196th Light Infantry Brigade Operations
Operation Attleboro was actually made up of two phases. Phase I occupied the time period from 2 Sep 66 into early Nov 1966, and Phase II began 6 Nov 66 until the end on 24 Nov 66. TAO: War Zone C, Tay Ninh Province
Operation Attleboro turned out to be the largest series of air mobile operations to date, and involved all or elements of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 25th Division 1st Infantry Division, a brigade of the 4th Division, as well as a majority of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and Regional Forces/Popular Forces and Nungs. In the end, the operation became a Corps operation commanded by II Field Forces.
Tay Ninh West, often called "New Tay Ninh" to distinguish it from the old French constructed airstrip in the Vietnamese town of Tay Ninh called "Old Tay Ninh", was a newly built and yet uncompleted base camp of GP medium and small tents built especially for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. The 196th Light Infantry Brigade was the first of four Light Infantry Brigades due to be sent to Vietnam. They were formed at Ft. Devens, MA and had arrived in Vietnam at Vung Tau a month before in Aug 1966. The Brigade was untested in battle and Operation Attleboro, named for a town in Massachusetts from which the 196th had come, was the code name picked for their first combat encounter in the jungles of Vietnam.
The three infantry battalions were airlifted to LZ's surrounding Tay Ninh in all directions. No real action was encountered, and the units were moved from LZ to LZ and back to the base camp. Most of the air movements in Phase I was done by the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, and its assault helicopter companies, the 118th, 68th and 71st.
The terrain all over War Zone C, and particularly around Tay Ninh and all the non-farm land, was what might be classed as high savannah. Tall wavy elephant grass interspersed with occasional tall trees was the norm. Rainfall in this area is not as much as areas farther east and near the sea coast of Vietnam. Many areas around Nui Ba Den and adjacent to Tay Ninh (west) were punctuated with huge 6-10 feet tall termite mounds that created havoc for helicopters dropping off troops in a combat assault. All aircraft crews were especially watchful for termite mounds.
Phase II was punctuated by a massive build-up of more Infantry battalions and aviation companies. Phase II erupted after the 196th Light Infantry Brigade had, for several weeks, experienced no significant contact with the Vietcong or North Vietnamese Army(NVA). However, intelligence had indicated that their elements were somewhere in this area of War Zone C and this sounded the alarm. The decision was made to involve the 1/27th Inf of the 25th Infantry Division, elements of the 1st Infantry Division (at Dau Tieng), 3rd Bde of the 4th Inf. Div(soon to be come part of the 25th Inf. Division, the 173d Abn Bde the 11th ACR several ARVN Bn's and of course the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
Operation Attleboro was a very large and complex movement of maneuver battalions in what some have called "Eagle Flights." However, they did not follow the normal rules of engagement for "Eagle Flights." It must have been interesting from the enemy's viewpoint to see all the helicopters flying around and landing and taking off with and without troops on board. The Vietcong and NVA had done a masterful job of hiding and evading observation. In the end over 1,000 enemy were killed while US losses were 155 KIA and 494 wounded.
Not wanting to give away their positions, there was little ground fire at the helicopters. There was apparently very few anti-aircraft weapons employed by the NVA and Vietcong units and only .30 caliber weapons were used to inflict single shot damage to the aircraft.
TAO: Iron Triangle, 25 miles northwest of Saigon including the Thanh Dien Forest Reserve, VC Military Region 4 Headquarters. Ben Suc and surrounding villages, Binh Duong, Hau Nghia and Tay Ninh Provinces.
Shortly after the completion of Operation BIRMINGHAM in May 1966, General William C. Westmoreland, Commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, directed Lieutenant General Jonathan O. Seaman, Commanding General, II Field Force, Vietnam, to plan an operation for War Zone C in northern Tay Ninh Province to start soon after the Christmas and New Year stand downs of 1966- 67. (Map 5) He further indicated that it should be a "big operation." Over the next several months the operation, to be known as JUNCTION CITY, was planned. As approved by General Westmoreland, the operation was to start on 8 January 1967, was to be multidivisional, and was to include a parachute assault. The operation to commence on 8 January would not be JUNTION CITY: the preemptor was to be known as CEDAR FALLS.
As II Field Force troop strength built up in 1966 and it became more capable of attacking the enemy in longtime havens, General Seaman's headquarters was considering the possibility of a powerful strike into the Iron Triangle. The Iron Triangle is generally defined on the southwest by the Saigon River, on the east by the Thi Tinh River, and on the north by a line running west from Ben Cat to the town of Ben Suc on the Saigon River. To the north lies the Thanh Dien Forestry Reserve. The Iron Triangle has been characterized as a dagger pointed at Saigon and, being only twenty kilometers away, was the enemy's largest haven close to that city. The area was heavily fortified and known to contain the Viet Cong headquarters for Military Region IV which directed military, political, and terrorist activities in the Saigon-Gia Dinh capital region complex. Viet Cong control of the Iron Triangle permitted the enemy forces to dominate key transportation routes in the surrounding area. This important center for controlling and supporting enemy operations had to be attacked decisively and in force if the attack were to succeed in rupturing and neutralizing the control structure.
At a planning meeting in September 1966 General Seaman discussed the possibility of an operation in the triangle with General Westmoreland, who suggested a coordinated operation with forces on both sides of the Saigon River. He envisioned troops moving into position on one side of the river to form an anvil followed by a rapid move from the other side to hammer the enemy against the anvil. Discussion also turned to the need for extensive clearing to strip the area and deprive the enemy of concealment. By November General Seaman's headquarters was planning not only for Operation Junction City but also for Cedar Falls. Intelligence collection was directed at both operations.
A new approach to assigning intelligence collection responsibilities in III Corps had been taken with the publication of a II Field Force, Vietnam, intelligence collection plan. The plan assigned specific intelligence collection areas, tasks, and responsibilities to U.S. and allied units within the III Corps area; the objective was a closely integrated and coordinated effort by U.S. and allied agencies. Unit collection responsibilities were assigned on the basis of geographic areas. Close liaison was effected between U.S. and allied units from division through battalion level and between U.S. advisers and corresponding commanders of South Vietnamese Army units or province and district chiefs. The plan was designed to provide for the collection of maximum information with minimum duplication of effort.
A step was also taken to improve the intelligence collection effort through the establishment of a source control program in the III Corps area. When fully implemented, this program administratively controlled and identified confidential informants and sources, assisted in their evaluation, prevented utilization of each source by more than one agency and avoided employment of unreliable agents.
Operation Cedar Falls was the first large scale operation to benefit from "pattern activity analysis," a system begun in mid 1966. This procedure consisted of detailed plotting on maps of information on enemy activity obtained from a variety of sources over an extended period of time. As more data were plotted, patterns of activity and locations emerged. It thereby became possible to focus prime attention on those areas of intensive or unusual activity.
Aerial observation and photography, sensors, patrol reports, infrared devices, sampan traffic counts, enemy probes of Regional and Popular Forces posts, agent reports, civilian movement reports, reports of increased antiaircraft fire, disclosures of caches (and the amount and nature of the material in them), and captured documents-these sources and more revealed much about enemy intentions. Increases in road ambushes or bridge destruction usually meant that the Viet Cong intended to attack in a location where denial of the roads would aid the enemy. Some idea of the enemy's intent could be determined by checking even the amount of wood shipped into an area for making caskets or the number of civilians impressed as porters. The extent and nature of the enemy's own intelligence gathering revealed much about his intentions and even the size of the operation he was planning.
