Dulce bellum inexpertis. (“War is delightful to those who have no experience of it.”)
The ordeal of rifleman Arthur Viera, crumpled on the ground, terribly wounded, beside the body of Lieutenant Neil Kroger, was just beginning. “The enemy was all over, at least a couple of hundred of them walking around for three or four minutes—it seemed like three or four hours—shooting and machine-gunning our wounded and laughing and giggling,” Viera recalls. “I knew they’d kill me if they saw I was alive. When they got near, I played dead. I kept my eyes open and stared at a small tree. I knew that dead men had their eyes open. Then one of the North Vietnamese came up, looked at me, then kicked me, and I flopped over. I guess he thought I was dead. There was blood running out of my mouth, my arm, my legs. He took my watch and my .45 pistol and walked on. I saw them strip off all our weapons; then they left, back where they came from. I remember the artillery, the bombs, and the napalm everywhere, real close around me. It shook the ground underneath me. But it was coming in on the North Vietnamese soldiers, too.”
Over in the 2nd Platoon sector, Sergeant Jemison was struck in the stomach by a single bullet. He ignored the pain, continued firing, and exhorted those still alive to fire faster and hang on. Clinton Poley, the Iowa farm boy, was still alive in the fire storm: “When I got up something hit me real hard on the back of my neck, knocked my head forward and my helmet fell off in the foxhole. I thought a guy had snuck up behind me and hit me with the butt of a weapon, it was such a blow. Wasn’t anybody there; it was a bullet from the side or rear. I put my bandage on it and the helmet helped hold it on. I got up to look again and there were four of them with carbines, off to our right front. I told Comer to aim more to the right. A little after that I heard a scream and I thought it was Lieutenant Geoghegan.” Poley and Specialist Comer, the man on the trigger of the M-60, blazed away at large numbers of plainly visible enemy troops.
There was no wind, and the smoke and dust hanging over the battlefield were getting worse by the minute, making it ever more difficult for the Air Force, Navy and Marine fighter-bomber pilots, and Army Huey gunship pilots overhead, to pick out our lines. On my order, at 7:55 A.M. all platoons threw colored smoke grenades to define our perimeter for the pilots. Then we brought all fire support in extremely close.
Moments after throwing his colored smoke, Sergeant Robert Jemison was struck a second time, by a round that tore into his left shoulder. It had been about twenty minutes since he was first hit in the stomach. He got back up again and resumed firing his rifle. Thirty minutes later Jemison was shot a third time: “It was an automatic weapon. It hit me in my right arm and tore my weapon all to pieces. All that was left was the plastic stock. Another bullet cut off the metal clamp on my chin strap and knocked off my helmet. It hit so hard I thought my neck was broken. I was thrown to the ground. I got up and there was nothing left. No weapon, no grenades, no nothing.”
Comer and Poley, thirty feet to Jemison’s left, were likewise coming on hard times. Poley says, “A stick-handled potato-masher grenade landed in front of the hole. Comer hollered, ‘Get down!’ and kicked it away a little bit with his foot. It went off. By then we were close to out of ammo, and the gun had jammed. In that cloud of smoke and dust we started to our left, trying to find other 2nd Platoon positions. That’s when I got hit in the chest and I hit the ground pretty hard. I got up and got shot in my hip, and went down again. Comer and I lost contact with each other in the long grass. We had already lost our ammo bearer [PFC Charley H. Collier from Mount Pleasant, Texas] who had been killed the day before. He was only eighteen and had been in Vietnam just a few days. I managed to run about twenty yards at a time, for three times, and finally came to part of the mortar platoon. A sergeant had two guys help me across a clearing to the battalion command post by the large anthill. The battalion surgeon, a captain, gave me first aid.”
Captain Bob Edwards was still holding on in his foxhole: “I think that the fire support prevented the enemy from reinforcing when he really could have hurt us. The penetration reached the first line of holes of the two platoons that had the most contact.” Captain John Herren of Bravo Company says, “The enemy broke through to Edwards’s command post before he was stopped, mainly by the battalion’s use of artillery, air, and helicopter rockets and gunships. It was, in my view, the closest we came to being overrun.”
