Commanders Diary

21-27 August 68

(For photo's please refer to LTC Neilson's photo album)

Diary 21-27 Aug 1968

21 Aug - Quiet nite - C Co. OPCON 3/22. A Co. 1/5, A Trp. 3/4 (-), A Co. 4/23 in NDP recovered body of MHA at 0900 - A Co. 1/5 at 1400 began sweep through rubber to NE on right flank 51st ARVN Rangers. At 1600 contact initiated 1 KM NW of CP T. Co. A [4/23] hit. Lt. Blake, Plt Ldr & Lt. Russell, FO both KIA; 5  wounded. Withdrew & put in air strikes. Reinforced with 51st ARVN. Laager vic. old airstrip w/ A Co. 1/5 & A Trp. 3/4. A Co. & B Co. 4/23 Inf defend FSB [not stated but probably Rawlins which was not too far away.] Lost 4 APC. 20 BC.

Diary notes; (USSR invaded Czechoslovakia)

The laager was several miles E of  FSB Rawlins down Rte 26.  I had been airborne all day and landed to take  command. I passed command of FSB Rawlins to my capable XO, Major Don  Starnes (who flew out from TNBC, his usual location, to assume command.)  I found myself in the unusual position of commanding 4 US company-sized  units from three different battalions and one ARVN unit. We were in a hastily occupied NDP in deep scrub jungle close to  Route 26 at the end of a very intense combat day and with no  intelligence about the presence of NVA units. We had minimum daylight to  prepare the NDP perimeter, no resupply of food, water, or ammunition,  and every expectation we would be attacked that night.

That night, I monitored the BDE & BN command nets and slept fitfully in an APC. I remember clearly getting the word over the BDE  command net about the invasion of Czechoslovakia and thinking "The  Czechs will just have to look out for themselves, I've got my hands full  right here."

Thankfully the NVA did not come our way; unlucky  for them, they decided to attack FSB Rawlins (see next entry) where they  were decimated. I later thought how much more higher the odds would have been for them had they attacked the NDP I  commanded that night.!  

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA list
LT Danny Lee Blake, A Co.

22 Aug - 1K 9W 1 Flame track C Co. OPCON 3/22. Unquiet nite - Mortar, rocket atk on FSB R at 0120 followed by grnd attack from  N thru rubber, from east & west along tree line. Arty fired Killer  Jr. & Beehive. Gunships, flareships, air strikes. Battle died down  finally 0430. No breech of perimeter. 46 BC. 2 RPG-7 & 2 RPG-2 launchers, 5 AK-47,  2RPD, 42 rds RPG-2, & 9 rds RPG-7. 4 POW.

At first light, I flew to FSB  Rawlins to assess the situation. My impression was the infantry and  artillery had done a heroic job in repulsing a determined enemy. The  perimeter was not penetrated and the losses were few. And then I turned  my attention to that day's needs.
Major Starnes was later awarded a Silver star for his personal heroism and leadership while commanding the FSB.  

Move A-1/5 & A-3/4 from nite laager thru [CP] T (0900) to new FSB 1000 . Put AVLB [Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge An M48A1 tank chassis on which was  mounted a hydraulically-extended 2 section "scissor" bridge. Used by  track and wheeled vehicles to cross streams and ditches up to 30' wide.] in place 1300. Moved out 1415 to secure airfield. POW identified 5th Regt - H-5 & H- 6 Bn; 45th Regt - D-3 Bn; 8th Regt - D-3 Bn.

AVLB in action 22AUG69

AVLB in action

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA list
PFC Larry Davidson Cook, HHC.

