Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry
Killed in action, Pleiku Campaign
Johnnie L. Boswell
Dominic A. De Angelis
Richard C. Clark
1st Cavalry Division Shoulder Sleeve Insignia
Below are notes from the Center of Military History Active Army Division website.
Symbolism: Yellow, the traditional cavalry color, and the horse's head refer to the division's original cavalry structure. Black, symbolic of iron, alludes to the transition to tanks and armor. The black diagonal stripe represents a sword baldric and is a mark of military honor; it also implies movement "up the field" and thus symbolizes aggressive elan and attack. The one diagonal, as well as the one horse's head, may also be taken as alluding to the division's numerical designation.
Attack on Landing Zone X-Ray
QUOTATIONS FROM SOLDIERS IN WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE...AND YOUNG
Captain Herren: “Herrick's platoon was probably my most seasoned unit, with outstanding NCOs. They were led by an old pro, SFC [Sergeant First Class] Carl Palmer, who I relied on to counsel and help develop Lieutenant Herrick, much as I did with my other two platoon sergeants—Larry Gilreath of the 1st Platoon and Larry Williams of the 3rd. But the 2nd Platoon had other NCOs who were exceptional: Ernie Savage, a young buck sergeant from Alabama, was a rifle-squad leader; then there was SFC Emanuel (Ranger Mac) McHenry, who was forty years old but could walk the legs off men half his age; Staff Sergeant Paul Hurdle, the weapons-squad leader, who was a Korean War veteran, and Sergeant Ruben Thompson, a fire-team leader with a reputation of never quitting.”
Sergeant Emie Savage on Lt. Herrick's order to pursue the enemy: “He made a bad decision, and we knew at the time it was a bad decision. We were breaking contact with the rest of the company. We were supposed to come up on the flank of the 1st Platoon; in fact we were moving away from them. We lost contact with everybody.”
Source: John A. Cash, "Fight at Ia Drang", Seven Firefights in Vietnam. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, United States Army, 1985 (first printed, 1970).
John A. Cash, Major, Infantry, an experienced officer, served in Vietnam as a company commander and as a member of a brigade operations staff in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), in the latter capacity participating in the action, "Fight at Ia Drang." He also served two short tours in Vietnam as a historian on special missions for the Office of the Chief of Military History, to which he was assigned from 1966 through 1968. On the second short tour he was involved in the action, "Gunship Mission." Major Cash holds the B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from Rutgers University and the M.A. from the University of Wisconsin.
This is the story of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry on 14-15 November 1965. The platoon was cut off from its company in a fierce fight during the Pleiku campaign.
The fight was of major significance. As author John A. Cash sets the stage:
Up to the fall of 1965 the fighting by U.S. troops in Vietnam had been characterized, for the most part, by hit-and-run counterinsurgency operations against Viet Cong irregulars. It was during the week before Thanksgiving, amidst the scrub brush and stunted trees of the Ia Drang River valley in the western sector of Pleiku Province along the Cambodian border, that the war changed drastically. For the first time regular North Vietnamese regiments, controlled by a division-size headquarters engaged in a conventional contest with U.S. forces. The 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), took the lead in this battle.
The battalion commander was Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore (who later co-authored the magnificent history, We Were Soldiers Once and Young). Moore's orders were simple: find and kill the enemy.
The battalion landed by helicopter near the base of the Chu Pong Mountain at a landing zone code named X-Ray. Bravo Company, commanded by Captain John D. Herren and aboard 16 Hueys, led the assault. John Cash's account begins below.
Captain Herren watched with satisfaction as his 1st Platoon leader, 2d Lt. Alan E. Deveny, went about the business of securing the landing zone. In line with orders from Colonel Moore, Herren was using a new technique. Rather than attempt a 360-degree perimeter coverage of the entire area as in previous operations, Herren concealed most of his force in a clump of trees and tall grass near the center of the landing zone as a reaction striking force, while Deveny's squads struck out in different directions, reconnoitering 12 the terrain fifty to a hundred meters from the western side of X-RAY. A sound technique, it allowed Captain Herren to conserve his forces while he retained a flexible option, which, in view of the 30-minute turnaround flight time for the rest of the battalion, appeared prudent.
