15 May - Took command 0900.
On 15 May, 4/23 was OPCON to 1st Bde. The Division Commander, Major General Mearns conducted the change of command ceremony on a dusty field not far from Go Dau Hau, scene of repeated heavy fighting. I relieved LTC Avery S. Fullerton, an Engineer officer who had previously commanded the 65th Engineer Battalion, the 25th Division combat engineer battalion. Avery was a World War II infantry veteran, USMA Class of 1949 graduate, and a battle-tested commander. He led the 4/23 through Tet, the NVA New Year's offensive; and the follow-on mini-TET. General Mearns presented Avery with a Silver Star, they got in the General's chopper and left. I was in charge.
When I assumed command the battalion was short vehicles, officers, and combat soldiers, a condition in which it remained during my entire 6-month command.
I assemble my staff and company commanders, all battle experienced and weary, I could feel that I was now in a "try out" period and they would be the judges if I passed. Gave them a pep talk.
Before leaving, the Division Commander told me he was making arrangements for me to move the battalion to TNBC for a stand down [battalion freed from combat responsibility.]
Stand down until 1200. Moved out 1330, moved vic. Ap Tram Loc XT6503. Deployed. Min. contact. Withdrew 1800 occupied blocking position north of My Hanh church.
[Here followed what appear to be a series of inter-related directives, cautions, and observations.]
1st Bde Comdr Notes [Lt. Col. (P) Hodson]
1. H& I fire - plan based on intel. [Harassment & Interdiction fire was unobserved artillery fire, usually at night into areas of suspected or likely enemy activity.]
2. Kit Carson scouts - should have 5-6/Bn. [KC Scouts were SVN nationals supposedly trained to help lead US forces to NVA/VC areas. I do not recall who trained them, how they were assigned, or if any were assigned to 4/23.]
3. Foxhole strength - keep close check on light duty. [Light duty was a medical term used by doctors to designate individuals that temporarily were incapable of performing their duties. For an infantryman, this usually meant being left in a base camp and off combat assignments.]
4. Over strength in HQ Co -Force medics & other non-combat troops. Keep Bde Comdr informed. [The meaning of this is unclear to me.]
5. Use 11B's only when authorized - use twice wounded. [11B was the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) designator for infantry rifleman. Probably there was concern that 11B's were being improperly siphoned off for non-direct combat assignments. Twice wounded 11B's were usually exempted from further combat duty and the suggestion was to use them instead of the combat-eligible 11B's.]
6. Organizing for LPs [listening posts], Patrols, etc - stay within organizational frame work. Maintain tactical integrity.
7. Fire hazards in base camp.
8. Reporting - accurate, timely-use preliminary reports-don't wait.
9. Defensive driving.
10. PC drivers have license.
11. Lateral extensions for APC. [An APC driver steered by pulling back or moving forward a lever on either side of his seat. These levers were called laterals. If a driver were inside when the APC hit a mine, he was usually killed or seriously wounded. By extending the laterals with pipe or bars, through the driver's hatch to the top of the APC, the driver could control the vehicle while minimizing the danger to himself. Why the Bde CO felt it necessary to include this in his instructions is beyond me.]
12. Helicopters - when in contact, helicopters will be made available.
13. Staff procedure - night operations, reporting procedures.
14.Know your weapons & what is available -use your tools - example CS [a type on irritant tear gas], flame thrower, smoke
15. Combined operations done whenever possible. Coord w/ district.[Combined meant with RVN forces - regulars, Regional Force, Police. The district was a sub-division of a province commanded by a RVN officer.]
16. Professionalism - watch & guide.
17. Bunching up - Keep dispersed.
*18. Accidents - double-check [to be ] used in mortar plats - stress prevention - control of weapons - as soon as action lightens up, accidents increase. Chain of Command letters, monthly safety lecture.
19. Discipline - Very bad in base camp. Haircuts, bathing, clean clothes.
20. Failure to hold ground - do not break contact. Maintain pressure.
21. SADEA - subversive literature.[No idea what this means.]
22. Wet season hygiene - dry feet, inspections.
23. Hyperventilation [?] - don't panic in wells
24. Red Rocket. [I believe this was a nickname for an emergency message, notifying recipient of impending action.]
25. Division msn [mission] - Interdict & destroy VC/NVA exfiltrating from Saigon.
The following lists appears to be items the Bde CO told me to emphasize when I took command. It would be logical to believe that at my first company commanders' meeting shortly after taking command, I would have reviewed these.
Salt tablets w/ water
Mortar crew proficiency
Weapon security claymore unhook
The Claymore was a cigar box-size, parabolic-shaped explosive block with embedded ball bearing-like shrapnel to be used above ground in front of a position. A soldier detonated it with either a detonator cap ("cap") or detonating cord ("Det cord"). For safety purposes, the detonating device had to be unhooked when the claymore was moved.
Twice wounded soldiers were given the choice to be moved out of the direct combat zone and into less dangerous jobs. Most took the opportunity.
Use of Arty Keeping FO close
The Forward Observer (FO) was an artillery officer whose job was to bring artillery fire on the enemy. He had to remain close to the commander to get directions as to where fire was to be placed and when.
Range of Radar?
Scout dogs, flame throwers, laws w/AP [ambush patrol] Occasionally scout dog units would be attached to front line infantry to accompany troops and detect hidden enemy soldiers. There were four APC with mounted flame throwers. Light antitank weapons (LAW) were one-time use rockets useful against enemy in foxholes and bunkers.
