Diary 24-30 JUL 1968 (For photo's see LTC Neilson's photo album)
24 July Start 11th week. Quiet nite. A Co. RIF'd w/ Savage Kettle RF. B Co. block; C Co. bunker busting. Told to cease operations at 1130. Return to TNBC ASAP. Departed 1345; arrived 1600. Major attack predicted. 5 Regts identified in area. A & B Co's [defend] strong point NE of TNBC. C Co. OPCON Bobcat. Letter ML, tape father. [following is an address the importance of which I do not remember.]
Matson Cruise Consultant
110 Mission St.
San Fran 94105
25 July Quiet nite - TNBC got 17 rounds mortar. Maint in AM. PM - A, B, C Co's, A Co. - 2/34 RIF'd. [2nd Battalion, 34th Armor was one of two M48A3-equipped tank battalions in RVN. The HQ & 3 line companies were assigned to 25th ID; the 4th line company was attached to 4th ID in the Central Highlands. The text implies A - 2/34 was OPCON.]
Being an Armor officer, I was a contemporary of, and in a "former life," friends with the two 2/34 battalion commanders while I commanded the 4/23, the late John Tipton & Ted O'Connor. The 4/23 occasionally would have a company or platoon of tanks OPCON.
The M48A3 tank when combat loaded weighed about 60 tons. Designed for rapid armored warfare on the European plains, it was armed with a high velocity 90 mm gun. Experienced quickly showed it was out of its design element on the roads and in rubber plantations and jungles of Tay Ninh province.
They frequently got stuck in mud or ditches and were very difficult to recover. (In Week 10, 18 July, there is a great picture of a stuck M48A3 that was destroyed before it could be recovered. Tipton, 2/34 CO at the time, was MOST displeased with me & the 4/23 for the manner in which we had cavalierly misused his tank!)
Advocates asserted that tanks were useful in defense of a NDP because they were equipped with a turret-mounted [reputed] million candle power Xenon search light which could illuminate the area outside the perimeter. They also could fire a 90 mm, anti-personnel "beehive" (flechette) round.]
Established NDP for each company. Letter to ML, rec'd letter ML. [following is a list of routine items that I suspect had caught my eye as needing attention]
Tow cables, rope, cable clamps
1/4 ton vehicles - tires
Area - no vehicles
26 July Quiet nite - A, B, & C Co's RIF'd in AO Mohawk. A Co. captured 1 POW. All found old bunkers, tunnels, & fighting positions. Recon maint. 1 Plat B Co. assumed Bao Cao security role. [Have not identified this village yet; current thinking is that it may be at French Fort, N of Tay Ninh city.] A & C Co's in one NDP; Bn & HQ in other. No mail.
Awards - not timely after contact gets hot.
27 July Unquiet nite - VC exploded Claymore on perimeter, wounded 4. B Co. had road sweep to GDH.
For the remainder of July- November 1968, the primary (but not sole) mission for the 4/23 was to ensure that resupply convoys which left Cu Chi (CC) daily reached TNBC and Dau Tieng (DT.) This mission resulted in mostly hot boring days punctuated by occasional intense fights at ambush sites cleverly selected and fortified by small NVA units; many KIA and WIA resulted on both sides. In the diary the mission is variously described as "road sweep," "open the road," or "outpost the road"; operationally the terms mean the same thing. Here is how we did it.
At about day break each day, one or more line companies and sometimes Recon, would leave TNBC or whatever FSB or NDP they were in and head through Tay Ninh city, south along Highway 22 toward CC. In stretches of the road where there was cover for a potential ambush site, they moved down the road slowly, preceded by an attached 65th Combat Engineer Battalion soldier with a mine sweeper. Since culverts and pot holes were easy places to mine, these received special attention. In open area where there was little cover for an ambush, the sweeper would mount up and the unit would roll down the road at 15-25 mph. Since the NVA did not favor using small villages astride the road as ambush sites, the troops would roll on through, waving to the people.
Periodically, a platoon would be dropped off to outpost and overlook the road to prevent the NVA from planting a mine in a swept area.
This process continued until the unit reached the agreed-upon hand off point for convoy security, frequently the thriving and picturesque village of Go Dau Hau (GDH). The unit would report the road was open and secured.
During this out posting process, I was usually in a 4 passenger, OH-1 "Loach" C & C helicopter with a pilot, an Arty LNO, and the BCSM. As long as there was no ambush, it was a pleasant, cool way to spend 4-6 hours in RVN.
In the meantime the convoy left Saigon at first light bound for CC. A typical convoy consisted of up to 50 vehicles, mostly 5 ton trucks but also with the military equivalent of 18 wheelers, 5000 gallon POL tankers, and flat bodied open trailers with palletized ammunition and supplies. Each truck had a driver and usually a gunner who manned a cab-mounted .50 cal mg.
