Chap 18 Shenandoah Part Two

     Six days after my unit was withdrawn from the field, the 2/28th Black Lions of the First Division were inserted into the same area to "faced off with" and destroy that same "ole nemesis", of the First Division, Vo Minh Triet. Triet had been ordered north but he needed food, so he stayed in and around the Long Nguyen Secret Zone, looking for rice for his hungry conscripts. He had dueled with Dick three times and lost, but now a new commander and a different American battalion had shown up to try to finish him off. Maybe he could have better luck against this newly promoted Lt. Col. Terry Allen, than he was able to have with that other savvy "ole you know what". Without food, his conscripts couldn't make the long march north to Loch Ninh, and be in condition to fight, so Triet figured it would be better for them to use their waning strength, killing Americans, than dropping like flies from starvation in the middle of that long hard march. Win or lose, Triet could always get more conscripts, but grabbing opportunities to turn the stupid American strategy of attrition around on them was to be taken when and where opportunity availed itself.

Terry Allen, the commander of the Black Lions, 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 S3 (operations officer) for the Black Lions Battalion. It was that next step for anyone reaching for the stars and Terry, whether reaching or not, was well on his way to having those far-off stars come down out of the sky and land squarely on his shoulders. Our First Division commander, General Hay knew all about Terry's famous father and his exploits as the Big Red One commander in North Africa. Hay, himself, had won 3 silver stars, while commanding combat units in the famous 10th Mountain Division in Italy, during World War II. Therefore, it was only natural for the fatherly Hay to feel connected to the son of a former storied commander of the "First". It looked like nothing but smooth sailing ahead for Terry. All he had to do was keep his head down and do an average job. His was a "story book" life until a personal tragedy struck shortly after moving into his new assignment at Third Corps. His much younger 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 to no avail. The overlying problem, which sabotaged both Terry and Adam's relationships with their wives was this. What both men thought was love really wasn't love at all. It was a passion filled emotion, which they placed high above a genuine love for God.

     Big Jim Shelton took Terry's place as operations officer (S3) of the 2/28th Black Lions and Terry went to Division for a short time while waiting for his promotion and assignment to command a combat battalion in the Big Red One. Soon, the current Black Lion's battalion commander was fired, and Terry Allen was given that man's job. I don't believe that commander had a World War II general for a father. Once again, Terry found himself back with the Black Lions. Big Jim stayed on a while, as his operations officer, but left two weeks before the battle of Ong Thanh took place.

     Jim was happily married and had six kids. He was "book smart" and wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was loyal to his military superiors in the same way he had been loyal to his football coaches in school. He unquestionably carried out his leader's commands, no matter how foolish those commands seemed and then years later spent a great deal of time trying to justify why he was right, and they were right too. Big Jim was a socializer and a talker and an all-around good guy but like so many others he walked in the light of his superiors and his own reasoning and not in the light of the Holy Spirit. He would never have dreamed of changing an order to pop smoke, as my "Holy Spirit" anointed commander, Captain Caudill had done, especially if that order had been given by General Hay. He may have realized the danger, but he never would have spoken up suggesting a change to the general's order. Quite frankly, like so many, he feared generals more than he feared VC. He certainly would not have allowed someone named the "Holy Spirit" to interject divine thoughts into his own stream of consciousness. That definitely would have been just a bit too weird for Jim. "What if" he did allow something like that to happen? Furthermore, "what if" an honest person like Jim allowed it to slip that he was hearing from spirits in the first place? Big Jim was never going to let that happen. Jim was a herd animal and he liked the safety of a herd. He also liked to act in accordance with what he could see with his own two eyes. He definitely wanted nothing to do with the companionship of a Ghost, even if that Ghost was God. I am saying all this about Jim to say the following. Big Jim's psychological make-up was easy for me to understand, because I could read between the lines of his book. He was very predictable. Big Jim wrote a book on the battle of Ong Thanh, which gave me a lot of good information but he also told on himself while he was writing.     

     Since Big Jim Shelton was battalion S3, for a time, after Terry became her commander, he was in closer proximity to him, than any other person in the unit. With that being the case, it was only natural for Terry to start confiding in the very loyal, trustworthy, and family minded Jim Shelton. Maybe he shared the dirty details of his home life with Jim on one of those very damp drizzly dark nights, in a smelly bunker somewhere in the middle of War Zone C. Maybe he shared them because he just couldn't keep the mental anguish to himself any longer. No matter how or where Terry told Jim, however, it was shared and that was all that mattered. One black night Terry vomited the entire smelly rotten mess straight into Big Jim's Lap. Many years later the then retired Brigadier General Jim Shelton would tell the world about these shared family secrets, little knowing that he was giving clues to a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ who was seeking the much more hidden spiritual reasons for why the events of October 17th, 1967 happened the way they did.

     On October 16th, LT. Clark Welch and Captain Jim Kasik marched their D and B Companies, respectively, out of the Ong Thanh Creek NDP and ran "smack dab" into a bunker complex which was in the midst of being reinforced with ambushers to catch the Americans off guard when they arrived. The reason Triet was unable to be ready before the Americans got there was because Welch and Kasik had made a course change just before reaching Triet's original ambush site. They were only 300 meters away from this original ambush site, when they turned ninety degrees to the east. That put Triet in a rush to change his plans and find another interception point. That new location just happened to be some bunkers which were now in Welch and Kasik's line of march. When the Americans arrived at these bunkers, and started receiving sporadic fire they were able to maneuver their men in and amongst some of the still unmanned bunkers. These bunkers and their berms provided excellent cover from the increasing volume of enemy fire. Welch was also able to call in close-in artillery support as well as mortar fire from his own NDP. He also did an excellent job of maneuvering his men to capture more and more bunkers and advance on the enemy, many who were now running away and thus much more exposed to American bullets and artillery. The fighting started at 1219 hours and by 1310 hours, as the firing slacked off, Terry called down from his bubble helicopter and ordered Clark and Kasik to withdraw for the day. Terry was planning on having the enemy base camp bombed later. Not a single one of Clark and Kasik's men was killed, due largely to their bold and decisive initiatives, but also due to their last minute course change, which had put a "kink" in Triet's plans. Triet's men had been put in a rush and were tired and weak from hunger. This fact had also helped make it a very successful morning for us Americans.

     However, Brigadier General Coleman and Brigade Commander Buck Newman were starting to feel uneasy about Terry. T
hey definitely didn't view today's activities as being all that successful and they definitely didn't approve of Terry giving his Black Lions the rest of the afternoon off. One report says that during the fighting, radio communications between Terry and the two senior commanders had been dissonant at best. At the end of the fight, it became "down-right' contentious. They ordered Terry to land his Helicopter and meet with them on the ground, where they landed too and continued to chastise him in no "uncertain terms". It seems they both thought he broke contact with the enemy too soon and also that he should have been on the ground with his men instead of flying above in a observation helicopter. Truth is Coleman and Newman were new to this type of fighting, and though both had been good soldiers in the past, neither knew any more about jungle fighting than Terry. Also, on top of everything, neither Coleman, Newman or anyone else, for that matter, had a clue about just how ill prepared Terry really was to command in the first place, including Terry, himself.  

