Military history



Night Without End

Any danger spot is tenable if men—brave men—will make it so.


Captain Myron Diduryk’s Bravo Company soldiers once again rode to war, courtesy of Major Bruce Crandall’s assault helicopters. In the front seats of one of those Hueys were Chief Warrant Officer Rick Lombardo and his good buddy and copilot, CWO Alex (Pop) Jekel, who thought they had seen and survived everything in Landing Zone X-Ray, but were about to have their horizons expanded one more time.

Says Lombardo: “Where we were going no one seemed to know except the flight leader, and he didn’t say. We were just following. Dusk was falling and our fuel situation was critical. About three miles out I could see battle smoke and that was where we were headed. I looked at Pop Jekel and said: ‘Here we go again!’ We were the second flight of four to go in. As the first flight approached the landing zone, tracers started arcing up at them. The radio came alive, people yelling they were hit, or this or that pilot was hit. Our platoon was forced to go around because the first flight was still on the ground. On our approach the sight before me was unbelievable. Grass fires all over the place, tracers crisscrossing the LZ, and the smoke. It looked like Dante’s Inferno.”

About twenty feet from touchdown Lombardo felt and heard a tremendous bang and a rush of air coming between his legs and dirt blowing all around inside his Huey. “Before my skids touched the ground, the troopers were out. I glanced down and saw my left skid on a body. Couldn’t tell if it was one of ours or one of theirs. Then I realized I no longer had a chin bubble. My feet were on the pedals but there was no Plexiglas beneath them. It wasn’t shattered; it just wasn’t there! All gauges were in the green so we hauled ass out of there. I told Pop to fly so I could get the dirt out of my eyes. I asked if everyone was OK, then I started feeling my legs. I didn’t even have a scratch.”

Captain Robert Stinnett, thirty-two years old, from Dallas, Texas, had won his ROTC commission out of Prairie View A.&M. College in 1953. On this night he had six years of flying experience under his belt, including two years in the 11th Air Assault Test and 1st Cavalry Division. He personally led the twelve Hueys carrying Diduryk’s Bravo Company troops into Albany. He reports that eight aircraft were hit by ground fire and one aviator was wounded on that dusk troop lift.

Captain Diduryk wrote of the flight in and the situation on the ground: “Assaulting Albany we picked up 5 bullet holes in the helicopter. Things were bad there. I found out when I landed that the battalion [was] shot up pretty bad. So we came in the nick of time to their rescue. The main part of 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry was on their last ditch stand at Albany. Little Bighorn revisited.”

Lieutenant Rick Rescorla, 1st Platoon Leader in Bravo Company, recalls: “First pass over Albany I stared down into the smoke and dust. Between the trees [were] the scattered khaki bodies of at least a dozen NVA. They lay face up on the brown gravel of a dry streambed. Firing snapped around us. We circled out to safety. ‘NVA bodies. You see them?’ I yelled. Fantino shook his head. He had been looking out the other side. ‘Lots of American dead down there, sir. Mucho!’ On the second pass I saw the blackened track of the napalm. American bodies and equipment dotted between the anthills and scrub brush. Getting ground fire; the pilot was clearly upset, hunched low. He jabbered into his mike, expressing doubt that we would get down. Darkness was closing in around us. I stood on the skids hovering at least 12 feet over the LZ. Too high.”

The sound of two bullets hitting forced Rescorla back. “Looking sideways I saw a trickle of blood down the pilot’s sleeve. The chopper dropped a few feet. The pilot yelled at the gunner. The gunner snarled, ‘Get out.’ I hesitated. ‘Get the fuck out!’ Four of us dropped a bone-jarring ten feet. The gunner kicked out the boxes of C-rations and they rained down on us. We were on our own. Lying flat, four of us tried to get our bearings. Sixty yards away three khakis rose like quail and ran for the tree line. Two of us cut loose and they fell headfirst into the brown grass. I popped a round with the M-79 just to make sure. Up ahead we heard sounds of American voices. We sprinted into the perimeter, proudly lugging the precious C-Rats.”

