Commanders Diary

22-28 May 68


22  May - All Cos test fired weapons at Rock Quarry. Continued maint.  Memorial services for 34 KIA. Had Bar-B-Que chicken w/ C Co. Received  counter-attack mission from LTC Britt [most likely for defense of the Tay Ninh base camp.]

The Rock Quarry (a.k.a. "Rock Crusher") was exactly that; a  permanent crushed- rock producing facility on the lower slopes of the  most conspicuous landmark in Tay Ninh Province, Nui Ba Den Mountain.  There was a US Signal outpost on the mountain top and usually a small US  unit guarding the Rock Quarry. Everything else was NVA/VC controlled  territory. Despite the best efforts of the US Air Force and the 25th Division, no amount of bombing or ground combat was able to  dislodge the enemy from this "citadel.' Regularly resupplied from their  Cambodian sanctuary, the NVA/VC forces were able to launch attacks with  impunity into the area surrounding Tay Ninh city. The 4/23 was  frequently given the Rock Crusher security role and suffered many  casualties there. Frequent following diary entries will  make reference to either the Rock Quarry or Nui Ba Den.  

Painters [no idea what this means] Letter to Father. Haircut   

23 May - 2d  Bde OPCON. Moved from Tay Ninh to vic Hoc Mon. B Co. left 0630, main  body 0730. Total mileage 60. B Co. attacked vic CP 182. [check point] north of Go Da Ha at 0830, one man killed RPG. A Co. attacked by its presence in vic of RF [Regional Force] outpost  at 0930 2 km north of CP 182. Maneuvered A Co. through Rubber plantation,  passed C Co. through. Gun ships rocketed area. Mortared area. Relieved  by 2/ 22. Continued to march. Closed Hoc Mon 1530. Visited 2d Bde CP [command post] Received missions  1. Protect bridges D 2/27 [D Company, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment nickname Wolfhounds] OPCON for this purpose  2. RIF [reconnaissance-in-force] in local area to  prevent infiltration in local area 3. Protect FSB Breckinridge II. Sent B  Co. on a quick RIF to a suspected Rocket psn. [position] Battalion began to dig in. Quiet nite. C Co. at TSN [Tan Son Nhut Air Base, on the south east outskirts of Saigon and site of RVN's largest combined civilian and military airfield]

During my 6 month command of the 4/23,  51 brave officers and soldiers were killed in action; they are part of  the battalion's 310 KIA during 1966-70. Their names appear on the  Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington and on a list compiled by a  veteran's organization, a copy of which has been furnished me. Following  the diary entry for the day on which they were killed, each will be remembered in this document.  CN  

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA List:
CPL Timothy Arthur McGurty B Co.   

24 May - FSB B II - 3 company RIF's. Visited HM [Hoc Man] Bridge. Capt Ekhert. Demonstration at Cu Chi [25th Division base camp] on COFRAM [new type of US artillery ammunition nicknamed "fire cracker")] and 122 mm RKTS.
Strength [number of men, by company in the field.] A Co. 107 B Co. 116 C Co. 115 HQ Co. 133. Total 471 attach 17 total 488
Tape to Dad, letter to ML. No mail.  B Co. at TSN.   

25 May - 3d Bde OPCON FSB B II - 3 Co RIF. Recon escorted arty btry [artillery battery - usually 6 howitzers] to Duc Hoa. Completed sweep 1200. Found dud 155 [mm artillery shell, often used by VC as a mine] LAW; 1 Chinese grenade, 200 rds LMG ammo [light machine gun ammunition] returned NL [night lager] 1330. Received order to move [at] 1500. Moved [at] 1600 to SW of TSN airbase. [Laager was set up at the end of the runway, outside the TSN perimeter  fence and across Highway 1 which ran from Saigon to Cu Chi. The lager  was in the vicinity of Xom Binh Dong (coordinates 765915), a small  hamlet which had been the site of a fierce battle during the February 1968 Tet offensive. So many enemy had been  killed in the battle and then hastily buried, that the site reeked of  decaying bodies. APC moving through the dirt disinterred body parts  adding to the stench.] Occupied 3 co strong points. Got part of trains [logistic support vehicles] stuck in mud. Left bulldozer and lowboy in mud [flat bed trailer on which tracked vehicles such as bulldozers, among other large items, were transported.] Spent a quiet night. Rec's 2 letters & 1 tape ML 1 letter Shirley [my step mother]