     I believe this ill timed chastisement, in some ways, was the final straw. It triggered events, which set in motion the destruction of the Black Lions the next day. Higher command was exerting pressure on a man who was already stressed to the max and falling behind as a leader. To make matters worse, the Army had been betting it's money on the wrong horse, in the first place. This horse was never going to be able to win a big race. He had no aptitude for the job. On this last day of his life, from things others have said, I believe that its highly possible, that Terry, himself, would have liked nothing better than to have stopped the madness. I believe that he would have liked nothing better than to have resigned his command, got on a plane, and flew home to a restored marriage, his daughters, and also a completely different job, if that had been possible. Oh, If only Humpty Dumpty could have been put back together again? I believe that Terry would have found the inner strength to walk away from it all. Truth is, he had already mentioned changing careers, which is a clue to prove what I am saying is correct. However, he was coming to this conclusion way too slowly. A single strand of lingering pride was keeping him in place and 9,000 miles away from home, which is where he should have been. And he should have been there fighting for his family, instead fighting in a war, just to honor his dying father. One should never sacrifice the welfare of their family for others or even their country. Our priorities should be God, family, country and others. When a father gets those priorities out of order than he and his family are in for big trouble and the nation is weakened. Dick and Caroline Cavazos were also separated a lot, by war. However, the difference was this. Their souls were "of one accord". Terry, like most, did not understand this. Instead he believed a lie. Not everyone is able to be a warrior and there is no shame in that. However, a man with a wife is always meant to make sacrifices for his wife and be a father to his children. (Eph. 5:25-31)

     It seems that
Clark and Kasik's successful action was also doing nothing but leading Terry further down the deadly road he was traveling. With the shock from not being able to please his superiors, for the first time in his life, and the crushed ego, which that, and a pending divorce produced, I believe it was now extremely easy for him to totally dismiss the danger he might be facing in those woods tomorrow. All he had seen the enemy do was run away today and every other time too. Why wouldn't Triet run like a rabbit tomorrow? Terry's short combat experience had already lulled him into becoming more laxed about the job than he should ever have been. He had experienced nothing but "run away scrapes" while he had been an S3 and again, after he took over as commander. In his short time in the field, Terry had been given no reason to believe that the enemy would dare go "toe to toe" with such a large and well armed force as his. If he had been exposed to more combat, like a Cavazos, or even Division commander, General Hay, I do not believe Terry would have been so naive, to take such a cavalier attitude toward the enemy he was now facing. I also believe it was unfortunate that he never had to experience the harshness of standing on his own two feet, to be able to make that transition from a son to a husband and father and only then to a commander of men. Dick, through the light of the missionary's daughter, placed his family before country, getting at least one priority right in his life. I talked to Caroline several times during Dick's last years on earth. I assure the reader that Caroline was one with Dick, sharing the same fox holes in life with him. He could not have become what he became without her. My company commander, Watts Caudill, was another man who had his priorities straight, and this nation has been mightily blessed by his and his wife, Sally's life. The same is true for at least one of my company's platoon leaders, Dale McCall and I could go on and on giving examples that testify to the truth in what I am saying.        

     In any event, on this day, there was much greater destructive thinking "at foot" then Terry Allen's messed up priorities. That destructive thinking in the minds of high command, did more to set the stage for the events of the 17th of October, then Terry could ever have done. It not only caused the annulation of two companies of the Black Lions Battalion but also brought defeat for the entire war. Here is a brief explanation of what I have just said.

     Westmoreland had just told President Johnson that we had turned the corner and we were now winning the war. Our First Division commander, General Hay had been summoned to attend a meeting in Saigon, which no doubt had something to do with "Westy" wanting to make sure every one of his division commanders was supporting this crazy notion, which he had just pitched to the President. I say crazy because "Westy" believed that "winning" and "killing" more people was the path to victory. That's crazy thinking unless one is prepared to anilate the populations of entire countries. General Hay was on board with the part of "Westy's" plan to destroy more enemy forces in South Vietnam, but thankfully he had a real problem with seeing the numbers on our side of this tally sheet go up, just to support a nebulous strategy, defined by "body counts". Unlike Westmoreland, Hay had proven himself to be a real hero in front line combat, with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. Hay knew from "up close combat" what blood bought victories should look like, and the strategy Westmoreland was promoting, though doubly blood bought, just didn't feel to Hay like the path to victory. Defense Secretary McNamara by now also doubted Westmoreland and his doubts were backed up by some of his top analysts at the Pentagon. James Gavan, who was instrumental in actually winning a war in Europe against Nazi Germany was so disturbed by Westmoreland's plans that he paid for his own plane ticket to visit Westmoreland in Saigon. He was Westmoreland's old boss and had a lot of pull in the public, so Westmoreland spent five days with him trying to talk him into seeing things his way. If Gavin went to Vietnam with some skepticism, he left realizing that the way Westmoreland was running things was a total disaster, and said so to the press when he returned. Westmoreland, however, remained steadfastly comfortable with not only increasing the numbers of enemy deaths, but also with increasing those numbers for the deaths of his own fellow Americans. He had always considered himself to be the smartest person in the room and according to his memoirs he still was until the day he died. Trading one American life for every four enemy deaths was a completely acceptable figure in "Westy's" world. Since most major battles in Vietnam were fought between an under-strength battalion of 300 or less Americans against at least six and usually ten times that number of enemy troops, "Westy's" foggy way of thinking meant that by war's end, it would have been okay with him if we had sacrificed the equivalent of over 916 battalions of young Americans. I arrived at that number by using the Vietnamese government's 1995 estimate of VC war dead (1,100,000) which was more than likely understated. What kind of mindset does it take to willingly place such a low value on human life, especially with not a shred of evidence that this course would win the war in the first place? What kind of mind goes there? Certainly not one led by the Holy Spirit.

 On the 16th of October, if Dick had been in Terry's shoes, he would have allowed Clark and Kasik to do what Terry prevented them from doing. He would have allowed his men to finish the fight. Terry didn't finish the fight or actually it would be more accurate to say Terry didn't finish both fights. After withdrawing his men, a safe distance, Dick would have heaped as much fire on the contested area as was possible. He would have then sent us back through the area, to mop up, with gunships covering our flanks, and barrages of artillery blasting away to our front. In Terry's case, although he had not quit too soon because he was timid, he definitely quit too soon in the eyes of his superiors, who were trying to please their superior, Westmorland. Dick, unlike Terry, was always aware, that he was fighting a war on two fronts, one with the VC, and the other with senior leadership. Therefore, Dick knew he could never leave the battlefield before winning both those engagements. He was just as good at putting on a proper display for the brass, as he was at killing the enemy. By putting on a proper display, I don't mean that he "sucked" up to them. On the contrary. From his King Ranch upbringing, he had learned how to recognize, and navigate most common human frailties in leadership, so he not only looked good, but he made his immediate superiors look good too. This is an acquired skill which he learned, by continually observing his father, Lauro, "day in" and "day out" growing up on the ranch. It requires a certain humility which he also learned through his ongoing relationship with his father. Circumstances in life differ but people are not all that different, whether on a ranch, the battlefield, or in the boardroom and it's usually people who "gum up" the works. Unlike Dick, Terry had a absentee father who he had only heard about from others and he was not just "any ole" absentee father, but one the public had turned into a World War II god of sorts. This created a very tempting but imaginary image in young Terry's mind, making him want to become a god too. Dick learned from real observations of his father, daily, but Terry had only a glorified image of his father, to go by. That powerful, but imaginary image short circuited his ability to embrace his own dream in the real world. He became like that cowboy in the Willie Nelson song. Terry was, "Sadly in search of, but one step in back of himself and his own "slow-movin" dreams". There is no indication that either Dick or Terry had a close relationship with God, but Dick's soul was enlightened and also protected by the legacy of the ranch. Terry had no such protection. However, The reader needs to know that God circumvents the circumstances of a bad beginning, to put each of us in charge of our very own unique dream, but He can't do that until we turn our lives over to him.

     As Welch and Kasik returned to their NDP that afternoon, Welch had a sick little feeling down deep in the pit of his stomach. That feeling kept saying to him that he had left something wicked brewing in those woods on the other side of the perimeter. He and every one of his old veterans knew that he had only stirred it up. He had not eradicated it.

