Ap Bu Nho – A Remembrance.


Garryowen in Glory, the 7th Cavalry Regiment at Ap Bu Nho 

By a quirk of fate, “D” 2/7 Cavalry, was given the chance to demonstrate the plausibility of Spinoza’s despair several weeks later.  A Montagnard agent reported that the 141st NVA Regiment was temporarily in position just to the west of the Montagnard resettlement village of Ap (village) Bu Nho about 20 kilometers southwest of Song Be.  This village, like several others in Phuoc Long province, had been created in the course of earlier years of war and migration throughout Indochina.  It was perfectly rectangular, three streets wide and five hundred feet long with the long axis running east-west, with a dirt road extending to the tar two lane road connecting Song Be with the south.  The Song Be River passed north-south to the west of the village.  There was a roughly circular patch of woods just northwest of the village.  The wood was about one kilometer in diameter.  The river ran along the west side of the wood.  On the eastern side of the wood, there was a large open “field” covered with grass nearly hip high.  The field extended along the whole northern side of the village out to the tar road and beyond.  The inhabitants were three or four hundred in number, living in tribal style in long houses and other small flimsily built shacks.  They had originally lived in the area of Camp Roland in the northeastern corner of PhuocLongProvince, and had moved or been moved to this site during the First Indochina War.  They were S’tiengan people.  The agent was one of them and lived in Bu Nho. 

I drove to Landing Zone  “Buttons” with this information to visit the command post of the Second Battalion, Seventh Cavalry, then operating out of the landing zone.  In the underground facility, I talked to the S-2 (Intelligence Staff Officer) of the battalion.  I had been providing this officer with information for some time.  An example had been the information that led to the BDA mission mentioned above.  While we two intelligence officers were discussing the report, the lieutenant colonel commanding 2/7 Cav entered the command post.  He was new, having arrived in country within the previous month, and having joined the battalion the week before.  In his late thirties, blond, and in his new found dignity, he had a “lean and hungry look.”  The S-2 introduced me to him, told him how valuable the detachment’s information had been in the past.  The Bn. CO seemed to have a hard time understanding who I was.  In talking to me he seemed to be more interested in “showing off” for his operations staff who had followed him into the bunker than in listening.  The idea of an intelligence officer resident in the province who had brought him information seemed more than he could handle.  After a few minutes, he tired of the whole thing, and asked to be shown on the map.  After a glance, he asked the S-3, another superior being and soi-disant tactical virtuoso, what “D” Company was doing the next day.  The major said that “D” was in LZ “Buttons” resting and refitting.  The CO casually said “Well, put’em in there at first light.”  His finger indicated the big, grassy clearing in the angle between Bu Nho and the round woods to the west.  The S-2 looked at me, opened his mouth and then said nothing. 

I thought  What the hell!  I don’t work for this man..  “Colonel,” I began, “there is at least a battalion of the 141st NVA Regiment in that wood.  They are the best troops in the 7th NVA Division, which is the best in their army.  They have been in that wood for at least two weeks.  They will be ready.”  The CO was irritated.  “That’s all right, Captain,” he said.  “You are really a captain, aren’t you?  We’ll take it from here.  Most of these reports are untrue.  Why, when I was here as an adviser in the Delta, none of the stuff we got from you people was true.”  So, the man didn’t believe the report and was just looking for something for “D” Company to do.  This was a delicate situation.  “I must protest, sir,” I began.  “I would be negligent…”  “That will be all!” the CO barked.  “Good Day!”  The sycophants on the staff  bristled in the hope that their master would recognize them as the good dogs they were. 

I drove back to Song Be and called my higher headquarters to tell them that a disaster was about to occur.  The foreseeable reply from 525th  MIG in Saigon was that they would not attempt to interfere with the exercise of command by a line officer in command of troops in the field.   I then asked for a helicopter to come to Song Be to be at my disposal the next day.  This was agreed.  The “Huey” showed up early and I was sitting in the thing at 3,000 feet listening to the 1st Cavalry Division when the fire preparation of Ap Bu Nho commenced. 

They will not grow old, as we who are left grow old,

Age will not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun, and in the mornings,

We shall remember them..”

                                                            A.E. Housman – inscribed in Washington Arch at VMI

First, there was a lot of fire from corps heavy artillery batteries, including the one at Victor 241 airfield.  Then, there were Tacair fighter strikes with bombs and rockets, then there was a massive fire preparation by armed helicopters, of which the 1st Cavalry Division had many.  The bombs, shells, and rockets searched the round wood and the big, grassy field.  While the armed helicopters were still working on the patch of forest, the twenty odd “Huey Slicks”, (transports unarmed except for a machine gun on each side), swooped onto the scene from the east, having picked up “D” Company at LZ “Buttons.”  Throughout the preparation, there had not been a shot fired from the area under bombardment.  I could hear the Cavalry Division talking about it on the air.  Their opinion was that this would be a “cold” LZ, and that the enemy were not present.  With mixed feelings, I watched the assault unfold. The landing was in two columns of helicopters, which were perhaps fifty yards apart.  There were about ten helicopters in each column.  The cavalry troops scrambled out and headed for the round wood. 