Detailed plotting of all this information and careful analysis of the patterns enabled U.S. forces to launch spoiling attacks both with ground troops and with massive air strikes. Where no pronounced pattern developed in an area, efforts were concentrated elsewhere, thereby conserving forces. Pattern activity analysis was invaluable in developing broad long-range direction of military operations, while at lower echelons it provided commanders a basis for planning day-by-day operations.
The excellence of the intelligence effort was vividly demonstrated by the results achieved. A comparison of installations discovered during Operation CEDAR FALLS with order-of-battle intelligence holdings collected before the operation disclosed a high degree of correlation. For example, of 177 separate enemy facilities found by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 156, or 88.1 percent, were located within 500 meters of the locations previously reported. The average distance was about 200 meters.
Intelligence information prompted General Seaman to recommend that Operation CEDAR FALLS precede Junction City. General Seaman related the events surrounding the change as follows:
In early December, if I recall correctly, I received a telephone call from [Brigadier] General [Joseph A.] McChristian, (Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence [J-2], MACV) saying that he would like to come out and brief me on some intelligence information he had concerning the III Corps Tactical Zone. He came out with several young MI (Military Intelligence) lieutenants who had been in some building in Saigon poring over (special) research reports, clandestine reports, and everything else available. The briefing lasted a couple of hours and was a most convincing presentation in that they had a pretty good idea where Military Region IV headquarters was, plus some of the support elements of Military Region IV. General McChristian said he wanted to bring this to my attention for whatever I felt should be done. I did a lot of thinking about all this and was convinced that he had some good solid, sound information. I called my staff in and told them to prepare plans for an operation to seal off the southwest side of the Saigon River and the Iron Triangle with the objective of seeing what we could find with respect to Military Region IV. We came up with a plan of operation that, to me, was pretty sound. I asked General Westmoreland to come to my headquarters so that I could brief him on a concept of operations for "Cedar Falls." We had developed a good cover plan so that we wouldn't compromise the operation. I was going to propose to him that we postpone "Junction City" for two main reasons.
First, I felt that the intelligence information we received from General McChristian and his people was so good that we had to capitalize on it. Secondly, the 9th Division was on its way from Fort Riley and would arrive in theater in December and early January.
So, I felt that if we postponed "Junction City" for a month or a little more, this would give me another division I could use to take over some of the other missions that were going on. Remember, we didn't conduct just one operation at a time. With those two facts in mind; intelligence, and that the 9th Division was on its way over, I felt that there was a great advantage in postponing "Junction City."
General Westmoreland was briefed on CEDAR FALLS; the advantages and disadvantages were weighed and the decision made: Operation CEDAR FALLS, rather than JUNCTION CITY, would begin on 8 January 1967. The mission: II Field Force, Vietnam, attacks the Iron Triangle and the Thanh Dien Forestry Reserve to destroy enemy forces, infrastructure, installations, and Military Region IV headquarters; evacuates civilian population; and establishes the Iron Triangle as a specified strike zone to preclude its further use as a support base for Viet Cong operations.
General Seaman furnished further planning guidance: the Iron Triangle area was to be attacked violently and decisively with all forces available in a "hammer and anvil" operation. Deceptive deployments on seemingly routine operations would preposition the forces. The anvil would be positioned first and the hammer then swung through the Iron Triangle. The objective area was to be sealed tightly throughout the operation to prevent enemy escape. The triangle itself was to be scoured for enemy installations, cleared of all civilians, stripped of concealment, and declared a specified strike zone. The destruction of the enemy's Military Region IV headquarters was the principal objective of the operation.
In addition to the Military Region IV headquarters, the other Viet Cong units in the area were suspected to be the 272d Regiment, the 1st and 7th Battalions of Military Region IV under the 165th Viet Cong Regiment, the Phu Loi Local Force Battalion, plus three local force companies. (Although the suspected location of the 272d Regiment presented a threat during the initial stages of the operation, this unit displaced to the north as the operation progressed.) Other intelligence sources indicated the 2d, 3d, and 8th Battalions of the 165th Viet Cong Regiment might also be encountered.
The Thanh Dien forest and the Iron Triangle were known to contain strongly fortified positions with the routes of approach mined and booby trapped. The terrain in the area consists of dense forests and wet, open rice lands. Cover in the rice paddies, marshes, and swamps is generally limited to road embankments and dikes. Fields of fire are poor in the forests. Vehicle movement is restricted to existing roads and some trails. What few slopes exist are very gentle; the highest points in the area do not exceed forty meters.
The weather for Cedar Falls was most favorable during January when the northeast monsoon develops to its fullest, leaving the interior regions of the III Corps area with relatively clear skies and little precipitation. Except for periods of early morning fog and occasional morning and afternoon rain showers, cloud ceilings are unlimited and the visibility is excellent. The temperature varies from a low of 59 degrees to a high of 95 degrees.
The deception planned in positioning the various units was involved and critical. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was to come from Xuan Loc, 100 kilometers to the east, and the 173d Airborne Brigade was operating between Ben Cat and Phuoc Vinh. Elements of the 25th Infantry Division and 196th Light Infantry Brigade were to move from the areas of Cu Chi, to the south, and Tay Ninh city, some sixty kilometers to the northwest. The 1st Infantry Division elements were to be air transported to complete the seal and invade the area. Numerous small-scale movements under the guise of local operations would position other forces.
From the first planning conference, strict security measures were enforced to prevent disclosure of the operation. The planning group was held to a minimum within II Field Force headquarters and, wherever possible, preparations were made without specifically identifying them with CEDAR FALLS. All commanders were instructed on 19 December 1966 to minimize helicopter operations during January. Even the plan for the unprecedented mass evacuation of civilians from the area was not disclosed before the operation. Planning for the transportation and housing of refugees was coordinated only with Mr. John Vann, director of Region III's Office of Civil Operations. Although supplies were earmarked for shipment to a refugee relocation center at Phu Cuong, no construction or stocking was started until Cedar Falls had commenced. General Seaman personally briefed the commanding general of the South Vietnamese III Corps on D minus 2, 6 January 1967. South Vietnamese troop participation was approved at that time with government forces assigned the missions of supporting American blocking forces, of securing and transporting civilian evacuees, and of supporting security forces in the An Loc and Quan Loi areas. The Vietnamese III Corps commander assisted in maintaining security by restricting dissemination of information on the operation.
CEDAR FALLS was to be conducted in two distinct phases. Phase I, 5-8 January, consisted of positioning units on the flanks of the Iron Triangle-Thanh Dien forest area. D-day was set for 8 January when an air assault on Ben Suc would take place. Ben Suc was to be sealed, searched, and, after evacuation of its inhabitants and their possessions, destroyed. Phase II of the operation was to start on 9 January with an armored force attacking west from the vicinity of Ben Cat to penetrate the Iron Triangle. Simultaneously, air assaults in an arc around the Thanh Dien forest from Ben Cat to Ben Suc would complete the northern portion of the encirclement of the triangle. Forces would attack south through the entire objective area to the confluence of the Saigon and Thi Tinh Rivers. All civilians were to be evacuated from the area which would be cleared and the tunnels destroyed. Phase II of Operation CEDAR FALLS was planned to last from two to three weeks.
The task organization under II Field Force consisted of three divisions: the 25th Infantry Division under the command of Major General Frederick C. Weyand; the 1st Infantry Division commanded by Major General William E. DePuy; and the South Vietnamese 5th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Phan Quoc Thuan commanding. Forces supporting the operation were the 7th Air Force; 1st Logistical Command; 3d Tactical Fighter Wing; II Field Force, Vietnam, Artillery; the 12th Combat Aviation Group; and the 79th Engineer Group. South Vietnamese supporting forces included the 3d Riverine Company (Navy), the 30th River Assault Group (Navy), and three Regional Forces boat companies.