     Clark Welch was as good a junior combat officer as any who served in Vietnam. He entered service when he was 17 and volunteered for the newly formed Green Beret Special Forces shortly afterward. He then applied for a two-year direct officer's commission in 1966 and received it. Shortly after being sent to Vietnam, he was assigned to the 2/28th, which, of course, was a line unit. The shock of changing from the more autonomous atmosphere of a Green Beret, to an environment more like that shared between prison inmates and guards, must have been pretty hard to take for Welch. General DePuy, himself, chewed Welch out for wearing what he called his "silly little green beret hat" in an administration hut while Welch was processing in. By the time the Battle of Ong Thanh rolled around, however, Clark had a lot of combat experience of the kind it took in Vietnam to successfully command a small line unit. He understood how his enemy operated better than any other junior officer in his unit. Here's the short of it. He became an incredible jungle warrior. However, to really shine Clark needed the enlightened support and trust of a savvy commander like Dick Cavazos. For one, Clark had an inferiority complex which caused him to close off and withdraw within himself, when he was around senior command. Dick would have spotted that in a heart beat and would have dealt with it. Exactly how, I can't say, but Dick had a gift for making talented people like Clark believe in themselves. Clark's first assignment in a line unit was as platoon leader of the battalion's recon platoon. However, performing stealthy observations of the enemy wasn't his thing. His platoon got into a firefight almost every time his patrol left the perimeter. By all accounts, however, his men loved him, and he trusted and treated them with respect. When the newly formed D Company showed up in July, her company commander was fired for some silly reason and Clark was assigned to take over and train D Company as her company commander. It was fairly unheard of, for this job to be given to a Lieutenant and it was a big clue, revealing to me just how much respect his superiors had developed for him. Actually, what they felt toward him was more "gut level awe" than respect. In the fall he took his new company to the field, while still wearing lieutenant bars instead of what should have been captain's bars. That was the normal rank of a company commander. Though he performed superbly, those skinny lieutenant bars were a constant reminder that he wasn't as deserving as those college grads who were wearing captain's bars. At least, that's what his head said. Reality and his heart told him he was just as good and some times better at knowing what to do next in a "scrape". But Clark, like most, allowed his head to rule. Thus, a conflicted soul was born, leaving the door wide open for a lot of anger and resentment. Clark's mindset, though based on a lie, would have a profound effect on the Battle of Ong Thanh.

     There was a meeting late in the day, which gave Welch and Welch alone his greatest war time opportunity of all. He was probably the only commander of men at this meeting, who understood the danger facing the Black Lions. Had Welch been prepared to take on this "battle of the meeting", I believe things would have gone very differently for the Black Lions the following day. Second in command of the First Division, Brigadier General Coleman, was there. First Brigade Commander, Colonel Newman, was there. Of course, Lt. Colonel Terry Allen was there. General Hay would have been there too, but, as I have said, he had been called away, by Westmoreland, for that "little powwow" in Saigon. It's too bad that General Hay wasn't there, because I also believe, that he, like Welch, would have understood the gravity of the situation. Unlike Welch, however, he had the rank necessary, to be heard. I don't believe Coleman nor Newman "knew squat" and I know Terry didn't. Hay had been flying overhead and had been privy to every successful maneuver Captain Caudill had made that day during the battle of Da Yeu. Hay had witnessed coordinated backup of fires along with the tactical maneuvering which Caudill had made. In other words, Hay had saw and heard on the radio  what it took to beat Triet. Hay was also a "stickler" for details and I believe he would have definitely probed past Terry's malaise, forcing him and the others to discuss details of their plans for the next day's operation. (For whatever reason, neither Coleman nor Newman did this.) That probing would have given the inquisitive Hay the opportunity to spot any "half baked" thinking as opposed to what had actually worked at Da Yeu. He could have then suggested changes. When a general suggests changes to subordinates, things usually get changed. However, that didn't happen. It couldn't happen because Hay wasn't there. If only Hay had been there and if only God had given me wings, I would probably do a lot more flying than I do? Instead, Welch let his fear of authority make him "clam-up" while General Hay had supper in Saigon. 

      As the "battle of the meeting" started, Clark Welch began talking profusely in a disjointed way, as Coleman and Newman listened intently. His demeanor can be compared to a rookie grunt spraying bullets all over the place in a fire fight. He had no idea what the term "targeted speaking" meant. However, he did nothing that any other new and insecure attendee in a higher level meeting would not have done in his shoes. He "rattled" on about details of the battle which may or may not have been needing to be mentioned. It's a good leader's job to sift through and "rein in" this kind of "meeting talk" so everyone has a better chance of making at least some sense of it all. However, nothing got "reined in".

     It was a stand-up meeting out in the open center of the NDP only twenty yards or so from the Helicopter which had brought Coleman and Newman there.

     Both Clark Welch and Jim George were knowledgeable enough to understand the gravity of tomorrow's upcoming operation but Clark was the only commander in this meeting who knew what to do about it. However, he would never have initiated a conversation expressing his concerns without being asked. Few junior officers in the First Division would have spoken up either, under similar circumstances. If he had, it would have definitely rubbed Terry the wrong way. In the First Division during 1967, Dick Cavazos was the only field commander among those, whom I have researched, who would never have allowed rank to lord over another soldier's ability to speak his mind on tactical issues. A man could freely express himself on tactics, and Dick judged the validity of what he was saying, not by his rank, but by every word coming out of his mouth. Furthermore, when Dick was talking to senior leadership, he had no problem speaking his mind, either. Many times, it was him, who hopped on a helicopter and flew to them before they had a chance to come to him and his proven track record went with him, along with his accurate assessment of the current situation.

     Welch had been under fire enough times to know that certain general maneuvers were critical and needed to be agreed upon beforehand, or else things could deteriorate into chaos too late for even a good plan to work. However, backward Army culture hindered Welch from speaking up and because deep down he felt unworthy, he was not about to break with cultural norms. Yet, as he remained silent, he also burned inside. Clark Welch probably went to his grave regretting that he had not said something during this meeting. Coleman and Newman both had just witnessed his bravery and his competence in the heat of battle and would have probably listened to any tactical suggestions which he was willing to throw out there. Coleman had come around often at Lai Khe, during the summer, when Clark was training his new D Company troops and had nothing but good things to say to him each visit. As this meeting was breaking up, Coleman's aid handed him a silver star to pin on Clark's chest. If Clark had only been brave enough to speak up about his thoughts on tomorrow's operation? So what, if Terry's lip dragged the ground. He would not have been able to "cook and eat him" as we "grunts" used to say. However, it was not to be. Instead, this meeting closed, sealing the fate of more than sixty young Americans, while their last hope, General Hay was in Saigon battling another kind of battle with the blinded Westmoreland, who was okay with killing every teenage son and daughter of every Vietnamese rice farmer as well as every American son as long as the kill ratios tallied. I realize this is terrible thing to say, but I also realize that even the best and brightest of us are liable to be deceived into doing much worse, without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.    

 THE MEETING on Oct. 16 1967: From right to left, 1st Lt. Clark Welch (wounded 5 times),
  Brigadier Gen. Coleman, Major Don Holleder (killed), Lt. Col. Terry Allen (killed),
 Col. George (Buck) Newman (The photographer, Verland Gilbertson, was also killed.)