The 141st NVA Infantry Regiment had held its fire throughout the preparatory bombardment, a remarkable display of fire discipline.  Now, as the helicopters lifted in unison, they opened fire in a roaring, ripping demonstration of just how much firepower a well trained and disciplined light infantry force can possess.  Four “Slicks” were shot down on the LZ.  All four exploded. It was not likely that anyone lived.  The fire balls killed a number of “D” Company men nearby.  Several more helicopters were badly damaged and departed smoking.  The NVA had organized the defense of the wood in such a way that interlocking bands of machine gun fire from log and earth bunkers cris-crossed out in the field.  The guns appeared to have been laid so that the fire was about two to three feet above the ground.  The inevitable dips in the ground (dead space) were filled with the fires of mortars shooting from positions behind the bunker line.  A general in the War Between the States remarked on a similar occasion that “not even a chicken could live under that fire.”  It was thus.  The NVA were all in the round wood.  The bunkers themselves, as later inspected, were solid with two layers of hardwood logs separated by a foot of packed earth and with another layer of earth on top.  They had firing embrasures six inches high, were sited for mutual support and were staggered in depth.  “D” Company 2/7 Cavalry was “dead meat” out in that field in the bright sunlight.  They could not move forward and to move back meant rising which was certain death. 

The fighters and armed helicopters returned to repeatedly bomb and rocket the woods.  Corps artillery joined in whenever the aircraft left off..  It did not help.  12.7 mm heavy machine guns and RPG-7 teams engaged the aircraft from within the NVA position.  The iron grip of the 141st NVA held “D” Company fast.  Everyone was pinned flat on the LZ, face to the dirt. 

Additional Cavalry troops began to be inserted into the fight.  The rest of 2/7 Cav landed to the east of “D” Company, 1/5 Cav landed north of the round wood, and 2/12 Cav landed to the west of the Song Be river, west of the round wood.  All these insertions were by helicopter.  What they discovered, as they closed on the wood, was that the 141st had organized the position for a 360 degree, all around defense.  The fire and bunkers were just as solid on the other sides as on the east.  The position was so large and so well put together that it may well have contained the whole 141st Regiment.  The reinforcements got nowhere.  The only difference between their situations and that of “D” Company was that they were not pinned down at close quarters.  All of these units took substantial losses in this fight. 

Wounded from “D” Company crawled toward the eastern side of the clearing, toward the earthen “dike” that carried the main north-south road.  They could be seen with the naked eye from the air.  As some got across the road, Med-evac helicopters (Dustoffs) began landing in the fire shadow of the road to pick them up.  The warrant officer flying the 525th  MIG “Huey” told me he intended to land to pick up wounded.  Altogether, the strange helicopter with the blue boomerang insignia on the tail boom, made four trips from LZ “Buttons” to Ap Bu Nho carrying 2/7 Cav’s wounded.  After a while, the floor of the bird was slippery, and everyone in back was busy trying to keep some of them alive long enough to deliver them to the medics.  The helicopter took a number of hits. 

About four in the afternoon, the CO of 2/7 Cav made a fatal error.  He requested a napalm strike on the round wood.  December was the height of the dry season, and the wind was blowing steadily from the west.  This could be seen by the direction that smoke was drifting across the battlefield.  The napalm strike went in, delivered by two F-4s.  It may have done some damage to the NVA, but what it did for certain was to light a grass fire that swept toward the east, toward “D” Company.  The Company now faced an ancient dilemma.  My great-grandfather had spoken of having faced the same problem in the Wilderness in 1864.  The choice was to lie prone and burn or stand and be shot.  According to the medics, most preferred to be shot.  In the course of this process, “D” Company’s commander, a young captain, who happened to be a Citadel man, decided he had had enough.  With his pockets full of grenades, he crawled as close as possible to the nearest machine gun bunker, and with half a dozen of his men firing in support he rushed the bunker throwing grenades, jumped down into the position and killed all within with his pistol.  With this crack in the enemy position, “D” Company moved forward behind him and by nightfall had broken the outer defense perimeter of the 141st.  They held half a dozen bunkers.  The sun went down.  The fight ended.  All night long the Cavalry Division moved forces into the area to finish the 141st the next morning. 

Good!  Whenever you find a real bastard, especially a dumb bastard

make sure you stake’em down, through the heart, through the heart!”

                                                            LTC (Ret.) Walter P. Lang to his son, June, 1969 

“It is not a mercy to tolerate incompetence in officers, think of the poor men..”

                                                            Robert E. Lee, thinking of Bristoe Station 

In the morning, the enemy had gone, departed, taking their dead and wounded with them.  They had slipped out through some gap in the surrounding lines and simply vanished.  “D” Company was extracted and mustered at LZ “Buttons” that afternoon.  There were 12 men in the ranks.  52 killed and over 70 wounded was the “Butcher’s Bill” at Ap Bu Nho.  This may have been the worst single day’s bloodletting in the Seventh Cavalry since the Little Big Horn in 1876.  There too, they had been commanded by a fool.  At the muster, the company commander, who was unscathed, stood dry eyed before his remnant while strong men wept, among them, me.  I asked the battalion commander and the S-3 how they spelled their names and left.  I would have happily killed them both with my own hand, and they seemed to know that.

I sent a report of the action disguised as an intelligence report on the performance of the 141st.  It went to every echelon of command above 2/7 Cavalry.  Under investigation by division headquarters, the lieutenant colonel later claimed that the agent’s report had been a “provocation” intended to lure him into an ambush.  The Division commander was not deceived.  525th  MIG saw through my subterfuge and I was admonished for responding to the Operations side’s attempt to scapegoat Intelligence for its own failure.  This was the first instance in which I saw this syndrome of the leadership of the intelligence community.  I continued to see it for the rest of my government career.”  from the memoir of W. Patrick Lang  

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86 Responses to Ap Bu Nho – A Remembrance.