CEDAR FALLS was to be the largest and most significant operation to this point in the war.
TAO: Quang Nam Province.
In mid-December 1968, Operation Fayette Canyon was initiated in the mountains 25 miles northwest of Tam Ky, Quang Nam Province. The operation was conducted by the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, and the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, and by the 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade. The operation ended on February 28, 1969, with 327 enemy KIA, destruction of numerous bunkers and complexes, and 65 weapons captured. US KIA's numbered 72.
On March 18, 1969, Operation Frederick Hill was initiated in the Quang Ti and Quang Ngai Provinces by the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and the 5th ARVN Regiment. In mid-May of 1969, west of Tam Ky, the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, joined the 196th Light Infantry Brigade to alleviate communist pressures in the area, coordinated under the operational control of the Americal Division.
TAO: Southwest of Tam Ky in the Quang Tin Province.
While Operation Frederick Hill was in full engagement, Operation Lamar Plain was initiated on May 15, 1969, as the 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry was placed under the operational control of the 101st Airborne. By mid-June, the operation had accounted for more than 130 NVA KIA and more than 40 VC KIA, and LZ Professional (west of Tam Ky), was no longer receiving enemy fire. In September, 1969, Operation Lamar Plain ceased, as the communists moved from the area. Communist sappers continued to fire upon Americal firebases during June, 1969, under Operation Frederick Hill, and a heavy attack was stopped on LZ East (11 miles west of Tam Ky), with 55 NVA KIA and 7 VC KIA.
Operation Gadsden was classified as a search and destroy operation, and employed two brigades of the U.S. 25th Infantry Division under the command of Major General Frederick C. Weyand. Involved were the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, commanded by Colonel Marshall B. Garth, and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Brigadier General Richard T. Knowles commanding.
The GADSDEN area of operation was some thirty kilometers northwest of Tay Ninh, in the vicinity of Lo Go and Xom Gina, South Vietnamese villages on the Cambodian border. The terrain is generally flat and the vegetation ranges from rice fields to triple-canopy jungle. During the operation grasslands in the area were as tall as six feet. There was some heavy mud in paddy areas, but most of the previously flooded positions had dried, thus facilitating overland movement. Weather was favorable for the operation.
Before the operation it was suspected that elements of the 271st and 272d Viet Cong Regiments, 70th Guard Regiment, 680th Training Regiment, and miscellaneous elements subordinate to the Central Office of South Vietnam-including several medical units-might be encountered. According to intelligence sources, Lo Go was a major supply center of the Viet Cong forces where shipments from Cambodia were transferred to local units. Therefore, the area of operation was believed to contain extensive supply and ammunition caches, communications storage areas, hospital facilities, base camps, and major training complexes. In addition, the commanders expected to locate personnel and supply routes to and from Cambodia.
The plans stipulated that Operation GADSDEN be conducted in several phases. During Phase I, forces would be positioned for the attack with combat elements established as close to the operational area as Trai Bi. Phase II, starting on D-day, would include a two-brigade attack to the west to seize two intermediate objectives, secure landing zones, and establish fire support bases. This would be followed by attacks on Lo Go and Xom Giua. Other objectives would be designated later. Search and destroy missions would be conducted in the zone, and blocking positions would be established to seal infiltration and exfiltration routes along the border during Phase III. During the last phase the units would expand the area of operation to the southeast to search for and destroy enemy forces and base camps.
Using a combination of airmobile assaults and attacks by mechanized battalions, the operation went as planned. During the 20-day duration of GADSDEN, the fighting was typified by small unit actions. Even though the fortifications encountered were extensive and many were capable of withstanding very heavy artillery and air strikes, the enemy chose not to stand and fight but rather to employ guerrilla tactics.
Evidence was uncovered to confirm that in the operational area were located a training area for main force Viet Cong units which included an obstacle course and an elaborate land navigation course; a rest and recuperation center including numerous medical facilities and supplies, as well as a 100-gallon still with 2,000 gallons of mash and 50 bottles of alcohol; an ordnance facility for fabricating and storing bombs, artillery rounds, and grenades; and numerous caches of food and other material. Also identified in the area were the postal transportation section, the current affairs section, and the military staff directorate of the Central Office of South Vietnam. Captured documents and ralliers identified elements of the 3d Battalion? 271st Viet Cong Regiment; the 3d Battalion, 70th Viet Cong Regiment; the 680th Training Regiment; and a medical unit subordinate to the Central Office.
In addition to confirming the location of various units and installations in the area, GADSDEN inflicted some fairly significant losses upon the enemy. Their casualties totaled at least 161 killed and 2 captured. He lost 26 weapons, 390 tons of rice (of which 50 percent was evacuated), salt, sugar, tea, soap, cigarettes, and 550 pounds of documents. Five hundred fifty huts, 590 bunkers, and 28 sampans were destroyed, as were numerous items of explosives and ammunition. U.S. battle losses were 29 killed and 107 wounded.
GADSDEN also accomplished its primary mission of positioning troops and supplies for JUNCTION CITY. The chances of success for that operation were bolstered by the opinion expressed by Colonel Garth: "GADSDEN proved the ability of mechanized units to operate in heavily vegetated terrain and that U.S. forces have the capability of moving at their desire within War Zone C."
TAO: September 1965 - south of Da Nang, September 1968 - Que Son Valley, Quang Nam Province.
Operation Golden Fleece began in September, 1965, under the control of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, which was designed to protect the Vietnamese in harvesting their rice, and denying the enemy a source of food and income. Search and clear operations were instituted in order to control the movement of the rice, which also provided security for the villages.
In September, 1968, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade assisted the Vietnamese in harvesting more than 1.5 million pounds of rice in the Que Son Valley, and capturing thousands of pounds of enemy rice, during a 4 month operation. This effort helped to disrupt NVA operations.
In February of 1967, General William C. Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, formed a planning group to organize an Army Task Force to send to the I Corps Area.
This planning group, commanded by Major General William B. Rossoni organized a multi-brigade force composed of the 196 Light Infantry Brigade: The 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division: and the 3rd Brigade, 25 Infantry Division (later redesignated the 3rd Brigade, 4rth Infantry Division).
Task Force Oregon became operational on April 20, 1967, when troops from the 196th Brigade landed at the Chu Lai Airstrip and immediately began search operations around the base camp. Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 4rth Division started conducting search and destroy operations in Southern Quang Ngai Province, and in May, the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne paratroopers arrived at Duc Pho and operations in the jungles west of there.
Early operations conducted by Task Force Oregon included Malheur 1 and Malheur 11, Hood River, Benton and Cook. On 11 September, 1967, Operation Wheeler was launched against elements of the 2nd North Vietnamese Division working in the area northwest of Chu Lai.
On 22 September, 1967, Brigadier General Samuel W. Koster assumed command of the task force, replacing Major General Richard T. Knowles, and three days later Task Force Oregon became the Americal Division, composed of the 196th, 198th, and the 11th Light Infantry Brigades, even though the latter two organizations were still training in the United States.
Operation Wheeler continued and on 4 October, 1967, the 3rd Brigade 1st Air Cavalry Division joined the Americal and immediately launched Operation Wallowa in the northern sector of the divisions area of o perations. Operations Wheeler and Wallowa were combined on 11 November and Operation Wheeler/Wallowa was conducted by the 196th Brigade (which replaced the 101st Airbornes 1st Brigade in the Operation Wheeler after that organization departed for the 11 Corps Tactical zone) and the 3rd Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry.
An official change of colors ceremony was held 26 October and the Americal Division became the Seventh Army Division fighting in Vietnam. General Koster received his second star during the same ceremony.