As Lieutenant Deveny's soldiers pressed the search, Herren became fully convinced that if there was to be a fight the proximity of X-RAY to the enemy haven across the Cambodian border made X-RAY the likely site. Yet the leading elements of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, had landed successfully and were thus far unopposed.
Where was the enemy?
…Colonel Moore told Captain Herren to intensify his search and [gave him the mission] of exploring the terrain at the foot of Chu Pong, giving special attention to the finger and draw to the northwest….
For the move northwest Captain Herren directed Lieutenant Deveny's 1st Platoon toward the finger, with 2d Lt. Henry T. Herrick's 2d Platoon on the right. He told both officers to advance abreast. Positioning 2d Lt. Dennis J. Deal's 3d Platoon behind the 1st as a reserve, Captain Herren and his company moved out.
Deveny got ahead of Herrick's platoon after crossing the dry creek bed which ran along the eastern flank of the finger. At 1245 his platoon encountered an enemy force of about platoon size which attacked both his flanks with small arms fire. Pinned down and suffering casualties, he asked for help. Captain Herren, in an attempt to relieve the pressure, radioed Lieutenant Herrick to establish contact with the 1st Platoon's right flank.
Anxious to develop the situation, Herrick maneuvered his 27-man force in that direction. A few minutes after Herren issued the order, the point of Herrick's 2d Platoon bumped into a squad of North Vietnamese soldiers moving toward X-RAY along a well-used trail, parallel to the platoon's direction of advance. The startled enemy turned and scurried back along the trail; firing, the 2d Platoon followed in close pursuit, with two squads forward. The platoon soon began to receive sporadic but ineffective enfilade fire from the right. The lead squads were now at the crest of the finger, about a hundred meters from the dry creek bed. To the right and farther downhill was the 3d Squad.
Lieutenant Herrick intended to continue his sweep, with all three squads on the line and machine guns on the flanks. Although he could no longer see the enemy soldiers, he knew that they were somewhere in front of him. He was about to give the signal to continue when men in his 3d Squad spotted about twenty North Vietnamese scrambling toward two large anthills off the platoon's left flank. As the last of the enemy disappeared behind the anthills, the 3d Squad opened fire. The North Vietnamese returned it, but a 3d Squad grenadier found the range and in less than a minute was pumping round after round into their ranks. Screams mingled with the sound of the explosions.
Without warning, a blistering volley of enemy fire suddenly erupted from the right flank. The opening fusillade killed the grenadier and pinned down the rest of the squad.
Deploying his two M60 machine guns toward the harassed force, Herrick yelled to the 3d Squad leader, S. Sgt. Clyde E. Savage, to pull back under covering fire of the machine guns. Yet even as the gunners moved into firing position and Herrick radioed word of his predicament to his company commander, the situation grew worse. Within a few minutes fire was lashing the entire 3d Platoon from all sides. Covered by the blazing M60's, Sergeant Savage managed to withdraw his squad toward the platoon, carrying the M79 of the dead grenadier, who lay sprawled where he had fallen, a .45 caliber pistol clutched in his right hand. Amid increasingly heavy fire of all calibers, including mortars and rockets, the squad reached the main body of the platoon and joined the other men in hastily forming a 25-meter perimeter.
The machine gunners were less fortunate in making their way into the perimeter. Although the closer team managed to disengage and crawl into the small circle of prone infantrymen, enemy fire cut down all four in the other team. Seizing the fallen team's M60, the North Vietnamese turned it against Herrick's positions.
Except for the artillery forward observer, 1st Lt. William O. Riddle, who soon caught up with Lieutenant Deal, Captain Herren and his command group had dropped behind the leading platoons while Herren radioed a situation report to Colonel Moore. To the Company B commander, who could hear the firelight going on in the jungle ahead, the enemy appeared to be in two-company strength and fully capable of cutting off Lieutenant Herrick's 2d Platoon. Yet Captain Herren had few resources to turn to Herrick's assistance. Already he had committed his 3d Platoon to go to the aid of Lieutenant Deveny, and the company's lone 81-mm. mortar was in action, making quick work of the meager forty rounds of high-explosive ammunition the crew had brought to the landing zone.
