#06 1968 late August - The Battle of Ben Cui
Skirmishes from 17 August accelerated.
17-18 August 1968
Battalion Action Report from August 18, 1968
The battalion departed Dau Tieng to conduct a search of the area northwest of the Ben Cui Airstrip. At 0750 hours, Company B engaged a large enemy force at XT 438467. Company C and the Recon Platoon soon reinforced the action and were supported by artillery, air strikes and helicopter gunships. Company A remained in a blocking position to the northwest. Seven Bobcats were wounded in the engagement.
I have absolutely no idea what Xuan Thee is supposed to mean.
North Vietnamese Regulars = NVA = Việt Minh = People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) = Vietnamese Peoples’ Army (VPA). The NVA was under the leadership of General Võ Nguyên Giáp, who is now considered one of the great military leaders of the 20th century, and possibly of all time.
Battalion Action Report for On August 19, 1968
Company A, 1/5th(M) was dispatched with Company B, 4/23(M) to assist Troop A, ¾ Cavalry who were ambushed while moving from Cu Chi to Tay Ninh on Highway 26. Companies B and C with the Recon Platoon were sweeping the area on the western edge of the previous day's engagement.
At 1225 hours, Company B made contact with an unknown size enemy force. Company C and the Recon Platoon joined Company B in the fight. Artillery, air strikes and helicopter gunships were called in for support. The units made two assaults on the enemy position before they were able to move through it and the enemy broke contact. The units headed back to Dau Tieng Base Camp after sweeping the area of contact.
Company B was then dispatched to head towards Tay Ninh on Highway 239 and meet a Platoon from the ¾ Cavalry who were en route to Dau Tieng and then to escort them to Dau Tieng. Company B received some enemy fire as it moved west on highway 239. After linking up with the ¾ Cavalry element, they started their return trip to Dau Tieng.
At 1828 hours, the Recon Platoon received fire from the south side of Highway 239 at XT 443445.
At 1833 hours, Company B received RPG fire in the area of Highway 239 at XT 416444.
At 1843 hours, one APC was reported hit by RPG fire shortly after the units had entered the rubber trees at XT 456449. Another APC and a tank were also hit in the same area. The units fought their way east and where Highway 239 turns north, another tank was hit by RPG fire. A little further north at XT 462458 two more APCs were hit. The units had to leave one tank and one APC on the highway. They were too badly damaged to tow. With the help of helicopter gunships and artillery the units made their way around the curve to where Highway 239 heads in an easterly direction. They took some fire at the curve, but once past it, enemy contact ceased. The units closed Dau Tieng Base Camp at 2050 hours.
During the day, 9 Bobcats from Company B were killed. Company A had 2 wounded. Company B had 43 wounded and Company C had 20 wounded. The Recon Platoon had 3 wounded. The platoon from ¾ Cavalry had 13 wounded and 1 killed. Four APCs from Company B were heavily damaged and two tanks from the ¾ Cavalry were out of action.
My next letter home came on 20 Aug 68, describing from INSIDE THE WIRE the battle that took place on 19 Aug 68. I must again emphasize that I was not a line medic and was not with a unit up front when all this action occurred. The perspective is mine from inside the wire.
I have nothing to add to this. The next few days were apparently a blur and my family did not receive a letter again until 26 Aug 68. I find it hard to believe that I wrote nothing for 6 days, but there is no other letter I can find. My family must have been terrified getting this letter and then not hearing anything for 6 days. This was the most intense part of the war for the front-line troops, especially 21 Aug 68. Those of us at basecamp were also apparently occupied. The next few pages are Battalion Action Reports.
Battalion Action Report for August 20, 1968
At 0625 hours, Company C and the Recon Platoon and the 3rd Brigade CRIP unit departed Dau Tieng to check out the previous day's contact area on Highway 239, south of the abandoned Ben Cui airstrip at XT 4545. The village at XT 463450 was searched. Villagers reported that a large VC force was in the area.
At 1310 hours, the units closed on the contact area where the tank and APC had been left the evening before. One damaged tank and one damaged APC were taken into tow to be returned to Dau Tieng. The body of one tanker from the ¾ Cavalry was found inside the tank. In a search of the immediate area around XT 4545, blood trails, web gear and miscellaneous ammunition were located. The units closed back at Dau Tieng Base Camp by 1600 hours.