     First Brigade Commander Colonel Buck Newman was new and had not observed Terry Allen long enough to have developed any idea, before today, one way or the other, about his combat command abilities. We swapped operational control between the three brigades so much that it would have been unusual for he or any other brigade commander to have made more than a cursory assessment of any of the battalion commanders. Brigadier General Coleman was the assistant Division commander and was the top guy in the division who would be overseeing the next day's operation, since General Hay was away. However, Coleman was also responsible for eight other battalions operating all over War Zone C and D. So, the meeting closed with little accomplished, except possibly a settling of nerves of these two senior commanders toward Terry Allen. "For "heaven's sake", they thought, "Terry was the son of a past First Division Commander and hero of World War II. There was no reason why he couldn't be just as aggressive as his "ole man" had been in North Africa". By all accounts, Newman and Coleman thought Terry had "the makings" of a great commander in his genes, but he had definitely not lived up to that potential today. However, if they thought he had performed poorly today and had quit too soon, tomorrow was another day, and after his "little talking too", they had no trouble believing he would bonce back. Besides, they thought they were just worrying over not enough body counts. They had no idea how big the problem really was. Actually, it was going to be impossible for Terry to bonce back, because he had never been there in the first place. Quite frankly, however, there were few, if any, commanders in the First Division who could have spotted the problem this meeting was skirting. One of only a very few, who could have, was Dick Cavazos. As far as the blissfully ignorant Coleman and Newman were concerned, tomorrow would be Terry's time to shine and make his father and the Division proud". No senior officer would ever have relished the thought of possibly taking the heat for firing the son of a legendary First Division Commander.

     In the grand scheme of things, a much bigger dynamic was playing out. It affected not only the outcome of this meeting but many others as well. It was common knowledge that Westmoreland felt General Hay moved to slow and was too careful with his men's lives. Though the action today was quite successful, Coleman and Newman knew the pressure was on their boss, and that the low body count for today would be scorned in the eyes of Westmoreland. Still, it was obvious from what transpired the next day, that they didn't know what they could do about it. No tactical plans was discussed in the meeting, and no pertinent questions were asked by these two senior leaders. Coleman and Newman did listen calmly and dutifully as Terry took over the conversation from Welch. He made at least one patronizing statement, mentioning what a great day tomorrow was going to be. He did also mention dropping those air strikes on the retreating NVA but was careful not to bring up any fleeting detailed tactical thoughts which may have crossed his mind, for fear of setting off a string of "What if " questions, which he knew he couldn't answer. Terry looked and felt very small standing by that helicopter, with Coleman and Newman towering over him. I am sure at the time that picture above was taken, he did not wish to be within a thousand miles of either of those men. Sadly, while Dick would have viewed this meeting as an opportunity, Terry saw it as a frightening experience. It's easy for me to believe, that it reminded him of his childhood days, with his parents hovering over him, as a silent reminder of some unpleasant chore which he was yet to complete. Coleman and Newman were preoccupied too. As I said, the entire senior command was feeling the pressure coming down from their boss, Westmoreland, to produce bigger "body counts".

     The truth is, Terry was nothing like his father. As the meeting was breaking up, Welch's awareness of the stubbornness and confusion in his commander's mind increased and it was making him angry. He cringed at Terry's over-all handling of the meeting. Terry had talked about where he was going to bomb a retreating enemy, when one must first come up with a plan to make that enemy want to run away in the first place. Today, he and Kasik had been fortunate enough, to have time to maneuver and call in artillery. However, that may not be the case tomorrow. Also, in a growing number of observations lately, Welch had noticed signs of his commander's inability to visualize what needed to be done next, but he had tried to make excuses for those observations. However, now they were getting ready for what could possibly be the "big one". This meeting, more than any other, needed to be about nailing down a plan, beforehand, so everyone would at least know what their initial response was going to be if they made contact with the enemy in those woods tomorrow. That wasn't happening. In the meeting, not only was nothing nailed down, but it seemed, as though, Terry had lost his hammer. Yet, if Welch was mad at Terry, he was mad at himself too, for not being able to speak up.

     There was another meeting after Coleman and Newman flew back to Chon Thanh. This one was held out of the afternoon rain, inside a hex tent with real folding chairs for the attendees to sit on. The captains who were company commanders got to sit on the front row. Welch was a company commander too, but since he was a Lieutenant he had to take a seat on the second row. It was a battalion briefing. There were about 10 people at this meeting, three company commanders, Terry's S3 and S2, attached air and artillery observers and other officers and NCOs in the headquarters company. Terry was the highest ranking officer at this meeting and by now, Terry was not in any mood to entertain even the slightest probe into how he planned to handle tomorrow's upcoming operation. He was still on edge but now he was free to react anyway he pleased since he was the highest ranking guy in the room. He had never experienced anything, since his West Point days, quite like that haranguing he had received earlier by Coleman and Newman and it had really primed him for what he would do next. As a cadet, he had learned long ago to pass a good haranguing on to that next cadet below him, especially one who had performed well. Since then Terry had matured little. In a very sad way, he was still stuck in those long gone yester years, and, as a result, was now feeling the need to revert back to his more comfortable adolescent past. He was subjected to upper classman haranguing today, so he would pass it along, not realizing that haranguing was designed for an adolescent time when civilians were being turned into soldiers. In his mind, he needed to harangue that next best "cadet", because that's what a good "West Pointer" would do. Little did he know that Coleman and Newman were not upperclassmen, haranguing for the sake of haranguing. They were his fellow warriors who just happened to also be his bosses. The best way to deal with chastisement from a boss is to humble one's self and strive to become more knowledgeable than him, concerning the circumstances, at hand. Today both Coleman and Newman witnessed Terry's ignorance, and it scared the "crap" out of them, because he seemed to know even less than they knew. Like him, they were also new, ignorant and resistant to learning new tactics, yet, everyone, including them, would take the heat from Hay and Third Corps Commander Fred Weyand if something went wrong. That's the reason behind the 'butt chewing". Terry didn't get it. Clark Welch had never been to West Point so how could he know that Terry Allen was still trying to graduate, and was about to use him to make the grade? Welch did realize, however, that he knew a "thing or two" about jungle fighting, and that frustrated him because he felt he had no way to be heard, without being belittled.

     As I said, Terry wanted nothing to do with answering questions, as crazy as that might sound. He insulated himself even more from questions by having his operations officer, Major Sloan, lead off the meeting, giving instructions. Clark Welch was livid. He knew he needed to speak up before his men went back into that jungle like dumb sheep into the jaws of a lion. However, the "entire thing", of not knowing how to say, what he needed to say, left a huge sinking feeling deep inside Welch's stomach. He felt helpless and abandoned. Clark had no idea, whatsoever, that he was dealing with a boy pretending to be a man. Even if he had known, he would not have had the presence of mind to deal with it. Clark's concern was totally with his men and fighting tactics, as it should have been. Here is the most gut wrenching part. The critical life saving tactical information, which the Black Lions sorely needed was wrapped up in the mind of Terry's best jungle fighter, Clark Welch. All Terry needed to do was get with Clark and unwrap it. That's not hard stuff for a good mature leader to do, because all one has to do is ask questions.

     With all this said, as men started walking away from this second meeting toward their positions for the night, Clark Welch, with pent up emotions boiling over, finally exploded and blurted out a bumbling nonsensical remark". It hit Terry squarely between the eyes and triggered a sophomoric response from him more deadly than a claymore mine. "Sir, I don't think we should go back in there tomorrow", the big man whined in a much smaller man's voice. Those were absolutely the worst words terry could hear coming from anyone's mouth, but doubly so, coming from Clark, the "Rock", as many called him. Those words hit Terry so hard that they landed him all the way back to his days as a "second year" man learning to discipline "Plebes" and their foolishness and civilian foolishness always needed to be dealt with  However, that was a long time ago and Terry had made some improvements on the way  remarks. Upon hearing them, Terry immediately reversed the order of march for the following day. "You have had a hard day today, Al", as he called Welch. This statement was the preface to the haranguing which was coming. Terry thought it lent a certain fatherly upperclassman maturity to the zinger of a haranguing he was fixing to deliver.  making him feel like he was the most mature "upperclassman" in the room,  by polishing up his "haranguing hit" on his best subordinate with a fatherly tone in his voice. and yet addressing a "second year man". "I am changing the order of march. A Company will lead tomorrow instead of your D Company". That was it. Welch was dismissed by a now completely disconnected Terry Allen, who, by that one simple change in orders, had just destined himself, and two of his rifle companies to utter destruction. Welch tried to reengage Terry but was quickly rebuffed him. 

