Chap 17 Shenandoah

     Shenandoah is the name of a town in Virginia. It is the name of a county in Virginia. It is also the name of a river in Virginia. That river runs through the northern portion of the most beautiful valley in the world. That valley is located between the Allegany and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The name of that valley, too, is called The Shenandoah Valley". I spent many of my boyhood days in that valley. I was born in that valley. Shenandoah was also the name given to the last and bloodiest operation of the war for my 1/18th Battalion while being led by Lt. Col. Dick Cavazos.

     Operation Shenandoah II kicked off on the 29th of September 1967. That was around two weeks after "Landing" my new job. Jack Toomey's 1/2nd Battalion would be the first to see significant action in this operation. On the first day they established an NDP about 4.5 Klicks (4.5 kilometers) N.W. of Lai Khe. According to a grunt's timeline, it had been ages now since Jack had been welcomed to his unit, where he was immediately given mid-section seating (2 klicks away) to the "Alexander Haig Show" at LZ George. Sgt. Murry and his boys had hogged all the upfront seating (500 meters away). In the aftermath of that battle known as Ap Gu, it had not taken Jack long, at all, to realize that it would be a very good idea to provide himself with all the fire power he could muster. So, he volunteered for the job of platoon machine gunner. On the 30th day of September, my unit was flown from Di An to Phuoc Vinh as a ready reserve force for Jack's 1/2nd Battalion. Jack's unit began a "search and destroy" operation just east of highway 13 and about 15 Klicks north of Lai Khe. My truck and a water trailer, which I was pulling behind it, were flown to Phuoc Vinh in a Chinook. I sat in the driver's seat during the twenty-minute flight because there was no place else to sit.    

      On Oct. 4th, as the 1/2nd Battalion's recon platoon left the NDP, they were ambushed by a sizable enemy force. The battalion was tasked with making a large sweep in a westerly direction. Recon platoon was running point, while C Company followed behind. Jack Toomey's A Company and the newly formed D Company were supposed to bring up the rear. However, they were still "milling around" inside the perimeter when the shooting started. Part of C Company was also saddling up to join the march. The newly created D Company had just been flown out from Di An to join the rest of the Battalion for their very first combat operation. Plans were changed the previous evening for Capt. Bill Hearn's B Company to now stay behind and protect the NDP, while D Company took their place in the line of march. The unit had not gone 300 meters when they walked into the jaws of this enemy ambush. Recon platoon's point man, Terrance Schneider, was the first to be fatally wounded. His death was just a repeat, of the same constant forever present with that job of point man. Men like Terrance were always going to be the first to go down. It was built to this mindless way in which our leaders had chosen to fight this war which falsely assumed if we killed more of them than they killed of us, we would win.

      Unfortunately for Jack and his cohorts, their battalion commander was new with no previous combat experience. In other words, he was a "babe thrown to the wolfs".  This was his first major engagement and as the firefight continued, Jack's A company, along with D were forced to shuffle back into perimeter positions while the soldiers in C Company were naively ordered forward to defend the beleaguered recon platoon. It was just another repeat of past actions, which once again played into Triet's hand and that of the 271st NVA Battalion and other elements of the 9th Division. It was a long fire fight which lasted until 1100 hours. The duration of the fight and also the number of casualties, tells me all I need to know about the ineffectiveness of the American response to this ambush. Instead of ordering a couple fire teams to immediately "fan out" to the left and right flanks and lay down covering fire long enough for others to recover the wounded and withdraw through their ranks the short distance toward the perimeter, recon platoon was made to "stay put" and slug it out with the enemy. It was an enemy, who already had the advantage of choosing their fighting positions beforehand. To make matters worse, as C Company men rushed forward to join the recon platoon, they exposed themselves, like cardboard cut-outs, to tremendous amounts of fire, coming from the well-situated enemy machine gunners and tree snipers. C Company quickly sustained 25% casualties, making it much harder now to withdraw, while taking care of the wounded at the same time. As with Haig's boys at the battle of Ap Gu, all recon platoons in the First Division had one thing in common. They were usually hardened veterans armed more often than not with the deadly M-14. 1/2nd recon platoon was no different. As they hunkered down for the "long haul", they were able to lay down extremely effective return fire. They were every bit as formidable as the enemy sappers leading the charge on Triet's side of the battle. Reviewed causality reports prove to me that they did an excellent job of holding that ground. I know their mindset well because I served alongside of men like these. I was in a position to observe them day in and day out. I also know how to read casualty reports to decipher more than just numbers. For instance, only two out of the twenty-eight or so recon patrol members were killed, yet they were in the forefront of the fighting from early in the morning until 1100 hours. That information says two things to me. First, it says that artillery units were not able to be utilized as effectively as they needed to be, or the fire fight would not have lasted as long as it did. Secondly, it says that recon platoon did some "mighty fine shooting" or there would have been many more Americans killed, over such an extended period of time.

      This was a well-planned ambush. By now, the enemy knew they could count on us Americans to patrol certain areas and respond to attacks in the same manner almost every time. The 1/2nd had been operating in this area for four days. By process of elimination, over the last four days, Triet would have been able to calculate on this day, with a high degree of probability, what side of the perimeter the Americans would be entering the wood line. So, that's the side they chose to stage their ambush. He also knew, that once engaged, it was likely that this new commander would "hunker down" while getting his artillery and air strikes going. This would give Triet time to kill and wound a lot of Americans before escaping out the flanks, taking hidden trails, which would allow his conscripts to exit the area faster, before artillery and air strikes could do bad things. Why did senior leaders allow us to continually be played like this? I wish I knew. However, my criticizing our bad tactics is like some one criticizing the way a bandage is placed on a massively infected wound. The greater problem was not in correcting the band aid of failed tactics. The greater problem was in the widespread and deadly infection starting to take hold of America in general. We emerged from World War II as the most technologically advanced and wealthiest nation that the world had ever seen. In 1967 we were getting very close to being able to send a person to the moon and back but we were also turning our back on the very Judeo-Christian principles which had undergirded our rise to worldwide power. 

      Yes the 1/2nd had a new commander and during this time period he was being thrown to the wolf's, by our senior leadership, just like all the others. We, however, were fortunate to have Dick Cavazos. He miraculously used all the right tactics at all the right times, to full effect. However, it was no miracle. A different song with a different drum beat had been programed into his soul. He was a Commander who's formative years had been shaped by a culture created through the godly efforts of Henrietta Chamberlain King, the missionary's daughter. Was that just coincidence? I do not believe it was.