In addition to the 4/23 convoy overwatch and security responsibility, two other command organizations had responsibility for the convoy's safe arrival, the Transportation Corps (TC) unit that "owned" the trucks and drivers and the Military Police (MP) unit that escorted it. When things went smoothly, having three responsible organizations was seamless. When an ambush occurred, it led to confusion and possibly unnecessary deaths and wounding.
• A TC officer, usually a newly-arrived in-country LT, commanded the drivers and hence the convoy. He was responsible to organize the trucks and drivers and keep them moving. When the convoy was ambushed it was his job to get the drivers out of the ditches (were they had all gone at the first shot) and order the drivers to get their trucks moving again.
• An MP officer, also a usually newly-arrived in country LT. commanded a small Military Police escort unit with 2-4 jeeps with stand mounted .50 cal mg. The MP's provided the only armed protection from Saigon to CC, that area being relatively free of NVA. They provided traffic control through small villages, set the convoy's pace in mph, and controlled kids who ran out on the road to seek candy and cigarettes from the drivers and offer to sell them beer, soda, and other items. When the convoy was ambushed, the MP LT got the jeep-mounted machine guns firing on the NVA while he also attempted to get the convoy moving again.
The convoy usually reached CC by 0900; dropped off the trucks bound for there, and headed out on Route 22 toward TNBC. Some other 25th ID unit had swept and opened the road from CC to the hand-off point in the same manner as 4/23 described above (usually 3/4 or 2/22) To my memory, the convoy was never ambushed between CC and GDH; it was beyond GDH that the "Bad Lands" begun.
As the convoy preceded up RT 22 and passed an out posted platoon, the platoon could relax until the return convoy passed about 1700. If no ambush occurred, the convoy reached TNBC about 1200. A majority of the trucks would unload at TNBC and form up for that afternoon's return trip to Saigon. The remainder of the convoy left at 1300 along Route 26 past FSB Rawlins bound for DT. This route would be out posted and the process repeated.
When the convoy reached DT about 1500, there was insufficient time to unload that day's trucks and return them to Saigon during daylight hours. Instead those trucks remained and trucks from the previous day's convoy returned to TNBC about 1600, then to CC where that day's unloaded trucks were picked up, and eventually Saigon.
As the DT-TNBC bound now-empty convoy passed out posted 4/23 platoons, those units would return to their night location. Similarly, as the TNBC-CC convoy passed out posted 4/23 platoons about 1700 they would return to their NDP.
In a day with no combat, troops were up at 0500, on the road at 0600, back at their NDP 1800, then pulled guard shifts until the next morning when it was time to do it again.
[An explanation of how the out posted 4/23 units reacted to an ambush will follow the first diary entry in which a convoy attack is reported.]
A & C Co's RIF in area to river line. D-A [makes no sense to me] w/RF to south. Neg results.
2 letters - ML, package Vickie.
Promote 1 B, 3 HQ to E-4; 2 B, 2 HQ to E-5.
[list of vehicles followed by list of corrective actions pertaining to those vehicles]
HQ-26-2 1. Trailers - Turn-in
53-2 2. 1/4 ton w/ drivers
6-2 3. Police- ammo, trash barrel
17-2 4. Signs
??-2 5. Fire barrel
1-1 6. Drainage ditches
Vol 2 No. 34 TROPIC LIGHTNING NEWS August 28, 1967
Support Platoon Keeps Tomahawks Rolling
1ST BDE - The infantrymen have been fighting, sweating and trudging through waist-deep water for the last eight hours. They are mounted on their armored personnel carriers discussing the day’s accomplishment with a certain pride. They know that they are returning to their night location for a few hours of well-deserved rest.
Enroute, there seem to be certain questions asked of the squad leader - “Sarge, is the mail in?” or “Are we getting any hot chow tonight?” Or maybe it’s the track driver who notices the needle on the fuel gauge almost magnetically approaching “empty” and jokes to his platoon leader, “Sir, I hope they’ve got some diesel at the night location because old Betsy has got a powerful thirst.
Once inside the wire the company commander says, “Send your people to chow, have the resupply truck pick up the mail, ammunition, C-rations, ice and soda. Also have your drivers refuel their APC’s at the diesel point.”
To the soldiers of the 4th Battalion (Mechanized), 23d Infantry, this makes a perfect ending to a very hard day. As pointed out by many commanders in-country, “Give the infantryman a hot meal at night, his mail, and cold drinks and you’ve got a contented soldier.” The unsung heroes who make this all possible for the Tomahawk battalion are the dedicated men in their Support Platoon, led by First Lieutenant Gary D. Bennett of Seattle, Wash.