     Of course they were going to return tomorrow to that same area. That's what they were there to do and no one knew that better than Clark. What Clark almost certainly meant to say was, "Sir, I think we should stop and talk about an overall plan in case we are attacked". Terry, however, took Clark's words literally and in Terry's shallow, self centered mind, they were translated into words of complete abandonment, of him, by his best soldier. Actually, they were not that at all. Instead, they were simply cries for help. It was Clark's way of begging Terry to step up to the challenge and lead. He had no idea that it was impossible for Terry to do that. Terry's distorted thinking had heard what it heard and those misspoken words were the final straw. All along Terry had been trying to fill his father's shoes but he had no aptitude for this business. He had graduated second to last in his class at West Point. He should have taken that ranking as a huge warning sign that he was in the wrong line of work but he didn't. A good leader always possesses the ability to read their people no matter what words come forth from their mouths. Terry was no leader. He was a follower. If he could not read his own men, whom he was with day in and day out, how could he ever hope to gain an understanding of a shadowy and ruthless foe like Vo Minh Triet? As this last business meeting of Terry's life ended, it was his pride which stripped him of that last bit of ability to think logically. Furthermore, unlike his father, He had no aptitude for killing his enemies. Guess what? Neither did the man, Jesus. You see, not everyone is cut from the same cloth. As I have said but bares repeating, there should be no shame associated with those who lack this morbid ability to take human life. Although it is a path which God has paved for some of the righteous among us to follow, it is not a path for all. Simply put, Terry was never a warrior and never would be one. It was his covering of pride protected by a foreboding of shame, which led him to this final death trap. There are an infinite number of routes in life and many pursuits but only one path and one pursuit designed by God, for each of us, to find real fulfillment. My previous commander, Lt. Col. Denton, against all odds, found this enlightened path later in life, after butting his head against a wall, as a combat commander, in both Korea and Vietnam. He was clearly not cut out to be a combat commander. However, he changed course later in his life and went on to touch many other lives and his community in an enlightened way that only he could have done. Because Terry had not developed a personal walk with God, nor did he have the strong Christian legacy, of another, to enlighten his way, he became one more tragic victim of the darkness. He was trapped in the shadow of his father's life, never finding that bright and sunlit path which his creator had designed just for him. Unfortunately, the men of the Black Lions had no choice but to follow him into that darkness. 

At 0800 hours the next morning, on the 17th October 1967, Jim George's half strength A Company led the march from the NDP perimeter, heading due south into the triple canopy jungle. Terry Allen with his headquarters people followed behind Clark's 1st platoon. The other two platoons of D Company brought up the rear. According to recorded coordinates they were traveling on a path that was to the west of yesterday's march. They stopped every 500 meters and sent out those "idiotic" clover leaf patrols. I say "idiotic" because they did nothing but slow things down, giving the enemy more time to stage an ambush. They also made it harder to retrieve wounded patrol members when they were injured during first contact. They did absolutely nothing to prevent an ambush. Terry's men walked in a double column which meant more noise, more effort, and twice as many people funneled into the killing zone of a three sided ambush. Dick would have had our single column count off, numbering ourselves so we knew which flank to cover in case we were attacked. For example, the odd number would cover the right and the even numbered man would cover the left. Terry had "walking artillery fires" dropped 500 meters in front of the line of march. That too served little purpose. Calling for spotter rounds every so often would have been a better move. Here's why. Spotter rounds would have assured that the gun crews were readily able to provide quick fires on target, but would not have worn down the gun crews, who had to carry heavy ammo and load those big guns. The enemy could easily avoid the heavy barrages of "walking fires" because the battalion was moving in a straight line. This also meant that Triet could easily predict where those next rounds were going to land. Traveling in a straight line also allowed Triet to easily determine where that straight line march would intersect an ox cart trail and every large ambush, which I researched, took place near one of these well used ox cart trails. It's amazing that our senior leaders never seemed to "snap" to this. Triet could not only predict the best place to stage an ambush, but also accurately estimate his enemy's arrival time at his chosen ambush site. These slow moving search and destroy operations always gave him more than enough time to place his sappers, tree snipers, and guides in position. The guides would then direct the main force into position. When commanded, NVA conscripts kept at a safe distance could be "herded" over a mile on one of these trails in less than 15 minutes. One of the reasons Welch and Kasik fared so well in the battle on the 16th of October was because they had turned east from their straight line march just 300 meters before crossing one of those infamous ox cart trails. More than likely, Triet had been waiting for them to reach that trail. By switching directions, Clark and Kasik had unknowingly foiled the ambush. Today, on the 17th, however, the Americans did not switch directions before intersecting a well maintained ox cart trail, and it had taken them two hours to get there. That was plenty of time for Triet to prepare a large ambush, even with his weakened NVA conscripts, who were in poor physical condition from lack of food.

     As I said before, captured documents and later captured prisoners revealed that Triet was originally ordered to leave this area around Lai Khe and join other forces for a planned attack on a place named Loc Ninh at the end of the month. He wasn't suppose to hang around the Long Nguyen Secret Zone but this location was nearer vast rice patties and many nearby secret cashes. His special support troops were hustling to transport those cashes to other sites closer to him but those boys in the 1/2nd Infantry Battalion had just destroyed a lot of special services hard work. At this moment Triet was in a real bind. Many of his conscripts would now starve if he started them out on that long march north. It was 50 kilometers as the crow flies, but his conscripts were not crows and they couldn't fly. Their route would have been much longer than 50 kilometers, winding through thick jungle. The further into this virgin jungle they went, the fewer the rice caches and the greater the chances of being discovered by us.
Furthermore, Triet's NVA conscripts, some as young as 12 years old, were not the legendary jungle fighters described by "left wingers". They were growing teenagers who required more sleep and more food than an adult. In 1967-68 these brutalized "Stockholm syndrome" victims had a life expectancy of not much more than six months, after arriving to live in the deadly jungles of South Vietnam. Now, time was running out for this particular batch of "human trafficked" teenagers of the most horrific kind imaginable. They were starving, but to make matters worse, they had just been mauled in three major engagements, by my 1/18th Battalion. Triet was a ruthless sociopath but he was no fool. He understood everything I have just said, although these facts would have been acted upon much differently by his sociopathic brain, then by an American commander. Here is the way Triet saw his possibilities. He could either march north and have no one in condition to fight, when he got there, or he could make one more stab at overrunning and destroying an American battalion, with the help of support troops who were not doing much anyway since there was no rice to transport. Marching north meant no fight left in his unit when he got there, and definitely meant no glory for Triet. However, if Triet stayed and fought the Americans one more time, he would be able to use these local support troops, who were fresh and ready for a fight. The Phu Loi battalion was also nearby and just "chock-full" of communist sociopaths who were always ready to kill some one, whether civilian or military. As a side note, their recruits were allowed to cut their teeth on terrorizing the local Vietnamese. Triet also knew that Terry Allen had just been newly promoted, unlike that other "ole battle axe", Dick Cavazos, who seemed to know every trick in the book. The communist spy ring in Saigon provided Triet regular updates on all American battalion commanders. His own observations also told him that Terry's actions, so far, seemed to indicate that he just might be vulnerable to another try at a "good ole fashioned ox cart trail ambush".        


