One Man's Memory of
Chapter 1: How I Got There
I arrived in Vietnam in August, 1969, and was assigned to 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. When interviewed by the Brigade Commander, Col. Volney Warner (who later made 4 stars) and he asked what I wanted to do. I had just graduated from the Infantry Officers Advance Course, Airborne School and Ranger School at Fort Benning, so I answered I wanted to be an Infantry Company Commander. Col. Warner said I would be assigned to the Brigade S-2 Section. I said "Sir, I don't think you heard me. I want a Company". Col. Warner just smiled and said, "I need some help in the S-2 Section right now. If you do well and learn as much as you can about the enemy, I will make sure you get a company". End of discussion.
I was assigned as the Assistant Brigade S-2 and designated the Collection Manager. Most people do not understand that during war time the Intelligence section has more people working directly for it than any other section in the Brigade Headquarters except the Brigade Commander. A list of the assets included the organic, six man analysis section, the Brigade Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon, the Brigade Support Section from the Division Intelligence Battalion that had Interrogators, Counter-Intelligence folks, and a couple of guys that did the interface with the agents nets, as well as some other skills in the section. Each day we got a Light Scout Section from the Division Air Cavalry Squadron that consisted of two or three Cobra gunships and a Squad of Infantry in Slicks and usually an OH-6 with an airborne personnel detector mounted in it. Attached to the Brigade was a Sensor Platoon that emplaced and monitored a variety of their own sensors and helped monitor sensors emplaced by the Air Force along the Cambodian Border. We also had an ASA Radio Research Platoon that monitored radio traffic along the border, and we got an O-1 Birddog fixed wing aircraft three or four times a week to do reconnaissance.
The 3d Brigade covered the area along the Cambodian Border from about 20 Kilometers north of New Plei D'Jereng south almost to the Special Forces B Team Camp at Du Co on the west then almost to Pleiku on the east. To the north our Area of Operation included the Chu Pa/Chu Pong mountain complex all the way to the river valley that ran between Pleiku and Kontum. This area contained two major trails off of the Ho Chi Minh trail on through the Chu Pa Mountains then east toward An Khe, the second through the Ia Drang valley. Most of our ground assets were targeted on the Ia Drang valley while the air assets were targeted on the Chu Pa/Chu Pong, as it was not safe to send ground units there. In short, we covered the exact area that would be used for the 4th Infantry Division Incursion into Cambodia.
In November-December 1969, several things happened that impact on the story. First, it was announced that the 3d Brigade would be sent home but the 1/14th Infantry and the 2/35th Infantry would stay in country and be assigned to the 1st Brigade and would move to Camp Radcliffe. When the 3d Brigade left country, all of it's Intelligence Documents and files were bundled up and sent to Division. Second, the 3d Brigade Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon was transferred to K Company, 75th Infantry, to serve as the foundation for one of the Ranger Platoons being formed in that unit. Many of the members of this unit had been in country for over 18 months and many elected to go home. The Third thing was Col. Warner turned the 3d Brigade over to Col. Gilbert Proctor but made good on his promise and sent me off the D Company, 1-14th Infantry. When I left it was clear that most of the members of the 3d Brigade Intelligence Section had enough time in country and would depart with the Brigade. Effectively, all the people who had walked the ground and analyzed intelligence for the area for over a year left at the same time, except for me.
Chapter 2: The Battalion and the Recall to Duty
The 1/14th Infantry was a battalion in transition at the end of April 1970. It had always been a good battalion, but like all units it had some rough times here and there. In the latter part of April it was conducting a multi-battalion encirclement operation northwest of An Khe. During this operation, the Battalion Commander, LTC Andrew Simko, was killed in a helicopter crash. We had a temporary Battalion Commander named LTC Robert Naylor. The good part is the four rifle company commanders had all been in place for several months, and I think we were a good bunch. Alpha Company commander was CPT Jimmy Wheeler, who had spent 4 months with me on the 3d Brigade Staff as Assistant S-3; Bravo Company Commander was CPT Jerry Roberts, who had spent some time as the S-2 of 1/14th Infantry, and so knew the southern part of the old 3d Brigade Area of Operation very well. The Charlie Company Commander was CPT Gordon Anderson, and I was the Delta Commander.