On 22 October the 198th Light Infantry Brigade arrived in Vietnam from Fort Hood, Texas and deployed to Duc Pho where it received combat training from the battle hardened soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 4rth Infantry. The 198th currently was in charge of the defense of the Chu Lai Airstrip. Operation Wheeler/Wallowa became the responsibility of the 196th Infantry Brigade and the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry. The 1/1 had been operating in the general area since September, 1967, and officially became part of the Americal Division on 10 January, 1968. The 198th Infantry Brigade remained responsible for securing the immediate area around Chu Lai.
TAO: Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces (Tam Ky).
Task Force Oregon (TFO) - originally 196th LIB, 1st Brigade 101st Airborne Division and 3d Brigade 4th Infantry Division, which later became the Americal Division (23d Infantry Division consisting of the 196th, 198th and 11th Light Infantry Brigades
3d Brigade 82d Airborne Division, 3d Brigade and Troop B, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
2d PAVN Division and reinforcements, 60th and 70th Main Force VC Battalions
Operation WHEELER was characterized by battalion size combat assaults of the high ground west of Tam Ky in Quang Nam province. These combat assaults were followed by search and destroy operations to find and destroy enemy forces, base camps, and fortifications. On 11 Sep 1967, the operation was launched under the control of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
Operation WALLOWA involved intensive surveillance of the Hiep Duc - Que Son Valley. Small units were combat assaulted into the area to find the enemy prior to the insertion of ready reaction forces. On 4 Oct 1967, the operation was begun under the control of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Ambl).
On 11 November 1967 both Operations WHEELER and WALLOWA were merged to facilitate coordination and control. Seven US Army infantry battalions were participating in the action.
On 12 Feb 68, after participating in Task Force Miracle (the defense of Da Nang during TET 68), the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry returned south and conducted combat operations under the control of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. On 27 Feb 68, the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division tactical area of operations passed to the 196th Infantry Brigade, and the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry came under their operational control. The 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division moved out of the Americal Division area and deployed in the II Corps Tactical Zone further to the south.
Security of Highway QL #535
One specified mission for the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry was participating in minesweeping operations and security of Highway QL #535, from the intersection with Highway QL1 near LZ Baldy BT 133 453 to LZ Ross, BT 029 341 approximately 17 km (over ten miles) to the west near the Que Son Valley. The road provided a land route for supplies and personnel to LZ Ross, thus allowing helicopters to be used on other missions, and enhanced RVN pacification efforts in the area. One infantry company from the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry was given the mission of securing the road and interdicting the enemy mine teams, while the other companies conducted combat operations in the areas west of LZ Ross.
Each day engineer minesweeping teams accompanied by infantry security forces would leave from LZ Baldy and LZ Ross, and move toward each other on Highway 535. Their job was to clear and secure the road for the movement of supplies and personnel in convoys of 30 to 40 vehicles, that had their own local security of armored cavalry and mechanized infantry. Despite mines weeping and convoy security, the enemy usually damaged or destroyed at least one vehicle each day, sometimes with casualties. The narrow road, with dense vegetation on each side, allowed the enemy to plant mines after the mine sweepers passed or to set up an ambush with antitank weapons.
The efforts of the Viet Cong local force unit were successful initially. Their operations diverted military assets that could have been employed against the 2d NVA Division off to the west, demonstrated the limits of GVN control in the area, and helped to coerce support from the local civilians. While the enemy avoided a daylight engagement with the infantry forces, they continued to attack night defensive positions with mortars and sniper fire.
After Company B, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry, participated in civic action activities in the area, additional intelligence revealed that the battalion's night ambush positions, along Highway 535 had been reported to the Viet Cong by local civilians. To counter this problem, Company B, under the command of captain Dan A. Prather, stopped conducting combat sweeps in the daytime while relying on fixed ambush positions at night along the road. Instead, they focused on becoming familiar with the area along the highway during daylight civic action and medcap operations. They followed up with aggressive nighttime patrols composed of eight to fifteen soldiers operating in a specific sector that they knew as well or better than the enemy. Mortar and artillery forward observers were attached to each patrol and registration points were confirmed during the day to enable a rapid shift for indirect fire support after dark.
During the first night of patrolling, two patrols had contact, resulting in two VC killed, and two individual weapons captured along with six mines and several grenades. During the four week period after the nighttime patrols were initiated, a total of 32 enemy were killed, with 12 weapons and numerous mines and grenades captured. Documents captured later revealed that the local force Viet Cong platoon that had been attacking the road was completely eliminated. During the same period, only two soldiers from the battalion were slightly wounded, and neither required evacuation.
The night patrols, locally known as "rat patrols," soon were being conducted by the other infantry companies, as they rotated in for the road security mission. Company C had an incident that exemplified the technique: After establishing rapport with the local population, Captain John Hurtado (later KIA) received a report from an extremely reliable source that a local VC squad was planning a night meeting in a destroyed village along the highway. The rat patrol assigned this area approached the village at about 0200 hours on 15 Mar 68. On entering the village, four Viet Cong leisurely stood up, one of them only two feet from the rat patrol leader. At this point an incident that can only take place in a combat environment occurred. The startled rat patrol leader reached for and violently took the enemy soldier's assault rifle away from him. The near simultaneous rifle firing of the other rat patrol members killed the remaining VC. The Viet Cong obviously thought the rat patrol was part of the VC force. [From "The Rats of the Regulars" by Major Joseph M. McDonnell, printed in the A Distant Challenge: The US Infantryman in Vietnam 1967-70, by Infantry Magazine, 1971]
Combat Operations in April and May 1968
The following narrative is a detailed report of combat in the vicinity of LZ Center in May 1968. Map locations are reported to the nearest 100 m. by six digit grid coordinates with a letter grid identifier (e.g. LZ Center at BT 053 250) For brevity and accuracy, times of day are given in military date time format (e.g. 050610 May 68 = 6:10 a.m. May 5, 1968). Other abbreviations: WHA(E) = seriously wounded by hostile action, evacuated by Dustoff helicopter; WHA(M) = minor wounds from hostile action, remained in the field; KHA = killed hostile action; and, RPG = rocket propelled grenade, an enemy NVA weapon. On 20 April 1968, the 198th Infantry Brigade assumed control of Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA from the 196th Infantry Brigade. The 196th Infantry Brigade had been placed under the operational control of the 1st Cavalry Division while it participated in fighting near the de-militarized zone.
The 198th Infantry Brigade (with the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry, 1st Battalion 52d Infantry, and 1st Battalion 20th Infantry) began conducting combat operations in the WHEELER/WALLOWA area. Primary emphasis was placed on clearing the Que Son Valley (BT 0334) and Antenna Valley (AT 9137) and neutralizing enemy Base Area 116.
On 22 April 1968, Companies A, B, C of the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry moved to AO Manassas as part of the WHEELER/WALLOWA operation, while company D remained in the Arlington Trail area of operations. Headquarters, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry set up an additional Tactical Operations Center (TOC) at LZ Center (BT 053 250). The primary tactical technique used during WHEELER/WALLOWA operations was a company sized search and sweep or search and clear operation to achieve contact, then a battalion or larger combat assault to exploit the contact.
5 May 1968
On 5 May 1968 NVA forces struck throughout the 198th Infantry Brigade tactical area of operations in the mountainous areas northwest of Chu Lai.
LZ Baldy received eight rounds of 60mm fire, while LZ Colt at BT 113 327 was hit with six mortar and three RPG rounds.