A Laager was the normal night defense formation used by mechanized  infantry units -and tanks if they were attached. The vehicles were  formed into a circle so as to provide  mutually-supporting all-round  defense. Fields of fire to the front were cleared and mortars and  artillery were registered around the perimeter so as to be ready for  rapid response. Usually each company formed its own laager and the headquarters element joined with the center company. The company  laagers were within sight of each other, no more than 500 yards apart.
Laagers  were particularly effective in rice paddy areas during the dry season.  The 2-3 feet dikes the farmers built to keep the water in the paddies  during the growing season were used as partial hull defilade for the  APCs. The battalion usually had an attached Engineer platoon with a bulldozer. The dozer was used to dig  the APCs further into hull defilade so that the top of the APC was  behind a berm slightly higher than the dike. The berm protected the  gunner on the APC with the .50 cal machine gun as well as the crew from  direct fire.
The Xom Binh Dinh lager fit the description above.
Laagers were similar to but clearly different from fire support bases (FSB) in size, permanence, and types of weapons found within them.    

26 May - 3 Plat size RIF's  no contact. Visited CO, 4/12 Inf Bn (Mastoris) [Jay Mastoris, an old friend] and CO, 3/4 Cav (Otis) [Lt. Col. Glenn Otis, an old friend, and West Point classmate. Glen had  commanded the 3/4 Cav during the Tet battle mentioned above. During the visit, Glen warned me to be especially watchful that night as it was his  experience that the NVA repeated their tactics no matter how  unsuccessfully and might well attempt to attack TSN again over and  through the position the 4/23 Inf lager.] Bn. rested during most of the day.   

27 May  - Nite of 26, and all of 27 - 2d battle of Xom Binh Dong. Started about  262200 with B Co., then A Co., then C Co. reporting movement to the  north and south, moving west to east. First attack occurred against A  Co. perimeter at 2205. Small arms fire only, no mortar or RPG. Arty, gun  ships, flare ships, organic mortars in spt. Continuous illumination to daylight. Attacks against A & B Co. slacked off  about 0400. C Co. not seriously attacked. Attacks resumed at 0600  against A & HQ Co. 2 APC knocked out, 2 APC damaged by RPG. B Co.  attacked from south. Attack continued until 1400. C Co. swept area. All  contact ceased 1600. Moved to new location. 5 wheeled vehicles stuck.  Quiet nite. Thank God. Received letters ML & Father.
[My records show that the  Commanders were: A Co. - Capt. Montgomery; B Co. - Capt. Hales; C Co -  Capt. Mellis; Recon - Lt. Vessel]

It was standard 25th Division tactics to employ battalion-size  combat battalions during both day and night operations within range of  at least one battalion - and preferably two - artillery battalions.  Since artillery could fire day or night without regard to weather, this  assured that some indirect firepower could always be brought to bear.  (For reasons that my diary entry does not reveal and my memory can not recall, the Laager either had no or minimal artillery  coverage).

The US Air Force rose to the occasion, providing  support almost as soon as the first shot was fired. During darkness,  AC-130 Spectre gun ships provided continuous flare and suppressive fire.  The company commander would mark the forward edge of his APCs and the  "Gatling Guns" in the 130's would "hose down" the area from which we believed the attack came. Since every 5th  round was a red tracer, it looked like a red rope walking back and forth  across the front lines. 

Normally  on a night attack like this, the NVA would break contact about 0400hrs  and leave the battlefield for the sanctuary of surrounding jungle.  However in this case, they did not and their attack raged on with no  sign of abatement.

About 0400hrs, we had begun to run  out of small-arms ammunition and were becoming concerned that the NVA  would move forward and attempt a close-combat assault. We called for helicopter resupply of ammunition. A  brave H-34 Chinook helicopter crew dropped us a pallet by light of US  Air Force-dropped flares. The pallet was on the Tan Son Nhut side of the  Laager and fairly well shielded from the enemy view and fire.