After the encirclement operation, we moved a short way off and began a search and destroy mission against the few NVA that had escaped, and I turned my company over to my XO, 1 Lt. William (Wild Bill) Cody, a good officer who I later recommended for his own company. The reason... I was going on Mid-tour to Hawaii to meet my wife. This leave had been approved by LTC Simko, COL Yow, the Brigade Commander and BG Wheelock, the Assistant Division Commander for Operations. I spent one night in Camp Radcliffe and then flew south to Camp Alpha to fly out to Hawaii the next morning. About 2 A.M., a Sergeant came and got me out of bed and told me to get my gear and follow him. I had been recalled to my unit. While waiting for a flight back to Camp Radcliffe, the Sergeant ran me over to MARS Station, where I got a message off to my wife not to get on the airplane for Hawaii.
When I got back to Camp Radcliffe, I was told simply to get my field gear and weapon and report to the Division G-2 Section. I was told the company was on it's way back to Camp Radcliffe, the XO would remain in charge and would meet me when it was time to start the operation. I still had no idea what they were talking about, but followed my orders. When I got to G-2, I was finally briefed on Operation Tame the West, as the operation was named, and spent several hours being grilled on the enemy capabilities across the Cambodian border. This is when a very serious discussion started. During the briefing, I mentioned several facts that could only have come from the Radio Research Platoon that worked for me. When asked if I had access to the Black Book at Brigade, I said yes. There is nothing like the truth to stir up a little discussion. The G-2 guys went nuts... anyone who had that level of clearance and access in the Intelligence community was prohibited, for one or two years, from assignment to a unit where he might be captured. For a while I thought I would lose Delta Company, but BG Wheelock put an end to that when the G-2 approached him. Both BG Wheelock and COL Warner had signed the waiver to let me command Delta Company. The next day I was flown to New Plei D'Jereng. I worked with the Special Forces A Team Commander to update the information I had remembered from four or five months before and then pass the updates to the G-2 folks.
In retrospect, I guess I am part of the Intelligence failure associated with the operation, especially for the first couple days. I told those guys about the PT-76 tanks we had seen. I told them of the several times aircraft along the border had been locked on by a radar controlled 23mm Anti-Aircraft gun. I told them my information was at least four months old and was probably the best case, since no U.S. units had been in the area for several months and things had probably gotten worse. I guess I was not convincing and for the folks in 3/506 Infantry (Airborne), 3/8 Infantry, 1/14 Infantry and the Aviation units supporting the operation who were injured or lost in those first few days, I apologize and will forever mourn their pain and the pain their families suffered.
At this point I was told that the 1/14 Infantry would be the first 4th Division unit into Cambodia and that Delta Company would be the first unit in and would establish the FSB for the 1/14 Infantry. I was also told that since I had access to the Black Book Information, my company would stay on the FSB for the whole operation by order of the G-2 and BG Wheelock. I guess that was the trade-off that let me keep Delta Company. I believe Alpha Company, 1/12 Infantry, was supposed to provide this security, but it just did not happen that way.
After the final updates were done, I was put into an Air Force Air Controller aircraft (one of the O-2 push/pull Cessna's) and we flew over the border to recon Landing Zones for the battalion. I guess I had my first premonition of bad things to come on that flight. First, I could see three other aircraft up doing the same thing I was doing, and second, the Radar on a 23mm Anti-Aircraft gun got turned on and locked onto us when we were coming home. I was determined to get the helicopters to fly as high as I could on the Combat Assault if that guy was still in the area.
Chapter 3: The Plan
That evening of 4 May, the convoy with Delta Company came in to New Plei D'Jereng and I linked up with them. The XO, 1LT Cody had already briefed the Platoon Leaders with the basic mission. I provided the updates and we did a quick adjustment to the plan "Wild Bill" had already thought up. Then we started briefing the troops. Actually, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Most of the troops in Delta Company had at least 7 months in country. Almost all of them had been in the Chu Pa/Chu Pong mountains in October-November 1969, and a few of them had been on the Chu Pa operation in 1968, when they and two companies of 2/35 Infantry had suffered massive casualties and been pinned down for 24 hours. The NVA got below and above them and were shooting down helicopters with RPG-7's while they were trying to evacuate casualties. As they drove down the highway (just a major dirt road in Vietnam) to New Plei D'Jereng, most of them thought they were going back to the Chu Pa. Had that been the case there might have been a revolt in the unit. When told they were finally going to get to go to Cambodia, there was a deep sigh of relief and the general sentiment was "At last the brass got off their butts and are doing the right thing".