LZ Ross at BT 028 341 was hit with 100 rounds of 60/80mm rounds, 32 x 122mm rockets, and a dozen CS mortar rounds. By 0310 hrs they reported a fire near the ammo dump. Soldiers from C/1-6 Infantry, who had observed the rockets launch and counted 41 streaking toward LZ Ross, requested gunship support. At 0550 hrs the gunships fired on the suspected launch location at BT 950 270 and had secondary explosions. LZ Ross was the home of Battery A, 3d Battalion, 16th Artillery (155mm howitzers, towed) who provided reinforcing fires, and Battery B, 3d Battalion, 18th Artillery (8" howitzer and 175mm guns) who provided general supporting fires for Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA.
At BT 228 314, units of the 1/1 Cavalry was struck with mortar fire and 22 rounds of 122mm rocket fire. LZ Bowman was struck with at least 11 mortar rounds, but at 0345 hrs saw two huge secondary explosions at BT 240 117 from counter-mortar fire. At 0225 hrs 5 May 1968 a trip flare was set off in the perimeter wire at LZ East (BT 131 203).
By 0355 hrs LZ East was receiving small arms fire and that confirmed a ground attack was underway. At 0750 hrs, the S3,1-6 Infantry, operating from the other split TOC location at LZ East, reported that soldiers from D/1-6 Infantry had found 1 B40 rocket, 19 Chi Com hand grenades, 2 NVA ponchos and two blood trails moving NE.
On 5 May 1968 LZ Center at BT 052 250 received numerous mortar and rocket attacks, culminating in a night time ground attack. The resident 105mm howitzer artillery unit at the base at that time was Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery, who provided direct supporting fires from there. At 0135 the firebase received mortar fire from BT 047 268 that lasted for thirty minutes, and reported sound and movement on the south side. They requested gunship support and Firebird gunships arrived at 0210. Twelve more 60mm mortar rounds landed at 0240. A large secondary explosion was observed at BT 038 262 at 0429 hrs. Seven dead NVA soldiers were found in the wire at daybreak, and 3 AK-47 and 2 RPG rocket launchers were captured. The attacks continued during the day. At 0759 when the base was hit with 3 RPG rounds and additional mortars. At 1355 hrs, A/1-6 reported that bunker #1 at LZ Center received an RPG round and small arms fire. At 1600 hours, a helicopter attempting to land at the firebase received an RPG round resulting in two WHA. Sporadic mortar fire and RPG attacks continued on LZ Center throughout the day and evening (1700 hrs - 2 RPG; 1724 hrs - mortars; 1820 hrs - RPG; 1850 hrs - mortars; 2100 hrs - RPG). At 2045 hours, the enemy mortars had zeroed in on the Tactical Operations Center at LZ Center. 1-6 Infantry units at the firebase reported the suspected location at grid BT 05 24. At 2158 hrs movement was observed within 200m of the north side of the firebase. A "Spooky" Air Force AC-47 gun ship that reported on station at 2150 hrs and remained to provide fire support until 2310. Enemy movement just outside the wire was targeted, and enemy activity was reduced.
Significant combat on 5 May 1968 also continued in the hills to the southeast of LZ Center. At 1030 hrs a Minuteman helicopter (#66-17075) from the 176th AHC was shot down at BT 072 245. At 051045 hrs a Firebird gunship helicopter from the 71st AHC was shot down at BT 075 248. [Note: A long range recon patrol identified as "LRRP ROSIE" may have been inserted at 1115 near the downed aircraft]. Soldiers from B/1-6 were picked up by helicopters at LZ Center at 1435 hrs to secure the area near the downed aircraft. [Note: The 198th operational log reports that at 1330 hrs LRRP ROSIE was joined by B\1-6. The next log entry states "Res: 7 KHA, 3 MHA, 4 WHA." Casualty reports from a Memorial Service conducted in late 1968 indicate that six soldiers (presumably from the Recon Platoon) from E/1-6 were killed on 5 May 1968: SGT James Paul Freeman, SGT Robert Eugene Quick, SGT Barry Thomas Heinhardt, CPL Russell William Effert, CPL Duane Michael Normandine, and CPL Robert George Weddendorf. It is not clear at this time whether the numbers killed, missing, and wounded reported in the operational logs were from the aircraft crews of the 176th AHC, the 71st AHC, E/1-6, or some combination of those units].
By 051750 hrs, 96 additional soldiers from D/1-20 Infantry (a unit under the operational control of the Commander, 1-6 Infantry) were airlifted to join B/1-6 on the ground. The enemy apparently observed the move, because at 1824 hrs B/1-6 and D/1-20 received numerous 82mm mortar rounds while at BT 083 247. [Note: An operational log entry on 060900 May 1968 indicated that the casualties were caused by a pressure type mine, not by mortar fire]. As the strike came in, they observed heavy NVA weapons firing at the jets. Apparently three soldiers were injured when the air strike came in too close. The next day at 061100 May 1968, B/1-6 reported finding bodies, ruck sacks, lighters, wallets, and dog tags with names, at the site of the burned aircraft they secured the day before. The presence of two infantry companies on the ground did not deter the NVA. The enemy were brazen in their movement on the area, for at 061350 hrs B/1-6 engaged VC in the open at BT 087 244 resulting in one kill.
To the southwest of LZ Center, soldiers from the weapons platoon of A/1-6 reported at 052020 May 1968 that they were under a ground attack at BT 022 289. They fired on a suspected enemy location, and at 2113 hrs reported that the firing had stopped. The next evening, at 2046 hrs, they reported receiving small arms fire from several enemy locations at BT 026 280, BT 030 283, and BT 028 280. Popular Force soldiers at their location returned fire.
6 May 1968
On the night of 5 May 1968, the NVA attacked northward toward the perimeter at the steepest part of the ridge line. Their attack was stopped by throwing several cases of hand grenades down the slope.
Action in the area around LZ Center continued unabated on 6 May 1968. Movement was observed in the wire at 0050 hrs. At 0105 hrs, two VC penetrated the perimeter at LZ Center, and trip flares were ignited in the wire. At 0330 hrs, ten 122mm rockets launched from BT 990 265 impacted on the firebase. At 0440 hrs Bunkers #8 and #9 engaged 4 VC with M79 rounds. At 0941 hrs, a CH-47 Boxcar from the 178th ASHC was fired on by an RPG round while trying to land at the firebase. An additional suspect enemy mortar site was pinpointed at BT 055 225. At 1004 hrs, a rocket launcher site was spotted by an aerial observer at BT 265 076. At 1140 hrs, an air strike at BT 056 276 resulted in a secondary explosion. The jet took automatic weapons fire while making his bomb run. In spite of air strikes and artillery attacks, the enemy forces continued to pound the firebase with mortar fire. At 06 1400 May 1968 the TOC at FSB Center suffered a direct hit from two 82mm rounds, resulting in 7 WHA. At 1800 hrs four more mortar rounds were fired from suspect locations about 1200 meters northwest of the firebase. By 1850 hrs, a total of 25 rounds had impacted on the firebase. C/1-6 was patrolling to the northwest of FSB Center on 6 May 1968. At 1121 hrs, they received fire from BT 006 396, and BT 018 398. They fired mortars and called in artillery on the suspected locations.
It should be noted that the ground attacks at LZ Center on 5 and 6 May 1968 resulted in 18 NVA KIA, 8 AK-47, 5 RPG, 1 9mm pistol and a VC Silver Star captured in action. Documents taken from the body of an NVA officer identified the attacking forces as elements of the 3rd NVA Regt., 2nd NVA Division.