Now inside the battalion command group perimeter, Rescorla took stock. “The battalion sergeant major sat against a tree with a bandaged chest. ‘We got hit bad, sir. Real bad.’ The wounded were gathered 30 yards from the CP. Only half my platoon had arrived. The other ships turned back because of ground fire and darkness. The perimeter was an oval island of trees. Three platoons could man the perimeter but with the exception of our people and Pat Payne’s Recon Platoon there was no unit cohesion. Colonel McDade slumped against a tree. He looked exhausted. He was exceptionally silent. Major Frank Henry, his executive officer, was reassuringly active. A short fire plug of a man, Henry waved a welcome, working the radios. Captain Joe Price, the fire support coordinator, crouched beside him. Clumps of survivors sprawled inside the perimeter, including several company commanders.”

Lieutenant Larry Gwin watched the reinforcements arrive: “I saw Rick Rescorla come swaggering into our lines with a smile on his face, an M-79 on his shoulder, his M-16 in one hand saying: ‘Good, good, good! I hope they hit us with everything they got tonight—we’ll wipe them up.’ His spirit was catching. The troops were cheering as each load came in, and we really raised a racket. The enemy must have thought that an entire battalion was coming to help us because of all our screaming and yelling. Major Henry directed that I round up some men and police up all the ammo resupply which the choppers brought in on the last flight. It was lying in crates on the far side of the LZ. Somehow we got it all into the perimeter. As I came back with the last load I passed right by the body of that North Vietnamese I’d killed early in the fight. There wasn’t much left of him and I didn’t give a damn.”

Lieutenant Pat Payne of the recon platoon was just as happy about the reinforcements as Gwin. “We were all very surprised to see those helicopters come in. We were only securing one side of the LZ so when the guys would jump off the helicopter we hollered at them which way to come. I had the feeling we had actually been rescued, that in fact the cavalry had arrived, just like in the movies. I admired the courage it took to land in Albany. Lieutenant Rescorla was one of the best combat leaders I ever saw during two tours in Vietnam. He walked around and pepped everyone up by telling them they’d done a good job, that there was support now, and that things were under control. He never raised his voice; almost spoke in a whisper. We were awfully glad to see him and the others from Bravo Company.”

After walking the perimeter, Lieutenant Rescorla was worried. “We had as many men inside the trees as those on the perimeter. I was uncomfortable with that many rifles to my rear, particularly if they started scare shooting. Worse than the tactical layout was the dark malaise that had fallen over the battalion. Even men who were not wounded were melancholy.”

One of the wounded still suffering alone out in the butchered column was PFC James Shadden of the Delta Company mortar platoon. “By this time it was beginning to grow dark,” Shadden recalls. “I slipped the pin back into the booby-trap grenade in my armpit, thinking now that I might get out alive. Then artillery began to come in. It felt as if the earth would shake out from under me. This continued on into the night. My thirst was almost unbearable; my leg was so painful I could hardly keep from screaming. I thought help would surely come soon.”

Specialist 4 Jack Smith of Charlie Company was also lying wounded in the tall grass. “At dusk the fighting stopped and I had a chance to have a cigarette. I told myself if I lit a cigarette they will find me and kill me, but I didn’t care anymore. Then I passed out. I woke up in the middle of the night. The Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry sent a group to try to rescue us. A man came up to me and asked if I was wounded. He said they had a few stretchers for the worst wounded. I said, ‘Take me out with you.’ He said, ‘Stand up.’ I stood up and passed out. They couldn’t take me. They left a medic with us. That night the NVA tried to get to us. They were going around killing people. Our weapons-platoon lieutenant, Bob Jeanette, had been horribly wounded. He called in artillery so close to our tree that it killed some of us. But it also killed the North Vietnamese when they came to try to take us out. This happened two or three times during the night.”