Footnote 1: I know little of the stand-down at Camp Radcliffe or the convoy from Radcliffe to New Plei D'Jereng as all of that was handled by my XO.
Ok, I guess I had better talk about the plan. The 1/14 Infantry plan was to use a single insertion point for all companies. Delta was to go in and secure a LZ, start building the Fire Support Base, and the other companies would all flow through the secured LZ. The other rifle companies were assigned Areas of Operation and were to move by foot into these areas as soon as they hit the ground. The company commanders had decided to operate as companies to start with until we had a clear picture of the enemy situation in our AO. This was a departure from the norm for us. We usually operated at platoon level, not company level.
The initial plan called for Delta Company to start it's Air Assault around Noon on 5 May. In fact, due to delays, it was more like 3 PM or 3:30 PM before we took off... I suppose due to the 3/506 Infantry delay. As I remember, the Company that would follow Delta Company was sitting on helicopters waiting to take off as soon as I declared the LZ secure. The rest of the battalion was lined up and ready to fly as helicopters became available. Perhaps a total of 25 or 30 aircraft were actually supporting the battalion when Delta Company took off.
Chapter 4: And If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Again Or Else
When we arrived at the LZ, the fun had already started. A pair of Cobras had already made passes on the LZ. The first one took enough fire that it was damaged and went down before it could get back to the border. The second gunship had also taken fire and was damaged, but it left to escort the first ship home. Of course, we were out of artillery range as the 4th Division heavy guns were still on the road convoying to New Plei D'Jereng. All of the Cobra gunships were supporting other units and busy elsewhere. The departing gunships reported small arms fire, RPG-7 fire, and 12.7mm machine gun fire from the LZ. They also reported that they had seen bunkers with overhead cover along the tree line on one side of the LZ. With no support, I requested permission to divert to the secondary LZ. Permission denied by the Brigade Commander. I then requested Air Force support to bomb and strafe the two wood lines where the fire was the most intense. That got a "Wait Out" from the Brigade Commander, so we flew in circles for 30 minutes. While doing circles, I looked to the southwest and noticed a very large thunderhead coming in. I had already spent one Monsoon season on the west side of the mountains in Vietnam and I knew what was coming. Finally, the Brigade Commander came back up and said he was still working on Air Force Support, but to go ahead and start landing. I asked the question of "How are you going to support me once we are on the ground?". We are out of Artillery range, and in about an hour it's going to start raining and no Army or Air Force aircraft will be able to fly until well after midnight. I got another "Wait Out", this time followed by a description of my relationship with my mother, which was untrue and very unflattering. About this time, the Helicopter Flight Lead turned around, pulled up the visor of his flight helmet, and said, "Bob, if you hear nothing in five minutes, I am declaring a fuel emergency and we are going back to New Plei D'Jereng". Once the flight lead pulled up his visor and called me by my first name, I saw he was a friend from the Infantry Officers Career Course. The five minutes went by and the Flight Lead shook his head and made his announcement on the Brigade Command Net and we went home, arriving there with less than five minutes of fuel left in some of the aircraft.
Footnote 2: The flight Lead on 5 May was wounded a couple days later and evacuated to Martin Army Hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia. My wife was a Red Cross volunteer in his ward and it was he who told her where I was and why my mid-tour leave had been cancelled.
As the aircraft started refueling, the Battalion commander and I were called over to the Brigade TOC. What followed was one of the worst nights of my life. In the middle of the Brigade TOC and in front of a good number of the Brigade Staff, LTC Naylor and I were threatened with relief of command, Courts Martial for Cowardice, and told that we would darn well do a night Combat Assault into the primary LZ as soon as the aircraft were refueled. BG Wheelock came in the TOC toward the end of this tirade and said simply, "Belay that order". The General said the plan remained the same and we start the Combat Assault in the morning as early as possible and excused LTC Naylor and myself. As LTC Naylor and I walked back to the Battalion TOC, I apologized... he had supported me all afternoon and I could have asked for no better Commander. As we walked back to the TOC, it started to rain. My Company CP had set up by the Batalion TOC, so for the rest of the night all we could listen to was the reports coming in from 3/506 Infantry (Airborne) in Cambodia and wonder if we had landed, could we have made a difference.