At 1731 hours the Dau Tieng Base Camp received a 47 round mortar barrage. Company A, still OPCON to the 4/23(M), had one Bobcat shot and killed by a sniper, leaving only one commissioned officer in Company A.
CRIP = Combined Reconnaissance and Intelligence Platoon
Blood trail = a trail of blood on the ground left by a fleeing man who has been wounded
OPCON = operational control
Battalion Action Report for August 21, 1968
At 0640 hours, Company C departed Dau Tieng for a RIF operation through the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation. The company was to be approximately 1 kilometer south of the MSR [Highway 239]. The company had a Scout Dog team with them.
At 0658 hours, the Recon Platoon with one “Duster” attached and the 3rd Brigade CRIP Platoon, left Dau Tieng to sweep Highway 239. As Company C moved through the rubber plantation, the Recon Platoon paralleled their movement along the highway.
At 1110 hours, Company C, moving with troops on the ground in front of the APCs, received sniper fire. One Bobcat was killed. The Company then started to receive automatic weapons fire and heavy RPG fire.
“I called the S-3, who was flying above me in the air, and told him that at first I was just receiving heavy sniper fire and it constantly started to increase. At this time I pulled my 2nd Platoon up on the right flank of my 1st Platoon, so I could put more fire power up on my front because this is where all the fire was coming from. The enemy fire continued to increase and for a while there it seemed like there must have been hundreds of AKs firing at us. At this time I gave the order for everyone to pull back around where I had my 4th Platoon providing rear security for us, and set up in a perimeter. Just as we started to move back RPGs started raining in like someone shooting M-79s. I never seen so many RPGs and automatic weapons fire in my life.”
At 1149 hours, the Recon Platoon, located on Highway 239, reported that hundreds of enemy soldiers were moving south from the village at XT 4545 to reinforce the enemy contact with Company C. The Recon Platoon fired on these soldiers with their .50 caliber machineguns and the twin 40mm “Duster” but the fire power was not enough to stop the enemy movement.
“Once I gave the order for us to move back and form a perimeter around my 4th Platoon, I first moved my 2nd Platoon which was on the right flank back to the 4th Platoon area. Just as the 3rd Platoon and the 1st Platoon started moving back, we started taking very heavy fire from the front and both our flanks and RPGs were flying all over the place. We got up and slowly started moving back. We got back to approximately 50 to 75 yards from where the 2nd and 4th Platoons were. An RPG hit the track close to me or the track that I was by or the ground, I'm not sure what it hit, and knocked me, I was wounded, it hit both my RTOs and 3 or 4 other people around there. And I know the track I was standing by was knocked out and I finally managed to get up and the two other tracks about 5 or 10 meters from me took very heavy RPG fire and they were both knocked out. At this time I was pretty dazed and I lost so much blood that I was just getting weak and they finally grabbed me and throwed me inside one of the tracks and the 3rd Platoon leader took charge of the company. One thing of importance that I might mention too is the fact that we had trouble getting artillery fire in there at first because it was very thick and the choppers in the air had a hard time identifying our smoke plus my artillery FO was wounded. My four-duce FO was wounded, in fact I guess practically everyone in my headquarters group was wounded.”
At 1200 hours, Company C reported that their situation was critical and that they were pulling back. In the 50 minute firefight, Company C had 6 APC's destroyed, 17 men killed and 21 wounded.
At 1201 hours the first helicopter light fire team arrived in the area.
At 1202 hours, Company B 1/5th(M) was alerted to stand-by to assist Company C, but never left the Dau Tieng Base Camp.
