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
[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
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
SP4 S B AWOL 7 days E3 $50 / 2
SGT W HHQ False Official E4 $50 / 2
PFC B UNK Hit AP, Resist arrest,E3 $50 / 1
D & D, concealed
SGT T HHQ Black Market, NA $100 / 2
SP4 R A AWOL 40 days E1 $75 / 2
SP5 R 467PSD Disrespect E4 NA
SP5 D B Disrespect (2 E4 NA
[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.]
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).
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.
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.]
Tow cables[struck through]
VEH PARTS TRACK BLOCKS [and]
MEDICS 5 per Co - A-1, B - 2, C -4
Illegitimi nil carborundum