Footnote 3: Many writers have been very critical of the 4th Infantry Division tactics, saying they were overly cautious. In many ways, these tactics were dictated to the division by the very large Area of Operation given to the Division and the Helicopter support available to us. Sappers had destroyed about fifty percent of the division's lift helicopters in the summer of 1969 and the Division had never received all of the replacements. The Division's Area of Operations was huge, so simply keeping units in the field resupplied was a major task. It was not uncommon that when a company-size unit did a Combat Assault from one area of Operation to another area, that the assault would be done with only three or four aircraft in multiple lifts. This is a factor in our instructions to abort a combat assault. If we received heavy fire and put a lift of 10-20 soldiers on a hot LZ, a lot of people were going to die. If one or two helicopters were destroyed on the first lift, it would take hours to replace them, leaving those 10 or 20 soldiers on the ground for hours before a rescue effort could be mounted. At least one writer (Keith William Nolan in his book "Into Cambodia, Spring Campaign, Summer Offensive 1970" Presidio Press, 1990) blames the tactics on MG Walker and BG Wheelock. He is incorrect in that during the Officers Entrance Briefing by the Division G-3, when I arrived in country in August of 1969, we were briefed that the war was winding down and our primary duty was to take as many of our men as possible home alive and one major way to do this was to abort any Hot LZ. MG Walker arrived in the Division much later.
On the morning of 6 May, the Combat Assault started at approx. 0800. the plan remained the same except we already had permission to go to the secondary Landing Zone if we drew any fire from 5 May's Primary Landing Zone. We made one high speed pass by the Primary Landing Zone and did draw some fire so just kept going. The Air Force followed us and dropped napalm on the area. At the Secondary Landing Zone, the gunships made one run, reported possible light fire, and I said go. We landed though we were taking fire for a few minutes, but it turned out it was just the gunships working the other side of the tree line and the 7.62 mm mini-gun rounds were ricocheting into our area. The next company could not have waited for me to declare the LZ secure before they took off, as they were only 15 or 20 minutes behind us. The third wave was the Battalion TOC and first lift of the Artillery. Then there was a big lull before the third rifle and fourth rifle Companies came in. By late afternoon, the battalion was on the ground and the Artillery was up and already firing in support of someone.
In retrospect, I know that the 3/8 Infantry started in the afternoon on 6 May. I guess that is where the priority for the helicopters went on that afternoon, causing the slowdown of our last two companies. I only know a little of the 3/8 Infantry combat assault, other than what I have read. The book mentioned above (see pages 195-200) has a fair description of the problems that unit had with elements of Charlie Company being cut off for a night after landing on a Hot LZ and the loss of the Alpha Company Commander and his RTO. I heard part of the story at the evening briefings that I attended at the Battalion TOC, but just parts of the story. On the last full day we spent in Cambodia, one of our companies made contact and killed three NVA. They were carrying the CAR-15 and the M-16 assigned to the Alpha Company Commander and his RTO.
Footnote 4: After re-reading this newspaper clipping... Yes, we did have the press with us, but they were no ABC or CBS, as noted, but were actually French. They came late on 5 May while we were loading the choppers. I was directed to take then and they wanted to be the first on the ground so we put them in with me on 5 May. On 6 May, they just went up to the front chopper (First Platoon) and demanded a seat, causing the Platoon Leader to have to bump his RTO off the chopper. I was also instructed to make no statement to them or let them hear any conversation dealing with the operation. Brigade would tell them everything they needed to know. On 6 May, when no big fight started, they wanted to get a lift back to New Plei D'Jereng, a request I was more than happy to grant.
Chapter 5: The Fire Base and New Tactics
A lot of 6 May after Delta Company landed is really a blur to me. I was in charge of securing the LZ and pushing out local patrols. The first little surprise came when one of the patrols came back right before it ever entered the tree line. There was a trail coming out of the tree line and running along the short side of our L-shaped LZ. This trail had been used by tracked vehicles. The tracks were old, but it sure increased the pucker factor. When the Battalion Command Team came in and told us where they wanted the FSB TOC built, then I could determine where the bunker line would be and started positioning the Artillery Battery and my platoons. Then I began the process of approving or modifying the positions of the automatic weapons, so that there would be interlocking fire all the way around the Fire Support Base. After that, I located the Mortar Platoon and started designating defensive fire targets to cover dead spots and all likely avenues of approach for ground attacks.