“And we fell back about 100 yards to try and get the artillery into that area and trying to give us a little working room so that we could continue keeping them away from us. We drew back about 100 yards and three more of our tracks got hit. By the time we started pulling back the gooks were already swarming all over the first three tracks that were hit. We pulled back about 100 yards and the command group was down behind one of the tracks and that track took a hit from an RPG 7. When it hit, it wounded the company commander and the FO. It killed one of the RTOs and seriously wounded one of the other RTOs. At this point the company was totally disorganized. They were in a rough perimeter, the tracks were still firing toward the front and the fire was still coming at us from the right flank, a little bit from the left flank but not too much, but mostly from the front and right flank. The 1st Platoon Leader had been killed in the initial contact, and so they were without leadership there. The 3rd Platoon, I was still around but I had several men killed and a lot of em wounded. We pulled back. I had lost all three of my tracks. The 2nd Platoon and Mortar Platoon were in the rear and they were quite a ways back and they were only receiving light contact. They hadn't had anybody hurt, but I had no knowledge of them whatsoever. What I had around me was so disorganized and there were so many killed and wounded at that point, that I just started getting everybody in the tracks. I started yelling at everybody, 'get in the tracks and get the tracks moving.' And it took me about 10 minutes before I could get everybody I could get, the dead I just had to leave there. The wounded people, everybody I could get my hands on and everybody that anybody else could get their hands on we started throwing in the tracks. I got everybody thrown into the tracks and the tracks started moving out. Those that were still outside the tracks, we yelled at em to get on the tracks and to my knowledge everybody that was still alive and moving at that time got on the tracks. They could see the tracks were moving out and if they didn't get on them they were going to be left there. So they all managed to get on the tracks and we pulled back out.”
What was left of Company C moved back through the rubber plantation to a clearing they had passed through at the beginning of their sweep. 16 Bobcats and one ARVN soldier were left on the battlefield. At the clearing, Company C was joined by the Recon Platoon(+) and CRIP element and established a perimeter for dust-offs.
The dust-offs of the wounded were completed at 1254 hours.
The units closed back into Dau Tieng base camp at 1315 hours to regroup.
At 1330 hours, Company C made a preliminary report that they had 2 Bobcats killed and 21 wounded and the Recon element had 2 wounded. The 3rd Brigade CRIP had one man killed.
At 1343 hours, Dau Tieng base camp started receiving sporadic mortar fire.
At 1430 hours, one platoon from the battalion was dispatched to provide security for the Saigon River Bridge at Dau Tieng.
At 1445 hours, the Recon Platoon and the 3rd Brigade CRIP unit departed the base camp and established a position at the edge of the woodline of the rubber plantation.
At 1600 hours, all elements were ordered to pull back to Dau Tieng Base Camp. Some Company C soldiers wanted to go back into the Ben Cui immediately and retrieve their fellow soldiers. But that was not allowed.
At 1843 hours, a battalion preliminary report stated that Company C had 21 wounded, 1 killed and 13 missing in action and 3 MIA who were known to be dead. Also missing was a Vietnamese Soldier who was an interpreter for Company C.
Staff Sergeant Marvin “Rex” Young from Odessa, Texas, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions on this day.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. S/Sgt. Young distinguished himself at the cost of his life while serving as a squad leader with Company C. While conducting a reconnaissance mission in the vicinity of Ben Cui, Company C was suddenly engaged by an estimated regimental-size force of the North Vietnamese Army. During the initial volley of fire the point element of the 1st Platoon was pinned down, sustaining several casualties, and the acting platoon leader was killed. S/Sgt. Young unhesitatingly assumed command of the platoon and immediately began to organize and deploy his men into a defensive position in order to repel the attacking force. As a human wave attack advanced on S/Sgt. Young's platoon, he moved from position to position, encouraging and directing fire on the hostile insurgents while exposing himself to the hail of enemy bullets. After receiving orders to withdraw to a better defensive position, he remained behind to provide covering fire for the withdrawal. Observing that a small element of the point squad was unable to extract itself from its position, and completely disregarding his personal safety, S/Sgt. Young began moving toward their position, firing as he maneuvered. When halfway to their position he sustained a critical head injury, yet he continued his mission and ordered the element to withdraw. Remaining with the squad as it fought its way to the rear, he was twice seriously wounded in the arm and leg. Although his leg was badly shattered, S/Sgt. Young refused assistance that would have slowed the retreat of his comrades, and he ordered them to continue their withdrawal while he provided protective covering fire. With indomitable courage and heroic self-sacrifice, he continued his self-assigned mission until the enemy force engulfed his position. By his gallantry at the cost of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service, S/Sgt. Young has reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S.
This was the bloodiest day of the war for the Bobcats with seventeen men killed and one missing in action. The people who lived through that firefight are haunted by it to this day. I have to believe that I sent at least one letter home between the 20th and the 26th and that it has been lost. But I can't prove that.
Whenever I visit “The Wall” in Washington D.C., I spend a few minutes at panel 47W, where all these men are memorialized.