Doc William Shucart, the surgeon of the 2nd Battalion, had been guided to safety in the Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry perimeter at the tail of the column by one of Captain George Forrest’s platoon sergeants, Fred Kluge. Shucart says, “Around dusk, Kluge said he was getting ready to go back up the column. I asked if he was sure he wanted to do that. He said: ‘There are other guys like you out there, lost or wounded, who need our help.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ I know we had a radio where we were. We were trying to get the medevac ships to come in but they would not. A couple of Huey slicks came down but we were taking fire and the medevacs wouldn’t come. When you are taking fire is precisely when you need medevac. I don’t know where those guys got their great reputations. I was totally dismayed with the medevac guys. The Huey slick crews were terrific.”

Among the wounded that Captain Shucart and Sergeant Fred Kluge rescued at dusk were Enrique Pujals and some other Charlie Company soldiers. They spent the rest of the night in George Forrest’s perimeter at the southern end of the column. Lieutenant Pujals made it through the night and was evacuated the next morning—one of the lucky ones.

Captain Forrest says that late that night he received a radio call from a man identifying himself as “Ghost 4-6” who reported that he was badly wounded, there were dozens of other wounded Americans all around him, and the North Vietnamese were walking around killing them. Forrest sent Sergeant Kluge and a large patrol back up the column at midnight.

Specialist 4 David Lavender was part of the patrol sent out to find Ghost 4-6 and the wounded. He recalls, “Our sergeants came around seeking volunteers to go back out and retrieve some men who had been wounded and were bleeding to death. There were twenty-three of us went out on this patrol. One of the wounded had a radio, so we were in radio contact. We wandered around till we found these fellows. There were twenty-three to twenty-six men in a group, trying to take care of each other. All hurt very bad. We had a medic with us and the twenty-three of us tried to carry as many of them back as we could. We left our medic there with the ones we left behind. All we could handle was thirteen. We had men slung on our shoulders, in litters, carrying them any way we could.”

Lavender says that on their way back into the American position someone on the perimeter opened fire, wounding three of those carrying the wounded, including Lavender himself, who was shot through the hip. “Last I heard, twelve of those thirteen we brought in lived. The rest of the men our medic watched that night also survived. Jack P. Smith wrote an article in [the] Saturday Evening Post about that night, and I read that and suffered flashbacks. He was one of those we left behind with the medic. He went through a long, hard night.”

Joseph H. Ibach was the first sergeant of the 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company. He and Captain Daniel Boone, commander of Headquarters Company, were in that mixture of admin and logistics guys inexplicably included in the march across the Ia Drang Valley that day. Says Ibach: “I was with Captain Boone and we had small groups together. More like clusters of men. We did not have radio contact with anyone. Colonel McDade and the command group were 200 to 400 yards up the column. We couldn’t locate them so we stayed where, we were, all afternoon and the whole night. We were confused and I didn’t think we would survive. Finally radio contact was established and we were informed to stay where we were until morning. At first light we started walking and reached the battalion command post.”

With the infusion of the Bravo Company reinforcements led by Myron Diduryk, the battalion command post perimeter was expanded to provide better security. That expansion also swept into the American lines several more wounded Americans, some of them near death. Most had suffered their wounds in the initial volley of firing hours earlier. Joel Sugdinis recalls, “We had several badly wounded men in the perimeter and from the sounds of their suffering it was obvious that something had to be done quickly to help them. The perimeter had virtually no medical support and B Company brought only a small amount of medical supplies.”

Chief Warrant Officer Hank Ainsworth had been overhead in the 2nd Battalion command chopper all day. “I was overhead when the fight started and orbited overhead till late that night. I was on a freq talking to Major Frank Henry. Later that evening he called me. Henry said we have critically wounded down here; if we don’t get them out they are going to die. I called medevac and they came out, made a pass, drew fire and refused to land.”