     Charlie Sauler, a Canadian, who had enlisted in the American military was running point for the 1/2nd's C Company. His tour began with C Company on December 1, 1966. Since then, Charlie had been in more than his share of firefights and had won two bronze stars in two of those fights. Charlie rushed forward and started laying down suppressing fire along with "recon platoon" as soon as the fight started. As he voluntarily exposed himself and aggressively fired back at enemy positions, an enemy bullet found its mark. It cleanly passed through his chest, causing him to slowly bleed out. Instead of enlisting a medic's help before it was too late, Charlie propped himself against a tree and continued to fire on enemy positions with deadly accuracy until the end of his time here on earth. Posthumously, Charlie received a silver star. In another sad incidence, which a quick withdrawal would have prevented, the battalion physician, Dr. Howard Gerstel and one of his medics, SP-4 Donald Schrenk took it upon themselves to leave the relative safety of the perimeter. They were enticed to do so, when they heard mounting casualty reports being reported over a radio so close by. They ran toward a "hail of bullets", to give aid to the wounded, exposing themselves time and time again to enemy fire. Both men were killed performing duties above and beyond what the Army expected of them. Until recently, Donald had been a field medic with B Company. However, when Capt. Bill Hearn from Texas learned that Donald had a small child back home, he transferred him to the battalion aid station. This was much safer duty for a medic. On this day, Donald was under no obligation to follow Dr. Gerstel into the jungle. Shortly after doing so, Donald was wounded and placed on a "dust-off". He then jumped off and returned again to the side of his doctor friend, when he learned that his friend had been wounded. Almost immediately after that Doctor Gerstel died and Donald was killed by a sniper. Donald received a silver star and Dr. Gerstel, who also died while performing far above that which was required of him, should have received one, but didn't. In all probability, both men would have returned home safely from their tour of duty if an immediate withdrawal had been called for by the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mortimer O'Connor. However, Mortimer O'Connor was not at fault. As I have said, Mortimer was new to the unit and had no previous combat experience. From all accounts, he was a good leader, who served well beyond the six-month field duty requirement for officers. Trouble was, Mortimer, like so many other field officers, was left to "wing it", until they could either learn on their own or were brow-beaten out of a command position by senior leadership. It’s just too bad that our senior leaders turned him out to learn simple tactical lessons by trial and error, lessons paid for with the blood of the men, whom by all accounts, he loved. Against all odds, mostly on his own, Mortimer later managed to become a fine combat commander, who was respected by his men. He, himself, paid the ultimate price while serving beyond his required time in the field.

     In response to this attack on the 1/2nd, my 1/18th was immediately flown from Phuoc Vinh to the Chon Thanh Air Strip and then air assaulted into a jungle clearing just S. W. of the 1/2nd, where it assumed a blocking position. As usual, Dick began to work the radios as soon as his orders came down. He made sure that the landing zone was properly prepped, before sending his boys into harm's way. When facing imminent danger, Dick always assumed the worst of his enemy, and this time he would assume no differently. Intelligence reports had indicated that the enemy had close to 4000 troops in the area of operation. Dick knew that was more than enough resources to stage an ambush on the 400 men of 1/2nd battalion, and at the same time mount another ambush on his 1/18th as they came to the 1/2nd's aid. The 1/18th was about to land only a couple klicks from the 1/2nd and Dick was not about to get caught with his pants down. Twenty minutes before the first Hueys touched down, the entire area in and around the LZ erupted with napalm, artillery, and antipersonnel bombs. These thorough precautions were well rewarded. After my 1/18th landed, security patrols immediately located numerous sapper bodies scattered throughout the area of the bombing. Judging from the numbers of enemy dead, it was apparent to Dick that Triet had planned to pull the same trick on him which he was able to "pull off" on Lazzell's 1/16th Battalion at the Battle of Xom Bo II. However, with a thoroughly prepped LZ, that was now impossible. The local VC sappers who were going to guide NVA conscripts down ox cart trails into attack positions were dead. "Como lines" were burned up and so were the "tree watchers/snipers" whom were of critical importance for the relay of intelligence reports in real time. The trails to be used to hustle conscripts into attack positions were also now blocked by downed trees, caused by the bombing.

    Since spies were everywhere in the First Division encampments and command posts, I am certain that Triet would have had some scanty profile of Dick by now. Judging from what Triet did next, I would guess that Dick's abilities to "take care of business" was starting to become more and more recognized by communist field commanders like him. Dick's proficiency this time had prevented Triet from mounting an attack on the 1/18th's perimeter, before we could dig-in. Triet's momentum was lost. It's also highly likely that Triet realized, that Dick was the same commander responsible for wiping out hundreds of his NVA conscripts, as they were resting peacefully in their bunkers two days after the battle of Xom Bo II. Those young conscripts were relatively easy to replace, but now Dick had also killed scores of "hard to replace" guides and scouts from the local pool of knowledgeable personnel. These were essential assets, who had been very familiar with all aspects of the local battlefield and were not that easily replaced. It's very possible that Triet was now starting to feel like every time Dick showed up, bad things happened to him.

Does this mean that the 1/18th was starting to become a noticeable "fly in the ointment"? Maybe. Yet, ours was only one battalion of many, and no matter how good we were becoming, every American unit operated under the same premise. We would take ground and relinquish it as soon as it was taken, only to be fought over again at a later date. It really didn't matter how formidable the 1/18th was becoming under Dick's leadership. How detrimental to the communist cause could one battalion be, when the standard procedure for all American military forces was to relinquish ground as soon as we took it? I wrote a letter home, complaining about the stupidity of this very thing, after being in country less than two months. If a naive 19-year-old kid could recognize this foolishness, how much more so could Hanoi's head honcho, Duan, recognize the foolish of such tactics and how long would it take him to devise plans to take advantage of these foolish tactics? The answer to that question is, "Not long". I believe he saw this stupidity as an open door for the initiation of his 1967 "big battle" campaign throughout Vietnam with a staged uprising  throughout the country called Tet, as the grand finale. Why not? we certainly weren't providing the security, for the Vietnamese populace, to keep him at bay, and he knew it. The icing on the cake for such a grand plan was the very good chance to garner a favorable response from the American media to further aid his cause.

     Heavens to Betsy! Wouldn't you know it? After Tet, the American news media did soundly reward Duan for his efforts. Never mind that the American military beat his pawns to a pulp in campaign after campaign. Walter Cronkite and his cronies were sure to be counted on to explain away that little fact. No sir ree. That would not be the message which the press ran with. Instead, it chose another message more in line with something which would support Duan’s ultimate goal. It was a factual message and one which almost every grunt already knew. In so many words Walter Cronkite and the press proclaimed to the world that Westmoreland was no further along completing his assigned chores, than he was when he started, and the Tet Offensive seemed to reinforce that. It was a defeatist message. By all actual accounts the Tet offensive was a big bust for the communists but some how that report never made it to the ears of the American public.

     The assumption drawn from this message was also true. That assumption was that Westmoreland was incompetent. Yes, Westmoreland was incompetent, but whose fault was that. Actually, the blame for everything bad that happens in a country like ours, falls on the people. Godless people vote into office Godless politicians, who pick the wrong people for the various governmental tasks at hand. Picking generals like Westy to run things in Vietnam was akin to picking a brain surgeon to fly a Boeing 737. He had his skills but leading men in jungle combat was not one of them. People like the C.I.A. man, William Colby, where much more suited to lead a dark insurgency war like Vietnam, than were our top generals at the time. At this time, most of our generals, if not all, had cut their teeth on a totally different kind of war. Oh, and by the way. They won that war. It was called World War II.

     Now, by October 1967, however, in some small way, against all odds, Dick's boys, had fast become a haven unto ourselves, though operating at almost half strength. 

      Cavazos blunted Triet's plans as he landed "smack dab" in the middle of his "living room". This "up close and personal" landing went off without a hitch, because Dick fine-tuned his use of napalm, anti-personnel bombs, and artillery, to kill almost every one of Triet's most valuable local assets, which he was counting on, to spring the trap he had in mind. Dick had his FO mark the target area around the landing zone with white phosphorus artillery rounds, so the jets would be sure to see where to drop their ordinates. Dick liked his artillery close-in near the clearing, and his air past the demarcation line which was clearly marked with white phosphorus. Not only was this sure to take out enemy spotters and guides, but it also destroyed como-wire used to transmit communications from the battle field to Triet's command location. Triet had no way now to guide his teenaged NVA conscripts into position in time for a quick attack before Dick's men had time to land and dig in. You see, the enemy's overhaul plan had always included launching a main attack on whoever showed up to help the 1/2nd and that unit just happened to be the 1/18th. The initial attack on the 1/2nd was just a blow to get the ball rolling. Triet had 4000 troops in the area. That was more bodies than the entire nine battalions of the First Division could muster on any given day. Triet had more than enough human resources to throw at several of our battalions at the same time. Now, however, what he didn't have were the local VC, so necessary to guide those NVA troops into battle positions. Cavazos had just stuck a pin in that balloon and Triet was mad. His long-desired dream of finally over-running a First Division defensive position was falling apart before his very eyes and he was mad. People do crazy things when they get mad, especially when that anger is rooted in fear, and Triet lived in constant fear of not pleasing Hanoi.