[From the New York Times, 22 August 1968, p. 4.]
"...Yesterday  afternoon, American soldiers fighting from armored personnel carriers  and heavily supported by artillery and air power, killed 182 enemy  soldiers in a sprawling rubber plantation 44 miles northwest of Saigon.
The [sic. Two] American soldiers died and 23 were wounded in the plantation which is 15 miles east of the city of Tay Ninh.
Although  more than 700 enemy troops have been reported killed in several actions  in the last four days, the death toll in the plantation was the largest  in a single battle in several weeks.
According to initial reports, the Americans lost two dead and 23 wounded.
A spokesman for the United states 25th Infantry Division said the fighting began when enemy troops opened fire on a column of armored  personnel carriers advancing toward the plantation on a routine jungle  sweep.
"Some of the enemy charged right at the vehicles" the spokesman said.
As  they did, machine gunners atop the armored cars [sic: carriers] cut  them down and infantrymen inside [sic: atop] the vehicles leaped out to  join the fight.
After about an hour and a half of steady firing, the armored column pulled back for a new supply of ammunition "They burned out several machine gun barrels in the fight" the spokesman said.
When  the armored cars [sic: carriers] withdrew, nearby howitzers began  pounding the area and until late in the afternoon jets and helicopters swarmed over the plantation.
Because supplies did not  reach the armored unit until night was approaching, the commander  decided against going after the enemy again until morning.
The division spokesman said that six armored vehicles were "severely" damaged in the fight."  

23 Aug - Quiet  nite - A Co. to TN pick up & escort ARVN arty btry. A-1/5 & B  Co. open road & outpost to Kheim Hanh. Arty Btry arrived 1100; A  & B Co's & R closed 1300. [Following is a list of items probably received at a 1st BDE CO meeting. The entries are in pencil and difficult to read.]

1. Ldrship - not correcting obvious faults [probably meaning failure to wear] green tabs, steel pots, armored vests [BDE CO had not yet given up his 7th Army belief that all commanders from BN to squad should wear green  epaulet tabs to designate their leadership role. In my observation,  soldiers seldom wore helmets or vests until the first shot was fired, then put them both on until combat  ceased, then took them off again.], prot masks, [I am at loss to explain why failure to wear, carry, or otherwise have available protective CBR masks would be of concern.] stowage.
2. No [illegible] combat gear on operations.
3. Ambush patrols out before dusk.
4. Strobe lights. [Used to mark friendly positions when night air operations were in progress.]
5. Command [radio] net - monitorship, reporting*. [Probably refers to the often-heard complaint by commanders at each  echelon that maintained a command net, that "I can't ever get you when I  call' and "You are not reporting what is going on in sufficient detail.  "I used to tell company commanders the same thing.]
* Gunships when there report back to Sun Tutor [radio call sign?] AM [air mobile] Co.
6. Check fire - shift arty
7. Present CIB.

Vehicle Status M113 M125 Opn Field (incl) FDC, CO, Sup,Maint
A Co. 8 2
B Co. 8 + 2 DL 2
C Co. [no entry]
HQ [no entry]

From the New York Times, 23 August, 1968  p. 3. "
...Calling  in helicopter gun ships, fighter-bombers, and artillery barrages,  United States troops today fought for the fifth straight day for control  of a road 40 miles northwest of Saigon.
In today's action, which began in mid-morning, the enemy attacked with rocket grenades and automatic weapons against three companies of American infantry.
The fighting raged on a  road leading from Tay Ninh, an important headquarters city. The road is  a supply route for American forces astride a Viet Cong [sic; NVA]  infiltration corridor leading from Cambodia.
The fighting near the  Cambodian border was part of the stepped up ground war in which a dozen  allied positions and populated areas, including Saigon, came under enemy rocket or ground attack early today."  

24 Aug - SPEC  promotions E6 - 2, E5 - 2, E4 - 3. Quiet nite - A Co. local RIF to  north. B Co. escorted TN convoy. R took resupply column to & from  TNBC. A Co. worked on [perimeter] wire. C Co. OPCON D-N; returned OPCON 1700. TF 4/23 A, B, C Co's & R