Since Deveny appeared to be less closely engaged than Herrick, Captain Herren ordered him to try to reach Herrick. If Deal's force could reach Deveny soon enough, together they stood a good chance of reaching Herrick.
Having reported the action to Colonel Moore, Captain Herren turned from his radio just in time to see a North Vietnamese soldier not more than fifteen meters away with a weapon trained on him. Rapidly, Herren fired a burst from his M16, ducked for cover, and tossed a grenade.
Off to his left, Herren could just make out men crouched in the dry stream bed, firing toward the finger. Believing them to be members of his 3d Platoon and anxious to get them linked up with his 1st Platoon, he headed toward them.
At the landing zone Colonel Moore had meanwhile alerted Captain Nadal to be prepared to assist Herren as soon as Company C was on the ground. The heavy firelight had barely commenced when Company A's last platoon and the lead forces of Company C landed. It was 1330. A few rounds of enemy 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortar fire slammed into the tall elephant grass in the center of the landing zone as Colonel Moore turned to Nadal and ordered him to rush a platoon to Herren to be used in getting through to Herrick. Captain Nadal was to follow with his remaining two platoons and link up with Company B's left flank. Colonel Moore then turned to Capt. Robert H. Edwards, who had just landed with some of his troops, and directed him to set up a blocking position to the south and southwest of X-RAY, just inside the tree line, where he could cover Company A's exposed left flank. Moore knew that this was a risky move because he had only Company D left as a reaction force and still had to defend an entire landing zone in all directions. By this positioning of Edwards' company he would be exposing his rear, but in the light of the rapidly developing situation…it seemed the only sensible thing to do.
Anxious to assist Company B, Captain Nadal radioed his 2d Platoon leader, 2d Lt. Walter J. Marm, to move forward. Marm formed his platoon into a skirmish line and started out immediately from the landing zone toward the sound of the firing. Since there was no time to consult with Captain Herren, Lieutenant Marm planned to join the Company B left flank and push through to Lieutenant Herrick's perimeter. No sooner had he crossed the dry creek bed when two North Vietnamese appeared before his platoon and surrendered. A few moments later, just as he reached Deal's 3d Platoon, troops of both units spotted a force of khaki-clad enemy soldiers moving across their front, left to right. Both Deal and Marm had apparently met the left enveloping pincer which had initially flanked Herrick and which was now attempting, it seemed, to surround all of Company B. A fierce firefight ensued, both sides taking casualties.
…Captain [Louis R.] LeFebvre [commander of Company D which had just arrived by chopper] looked up to see Captain Herren. The Company B commander told him that there were enemy soldiers south in the direction from which he had come. He and his radio operator took positions beside LeFebvre and began firing along with the others. In rapid succession, Herren's radio operator was killed, LeFebvre's right arm was shattered by a fusillade of enemy small arms fire, and [1st Lt. Raul E.] Requera-Taboada received a bad leg wound. Herren applied a tourniquet to LeFebvre's arm and then resumed firing.
….By this time it was a few minutes before 1500 and, judging by reports from his companies, Colonel Moore estimated that a North Vietnamese force numbering at least 500 to 600 opposed his battalion, with more on the way….
Within a half hour after the rest of the battalion had closed into X-RAY, the forces of Company A and Company B that had been attempting to reach Lieutenant Herrick's platoon pulled back to the dry creek bed under covering artillery and mortar fire at Colonel Moore's direction, bringing their dead and wounded along. Although Company B's 1st Platoon (with 2d Lt. Kenneth E. Duncan, the company executive officer, overseeing the operation) had advanced to a point within seventy-five meters of the isolated force and had eventually linked up with the 3d Platoon, all attempts to reach Herrick had been unsuccessful. The 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, clearly was facing an aggressive, expertly camouflaged, and well-armed enemy force that could shoot well and was not afraid to die. Nevertheless, Colonel Moore decided to give it another try. He ordered Companies A and B to prepare for a coordinated attack, supported by heavy preparatory fires, to reach the beleaguered platoon, while Companies C and D, the former still engaged in a violent fight, continued to hold the line on the perimeter.