     However, Triet's type of "crazy" made him work ever more feverishly. It would take a couple days to find replacements for the knowledgeable people whom he had lost to Dick's thorough bombing and artillery fires. However, in the meantime, Triet was already working on another plan to destroy this upstart unit. The weather would help some. During the necessary lag time, needed to recruit more local sappers, Triet could count on the predictable monsoon rains to start falling every afternoon and not stop until late in the evening. The 1/18th's DePuy bunkers would have their bottoms soaked, producing a gooey red mud. That would make the middle of the night a perfect time to attack. Many a rain soaked American would be trying to sleep outside his muddy defenses and perhaps be preoccupied with hiding under a poncho, not from the rain, but from the "drone sized" mosquitoes. These miserable weather conditions would definitely make a defending soldier just a little slower to react. Perhaps this time, would be Triet's time to shine. Perhaps, just perhaps, this time "waterlogged" brains would react too slowly, allowing him to overrun his very first "Big Red One" night defensive position. One could only dream, but what a marvelous dream this was.

      While Triet was dreaming and three companies of my battalion were making this air assault, back on the 4th of October, I was at Phuoc Vinh, running hot shot deliveries and pickups for the battalion every day with a lot of free time on my hands to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do as long as I made sure those meals from the mess hall were delivered on time to the helicopter pad. They would then be flown to the field, so my guys could get a good hot meal. In an instant, with this new job, I went from having an NCO breathing down my neck twenty-four hours a day, to becoming as close to being my own boss as any grunt could ever dream of becoming. This was an enormous change for the better and one which I never questioned. I felt no guilt, whatsoever, about leaving my combat buddies behind, nor did they display the slightest bit of jealousy toward me. On the contrary, most grunts anywhere in Vietnam would have thought a guy like me was a little crazy, if he didn't jump at an opportunity like this. With that said, certainly, it was even further beyond the wildest imagination of anyone in my platoon to think that in the very near future my new job would place me and some of my old buddies in more danger, than many had encountered in a full year of combat operations.

      When I left the field, I by no means, put my squad in a lurch. By now, my B company was composed of mostly veteran grunts, who had experienced many small-time shoot-outs, although nothing big. Furthermore, for the most part, these veteran buddies of mine had figured out ways to fight the war on their own terms, requiring very little guidance, from an NCO. Walker didn't need much of an invitation to take out anything that looked like a threat to our front, using his hard to spot and very deadly accurate thump gun. If a dark spot ahead of our patrol looked a little out of place, then a couple of Walker's M-40 grenade rounds would make sure it did not look that way anymore. Milliron could navigate as well as I could, and Bowman had the uncanny ability to watch and listen to every word the jungle around him was saying. The Indian in weapons platoon, who went on many of our patrols, was methodical in his handling of the M-60 and his ammo bearers never left his side. Besides that, we were grunts, with a "poppa", who could call down the world on the landscape around us, without getting us killed in the process. Simply put, the guys I just left behind were a stand-alone force, who would not miss one guy like me. Before Cavazos arrived, that wasn't true. Back then, they needed every backwoods hillbilly, whom they could get, but not anymore. Dick had very quickly and very methodically changed things on a battalion level, and the men in my squad had changed too. Heck-fire, at this moment in time our entire battalion had been transformed into a very superior fighting force, in no small part due to the King Ranch Legacy, but also due to a number of young Christian grunts, as well.

      Here is one big factor, which allowed us to become so competent so quickly and it is something every young leader should know. Cavazos had a very keen ability to weed through officer replacements and chose some very astute leaders, like Watts Caudill. They were leaders, who didn't think that they had to spout-out orders like "know-it-alls" until they took the time to learn from veteran NCOs, who actually did know a thing or two. Here is one very colorful example of how Dick weeded through a batch of new lieutenants, to cull a misfit before he had a chance to cause trouble. This incident took place shortly after Dick had commandeered Watts Caudill, from D Company, in July. Three new lieutenants were assigned to our battalion. Among those three was a committed believer in Christ named Dale McCall, and Dale's OCS buddy, Larry Arbuckle. There was also one more who remains nameless. All three found themselves waiting outside a large hooch, to be interviewed by Dick. The nameless guy went in first, while Dale and his buddy waited outside. It was a very short interview, but it left a lasting impression on both Dale and Larry. They could not hear a word which was said during the entire interview, but that wasn't necessary because Dick transformed the interview into a "Kodiak moment", which they would never forget. Here's how. Shortly after entering the hooch, that first man, came flying out again, helped along by Dick's stubby hands, one on his collar, and the other grasping the baggy folds in the rear-end of his britches. Obviously, Dale and Larry were amazed at what they were seeing. After throwing the man out of his hooch, Dick quickly turned to go back inside, while calmly shouting over his shoulder, "Who's next?". This left Dale and Larry staring at each other for a few long seconds. Finally, Larry broke the silence and stammered, "Dale, why don't you go next?" Without replying, Dale started walking slowly toward the entrance to the hooch, while the other man slumped away in disgrace. In a gruff voice, Dick asked Dale what job assignment he wanted, and Dale immediately answered back, saying that he had been trained to lead a combat platoon. Now, Dick's voice softened, as he began to explain, that the guy he had just booted out had ask to be put in charge of the officer's club at Di An. "Dale, you will do fine", Dick said in that very same fatherly tone of voice , which he had used to address the "cussin man" at fire base Thrust.    

      So, with these brief descriptions of how things were shaping up, leading up to my unit's first big battle, I believe it's easy for the reader to see that a self-sufficient crew, like mine, was not going to miss one "ole grunt", when he quietly slipped off to take a rear echelon job. If I had stayed in the field and lived, I would have been going home soon anyway, and if I hadn't, well I think the reader can get what I am trying to say. Besides, by now, my relationship with my squad had been cemented by so many narrow escapes, that such a petty thing like jealously had no place to sprout. The guys I left behind would still remain part of me and I would still remain part of them. Furthermore, I found myself regularly hanging out with them in the evenings after chow, each time they came in from the field. However, I had spent over 240 days in the field, as a point man, without experiencing what my unit was about to experience. I had been shot at and mortared more times, then I can remember, but the fights I had experienced were "small time", compared to what my unit was now facing. The big engagements were finally coming my unit's way and how would my guys fare, when that happened?