Frank Henry knew exactly what to do about that situation; he told Hank Ainsworth to call the 229th Huey slicks, the old reliables. Ainsworth notified the 229th pilots, told them that LZ Albany was hot, but the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry had critically wounded men who would die if they were not evacuated. Says Ainsworth: “The whole damned unit volunteered. I told them we only needed two ships.”

Despite Ainsworth’s call for only two ships, four Huey slicks lifted off from the Camp Holloway Turkey Farm at 9:50 P.M. for the forty-minute flight to Albany. Captain Bob Stinnett was again in the lead, followed by Captain Bruce Thomas, CWO Ken Faba, and CWO Robert Mason.

When the flight arrived in the vicinity of Albany, the pilots could not identify the small clearing on the ground. Says Stinnett: “I talked to the guy on the ground [Captain Jim Spires]. He knew we were en route. He had a flashlight and he went out in the clearing to see if we could pick him up. I circled till I picked up his light. We set up the approach. We were drawing tracer fire from the ground. On the way in we started getting pretty heavy small-arms fire. I wasn’t sure how big that LZ was, because I couldn’t see it. I put the birds in trail formation, one behind the other. I was the first ship in; then another; then a third. I told the fourth ship to circle because there wasn’t room.”

Normally the Huey pilots throttle back their engines as soon as they touch down to conserve fuel. Not tonight. Stinnett remembers: “Something told me not to do that, to keep the engine turning at full flight rpm’s. They had told us the wounded were ambulatory. When we got in there they were all stretcher cases. My crew chief and gunner had to get out and raise the seats so we could get the stretchers in. Then all hell broke loose. Fire was coming in from everywhere. I immediately pulled pitch and, with the rpm’s at flight, the ship instantly jumped thirty feet in the air and kept on going up. We went so fast that the crew chief and gunner got left behind on the ground and I didn’t even know it. We just flat left them. We had the wounded inside. When we got back we counted thirty holes in my machine. That was enough for me and my Huey. The lift of three that went in after me took in medical stuff and brought back more wounded and my crew. Major Frank Henry was on the flashlight that time.”

Joel Sugdinis watched with awe as the brave aviators risked everything for the wounded in Albany. “I remember thinking they were the bravest pilots I had ever seen. They were sitting ducks and I fully expected to see them shot down at any moment. They were guided in by Frank Henry. You could see the tracers. The aircraft didn’t hesitate a bit. They landed, loaded, and were gone in seconds.”

Battalion sergeant major James A. Scott was one of the wounded; he rode out on a helicopter nearly eleven hours after he had been shot in the chest. Says Scott: “About midnight a chopper came in. Eight serious wounded were put on; they pushed me on that chopper. By then I looked like somebody from the Alamo, with blood running down my legs, my clothes torn. Away we went to Holloway.”

In early January, six weeks later, Sergeant Major Scott was recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. There he read a story in the December 31, 1965, issue of Time magazine, which quoted a medic of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry as saying that Sergeant Major Scott had been killed early in the fight at LZ Albany. The reports of his death, he reckoned, were greatly exaggerated.

The helicopter evacuation of the wounded from Albany clearing was not yet complete. CWO Hank Ainsworth, still overhead, got a call from Major Henry saying he needed one more lift ship for three or four more wounded. Ainsworth volunteered to do the pickup with the command ship. Says Ainsworth, “By the grace of God, I didn’t take a hit. I flew in and out through that wall of tracers and did not take a single round. I figured I was one of the luckiest pilots who ever flew in ’Nam. Never a hit the whole time.”

Now the Albany clearing perimeter could settle down for what was left of the night. “About five soldiers made it into the perimeter during the night,” Rick Rescorla recalls. “Larry Gwin pointed southeast and said what is left of the rest of the battalion is out there in three main groups and then smaller teams. I walked up to the lone figure of Lieutenant Gordon Grove standing in the northwest corner of the perimeter. He was a former sergeant who had come up through OCS. ‘My platoon’s out there,’ he said. ‘I came back in to get help but I was ordered not to go back.’ He was desolate. He kept looking at the tree line as if expecting his men to show up.”

