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Seven Firefights in Vietnam

Seven Firefights in Vietnam

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Published by Bob Andrepont

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 10, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Sergeant Ky, Vietnamese Special Forces, led the thirty-man Mon
tagnard platoon attached to Company D. These small, wiry irregulars
carried a hodgepodge of weapons—Ml rifles, carbines, Browning
automatic rifles, and submachine guns—all of U.S. manufacture.
On 4 November the axes of the three companies reached their
maximum divergence. Reacting to 4th Division intelligence that
the headquarters of the NVA 40th Artillery Regiment was then
located five kilometers southeast of Ben Het, Johnson ordered
Capt. James J. Muldoon to change Company A's direction tem
porarily and search the suspected area. About 1300 Muldoon's
men turned eastward and marched until 2000. That night the three
companies were 1,800 to 2,200 meters apart. It had been another
day without incident. Thus far the only enemy force threatening
Dak To was engaged with the two battalions of the 4th Infantry
Division, south and southwest of the camp.
On the morning of the 5th, still finding no trace of the enemy,
Muldoon and Company A began moving back again toward the
southwest. As the result of a discussion with Colonel Johnson,
Muldoon was now to trail Company D instead of resuming his
march on Company D's left flank. From such a position his force
would be more readily available as a reserve. A hard march faced
Muldoon's men as they labored to narrow the gap. They were not
to encamp until 1600.
Company C came upon the trail of the North Vietnamese that
day at 1130, five kilometers from the fire support base. The first of
the three companies to ascend the higher ground of the Ngok Kom
Leat mountain complex, Company C discovered some unoccupied
enemy foxholes. Less than an hour later the company found another
group of foxholes 500 meters to the south.
The distance between the companies and their Ben Het base
was lengthening. Col. Richard H. Johnson, commanding the 1st
Brigade, directed Lt. Col. James H. Johnson (the battalion com
mander) to establish a new fire support base closer to the antici
pated area of combat. After making an aerial reconnaissance
together, they selected Hill 823 because it dominated the terrain
and would be mutually supporting with Ben Het. Relieved of the
mission of providing security for Ben Het, Company B was to
conduct an air assault onto the hill at 0900 on the following day,
6 November. Companies A, C, and D were directed to link up at
the new base.

On 6 November the airborne soldiers' march to combat gathered
momentum. For the men trudging through tangled Kontum forests,
it was the fourth day on the trail.



Only Company A was slow to clear its night camp site. The
pace of the previous day had been intense, and weary troopers had
been forced to hack out a landing zone for the regular evening
aerial resupply—an operation carried over to the next morning.
When the men finally moved out in column around 0900, they
made rapid progress in closing the gap between themselves and
Company D. S. Sgt. David Terrazas and his squad remained at
the camp site as a rear guard. An hour after the departure of the
main body, they slipped away to rejoin the column.
Approximately 1,500 meters ahead of Company A, Capt.
Thomas H. Baird's Company D was already well clear of its night
position. The company moved south, down from high ground into
a valley, then shifted toward the southwest and west, seeking greater
ease of movement on the lower ridgelines of Ngok Kom Leat.
Spec. 4 Emory L. Jorgensen, the point man, spotted it first—
communications wire, beckoning enticingly up a trail. It was 1130.
A quick reconnaissance along 200 meters of the wire uncovered
nothing more than an uncommunicative white pith helmet. The
wire ran west, pointing toward the higher reaches of the ridge.
Captain Baird asked permission to divert his company from its
mission long enough to follow the wire to its terminus. From a
command helicopter overhead, Colonel Johnson granted the request.
Baird settled his men into a perimeter, then, with artillery support,
he sent two squads to conduct a cloverleaf sweep on each side of
the trail. The searchers found no further sign of the enemy and at
1230 re-entered the company position.
The captain then moved his company up the trail, his four-man
point element followed by the 2d Platoon, the Montagnard irreg
ulars and the 1st Platoon. As time edged toward 1300, the point
reported that the trail was widening perceptibly as it ascended the
ridgeline, approaching an intermediate knoll 100 meters away.

{Map 11)

A feeling of tense expectation that already permeated the column
heightened as the men reached the knoll. Fresh prints of bare feet
in the soft ground, a bamboo reel for wire, newly dropped human
feces—all pointed to the nearness of the enemy. Baird first drew his
force into a defensive perimeter, then began to advance by bounds,
at each halt sending four squads out on cloverleaf sweeps in an effort
to circumvent any possible enemy ambush. 1st Lt. Michael D.
Burton, 2d Platoon, sent his two lead squads forward to conduct the
initial sweep up the ridge. As S. Sgt. Jimmy R. Worley's 1st Squad
began to move out of the 2d Platoon defensive position, the hair-
raising chatter of automatic weapons fire sounded from less than



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