      Surprisingly, these upcoming big fights would not be perceived, by most of the men in my unit, as being all that different. On October 13th, when my unit returned from their first big fight, I only learned from my former squad members small tidbits about this fight, although it was a big one, with a lot going on. As we sat around in the wet darkness visiting, however, I didn't get any sense from our conversations, that they thought they had been through anything much more traumatic, than what we all considered normal. Looking back now, I realize what none of us realized back then. Many people, who go through large scale combat, after going through numerous small-time shoot-outs unscathed, are usually not as traumatized, as one might think. The brain seems to limit itself, from absorbing the full extent, of what it's going through. Those other few, who do possess a keener awareness, may be the very ones, who lose their minds. Many times, one's mind focuses on specific events, blocking out the larger picture. Afterward, that narrow focus forever dictates how we remember those battles and thus how we are able to describe events to others, as was the case with my guys as they talked about their most recent experiences with me. Quite frankly, their narrow-minded descriptions sounded so similar, to what we had experienced together, while I was still with them, that I too, for years, failed to snap to the magnitude of what they had just been through. It was years later, after reading "after action reports" and talking to other veterans across the country, before I was able to come to a better understanding. For example, in a conversation with Bowman, he calmly explained how he had decided to get rid of his pump shot gun. He announced this decision with such little emotion, in much the same way that a guy might announce that he was trading in his pickup. "Okay. So what?", I thought, until after a long pause, he went on to explain how this shotgun almost got him killed by a tree snapper. It seems his gun's buckshot was not powerful enough to shoot through the dense foliage and reach the sniper, trying to zero in on him from the top of this very tall tree. The "cussin" red faced guy calmly chimed in, telling me how he killed that sniper with several bursts from his M-14. There was no great emotion, however, in either of their voices, as the conversation progressed. This made it sound pretty routine to me. In reality, it wasn't at all routine. There were scores of NVA conscripts firing at Bowman's position, at the same time this tree sniper was shooting at him. However, partly because my buddies could not see the larger battlefield and partly because not a single member of my squad was seriously injured, there was not much emotion in talking about that battle, and secondly, not much remembrance of details about the larger battle.

      Actually, there was much more emotion in their voices, as the conversation turned to another topic, which was not nearly as serious as combat. Yet, this topic caused voices to raise and created emotional expressions of dismay, from almost everyone. The "cussin" man kicked off the conversation when he looked straight at me and shrieked that Bill Milliron (who wasn't present) had just been promoted to buck sergeant. It seemed that Bartee had given the nod to have his pot smoking buddy promoted as soon as he had returned from his faked emergency leave in the states. I could tell that almost everyone thought this was unfair and perhaps some also thought that maybe Bartee's favoritism was the reason I left. Hearing about Bill's promotion did cause me to feel a slight pang in the bottom of my stomach, and yes, favoritism did play a small part in my leaving, but it wasn't the primary reason for me leaving the field. With all their faults, I really liked Bill and Bartee, because both men took my input in the field to the bank and Bartee treated me with respect, even when sending me on the next chopper out of the field to peel potatoes or burn latrines. The primary reason, hands down, for my wanting to get out of the field was the unrelenting rain. It was for the same reason my buddy Winstead had, when he signed up to become a helicopter door gunner. It would be years later before I gave a second thought to the fact that Bartee had not only given the nod for Bill to become E-5, but earlier had promoted Bill, around me, to become SP-4. The only reason for bringing this subject up is to give the reader an example of how such trivial squad drama could evoke much stronger feelings in us, than actual combat. I now believe this is a common occurrence amongst many combat veterans, especially the more self-centered ones. Unsanctified minds have a propensity to wallow in pettiness, while minimizing the very traumatic events of their lives.

      By October 6th, Triet had again arranged for things to fall in place for a perimeter attack on my 1/18th Infantry battalion and his plans came together not a day too soon. You see, so many rice caches had been destroyed in this area around Thunder Road, that his conscripts were starving. It was so bad that he was soon going to be forced to move these starving NVA conscripts deeper into the Long Nguyen Secret Zone, if he didn't quickly make something happen. There were some supplies further in, but even with fresh supplies, it would take time for his worn-down troops to gain back their strength. However, there was always that plan B, which would allow him to continue his campaign, without slowing down and running the risk of incurring Hanoi's wrath. It would also address the worn-down state of his conscripts, as well. Hanoi was a tuff task master, who cared nothing for the loss of individual lives as long as those losses brought results. Triet was well aware of this and also aware that Duan had already eliminated some slackers, much higher up than him, whose actions didn't seem to fully support his "big battle" idea. That was not going to happen to him. So, plan B was on. With more fresh bodies arriving every day, via the Ho Chi Minh trail, and with six months being the average expiration date calculated by Hanoi, before these teenagers were either dead or no longer fit for service, plan B sounded like the perfect solution. He now had enough local guides, scouts, and sappers in place, to be able to immediately guide a three prong attack on the 1/18th NDP and over run it or at least get rid of some mouths to feed. Most importantly, win or lose, plan B would make his timely efforts look good to Duan and thus secure his standing with the boss. Lastly, he would not need to waste precious time nursing physically and mentally worn-out conscripts back to fighting shape because many of them would die in the upcoming battles. Actually, that was just another beautiful aspect of plan B. Dead conscripts could so quickly be replaced, and they also sidetracked the gullible Westmoreland, because their body counts continued to give him a sense of fulfillment, while buying time for Duan to stage his grand faunally, the Tet offensive.

      By now, the 1/18th had been in camp long enough for most of her men to have gotten a feel for their surroundings. Everyone, both men and officers knew that they were in a great deal of danger. There were no civilians to be seen anywhere. The jungle was mostly triple canopy, with small clearings here and there and the area was laced with well-worn trails. On the 5th, C company had made a sweep and discovered a large recently used enemy base camp. Afterward, as C Company turned and headed back toward their NDP, they were fired upon by a large enemy patrol. James Dossett was the point man and immediately took it upon himself to maneuver toward the threat. He single handedly laid down covering fire, while the men behind him spread out and took up firing positions. The Viet Cong patrol quickly realized that they were up against a much larger force so they fled across a small clearing. After crossing the clearing, several of them turned to watch the clearing and cover the retreat for the others. Dossett was the first and only American to cross that clearing and was shot down by the ambushers as soon as he entered the wood line on the other side. After all these years his widow has never stopped grieving. Dossett had been in the field a little less than 21/2 months, hardly enough time to get his feet wet, much less be walking point for his entire Company. However, the battalion strength was down, and compromises had to be made. No one was made to walk point. I am sure Dossett stepped up to the plate and volunteered. That's just the kind of person he was.

      Now on the afternoon of the 6th, Triet set his attack plan on our NDP into motion. Five enemy registration rounds landed inside the south side of the perimeter, just as my boys had finished their nice hot meal, which I had loaded on helicopters for them a couple hours earlier. No one got too alarmed about five mortar rounds landing inside the perimeter, but the shelling did serve to perk up the entire unit, from the afternoon doldrums. Of course, Dick took note and gave a couple guys a job, who were extremely good at estimating distance by sound. They were tasked with guiding a couple gunships in the direction of the sound coming from those enemy mortar tubes. After our own mortar platoons answered back too, no more rounds fell on the NDP.

     Only the Korean veterans in our unit had ever experienced an all-out frontal attack, while in fortified bunkers. At this point, most people in my unit were doubtful that such a thing could happen. Only these crusty "ole veterans, thought otherwise, of which, Cavazos was one. From habit, he had already started allowing his imagination to make sense of clues which Triet was leaving behind each day. Sometimes, he needed a few moments of uninterrupted quiet time to read Triet's mail. Many times he exercised this mental discipline, while sitting on a water can, pretending to eat a can of cold ham and lima beans, or starring aimlessly at map. At times like this, his S3 (operation's officer) would shield him from the constant flow of routine interruptions, which often required a bevy of routine decisions to follow. If his S3 couldn't handle those routine interruptions, himself, Dick would find one who could.

      Rain clouds started forming "right on time" as ambush patrols from each of the three companies readied themselves to move out. The sun was going down. The rain was becoming more intense. Flares would soon be popping overhead. Ambush sites were to be no more than five hundred meters from the NDP. Every "ole grunt" in the battalion sensed deep in their bones that something bad was going to happen, but Dick needed one more clue from Triet before he would be ready to draw any conclusions. That final clue was not long, in coming.

     McCall had been with Mike platoon almost two months now but the first month he had allowed his very experienced platoon sergeant, Loren Malone, to run the platoon. McCall was a fast learner and in about three weeks Malone came to him and announced that he was ready to take over. At this point in time, McCall was doing a pretty good job for a newbie. New as he was, however, even he sensed that tonight was going to be different.