7 May 1968
On 7 May 1968 the mortar and RPG attacks on LZ Center continued. When mortar rounds landed at LZ Center at 0651 hrs, soldiers from B/1-6 observed flashes from the mortars firing from a location at BT 089 244. LZ Center fired mortars at the location. At 0724 hrs, two RPG rounds landed in front of Bunker #7, on the east side of the firebase. At 0841 hrs, a CH-47 Chinook aircraft attempting to land at LZ Center drew automatic weapons fire. When an LOH in the area attempted to provide fire support, the ground units in the area (D/1-20) advised him to leave because the fire was from an enemy .50 cal heavy machine gun. At 0916 hrs, 4 RPG rounds were fired at the TOC on the firebase. One went over the area, while three hit north of Bunker #10.
During the evening of 6 May 1968, B/1-6 and D/1-20 (a unit under the operational control of the Cdr, 1-6 Infantry) had moved from their location near the two downed helicopters to a location just south of LZ Center. On 7 May 1968, at 0010 hrs, their position was hit with 26 enemy 82mm mortar rounds while they and D/1-20 were at BT 066 238.
On 7 May 1968 when D/1-20 moved out to patrol from their combined night defensive position with B/1-6, they came under sniper fire from BT 070 239. At 070842 May 1968, D1-20 reported taking automatic weapons fire from an enemy position at BT 080 238, while they were located at BT 075 233. They identified eleven different enemy locations near their positions. At 1130 hrs, one soldier was dusted off as WHA, because two enemy hand grenades that had exploded near his position. The unit moved toward a new position at 1300 hrs. By 1900 hrs, they were in contact with an NVA company resulting in 2 KHA and 6 WHA. Dust off was impossible because of the tactical situation. The soldiers were picked up at 080940 May 1968, when the unit was resupplied with ammunition.
At 070842 May 1968, the 71st AHC Firebird gunships on station to support D/1-20 had to depart the area, because of the intense heavy automatic weapons fire from BT 068 227. At 0936 hrs, Helix 25, a USAF Forward Air Controller (FAC), was on station to direct the airstrikes against the enemy locations. At 0944 hrs, the jet fighters on the airstrike received small arms and automatic weapons fire. At 1000 hrs, the FAC spotted an enemy platoon sized unit moving on the ground. Artillery was fired at the target until additional jets arrived. AT 1025 hrs, one of the A-4 jets for the airstrike at BT 076 226 took .50 caliber hits to his wing tank and broke station to return to Chu Lai. He made a successful forced landing. By 071155 hrs, B/1-6 identified five enemy .50 caliber anti-aircraft positions: BT 068 227, BT 070 225, BT 074 226, BT 974 224, and BT 075 225. These positions shortly took their toll. At 1215 hrs, an A-1 Skyraider aircraft exploded after taking hits in the wing section. The aircraft was shot down at BT 070 225, but the pilot bailed out and was recovered at BT 175 153. At 1300 hrs, when the airstrike was completed, mortars from LZ Center, and 155mm and 175mm artillery were fired into the area. The intensive anti-aircraft fire in the area, and later the capture of a 12.7mm AA gun indicated that the enemy's GK-31 AA Battalion had been attached to, or was operating in support of the 3rd NVA Regiment.
At LZ Center, the airstrike provided an opportunity to sweep the perimeter. Two dead NVA were found in front of bunker #8 with pistol belts, AK-47 magazines, and two bags of chicom hand grenades. Both had been killed by small arms fire from the perimeter.
Because of the extensive combat in and around LZ Center on 6 and 7 May, the tactical headquarters for the 196th LIB prepared to assume operational control of two additional infantry companies from the 11th LIB. Troop movements were necessary to increase the defensive capability near LZ Center and LZ West.
8 May 1968
On the morning of 8 May 1968 at 0740 hrs, D/1-6 was moved out of the BURLINGTON TRAIL area and transported from the vicinity of LZ East to LZ West at BT 990 250 in one lift. By 0930 hrs, C/1-6 was moved from LZ West into the area southwest of LZ Center at BT 024 224. Both A/1-20 and B/1-20 were moved from LZ Ross and inserted to the area just west of C/1-6 at BT 019 269. There were now twice as many infantry companies in the areas near LZ Center, under the operational control of the command of the 1-6 infantry, than there had been only a day before. The additional troops, however, did not deter the NVA forces. At 080855 May 1968, two 122mm rockets impacted 20m in front of bunker #20 on LZ Center. The suspected launch site was at BT 080 263. The NVA had announced their intention to stay and fight.
At 081229 May 1968, B/1-6 was in contact at BT 056 246 with one soldier WHA. They had automatic weapons fire only 50m to their front. The dust off was completed, however, by 1255 hrs. When the enemy opened up with a .50 caliber machine gun from BT 056 226, the unit requested an airstrike. By 1400 hrs, B/1-6 had made contact with an unknown size NVA force in a bunker complex to their front. They killed 13 NVA who were dug in at several positions, and captured two AK-47's and, significantly, one Soviet DshKM 12.7mm heavy AA machine gun.
The NVA used these heavy machine guns to cover landing zones. This particular AA gun was equipped with a large circular anti-aircraft sight and shoulder braces for the operator who crouched in the hole to the left of the gun to get elevation for the shooting at aircraft. One soldier from the unit, PFC Pete Wilmouth, moved into position with a light anti-tank (LAW) weapon, and knocked out the enemy crew of the weapon. Other soldiers in the unit successfully assaulted three or four enemy positions adjacent to the AA gun. By 1516 hrs, the soldiers of B/1-6 had called in a dust off for 7 wounded soldiers and one heat casualty. At 1640 hrs, they received enemy mortar fire at BT 057 227, resulting in an additional WHA. By 1715 hrs, their interpreter was KHA, and two additional soldiers were WHA and dusted off at 1740 hrs. At 1830 hrs, they were being mortared by the enemy, and at 1925 they engaged an NVA force at BT 057 211 killing 3 NVA.
At 081450, C/1-6, who had been moving eastward from their LZ at BT 024 224, reached the hill top at BT 048 226, killing 1 NVA and capturing 1 AK-47, and three chicom grenades. By 1940 hrs, they killed another NVA at BT 048 226. Additional NVA were then observed on the ridge line at BT 057 230.
Because the NVA were operating at strength, B/1-6 and C/1-6 moved into a night defensive position at BT 057 227, in the vicinity of the Nui Hoac ridge. This exact location was to be the scene of another tough fight only a week later for A/1-6 and D/1-6, along with two other supporting infantry companies. In the early morning hours of 9 May at 0445 hrs, they received 20 rounds of 60mm fire. In addition, one RPG round went over their perimeter from the NNE. Gunships on station at 0509 hrs received small arms fire as they attacked. After the gunships returned from rearming, they had two secondary explosions on the targets. They also took .50 caliber fire from BT 042 217. At 0700 hrs, B/1-6 was still taking enemy rocket fire. At 0955 hrs, they were taking mortar fire from SW of their location. By 1105 hrs, they had received 14 more mortar rounds.
9 May 1968
On the morning of 9 May 1968, B/1-6 and C/1-6 moved eastward along the ridge towards BT 057 228 with C/1-6 taking the lead. At 091110 May 1968, D/1-20, under the operational control of the 1-6 Infantry, assaulted a hill further east on the ridge at BT 062 229, and suffered 1 KHA, and 2 WHA. Helix 25 had spotted 30 VC dug in a bunker position on the hill. At 1150 hrs, while moving eastward toward that same enemy location from up on the ridge line, C/1-6 received heavy weapons fire from BT 060 228. Because of the volume of fire, B/1-6 and C/1-6 consolidated their position at BT 057 227, and decided to wait for an airstrike. They had 16 casualties and 5 heat casualties when assaulting the hill. Leroy Ferguson and CPL Robert Earl Harris from C/1-6, are thought to be KHA in the assault.