After midnight several shots rang out from inside the perimeter. A trooper twenty yards behind Rescorla, inside the perimeter, had rattled off a panicky three rounds. Rescorla walked back and cussed out the group in the middle of the perimeter. “If I hear one more round out of you we will turn our weapons around and open up. No one fires from inside the perimeter. If you want to fire get out to the perimeter line.” Whispered communication took place all night between isolated elements outside the perimeter. If there was heroism, it was out there in the tiny groups of wounded and those who bandaged and protected them through the long night. “They were just like hunting buddies,” says Rescorla, “surviving by instinct, looking out after each other.”

In the perimeter there were discussions about taking out a night patrol as was being done by Captain Forrest’s company at the end of the column. Rescorla recalls: “The idea of crossing through the chaos of the battlefield at night presented problems. We would have to deplete the perimeter. Scare shooting by friendlies was a threat. There was reason to believe the enemy was still effective. Finally, moving the wounded would achieve little unless they could be evacuated immediately. Wait until dawn became the command watchword.”

Lieutenant Larry Gwin of Alpha Company recalls that late that night one of Alpha’s missing men crawled into the American perimeter. “Sergeant James A. Mullartey from our 1st Platoon made it back to our lines. His story: The NVA had been shooting our wounded. One came up to him, stuck a pistol in his mouth, and fired. The bullet exited the back of his throat, knocked him out and they left him for dead. He survived and when he woke up at night he started crawling to us.”

As dawn broke over the Albany battlefield on Friday, November 18, a profound shock awaited the Americans who had survived the night. To this point no one had a clear picture of the extent of the losses suffered by the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. They were about to find out.

Captain Joel Sugdinis, the commander of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav, remembers that at dawn on the eighteenth the area was quiet, though not comfortable. “We did the ‘Mad Minute’ and it evoked no response. We began to slowly move forward to recon the areas out from the perimeter. No opposition—the battlefield was quiet. We collected as many of our dead as we could. The North Vietnamese had paid dearly but so had we.

“The American dead were retrieved and brought back to the island perimeter wrapped in ponchos, tagged and literally stacked like cord wood. When the Chinook helicopters arrived to remove them I remember the flight crews were stunned at the cargo. We buried none of the enemy. The battlefield was acquiring that pronounced smell of death.”

Lieutenant Gwin, Sugdinis’s executive officer, says, “The next day was the real nightmare, as we went out to find our dead and missing. I think each of us cracked up a little bit that day as the true picture of the action began to unfold. Then it came across the radio: Bravo Company had found one other survivor from our 2nd Platoon. He had been badly wounded in the legs and had propped himself up against a tree. He had been burned by napalm, waiting in the night, and some North Vietnamese had put a pistol to his eye and pulled the trigger. Shot him in the eye, blinded him, but he was still alive! I saw him being brought in on a stretcher, smoking a cigarette, all fucked up.

“As they policed up our dead, bringing them in, I lost it,” Lieutenant Gwin admits. “I heard that Don Coraett had been killed and that broke my emotional back. I heard that Charlie Company was basically annihilated. That became evident. I saw where our 1st Platoon had been and there was just bodies all over the place, already bloating in the sun. I went to the 2nd Platoon area and we found three of our men all lying together, terribly shot up and clearly hit by napalm. I suppressed those memories for fifteen years.”

The terrible task of policing up the battlefield fell to Captain Myron Diduryk’s Bravo Company troops and Captain George Forrest’s Alpha Company, 1st of the 5th. Diduryk wrote: “Next day, the 18th, I made a tour of the battlefield and I’ll tell you it was a hell of a grim sight to see. North Vietnamese and U.S. bodies all over, intermingled. It was a hell of a fight; some North Vietnamese were bayoneted. Again the grim task of recovering friendly dead. This time there were many more. It took the better part of the 18th and 19th to accomplish this.”