Bob Edwards’s personal war was far from over. Some thirty yards from his foxhole was a large termite hill covered with brush and grass. Atop that mound was a North Vietnamese with an automatic weapon who was a damned good shot. He had killed Sergeant Hostuttler; he had wounded Bob Edwards and Lieutenant Arlington; and he was still firing. “We were pretty much pinned down by an automatic weapon sited behind an anthill in front of the 3rd Platoon’s left side. Lieutenant Bill Franklin tried to reach us but he, too, was hit. I am not sure if this was before or after Arrington was wounded. We had at least four of us hit by that one person within an hour. Then Sergeant Kennedy came up after Arrington was wounded and single-handedly eliminated the threat with grenades and his rifle. This took the bind off of us.”
Comer and Poley’s machine gun was not the only one which had fallen silent. George Foxe, twenty-five, and Nathaniel Byrd, twenty-two, were slumped across their silent M-60 machine gun, surrounded by heaps of empty shell casings and empty ammunition cans. They had died together, shoulder to shoulder. Sergeant Jemison pays them the ultimate compliment of a professional soldier: “Byrd and Foxe did a great job. They kept firing that gun and didn’t leave it. They stayed on it to the end.”
It was time to clean out the enemy overwhelming the left side of Charlie Company. Dillon and I talked it over and agreed we now had to commit our reserve. I told Lieutenant James T. Rack-straw to take his recon platoon and counterattack on the left side of the Charlie Company sector. I pointed at the precise area of the perimeter he was to attack and told him to coordinate his movements with Lieutenant Litton of Delta Company. After his platoon secured the left side of Charlie, I told him he was to join Litton and kill the enemy behind the mortars. Then, to reconstitute a reserve, I ordered Captain Myron Diduryk to bring his Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion command group and one of his platoons off the line and into a dispersed position near the battalion command post. He was to stand by to block, reinforce, or counterattack into Bob Edwards’s sector of the line, or anywhere else that came under heavy attack.
Diduryk took off at a dead run and was back with Lieutenant Rescorla’s platoon by 8:15 A.M. A heavy volume of grazing fire was covering the entire LZ. Rescorla’s platoon had one killed, one wounded.
By now most of the men in Bob Edwards’s two hardest-hit platoons were either dead or wounded. The job of holding off the enemy fell to the few still up and shooting. Somehow PFC Larry D. Stevenson of Delta Company found himself in Lieutenant Geoghegan’s platoon sector, the only soldier left holding a fifty-yard section of the line. He calmly dropped to one knee and methodically shot fifteen enemy before help finally arrived. That help was the battalion recon platoon. They cleaned out the Charlie Company left, then shifted toward the center of Charlie Company’s lines and linked up with them for the rest of the fight. That portion of the perimeter was now under control. The maneuver took some of the pressure off the landing zone, and we noticed an immediate slackening in the volume of fire sweeping the clearing. I radioed word to brigade headquarters to send the lift helicopters in with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav.
Somewhere in this time frame I noticed that my radio operator, Bob Ouellette, was sitting back up, looking shaky but functioning again. I took a closer look and discovered he had been knocked cold by a bullet which had penetrated his helmet but not his head. I told him: “Ouellette, never give up that helmet. It saved your life.” The crusty old medical-platoon sergeant, Thomas Keeton, says, “I remember Colonel Moore’s radio operator. He just suddenly dropped. I thought he had laid down and gone to sleep. I was kind of mad at him; went over and kicked the hell out of him; told him to get off his ass and help us with the wounded. No response. I picked up his helmet and a bullet fell out. A round had gone through the steel pot and helmet liner. Knocked him cold as a cube. He had a big lump on his head.”
All of us in the vicinity of the battalion command post were now shocked by an event that unfolded, slow motion, in front of our disbelieving eyes. I was on one knee facing south toward the mountain. Ouellette, still dazed, was kneeling beside me. Movement off to the west, my right, caught my eye. I jerked my head around and looked straight into the noses of two F-100 Super Sabre jet fighters aiming directly at us. At that moment, the lead aircraft released two shiny, six-foot-long napalm canisters, which slowly began loblollying end over end toward us.
The fearsome sight of those cans of napalm is indelibly imprinted in my memory. It was only three or four seconds from release to impact and explosion, but it seemed like a lifetime. They were released by the lead F-100 and were on a direct line for the right side of the command post where Sergeant George Nye and his demolition team were dug in in the tall grass. The jets were on a very low pass. I couldn’t do anything about those first two napalm cans, but I had to do something to stop the pilot of the second plane, who was aimed directly at the left side of the command post, from releasing his two canisters. If he hit the pickle switch [bomb release button] he would definitely take out Hal Moore, Captain Carrara, Sergeant Keeton, Captain Dillon, Sergeant Major Plumley, Joe Galloway, Captain Whiteside, Lieutenant Hastings, our radio operators, radios, medical supplies, and ammunition, and the wounded huddled in the aid station. The nerve center—the life center—of this battalion would be instantly killed in the middle of a cliff-hanger battle for survival.