The predicament of the isolated force meanwhile grew progressively worse. Lieutenant Herrick and his men sorely needed the reinforcements that Colonel Moore was attempting to send. The North Vietnamese laced the small perimeter with fire so low to the ground that few of Herrick's men were able to employ their intrenching tools to provide themselves cover. Through it all the men returned the fire, taking a heavy toll of the enemy. Sergeant Savage, firing his M16, hit twelve of the enemy himself during the course of the afternoon. In mid-afternoon Lieutenant Herrick was hit by a bullet which entered his hip, coursed through his body, and went out through his right shoulder. As he lay dying, the lieutenant continued to direct his perimeter defense, and in his last few moments he gave his signal operation instructions book to S. Sgt. Carl L. Palmer, his platoon sergeant, with orders to burn it if capture seemed imminent. He told Palmer to redistribute the ammunition, call in artillery fire, and at the first opportunity try to make a break for it. Sergeant Palmer, himself already slightly wounded, had no sooner taken command than he too was killed.
The 2d Squad leader took charge. He rose on his hands and knees and mumbled to no one in particular that he was going to get the platoon out of danger. He had just finished the sentence when a bullet smashed into his head. Killed in the same hail of bullets was the forward observer for the 81-mm. mortar. The artillery reconnaissance sergeant, who had been traveling with the platoon, was shot in the neck. Seriously wounded, he became delirious and the men had difficulty keeping him quiet.
Sergeant Savage, the 3d Squad leader, now took command. Snatching the artilleryman's radio, he began calling in and adjusting artillery fire. Within minutes he had ringed the perimeter with well-placed concentrations, some as close to the position as twenty meters. The fire did much to discourage attempts to overrun the perimeter, but the platoon's position still was precarious. Of the 27 men in the platoon, 8 had been killed and 12 wounded, leaving less than a squad of effectives.
After the first unsuccessful attempt to rescue the isolated force, Company B's two remaining platoons had returned to the creek bed where they met Captain Herren. Lieutenants Deveny and Deal listened intently as their company commander explained that an artillery preparation would precede the two-company assault that Colonel Moore planned. Lieutenant Riddle, the company's artillery forward observer, would direct the fire. The platoons would then advance abreast from the dry creek bed.
The creek bed was also to serve as a line of departure for Captain [Ramon A.] Nadal's company. The Company A soldiers removed their packs and received an ammunition resupply in preparation for the move. Aside from the danger directly in front of him, Nadal believed the greatest threat would come from the left, toward Chu Pong, and accordingly he planned to advance with his company echeloned in that direction, the 2d Platoon leading, followed by the 1st and 3d in that order. Since he was unsure of the trapped platoon's location, Captain Nadal decided to guide on Company B. If he met no significant resistance after traveling a short distance, he would shift to a company wedge formation. Before embarking on his formidable task, Nadal assembled as many of his men as possible in the creek bed and told them that an American platoon was cut off, in trouble, and that they were going after it. The men responded enthusiastically.
Preceded by heavy artillery and aerial rocket fire, most of which fell as close as 250 meters in front of Company B, which had fire priority, the attack to reach the cutoff platoon struck out at 1620, Companies A and B abreast. Almost from the start it was rough going. So close to the creek bed had the enemy infiltrated that heavy fighting broke out almost as soon as the men left it. Well camouflaged, their khaki uniforms blending in with the brownish-yellow elephant grass, the North Vietnamese soldiers had also concealed themselves in trees, burrowed into the ground to make “spider” holes, and dug into the tops and sides of anthills.
The first man in his company out of the creek bed, Captain Nadal had led his 1st and 2d Platoons only a short distance before they encountered the enemy. The 3d Platoon had not yet left the creek bed. 2d Lt. Wayne O. Johnson fell, seriously wounded, and a few moments later a squad leader yelled that one of his team leaders had been killed.