     When the sun set, the rain started coming down in sheets, as the front blew through. On the way to their ambush site, B Company ambush patrol walked only 250 meters from their base camp perimeter, before they collided with a platoon sized force of sappers and guides. The fire fight was short, but intense. These enemy fighters were no novices. They were Triet's local hardened communist replacements for the one's killed by the bombings on the 4th. This fresh supply of sapper guides were on the way to positions around the perimeter, stringing fresh como wire as they went, so they could talk to Triet as they guided NVA conscripts into assault positions around B company's side of the NDP perimeter. Needless to say, any conscript who refused to comply would be immediately shot. Few actually were shot, because of the adroitness of their cadre in breaking down their will, using a well thought out combination of fear, coercion and drugs. Once everything was ready and Triet gave the order, NVA conscripts would be double timed down ox cart trails and herded by their guides into positions for a human wave attack. However, now, those essential guides had been shot to pieces by Caudill's veteran ambush patrol, which meant there would be no one to guide Triet's cannon fodder into their final attack positions on B Company's side of the NDP. Two men in B Company ambush patrol, were wounded and a third man, Paul Oestreicher, was killed. Paul's body was not immediately found. As the fire fight subsided, mortar rounds started raining down on B Company's side of the perimeter, which did two things. Number one, those rounds wounded one of the most well liked members of B Company, my buddy, Earl Dingle, as he was returning with that same patrol, which had just been involved in the fire fight. Secondly, it removed all doubt from anyone's mind that an all-out attack on the perimeter was imminent. Taken from pieced together information of conversations and reports, here is a probable word picture of events, as they happened next, on B Company's side of the perimeter.

     The enemy shelling stopped, but the rain did not. Never-the-less it was time for Caudill to put himself into motion and check on his ambush patrol, which was now returning to the NDP (night defensive perimeter). He had just finished giving a very brief update on his patrol's shoot-out, to the "ole man" (Cavazos). He gave it over the radio, from his bunker, which was located only a short distance from the "ole man's" command bunker. As Caudill stood to go check on his wounded patrol, he blurted out a short command to his heavy set first sergeant, Pink Dillard, who was squeezed into the tight confines somewhere behind him. "Top, make double sure your people are ready for an attack on the perimeter". He then reached for his short barreled AR-15 and headed for the command bunker entrance located only two steps away. The entrance was nothing more than a "misty looking", gray-orange opening, between a wall of slimy slick sandbags. His Battalion net RTO, Fred Walters, needed no verbal communications to know that he needed to follow Caudill. He knew the drill well, which was always to anticipate the next move his commander made, and without continually being told to do so, stay close. Stay real close. Fred followed Caudill through the opening with his rifle in one hand and the tip of his radio antenna in the other, to keep it from getting hung up on the low ceiling of the bunker. The Company RTO, David Eaton, followed suite behind Fred. Once on the outside of the bunker, the three men were immediately hit in the face by stinging pellets of rain, which felt more like bird shot than rain drops. Through squinting eyes, they viewed the macabre world around them. An overhead flare, drenched in the torrential down-pour made everything look pale orange. Men were congregating at one spot on B Company's perimeter only a few yards away. As Caudill reached the little gathering, medics were already checking over his three wounded men. Dingle was hurt the worst. He was lying on his back and his entire right side, from shoulder down was covered in blood. Watts knelt down beside him, grabbed his hand, and was searching for some comforting words to say, when a stocky figure, surrounded by several taller ones appeared out of the rainy mist. The figure was Dick Cavazos. Watts looked up at Dick and Dick looked down at him. As the battalion commander tilted his head downward, Watts immediately became distracted by two little continuous streams of water running through the cloth camouflage and off the bream of Dick's steel helmet, one in front of each eye. It's funny how a detailed mind like Caudill's could not help but be pulled away by seemingly trivial details at a time like this. Soaking wet, but unfazed by his drenching shower, Dick spoke to Watts in that same measured tone his men had become accustomed hearing. First, he reiterated what Watts already knew. "Captain, It's likely they will hit our perimeter." Then, in a more quieting tone, he used three more words to shoo Watts back to his most urgent duty at hand. "Attend your men captain". Lastly, Dick then injected a comment meant to relieve his young captain of any distracting guilt he may have been feeling for his wounded men. "In this storm Watts,  you better let me work on getting a medevac out for our wounded". With that said, the two commanders now exchanged places. Dick knelt by a very distraught Earl Dingle and Caudill stood and headed down the perimeter a ways to join a dark figure in the distance. That figure was his Top sergeant, Pink Dillard, coming from the other direction. "Captain, we are ready", said "Pink". Watts nodded and both men and their two RTO shadows turned toward B Company command bunker. A stretcher was found to move Dingle to Dick's own command bunker. "Son, I am going to get you a "dust-off", he said as he squeezed Dingle's hand. Then he stood up and moved ahead of the stretcher, toward his command bunker radios to do just that. No one realized until later that Triet would not be able to launch a human wave attack on B Company's side of the perimeter. The contribution which Dingle and Oestreicher's ambush patrol had made, by shooting up Triet's guides would prevent that from happening. Oestreicher was killed in the fire fight, but Dingle was helping other members of the patrol to reach the safety of the perimeter when he was hit by one of those mortar rounds which fell on B Company's side of the NDP. My research came up with one report, which said that Dick, himself, held Earl in his arms to calm him, while trying to get a medevac "dust-off" to fly into the storm. All helicopters were grounded but one crew volunteered to come anyway. Gene Burlingham was captain. Robert Porea was copilot. Joseph Hoggart was the medic and Lewis Trask was a mechanic who volunteered to go along as door gunner. They almost made it but their chopper crashed in the storm just a short distance from the NDP. The entire crew was killed. According to a personal recanting from one of the men in my unit, Earl Dingle bled out and died in Dick's arms.

     Cavazos now knew that an attack on the perimeter was imminent so he ordered all ambush patrols to return to the relative safety of the NDP. On the way home, C Company ambush patrol encountered and shot-up two more teams of sappers and guides who were to guide conscripts into attack positions on C company's side of the perimeter. This action further whittled down the number of guides needed to launch Triet's attack. Now he would only be able to launch an attack on D Company's side of the perimeter. and so he did. At the same time, to confuse the Americans, Triet ordered sacrificial machine gun crews to move in close and fire on B and C sides of the perimeter. They were turned into mince meat by pre-registered American artillery barrages.

      At 2200 hours, William Fee, who was a grunt in D Company, started receiving heavy small weapons fire on his position, but not before his side of the perimeter was subjected to a heavy enemy mortar attack. Triet was now able to initiate a close-in human wave attack on D company's side of the perimeter, since the American artillery had been drawn away from that side, using sacrificial machine gun squads to quickly set up positions and then fire on B and C sides of the perimeter. At one point so much enemy small arms fire was directed at Fee's bunker that it sounded like a very loud bag of popcorn, only much louder than that. The popping rounds which were flying over and even into the firing ports of D Company bunkers were so numerous, that it is a miracle no one was hit. The Americans blew every claymore mine on that side of the perimeter, killing and wounding scores of conscripts who had been forced to charge the American defenses. Fee's M-16 jammed at some point as I am sure many others did too. Dick was aware of this weakness in maintaining a strong defensive line using just the badly flawed M-16. He compensated for it by requiring us to place at least ten claymore mines in front of every bunker.