I yelled at the top of my lungs to Charlie Hastings, the Air Force FAC: “Call that son of a bitch off! Call him off!” Joe Galloway heard Hastings screaming into his radio: “Pull up! Pull up!” Matt Dillon says, “I can still see the canisters tumbling toward us. I remember thinking, ‘Turn your eyes away so you won’t be blinded.’ I put my face into a reporter’s shoulder to hide my eyes. Was Joe Galloway’s. I could hear Good Time Charlie Hastings shouting into his radio: ‘Pull up!’ The second jet did. The napalm from the first hit some people and some ammo caught on fire. Sergeant Major Plumley jumped up to put out the fire around the ammo. I ran out into the LZ to put an air panel out.”
Sergeant Nye says: “Two of my people, PFC Jimmy D. Nakayama and Specialist 5 James Clark, were on the other side of me, several yards away. Somebody was hollering and Colonel Moore was standing there hollering something about a wing man, and I looked up. There were two planes coming and one of them had already dropped his napalm and everything seemed to go into slow motion. Everything was on fire. Nakayama was all black and Clark was all burned and bleeding.”
Galloway: “Before, I had walked over and talked to the engineer guys in their little foxholes. Now those same men were dancing in the fire. Their hair burned off in an instant. Their clothes were incinerated. One was a mass of blisters; the other not quite so bad, but he had breathed the fire into his lungs. When the flames died down we all ran out into the burning grass. Somebody yelled at me to grab the feet of one of the charred soldiers. When I got them, the boots crumbled and the flesh came off and I could feel the bare bones of his ankles in the palms of my hands. We carried him into the aid station. I can still hear their screams.”
Specialist 4 Thomas E. Burlile, a medical-aid man from Myron Diduryk’s Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, rushed out into the clearing with his kit bag to help the napalm victims. Burlile was shot in the head and died within minutes, in Lieutenant Rescorla’s arms. An Oklahoman, Burlile had turned twenty-three years old just four days before he was killed.
Sergeant Keeton, in the battalion aid station, quickly shot Nakayama and Clark up with morphine but it gave little relief. They were horribly burned. Their screams pierced the hearts of every man within hearing. Both soldiers were evacuated, but PFC Nakayama, a native of Rigby, Idaho, died two days later, on November 17, just two days short of his twenty-third birthday.
Says Sergeant Nye: “Nakayama was a real friend of mine. A good kid. Used to call me China Joe. He caught me one time with a Chinese girl and that nickname stuck with me through the whole war. I called him Mizo. In Japanese that meant ‘Rain God.’ The day he died his wife had their baby. A week after he died his reserve commission as a lieutenant came through. Every damned guy on Landing Zone X-Ray was a hero, but the real heroes were guys like Nakayama. I lost good people in there; they gave their all. Every time I hear a helicopter I get all watery-eyed. It’s hard to explain.”
Back in the command post, our Air Force FAC, Charlie Hastings, was stunned by the tragic consequences of the misplaced air strike. Hastings recalls, “After the napalm strike Colonel Moore looked at me and said something that I never forgot: ‘Don’t worry about that one, Charlie. Just keep them coming.’”
Shortly after the napalm strike, an enemy soldier staggered and stumbled into the clearing from behind Bob Edwards’s far left flank. He had no weapon, was severely wounded, and, judging by his black uniform, was evidently a member of the H-15 VC Battalion. Staff Sergeant Otis J. Hull, a thirty-year-old native of Terra Aha, West Virginia, and one of his recon platoon men ran to the enemy soldier and brought him into the command-post aid station for medical treatment. He died before we could evacuate him and was buried in a shallow grave nearby.
The battle in the Charlie Company sector raged on. Most of Kroger’s men were down. A handful, like Arthur Viera, had escaped the enemy execution squads and were hunkered down in positions where the heavy close-in fire support shielded them. Over on the far right, Lieutenant Lane’s platoon was having a hard time of it—perhaps because they were just to the left of that creekbed highway that led into our positions. Sergeant John Setelin: “The air strikes and the artillery were hitting almost in our holes for forty-five minutes, maybe an hour. That’s when I was hit by white phosphorus. The attacks came at various parts of our line. They were determined to overrun us. I guess we were determined enough that we were not going to go down, and we didn’t.”