      It was 0958 hours when the Black Lions point men arrived at that well worn trail running generally from the S.E. to the N.W and about a 1000 meters from the NDP. They spotted seven VC near the trail, who immediately ran off when they were sighted. It should have been obvious to Terry Allen at this point in his tour of duty that this was a setup. It was a common trick, played over and over by the VC on us Americans to draw us further into what was usually a three sided ambush. The VC were already in attack positions, waiting for a signal to spring the trap. The point men of A Company started firing away at the seven VC, but these Black Lions were veteran jungle fighters, who were not foolish enough to chase after a few "Charlie's". They waited for orders on what to do next. The entire battalion was now halted and standing in place while Capt. Jim George talked to Terry and Terry talked to Col. Newman, and I am also sure that Brigadier Gen. Coleman got in on the conversation too. General Hay was still tied up in Saigon. Everyone talked to everyone except the one man, whom everyone should have been talking to, and that was Clark Welch. However, Clark was not in the lead. The compliant Jim George was leading the column. Clark was in the rear so all he could do was listen to the talk on the radios. No doubt, the first thing Clark would have advised Terry to do if he had been in the lead would have been to allow him to immediately withdraw and call in a wall of artillery on that evacuated forward ground. That was the only sensible move to make. However, Terry had "knee jerked" at Clark's terribly misplaced remarks the night before and changed the line of march. This placed Clark's D company in the rear, which meant that all input of Clark's good instincts for jungle fighting had now been muted. All Clark and his men could do was listen helplessly on their own radios as events unfolded up front. No one in Clark's D Company, however, could believe how "hair brained" Terry Allen's next move was. Even 18 year old D Company PFC Peter Miller thought that this plan was the the most "scatterbrained" idea he had ever heard. The point squad of A Company was being ordered to set up an ambush on that ox cart trail. When I read David Maraniss's excellent accounting of this detail, I too was dumfounded. It spoke volumes about Terry's lack of understanding of this type of warfare, and also his inability to learn. Ambushes in Vietnam were stealthy affairs, carried out by a small force, and usually at night. An ambush was the last thing in the world which should have been considered here. Terry Allen was commanding a large noisy force trampling through the jungle like a herd of goats. Ambushes were suppose to take the enemy by surprise and usually required a lengthy waiting period for that to happen. Who, in their right mind, would ever think that the enemy was going to be taken by surprise, at this location, when an entire squad had not only discharged their weapons, but over one hundred other grunts behind them had announced their presence, by stomping through the area, to the cadence of marching artillery fires, exploding every few minutes to their front. Also, what was the rest of the the battalion going to do with themselves, while waiting on this ambush patrol to spring their trap? Did they bring their dominoes or a deck of cards with them? The question which most disturbed me, however, was, "Why in the world did Col. Newman or Gen. Coleman not countermand this, crazy idea?" They were there when Capt. Watts Caudill had demonstrated the proper tactics, during the Battle of Da Yeu. They should have known that this was a ridiculous maneuver.       

Triet's watchers in the bushes were sending him "real time" reports on the progress of the Black Lions and had been constantly doing this since the Americans left their NDP. He gave the order to spring his ambush just as George's lead squad was moving into their ambush positions along the trail. When Triet gave the signal, the point man's body was immediately ripped open by massive volumes of fire coming from multiple heavy machine guns. Some were in trenches on the right flank and others were firing from directly to the front and south of the trail. If I had been assigned to the 2/28th, with Terry as my boss, I would have had no choice but to do exactly what this veteran point man did, which was obey the commands of a fool and walk into certain death, as certain as standing on a gallows, waiting for the lever on the trap door to be pulled. Within no more than a couple minutes things descended into chaos. Within several minutes the men up front were being cut to pieces by a hail of this heavy machine gun fire, which could easily rip through smaller trees and kill men hiding on the other side. Since sappers and small groups of those supporting troops were not receiving any organized return fire, the signal was given for heavy machine guns to cease firing and small teams rushed forward with claymore mines and RPGs.

     Most of the enemy troops, fighting that day were a mixed bag of support troops, the Phu Loi battalion and a few NVA conscripts. This fact is one reason why Triet mounted his attack so differently. The information for my being able to understand the difference was buried in "After Action Reports". The NVA were in poor condition, but the support troops were not. I found documentation indicating that at least 200 local support troops joined Triet's main force NVA just before the battle. These support troops fought much more aggressively, but also fought much more piecemeal. This tactic worked because of the large number of heavy machine guns which gave them fire superiority early on and Terry's total lack of forethought. Triet first used these large numbers of machine guns to kill and maim a large number of A Company people and then ceased firing machine guns so his artillery in the form of RPGs and some claymore mine people could go to work. Since the support troops had no rice to carry, before the battle they were able to gather up a large number of RPG munitions to bring to the battle. These RPGs were the most devastating form of attack mounted by Triet and by far killed more Americans on this day then machine guns, automatic rifles or snipers put together. This attack was nothing like the human wave attack on Haig at the Battle of Ap Gu, which had been mounted mostly by formations of NVA conscripts. A full blown NVA attack would have taken on a much different characteristic, consisting of more tightly-knit formations, with whistles and bugles used to signal maneuvers. I found no evidence for this type of an attack on this particular day. Furthermore, Triet had good reason for not using the starving NVA conscripts to press home an attack. As I have mentioned, they were "on the ropes" after being decimated in those last three demoralizing battles with Dick's boys. Not only were they starving but the psychological fabric which held conscripts together, their three man cells, had been torn to tatters. Surviving members of these cells suffered great emotional trauma from watching their fellow comrades being ripped to shreds, by Captain Caudill's B company boys and also his ability to very quickly call in close artillery support. They were human. I assure the reader that the horror these teenage conscripts experienced at the hands of a very professionally led American unit like the 1/18th did not make them want to say things like,  "Yippee! That was fun. Can we do that again"? I say all this to say that the preponderance of evidence from the 1/18th battles and the one Terry fought makes it fairly easy to see that Triet was predisposed to hold most of his NVA (not all) in reserve on this day and instead use those local support troops the way he did. It was a gamble but a calculated gamble which paid off. Terry's woefully lacking tactical expertise and the large number of machine guns and rockets that the support troops were able to carry to the fight made sure of that. Additionally, These support troops, like many "back water" support troops were itching for a fight and were in good shape mentally and physically. The records say 200 of them showed up so that number was probably double. They were the ones who did most of the fighting and that made this battle unique, compared to the others, which the First Infantry Division fought during 1967.

     On this day, everything, and I mean everything, we Americans did, helped spell defeat. It was as if the entire command structure of the First Division had schemed to lose. The highly indoctrinated Phu Loi Battalion was composed of more hard-line communist true believers than probably any other battalion, which fought in Third Corps area. Their murderous ventures revealed characteristics more in tune with that of the German SS in World War II. Triet's Attackers also brought along a couple captured M-60 machine guns and several M-79 grenade launchers, which conscripts in the regular NVA battalions would not have had. However, local support troops would have most certainly have obtained a few of these at this point in the war, since they had more dealings with the black market. These local support troops were much better at improvising than their NVA counterparts. They were more familiar with the area and jungle trails than conscripts, who only knew to follow the person in front of them for the most part. It's sad to think that our Army intelligence guys never seemed to come to an understanding of these distinctions. Conscripts simply did not live long enough to become much good for anything, other than "cannon fodder". Of course there were always exceptions and the leftist press was and is masterful at pointing out these exceptions. Even today it is masterful in it's tireless propagandizing of those exceptions until they are excepted as the way things are.       