     The shear terror of the moment for the Americans was far surpassed, by the horror which Triet's conscripts were subjected to. While in staging areas well out of range of air strikes and artillery, these hopeless creatures, who were already suffering from malnutrition, were provided with some of the best hashish in the world, and larger servings of boiled rice with assorted meats, than they had ever had since marching south. Triet was an old hand at this and he knew he could double up on rations because half these conscripts would not require rations the following morning. Most were replacements and had obviously never participated in an attack like this. I say "obviously", because the high mortality rate associated with this tactic and the large number of recent attacks initiated by Triet dictates that any objective analysis could not be otherwise. The first wave hurled at the Americans would have created some horrific sights for those conscripts who lived through it. The American claymore mines would have each sent 750 buck shot pellets in a 45 degree radius to the front and through the bodies, of anyone in front of them. Rifle fire would have also taken down some, but not as many as one might think, due to the poor performance of the M-16. As I said, but bares repeating, D Company's William Fee wrote later that his M-16 jammed and it took him a few minutes to get it working again. Fortunately, he was in his DePuy bunker and the third man, Pvt. Fierro, took his place while he worked on his rifle. More than likely this would have meant his life if it were a fire fight in the more open jungle. Enemy conscripts in the second wave would have experienced even more hell than the first. Some made it within ten yards of the DePuy bunkers on the perimeter. By now Cavazos had artillery gunners dropping 155 rounds just outside the perimeter. Body parts were flying everywhere. The small number, who were able to walk, after this shelling subsided, were trained to grab a body, either alive or dead, and start dragging it to the rear with them. This withdrawal tactic would help keep the Americans from getting a realistic idea of not only how completely they had slaughtered their enemy in regard to numbers, but also how young they were, what kind of physical shape they were in, etc.

     By midnight the rain had stopped completely and even the American shells falling around the perimeter had ceased. An occasional popping of a flare was all that could be heard. It was a very surreal moment giving everyone an eerie feeling. Always thinking ahead, Dick realized that artillery support played a big hand in repelling the attack, but he also knew that those resources were limited, especially since some of the artillery was needed to shoot flares into the air around the battle field. Dick also knew that there was a mechanized unit nearby, which had some tanks. Those tanks had powerful search lights mounted on them. So, Dick called that unit and had them point their search lights at the low hanging clouds above his NDP. The torrential down pour had ceased leaving these low hanging clouds in it's wake. It was perfect conditions for those tanks to bounce their light beams off those clouds, providing lighting for his NDP. Shortly after dawn resupply helicopters started arriving, bringing not only resupplies of munitions, but also hot coffee, dehydrated vegetable soup and fresh hot donuts. Back at Phuoc Vinh I had started setting my alarm for 0300 hours so I could wake up and start helping our battalion baker, known only to me as Tex, make those hot donuts. I would not know any of the details of this first big night battle until the middle of October, when the entire battalion was flown to a large base at Song Be, which was near the Cambodian border.

      The next morning, Oct. 7, while C company was making a weep, Triet tried to draw Cavazos into an ambush but Dick had his men quickly withdraw while he blasted the entire ambush area with artillery. Although it remained too risky to get a body count, It's obvious that many of the ambushers were killed or wounded.

     By this time, Triet must have been thinking to himself, "Darn this guy is quick!", so he adjusted his time tables to strike even faster the next time and that next time was on Oct. 9. On this day, Triet had now become obsessed and even more determined to pull off a successful ambush on what had turned out to be a most worthy opponent. My old squad was running point on this particular day, in a northerly direction from the NDP and B Company was in the lead. D Company was following. This was the same day, which I have already mentioned before, when Bowman discovered how inadequate a 12 gauge shot gun was for jungle fighting.   

    This time Triet was definitely quicker on the draw. He cut his attack times almost in half. It was just a matter of minutes, from the time Bowman's keen eyes spotted the tree sniper and vainly started blasting away at him with his useless shotgun, until Triet had his conscripts slamming into what he thought was the left flank of B Company. At the same time, Triet moved several machine guns into place, to rake Captain Caudill's right flank. However, Triet had no idea that he was already being out maneuvered. Every commander in the battalion from Dick on down had long since realized the eminent danger of large ambush threats, which this area of operations posed. Dick had already preplanned with company commanders what they were to do in situations like this. In less than two minutes after first taking fire from his front, Captain Caudill ordered his entire B Company to withdraw through the ranks of D Company. This was facilitated in the following way. Per a head-count conducted at the beginning of the patrol, D Company even-numbered men were ordered to move to the right and the odd-numbered men moved to the left, covering both flanks, leaving their center open for B Company to file through and then take up positions to the rear of D Company. Caudill gave a quick sitrep (situation report) to the "Ole Man" while on the run to the rear, followed closely by his little cluster of headquarters personnel. As usual, RTOs Walters and Eaton were the closest to him followed by the FO and his sergeant, then came the rest of his headquarters people, including the heavy set and not so graceful First Sergeant, Pink Dillard. Pink was worth his weight in gold to Watts, but that gold did nothing to help the over-weight sergeant run faster through thick jungle, without tripping and falling several times.

     This well executed maneuver now gave Dick the protective distance he needed to adjust artillery fires so Triet's Cong would face a wall of artillery fire, instead of the "flesh and blood" bodies of Caudill's B Company men, when they charged forward with their frontal attack. Triet would soon find that his famous brag, "Get close enough to grab your enemy's belt and hold on to him with a firm grip", didn't work so well with Dick. That is to say, it didn't work, unless one liked grabbing hold of a buzz-saw. To use a colloquialism, one might say it this way. "Dick won't wearin no belt"! However, he did like to mix and match his tactical wardrobe "a bit".  While prepping the landing on the 4th of October he had used helicopter gunships along with the faster but less agile jets. After observing the performance of those gunships, he really began to think about more ways to have them dress up a fight. They could be more safely fine-tuned to cover certain areas near his troops, than could jets, wheezing past their strike zones at 400 miles an hour. So, with that in mind, Dick had already made a call earlier that morning, to make sure the gun ships at Lai Khe were on standby. Shortly after the first shots were fired, they were on the way. It was a short hop of less than 12 miles. When they arrived, Dick had these hellions go to work on Triet's human wave attack, which was already in progress on D Company's left flank. When it began, the men of D Company were already prepared and had taken positions on each flank, with good concealment and pretty good protective cover, provided by ant hills, trees and such. In return, they were able to lay down some very deadly suppressing fire, while waiting for the gunships to join the party. This put Triet's hapless conscripts in a “two-way ambush”. It was devastating. "Oh well", I am sure Triet was relieved to know he was fighting on the side which put no pressure on him to write all those death notifications to parents. Hot brass shell casings from the arriving helicopters started raining down on some of those D Company boys but it didn't take long for the deluge of enemy automatic weapon's fire to be reduced to just a pop here and there. It's very possible that during his long career as a field commander, Triet had never come up against such a well-oiled fighting machine as the 1/18th Infantry Battalion. By the time his conscripts were executing their failed human wave attack on D Company's left flank, the attacks on the 1/18th's front and right flanks had already been blunted by artillery fires from other fire bases and the mortars being fired from Dick's own NDP. This battle was won before it started. It was genius, and the kind of "tactical text book stuff” which should have been studied by every senior leader at MACV. However, for too long now, those guys had only seen themselves as the teacher and never the student. In just a few days, Lt. Col. Terry Allen and the men of the Black Lions Battalion would pay with their lives for that near-sighted view of things.

     At this point, it is important to mention a key factor, which Dick had been working on since he took over in March and which contributed greatly to the 1/18th Battalion's success, during these deadly days in October. It was a leadership component which gave legs to the outstanding performance I just described in the last paragraph. You see, in the months since he took over, Dick had been working non-stop on upgrading our unit's subordinate command structure, by steadily replacing the old framework with officers who could walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, they were leaders who could work with each other and higher command to maintain good command and control and at the same time, keep track of their location at all times.