New mission
1. C Co.(-) Rock crusher-open MSR to GDH  [Go Dau Ha]. 1 Plat to FF [French Fort].
2. Return A Co. Plat to Rawlins.
3. Recon - escort [convoy] DT-TN & TN-DT. [As explained in an earlier narrative about convoy out posting procedures, empty trucks at DT from the previous day's convoy had to be escorted from DT to TNBC so they could return with the main body of that day's empties to CC.]
4. A & B Co's. - Open & post TN-DT route. Conduct offensive operations + strengthen FSB. Defend FSB at nite.
5. 2/34 open MSR 25 only.
6. C-7/11 [Arty] move to Rawlins - [FSB] Schoefield closes. 4/23 provide security.
7.Move C mess hall; recover supply items.
8. Bulldozer

25 Aug - 6+1.5=7.5 Quiet nite - 0700 -Bn formation. [Gave] HHC,  A, B Co's pep talk. B Co. opened road. R convoy escort for arty then  DT-TN convoy. C Co. open road GDH-TN & FF. A Co. work on base camp  defense.

1230. C Co 2d Plat  heavy contact vic. S edge small rubber. Convoy attacked. C Co. (-) moved  south. B-3/22 air landed in CP 182. B-3/4 moved up from south. B-3/4  linked up w/ C26 [call sign for 2nd Platoon leader, C Co.] heavy casualties, circled rubber. Linked w/ B-3/22. Drove north. Hit trench line at 1900 laager vic CP 182. C Co. (-) plus 1 plat B-3/4 initially laagered, then moved to GDH. 1 plat B Co. moved to Rock Crusher. Capt Honsard, C-3/22, Lt Headley, B-3/4 2K [can not tell if the 2K entry refers to Honsard and Headley], 15 W APC-C12 destroyed.

Captain Henry R. Phillips commanded C  Co. during this combat encounter and for his actions earned the  Distinguished Service Cross. Quoted below are excerpts from the DSC  citation which provide additional details of the action:  

"...his  company and a convoy that it was supporting were ambushed by two North  Vietnamese Army battalions...Captain Phillips flew to the scene of the  battle and jumped to the ground from his hovering helicopter amid  intense enemy fire. Finding that his first platoon was in danger of  being overrun, he quickly gathered a force to assist the threatened  element and halted the advance of the communist. As he was leading a counterattack  to secure a landing zone for an ambulance helicopter, he and his men  came under heavy rocket-propelled grenade and automatic weapons fire  from the flank. Grabbing four light antitank weapons, he moved through  the hostile fusillade to a point from which he was able to destroy a  rocket-propelled grenade team and an automatic weapons position. Once the casualties were safely evacuated, Captain Phillips  led a small group of volunteers into the killing zone of the ambush to  extract several remaining dead and wounded personnel. He then organized a  withdrawal as darkness set in and although wounded by an enemy  rocket-propelled grenade, succeeded in leading his men to an allied  command..." 

 Additional historical first-hand       account of this battle:

Special thanks goes to:  Charlie Co. 3/22 Senior Medic Ivan       Katzenmeier  

From the 4/23 KIA list
CPL Jeffrey Willis Pohjola, C Co.
CPL Patrick John McCormick, C Co.

[From the New York Times, 25 August, p. 2.]
 " ...Sharp  fighting has also developed in Tay Ninh Province, one of the enemy's  key infiltration routes to Saigon. United States 25th  Infantry Division [sic: forces] in the province came under recoilless  rifle, mortar, rocket, and machine-gun fire shortly after midnight.
The  American soldiers, in night defensive positions 11 miles east of Tay Ninh, called  in helicopter gun ships, artillery, tanks, and armored personnel  carriers.
Eight United States soldiers were killed and 45 wounded in  the three hour attack. A total of 62 North Vietnamese soldiers were also  reported killed."
26 Aug - 1.5+2=2+2. Quiet nite. 0700 B-3/22 & B-3/4 moved S from CP 182 laager into convoy area with plat [from] C Co. C Co. (-) moved north from GDH. B Co. less 1 plat plus 1 plat A Co. opened road TN-CP. 1 plat B Co. Rock Crusher. 1 plat C FF. R convoy duty DT-TN-DT. 

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA list
SP4 Earl Sherman Bazemore, C Co.