  1. john t says:

    Thank you.

  2. turcopolier says:

    There were 93 US KIA in the two battles of Ramadi. pl

  3. mbrenner says:

    What normally is the ratio of killed to wounded in combat such as this these days?

  4. Haralambos says:

    Colonel Lang,
    This description brings tears to my eyes as well yours in that battle. It graphically demonstrates the difference between auctoritas and podestas as well as much more. Thank you for sharing, remembering, and reminding us.

  5. Booby says:

    I found the NVA to be a very worthy foe. I learned of the “hold them by the belt buckle” tactic the hard way. Just south of the DMZ one of our companies stumbled into a Regimental CP. The Marines were driven back by AK & MG fire. The Marines laid down in the elephant grass about 50m in front of the forward bunkers while we ran air support “danger close”. After 3 flights of snake & napalm, the company assaulted again just before dark and was met again with heavy fire. We evacuated our wounded & settled in for the night. When we moved forward the next morning the scorched bunkers were empty. Trails in the grass showed that when the Marines pulled back 50m, the NVA had crawled forward about 35m. After observing a very close air strike, the NVA had crawled back into their buckers & thwarted our second assault. Discipline & guts.
    Happy Memorial Day

  6. Medicine Man says:

    Thank you, Col. It is our loss that you never intend to release all of your memoirs, but reading this I can understand your reluctance.
    Jesus wept, 52 killed and 70 maimed all because one man was a self-regarding asshole.

  7. turcopolier says:

    Military medicine got steadily better throughout the 20th Century so the ratio of killed to wounded became lower and lower. Medevac helicopters and forward surgical hospitals made a big difference, but the 52 KIA here in tis one company were killed outright on the field of battle. I do not know how many of the WIA died of their wounds. Remember there were a lot of casualties in the other units of our encirclement. The NVA had a widely distributed system of underground hospitals supplied through the Laos/Cambodia corridor (HCM Trail) but they had to live long enough to be carried to them. I agree with Booby that the NVA were a remarkably tough and dedicated enemy. pl

  8. turcopolier says:

    BTW, I have looked at this place in Google Earth. The Vietnamese government has built a widespread network of hydroelectric dams in the highlands since the war. As a result the site of this combat is buried under a prosperous Vietnamese town. This is one of the few instances of the outright defeat of US forces in the field in the war, along with the loss of Lang Vei SF camp and LZ Albany. At Song Be a few miles away there are actual memorials to the protracted battle in February-March 1969 but not at this place. pl

  9. SteveG says:

    Just finished watching an hour PBS episode
    about James “Maggie” Magellas the most
    decorated soldier in the history of the 82nd
    Airborne. To paraphrase” How could I send
    young 18 and 19 year olds to lead and I stay
    in the rear. ” A remarkable man for anytime,
    he is still alive at 98. That we would have more
    like him in all fields of endeavor.

  10. FND says:

    Thank you Colonel. That story really brings it home to me. I was on a somewhat similar disastrous mission during the 1972 NVA Easter offensive. The NVA had taken Quang Tri City, and we were inserting South Vietnamese soldiers at key points around the city of Quang Tri to cut off supplies. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about the tactical situation on this particular mission. I was but a WO1 front seat co-pilot gunner in a Cobra gunship at the time. On this particular mission, we (about 10 gunships as I recall) were gun cover for a US Marine insertion of South Vietnamese marines. There were I think about 15 CH-54 Jolly Greens full of the marines. At that time, because of the SA-7 heat-seekers, we had to fly low level. We took massive fire beginning at least 8 or 10 klicks out from the LZ, and then the LZ was hot. The US Marine pilots told us at least half of the troops were dead or wounded from ground fire before they ever got to the LZ. Two of the Jolly Greens went down. Actually, I never made it to the LZ. About 3 kicks out my pilot was hit and the command ship directed us back to the staging area for the pilot to be attended to. His wound turned out to be superficial and he was ok. Like I said, I don’t know anything about the tactical situation, but surely there must have been an intelligence failure. Either that, or they felt the risk was worth the prize. They eventually re-took Quang Tri, but it was several months later.

  11. FND says:

    Oops. That’s the CH-53 Jolly Green, not CH-54, which was the heavy lift cargo helicopter. Old age is hell.

  12. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    Thank you for posting this. Never having been in combat it is humbling to read what others have endured, and in this as in many other situations having done so under incompetent leadership.

  13. Aka says:

    found this article that described the life of a VC (I think he may have joined to fight the french ) fighter who joined the fight in 1950s and fought until the end.
    Although the article has been written with a sense of humor in mind, I thought it was a worthy read.

  14. Aka says:

    I would say they were desperate. Did whatever they thought would get a edge over the US troops. Considering the number of casualties they took, they never had a easy life.

  15. LeaNder says:

    Indeed interesting, Aka. But strictly no surprise. …
    I encountered the same respect as Pat’s shows here for his “battle counterpart”, for loss of a better term, among war correspondents for the ones killed reporting for the other side. …
    FND’s comment above triggered memories of their stories and images combined with Pat’s story.
    Were Jolly Green’s the type of helicopters that did not only carry materials but also journalists occasionally?
    I may be mistaken but that was my basic google impression while looking into military terms.