Three claymores set up 2 w/ det cord, 1 w/cap
In a defensive position, each APC was required to set up 3 claymores.
Police, prostitution, protection
Police means to keep the area clean and sanitary; prostitution was rampant in the villages near FSB and base camps; protection meant being vigilant 24/7.
16 May - Quiet night - 12 air strikes.* Failed to report unable to obtain clearance for arty to fire (S3 & arty told to report this to Viking) [Radio call sign for 1st Bde CO. S3 battalion operations officer and artillery liaison officer were collocated in the operations APC];*Failed to have radar set(s) w/ mobile units (S2 tried to keep radar set & personnel w/ Recon [reconnaissance platoon] [S2 battalion intelligence officer collocated with S3.] Stayed in pos north of My Hanh church until 1200 - moved through previous day's a/s [air strike] area - found 9 KIA [Killed In Action, more accurately body count (BC.) (KIA were US; BC were NVA/VC)], 4 weapons, ammo, documents, web gear - 1500 returned to vic Duc Hoa - RON [remained over night] 4 patrols out - Recon spotted 2 VC. Church service 1830 - 45 attended
17 May - Stand down - contact team arrived 1100 - visited by Gen Gleason [Assistant Division Commander] & Col Brownell, Discom [Division Support Command] Comdr. Informed we will move to Tay Ninh. Contact team provided good service. Included PX
Shower-Dx[direct exchange of dirty uniforms for clean ones] clothes - barber
18 May - Left NL [night laager, an armored unit-peculiar term, for a combat formation where APC's are circled in mutually supporting firing positions. The term is of South African origin, originally meaning to circle the wagons at night for protection.] 0820 - arrived Hiway 1 0930 arrive Tay Ninh 1330 - Gen Gleason arrived 1400 - I surveyed area w/ Sgt major [Sergeant Major, the highest ranking enlisted man in the battalion and a battalion commander's eyes and ears] - co [company commanders] & [battalion] staff meeting 1800. Too long - staff needs shaping up.
The Battalion Command Sergeant Major (BCSM) was John E. Wise, an infantryman's infantryman. He had been awarded a Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) for service during WW II, during the Korean war, and during his first Viet Nam tour with the 1st Infantry Division. As the battalion's senior enlisted man, he had many responsibilities by regulation and as many other's as he and I chose to assign him. One of his self-imposed duties was to be my body guard and keep me alive. He was indefatigable, never seemed to sleep, exceptionally brave, and my strong right arm.
Wrote ML [my wife Mary Lou] 3 page letter - rec'd 3 letters from her plus 1 from pop [my Father]
Maint [maintenance of] - small arms, veh [vehicles], commo [communication equipment]
Personnel svcs [services]
4 Recon patrols - no combat
19 May Attended church 1030 - 25 + present
Inspected troops in motor pool
Ate lunch A-C Co. mess hall
Visited Spt Co. (B, 725) [Support Company for the battalion was B Company, 725 Maintenance Battalion] CO (Captain Taylor) S & S Bn [Supply & Support Battalion] CO (LTC Beherens)
BG [Brigadier General] Gleason visited briefly
Received 5 new Lt's [Lieutenants] 7 EM [enlisted men]
PX [Post Exchange] open special for Bn.
Rained - 5 82mm mortars [rounds] fell outside [base camp] perimeter 2 122mm [rockets] PHILCAG [Philippine Civil Assistance Group compound] 2 122 MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam compound]
Rec'd rain jacket
20 May - Maint [maintenance] day - award ceremony w/ MG Mearns BG Gleason visited Rec'd soxs Wrote ML
Need to do [all but the first item were lined out probably showing they had been done]
Tour perimeter w/ map
Fix tape recorder wash clothes
haircut color film cash check
Review Rating scheme
Meeting w/ Co Comdrs [company commanders] & S1-S4 [principal staff officers S1-personnel, S2 - intelligence, S3 - operations, S4 - logistics]
Visit PAE [Pacific Architects and Engineers, a civilian firm, contracted to construct, maintain, and operate the large base camps all over RVN.]
21 May - Command Management Maintenance Inspection (CMMI) courtesy
Failed 1. Wheel vehs [vehicles] 2. Small arms 3. Maint [maintenance] records; Passed combat vehs, commo [communication equipment]
The CMMI was a peacetime procedure superimposed on a wartime environment and was performed by division specialists. Its ostensible purpose was to give platoon-to-division commanders an objective view of the combat readiness of their assigned equipment. In peacetime it was an annual, must-do-well event. (Consequences for less than passing grades in all phases was usually relief from command.) In RVN, it occurred after a battalion had been withdrawn from combat for several days and afforded the opportunity to repair, refurbish, clean, and maintain all assigned equipment. Equipment from mess stoves to flame thrower APC were rigorously inspected by trained maintenance personnel. Consequences for failing a phase were normally a concerted effort by all hands to correct deficiencies lest they be the cause of a future combat death or injury.
Visited PAE about generators.
Base camp attacked by ground infiltrators. Destroyed artillery ammo [ammunition] dump, 2 or 3 guns [artillery pieces], 6 KIA. Bn in a ready to reinforce role from 0100-0300. 6 VC. 1 company swept outside perimeter.
Illegitimati non carborundum