At about nine A.M. Lieutenant DickTifft, who was controlling the helicopter lifts, gave me the welcome news that Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was a few minutes out on final approach. At 9:10 A.M. Captain Joel E. Sugdinis, twenty-eight, West Point class of 1960, landed with his 3rd Platoon led by Lieutenant William Sisson. That platoon immediately headed south, toward the sound of the guns in the Charlie Company sector, deploying in the scrub brush behind the few survivors of Lieutenant Geoghegan’s platoon. I briefed Sugdinis and pointed him to Myron Diduryk’s sector, telling Myron to see that Sugdinis was thoroughly oriented.
S. Lawrence (Larry) Gwin, Jr., twenty-four and a native Bostonian, was Sugdinis’s executive officer. Commissioned out of Yale University ROTC, Gwin had spent two years in the 82nd Airborne, was Ranger qualified, and had studied the Vietnamese language at the Defense Language School in Monterey, California, for two months. “That LZ was hot. When I got off my ship there were rounds coming in. Out in the LZ, PFC Donald Allred popped up out of the grass and said: ‘Lieutenant, I’ve been hit.’ We patched him up and now we knew we were in Zululand. Alpha Company closed up, with the exception of Sisson’s platoon, which was almost immediately detached. That is significant because we would not see them again until four days later.”
Sergeant John Maruhnich, a thirty-five-year-old career soldier from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was a squad leader in Sugdinis’s mortar platoon. “We had no sooner landed than firing grew intense. At that time we of the mortar platoon fought as riflemen. Five of us were told to move to a section of the line which was lightly held. We spotted about 20 enemy and killed them all. One North Vietnamese I killed was running at me screaming and firing a rifle. After I killed him I saw he was an officer. I took his pistol out of the holster and put it in my pack.”
After two and a half hours the battle for Charlie Company finally wound down. Sergeant Setelin recalls: “The firing stopped as quickly as it started. The enemy dead were stacked two or three deep in front of us. In the lulls we would kick and shovel dirt up on them to keep the stink and flies down.” Lieutenant Lane now made his way over to Bob Edwards’s foxhole without incident. All the officers in Charlie Company were either dead or wounded. Captain Bob Edwards had done all that duty demanded, and much, much more. He had also lost a lot of blood. Turning over command to Lieutenant Lane, Edwards was pushed and pulled out of his foxhole by Lane, Sergeant Glenn Kennedy, and Sergeant James Castleberry.
At the termite-hill command post, I called Myron Diduryk over and ordered him to move with his one assembled platoon to Bob Edwards’s sector, assume control of the survivors of Charlie Company and Lane’s platoon, and clean out and defend that portion of the perimeter. At 9:41 A.M. he and his troopers moved out, followed in minutes by his other platoon after Joel Sugdinis took over that sector. I attached Sugdinis’s 3rd Platoon under Lieutenant Sisson to Myron Diduryk’s Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion.
By 10 A.M. the surviving North Vietnamese were withdrawing. Charlie Company had held its ground in a stunning display of personal courage and unit discipline. The brave men of Geoghegan’s and Kroger’s platoons had stood and died fighting for each other and holding their ground. The senior-ranking survivor in those two platoons was Platoon Sergeant Jemison. Asked why the enemy failed to overrun his platoon, Jemison says, “First, it was Byrd and Foxe on the machine gun on the right. At the end, what saved us was Comer’s machine gun.”
Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry had begun this day with five officers and 106 men. By noon, it had no officers left and only forty-nine men unhurt. A total of forty-two officers and men had been killed and twenty more wounded in two and a half hours of vicious hand-to-hand fighting. The bodies of hundreds of slain North Vietnamese littered the bloody battleground.
Captain Edwards was helped across the landing zone to the battalion aid station by Specialist 4 Ernie Paolone. The medics at the aid station got him on plasma and IV fluids immediately. Minutes later, Specialist Arthur Viera was carried in on a poncho, bleeding from his many wounds. The most serious was the bullet hole through his throat. Captain Carrara, the battalion surgeon, knelt over Viera under fire and calmly performed a battlefield tracheotomy without anesthesia or even clean hands. Sergeant Jack Yamaguchi, the combat cameraman, leaned forward and captured the impromptu surgery on film. After his film got back to the Pentagon, Yamaguchi and his partner, Sergeant Schiro, were reprimanded for capturing the stark reality of combat so graphically. Against all odds, Arthur Viera survived.