I  ordered the supply platoon leader to take a jeep and trailer and some  men and go get the ammo. He refused, saying he was afraid he would be killed. I explained to him we were all afraid  we would be killed, that a lot more of us would get killed if he didn't  get the ammo, and repeated the order. He refused  again. I drew my .45  pistol and told him if he did not go, I would shoot him. Before the  threat worked or I had to carry it out, Battalion CSM Wise stepped  between me and the Lieutenant, said he'd hate to see me end my career that way, and that he'd go get the ammunition. He did  without incident and later received his 3d or 4th Silver Star for his  actions.

As soon as I could, I had court-martial papers  prepared for the Lieutenant. Higher headquarters squelched the action  and transferred him out of the division. I never saw or heard of him  again. I do not know if I would have shot him had the BCSM not intervened.

At this time, the battalion had a  fully-staffed medical platoon commanded by a Captain Terry Schwartz, a  medical doctor. Within the platoon were aid man, each assigned to a  rifle platoon; aidmen were trained much as current day fire and rescue  emergency medical technicians. Their job was to stabilize a wounded man  until he could be evacuated to the aid station where the doctor would take over. During operations, the doctor and the aid  station were located within the Headquarters Company area.

Considering  the duration and severity of the action, it was providential that there  were only 5 KIA and 15 WIA. The WIA began to accumulate in the aid  station almost from the first shot. The WIA could not be evacuated  because the "Dustoffs" (helicopters dedicated to medical purposes, usually taking casualties from the battle  field to a hospital) could not land due to the intense NVA .51 caliber  anti- aircraft fire. After dawn, it became a typically very hot day and  after the fighter- bomber attacks - see below - there was no shelter  from the sun for the wounded. The water had long since been used and  they suffered. They were finally evacuated in the late afternoon.

As dawn broke and then at 15 minute  intervals, 2 fighter-bombers would take off from Bien Hoa Air Base on  the opposite side of Saigon, gain about 1500 ft  elevation then nose  down into a bomb release pattern. Because the NVA was within 500 meters  of our front line, I had to give the Air Force permission to drop 500  and 1000 lb. that close. The bombs were equipped with drag devices to retard their fall so the aircraft could get away  safely before the bomb exploded.

After about the  second bomb drop, we realized that these parachutes made the bombs easy  to see as they fell. We would continue firing until the last instant  while someone watched the bomb. He would yell "Down!" and we would hit  the ground. The bomb would explode with tremendous concussion and spray shrapnel throughout the air about 6-8  feet over our prone bodies. Every radio antenna, truck canvass, and my  command tent was shredded.

The effect of the bombing  on the NVA was horrendous. Amid great boiling clouds of dust, we could  make out soldiers staggering around from the concussion. To a man,  including the cooks, every "Tomahawk" rose up and began firing at the figures in the dust. Then some one would  holler "Down!" and the process was repeated. 

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA List
SP4 John Paul Edwards A Co.
PFC Michael Eugene Ludwig C Co.
SGT Ronald Ray Wallace A Co.
PFC Rubel Lee Horton B Co.   

 New York Times, 27 August 1968, pp 1,3:
"Fighting Is Sharp at Edge of Saigon.."
Small  but violent battles broke out on the edges of Saigon yesterday...As  night fell, other armed helicopters and United States fighter-bombers  attacked enemy soldiers who were fighting American infantryman five  miles south of the center of the city.
  At 11:05 P. M. an enemy force of battalion size  attacked an American mechanized unit of tanks and armored cars camped  for the night 6 miles west- northwest of central Saigon. Five Americans  were killed and 11 wounded. There was no report of enemy losses.
  It  was not clear how many enemy soldiers were involved altogether and  whether they were Vietnamese or North Vietnam regulars but both South Vietnamese and American staff  officers said they thought the number was low-probably not more than a  company of 150 men in each of the first two actions. The enemy soldiers  were discovered early Saturday morning.
  A senior American  officer said that the command had no indication that the enemy intended a  large scale attack on Saigon, comparable to those of late January or early May.
  "What he's doing now is just harassment," a brigadier general said.  

