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A blog based on 170+ letters and photos sent home from the Vietnam War.

  • Joe Lex

#01 May 1968 - Arrival in Country

Biên Hòa: a major air base for the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines between 1961 - 73, about 25 km (16 mi) from Saigon.

Long Binh: US Army base located between Biên Hòa and Saigon.

25th Infantry Division: aka "Tropic Lightning" in honor of the shoulder patch - a bright yellow lightning bolt against a bright red background; also called mockingly the "Electric Strawberry." Each unit had a derogatory name for their shoulder patch. The 101st Airborne Division, aka the "Screaming Eagles" were also called the "Puking Buzzards."

5th Inf = 5th Infantry Regiment (aka Brigade). Second letter of the day, after I received my assignment to the third-oldest infantry regiment in the US Army. I didn’t know yet to put (Mech) after 5th Inf, indicating we were a mechanized unit, operating with Armored Personnel Carriers, tracked vehicles, as opposed to a wheeled vehicles.

I admitted for the first time I was scared. It wouldn’t be the last time.

I found many Battalion Action Reports for my unit and will post them for my time in country, with my comments following. =============================================================

Battalion Action Report for May 19, 1968

At approximately 0500 hours, the battalion base area started receiving mortar and RPG fire. The Company A ambush set off its Claymores on a large enemy force. In the ensuing firefight, four Bobcats were killed and several others were wounded. Those still alive fought their way back to the perimeter with the wounded members of the patrol. The enemy attack was repulsed with organic weapons, artillery and air strikes. Many VC bodies were found in front of the Company A ambush location. During the day Company A(-) and Company B(-) conducted a RIF operation west and north of the base area. Battalion Action Report for May 20, 1968 One bobcat from Company C died from wounds he had previously received. Company C remained OPCON to the 2/34th Armor, operating in the Vinh Loc area. The battalion(-) moved to a new night location at XT 530288 Battalion Action Report for May 21, 1968 The battalion(-) moved into an area north of Trang Bang and established a forward base at XT 533290. Battalion Action Report for May 22, 1968 At 0005 hours, an attack was launched against the battalion night perimeter. Organic weapons, artillery and helicopter light fire teams were used to suppress the enemy assault. Contact was broken by the enemy at 0345 hours. Five Bobcats were killed in the action. Two were from the Recon Platoon and three were from Company A. At daylight, enemy bodies and miscellaneous equipment were policed up from around the battalion perimeter. Battalion Action Report for May 23, 1968 The 2/34th Armor was released from OPCON to the 2nd Brigade at 1530 hours. =============================================================

More terms

Mortar: a muzzle-loading very mobile cannon with a short tube in relation to its caliber that throws projectiles with low muzzle velocity at high angles. The US used the M2 mortar, 60-millimeter (2.36 inch) smoothbore.

RPG: Rocket: or rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) is a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon system that fires rockets equipped with an explosive warhead; Armored Personnel Carriers and tanks were favored targets.

Claymores = Claymore mines: I described these thoroughly in a letter written home from Valley Forge General Hospital on 13 Apr 1967.

Organic weapons: those fixed to armored personnel carrier and tanks; they are not meant to be carried by soldiers.

RIF = Reconnaissance in Force: similar to a Search and Destroy (S&D) patrol.

Bobcat: nickname for any member of the 1st Battalion (Mech), 5th Infantry Regiment

OPCON: Operational Control, meaning units may be commanded by officers who are not typically in charge of them.

2/34th Armor = 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment: aka The Dreadnaughts. They, like the Bobcats, were based out of Cu Chi but were in tanks rather than APCs.

Vinh Loc: a village in our Area of Operations

XT-******: XT referred to the location on the standardized topographic maps used in Viet Nam

Trảng Bàng: a district in Tay Ninh province.

APC = Armored Personnel Carrier (also known as Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle [ACAV], ‘Green Dragon,’ M113): it could be used to break through heavy thickets in the midst of the jungle to attack and overrun enemy positions.

Mechanized infantry: a unit that moves from location to location via armored personnel carrier (APC) rather than helicopter or foot. Ten US mechanized infantry battalions were deployed to Vietnam from 1965 until their departure in 1972.

Battalion Aid Station: free-standing First Aid station / dispensary located in the forward position. In a mechanized unit, it is a large APC with a tent attached. It is not a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. It may be manned by the Battalion Surgeon (an MD or DO) or the 91C Clinical Specialist, or sometimes both. Seriously injured soldiers are “dusted off” from their site of injury – flown in helicopters to fixed hospitals in various base camps. The Aid Station is used for less injured soldiers brought back to base camp, sick call, vaccination updates, wound care, minor surgical procedures (suturing, abscess drainage, etc.).