  16. LeaNder says:

    “I was but a WO1 front seat co-pilot gunner in a Cobra gunship at the time.”
    WO1? Would there be backseat gunners too.
    “At that time, because of the SA-7 heat-seekers, we had to fly low level. We took massive fire beginning at least 8 or 10 klicks out from the LZ, and then the LZ was hot.”
    My guess at klicks or kicks, which you use later suggests a distance from a battlefield LZ to an LZ with a slightly longer “life-span” then the battlefield LZ.
    Got that completely wrong. Kicks, klicks?
    Sounds like a dangerous missing anyway. You have to be low to target MANPAD’s or whatever it was, but this also endangers you heavily.
    Did I get this wrong too, completely?

  17. Aka says:

    I remember CNN saying that it is 1500:1 in 2001 or 2003 (in the beginning of the war on terror). May be they have revised it by now.

  18. turcopolier says:

    A “click” is US Army slang for a kilometer. A “WO1” is a warrant officer. That is a rank between the enlisted ranks and the commissioned officers, lieutenants and up. The US Army and US Marine Corps have warrant officer pilots as well as commissioned officer pilots. These last are normally the commanders. “LZ” means “Landing Zone.” This is the place where the south Vietnamese Marines in this story were to be landed. pl

  19. Booby says:

    In the late ’60’s a Marine LtCol., William Corson, published a book “The Betrayal” criticizing US strategy & tactics in VN. In the final chapter he hypothesized that the Soviet Union could dramatically change the helicopter war in VN any time they wished by giving the NVA the Strela shoulder fired AA missile. In the Easter Offensive, the Soviets played that card. Helo & OV-10 losses in the Quang Tri area were devastating & forced an immediate change of helo tactics. Fly low or die. It took us a decade to develop effective counter-measures to these missiles.
    Years later I had a SNCO who worked for me who had crewed a CH-46 inserting VN Marines along the coast north of Quang Tri during ’72. The LZ brief warned of a “dead” NVA tank in the LZ. As his AC landed beside the “dead” tank, he saw the turret turn & he was looking down the barrel. The tank fired; but, either it was too close to the helo or the thin aluminum skin of the helo didn’t activate the fuse & the round went through his AC as a solid shot.

  20. turcopolier says:

    I was in VN in ’72 and remember the advent of the SA-7. as an immediate expedient defense we threw thermite grenades out the doors when we saw one fired. I don’t know if that worked well, but I am still here. I also remember seeing an NVA team fir an RPG at a Cobra. The missile did not arm and went right through the boom. pl

  21. LeaNder says:

    Thanks Pat.
    I looked up LZ. But I understand that LZ could have both a longer existence, or exist for a slightly longer time then a single LZ for a specific battle. In which case the first type of LZ would be the starting base? Like LZ “Buttons”?
    More specifically were only “2/5 Cav” based at “Buttons” and the others were “inserted (?)/were brought in” later, as support? Or was the whole 5 cav, I understand, located there?

  22. turcopolier says:

    In the largely helicopter transported war an LZ could be either a semi-permanent base for aircraft as well as a convenient place where troops could be billeted and supplied or the place where troops would be landed by air in a single operation as in the Quang Tri story. LZ Buttons was named for some officer’s girl friend. I think she was a Red Cross girl in Saigon. 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment just happened to be based at LZ Buttons just then. During the VN period US Army infantry and cavalry fighting as infantry were organized by battalions. The regiment, as in this case, 5th Cavalry, only existed as a tradition. Armored Cavalry sxisted as a whole regiment and the 11th Cavalry in VN (the Black Horse) were a formidable group. The US Marines, who, I am sure you know are not part of the Army still had regimental formations. pl

  23. LeaNder says:

    Thanks for the patience Pat, or more patience then the ones asking me to shut up would have anyway.
    apparently more “LZ Buttons” memories here:
    not sure if you take me for a ride concerning the naming of buttons, but then, it’s not really important.

  24. Booby says:

    One lucky Cobra crew. Usually when a helo & an RPG met, it was catastrophic for the helo. I hated being shot at with RPG’s because the projectile moved slow enough that you could see them coming. Time moves real slowly when you see one coming. I’ve had them pass through my rotor disc & still don’t understand how the projectile could make it through without hitting or being hit by a rotor blade.
    A CH-46 from my squadron became a part of Marine Corps history after being hit by an RPG on Mutter’s Ridge, just below the DMZ. The climax of the novel “Matterhorn” was based on this incident. A Company was assaulting a hill that was an abandoned Marine LZ. The NVA were fighting from the old Marine bunkers. The CH-46 was departing a neighboring hill with Medevacs when it was hit in the aft pylon by an RPG & burst into flames. The pilot saw a LZ directly below him & shot an emergency landing. The pilot was unaware that the NVA held the hill & the Marines were assaulting the hill & engaged in close combat. The NVA were startled by a flaming CH-46 crashing on them & their defense was disrupted. Some NVA climbed aboard the burning helo & were trying to take the 50 caliber machine guns. There was a gunfight between the crew & the NVA in the cabin of the helo. The Marines won & the NVA abandoned the hill. The Grunts gave our squadron credit for capturing the hill – a 1st & only in Marine Corps history.