On my first visit with the Battalion Commander, I told him about the tracked vehicle tracks, and requested some anti-tank weapons besides the 10 or 12 LAW rockets we already had. He passed the request up to Brigade.
The 4th Infantry Division had a standard for building Fire Support Bases. I do not remember it exactly, but it went something like this. The first night everyone had fighting positions dug and a primary and secondary defense line set up. Also, you had at least one strand of wire around the entire firebase. It was desired, but not required, to have overhead cover for the TOC on the first night. Every position had a range card for every weapon and the TOC had a consolidated fire plan to include mortar and artillery defensive fires. Also, each artillery piece and each mortar was sandbagged as was mortar and artillery ammunition storage areas. By the second night, everyone had overhead cover and a full triple strand of wire and at least a single strand of wire out past the triple strand. This strand became the basis for the second ring of triple strand around the firebase. What I am saying is on that first day there was a lot of digging, filling sandbags, stringing wire, etc., going on in addition to plain pulling security, doing local patrols, assisting the other companies as they landed, with folks to flag in the helicopters and act as guide as they moved out of the Fire Support Base. The other major duty was to de-conflict the routes of the other Rifle Companies OUT of the firebase with the routes of my patrols who were coming INTO the firebase. All of the above and about a million other details kept me out of the big picture.
That first couple of days was hectic and part of it was the TOC. In our past AOs, the TOC used a CONEX container in which they had built radio racks and desks. The CONEX was brought in by CH-47 after a hole had been blown with a couple of 40lb cratering charges, dug by a mini-dozer and finished out with shovels. Well, the CONEX was too big and heavy to transport out of Camp Radcliffe and did not make it, and we had no engineers with cratering charges, so we had to dig a hole by hand big enough for the TOC and reinforce it with logs and then put a lid on it. It took many man hours to dig this position, but it was a fortress by the time we finished.
I also worried about the tracked vehicles all day. At first I considered putting OP/LPs out a couple hundred meters. I almost had a revolt of Squad Leaders over that. We were set up in a L-shaped, dry lake bed and had set up far enough out that we had a lot of open ground between the tree line and the bunker line to give everyone good fields of fire. After rehearsing the OP/LP bug out routes, it was pretty obvious the Squad Leaders were right. Any OP/LP would never make it back to the Fire Support Base without being engaged by the enemy and even their own folks. I requested some of the remote sensors from Brigade that did show three or four days into the operation, so we used those instead of OP/LPs.
I did get permission to set up a mechanical ambush on the trail that had the tracked vehicle tracks, 200-300 meters down the trail in each direction. On the second night, one of the ambushes went off. When we checked it out, we found some blood trails, but nothing else. A little mental relief came when a CH-47 landed kind of unexpectedly and had a load of weapons for us. Somewhere in the Division, they had found six old 90mm recoilless rifles. Division had come up with both HEAT rounds and Anti-personnel flechette rounds. Division had also received some new experimental gadgets called the Flash. These were a four shot weapon with four rockets with a napalm warhead. They later became standard Army issue to Infantry units. I really believe the Platoon Sergeants and I were the only people in the company who had any idea what the 90mms were, and I was the only one who could identify on sight the Flash... it was a sight straight from a 3.5 inch Bazooka, used toward the end of WWII and in the Korean war. I had classes on the weapon and sighting procedures in ROTC, so I knew how it worked.
Actually, these two weapons came in handy, not against tanks but against snipers. The first time was an accident, one of the Platoon Sergeants and I were breaking down the ammo for the 90mms and trying to figure out how to reload the Flash, when the sniper started taking pot shots at us. The unit returned fire, but could not locate the sniper, so the Platoon Sergeant and I went into area fire. The Sergeant fired about four or five of the 90mm anti-personnel rounds, and I fired eight of the Flash rounds. The first four I fired just along the ground at the tree line. Well, that is where I was aiming. The rockets went well high and burst in the trees and scattered the napalm all over the place. We found this the best way to do it. The sniper left for the day, but came back the next day and got the same treatment. After a second treatment of napalm and 90mm anti-personnel rounds, the sniper did not come back. The patrol I sent out to sweep the area thought they found a little blood in the area but lost the trail after a couple hundred meters, so the guy was not hurt too bad.