Specialist 4 Dick Ackerman of the recon platoon remembers, “Just before daylight at the Albany clearing the word was spread: Do not leave your holes. Do not get up and walk around. At the command there will be a Mad Minute. Somebody was thinking. When the time arrived we opened up. The NVA started jumping up and running, falling out of trees. I don’t think this was their main force; possibly just a rear guard group. Then we started spreading out. I was on perimeter defense to enable others to pick up wounded behind us. There was sporadic shooting. What we saw as we expanded our perimeter was unbelievable. The bodies, complete and in pieces, were everywhere.

“Some were still alive. The NVA came into the ambush area at night to recover their dead and wounded. When they found any of our guys alive they would beat them to death, bayonet them, or machete them to avoid shooting and drawing fire from us. We policed up all day and pulled back into the circle for the night. Next day, the 19th, we did the same thing except I was on pickup duty, not perimeter guard.”

Doc William Shucart hiked up the shattered column from the Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry perimeter to the Albany clearing perimeter the morning of the eighteenth. “On the way we found guys scattered all over the place, wounded, who had spent the night out there by themselves. They were so calm. I was thinking: I spent the night with thirty or forty guys and even with all that company I was scared shitless. If I had been out in the woods alone like these guys I would have been scared to death. They were amazing.”

Lieutenant Pat Payne, the recon-platoon commander, says, “We moved out very carefully and started finding all our dead and wounded as soon as possible. One of the greatest losses was Lieutenant Don Cornett. I saw his body. He was laid out alongside the edge of the LZ on his stomach. His face was turned to the side. He looked like he was asleep. A helicopter landed and it stirred the wind. Cornett’s hair blew in the breeze and it was beyond my comprehension that such a wonderful person had been killed. I covered him up with his poncho and then helped carry his body to the chopper.”

Captain Skip Fesmire, commander of Charlie Company: “In sweeping through the area at first light we found dead American and NVA soldiers locked in mortal combat. Charlie Company, under the control of Lieutenant Don Cornett, had moved forward on the right flank of Delta Company and met head-on the hasty attack of the North Vietnamese. Strewn over the battlefield were numerous dead enemy, along with 50 dead and 50 wounded soldiers of Charlie Company and almost all of Sugdinis’ lead platoon.”

Specialist Jack P. Smith, one of Charlie Company’s wounded: “In the morning the place looked like the devil’s butcher shop; there were people hanging out of trees. The ground was slippery with blood. Men who were my closest friends were all around me, dead. Then they started to call in artillery and they came and got us. They wrapped me in a poncho and carried me to a helicopter and I was whisked out of there. I was taken to Japan and it all passed. I came back to Vietnam; [I] didn’t see any more combat, and left eventually. When I came home on leave my parents were delighted to see me. Couple of days later I was watching the evening news and, lo and behold, I saw my company jumping out of helicopters and I burst into tears and ran out of the room.”

Lieutenant Rescorla had a different reaction to the Mad Minute fired at dawn: “This decision was regrettable. Rifle fire shattered the silence and the perimeter was ringed with reckless firing. Little thought had been given that the remainder of our survivors were sprawled among the trees and anthills within 500 yards, the effective range of our M-16s. ‘What the fuck is happening? Are you shooting at us?’ The frantic radio calls started coming in. How many troops were killed or injured by our wake-up call will never be known. Thank God for the trees, anthills, uneven terrain.”

Rescorla took a path down the western flank of what had been the battalion column. He called it “a long, bloody traffic accident in the jungle. One trooper dead with weapons laid out next to him, pack of cigarettes clenched in his hand. Further on I noticed an officer wearing a Ranger patch. It was Don Cornett. He had been shot several times. Individual troopers looked as if they had not yet received the order to move out. Mortar men were dead, sitting upright against anthills, rounds still on their backs, as if they were caught during a break. Here and there, between American bodies, lay smaller khaki figures. Coming around an anthill I saw a concentration of NVA khaki bodies. A movement. I fired twice and we advanced slowly. Three of them. Two riflemen dead. One, wearing a pith helmet, was very young with a soft, round-featured face, lying belly up. He was dying, eyes flickering, shirt soaked with blood. They had all been wounded and had drawn close together, a team of some kind. Charlie or Delta had given them their first crippling wounds.”