Lieutenant Marm's men forged ahead until enemy machine gun fire, which seemed to come from an anthill thirty meters to their front, stopped them. Deliberately exposing himself in order to pinpoint the exact enemy location, Marm fired an M72 antitank round at the earth mound. He inflicted some casualties, but the enemy fire still continued. Figuring that it would be a simple matter to dash up to the position and toss a grenade behind it, he motioned to one of his men to do so. At this point the noise and confusion was such that a sergeant near him interpreted the gesture as a command to throw one from his position. He tossed and the grenade fell short. Disregarding his own safety, Marm dashed quickly across the open stretch of ground and hurled the grenade into the position, killing some of the enemy soldiers behind it and finishing off the dazed survivors with his M16. Soon afterward he took a bullet in the face and had to be evacuated. (For this action he received the Medal of Honor.)
Captain Nadal watched the casualties mount as his men attempted to inch forward. All of his platoon leaders were dead or wounded and his artillery forward observer had been killed. Four of his men were killed within six feet of him, including Sfc. Jacke Gell, his communications sergeant, who had been filling in as a radio operator. It was a little past 1700 and soon it would be dark. Nadal's platoons had moved only 150 meters and the going was tougher all the time. Convinced that he could not break through, he called Colonel Moore and asked permission to pull back. The colonel gave it.
Captain Herren's situation was little better than Captain Nadal's. Having tried to advance from the creek bed by fire and maneuver, Herren too found his men engaged almost immediately and as a result had gained even less ground than CompanyA. Understrength at the outset of the operation, Herren had incurred thirty casualties by 1700. Although he was anxious to reach his cutoff platoon, he too held up his troops when he monitored Captain Nadal's message.
Colonel Moore had little choice as to Captain Nadal's request. The battalion was fighting in three separate actions—one force was defending X-RAY, two companies were attacking, and one platoon was isolated. To continue under these circumstances would be to risk the battalion's defeat in detail if the enemy discovered and capitalized on Moore's predicament. The forces at X-RAY were liable to heavy attack from other directions, and to continue to push Companies A and B against so tenacious an enemy was to risk continuing heavy casualties. The key to the battalion's survival, as Moore saw it, was the physical security of X-RAY itself, especially in the light of what the first prisoner had told him about the presence of three enemy battalions. Moore decided to pull his forces back, intending to attack again later that night or early in the morning or to order the platoon to attempt to infiltrate back to friendly lines.
[During the night] The remnants of Sergeant Savage's isolated little band meanwhile continued to be hard pressed. Three times the enemy attacked with at least a reinforced platoon but were turned back by the artillery and the small arms fire of the men in the perimeter, including some of the wounded. Spec. 5 Charles H. Lose, the company senior medical aidman (whom Captain Herren had placed with the platoon because of a shortage of medics), moved about the perimeter, exposed to fire while he administered to the wounded. His diligence and ingenuity throughout the day and during the night saved at least a half-dozen lives; having run out of first-aid packets as well as bandages from his own bag, he used the C ration toilet tissue packets most of the men had with them to help stop bleeding. Calm, sure, and thoroughly professional, he brought reassurance to the men.
Before the second attack, which came at 0345, bugle calls were heard around the entire perimeter. Some sounds seemed to come from Chu Pong itself, 200 to 400 meters distant. Sergeant Savage could even hear enemy soldiers muttering softly to each other in the sing-song cadence of their language. He called down a 15-minute artillery barrage to saturate the area and followed it with a tactical air strike on the ground just above the positions. Executed under flagship illumination, the two strikes in combination broke up the attack. The sergeant noted that the illumination exposed his position and it was therefore not used again that night.
A third and final attack came over an hour later and was as unsuccessful as the previous two. Sergeant Savage and his men, isolated but still holding throughout the night, could hear and sometimes see the enemy dragging off his dead and wounded.
[Col. Moore devised a plan to rescue the isolated platoon at first light. But the enemy launched an attack against the perimeter that was finally repelled by noon.
Reinforcements arrived around that time (which included soldiers of the 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry led by Lt. Col. Robert B. Tully.]