  25. Tyler says:

    This was a good remembrance. I’m sure the men there appreciated what you did for them.
    Enjoy your Memorial Day, folks.

  26. LeaNder says:

    Don’t worry about answering any of my questions. In case I added another one. E.g. whatever caused “Buttons” to be called “Buttons”. 😉
    Guess I first have to look into the traces of “victor 241 airfied”:
    Yes that puzzled me too, since you started out with locating the later battlefield ground.

  27. LeaNder says:

    Anyway, just in case someone is interested in who I was referring to concerning war war correspondents (images).
    Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina
    RIP Horst Faas, it sure was a pleasure to meet you:
    Does this count as a contribution that should be deleted or banned?

  28. turcopolier says:

    Rumor was that it had to do with the woman’s anatomy. I don’t know. I didn’t know her. At Dien Bien Phu the French strongpoints were all named for De Castries’ mistresses. Isabelle, etc. V- 241 was a Japanese built airfield from WW2. pl

  29. desperate ? Think you’re living in a parallel universe … Maybe it’s a consolation to you and It does something for your ego, but not sure it’s of any help when analyzing why that war was lost.

  30. My oldest uncle was at Dien Bien Phu with “8e bataillon parachutiste de choc”. He was one of the few men in his unit to have survived the battle. I flew back with him to DBP in 2004 and we visited the battlefield with an former viet Minh vet as a tour guide.
    my uncle and him had fought against each other some 50 years earlier, in muddy trenches, using grenades, flame throwers and bayonets and there they were, two old men, talking to each other in broken french and broken Vietnamese, remembering those who had not been worn down by age.
    The Vietnamese were very gracious hosts to us, and my uncle had no hard feelings against them. However, he never forgave the French army generals who had designed the battle plan, totally underestimating the viet Minh. It is something he has passed onto me and its been quite useful a reminder sometimes.
    Thx for this piece PL !

  31. FND says:

    WO1 = Warrant Officer grade 1. After grade 1 they are called Chief Warrant officers, or CW-2,3,and 4. 4 is the highest grade. About half the U.S. Army helicopter pilots were warrant officers, and half commissioned officers. The warrants flew pretty much full time with no other command duties, other than flight related command duties.
    You can fly the Cobra from either seat, but the primary duty of the front seat is to man the turret weapons. The back seat primary duty is to fly the aircraft and shoot the wing store weapons which shoot in the same direction that the aircraft is pointing. The wing store weapons are rockets and/or 20mm gatling gun. The turret weapons are the 6.62 gatling gun and the 40mm grenade gun. You can shoot any of the weapons from either seat and fly the aircraft from either seat, but those are the primary duties. The back seat cannot move the turret but only fire it in the direction of the aircraft.
    Its klicks, not kicks. Sorry for the typo. Its just slang for a kilometer.
    When flying a few yards above the ground, tree tops, or buildings, it is more difficult for a heat seeker to lock on to the heat. Of course then one is more vulnerable to small arms, but they are the lesser of two evils. Our company commander and his crew were lost to an SA-7 a few weeks prior to that particular mission.

  32. FND says:

    They also put what we called toilet bowles on the engine exhaust to direct the exhaust up to the rotors so that the heat would be dispersed, but I don’t think it worked that well.

  33. FND says:

    The SA-7s were indeed deadly. We would rather take our chances flying ground level. The guy whose helicopter took the tank round is very lucky. I’m glad he and the others made it.

  34. FND says:

    That’s 7.62, not 6.62.

  35. LeaNder says:

    Thanks FND, I realized at one point I may have read this not carefully enough: You really made it quite clear with your “because of the FA-7 heat-seekers” – BECAUSE
    In other words the Jolly Greens in your story above while higher where a good target for the heat-seekers, while your mission partly was to ideally find and destroy them before they could hit them. …
    The problem with trying to understand this as a layman is that there is a high chance you misunderstand details in context.

  36. LeaNder
    Re: ‘Jolly Green Giant’
    The bigger CH-53 then was the ‘Super Jolly Green Giant’
    As for the name:

  37. LeaNder says:

    thanks Pat, appreciated.
    Patrick’s comment reminds me of my limits not only concerning the military but also suggested by Patrick’s comment below: the larger historical context during and after WWII in which Viet Minh via Ho Chi Ming mutated into Viet Cong. 😉

  38. LeaNder says:

    Yes, thanks, now I see something FND mentioned above. Although it leaves me at an odd as to why it makes sense to be able to fly the type of helicopters he flew from both the front and back-seat. Supposing the design was somewhat meant to help the crew.
    Apparently, when I saw some photos years ago my attention was somewhere else. Or it wasn’t the focus of the image. And I cannot ask Horst anymore. Seems bigger then the one I had in mind, anyway.

  39. William Corson a very interesting person and I met him long after RVN days.
    I had a 10 week course at Ft.Bliss on the REDEYE MANPAD after completing OCS and all my classmates could do was think about these in the context of AirCav units.