On the dying enemy soldier Rescorla noticed something shiny. A big, battered old French army bugle carrying a manufacture date of 1900 and the legend “Couesnon & Cie, Fournisseurs de L’Armée. 94 rue D’Ancoième. Paris.” On some long-ago battlefield, perhaps Dien Bien Phu, the victorious Viet Minh had taken it as trophy. And marked their own legend: two crude Chinese characters tattooed onto the brass bell with nailpoint. Rough translation: “Long and powerful service!” Now, here in the valley of the Ia Drang, in the tall elephant grass, the trophy had changed hands again. The 7th Cavalry had a bugle once more, and Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion would blow it time and again on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Captain Dudley Tademy, 3rd Brigade fire-support coordinator, remembers flying out to Albany at first light the next morning. “Tim Brown, myself, Mickey Parrish. Took a while to get in through the smoke hanging over the whole area. Not much had really taken place in terms of policing the area. The image that is still vivid in my mind is the carnage. Folks were still sitting around in a daze; they hadn’t done much, hadn’t even taken ponchos and covered up these bodies. I could handle the conversation; I could handle grown men crying; but we are talking twelve hours later. Sitting there feeling sorry for themselves. Colonel Brown was very pissed off. Even if you get caught in a bad situation you have to do something to recover. It was young kids who paid the price. In later years I used to stress that to my young battery commanders: ‘It isn’t us who die in combat; it’s those young kids who die. Those kids we are responsible for training and leading. It’s our job to get the job done and get those kids home safe.’”

Colonel Brown recalls that visit to Albany on November 18: “The next morning I finally got into that place. They were busy figuring out who was dead, who was wounded. They never got an accurate count for forty-eight hours or so. I stayed out there wandering around looking while they were bringing the bodies back in. Myron Diduryk was checking them off. I never saw McDade. I asked where he was, where the command post was, but it was all confusion and nobody could tell me where he was. Diduryk seemed to have things under control. When I got back I sent Shy Meyer back out to see if he could make any more sense of it than I had.”

Captain Buse Tully of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cav and Captain George Forrest of the same battalion’s Alpha Company had laagered their companies together overnight in the tail-end perimeter, venturing out only on the after-midnight patrol to find Ghost 4-6 and all those wounded Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav soldiers. Captain Tully wrote: “With daylight, resupply and medevac ships arrived and we moved out toward the 2nd Battalion 7th Cav position. The battle area was a scene of carnage. One of the few North Vietnamese found alive, when offered assistance, attempted to throw a hand grenade. He was shot. We also found GIs who obviously had been given the coup de grace; hands tied behind their backs and bullet holes in the backs of their heads. The link up had been made at 9 A.M. From then until 2 P.M. we patrolled out of Albany, picking up dead and wounded personnel and enemy and friendly weapons. The job wasn’t finished when we had to leave in order to make it back to LZ Columbus and our parent battalion’s control by nightfall.”

Both the 1st Battalion, 5th Cav companies made the march back to Columbus without incident, closing in at five P.M., well before dark, on November 18. Columbus was a good-size rectangular clearing, running north-south. George Forrest’s A Company moved into position on the northwest while Buse Tully’s B Company men secured the southern end of the clearing. Tully immediately put out observation posts forward of his three-platoon defenses. Then he told his men to break out C-rations and take a well-deserved breather. Both the meal and the break were rudely interrupted at 5:35 P.M., when the outposts spotted the lead elements of a North Vietnamese force maneuvering toward Columbus. With that warning, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Acker-son, commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cav, had time to get his men in their holes, alert the artillery batteries, and get set for the assault, which came in from the east and southeast.

