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

Memories of Vietnam

By Stephane Moutin-Luyat

The NCOs that came in as replacements were drawn from Army units in the States and Europe and they were trained, capable men. So to were some of the lower graded soldiers. And of course we received some privates direct from Basic and Advanced training. Later in the war almost every replacement would be raw meat.

In December I went on R&R to Hong Kong. Most of the men wanted Bangkok. It had a reputation for being cheap and wide open. I wanted Hong Kong because I wanted an escape from Viet Nam and anything like it. And while Hong Kong was Asian it was also British and a very nice place to be. I enjoyed my self immensely.

Shortly after my return I was sitting in the NCO club we built with some friends and looked around. Almost all the faces were new. Those of us who had been together at Benning stayed connected. But we were more reserved about the replacements. Why make a friend just to see him die.

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Read LTC Moore’s after action report in full here

All those new recruits would soon experience combat. In January, the 1st Cav launched Operation MASHER in the populated coastal province of Binh Dinh, the biggest search & destroy operation in Vietnam to date, and once again the 1/7 and 3d Brigade would find themselves in heavy fighting, especially around the hamlet of Phung Du north of Bong Son. It’s always been one of the most interesting operation for me, what can you tell us about it? it must have been a complete change of scenery from the Central Highlands.

When I returned from R&R I got a new job. Warren Adams, the company First Sergeant, pulled me up to Company Headquarters to be the field logistics sergeant. It was not a real job, in the sense of being authorized in the official Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) but it was necessary function during operations.

D Company was not a maneuver element. The three platoons, Recon, Heavy Mortar, and Anti-Tank were combat support elements and their location and employment were usually established by the Battalion Operations Officer or S3. The D company CP was usually, but not always, collocated with the heavy mortars. One of our missions was to monitor the battalion command radio frequency and track the location of the other companies. By staying abreast of the situation we were ready to reconstitute the battalion Tactical Operations Center (TOC) if the principal TOC was overrun or lost during an air lift.

Bong Son was my first operation as a member of the company field headquarters.

We had operated in populated areas around Qui Nhon during our initial toughing up phase and while we were reconstituting after the Ia Drang. But we had not made any significant contact. And the populace, at least on the surface, seemed loyal to the South Vietnamese Government. At Bong Son we would engage NVA regulars again and much of the populace was openly hostile to us.

Having said this, I also must say that I did not participate directly in any combat at Bong Son. But I did monitor the radios and I was very aware of the intense fighting that was going on just a kilometre or two from our support locations. And, for a time, we were located at the airstrip and I saw the casualties come in. For me, it was kind of sureal. I was there but I was somewhat detached. I think it was a coping mechanism. A bit of guilt for being relatively safe and a bit of relief for not being at risk.

We operated on the Bong Son plain twice. In January 66 and again in March (my recal may be faulty). No matter what the higher ups called the operations there we called them Bong Son One and Bong Son Two. At reunions we still talk about them. Most agree that the actual combat was worse than anything at XRay even though the tactical situations never was,

At this time of my life the events of Bong Son One and Two run together.

Here are some things I recall.

Riding by truck all night from An Khe, down Highway 19 to Qui Nhon and then up Highway 1 to Bong Son, immediately boarding Hueys and making a combat assault. My understanding is we did this because Bong Son was to far from An Khe to stage the assault from there. But the Hueys could fly empty from An Khe and arrive with enough fuel to stage the assault. In so doing, we achieved tactical surprise. It was a well conceived and brilliantly executed maneuver.

Walking in sand, sleeping in sand, eating sand, trying to dig in in sand, hating sand.

Watching a Charlie model Huey gun ship coming in with fuel streaming out of it. The left side opened up like a shark bite and the gunner dead and hanging by a strap. Aparently one or more of the rockets in the missing pod had detonated on launch or been hit by ground fire.

Going to the S1 tent to pick up replacements. Most were 82nd Airborne veterans of the Dominican Republic. On the way back we passed by Charlie Med. There were more dead GIs wrapped in ponchos there than the 82nd had lost during their entire mission in the DR.

Learning Sergeant First Class Kennedy, a C Company hero in the Ia Drang, had been killed by friendly fire. Fire from a 106 in our own Anti Tank platoon.

Hearing an explosion nearby and finding out one of our 82nd Airborne replacements had snagged a grenade when he was setting his 81 mm mortar bipod down. It blew his arm off and he died almost immediately in front of me.

Seeing a senior NCO (not a D Company man) throw his boots down a well and reporting them stolen while he slept.

Seeing Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky and his wife in matching black flight suits walking among the ordinary soldiers and thanking them for their service.

Showing no interest in seeing Nancy Sinatra put on a USO show.

Seeing those damn pictures in Life magazine and feeling guilty and relieved all over again.

Didn’t you go back to the Ia Drang in March for Operation LINCOLN? not sure 1/7 was involved in this one, but after Bong Son the Cav was known as the "swing" division, alternating between the coastal plain and the Central Highlands. How was your perception of the war at that time after several months in country? I guess morale was pretty high in the 1st Cav, did you have the feeling that you were turning the tide in Vietnam, were you told anything about the big picture?

Yes, we did return to the Ia Drang. In fact, we air assaulted back into XRay. It was quiet. The mission was to search for and retrieve the remains of some MIAs. We found them.

The battlefield had been cleaned up pretty good by both sides. We found a scattering of stuff and I noticed the remains of one NVA soldier near the "Ant Hill" that sheltered the command post during the battle.

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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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