Soon after midday lead elements [of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry] reached X-RAY. Colonel Moore and Colonel Tully coordinated the next move, agreeing that because they were in the best position for attack and were relatively fresh and strong upon arriving at the landing zone, Companies A and C, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, would participate in the effort to reach the cutoff platoon. Company B, 1stBattalion, 7th Cavalry, would take the lead since Herren knew the terrain between X-RAY and the isolated platoon. Moore would receive Company B, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, into the perimeter and would remain behind, still in command, while Colonel Tully accompanied the attack force. The incoming battalion's mortar sections were to remain at X-RAY and support the attack.
Colonel Tully's co-ordination with Captain Herren was simple enough. Tully gave Herren the appropriate radio frequencies and call signs, told him where to tie in with his Company A, and instructed him to move out when ready. At 1315, preceded by artillery and aerial rocket strikes, the rescue force started out, Herren's company on the right, Company A, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, on the left.
Fifteen minutes after the relief force had left the perimeter, Colonel Moore directed all units to police the battlefield to a depth of 300 meters. They soon discovered the heavy price the enemy had paid for his efforts: enemy bodies littered the area, some stacked behind anthills; body fragments, weapons, and equipment were scattered about the edge of the perimeter; trails littered with bandages told of many bodies dragged away.
The cost had also been heavy for the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, which had lost the equivalent of an American rifle platoon. The bodies of these men lay amongst the enemy dead and attested to the intensity of the fight. One rifleman of Company C lay with his hands clutched around the throat of a dead North Vietnamese soldier. Company C's 1st Platoon leader died in a foxhole surrounded by five enemy dead.
The relief party, meanwhile, advanced cautiously, harassed by sporadic sniper fire to which the infantrymen replied by judiciously calling down artillery fire. As they neared Sergeant Savage's platoon, lead troops of Captain Herren's company found the captured M60 machine gun, smashed by artillery fire. Around it lay the mutilated bodies of the crew, along with the bodies of successive North Vietnamese crews. They found the body of the M79 gunner, his .45-caliber automatic still clutched in his hand.
A few minutes later, the first men reached the isolated platoon; Captain Herren stared at the scene before him with fatigue-rimmed eyes. Some of the survivors broke into tears of relief. Through good fortune, the enemy's ignorance of their predicament, Specialist Lose's first-aid knowledge, individual bravery, and, most important of all, Sergeant Savage's expert use of artillery fire, the platoon had incurred not a single additional casualty after Savage had taken command the previous afternoon. Each man still had adequate ammunition.
Colonel Tully did not make a thorough search of the area, for now that he had reached the platoon his concern was to evacuate the survivors and casualties to X-RAY in good order. Accordingly, he surrounded the position with all three companies while Captain Herren provided details of men to assist with the casualties. The task was arduous, for each dead body and many of the wounded required at least a four-man carrying party using a makeshift poncho litter.
As he walked the newly established outer perimeter edge to check on the disposition of one of his platoons, Captain Bennett, the commander of Company A, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, fell, severely wounded by a bullet in his chest fired at close range by a hidden North Vietnamese sniper. A thorough search for the enemy rifleman proved fruitless, and Colonel Tully directed his force to return to X-RAY. With Herren's company in single file and the casualties and Tully's units on either-flank, the rescue force arrived at the landing zone without further incident.
[The Americans withdrew from X-Ray on November 16th.] Captured enemy equipment taken out included 57 Kalashnikov AK47 assault rifles, 54 Siminov SKS semiautomatic carbines with bayonets, 17 Degtyarev automatic rifles, 40 Maxim heavy machine guns, 5 model RPG2 antitank rocket launchers, 2 81-mm. mortar tubes, 2 pistols, and 6 medic's kits.
Great amounts of enemy weapons and equipment had been previously destroyed elsewhere in the battle area, and Moore arranged with the commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, to destroy any enemy materiel left behind at X-RAY. Included were 75 to 100 crew-served and individual weapons, 12 antitank rounds, 300 to 400 hand grenades, an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 small arms rounds, and 100 to 150 intrenching tools.
American casualties, attached units included, were 79 killed, 121 wounded, and none missing. Enemy losses were much higher and included 634 known dead, 581 estimated dead, and 6 prisoners.