Rainy season: The South part of Viet Nam has a rainy season that begins in May and peaks in September before ending in November; during the rainy season, there is precipitation virtually every day

Base camp: aka “the rear,” a resupply base location for headquarters of brigade or division size units; it is surrounded by fencing and other protective measures. It tends to be much safer than the forward area, although being shelled with mortars, RPGs, and artillery shells is still a possibility. In addition, there were “sappers” – members of special force or commando units, who would infiltrate the rear and do as much damage to personnel and equipment as possible without being caught.


Battalion Action Report for May 24, 1968

The 1/5th(M) returned to Cu Chi Base Camp.

Battalion Action Report for May 26, 1968

The 1/5th(M) continued stand-down at Cu Chi and acted as division ready reaction force.


Grenade: small explosive weapon typically thrown by hand; consists of an explosive charge, a detonating mechanism, and firing pin which must be removed to trigger the detonating mechanism

Litter: a stretcher or basket designed to carry injured people

The prices were good, but our salaries were less than $100 / month after deductions. Almost all of us sent money home to be saved.


Battalion Action Report from May 29, 1968

The 1/5th(M) relieved the 2/22nd(M) of road security. Company A secured the battalion forward base at XT 483196. Company C moved to Tay Ninh Base Camp and the Recon Platoon moved to Dau Tieng Base Camp to provide convoy security between Tay Ninh, Bau Co and Dau Tieng.

Battalion Action Report from May 30, 1968

Elements of the battalion cleared Highway 1 from Tay Ninh to the Hoc Mon Bridge.

At 1310 hours, an APC from the Recon Platoon detonated an AT mine at XT 391432. One Bobcat was wounded. Company C cleared roads and secured convoys between Tay Ninh and Dau Tieng and also secured the rock crusher site at XT 2856.


Tay Ninh and Dau Tieng were the base camps other than Cu Chi that we considered home. They were smaller with fewer amenities and much harder to defend.

Highway 1 was the main north-south road in Viet Nam. It was one of the few paved roads in the country.

Hoc Mon Bridge had been the site of one of the worst massacres of the war a few months earlier. C Company of the 4/9th (Manchus) was ambushed on the morning of 3 March 68. In an eight-minute period, of 92 men in the company, 49 were killed, including all six officers, and 29 were wounded.

Recon Platoon = Reconnaissance: they were usually ahead of the pack and therefore encountered a lot of booby traps and AT (anti-tank mines).

Booby traps were designed to surprise and maim or kill. They could be set off by tripwires or command detonated from a distance. Another popular booby trap was the rubber band grenade: the firing pin would be removed from a hand grenade and replaced by a heavy rubber band, then left in a straw hut (or “hootch”) that the enemy thought we would probably burn; when the fire melted the rubber band, the firing mechanism was activated and the grenade would explode. There were many variants and booby traps caused thousands of deaths and injuries. You will see them frequently mentioned in the Battalion Action Reports.

Med Cap: Medical Civil Action program. Medical personnel go to a local village with inexpensive, marginally useful medications – cough syrup, acetaminophen, diphenhydramine, various skin creams and ointments – and care for villagers, and to find out about local VC activity.

Trảng Bàng: a district in Tay Ninh Province. Four years later, it would be made infamous in the prize-winning photo by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut of Phan Thị Kim Phúc running naked down the road after tearing off her napalm-drenched clothing. Since it was a “friendly village,” we were not allowed to return fire coming from it.

Napalm: incendiary mixture of a gelling agent and a volatile petrochemical, usually gasoline or diesel fuel. The name is a portmanteau of the names of two of the constituents of the original thickening and gelling agents: co-precipitated aluminum salts of naphthenic and palmitic acids


During May 1968, twenty-eight Bobcats died in Viet Nam. They were: David A. Stremler; James D. Molpus; Charles H. Turner Jr.; Kellum W. Grant; Samuel S. Linville; Claude D. Protz; Joseph Greene; Robert G. Hoop; Stephen R. Powell; Kenneth D. Rynning; Clifton Cubbage; Otis E. Isbell; Henry J. Kirchner Jr.; Louie J. Sandoval; Daniel L. Underwood; Paul E. Watson; Dennis L. Everts; Guy L. Jewett; William C. Baldwin; Overtis Hinton Jr.; Kenneth R. Wilson; Gary W. Dunn; Joe R. Courtney; Gale W. Dixon; William M. Clarke Jr.; Paul A. Proehl; Joe R. Hines; Timothy McKee Hamilton ; and James V. Antolini.


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