[From the New York Times, 26 August, p. 2.]
 "...A United States convoy  moving toward Tay Ninh was ambushed today by dug-in enemy troops who  lobbed mortars and fired machine guns from both sides of a road. Six  Americans were killed and 51 wounded in the attack.
The United States  Command said this morning that a reaction force of gun ships, tactical aircraft, and tanks repulsed the enemy force but only after an  all day fight. Spokesman said that 96 enemy soldiers were killed..."

An ironic headline on the same page reported that "Nixon Spends a Quiet day with Friends in Bahamas.  

27 Aug - 10W 27BC 56th Mal Pill Capt Montgomery back in cntry. Unquiet nite - Mortar, RPG,  Rocket attack on FSB 0030-0100. Ground attack from NE, W, SE. Arty fired  1400 rds Killer Jr, 10 W (plus 4 arty), BC 27. 5 RPG launchers, 3 MG 7,  6 AK47.

VC/NVA  weapons captured from 27AUG 68 firefight

A & B Co's refit; Mission Tanker opened road to CP O. AVLB hit mine. C Co. opened MSR.
LT Col Wolf relieved - Col Fair assumed command.

Col Fair arrived in RVN on 26 August  and was slated to take a BDE; do not know where. He had just come from  commanding a BDE in Europe and was still full of "spit & polish"  ideas. When Wolf was relieved on 26 August, Fair got reassigned to the 1st BDE sometime that nite and arrived at TNBC early on the 27th. 

MAJ Don Starnes, BN XO alerted me  by radio that the NEW! BDE CO was inbound to Rawlins about 10 minutes  before he arrived. I first saw him on the helicopter pad, dressed in  heavily starched jungle fatigues and spit-shined boots and no doubt  determined to make a name for himself.

He must have viewed me as the  sorriest looking, dirtiest, and most disheveled LTC he had ever seen. I  can not imagine what must have gone through his mind when he looked  around the FSB.

There were bodies and parts of  bodies on the wire and in front. A bulldozer was digging a trench  outside the perimeter where we intended to put the enemy remains. There  were  piles of expended .50 cal brass near every track, Guys were  exhausted and either asleep where they dropped or trying to clean up.  Nobody had a shirt on except me.

He walked around awhile and it  was easy for me to see he was appalled at what he saw. First, he told me  I could not bury the remains without properly identifying them as that  was against the Geneva Convention. Next, he wanted me to mount the  troops up and pursue the long-departed NVA. I told him "Yes, Sir, as  soon as we get re-supplied with ammunition." He nearly exploded. He sternly informed me I had 24 hours to shape the mess  up or I was out of there.

He next visited nearby FSB Buell  defended by 2/22, their perimeter had been breached, and conditions were  far worse. Later, their BN CO, Alex Hunt, told me he got the same  treatment only Alex had no bulldozer and no plan to bury the enemy.

That night TNBC got rocketed, his  hooch took a near miss, and he got a frag in the butt. Welcome to RVN,  Col Fair! After that he was a prince, a great BDE CO to work for and  eventually became a LTG.]

[In 1998, MG Williamson, CG, 25th ID during August 1968 when LTC Wolf was relieved, provided the 25th ID Association a copy of his General Ellis Williamson's Vietnam Journals which I have had the privilege of reading. In the Journals he recounts the reasons for his relief of a BDE CO he does not identify. It is clear to me from his Journal's description of the circumstances that he was referring to LTC Wolf.

LTC  Wolf is still alive and to my knowledge has never publicly discussed  the circumstances leading to his relief. Since I value my combat-forged remembrances of both these fine soldiers, I would refer those interested in General Williamson's side of the story to his Journals. 

Mohawk 6 LTC Cliff Neilson at Rawlins Helipad on a better day than 27AUG 68

FSB Rawlins 1968

3 Letter from ML & cheese from Dad
Letter to ML & Dad
[List of items]
Special Promotion
New BDE Comdr
Ice cream
Resupply & RIF

Cliff Neilson
Mohawk 6
4th/23rd BTN CO