While Helix 25 had the USAF FAC conduct an airstrike in the area, D/1-20 was 400m north of and down the hill from the suspected enemy position on the ridge. B/1-6 and C/1-6 were several hundred meters to the west. Helix 25 put in an airstrike at BT 075 225 with 250lb bombs. Helix 42 replaced the other aircraft at 1350 hrs, and continued to receive ground fire. At 1445 hrs, C/1-6 and B/1-6 received enemy mortar fire at BT 057 227. At 1555 hrs, they continued to receive heavy weapons fire and mortars. Mortar fire continued at 1635 hrs. C/1-6 moved northward off the ridge line, but was hit with mortars at 1800 hrs, while at BT 060 230. They called in 81mm mortars onto the suspected location.
Back at LZ Center, the enemy continued their mortar and rocket attacks on 9 May 1968. At 0940 hrs, one 82mm round landed 30m from the resupply pad, resulting in 2 US WHA. An airstrike at 1000 hrs, was directed against a probable .50 caliber position at BT 039 220. At 1020 hrs, another 82mm mortar round made a direct hit on a bunker resulting in 5 WHA. The dust off was completed by 1035 hrs. Mortars continued at 1050 hrs, coming from BT 064 239. At 1145 hrs, soldiers on the firebase observed a blast 50 feet high at BT 064 239. The blast was thought to have come from an enemy RR position, and that location was destroyed by 81mm mortars firing from LZ Center. Additional enemy mortar rounds landed on the firebase at 1505 hrs, including one on the commo bunker, and one on the admin helicopter pad.
10 May 1968
In spite of all the firepower that had been directed in the vicinity of LZ Center, the enemy continued their mortar attacks on the firebase on 10 May. LZ Center was hit at 0758 hrs, and again at 0825 hrs, by a few rounds. At 1130 hrs, the Americal Division Commander, MG Koster, arrived at LZ Baldy for a briefing on the situation around LZ Center. The Assistant Division Commander, BG Young, arrived at LZ Baldy at 1415 hrs, to discuss plans for the units in contact.
On 10 May 1968, the mortar attacks also continued against the units in the field. At 1010 hrs, B/1-6 was hit by two rounds from BT 051 223. At 1140 hrs, Helix 25 called in airstrikes at BT 051 225, BT 055 227, BT 062 227 and BT 065 227. Two secondary explosions were observed at BT 058 227. In spite of the airstrikes, at 1245 hrs, B/1-6 and C/1-6 received heavy mortar fire resulting in 1 KHA (thought to be 1LT Roger Duce), and 2 WHA of B/1-6, while C/1-6 had 1 WHA and 1 heat casualty in shock. By 1346 hrs, they had dusted off 9 WHA, 1 KHA, and 1 heat casualty. Later that day, the USAF "Spooky" C130 gunship arrived to provide support. Ground fire was observed by C/1-6 and B/1-6 coming from BT 044 224, and BT 082 237.
When the airstrikes began in the late morning of 10 May, A/1-6 and E/1-6 used the occasion to begin moving. They were hit with enemy mortar fire with negative results. By 1517 hrs, A/1-6 observed two VC in the open carrying a mortar tube at BT 057 224.
At 2228 hrs, C/1-20, a unit under the operational control of the 1-6 Infantry, occupied the position at BT 057 288. They received heavy weapons fire and small arms fire from 300m to their southwest. Their forward observer was wounded. Moments later, they reported enemy movement on all sides. When the dust off arrived to extract the wounded, they took ground fire from the west. Gunships supported the extraction, and negative contact was experienced after 2325 hrs.
11 May 1968
Enemy activity resumed on 11 May 1968. At 0810 hrs, Helix 25 had an airstrike going in at BT 071 225. He observed two secondary explosions. The attacking jet took ground fire that damaged his radios. A resupply helicopter attempting to land on LZ Center at 1015 hrs, took hits in a blade and had to return to Chu Lai for repairs. At 1245 hrs, LZ Center took one mortar round. Later in the afternoon at 1745 hrs, another round landed just outside the perimeter. At 1804 hrs, they took two more rounds, and A/1-6 reported hearing the mortars firing. Ten minutes later, two more rounds landed at the firebase. At 2110 hrs, A/1-6 fired artillery into BT 072 262, and heard one large secondary explosion. At 2200 hrs, another mortar round landed at the firebase.
At 110840, D/1-20, under the operational control of the 1-6 Infantry was in contact at BT 067 257, on the ridge line just to the east of LZ Center. They were pinned down and receiving heavy automatic weapons fire. Some elements of the unit were cut off from the main body. At 0857 hrs, one of the gunships on station was hit in the fuel tank by .51 caliber fire from BT 062 252. A/1-20, who had been operating north of LZ Center, moved eastward to link up with D/1-20, while B/1-20 moved south to link up at 0920 hrs. Results in D/1-20 were 6 KHA and 7 WHA, with the dust off occurring at 1040 hrs.
During midmorning on 11 May 1968, elements of A/1-6 moved eastward from LZ Center toward the area where soldiers from D/1-20 had been cut off. At 111148 May 1968, A/1-6 made contact with the enemy at BT 065 254. They had just entered a draw and spotted D/1-6 soldiers killed in an ambush previously, when the enemy opened up on them. They had 2 WHA at BT 067 253 from automatic weapons fire and small arms fire. By 1227 hrs, one of the wounded men died (thought to be 2LT William Lee Menconi), but one NVA had been killed and an AK-47 captured. At 1428 hrs, A/1-6 reported hearing NVA voices at BT 068 259, and engaged the target. At 1430 hrs, they reported the possible destruction of a 12.7mm AA machine gun at BT 067 253.
12 - 14 May 1968
Although fighting continued in the area, on 13 May, the 198th Infantry Brigade headquarters moved to the Chu Lai tactical area, while the 196th Infantry Brigade headquarters assumed tactical control of Operations WHEELER/WALLOWA, with five maneuver battalions (2-1 Infantry, 1-6 Infantry, 1-20 Infantry, 4-31 Infantry, and 1-52 Infantry).
The 196th Infantry Brigade headquarters had been occupied with fighting further to the west in May 1968. On 10 May 1968, the Kham Duc Special Forces Camp at ZC 006 085 came under enemy attack. The 196th Infantry Brigade was tasked to provide reinforcements to the camp. The 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry along with Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Artillery were moved to Kham Duc on 10 May 1968. Due to heavy enemy pressure on the camp, the decision to evacuate personnel was made and on 12 May, the evacuation began. As insufficient time permitted evacuation of the five 105mm Howitzers of Battery A, 3/82 Arty, the personnel destroyed the gun tubes. Having completed the mission to the west, on 13 May 1968, the 196th Infantry Brigade headquarters assumed operational control of the 1-6 Infantry, along with the other infantry units it normally controlled.
The Battle at Nui Hoac Ridge
On 14 May 1968, A/1-6, D/1-6 and the Recon Platoon from E/1-6, along with A/1-20 and D/1-20, under the operational control of HQ 1-6, were given the mission of attacking an NVA force that was well entrenched on the Nui Hoac Ridge, BT 056 226 to BT 065 226, near Hill 352 at BT 075 225, 17 miles west of Tam Ky. This was the high ground directly south of LZ Center, BT 052 250. During that same time, C/1-6 and E/1-6 were to provide security at LZ Center, while B/1-6 was to man the OP to the east of the firebase at BT 065 254. C/1-20 was to operate in the vicinity of BT 043 273, while D/1-20 and E/1-20 were to provide security for LZ Ross at BT 028 341.
Enemy activity for 14 May 1968 began at LZ Center. At 141235 May 1968, the firebase received two rounds of recoilless rifle (RR) fire resulting in 1 KHA, 2 WHA and 2 minor WHA. The enemy position was engaged with artillery and airstrikes.