  40. P.L. and ALL: It has taken sometime for me to formulate a comment to this post and thread. Why? First because it gives important insights that anyone in the US Army today of any rank might learn from. Second, while I never served in RVN by spring summer 1968 Artillery OCS at Ft. Sill was totally dedicated to furnishing officers for the war in RVN. 8 of the 110 in my graduating class did not serve in RVN. I was one of the eight.
    But two things stick in my mind from OCS. The first how to help create a firebase for an artillery unit. And second how to defend an artillery firebase from ground assault.
    Yes, realism had cretp into artillery by summer 1968 and no more emphasis on stopping Soviet tank armies in northern Europe. 3 members of my OCS class were in firing batteries overrun by NVA. I believe the two that survived both recieved Silver Stars. One of the survivors after spiking guns survived by E&E. The other succeeded in defending his battery.
    Receiving my draft notice on June 12th, having been married June 10th [and graduated from Law School June 7th] I realized that despite two years of AFROTC and with rejections from both the Navy and Air Force in hand over winter 1966-67 for reasons of vision I realized that not being a Kennedy Father I was destined for RVN in one form or another. So I started reading: first any Bernard Fall book or article I could get my hands on. Second, because the Combat Arms were open to me through OCS [Army JAG was giving priority to those who signed up for the longest service –often up to 10 years (and they almost all served in RVN] it seemed wise to be in shape and learn how to survive. So before reporting on September 10th, 1967, to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for Basic I read all of S.L.A Marshall’s studies of combat in Viet Nam. Reading some French I stumbled through the travails of the PARA against the Viet Minh. I also read some biographies of Uncle HO!
    More later!
    BTW there is a move on to ban flechette arty rounds under International Law!

  41. FND says:

    Almost right, except the Jolly Green Giants had to fly ground level with us. They would be dead meat at altitude.

  42. Peter Brownlee says:

    Sergeant-Major Money
    By Robert Graves
    It wasn’t our battalion, but we lay alongside it,
    So the story is as true as the telling is frank.
    They hadn’t one Line-officer left, after Arras,
    Except a batty major and the Colonel, who drank.
    ‘B’ Company Commander was fresh from the Depot,
    An expert on gas drill, otherwise a dud;
    So Sergeant-Major Money carried on, as instructed,
    And that’s where the swaddies began to sweat blood.
    His Old Army humour was so well-spiced and hearty
    That one poor sod shot himself, and one lost his wits;
    But discipline’s maintained, and back in rest-billets
    The Colonel congratulates ‘B’ Company on their kits.
    The subalterns went easy, as was only natural
    With a terror like Money driving the machine,
    Till finally two Welshmen, butties from the Rhondda,
    Bayoneted their bugbear in a field-canteen.
    Well, we couldn’t blame the officers, they relied on Money;
    We couldn’t blame the pitboys, their courage was grand;
    Or, least of all, blame Money, an old stiff surviving
    In a New (bloody) Army he couldn’t understand.
    BTW (and apologies for pedantry) “Ode for the Fallen” is not Housman but (Robert) Laurence Binyon — http://allpoetry.com/For-The-Fallen

  43. adamski says:

    And now here in Bien Hoa it’s all about iPhones and looking flash.
    Sukhois from the San Bay an occasional treat.

  44. rst says:

    Many thanks.

  45. Barbara Ann says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you for sharing this riveting excerpt from your memoir. Is this body of work to be published by any chance? I for one would be grateful for the opportunity to read more of such a fascinating life.

  46. Will.2718 says:

    Brings back a lot of memories. In 1968 I was a senior in high school reading about the marines at Khe Sahn. In 70-71 I was up on the DMZ with the 1st Bde, 5th Mech that had replaced the 3rd Marine Division. Spent the first six months at Con Thien, Charlie 4, Dong Ha, Quang Tri, patrols in the DMZ. Then got promoted to the General’s security platoon just in time to go west when the Vietnamese went into Laos. Got to visit Lang Vei, Khe Sanh, Camp Carrol, all those places I had read about in high School.
    Back in the states in 1972 in college reading again about Vietnam. How the PVA (I think they prefer that to NVA) had come across the DMZ and captured the provincial capital of Quang Tri. Went to visit the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall today. Didn’t last 3 minutes.
    This is how the Iraq vets must feel when they read about Ramadi, Fallujah, etc. Shades of Manstein- Lost Victories?

  47. turcopolier says:

    Barbara Ann
    I have an editor and literary executor for my various scribbling. It is up to him what gets published or produced pl

  48. raven says:

    We had a butter bar who continuously violated procedure by going out on the road before it was swept in the morning. One day he took off with his driver and another EM, they hit a mine and all died. Years later the Lt’s brother found me via an internet site. His brother’s college fraternity was going to do a memorial tribute and he wanted to know what I knew. I saw no value in telling him what really happened so I didn’t. Nothing like this account but it sticks with you.

  49. turcopolier says:

    Like you I can never forget this or the rest. I can still see the burning Slicks on the LZ at Ap Bu Nho. pl

  50. Imagine says:

    I hope you continue to post these memoirs, so that they will not be forgotten.
    Internet chapters probably more immortal than print (but please do both).

  51. Warpig says:

    Colonel Lang,
    This is a powerful and moving piece. Thank you for sharing the memories of that day and those men with us.

  52. Seacoaster says:

    Thank you. Your annual re-runs like this story are some of the best posts on SST.