     Lets get back to the battle, itself. Within a matter of minutes, Americans in the very front found it hard to withdraw without being wounded or killed by the horrendous volume of enemy fire. It was coming from three sides and from snipers in trees, shooting down on people who exposed themselves in the sunlit patches of open jungle. Americans became distracted by the screams of the wounded around them. Many others, not yet injured, knew they would be haunted for the rest of their lives if they turned their backs on their hapless buddies. So, they stopped fighting and started helping. The stupid deployment of the A Company ambush just put men deeper into the jaws of Triet's much bigger ambush. When the shooting started, it allowed the wounded and dead to rise much more quickly. Others further to the rear just naturally rushed forward, becoming "helping soldiers" rather than "shooting soldiers". To make matters worse, Captain George, himself, led the charge for the entire company to move forward toward the shooting, instead of having them make a tactical withdrawal while he still had troops who were able to fight. Soon, a home made claymore mine took out most of Jim George's key people. George, himself, was severely wounded by it, and soon afterward had to turn his A Company command over to his Top, First Sergeant Valdez. In those first critical minutes, more and more A Company soldiers continued rushing forward, piecemeal, running to their deaths, either because they were ordered to do so, or were motivated by their own self-will. As was always the case with a situation like this, order quickly broke down and too many actions no longer had anything to do with killing the enemy. The importance of that task was quickly obscured. However, it was still the most important task at hand. In a fire fight, everything needs to be secondary to killing the enemy. This is a very gruesome reality. Because it is so gruesome, it's no wonder that so many lost their ability to wrap their head around such a thing. It's especially sickening to the Christian soul. Most young Americans caught up in the slaughter, on this day, were the offspring of parents who had raised them to make helping an injured person their first priority. It just wasn't in their makeup to ignore that person and continue looking for someone to kill. A few weeks of military training had not altered that humane way of thinking. Guys just wanted to save their buddies and that was a decent thought. It was a righteous thought. It was a thought which wins medals, but it was not a thought which was appropriate at this moment in time. Instead, it was just the kind of thinking which turned even more living young men into dead ones. At this point, the very brave but totally clueless Terry Allen had finally allowed his lack of mature forethought to catch up with him. Although Clark Welch had tried to warn him, he had failed to take that warning seriously. If he had, he would have given Captain George instructions beforehand to be ready to make a tactical withdrawal as soon as those first VC were spotted. This was the understanding which Dick had established with Captain Caudill long before the bullets started flying at the battle of Da Yeu and it was the only tactic which would work. If not given this order before hand, few junior commanders were going to automatically give such a command on their own when fighting broke out, because they were afraid it would look too much like cowardice to their superiors. 

     Weapons failed to fire. Radios were mashed by shrapnel and bullets. Even a normally very reliable M60 machine gun and a M79 grenade launcher malfunctioned when they were brought forward to help gain fire superiority. Was this just a "freak" occurrence or was this due to Terry's laxed battalion policies toward enforcement of the proper care of weapons? The M60 was a very robust but complicated weapon. It required a man to pay close attention to the disassembling and reassembling, during cleaning. That man, handling this weapon, on this day, should not have had to wait until he was engaged in a fire fight to find out that his weapon would not fire. This incident was just one more clue, indicating that Terry had not been stressing the importance of certain everyday routines. Cleaning and maintaining weapons was routine but of paramount importance. Sure, numerous M-16s jammed, but that was a given, whether a soldier cleaned it or not. I have already explained in detail, the reasons for these weapons being inferior and it wasn't just because they often jammed. The problem was also with the light weight of the bullet and the use of tracer rounds.

     Of even greater importance, however, artillery fires were halted just when they were needed the most. The halt was to accommodate the Air Force, who had arrived to drop their ordinance. By now, even Terry had learned a thing or two about the effective use of these two assets. Correctly, he wanted to continue using artillery, but Colonel Newman countermanded him and shut it down. Certainly, Brigadier General Coleman and Colonel Newman should have known better. However, this countermanding said otherwise. It proved that they had not the slightest understanding, of how these two powerful weapons of war should be used. Like a child at play, Newman had just yanked these assets out of his ground commander's hands which meant he had now just taken control of the battle, himself. This was exactly the wrong move in so many ways, that I hardly know were to begin. Terry had not been at the Battle of Da Yeu, but Coleman and Newman had watched the whole thing from above. They saw Dick establish coordinates for a demarcation line, so the Air Force could keep bombing on the outside of that line and the artillery could keep blasting away up close on the inside without chancing an artillery shell striking a plane. Yet, Newman countermanded Terry. Also, at Da Yeu, Newman and Coleman had witnessed Captain Caudill's continual adjustment of artillery barrages, bringing those fires in ever more closely and they also witnessed his withdrawal tactic. They should have been able to learn from this real-life situation, yet they seemed to have learned nothing. As a side note, at the Battle of Da Yeu, because Captain Caudill was on the same page with a strong field commander (Cavazos) and had very little interference from above, he was better able to concentrate on communicating with his forward observers and maneuvering his platoons. Without Caudill's specific orders, those forward observers would have been too afraid to adjust fires as close as it needed to be, for fear of harming friendly troops, and receiving the associated blame which would have gone with that. Caudill's mathematical brain, backed up by a knowledgeable boss, with a general (Hay) flying above who knew enough to keep his nose out of it, made a formidable fighting force, even in a very messed up war. Caudill knew his stuff, but Dick was able to recognize that he knew his stuff, and general Hay had the wherewithal to recognize that the entire 1/18th knew it's stuff. Even if Hay, himself, didn't understand it all, he was mature enough to give my unit their head and let it run. Newman's calcified brain should have at least taken away one or two lessons from Da Yeu. With a different mindset, he could have become a great help to his ground commander, instead of a hindrance. For one, Terry desperately needed help lining up light fire team gunships to cover the flanks, but there is no indication that Coleman or Newman put their weight behind such a call and there is no report on the log, that gunships ever showed up during the entire battle. Obviously, the ground commander (Terry) had his hands full at the onset of the battle, but what good is a senior officer at a time like this, if he can do nothing but countermand orders and request "sitreps" (situation reports) every five minutes, while his people are dying? Maybe someone saw the same incompetent traits in Colonel Newman, which I am seeing, because he never received another promotion after this battle. Here is the truth concerning competent leadership. It's not so much about knowing every detail of the job as it is about enabling one's people to learn and perform those details. Above it all, however, great leadership has it's roots in the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, either through one's newborn spirit or by proxy through another's Christian legacy.  

     This same morning, before leaving the NDP, Terry's disorganized brain made another big slip-up. He didn't bring along his recon platoon. These were his best fighters. If he had brought them along, he very well may have died of old age instead of the way he did die. "Most of those boys" carried the M-14s which could do almost as much damage in the right hands, as an M60 machine gun. However, Terry changed recon's marching orders, in the meeting the night before, sending them to the West on a "wild goose chase". I can't help but wonder if brigade commander Newman's harsh treatment of Terry, on the previous day, had something to do with him making that change. In response to Newman's thrashing, was Terry trying to make some kind of passive-aggressive move by leaving recon behind? Was he thinking, "I'll show Newman how brave I am. I won't take any extra men with me"? In any case, at the very least, this was just another poorly thought-out command, by Terry, indicating that his heart was not in his job. Whether Terry was trying to prove something to himself, or to Coleman and Newman, doesn't really matter.