When Myron Diduryk and Rick Rescorla reached the Charlie Company sector, they were shocked by what they saw. Wrote Diduryk: “When I arrived, only a handful from C/l/7 [Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry] and my platoon which was attached to them were left. That company suffered heavy casualties. The enemy got as far as the southern edges of LZ X-Ray but didn’t quite make it. Some fighting was in progress but for all practical purposes the enemy was beaten.”
Dillon assembled the battered survivors of Charlie Company near the termite-hill command post as the new battalion reserve, such as it was, and saw to it that they got ammo, water, and C-rations. Charlie Company had done yeoman’s work these two days. Sergeant Kennedy, the senior-ranking survivor, organized his weary men into two provisional platoons and designated subordinate leaders.
Diduryk’s men began the grim task of recovering American dead and wounded and policing up enemy documents and weapons. Lieutenant Rick Rescorla will never forget the scene as he moved his men into the battle area: “There were American and NVA bodies everywhere. My area was where Lieutenant Geoghegan’s platoon had been. There were several dead NVA around his platoon command post. One dead trooper was locked in contact with a dead NVA, hands around the enemy’s throat. There were two troopers—one black, one Hispanic—linked tight together. It looked like they had died trying to help each other. A lot of dead North Vietnamese. They had whitewall haircuts, thick on top. Their weapons were laying all over.”
Rescorla traveled the full length of the front when he was ordered to take some men and go help Lieutenant Lane on the far right. “The NVA were laying all over the place. Colonel Moore and Sergeant Major Plumley were out there with us. We policed up all the weapons, packs and ammo and made two piles: One NVA, one American. It looked like the NVA had dragged off some of their dead and wounded. That night when we got hit and various of our weapons jammed or went out, we used the spare Charlie Company weapons. Also, we put their packs to use as we had left ours back in the rear. Later we went out 300 yards; more NVA bodies. We had plenty of time to clear fields of fire, dig in, register the artillery, and get ready for the night.”
Although the enemy had withdrawn, he had left stay-behind snipers, and Diduryk’s men came under sporadic fire, as did the landing zone and battalion command post. There were marksmen up in the trees and up on the termite hills. The North Vietnamese had been beaten back but hadn’t quit yet. Out in the Charlie Company sector Sergeant Major Plumley and I walked through the horrible debris of battle. We found Lieutenant Jack Geoghegan’s body; the two of us personally carried him from the battlefield. Then we returned, located Platoon Sergeant Luther Gilreath’s body, and brought him back to the landing zone to begin the long journey home.
Off to our east, more help was on the way. Lieutenant Colonel Bob Tully and his 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry were marching in overland. Earlier Tully had radioed asking for the best route and formation for a move into X-Ray. As cryptically as possible over an insecure radio net I told him: Come in paying close attention to the left flank, closest to the mountain. Says Tully: “How did I move? One company along the flank of the mountain, one other out beating the bushes. Two up, one back. Initially my concern was that the enemy would try to block us or slow us down near a north-south hill mass. To preclude this, I sent Bravo Company on the right and shot in several artillery concentrations in that area. Once we got past that line of hills I knew we could get to X-Ray in good order.”
Tully’s battalion encountered no enemy until about ten A.M. when Captain Larry Bennett’s Alpha Company ran into a North Vietnamese strongpoint. Says Bennett, “We were about eight hundred yards from X-Ray when my two lead platoons were suddenly pinned down by heavy automatic-weapons fire. The NVA were in the trees, behind and on top of the anthills. We used fire and movement with my two lead platoons. I swung my 3rd Platoon to the right flank on a line and the resistance was broken rapidly. Due to the firefight and maneuvering we hit the southern half of X-Ray.”
With the landing zone relatively safe, we called for Bruce Crandall’s helicopters to come in and collect the wounded. Warrant Officer Pop Jekel: “I was told to wait for wounded. We sat in the LZ for at least one full enlistment before someone came out to the chopper on all fours and said: ‘Get the hell out of here; you’re drawing fire!’ We did.”
Captain Bob Edwards rode out in one of Crandall’s heavily overloaded flying ambulances. Matt Dillon recalls that Lieutenant Franklin, terribly wounded in the lower abdomen, had been set aside, “triaged,” as someone unlikely to survive his wounds; his place was taken by someone the medics felt had a better chance of living. Matt Dillon was having none of that: He dragged Franklin back to the Huey and insisted he be taken. Franklin was pulled in, his head hanging out the door. Bob Edwards says: “They threw Lieutenant Franklin in right on top of me.”