  53. Pundita says:

    Col. Lang,
    Let me see. Bad judgment, trouble concentrating, impulsive, reckless, hot-tempered. I’d say there was no telling how many American soldiers that battalion commander would have gotten killed and maimed for no good reason on his way to the rank of colonel.
    But he was stopped.
    Another thought about your account: Somebody had to provide evidence that the Montagnard agent had not given deliberately misleading intelligence — that on the contrary he’d warned that the enemy had been dug in for two weeks, a clear indication they were well-prepared for an assault. So although you were admonished by 525th MIG, your subterfuge would have allowed the operational upper echelon to include your report in their investigation. That might have been the only way they could have nailed the CO, given his blame-shifting.
    From my reading of an article by Thomas Ricks (“General Failure”), by the Vietnam War the emphasis on accountability in the U.S. military was being replaced by careerism. So that CO might have gotten away with it, if you had not filed a report.

  54. Old Gun Pilot says:

    What a great bird the Cobra was. The Marines didn’t get the Cobra until ’69.
    When I was there (67-68)we had the huey gunships, and I first saw the Cobra being flown by the 101st whose AO was next to ours in Northern I Corp. I was fortunate to fly it for over 2000 hours in the National Guard but never got to fly it in combat.

  55. turcopolier says:

    In the ABN fight a cobra expended its load at the bunkers and then turned to leave. An NVA RPG team standing on a bunker roof shot it through the boom. the rocket did not arm (too close maybe?) and the Cobra staggered away heading for LZ Buttons. pl

  56. Old Gun Pilot says:

    I’ve heard a lot of stories like that. To be made of aluminum sheeting and rivets those birds were amazingly resilient. I wasn’t quite so lucky, the same thing happened to me but the shot severed the tail rotor and we came crashing down. Fortunately there was no fire and no one was seriously injured. After we were picked up a flight of F-4s naped the wreckage to prevent the NVA from salvaging anything useful.

  57. Barbara Ann says:

    In that case sir, I hope it is many long years before they see the light of day.

  58. optimax says:

    I’ve read this at least four times and still find it riveting. Think your memoirs should be published.
    I worked with a locomotive engineer who took a 50 caliber in the leg as a helicopter pilot in VN. Don’t know where or when. He was good natured and one of the best hogheads I worked with.

  59. turcopolier says:

    FWIW this same Battalion (2/7 Cav) lost 155 KIA at LZ Albany in 1965. I became old at Ap Bu Nho although there were worse fights. In my second tour I was often given the additional job of recruiting NVA officers for our side from the RVN National Interrogation Center. I was quite good at this. They were old soldiers like me pl

  60. Booby says:

    To the Col.
    I was always amazed at the “Kit Carson Scouts with our Bn. They often walked point for us. I’ll always remember a platoon passing thru our position in the northern end of the Ashau Valley. The 1st “Marine” thru the wire was a Kit Carson on point. It had been a long, hard patrol. He approached me, threw down his NVA pack, looked me in the eye & smiled before saying, “Maline Corps number 10 G**Damned Thou.” A bitching Marine is a happy Marine.

  61. catherine says:

    I don’t even know what to say…too many emotions aroused by Col’s story.
    Just such a waste of life.

  62. turcopolier says:

    The Bn CO of 2/7 Cav shot himself ten or twelve years later, Whether it was from remorse or thwarted ambition I do not know.

  63. Turcopolier says:

    I thought I remembered for many years that the Bn involved was 2/5 Cav but a historian researching my time in VN proved to me that the unit was actually 2/7 Cav.

  64. JohninMK says:

    Its a harrowing read everytime you repost it Colonel.
    As a civilian I have no real conception of what you went through but I am glad you survived.

  65. turcopolier says:

    And I was spared to tell the tale. I must honor the dead of both sides. I remember seeing a two man NVA RPG team mount the roof of a bunker to duel with a Cobra at a hundred yards or so. Bullets from the Cobra’s Gatling gun kicked up dust all around them They stood solidly until they fired a round that wounded the Cobra. Foemen worthy of our steel.

  66. Aurelius says:

    Been following SST for many years and have seen this post before. It is just as powerful as the first time I read it.

  67. akaPatience says:

    One of my best friend’s husband is a VN vet and just got out of the hospital (again) today. He’s been in poor health for the past 4-5 years and during that time, he’s talked more about his service than he ever did before. He and all veterans have been in my thoughts and prayers, especially today.

  68. Heart wrenching and instructive. Thank God we still have men like you to remind us what honor and duty entail.

  69. jd hawkins says:

    “… men like you to remind us what honor and duty entail”.
    And I’d like to second that!

  70. Diana C says:

    Thank you for posting this. Vietnam is almost never out of my thoughts. So many of the “boys” I grew up with, along with my brother and four cousins, were impacted by that war. The ones who came through it are most likely better men than they would have been without it. But that doesn’t make it right to send boys to war with incompetent officers.
    The one “boy” I grieve for the most is the one who came home, found a wife, had two daughters, but died suddenly when those daughters wee in grade school. He developed sores on his legs. About the same time that they figured out what was wrong–the effects of Agent Orange–he was dead.
    We just learned that another of our classmates, who came back totally shaken but who seemed to have moved on, finding a good wife and raising orphans they adopted from that part of the world, has just begun again to suffer from terrible PTSD.
    One who won a Purple Heart is just now finally coming out of years of almost isolation. He was one who had been spat upon when he arrived back in the states.
    Thanks again for remembering my generation’s soldiers.

  71. Keith Harbaugh says:

    In thinking about this, a thought occurs to me:

    The wood was about one kilometer in diameter.

