrified civilians milled around the areas controlled by the NVA.
It was getting to be a standoff when I asked for permission to use artillery and Gun ships under very controlled conditions; artillery was denied and we got a few gun ship runs.
As night fell, we saw the NVA slip away into the alleys behind the temple. No idea how many of them or the civilians were killed.
Butch Sincock was a platoon leader during this action; here are his recollections sent 13 April 2003.
"I recall well that day. Some of my recollections are at slight variance from yours. I thought we made contact earlier in the day, but you may be right that it was late in the afternoon.
I don't recall any Gun ships. Matter of fact, I recall the frustration of knowing where the NVA were and not having political clearance for artillery, TAC-air, Gun ships or even our own mortars.
We were not fighting in the main Cao Dai temple complex. That complex is about 3.5 KM NW of the small Cao Dai complex where we fought. We used to pass the larger complex (called the "holy sea" I think) on the way to and from Tay Ninh West & Rawlings.
The complex where we fought that day was in the southern most part of the city. I have been back to that site several times over the past few years and discussed that battle with several women who were in the crowd that day. For over 30 years I had questions about that day.
Two major questions were: 1) why were the civilians standing around in the open knowing there were warring forces to either side and 2) were any of the young men in robes really NVA (there was a rumor that when gunfire broke out some of the "monks" pulled AK-47s out from under their robes. Everyone could quote someone who heard this, but no one was an actual eyewitness).
Today that complex is a retirement facility for aging Cao Dai religious. The half-dozen or so women I have spoken with who were there then said 1) they took refuge in the complex because they thought that they would be safe in a holy site and 2) because the buildings in the complex were the only masonry ones (i.e. somewhat bullet resistant) in that part of town - all the other houses were essentially shacks.
Regarding the "monks", the ladies told me that they were DRAFT DODGERS! They said they had no problem recruiting would-be monks in the 60s because many young men saw it as a legitimate way to avoid both the ARVN and the NVA.
During the battle my platoon sergeant attempted to throw a grenade over the main temple building when NVA were spotted shooting around the corner of the building. The grenade did not clear the top of the roof and bounced back into the temple itself. We had seen women & children flee into the doorway where the grenade went just seconds before. According to the women I have spoke with in recent years about 14 were KIA - either immediately or died of wounds.
Incidentally, when the firing first started, my platoon was moving around one of the buildings close to the road. We were ordered back to the south end of the compound by the CO. We low crawled part way and ran into a barbed wire fence around a garden. I worked the wire with my hands until it broke and we opened a big hole in the fence for the men to crawl through. That hole is still there! I found it on my first return trip there about 5 years ago.
In 2002, I briefed MG Eric Olson on the Battle for Tay Ninh just after he took command of the 25th. He wanted to use a historic battle for a presentation to the officers and NCOs of the 25th on the Oct. 1st "birthday" of the 25th Division. He covered many of the battles in his presentation, including the Temple battle. He gave his briefing in the Conroy Bowl at Schofield Barracks. They had a huge map of Tay Ninh Prov. on the floor - probably 20 feel tall and 12 or 15 across. Very impressive!"
This message I received from Gary Bennett, Recon Platoon Leader:
"...It was around the time of the Tay Ninh Offensive that CAPT Montgomery went on R & R.. He left [A Co] with a full complement of tracks, officers, and around 140 men foxhole strength. When he returned a week later, there were 4 tracks, no officers, around 90 men fox hole strength and I believe an artillery LT as acting CO. That was one helluva week for Alpha."
Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA list
Sgt Randolph Charles Kett, C Co.
Sgt Michael Ralph Manno, C Co. (WIA 18AUG68 / DOW 20SEP68)
19 Aug - 55th malaria pill. Quiet nite - 0800 A & B Co's moved to block on west side of bridge. Recovered 2 KIA from D-2/27. VN civ report pulled out to SE. 1200 change in orders. B Co. moved to FSB then went OPCON 3/4 Cav. 3/4 Cav on road CP C. A Co. blocked to SE on NDP. Dreadnaught swept N. C Co. OPCON Dreadnaught. A & B Co's closed NDP w/ A -1/5 & A-3/4.
20 Aug - 1.5+1.5+2.0+2.25+2.25+2.0=11.5 C Co. OPCON Dreadnaught. Quiet nite - not a round fired. Jumped off with A-1/5 on N; A-3/4 on road; B-4/23 dismtd on South into rubber. Blown culvert vic. CP C stopped mtd. elem. [mounted element.] Arty prep & AS. A-4/23 in reserve at FSB. [My C & C] Helicopter had tail rotor failure at 20-30'. Crashed. No injuries.
The pilot skillfully kept control of the OH-6A Loach chopper by increasing air speed to compensate for the rotational effect of the lack of a tail rotor. He flew the chopper into the ground at high speed, pulling back on the main rotor control as he cut the engine. We settled roughly in the TNBC aerial refueling area between two 1500 gal rubberized cloth pods of aviation fuel. The OH-6A exoskeleton fuselage collapsed as it was supposed to and absorbed the crash impact. The pilot, the BCSM, the Arty LNO and myself walked away without a scratch. Contact was in progress and the BDE CO took over direct control of the 4/23 until I returned to the scene in a new chopper. The second chopper, a UH-1 Huey, got over the combat action and promptly took two .51 mm mg hits in the same place on opposing rotors on either side of the hub. This cause the Huey to be a little wobbly with more than the ususal vibration but it and we managed to stick it out until the contact ended.
Contact started half [way] between CP C & [CP] O. B Co. suffered 3 KIA, 3 WIA, 1 APC. Withdrew. Pounded area with arty, CS, and air strikes for 4 hours. Moved in 1720. Met scattered enemy resistance, withdrew. Did not recover body of SGT. Couch, B Co. B Co. [had] 3K, 11 W. BC [body count] 10. A-1/5 1 K.
On Rte 26 between Tay Ninh and Dau Tieng.
7 soldiers died as a result of this. (photo courtesy CN)
In 1987, James R. Arnold authored, and Bantam Books published the multi-volume series Illustrated History of the Vietnam War (ISBN 0553343475). One of the volumes was titled Armor which included the author's perspective of the contribution of mechanized infantry during the war. In chapter 7 "Out on the Border," he describes the efforts of the 25thID armored and mechanized forces in the battle of Tay Ninh city. On pp. 91-105, Arnold provides a great deal of additional detail not included in my diary entries concerning the events of 20-24 August 1968. When last I checked the book was available through <Amazon.com> for about $11. For those of you who were there, its purchase might provide you additional "evidence" when the discussion down at the AL/VFW hall rolls around as to who had it worse.
Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA list
SGT Freddie Lee Couch, B Co.
SP4 Raymond Luna Perez, A Co.
CPL Robert Wallace Lais, B Co.
Illegitimi nil carborundum