Commanders Diary

17-23 July 68

17 July - [Field strength] 507 Start 10th week. Quiet nite. A, B, C Co's w/ RF Co. [Regional Force, RVN local militia] RIF'd. Neg. findings. A Co. stuck tank. BDE Comdr visited. 3 Art 15 [non-judicial punishment imposed by the Bn CO] 7 decorated.
Rec'd ltr ML & Shirley, wrote ML.
Rope - tow cables
Rearguard NCO

Promotion/CSMAJ/company matters
[Beginning  on the bottom of this page in the original diary and continuing on the  bottom of the next 2 pages is a list of non-judicial (UCMJ Art 15)  punishments. The list shows rank, last name, company, offense and  punishment. To avoid embarrassment to still-living Tomahawks, I have omitted their names and  used only last name initials to identify them.
 

Rank    Last Name  Company  Offense        Grade Reduction  Punishment  

                                                                                                  pay/months

PFC           J                 C             AWOL 6 days           E2           $50/2                                        


 SP4          S                 B             AWOL 5 days           E3           $50/2


PFC          B                  B            AWOL 11 days         E1           $50/2  


SGT         M                  A            D & D (drunk &        E4            $25 / 1  

                                                    disorderly)  

 

SP4         S                   B           AWOL 7 days           E3             $50 / 2  


SGT        W               HHQ         False Official            E4            $50 / 2    

                                                   statement  


PFC        B               UNK         Hit AP, Resist arrest,E3            $50 / 1  

                                                  D & D, concealed 

                                                  knife  


 SGT      T               HHQ          Black Market,           NA            $100 / 2  

                                                 misappropriate ¼ 

                                                 ton  


SP4       R              A               AWOL 40 days           E1             $75 / 2  


SP5       R        467PSD          Disrespect                 E4              NA  


SP5       D             B                Disrespect (2            E4               NA 

                                                counts)  


[For each day AWOL, a day was added to required time-in-country]

18 July - [Field strength] 486 Unquiet nite - 0230 A Co. attacked w/ RPG & S/A. Destroyed 1 tank, 


“Note a small RPG produced hole in the side of the turret” 


WIA 3. O300 called in LFT [helicopter light fire team from 3d Sqr, 4th Cav]. Error in delivery resulted in 2 KIA, 3 WIA A Co. [They were in an ambush patrol about 500 meters in front of the laager.] No further contact. B & C Co's RIF'd together W-E to junction of Rome Plow areas. B & C Co's had combat resulting in 3 KIA, 15 WIA in large VC base camp area XT480355.


VC base camp location 


2 APC destroyed. Laagered in vic. of contact. Recon returned OPCON of Bn. 12 air strikes. Moved LT Altman. Arty fired 1096 rds.
Causes of breakdowns
LTR [light track retriever, a recovery vehicle for APC.]
No mail

I remember the incident well when the  3/4 LFT fired on the ambush patrol in error. A subsequent investigation  established that the pilots had spotted men in the open, assumed they  were NVA/VC, and opened fire without checking with their or our  operations center. This violated stringent Rules of Engagement. The pilots and battalion commander were administratively punished, effectively ending their careers. A small comfort to the families of those killed.  

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA list
Alvin Mack Laster. Jr., HHC.
Gary Bernerd Sanford, B Co.
Arnold Lawrence Davis, A Co.
Terry Kenneth Huff, B Co.

19 July - Quiet nite - After 4  AS. A, B, C Co's entered base camp area. Neg. contact. Destroyed BC as  they advanced. A & C Co's got small caches. 4 body count. Two letters ML.


20 July [Field strength] 493. Quiet nite. A Co. [made] quick RIF [of former] POW [camp] - then back to BC [base camp] B, C Co's & R RIF to SW between rubber plantations, Neg. Results. Rec'd road security mission. IG visited on rocket attack. [ LFT attack mentioned above.]1 letter ML.

Muster tonite - roster [periodically  it was necessary to confirm that troops assigned were in accordance  with what the roster said should be there. In the heat of battle, normal  comings and goings, casualties and replacements, the actual number of  troops (muster) equaled what was supposed to be there (roster).

Promotion.

As noted above, the battalion received tasking  for route security, a mission that was to consume its capabilities for  most of the reamainder of July through September. Because so much of the  4/23 activities occurred on the highways connecting its TNBC (and the  fire support bases it frequently occupied) with the rest of the 25th TAOR, an understanding of the MSRs along the national highway system is useful. 

The national highway system was built by the  French before and after World War II. With the exception of major  cities, the highways were unpaved and surfaced with laterite, a red,  iron ore-containing, clay-like soil. When dry and subject to heavy truck  and tracked vehicle travel, the laterite quickly became very dusty with  clouds of red dust obscuring vision. When wet, these combat vehicles caused the laterite quickly to become slippery and pot-holed  slowing traffic to about 5 MPH.