After the first few hectic days, operation around the Fire Support Base started running together, as they will when you are up a good part of the night making sure folks are maintaining a 50 percent alert. During the day, it was check this and that, run a drill of falling back to the secondary defensive line, keep weapons clean and zeroed, improve positions, conduct patrols, keep one platoon in the fire base on alert in case someone needs to be reinforced, and all the other things that go on day to day on a Fire Support Base.
While we were on the firebase, we suffered one WIA and no KIA. Our contacts were few, and with two or three guys at a time, by our patrols which were always 12-15 men strong, with at least one M-60. I only remember the C Company contact.
Chapter 6: OOOOOOOPPPPSSS
Ok, I will add one 3/506 story. One day I was in the TOC and heard one of the companies report finding a major enemy trail through the grass. The Company Commander was told to follow the trail and keep the TOC informed. Since I was there, the Battalion Commander told me to put a platoon on alert in case the other company needed help. After doing this, I came back to the TOC. A little later the Company Commander radioed in and in a very confused voice asked if we had any units in the area. The answer was no, and the TOC asked, "Why the question?" The Company Commander said because he was finding a lot of US equipment along the trail, that included a couple of US helmets, fragmentation grenades, full M-16 Magazines, and M-60 ammo. Later the unit called back and asked who the closest US unit to him was and what their internal radio frequency was? The unit had gotten close enough to hear people talking in English, then dropped back for fear they would start an engagement with a friendly unit. It turned out to be a 3/506 unit who was supposed to be eight or ten kilometers away. After calling the 3/506 TOC and getting the frequency, the Company Commander contacted the 3/506 unit and did a link-up. After determining their real grid, the 1/14th Infantry Company escorted the 3/506 unit to the boundary between the battalions which was a full five or six kilometers and a major stream away. ( I want to say that the 3/506 Infantry unit was the Scout Platoon, but I can't remember for sure)
Chapter 7: Withdrawal and Subsequent Operations in Support of "Tame the West"
When the word came down to start extracting from Cambodia, a couple of the companies came back to the Fire Support Base, but one (Alpha Company, I believe) was a long way off and so was extracted from the field. Our new mission was to secure a Fire Support Base right next to the border for the artillery so they could support the 22nd ARVN Division who would stay in Cambodia for awhile. Delta was the last unit out and I was on the last chopper out. My last duty was to light the fuse to all the demo and damaged artillery rounds that we had packed into the fabulous Battalion TOC that we had put literally hundreds of man hours into constructing. It went in a large mushroom cloud. Since we were in a lake bed, I bet it was a couple of years before that lake held water again.
Alpha Company had the Fire Base Security mission and Delta was back in the jungle of the Ia Drang Valley. We had several contacts. There was one newspaper article that I could find on it. We loved fighting these guys. They were so rear echelon that they had to keep the ammo for their SKS rifles in their rucksacks. They were not the only guys in our Area of Operations... we had two or three contacts with very good troops in green fatigues and with AK-47s. In that last week or ten days, we took a couple of WIAs and killed nine NVA.
When relieved from this mission we were loaded on a C-130 at New Plei D'Jereng and flown back to Camp Radcliffe. No band. No welcome committee, except the Battalion Commander and Battalion CSM, but the boys straightened up and marched, in step, past the Dragon.
Notes & Other Stuff
Note 1: The 1/14 Battalion Commander was always just referred to as The Dragon.
Note 2: Company Commanders also had code names. Delta Commander was Satan, the XO was Lucifer, FSG was Devious, Platoons were Devil, Demon, etc.
Note 3: Before 1/14 moved out of Camp Radcliffe, LTC Naylor was replaced by LTC John Quinn, who retired as a Brigadier General and was Asst. Division Commander of the 1st Infantry Division (Mech.). I remained Commander of Delta Co. until late August, 1970, when I rotated after 375 days in-country.