The chopper unloaded at LZ Falcon and Edwards remembers talking with Major Herman Wirth, the battalion executive officer, and Lieutenant Bobby Hadaway from the supply section. Says Wirth: “Bob Edwards had been hit seriously in the left shoulder and had lost a lot of blood. He was pale-faced, white, near death. There was a real question whether he would live. A transfusion was administered and Bob came fully alert and talkative. Tremendous transformation.” Edwards remembers being placed on a stretcher on the ground; his wounded left arm “flopped off the stretcher in the dirt.” He shouted loud enough when someone stepped on that arm and they “flopped it back on my stretcher.” Although Edwards says he never lost consciousness in X-Ray or on the evac flight, when he finally reached the Army hospital at Qui Nhon it was another story: “I had to take a leak bad. They gave me a shiny container to pee in while lying down. I didn’t want that, so I stood up to pee. When I came to I was flat on my back.” Lieutenant Franklin, who rode out of X-Ray on top of Edwards, also survived.
Over the radio we got the word that Tully’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry was thirty minutes away from X-Ray. Dillon passed the orders to our eastern and southern perimeters to hold their fire, and about 11:45 AM. the lead elements of Tully’s battalion began arriving. Lieutenant Rescorla was standing near Lieutenant Geoghegan’s command-post foxhole, looking southeast: “Most of them were off to my left front, moving toward us in a column formation. The sergeant came up to me and said: ‘You boys must have put up a hell of a fight.’ I said: ‘No, it wasn’t us. The credit belongs to them.’ I pointed toward some of the American dead—the men of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry.”
Tally’s Bravo Company marched in directly through the beaten zone downrange from Delta Company where Sergeant Warren Adams’s nine M-60 machine guns had been sawing away for the previous two hours. Lieutenant Litton and Sergeant Adams happily watched the reinforcements march in. Says Adams: “I watched the point man as he came right into my position and the first words out of the young man’s mouth was ‘My God, there’s been a heavy battle here. Hell, there’s bodies all over this valley down through here. For the last thirty minutes we’ve just been walking around and over and through bodies to get here. You guys have been playing combat for real here.’”
Specialist Vincent Cantu watched the reinforcements march in and got his second major shock of the day. Cantu had already run into his old high school classmate, Joe Galloway. Now he had a family reunion as well: “The first guy I saw walk in was my cousin, Joe Fierova, from Woodsboro, Texas. He saw me and said: ‘What’s going on, Cat?’ I replied: ‘Joe, get down low and stay there.’ I motioned to all our dead.”
Specialist 4 Pat Selleck, twenty-four and a native of Mount Kisco, New York, says: “I remember one guy had a small American flag on the back of his pack. When I saw that I felt very proud. It’s something that’s always stuck with me. This American flag was put on top of a blown-up tree, just like Iwo Jima. Another battle we had won for the United States.” That little flag flew over Landing Zone X-Ray for the rest of the fight, raising all our spirits.
We had a lot to do now, and I tried to rank the chores by priority. First and foremost was to maintain the highest state of alert against further enemy attacks. Second was to rescue Ernie Savage and the Lost Platoon. Third, I wanted an early and complete accounting of every man killed or wounded, by name. Finally, we needed more ammo, water, and C-rats. Major Wirth had sent the assistant S-4, Lieutenant Bobby Hadaway, to the Charlie Med casualty clearing station at Camp Holloway, where he would keep personal track of arriving casualties and check their names against the company rosters. Lieutenant Hadaway had spent nearly two years in Charlie Company. He knew all the men. It now fell to Hadaway to go down the line of litters and look into the faces of so many friends and comrades and mark them “killed in action.” It was a heartbreaking job.
By 12:05 P.M. Bob Tully’s battalion had closed on X-Ray. I shook his hand and told him he was mighty welcome. Dillon and I had discussed how we would go about rescuing Savage’s men and now had a pretty clear idea. Now we began briefing Tully on his battalion’s major role in that plan. In the meantime, we were advised that General Dick Knowles had authorized the movement of two more 105mm howitzer batteries, twelve more big guns, into Landing Zone Columbus, just over three miles away. One was from the 2nd Battalion, 17th Artillery, commanded by my West Point classmate Lieutenant Colonel Harry O. Amos, Jr., a forty-two-year-old Alabama native. The other was from Lieutenant Colonel Bob Short’s 1st Battalion, 21st Artillery. Soon we would have four batteries, twenty-four big guns, firing in direct support of us. Things were beginning to go our way at last.