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Posted on Jul 18, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Memories of Vietnam

By Stephane Moutin-Luyat

Every unit was given a section of the Green Line to clear and fortify. The Brigadier General who commanded the advanced party had been a prisoner of the Japanese during W.W.II and he had done force labor clearing jungle air strips by hand. He was impressed by the way hand clearing left the ground cover undisturbed. So he directed the Golf Course and Green Line be cleared by hand. We had brought some clearing tools in our CONEX containers. But no where near enough and some of use cleared with entrenching tools and bayonets. It was gruelling work. Especially for a group grown soft by 30 days at sea and a tad chubby on Navy chow.

Our shelter half tents were eventually replaced by GP Medium tents and we got cots. A civilian contractor constructed permanent latrines and a mess hall. The NCOs built a club and the officers put up a shack on the side of the hill. Vehicles moving on the MSR created a lot of dust and we never got convenient access to showers. So hygene and appearance suffered a bit.

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And, I have to tell you that some rather substantial rats took up residence in our area. Food for the python that lived in the banyon tree next to the NCO club.

Home sweet home.

The first operations after the Cav arrived in-country were in the Vinh Thanh valley to provide security for An Khe, do you remember you first days in the field? your first encounter with Charlie?

You must be talking about "Happy Valley." As I recall we worked that area a couple of times early on.

As I recall, PFC Love from B Company was wounded there and SGT Scott from A Company was credited with our first "kill". Rumor was Love took his hit in the posterior. Sounds funny but it was actually rather serious and he most certainly owes his life to prompt treatment and air evacuation

The Valley was East of An Khe and North of Highway 19. It was mostly rice paddies with clusters of small thatched family dwellings here and there. There were villagers along the highway but as we progressed up the Valley it was clear the populace had evacuated prior to our arrival. This was something I would see many times on both my tours. Residences that were clearly being used by families but no trace of people or any indication as to where they went.

At the time I was attached to Lt Joe Marm’s platoon and we seemed to spend most of our time working in the hills that formed the Western edge of the Valley. It was hot, hard humping and even though we had become acclimatized by our work on the Greenline it was still brutal work.

Contact was limited to occasional sniper fire. For the most part long distance and not very accurate.

At the head of the Valley we found some rather substantial dwellings. They were built with heavy timbers that had been richly carved. And there was a heard of very nice looking brown Brahma highbred cattle. All abandoned. We burned the houses and killed the cattle. Supposedly to deny their use to the enemy. What we did still bothers me I’m not sure that we were acting in the best interests of winning the hearts and minds of the people. I will say that we did not do anything like that thereafter, at least not while I was around.

In this same area we set some ambushes and one poor VC stumbled into one. As I noted earlier, credit for his demise went to Sgt Scott. The body was set in hedge row. Later another platoon of A Company patrolled by the hedge row and the body was spotted by Sgt Staley who shot it again before he realized it was not necessary. Then Col Moore flew in to have a look after which Sgt Scott’s squad was ordered to bury him. We later learned, from a document that he was carrying, that he was going to see a doctor.

When we came in from Happy Valley we got our Combat Infantryman’s Badge orders. By the letter of the regulations we qualified. But we would earn them for real in the Ia Drang.

Indeed, at the beginning of the dry season, the NVA launched its expected offensive in the Central Highlands that would lead to the famous battle for LZ Xray, besieging the Plei Me CIDG Camp on October 19. The 1st Brigade went in first to break the siege, followed by the 3d in early November to pursue the reteating enemy. To which company of 1/7 were you attached to as an FO? do you remember when and how the battalion was alerted? Also, was 1/7 engaged in the operational area before November 14, or was Xray your first combat-assault?

Civilians tend to use the words "assigned" and "attached" interchangeably. But in the US Army both words have specific meanings. A soldier is always assigned to a "parent" unit. During my first tour in Viet Nam I was assigned to D Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment (or D 1/7 Cav). Military necessity or operational doctrine may require the dispatch or attachment of a solder to another unit. As I explained earlier, D 1/7 Cav was not a rifle or maneuver company, it was composed of the Battalions’ reconnaissance, anti-tank, and heavy mortar resources. D Company was sometimes referred to as the "Combat Support Company." My job in D 1/7 was heavy mortar forward observer or FO. The heavy mortar platoon had three FOs, one for each rifle company. During combat operations I was attached to A 1/7 Cav. When I attend reunions I have two company commanders Ray LeFebvre (D 1/7) and Tony Nadal (A 1/7) and two groups of comrades in arms.

We had returned to Camp Radcliff from security operations along Highway 19 and in Happy Valley and we were expecting a little rest. Most of the Battalion was in An Khe tending to laundry and other necessities of soldier life. I, and several companions were in a small bar drinking beer when the MPs came in and told us the 3rd Brigade was on alert and that we needed to report to our units.

We knew about the fighting around Plei Me SF Camp and that the 1st Brigade was up there. But reports seemed to indicate the fighting was over. So we were a bit surprised when we were told where we were going.

Mortar FO "teams" made up of two soldiers, the FO and his radio/telephone operator (RTO). Units are almost always understrength and in mortar platoons the RTOs are usually the phantoms. But when we left for Plei Me I had an RTO, SP4 Ray Tanner, a replacement soldier that joined the Battalion just before we left Ft Benning.

We flew up to Plei Me in the Division’s organic CV2 Carabou (fixed wing) transports. It was really an amazing accomplishment. From the time we were alerted to the time we stepped of the transports was a matter of hours.

From Plei Me we were air assaulted into company patrol areas. We would be air assaulted several times over the next ten days. But we did not make contact. Mostly we patrolled in an effort to establish contact. It was brutally hard work. Although much of the highlands is semi-open grass and scub trees, as at XRay, we spent most of our time in heavily wood areas. On one occasion we broke out into the open near a Montagnard village. LtCol Moore was above in the Command Chopper or "Charlie Charlie" and from this vantage point it looked like we were crossing a field of tall grass and he was not happy with our slow progress. But in fact the grass was taller than any of our heads and razor sharp on the edges. Progress was made by throwing one’s self into the grass like a football player breaking through an opposing line. Eventually we got through but it was hell for a while.

I don’t recall where we (A 1/7) were when we got the XRay warning order. But I recall being told if we did not make contact on this assault we were going back to Camp Radcliff and that "This was really it". "It" being contact for sure. But this was not the first time we had been told "This is it" so I, and I suspect most of the rank and file, simply shrugged it off.

XRay map.jpg
Landing Zone X-Ray

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3 Comments

  1. Armchair General staff cannot respond here. Please read
    disclaimer just above this text box before posting.
    i was with the 1/7 hhc still don’t know where i was . my job was
    bring amo on an army mule , i wes every where i was there
    68/69 i was discharg on dec 2 /1969 i had return to states in nov
    69 i brought many wonded & dead back i hated my job gil

  2. I’m searching for more info on my dad, Gaston P. Ruiz. He was a LRP in E
    company, 20th infantry. In country between 65/66-69.
    Thanks!

  3. looking for info on my uncle pfc charles e frederick, 1/7 . k.i.a. 1/31/66 during operation masher. he recieved a bronze star posthumosly and was originaly listed as m. i. a.

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