In low lying areas in the TAOR subject to  controlled water entrapment, rice was cultivated in diked paddies. To  traverse the wet paddies areas, roads were built 4-10 ft above the  ground level with steep embankments. In higher elevations, the French  had established large rubber plantations, with trees planted close to  the edge of both sides of the road. These plantations provided easy access and egress for NVR/VC forces to establish concealed ambush  positions close to the road.

In an attempt to neutralize the  ambush potential from rubber plantations, the US forces used mechanical  and chemical means to destroy rubber trees close to the highways. Very  large Caterpillar bulldozers, with V-shaped blades and armored cabs for  the drivers, called "Rome Plows", uprooted and moved trees back from the  highway shoulder. This proved ineffective as there was neither equipment to haul the trees away nor convenient  unsuitable ambush areas to store them.

photo courtesy Rick Lewis

Simultaneously, USAF aircraft sprayed the defoliant AGENT ORANGE on the trees.  This caused leaf-loss with only a limited success in decreasing ambush  sites. (At the time, AGENT ORANGE toxicity to humans was unknown.)


photo courtesy US Air Force

The highways were about the width of one lane of a typical US state highway with no shoulder. In  the event that a US vehicle became disabled through combat action or  mechanical difficulty, there was insufficient road width for a following  or approaching vehicle to pass. Either traffic halted until the problem  was fixed or the disabled vehicle was push down the embankment In both rice growing and rubber plantation areas, drainage culverts  under the road were a frequent feature providing an easily-accessible,  ready made site to position a mine.

Every few miles, the highways typically  bisected a small village The inhabitants were either rice farmers or  plantation workers and their families by day and a ready cadre for VC at  night.

To facilitate radio transmission brevity while operating on these roads, 25th ID established a set of check points, each designating a road junction, village, or identifiable land mark. 

21 July - [Field strength] 483. Quiet nite - moved to route security. No mail. 

22 July - [Field strength] 485. Quiet nite - A Co. alt [alternate] MSR, sec [probably secure] arty. B & C Co's RIF'd from CP [check point] 170 at 1045. B Co. made contact, moved  on north. Tank reinforce. A Co. reinforced 1200 hrs. GS, CS used. A Co. secure obj. at 1800. C Co. hooked around and assaulted.  Stopped cold at 1800. B Co. wouldn't or couldn't move. B & C Co's  put in laager. A Co. & A Co Bobcat [1/5 Mech] laager on south [although the entry does not expicitly so state, A Co., 1/5 must have been made OPCON to 4/23. The 25th ID Quarterly Report shown below states that both A & B Co's, 1/5 were OPCON.]. 13 body count. Arty fired 250 155-mm rds, 450 105 [rds].

[By any standards, this was a large tonnage of artillery shells.]

Agent report D-14 Bn [VC battalion desination]-21 K, 19 W. No mail. 5 days to DEROS [(probably a sardonic) reference to my original rotation date had I not extended to command the 4/23.]. Twice wounded-hosp over 48 hours.

            Field/Base Camp
HQ
A          105 / 54
B            88 / 87
C          117 / 59

From the 25th ID Quarterly  Operation Report for Period Ending 31 July 1968: "B Company, 4th  Battalion, 23rd Infantry, sweeping four kilometers north of GO DA HAU  (XT392301) engaged an unknown size enemy force. Armed helicopters,  artillery and air strikes were called in on the enemy positions, and B  Company was reinforced by companies A and C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry (Mech) The contact lasted through the day and into the  night. At first light, a sweep of the area revealed 13 VC KIA."  

23 July - 51st Mal Pill. [Field strength] 502.Quiet nite - A, B, C Co's w/ 2 co's PF (Savage Kettle) RIF'd North from pt. of contact. A [Co.] Bobcat [1/5 Mech] in reserve. Found many bunkers, fighting psns. Neg. contact. Had scout/tracker dogs. Laagered XT385303 all 3 Co's. Made [Captain] Shiplett S-4. [my  hand drawn battalion organization chart which I prepared upon return  from RVN shows Captain Zizman, then the S-4 switched jobs with Shiplett,  then the HHC Comdr.] Letter ML - Letter to ML. [following is an unexplained list of routine items that I suspect had caught my eye as needing attention]

Mermite can [refer to previous remark about use to ice down beer and soda.]
Maint daily
Tow cables[struck through]
VEH PARTS TRACK BLOCKS [and]
MEDICS 5 per Co - A-1, B - 2, C -4

Cliff Neilson
Mohawk 6
May-Nov 1968    

Illegitimi nil carborundum


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