Vol 3 No. 23          TROPIC LIGHTNING NEWS          June 3, 1968

Sheer Courage
VC Ground Attack Turned Back

1ST BDE - While securing a fire support base 14 kms south of Cu Chi, 25th Inf  Div forces repelled a determined enemy ground attack.  It was through  the sheer courage and the combined efforts of the 4th Bn (Mech), 23rd Inf, three batteries from the 7th Bn, 11th Arty, and a  battery from the 3rd Bn, 13th Arty, that the fire support base was  saved.
   Just shortly after midnight the fire support base began  receiving a heavy volume of enemy mortars.  Within 30 minutes trip  flares were illuminating sectors of the perimeter and everyone realized  that a ground attack was in the making.
   With the mortars still dropping, now at a heavier rate, the “Tomahawks”  still remained on line and countered with a heavy volume of fire.  The  50 calibers on the armored personnel carriers glowed in the night along  with muzzle flashes from the other weapons, a shield of lead was  established with interlocking fire.
   MAJ Jeff M. Tuten, the  Tomahawk XO, realizing the precarious situation of the fire support base, directed artillery pieces to be put  on line where the enemy concentration was the greatest.  With their  tubes lowered to point blank range, rounds were fired at the charging  enemy.
   The fierce fighting of the enemy forced the perimeter to be  altered.  At this point, Tuten radioed Bravo Co and a troop from the  3rd Sqdn, 17th Air Cav to come from their temporary night location to reinforce the perimeter.
   At one  time there were six gunships and four F-105’s on station.  But the enemy  was determined to overrun the fire support base and kept pressing his  attack.
   When Bravo Co arrived at the besieged fire support base,  they came under heavy automatic weapons and RPG fire.  Realizing how  badly they were needed inside the perimeter, Cpt James P. Hales organized the company on line  and charged through a hail of fire over the enemy positions into the  perimeter.
   The gunships still peppering the area around the  perimeter, Bravo and the Cav element were deployed within the perimeter  and slowly but surely the enemy began to retreat.  Finally at dawn the  enemy broke contact and the fire support base was saved.
   A morning sweep of the area outside the perimeter  revealed nine enemy bodies but speculation was that many more were  killed because of the blood-stained ropes that were found outside the  perimeter.  These ropes were fashioned in such a way that they were  probably used to drag away the dead.  In addition to the many blood  trails, numerous RPG and expended recoilless rifle rounds were found.

Back Up NVA Battalion,
To Swamp, Capture Cache

CU CHI - More than 350 enemy soldiers were killed in three days of heavy  fighting when elements of four 25th Inf Div battalions and one troop of  the 11th Armored Cav Regt supported by helicopter gunships, artillery,  and tactical aircraft drove a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion against a swamp.
   The enemy force, believed to  be the Delta 267 NVA Battalion, was first spotted by helicopter crews  from the 3rd Sqdn, 17th Air Cav, as they flew armed aerial  reconnaissance over the area eight kms southwest of the 25th Div’s base  camp at Cu Chi.
   At 10:00 a.m. the crews saw an estimated 200 enemy soldiers wearing green uniforms and pith helmets and carrying AK-47 assault rifles.
   CWO Sterling Holbrook,  pilot of an OH-6A Cayuse, said, “I went along one tree line and saw  about 20 VC below me.  I banked around and followed the treeline on the  other side of the rice paddy and saw about 25 more.”
   “I decided that there was a whole slew of them in there,” he said, adding that he promptly radioed for additional gunships and artillery support.
   As the gunships and  artillery began devastating the enemy, a multi-battalion task force  consisting of elements of the 4th Bn, 9th Inf; 4th Bn (Mech), 23rd Inf;  2nd Bn, 34th Armor; 1st Bn (Mech), 5th Inf; and 11th Armored Cav Regt  moved into a semi-circular blocking position pinning an estimated 500  enemy soldiers against a large open swamp.
   Throughout the night a barrage of 5,000 rounds of artillery and four  tactical air strikes pounded the illuminated enemy positions as  helicopter gunships patrolled the swamp to prevent the enemy’s escape.
    The next day, the ground forces began an aggressive drive closing in on  the enemy.  The NVA battalion was entrenched in fortified bunkers in a  massive hedgerow complex several hundred meters in depth.
   According to 1LT John LaRoche, S-3 air operation  officer for the 2nd Bn, 34th Armor, “Once he left his bunkers, Charlie  could only run into our blocking force or out into the swamp.”
   By  the end of the third day, the U.S. soldiers had pushed through the enemy  stronghold finding additional bodies and bringing the toll to over 350.