According to then-Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An, the NVA battlefield commander, that attack should have been launched against Columbus at two P.M., when half of Ackerson’s battalion would still have been marching back from Albany. General An said the commander of the attack battalion of the 33rd Regiment was unable to mass his men, who had dispersed over a wide area of the valley to avoid air strikes, in time to make the deadline. An said his commander also had problems finding a section of the Columbus perimeter where there was sufficient cover to hide his preparations for the attack. The result was a delay of over three and a half hours.

When the attack finally did kick off it was met with a hail of rifle and machine-gun fire from Ackerson’s battalion as well as from the artillerymen who had cranked their 105mm howitzers down and were firing canister rounds at point-blank range. The Air Force was quick to provide tactical air strikes close to the perimeter. By nine P.M. the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry had beaten off and broken the attack.

An says: “The 33rd Regiment could not destroy this position, but they forced the artillery to withdraw, and the artillerymen left behind about a thousand rounds. We captured a thousand rounds of 105mm ammunition, but we had no guns of that size and never used it.” The North Vietnamese commander reckons that even though the attack failed, his men forced the abandonment of Columbus the next day. That’s not the way Colonel Tim Brown, 3rd Brigade commander, sees it: “We were in our last days. The 2nd Brigade had already been ordered up. We were just swinging out west so that Colonel Ray Lynch [commander of the 2nd Brigade] could take over. We were also moving artillery out in that direction. Lynch was going to put his brigade headquarters at Due Co Special Forces Camp. So we were in the process of getting out, but not yet.”

In furtherance of that plan, at midday on November 18 Brown had sent Lieutenant Colonel Bob Tully’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cav on an air assault into a clearing designated Landing Zone Crooks (6.5 miles northwest of Columbus). Once they had secured Crooks, Brown airlifted the artillery from LZ Falcon to Crooks. From there the artillerymen would provide initial support to the 2nd Brigade and to the South Vietnamese Airborne battalions that were planning to move south from Due Co camp on November 19 and take up blocking positions along the Cambodian border to harass the North Vietnamese on their retreat from the Ia Drang Valley.

On November 19, Brown moved the artillery and the 1st Battalion, 5th Cav from Columbus to a new landing zone designated Golf, 7.5 miles northwest. Now all the pieces were in place for continued operations against the enemy, with Brown’s 3rd Brigade handing off the job to Colonel Ray Lynch’s 2nd Brigade and to the ARVN Airborne task force.

Back in the Albany area, policing of the battlefield continued. Survivors and witnesses most often use the word “carnage” for the terrible things they saw in the brush and tall elephant grass.

Specialist 4 Jon Wallenius of the Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry mortar platoon, and most of the rest of Myron Diduryk’s men were involved in this macabre and depressing duty. “It was incredible carnage. We went to areas where lots of artillery had come in during the night and we saw our guys had been blown up in the trees. The bodies were already decomposed and it had only happened the night before. We were in shock. It was the first, last, and only time I ever saw anything like it and I pray never again. The stench was unbelievable. We started hauling in the whole bodies first; then we brought in the pieces and parts. Two Chinooks came in and we loaded one with about twenty corpses, neatly arranged in litters. The pilot began preparing to take off. One of our officers pointed an M-16 at the pilot and told him to keep the bird on the ground; we weren’t through. Bodies were loaded floor to ceiling. When the ramp finally closed blood poured through the hinges. I felt sorry for the poor bastards who would have to unload this chopper back at Holloway.”

One of the last wounded Americans recovered from the battlefield that day was PFC James Shadden of the Delta Company mortar platoon. “The next morning and all day long the sun had no mercy. The ants and flies were crawling all over my wounds. My tongue and throat had turned to cotton. I had grown so weak I could hardly move. Captain Henry Thorpe came to me about six P.M. the evening of the eighteenth and said: ‘We didn’t know where you were.’ Well, I didn’t know where he was either. After a few days at the 85th Evac Hospital, I was flown back to the hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where I stayed almost a year recovering.”

The nightmares born of this battle have never faded.

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