From The New York Times, August 22, 1968: “Yesterday afternoon, American soldiers, fighting from armored personnel carriers and heavily supported by artillery and air power, killed 182 enemy soldiers in a sprawling rubber plantation 44 miles northwest of Saigon…15 miles east of the city of Tayninh…According to initial reports, the Americans lost two dead and 23 wounded.”
The lead headline in the paper this day was RUSSIANS SEIZE DUBCEK AND 6 COLLEAGUES; MACHINE-GUN FIRE IS EXCHANGED IN PRAGUE; CZECHS BALKING FORMATION OF NEW REGIME. 23 Killed in Clashes with Invading Force.
Battalion Action Report for August 22, 1968
At 0235 hours, the 1/5th(M) was placed under OPCON to the 1/27th Infantry for the day's operations.
At 0300 hours, the 1/5th(M) S-3 and the S-3 from the 1/27th Infantry coordinated plans for the day's activities.
At 0640 hours, Company B, 1/5th(M) with an element of the ¾ Cavalry attached departed Dau Tieng. Company C, 1/5th(M), stood by outside the west gate of Dau Tieng Base Camp.
At 0700 hours, the Commanding Officer of the 1/27th Infantry arrived to take command of the day's operation.
At 0715 hours, the Recon Platoon, 1/5th(M) departed Dau Tieng and proceeded west on Highway 239 and then turned south, paralleling Highway 19. The platoon turned west into the Ben Cui, just south of the 46 Grid line. Company B(+) continued west into the Ben Cui along Highway 239. Company C moved south about 500 meters and then turned west into the Ben Cui. Elements of the 2/27th Infantry were located immediately to the rear of Company C.
At 0900 hours, all units reported negative contact.
At 0918 hours, Company B(+) moved west from where Highway 239 turns south and Highway 19 goes west. The plan was for them to proceed and check out the area north of the abandoned Ben Cui Airstrip. They reported finding NVA web gear and some hand grenades.
At 0919 hours, the Recon Platoon turned in a northerly direction towards Company B.
At 0928 hours, Company B(+) reported that they were in heavy contact just west of the highway 239 and 19 split. The soldiers were moving on the ground in front of the APCs.
At 1040 hours, Company B(+) reported that they were still receiving RPG fire and automatic weapons fire. Two APCs from the ¾ Cavalry element had been hit by RPG rounds.
By 1145 hours, Company B had five wounded. The fighting was intense with an occasional lull. Artillery fire was called in on the enemy positions. The troops would advance and then fall back. Company B(+) was ordered to pull back and regroup on line. The line was staggered and in the confusion of battle two men were left in front of the line.
The Recon Platoon and Company C had moved north and linked up with Company B(+) at 1200 hours. Air strikes, artillery and helicopter light fire teams were employed in and around the original contact area.
At 1303 hours, a dust-off was requested for one badly burned individual.
At 1306 hours, a “duster” and a Quad 50 were moved to the north of the contact area.
By 1400 hours, more air strikes were completed.
At 1455 hours, it was reported that units were attempting to locate and extract the 2 Company B personnel. Searching elements found one of the Bobcats and his M-60 machinegun. He was dead. They also located the M-60 machinegun of the second Bobcat but there was no sign of him. After searching the area again with negative results, all elements departed the contact area and moved to the area of the abandoned Ben Cui airstrip to establish a night perimeter at XT 444457. All elements closed by 1930 hours. Four ambush patrols were deployed.
At 1935 hours, the 1/5th(M) became OPCON to the 2nd Brigade. Also on the 22nd one Bobcat from Company A died from wounds he had received earlier.
From Wikipedia: “The M45 Quadmount (nicknamed the “meat chopper” and “Krautmower” for its high rate of fire) was a weapon mounting consisting of four of the “HB,” or “heavy barrel” .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns (of the M2 Turret Type (TT) variant) mounted in pairs on each side of an open, electrically powered turret. It was developed by the W. L. Maxson Corporation to replace the earlier M33 twin mount (also from Maxson). Although designed as an anti-aircraft weapon, it was also used against ground targets. Introduced in 1943 during World War II, it remained in US service as late as the Vietnam War.”
Battalion Action Report from August 23, 1968
Company B departed the night base perimeter and began search operations at 0800 hours. Company C followed at 0852 hours. The Recon Platoon provided security for the night perimeter location.