28 May - Policed battlefield with A, B, C Co, 3/4 Cav. Found additional 27 BC [body count,] 40-50-RPG  rds, mortar rds, ammo, documents, 1 POW. Completed 1600. A Co. had  accident with 5 killed, 2 wounded, box of claymore mines exploded. Rec'd  pen from ML. Wrote ML 1 page letter. Sent her junk.

When the attack finally stopped about mid-morning, the 4/23 troopers  moved into the  killing area in front of the perimeter. It was littered  with bodies, parts of bodies, weapons, and equipment. We used a 5-ton  truck to collect NVA weapons and took them to Bien Hoa to be distributed  to the US Air Force pilots and their supporting airmen who had played  such a decisive part in the attack.

Division sent the 3/4 "Horse" under command of Lt. Col. Glen Otis to help us  police the battlefield. As we approached the battle area an NVA with an  RPG shot Otis off his command APC. Fortunately he was not badly wounded  but was unable to return to his command. He subsequently became a  Commanding General US Army Europe.

The A Co. accident  was determined to have occurred most likely because the crew had stored detonators in close proximity to the  Claymores. Something set off the highly sensitive detonators which in  turn set off the Claymores. The 5 killed were in the APC; the 2 wounded  were in an adjacent APC and were hit by debris. Because of the uncertain  nature of what caused the explosion, the 5 dead were listed as KIA

A version of the 2 day battle appeared in the Tropic Lightning, the 25th Division newspaper.
  "Combat  action in the division TAOI on 27 May was focused on the area 14  kilometers west of Saigon at coordinates XS671925 where the 4th  Battalion, 23rd Infantry was located in a night defensive position. At  2250 on the 26th, the battalion's night position came under mortar fire  which was intermittent until 0330 hours when the position came under a massive  ground attack. The 4th of the 23rd held off the human wave assaults  with the aid of armed helicopters, artillery and air strikes. At dawn,  the 4th of the 23rd was reinforced by A and C Troops of the 3rd  Squadron, 4th Cavalry. The combined US force moved out of the NOP at  first light and pursued the enemy which was attempting to break contact. The fire- fights in the general vicinity continued until 1600  hours. The enemy body count within the NDP and the surrounding area was  243 VC KIA as compared to 6 US fatalities. In addition, three personnel  were taken who identified their mauled unit as the 2nd Battalion, 273 rd  VC Regiment. Also captured were 28 AK-47 rifles, 11 RPG-2 rocket  launchers, 16 machine guns, six 60mm mortars, 49 60mm mortar rounds, 58 hand grenades, 142 RPG-2 rounds."
General  Westmoreland, Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Viet Nam  (COMUSMACV) sent the following congratulatory message, a copy of which  is in the 25th Division Foundation archives.

"Fighting  west of Phu Tho Race Track night of 26 May and continuing through 27 May has taken a heavy toll of enemy forces. Hearty  congratulations to 4/23 Inf and to A and C Troops, 3/4 Cav for  outstanding combat professionalism."  

Gone But Always Remembered
From the 4/23 KIA List
PFC Paul Alfred Gonzales A Co.
SP4 Richard Joseph J. Jones A Co.
CPL Robert James Plourde A Co. 
PFC Robert Michael Sopko A Co.
PFC William Edward Bricker A Co.
PFC William Patrick Flynn A Co.

Cliff Neilson
Mohawk 6
May-Nov 1968
Illegitimi nil carborundum