    What the [U.S.] discovered, as they closed on the wood, was that the 141st had organized the position for a 360 degree, all around defense.
    The fire and bunkers were just as solid on the other sides as on the east. The position was so large and so well put together that it may well have contained the whole 141st Regiment.

    1 KM (a “klick”) is about 3280 feet.
    Did the U.S. not have the capability to OBLITERATE that 1 km diameter area,
    and all the top-quality NVA within it?
    Arclight comes to mind.

  72. turcopolier says:

    keith harbaugh
    A B-52 “cell,” three plane loads of bombs, was a sloppy box a kilometer long. The Montagnard village of Bu Nho immediately adjoined the wood. The village was full of people. A B-52 strike would have killed many of them.

  73. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Interesting. The accuracy of bomb placement is largely a function of the altitude from which the bombs are dropped.
    Of course, effective AAA necessitates a higher altitude.
    My guess (purely a guess) is that NVA tactical units such a the 141st IR would not have indigenous AAA capability, beyond their heavy MGs.
    If the BUFFs had come in low and slow, I would think their bombardiers/crew could have placed their loads rather accurately,
    perhaps with a CEP of 100 feet.
    Anybody know how small a CEP a B-52 could provide in ideal conditions?
    On the tactical situation there, the village could have been evacuated before the B-52 strike occurred.
    Whatever physical damage was caused, the U.S. could have replaced.
    Seems worth the price.

  74. turcopolier says:

    keith harbaugh
    I described the events as they occurred. The B-52s NEVER came in low in SVN missions.. They always bombed from the stratosphere. To organize that evacuation would have taken a day or so under fire from the NVA in and around the wood. The point of my account of the event is that it never occurred to the US chain of command to do anything like that. There were dozens of operations of this size every week in 1968-69 VN. This one was ruined by the infantry Bn CO. I find it sadly amusing that you challenge me over this event for which I am a primary source.

  75. Keith Harbaugh says:

    No challenge to your account was intended,
    rather, just an attempt to explore what alternative ways to handle the situation might have existed.

  76. That reminds me of John Masters’s account of his time in Iraq with the Ghurkas during WWII. They were attacked by French aircraft and a couple of the Ghurkas stood out in the open with a machine firing back at them.
    His earlier book, Bugles and a Tiger, is a masterpiece. An account of his service with the Ghurkas in the Indian Army in the 1930s.

  77. turcopolier says:

    Colonel Bunny
    Master’s book on his WW2 service is “The Road Past Mandalay.” I don’t remember anything in it about Iraq.

    • Col. B. Bunny says:

      Colonel, ch. 4 of Masters’s book has the account of the two Ghurkas. That was actually in Syria near the Turkish border. Masters’s battalion defended Raqqah against a French attack.

      The following two chapters concern his time in Iran and also mention time in Iraq. Thereafter he attended staff college in Pakistan.

  78. turcopolier says:

    Keith Harbaugh
    The Bn CO was within his authority to order a company sized reconnaissance in force. His mistake for which so many paid dearly was to not believe me. IMO the USAF would never have agreed to a low level B-52 strike.

  79. A thought that didn’t occur to me last time I read that vivid account, Colonel. They were, albeit at great risk, extracting wounded throughout. Could not that officer, once he had discovered what he was up against, have pulled all his men out the same way and mounted a more considered attack later?
    Also gives an idea of what the SAA are up against in Idlib, attempting to take positions that are very much better provided with defences and tunnels etc. From Wellington placing his men on the reverse slope to avoid direct artillery fire but still keeping them in readiness for the subsequent attack, to the often intricate dugouts on the Western Front, an enemy that can take a break below when the heavy weapons are deployed but still pop back up again when the infantry follows on must be the very devil to deal with.

  80. turcopolier says:

    Once the NVA opened fire on D Company out in the open with no cover or concealment there was no possibility of withdrawing them. The die was cast.

  81. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Doing a rough google search on
    bomb dispersal as function of altitude -nuke -nuclear
    turned up the following web page:
    I am sure the U.S. Air Force has done extensive studies on this matter,
    but I don’t know how to find them, or their results.
    The above web page contains the following, which includes some aircraft Col. Lang no doubt remembers:

    We come to a conclusion that for bombs dropped from a non-harassed modern bomber at high altitude, for example over 5000 meters, a reasonable rule of thumb for CEP is 50 meters.

    Fast forward another decade to Vietnam and
    the bombs dropped by the F-105s achieved a CEP of 111 meters.
    This was when the airplanes were not shot at.
    The CEP increased to 136 meters under anti-aircraft artillery fire. Another report gives the A-1 a 90-meter and the F-4 a 150-meter CEP, when bombing from 600 meters of altitude.

    Finally, the book “The Precision Revolution” gives a direct estimate of 61 meters for the CEP of US freefall bombing in 1990.

    The author concludes with some estimates of the accuracy of (assumed) SU-25s employed in Syria, based on videos from RT!

  82. Rob P. says:

    It seems too many senior officers, especially those with stars, ignore any information that conflicts with their preconceived notions or their larger aims of awarded success. History of war is replete with stories of military leaders receiving accurate information on the enemy in advance that would have saved thousands of lives, and either refused to believe it or ignored it. My experience there in 66/67 VN in an intel. unit opened my eyes to this and my reading of military history since then confirms it.

  83. cobo says:

    Thank you for reposting this, Colonel. Since the first time I read it, it has never been out of my mind.

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