At 0950 hours, Troop A, ¾ Cavalry was released from OPCON to the 1/5th(M) and departed the night perimeter.
At 1040 hours, Company A, 1/5th(M) was released from OPCON to the 4/23rd(M).
At 1051 hours, Company C moved closer to the contact area of August 21. At XT 460444 they located approximately 100 bunkers that had been used in the last few days.
At 1120 hours, the company located the first body of the 17 soldiers who were MIA from the fight on the August 21st.
At 1125 hours, Company C was instructed to secure the area of the MIAs and not disturb or touch anything. The Battalion Commander, the 2nd Brigade Commander and personnel from the 25th Division Headquarters were going to visit and inspect the battlefield scene.
At 1130 hours, Company B was instructed to secure Highway 239 for a convoy from Dau Tieng to Tay Ninh and then for one going in the opposite direction.
At 1255 hours, Company A, 1/5th(M) closed the battalion forward base location at the Ben Cui Airstrip.
At 1330 hours, Company C reported that they had located 14 bodies of the Company C MIAs.
At 1430 hours, it was reported that all 17 bodies that were left on the battlefield some 48 hours earlier had been located and secured.
By 1900 hours, all units had closed into the battalion night perimeter at the Ben Cui Airfield.
Battalion Action Report for August 24, 1968
At 0030 hours, FSB Schofield, (XT 407440), located 3 kilometers southwest of the 1/5th(M) night location, was attacked by a large enemy force.
At 0530 hours, Companies A, B, and C, 1/5th(M) departed the night location to establish a blocking position north and east of FSB Schofield.
At 0800 hours, the units began search operations to the west.
At 1604 hours, Company A was sent to reinforce the garrison at Dau Tieng Base Camp. The Recon Platoon was dispatched to secure a bridge site and the other battalion units closed the night perimeter at the Ben Cui “airstrip.”
FSB = fire support base (firebase or FB): a temporary military encampment to provide artillery fire support to infantry operating in areas beyond the normal range of fire support from their own base camps
Battalion Action Report for August 25, 1968
The 1/5th(M) moved its area of operations into the Michelin Rubber Plantation. At 1030 hours, an APC from the Recon Platoon detonated an AT mine. One Bobcat was wounded.
Battalion Action Report for August 26, 1968
At 1005 hours, an APC from Company A detonated an AT mine at XT 550495, in the middle of the Michelin. Three Bobcats were wounded and the APC was a combat loss. Shortly afterwards, Company C had an APC detonate a mine about 1000 meters to the east of the Company A mine incident. There were no injuries.
Battalion Action Report for August 27, 1968
FSB Rawlins, located 3 kilometers east of Tay Ninh at XT 297489, came under heavy mortar, rocket and ground attack by an estimated 2 enemy battalions.
Battalion Action Report for August 28, 1968
At 0910 hours, an APC from Company A detonated an AT mine in the Michelin at XT 547483. Two Bobcats were wounded.
And just like that, it’s as if the prior week had not happened. We were back to holding sick call and spending free time reading and BS’ing. But the VC and NVA were still around.
Battalion Action Report for August 29, 1968
The 2nd Brigade departed Dau Tieng and returned to Cu Chi. The operational responsibility for the Dau Tieng area was returned to the 1st Brigade.
During August 1968, thirty-two Bobcats died in Viet Nam. They were: Charles R. Crim Marshall D. Wolford Paul L. Sullivan Bruce W. Collins Terrence E. Butler Willie S. Fields Aubrey R. Henley Joe E. Lofton Jack P. Pashano Richard Ramirez Jr. Frederick V. Seaborne Rene Serrano Arthur Watson John A. Connell Bruce E. Bartlett James L. Bowden Edward V. Coffey Jose R. Colon-Rivera Jerry W. Combest Richard A. Damschen Jr. Gary L. Dobbins Edward J. Dull James L. Harbottle Manior D. Lang Jr. David W. Ledbetter Michael R. Mangan Hubert W. Martin Jesus Rivera James E. Rush Delbert R. Stogsdill Marvin R. Young Phillip T. Delorenzo. There was one Bobcat missing in action: Humberto Acosta-Rosario.
You can read more about the Battle of Ben Cui in Chapter 19 of Combat Operations - Staying the Course: October 1967 to September 1968 by Erik B. Villard. It is avaiable on line in pdf format for free.