“Regardless of where he is - whether it be deep in the Iron Triangle, in the thick of War Zone C or at a lonely outpost securing a bridge - he can be sure he has a hot meal coming and , very frequently cold drinks to rehabilitate his morale,” pointed out Bennett.
Lieutenant Colonel Clifford C. Neilson of Mobile, Ala., the Tomahawk battalion commander, has a special pride in his support platoon. They accomplish the impossible and surmount the insurmountable,” stated Neilson.
Although attached to the battalion S-4, headed by Captain Franklin D. Shiplett of Vidalia, Ga., the Support Platoon quite often works independently. The platoon is split into two teams; one is responsible for sending out the resupply to the field while the other is responsible for field distribution of the resupply.
There is no such thing as an eight-hour day for these dedicated Tomahawks. The men of the Support Platoon can recall many times when they worked at the “chopper-pad” well into the hours of darkness, or one particular day when they loaded 300 rounds of 4.2 inch mortars and over 100,000 rounds of small arms ammunition case by heavy case.
28 July Quiet nite - B Co. in base camp, A Co. on outpost NE of TNBC, C Co. in AO. B Co. swept road; A Co. moved to FSB; C Co. stood down. B Co. moved to FSB. Inspect motor pools & CO areas. OPENED FSB RAWLINS. No mail.
FSB Rawlins looking from North to East
FSB Rawlins looking West to East
LTC Cliff Neilson in front of his tent at FSB Rawlins
25th ID Artillery was responsible for deciding when and where FSB were to be established. The general criteria were that every maneuver unit would receive supporting fire from a minimum of one FSB and preferably two, and that every FSB could receive supporting fire from another FSB.
DIVARTY also named the FSB usually after a historically-notable USA artillery officer frequently from the Civil War. If a FSB once named was moved to a closely located area, a roman numeral was added to the name.
Each FSB was defended at night by a maneuver unit under the unit's commander. The maneuver unit battalion commander established the FSB perimeter, picked the sites for the artillery weapons, and located all the support activities. There was never a question in my mind that FSB Rawlins III was my responsibility in all respects except the efficacy of the artillery unit. When the FSB was attacked, the 4/23, under my command or my second-in-command, defended it and the artillery unit helped. It was never under the command of an artillery officer!
Ron, C Co., Feb 69-69, in a June 03 message remembers this about setting up FSB Rawlins:
"We had come in from the field to our new company area in TNBC thinking we would get the night off. Sometime during the night we packed up and went to a patch of land that we were told was going to be FSB Rawlins. The bulldozers showed up and dug out spots for the tracks to park, putting the .50's at ground level. We had a couple of pup tents and that was about it. We would come and go for the next couple of months. We split our time between Rawlins, FSB Buell, and God knows where and each time we returned to Rawlins a few more sand bags and more permanent structures appeared.
29 July 52nd malaria pill. Quiet nite - A & B Co's RIF'd Football "A" [nickname for a piece of terrain within the TAOR whose shape in some eyes resembled a football.]- Bunkers & trench line. C Co. opened road to Go Dau Hau. C Co. plat at Bao Cao. R sweep w/ D 2/34 - escorted Btry 105 to vic FSB Hull. Gen. Preer [25th ID ADC (S)] visited NDL. Chaplain Byron got SS [Silver Star]. [It was highly unusual for a chaplain or a doctor to be awarded a SS since the usual criteria envisioned a soldier performing a heroic combat action. In this case, Chaplain Byron - and the by-then-departed, Captain Swartz, the Surgeon - in a series of actions on 6-8 March near GDH had performed heroically in recovering and attending wounded soldiers while under intense fire.] Took LTC Wolf [new 1st BDE CO vice Col. Hodson] to field. C Co. out posted MSR for nite thrust. Neg. contact for NT - convoy left CC 1900 - arrived GDH 2030 - TNBC 2315. Departed TNBC 0215 - arrived GDH 0445. [This was the only night convoy run during my command. It worked well, there were no attacks, and seemed to me something we ought to have done occasionally to keep the NVA/VC off balance.]
Maj Starnes reported for duty.[new Bn XO vice Maj. Tuten]
30 July Quiet nite. [field strength] 490 A & B Co's RIF'd Football. R OPCON D-2/34. C Co. swept road & outpost Bao Cao. Neg results. R OPCON D. [This is the first of several notations of this arrangement; it may be my shorthand reference to the day's OPCON to D-2/34.]
A - 116
B - 110
C - 110
Ltr ML - Letter to ML
[notes to myself]
Review off eff [efficiency] rating scheme - Bn XO rates Co XO
Bumper stencils - all wheel vehs by 6 Aug
Status of CM
Illegitimi nil carborundum