     I do know this. A real leader should never have to prove anything to anyone. Real top notch leadership is in the knowing and doing of a thing, while saying "damn the torpedoes". (John Paul Jones) Dick Cavazos did that early-on, as a young Lieutenant in Korea. He was able to do the right thing because his subconscious mind had been conditioned by his upbringing to do that right thing. And yes, he was then very quickly torpedoed for doing the right thing. Here is what happened. When his position was overrun in Korea, he did not wait for orders to safely withdraw his men from a hill that they were occupying. He then went back, himself, with a few volunteers, and led the wounded, who were left behind, to safety. A superior wanted to torpedo him with a court marshal for withdrawing without orders, but instead, when the dust settled, he was given a silver star. Hey cadet, write this down. Doing the right thing should always trump blind obedience. Dick had already been motivated to do the right thing long before he joined the Army. Where did his motivation come from? It didn't come from Army training. The motivation for his brave actions came from his secure upbringing on the ranch, rooted in a moral underpinning of Judeo-Christian principles which can be traced back to his Grandmother. Sure, it takes specific job knowledge to be successful, but without the proper moral underpinning to motivate us, the fruits of that job knowledge, even if grandiose to the eye, will produce nothing more than a "Tower of Babel". In comparison to Dick, as a child, Terry enjoyed all the cultural and financial benefits which allowed him to choose pretty much any path in life. However, the tragic difference in Terry's life, compared to Dick was this. Terry, like so many of my "baby boomer" generation, was severely lacking in that delicate moral underpinning needed to condition his mind to do the right thing in every instance of life. Thus he was motivated to take that next promotion, but not the responsibility which came with it. Simply put, Terry was being allowed to skate, by an ever growing leadership, which was also becoming more and more morally depleted.        

     Now, during the current fiasco, Clark Welch tried to do his best. He was the very archetype of the American soldier, but this time his best was not going to be good enough. He needed a commander who could turn him loose to be that incredible soldier that he was, but Terry Allen had already made it abundantly clear the night before that he was not and never would be that commander. All by himself, Clark could not perform miracles and the Black Lions now needed a miracle. Yet, only the enlightenment of God produces miracles. Terry had been allowed to skate his entire life and now his grunts were paying the bill, a bill which only God's currency would cover. However, from a broader perspective, Terry was not ultimately responsible for what happened at Ong Thanh. The problem was much bigger than this one battle or the ineptness of one commander. This time the alignment of bad leadership from President Johnson on down had created an almost perfect storm. Here is the "down and dirty" of it. At the top, President Johnson had been tasked with a noble and worthy cause, and to his credit, he had accepted the challenge. Instead of looking to the Holy Spirit first, however, he then looked to other smart people for advice in winning that cause. One of the smartest people Johnson looked to was Defense Secretary McNamara. In turn, McNamara looked to Westmoreland, calling him, "Our best and brightest". Westmoreland, was prideful enough to agree with that assessment wholeheartedly. From early on, in his military career, he had been accepted by others as such, so why shouldn't he believe it to be true? As it always happens where pride is involved, "Westy" ask the following question of himself. "If I am the smartest, why should I listen to anyone else?" His old boss, James Gavin tried to tell him that he was headed down the wrong path. Several years into the war, as things deteriorated, McNamara's own "Whiz Kid Analysts" showed "Westy" statistical proof that his strategy of attrition was not working, but "Westy" was still convinced that he knew best. Even after the war was lost, he wrote a book detailing how he still knew best. As with President Johnson, there is no mention of "Westy" ever looking to the Holy Spirit for advice. Moving on down the line, General Hay also looked to himself, and was conflicted on how to best satisfy his boss, Westmoreland, and still protect the lives of his boys. It's obvious that the workability of Westmoreland's single minded strategy of attrition was vary much a question mark in Hay's mind. However, I don't believe anyone, including Hay, realized just how ignorant "Westy" really was, when it came to understanding tactics on the battle field, any battle field, not just Vietnam. This ignorance meant one thing. If he had no ability to analyze fairly simple tactics which a grunt like me could understand, then he definitely had no ability, whatsoever, to match successful tactics with a successful strategy for winning the war. I also don't believe our First Division Commander Hay ever realized just how callous Westmoreland was. Westmoreland and Third Corps commander, Weyand, were so dissatisfied with the way Hay cautiously went about the performance of his duties in order to save more of our lives, that they were seriously thinking of replacing him. That thought and Westmoreland's larger thoughts which included his desire to "light a fire" under all his senior commanders, was the purpose of the meeting in Saigon and it was this meeting which absenced Hay from the battle, where I believe he could have had a big impact if he had been there.   

     So, with this larger perspective in mind, let me finish my comments on the battle, itself. Within the first fifteen minutes or so of contact, the point squad leader Gribble was dead and his squad was decimated, as was most of A Company. Captain George was severely wounded and so were his platoon leaders. He turned command of his company over to First Sergeant Valdez. Terry Allen now ordered Valdez to withdraw north, but that became extremely hard to do because of the large number of wounded which needed to be helped. Still, Sergeant Valdez did his best to rally his tattered company, leading his men in the direction of the least amount of incoming fire. That path was not due north toward the ranks of D Company, because D Company people were returning fire in the direction of anyone retreating north toward them. How messed up was that? Valdez was forced to take his wounded men and the ones who were able to carry them almost due east. He traveled around a hundred meters or so, before stopping and setting up a fighting perimeter. Now, Valdez's men were in a world unto themselves. They were so weak that they would never have been able to fend-off an assault, nor were they in a position to provide reinforcement for Clark Welch's D Company. There was a lull in the firing for about thirty minutes, while Newman's two useless air strikes were taking place. Those air strikes were dropped in the middle of nowhere, but they did serve one vital purpose to aid the enemy. Their location signaled to Triet that who ever was orchestrating these air strikes as well as the stoppage of artillery fires didn't know "what the heck they were doing". Furthermore, Triet's diversionary sniper fire on the NDP was now working beautifully to draw gunships to the NDP instead of coming to the aid of Terry Allen's beleaguered A and D companies. It was an "almost too good to be true" situation for Triet, so he rushed more reserves down the ox cart trail on D Company's left flank, where they spread out and reeked havoc on Clark's left flank. They hit Clark first with a devastating machine gun attack followed by multiple RPG attacks. Welch was wounded a total of five times while trying to turn himself into a one man army. Even the operation's officer, Major Sloan joined in on the act of "Gee, let's see how I can make a bad situation worse". When Triet realized that the artillery fires had been paused, and he was in the midst of rushing in more reserve troops, Sloan cancelled Welch's call for his own unit's mortar fires to be used to suppress the new attack. Major Sloan believed that using those mortars in triple canopy jungle would be a violation of First Division S.O.P.. This order was supposedly issued by General Hay. Sloan explained later that the order was issued because of the danger of "tree bursts" which could injure friendly troops. I know of no such order and I served in the field under Hay for a long time, on the receiving end of that kind of mortar fire support. I also know from first hand experience that those mortars could have made all the difference in the world.

     By 1230 hours, the fight was largely over with only a few lingering enemy ambushers left combing the woods for souvenirs and a chance to kill one more American. Clark Welch's last memory of the battle, before passing out and waking up in the hospital, was sergeant Barrow shooting a VC trying to lift him to his feet, supposedly to be taken prisoner. However, who knows? Newman was now landing at the NDP and taking command of the Battalion. C Company was in the midst of flying in from Chon Thanh to reinforce the NDP. Med-evac "dust-offs" were on the way to evacuate the wounded. Buck Newman, from what I can tell, did a very good job of organizing things in the aftermath of the attack, but he did make one more fatal mistake. He led a recue party several hundred meters south to better coordinate recue and evacuation efforts of the wounded but failed to coral his young operation's officer. Thirty two year Major Don Holleder had been a star football player for Army, and was somewhat of a national sports celerity. Senior officers loved having him around. Although he wasn't the "sharpest knife in the drawer", he was a go-getter with a physically commanding presence. As more and more stragglers came out of the jungle meeting Newman's command group, Holleder begged and got permission from Newman to take some of these men back south to search for more survivors. In other words he wanted to run ahead of the command group. Alpha Company medic, Tom Hinger, who had survived the worst of the fighting all morning, was one of the stragglers who was ordered to go with Holleder. What a dumb move this was, on Newman's part. Holleder quickly outpaced this little group, as if he were running onto a football field to save the day just as he had done at the Army, Navy game. He was soon stitched up the middle with a burst from an enemy AK-47. One bullet cut a main artery in his chest, maybe the heart, itself, and he was dead before "Doc Hinger" reached him.