     Here is how the 1/18th walked. We didn't have satellite GPS in those days so keeping track of one's location was no slam-dunk. However, it was vitally necessary. Captain Watts Caudill would later say that he trusted no one to keep track of his company's location, but himself. He kept a pace count in his own head everywhere he went, even while withdrawing, from a volume of incoming fire. Starting at the beginning of his tour of duty, on routine patrols, he had taught himself to do this in all types of terrain. Due to the conscious efforts of Dick, it's a safe bet that other commanders in the unit saw this as an important skill to develop also. Most all our leaders were good honing important skills and at prioritizing their actions. No matter what was going on around them, Watts and many others in our unit put knowing where they were at the top of that list.

     Here is how the 1/18th chewed gum (command and control). Dick's brilliant ability to chose capable subordinate officers like Caudill, C Company's Major Mann and even lowly platoon leaders, like Dale McCall was all due to his God enlightened vision to be able to spot the right packages of gum to begin with, but finding them took time. Fortunately God bought him the necessary time needed to do this, before having to face-off with an enemy like Triet. Sometimes Dick's means of doing his part was quite colorful, as I have noted already in the recanting of McCall's first interview with Dick. By the time October rolled around, and major enemy contacts were becoming more frequent, he had capable subordinates in place, who could follow his commands to a T. Instinctively, he had not only chosen men who could do a good job of following his orders, but who also had enough confidence in their own leadership abilities to suggest changes, when they felt that those changes could improve a particular circumstance. Dick routinely encouraged subordinates to step outside their comfort zone and do this, if in no other way than by not spiting belittling gum-ball remarks back at them, especially on the radio. However, some self confidence, had to come with the man. It wasn't something which could be easily taught to someone who had little to begin with. The man who couldn't chew gum in the first place had to go, for his own sake as well as others. Though rank mattered, most of our leaders were on the same level, where self-confidence was concerned. One of the positive results which the over-all self confidence of our leaders played in our unit's handling of command and control was that fewer sitreps were required over the radio; sitreps of the kind that did nothing but increase opportunities for confusion, devouring valuable maneuver time, while the enemy was steadily coming at us. All things considered, however, at the beginning of October, one might say that the 1/18th could do a very good job of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Not a single man in the 1/18th was killed during this pitched battle on the 9th of October.

     On Oct. 11th, the 1/18th Infantry Battalion did another sweep south of their NDP and B Company again took the lead. C was in the rear. General Hay later recorded the following. After traveling about 1800 meters, the dog accompanying the point squad alerted to the presence of VC. The dog alerted before any shots were fired. I had been in the lead element on many sweeps and had never seen a dog during my entire time in the field. Hay also said that the dog started giving alerts as soon as B company people left the perimeter earlier that morning, which I believe is evidence of the ineffectiveness of using dogs. Having tramped through War Zone C and D many times, I am aware of the numerous ox cart trails, which crisscrossed that area. I am also aware of how heavily they were traveled. They were the Cong's highways. Knowing what I know does nothing but reinforce my negative opinion of the use of dogs, because enemy patrols and laborers were always zipping up and down these trails, many times in close proximity to our patrols. Additionally, there were numerous sappers assigned to do nothing but shadow our large search and destroy efforts. They then relayed that information to a runner who would locate a workable telephone line along one of these trails and report our progress back to Triet. Therefore, it seems to me that a dog would have had plenty of scents around him all the time to throw him off track. In this case, however, using the dog worked.  

     What General Hay did not say in his report was this. Just before the dog alerted, Hay was perched high above, looking down from his helicopter and straining his eyes to see the line of march below through the thick jungle foilage. I am sure he had forward air controllers in the chopper with him and I am also sure that they would have wanted to know Captain Caudill's exact location, so they could better be prepared to coordinate air strikes, if needed. However, no matter what the reason for Hay's command request, to Captain Caudill, to have his point squad "pop smoke", it was a bad idea and also an overreach by him to even request such a thing. Here's why. Popping smoke could and in this case would have revealed the point squad's exact location to the watchers in the surrounding trees. It would have given the enemy an exact fix on Caudill's point squad. Hay had no idea of the potential deadly consequences of his request, nor should he have had. It wasn't his job to know these details. His job was to pick the right field commanders and then trust them to run things on the ground, but Hay's "little man" ways would not allow him to do that (Chapter 14). Two months back, Captain Caudill would have not hesitated to fulfill the general's request, without thinking. However, that was a life time ago. Since then he had come to realize that this jungle experience was every bit as much of a thinking man's endeavor as was solving a complex math problem, however with one twist. If he failed to get the right answer out here, his men would pay the ultimate price. "I do not want to give my point position away to the enemy.", Captain Caudill matter-of-factly replied to the general. "Instead, I will have my rear people located 100 meters behind the point squad pop smoke." The general agreed. I am sure Dick was listening in and at the same time placing a big mental check mark on the favorable side of Commander Watt's score card.            

     Within 30 seconds after popping smoke, the dog alerted, and Captain Caudill immediately had his lead platoon form a line and shoot to the front. That action drew a fairly heavy volume of return fire from the enemy ambushers, exposing their position. Cavazos then gave the withdrawal order. Caudill had the two lead platoons withdraw through the rear platoon (3rd platoon), of B. However, unlike on the 9th of October, instead of having the entire company withdraw all the way through C Company, Captain Caudill convinced Dick to leave his third platoon in place, just to the front of the main body of D Company. Caudill's little command group stayed with 3rd platoon, which had formed a semi-circle behind good cover. This action was precipitated when Watt's cool calculating eyes instantly deduced that "staying put" would be a good idea, since the incoming enemy rifle and machine gun fire was being quenched by devastating artillery barrages. Those pinpoint barrages were facilitated through the good efforts of our B Company forward observer. The ability to notice this and not overreact by pulling 3rd platoon back from their protected firing positions too soon verifies everything I have just said about the confidence of our commanders in themselves and each other under fire. Above everything was Dick Cavazos's willingness to trust the instincts of his young captain and it paid off. Gunships were soon working over the area close to 3rd platoon's left flank. They flushed out almost one hundred Cong, who now had only one of three choices to make. They could stay put and get shot to pieces by the gunships, retreat into a wall of steel from American artillery or charge 3rd platoon's left flank. They chose to charge my old 3rd platoon and Sergeant Bartee, Milliron, Bowman, Walker and the big Indian machine gunner from New Mexico, along with the rest of the platoon, sealed their fate. RTO Fred Walters told me years later that after the battle, Bartee was walking around the NDP, totally unaware of the bullet hole in his back. It was probably a ricochet.  I will never glorify this tragic event, but at the same time, let me say this. It is infinitely better for battle deaths to occur on the side, which is fighting to enslave people, rather than on the other side which is fighting to give them more freedom. At the end of this battle, which was later called the Battle of Da Yeu, Captain Caudill was tasked with writing only one death notification to the parents of a man in 3rd platoon of B Company. He was SP-4 Harry Dresher. I did not know him, but I will someday. Not only will I know him but I will know him better than anyone has ever known him during his short time here on this earth.

     Yes, Caudill's quick thinking helped soundly defeat Triet's ambushers at Da Yeu that day, but Triet still clung to his dream and he still had too get rid of some more mouths to feed because the build up of conscripts farther north was eating up all the food which should have been coming down those ox cart trails to him. His conscripts were getting weaker by the day, but they could still walk and they could still carry a rifle. This meant that Triet could still march them forward to be sacrificed for the cause. Halleluiah! They could still be used to keep his personal dream, of overrunning a First Division unit, alive. Never mind that they would most surely be ravaged by terrible weapons of war. If every battle was lost, and every single conscript was blown to pieces, what personal consequences would there be for Triet and his overlords in Hanoi? Would the parents of these dead teenagers throw demonstrations and vote these henchmen of Hanoi out of power? I think not! Triet's transient dream was safe and Hanoi bigger dreams was even more safe.