Note 4: I referred to the Black Book in Chapter 2. At that time this was a Black three ring notebook prepared by the ASA Radio Research Platoon that contained translations of low level voice intercepts of NVA radios. This capability was very new at the time at Brigade Level and protected so the enemy would not know how successful we were being in breaking his codes. One of the target units of the 3d Brigade Radio Research Platoon was the B-3 Front whose headquarters was in Area 707 in Cambodia, just south of the Laotian border. The capture or destruction of this headquarters was one of the primary objectives of the 4th Infantry Division's Operation Tame the West into Cambodia.
I have not answered a couple of your questions. First, who were the platoon leaders? I have evaded this for as long as I can, hoping that I would recall a couple of names, but I have not remembered. At age 68 and after almost 38 years, some names are just not there ay more. Here is the best I can do:
1st Platoon Delta was 1Lt. Robert E. Szigethy. Bob was a good strong platoon leader and that is the reason he was the first platoon on the Combat Assault. He had SSG McCormick as his PSG. Bear, as SSG McCormick was called, had led the platoon for a couple of months before the 1Lt. arrived. Bear was a draftee who went to Shake and Bake School and came out an E-5. He was the Honor Graduate of his Ranger Class so was promoted to E-6. I tried to get him a direct commission, but he said no. He lacked one year to graduate from Law School, and all he wanted to do was get out of the Army so the GI bill would finish getting him through school. Bear was married with one child when he was drafted.
2d Platoon, Delta was a 2Lt. whose name I do not remember. He had not been with us long and was a retread from another battalion. I do not really want to remember his name, as on the next stand down I caught him smoking pot and took him to the Battalion Commander and said I do not want to see him again, and I didn't. His PSG was SFC Breidinger, a good NCO who sometimes served as my Field First Sergeant.
3d Platoon, Delta, had no officer. They were led by PSG Bill Funderburk. A super NCO and a good friend. Of the seven months I had the company, Bill was the platoon leader probably five months. He had a Platoon Leader once who was injured in an accident and evacuated back to the states.
Mortar Platoon had no officer the whole time I was there. They did have a couple of very strong E-5 Shake and Bakes who were also gun crew chiefs. I had the mortar platoon travel with me all the time. I am an old 11C so I took care of them.
First Sergeant was Gene Lusk. Top Lusk was an old timer who earned a Combat Medic Badge in Korea and his Combat Infantryman Badge on his first tour to Vietnam. He was on his second tour and retired after that tour was over.
My XO was 1Lt. William (Wild Bill) Cody. I have already discussed him. He stayed in the army and sent me an invitation to his Change of Command Ceremony, where he took command of one of the 4th Division Aviation Battalions at Fort Carson.
I did meet one of the other 1/14 Infantry Company Commanders years later. Jerry Roberts was the Commander of B Company in Cambodia. I ran into him in 1988 at the Infantry Commanders Conference at Fort Benning. He was the Senior Advisor to the 45th Infantry Brigade (Separate) of the Oklahoma Army National Guard. I was at the Senior Advisor to the 39th Infantry Brigade (Separate) of the Arkansas Army National Guard. It was funny as the guest speaker that year at the Infantry Commanders Conference was Gen. Volney Warner, our old 3d Brigade 4th Infantry Division Commander. Gen. Warner remembered both of us and bypassed the line of Division and Separate Brigade Commanders waiting to greet him to talk to Jerry and myself first.
The other item I have not directly addressed is how many helicopters were used to do the insertion. I really cannot tell you. I was only worried about mine and perhaps that there were enough for the next company. It did seem that there were fewer on 6 May than on 5 May. Or, as I stated above, perhaps our priority was just lower once 3/8 Infantry started their Combat Assault. There were lots compared to what we were used to, we did three or four ship company size combat assaults before and after Cambodia.
Elsewhere on the 1/14th website, you will find some pictures of me, my NCOs and of New Plei D'Jereng. The latter pictures were taken when we used New Plei D'Jereng as our point of entry into the Chu Pa/Chu Pong mountains in October/November 1969. Jim Wheeler and I were the Task Force S-2 and S-3 for this operation while the regular brigade S-2 and S-3 handled the details of closing out the Brigade Fire Support Base at LZ Oasis and moving the brigade back to Pleiku.
Robert L. Pickett
Lieutenant Colonel, Infantry (Retired)
One Man's Memory of Cambodia: Index