Soldiers had attempted to assault the enemy bunker complex near Hill 352, but with little success. Their positions were deemed impregnable. A company sized force of NVA regulars were positioned in well fortified, dug-in bunkers over six feet deep with reinforced covers, and S-shaped tunnels as the only means of entrance or exit. The enemy was armed with small arms, automatic weapons, heavy machine guns, RPG's, and 60mm mortars. These positions were later found to be well supplied with ammunition, food and water. The enemy had excellent fields of fire on any attacking force, as the gently sloping ridges around Hill 352 had few normal terrain features to provide cover, and little foliage due to airstrikes in the area. The day of the attack by the combined units from the two infantry battalions was bright, sunny and extremely hot.
The combined forces from the 1-6 Infantry and 1-20 Infantry began their attack by sweeping southward up toward the high ground. Their positions from west to east were as follows: B/1-20, A/1-20, D/1-6 and A/1-6. At 1455 hrs, A/1-6 received heavy machine gun fire from their left (east) flank, with M79 and small arms fire from their front up on the ridge. At 1503 hrs, both D/1-6 and A/1-6 received automatic weapons fire from the top of the hill at BT 056 226. During the next fifteen minutes A/1-6 and D/1-6 had four men wounded. At 1524 hrs, A/1-6 received RPG rounds from their right front up on the ridge to their south. They engaged the enemy position with light anti-tank weapons or LAWs. Only a few minutes later, D/1-6 received RPG or RR fire from the enemy position 200m away at BT 056 226. At 1525 hrs, A/1-6 captured an enemy 60mm mortar that had been firing on them from their left flank away to the east.
By 1527 hrs, the first dust off medical evacuation was completed for three of the seriously wounded soldiers. More soldiers were wounded, and by 1539 hrs, D/1-6 and A/1-6 had 4 WHA evacuated, and 4 minor WHA. All along the ridge, the enemy fire intensified. Both B/1-20 and A/1-20 on the west flank of the attacking forces moving southward up along the ridge were receiving enemy mortar fire from BT 050 225, that killed one and wounded twelve or more of their men.
Back on the east flank of the attacking forces at 1552 hrs, A/1-6 received RR and RPG fire, but gunships silenced the enemy position. On the west flank of the attack at 1607 hrs, A/1-20 received enemy heavy machine gun .50 caliber fire from BT 043 226, and called for artillery and airstrikes.
During this time, A/1-6 had begun their assault on the ridge with the 1st Platoon in the lead. SFC McCleery, who was serving at the time as the platoon sergeant and acting platoon leader for the unit, was leading the assault. As they approached the first ridge, they came under extremely heavy fire from the enemy bunkers, and were forced to take cover. The enemy bombarded them with mortars, rockets, machine guns, and automatic weapons fire. SFC McCleery realized the gravity of the situation that his men were in danger of suffering heavy casualties. No stranger to the hazards of combat, he had previously received the Silver Star (8 Feb 68), the Bronze Star with "V" device (25 Apr 68), and two Purple Hearts (25 Apr 68 and 5 May 68). He rose from his sheltered position to begin a one man assault on the enemy bunker line. He rushed from 60 meters away across an open ground toward the key enemy bunker. As he closed to 30 meters, he began firing furiously from the hip. As he charged, grenades exploded close by and bullets were impacting all around him. In the words of one witness, "He continued on, moving right up to a bunker and destroyed it with grenades. During this move, he was wounded by an enemy rocket, but it failed to slow him down." After he completed his attack, SFC McCleery climbed up and stood on top of the NVA bunker he had just destroyed, and in full view of the enemy, motioned for his men to follow in the assault.
He then continued the attack, flanking the bunkers on the right side of the NVA bunker complex perimeter. Approaching his second target, he was again wounded by shrapnel, but he succeeded in silencing the position from which two NVA had been firing rockets and hurling grenades. SFC McCleery then ran 50 meters to a third bunker and killed its defenders with a burst of rifle fire. He repeatedly exposed himself to intense enemy fire as he moved from bunker to bunker. According to a witness, "As he moved though the area, he was under fire from several directions but did not slow down." He then advanced on a fourth emplacement, destroying an enemy machine gun crew just as his platoon began to penetrate the enemy perimeter.
Sergeant Alan Allen, began an attack on the left side of the NVA bunker complex. The defenders, who were by now intimidated by the attack just endured, began firing wildly. SGT Allen moved methodically, firing a shotgun into the bunkers, dodging enemy grenades, and then throwing his own grenades into the defenders positions. As one enemy soldier attempted to fire an RPG rocket at his attackers, SGT Allen pushed the launcher with his foot back into the bunker, and then fired his shotgun into the enemy position at point blank range.
SGT Allen was awarded the Silver Star for his actions. According to this citation, he "was personally credited with destroying five key enemy bunkers with hand grenades, killing 11 enemy and capturing 13 enemy weapons."
After SFC McCleery's attack breached the perimeter of the enemy's key defensive position, the destroyed three additional bunkers, and killed eleven entrenched NVA soldiers. Following the examples of SFC McCleery, SGT Allen, and SFC Sherwin E. Hall Bronze Star with "V" device), the ridge was taken by soldiers of the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry, and the dug-in NVA were either killed or routed. By 1945 hrs, A/1-6 had killed 22 NVA, while D/1-6 was credited with 13 NVA killed. Numerous weapons were also captured: 7 AK-47, 2 M16, 1 M79, 1 RPD Lt MG, 1 RPG, 1 60mm mortar and 1 RR.
The battle casualties, which would have been much greater for not the actions of SFC McCleery, SGT Allen and SFC Hall, were as follows: A/1-6: 1 KHA (though to be SGT Richard Lee Gilbert), 11 WHA evacuated, 5 minor WHA; D/1-6: 3 WHA evacuated, 2 minor WHA.
SFC McCleery was recognized on 6 Sep 68 by the interim award of the Distinguished Service Cross from the USARV Commander, with the specific recommendation that the heroism exhibited was deserving of the Medal of Honor. He was presented the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on 2 Mar 71.
On 15 May 1968, D/1-6 and A/1-20 were to continue the attack eastward along the Nui Hoac ridge, with the A/1-6 in reserve. B/1-20 was to remain at the scene of the fighting from the day before at BT 056 227. At 1104 hrs, A/1-6, D/1-6 and A/1-20 started receiving mortar fire in the vicinity of BT 065 226. Enemy contact continued until 1800 hrs, with the companies receiving automatic weapons fire and mortars. Artillery fire, gunships and airstrikes were in direct support. Air Force tactical fighters drew heavy anti-aircraft fire. Five enemy weapons (5 M16 and 1 M79) were captured. US casualties were 2 KHA (thought to be SGT Francis Hayes and SP4 Joseph H. Picarelli), 4 WHA evacuated, and 17 minor WHA.
Heavy fighting and sporadic contact with the 3rd NVA Regiment continued in the area approximately 17 miles west of Tam Ky, until the 26th of May. The result of these contacts, including combat by the 1/1 Cavalry at BT 787 300, were 365 NVA soldiers KIA, 67 individual weapons captured, and 21 crew served weapons captured.
On 29 May, the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry moved from Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA to Operation BURLINGTON TRAIL, due to an enemy buildup in the Tam Ky and Tien Phuoc areas. On 8 June 1968, soldiers in the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry began tactical operations in the area near Chu Lai. Further to the west, tactical operations continued. Cumulative losses in Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA for 1 May to 31 Jul 68 were as follows:
Allied numbers: 682 KIA, 2548 WIA, MIA unavailable
Enemy Forces: 10000 - 10200 KIA (VC / PAVN), WIA amd MIA unavailable, 178 individual weapons, 38 crew served weapons