     Here is the greater reason for the universal patience exhibited amongst communist leadership. You see, there was a much deeper motivation, which pushed Triet onward, other than his dream of overrunning an American unit or even winning the war. It was a motivation buried so deeply in his unrepentant heart, that not only did that motivation shape Field Commander Triet's desires, but it was and is the driving force behind all leftist thinking. It's a self-serving motivation fueled by hopelessness and hate. More than anything else, Simply put; Communism is an ideology of hopelessness and hate. Furthermore, anyone caught up in its web soon loses their ability to dream any other dream than the dream of self-preservation. Every other leftist dream is rooted in that dream. In any leftist environment, to get ahead, one must stay focused on dreaming within the box. To do otherwise is suicidal. There is no room in that box for the "far out" dreams of a Bill Gates or a Steven Jobs. There is only room to dream of how to better position one's self within the box and also to dream of ways to entice others outside, to come join those residing within.

     It was becoming painfully obvious to Triet that the 1/18th was not going to allow themselves to be beaten. Others might, but they weren't. Dick's Dogface Battalion was going to win and they were going to keep on winning, by thinking outside the box. Others might lose the war but Dick's draftees were going to win for him and for ourselves, no matter how inconsequential that winning was, in the the big scheme of things. Triet had long since lost his ability to understand any of those traits which formed the "Dogface" culture. Yet it was this cultural anomaly which allowed us to beat him and every other unit in the 9th Division every time. No doubt he would have laughed at the idea of this power coming from the legacy of a Christian missionary's daughter. Yet, he did realize that this unit was different. That's it. That's all he was capable of knowing, but he wasn't alone. By now, our senior leaders were beginning to realize too that we were different. They too did not know why. The bottom line is this. Triet was too full of self-deception, himself, to understand things in the way I have explained them here. In the end, he could not grow. He could become nothing else, but the same self-serving person that he was today, because that was all that was available to him inside the box. Triet would push on, continuing to do what he had been doing all along, which was looking for someone to destroy, instead of someone to save. Sad to say, people on our side of the fence had a lot in common with Triet. To change, Triet would have had to leave the box, and to leave the box he would have needed a savior. Once in the box, a hater can never leave without a savior, and oh how Vo Minh Triet hated.

     On the 13th, Dick's boys were yanked out of the field for a little rest. The unit was first extracted to Lai Khe and then on the 15th, it was flown by fixed wing C-130s up north near Quan Loi to a rather large and secure base named Song Be. I believe my squad and I met up at that base. However, I am not positive whether I was flown there, or if I stayed in nearby Quan Loi. No matter where we where, however, my ole buddies and me would get together during the evening hours and visit. We swapped stories. I mostly listened, as the older guys in my platoon updated me. Interestingly, they addressed me with the same respect, which was reserved for a guy who was still fighting the jungles and dumb sergeants with them. In time served, I was the probably the oldest man in my platoon. I suppose that had something to do with it. I also had a good track record of slipping through the jungle, taking them out of an NDP and bringing them safely back again. Truth is, this little band of grunts had now experienced more violence in just the last few days, since I left them, than I had ever experienced during my entire time in the field. Yet, like younger brothers, they would sit around and give me the low-down on not only their recent shoot-outs, but also on which new guys were "cutting the mustard" and which ones were not.  Of course, NCOs were not exempt from the conversations. "The new first sergeant was a little gun-shy". "Yes", they said, "November's (3rd platoon) Sergeant Adrien St. Amand was still as nervous and hyperactive as ever, getting on every grunt's nerves, not for what he would do to ruffle the feathers of a grunt, or how he acted under fire, but just for being himself. "His trainee shadow, the haggardly looking John May had taken over a platoon in C Company", they said, "and was by all accounts doing a good job". At some point, a conversation would have turned to giving more details about the plight of Dingle. Everyone of the "ole guys" in B company knew and liked Dingle. The rest didn't count. He was the only guy who had actually been in my squad at one time and who was killed while I was still in country. If only that Dust-off coming from Cu Chi had not crashed, things might have turned out differently? As we talked about the tragic event and how it unfolded, I could tell that this same "what if?" question was haunting every guy sitting there that particular night. It probably haunt all of us for the rest of our lives.  

     Speaking of deaths, which may not have had to have happen, its now time for me to discuss a few details of the next big battle which occurred during Operation Shenandoah II. We will never know how many American lives were lost during the Vietnam War, due to tragic events occurring in a guy's family situation back home. This next battle which the First Division would fight is a very sad example of one of those times. You see, in war, emotional stress brought on by events at home can be just as deadly as the enemy, because these situations can shut down the normal functioning of a keen mind. When a leader is suffering from stress created on the home front, the negative consequences are magnified many times over, depending on the amount of responsibility that person has been given. However, on the battle field this situation can be very hard to spot in time to do anything about it. You see, a victim suffering from this kind of severe and acute stress will many times actually increase their productivity in the performance of routine matters, giving the impression to all concerned that everything is not only okay but better than okay. So it was with Terry Allen. Perhaps the increase in addressing the routine stuff is a way for a victim of severe stress to mask the pain. However, combat is never routine. It is true that combat in Vietnam was an endeavor which was filled with many routine and boring hours spaced in between moments of living hell on earth. It's during these hellish moments that the creative juices of one's brain needed to flow freely, but that's impossible if the mind is unduly stressed to begin with. Furthermore, during these times, one could never count on just drawing from the well of old learned habits of the past, as could be done during the boring routine times. It was those creative juices which allowed Captain Caudill to visualize what he needed to do next during the battle of Da Yeu and it would be the stoppage of those creative juices, more than anything else, which would lead to the death of Lt. Col. Terry Allen and half his men in A and D companies, when six days later his 2/28th Black Lions of the First Division faced off for the first time with that same "ole nemesis", of the First Division, Vo Minh Triet.

     Terry Allen was a major when he first arrived in Vietnam. He was married to a beautiful woman and they had three beautiful daughters. Shortly after arriving in Vietnam he had been given the coveted job of operations officer for the Black Lions Battalion. It was that next step for anyone reaching for the stars. Terry was now well on his way to having those stars pinned to his shoulders with nothing but smooth sailing ahead, if he could just keep his head down and continue to do an average job. You see, his father had been a popular commander of the First Infantry Division in World War II so those stars were arguably a birth-right of sorts. Yes, his was a story book life until a personal tragedy struck shortly after moving into this new position. His wife not only started having an affair with a rodeo clown in their hometown of El Paso, but had allowed the clown to move into their home with her and their three young daughters. It was a stabbing wound straight through Terry's heart.
     Now, Terry Loved his wife in the same way Adam loved Eve, so he took leave and went home to try and reconcile things but to no avail. You see, the trouble with Terry and Adam was this. What they thought was love really wasn't love at all. It was a passion filled emotion, which both men placed high above their love for God. Looking back on the tragedy of "Ong Thanh" in the crisp cold light of day, some would later state what seemed to be obvious, but at the same time wasn't obvious at all. Some would say Terry was incompetent, as a battalion commander. Others would say that he was pressured from above to do things which he normally would not have done on that fateful day. I say that Terry had already died of a broken heart long before he marched to his natural death on October 17th of 1967. You see, when we put our feelings for anything or anyone above our love for God, we start to die inside. That death does not always overtake us right away but without exception, one's soul will surely start to die. I know this to be true, because I was one of those souls, before I allowed God to reverse my course.