Echoes from the Regiment’s Service in Vietnam 1966 – 1972
Don Snedeker, 11th ACVVC Historian
1st Qtr 2015
· Welcome to Vietnam. In his welcoming remarks to the Blackhorse Regiment after landing at Vung Tau on 7 September 1966, Lieutenant General Jean Engler (Deputy Commanding General, US Army, Vietnam) said: “One of the most important missions in Vietnam is to take the roads away from the Vietcong and give them back to the people so that they may move freely. For this mission, by reason of firepower and mobility, your unit is eminently qualified.”
· Mines, mines, and more mines. On 6 January 1967, Troopers from Alpha Troop uncovered a makeshift factory for making homemade anti-personnel and anti-tank mines about ten kilometers south of Blackhorse Base Camp. According to the Operations Summary (OPSUM) that was submitted, the factory contained “wooden boxes, CBU’s [cluster bomb units] and [US] 105mm rds [rounds], rubber bands, and nails… explosives from the CBU’s and 105mm rds were use[d] for the mine charges, the nails and rubber bands were used as detonators. All materials destroyed.” The next day, just as the Troop was beginning its reconnaissance mission, an Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) detonated a mine about 200 meters from the mine factory found the previous day. Again, according to the OPSUM, the blast resulted “in 8 track blocks, 2 road wheels, and all grease fittings being damaged. No casualties.”
· Gas bill. During February, March, and April of 1968, Blackhorse helicopters flew 4,325 hours and consumed 198,870 gallons of fuel. Even at $.23 a gallon (remember those prices?), that’s an almost $46,000 gas bill! Oh by the way, during the same period, they expended over one million rounds of 7.62 machine gun ammunition, over 4,000 rockets, and almost 7,600 40mm grenades.
· Wiped out! Throughout the Regiment’s service in Vietnam, the enemy’s propaganda machine routinely made exaggerated claims of having “wiped out” entire troops or even whole squadrons. On the 4th of March 1969, the Air Cavalry Troop’s Aero Rifle Platoon, reinforced by aero scouts and gunships, as well as platoons from India Troop and Mike Company, came close to “wiping out” an entire company of the K33 Battalion, 96th Regiment, 69th (NVA) Artillery Command. Between the massive personnel losses suffered during the three phases of their offensive in 1968 (Tet of ’68 in February, mini-Tet in May, and the final push in August), unrelenting pressure by US and Allied forces throughout 1968 and 1969, most NVA companies were averaging about 60 soldiers present for duty. Many VC local force units were down to less than 100 per battalion – a quarter of their normal strength. At mid-morning on March 4th while conducting a bomb damage assessment following a B-52 strike, aero scouts discovered an enemy force holed up in a bunker complex and the Aero Rifle Platoon was inserted, receiving small arms and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire almost immediately. A platoon of infantry from Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry (Big Red One) was the first to pile on, followed shortly thereafter by platoons from both India Troop and Mike Company. The firefight lasted throughout the afternoon, with the enemy finally breaking contact near dark. During the course of the contact, seven US soldiers were wounded and required medevac, while three light observation helicopters (LOHs) were damaged. Enemy casualties were considerably higher – not only were 23 NVA soldiers killed during the engagement, but an additional dozen were captured. The prisoners reported that the C3 Company had a total of 48 men present for duty on the morning of 4 March. By that evening, 35 of the 48 were confirmed dead or captured – and, according to the regimental intelligence estimate, the “remaining 13 men were probably also killed when the tanks crushed the bunkers.” The enemy prisoners included the company Executive Officer, an Assistant Squad Leader, another Sergeant, a medical Sergeant, four Corporals, and four Privates. The ARP Platoon Leader, First Lieutenant Thomas White (who went on to command the Regiment and become Secretary of the Army), and Specialist Five Armando Carillo, a platoon medic, were both awarded the Silver Star for their actions during this fight.
· New Command Sergeant Major. From the July 1970 edition of the Blackhorse Newspaper: “A twenty-year Army veteran, who was with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment when it came to Vietnam, is the new Regimental command sergeant major. Command Sergeant Major Hiram T. Harrison, a native of Killeen, Tex., succeeded Command Sergeant Major Donald E. Horn June 1 as the top enlisted man of the Blackhorse. Sgt. Maj. Harrison began his first tour in Vietnam in August 1966 when the 11th ACR deployed from Ft. Meade, Md. He was sergeant major of the 2nd Squadron until he completed his tour in July 1967. Returning in the middle of the Cambodian operation, Sgt. Maj. Harrison commented, ‘They couldn’t have selected a better unit than the 11th ACR for this type of mission. It’s the best outfit in Vietnam.’’
· Tanks up front. From the July 1970 edition of the Blackhorse Newspaper: “‘We’re the Sunday punch,’ says H Company First Sergeant Paul Curran. By ‘we’ he means the men and M48 medium tanks that make up a tank company. The punch (any day of the week) is delivered by a 90 millimeter main gun, a .50 caliber and an M60 machine gun. Each squadron in the field has a tank company which provides ready reaction support for the reconnaissance troops, escorts logistics convoys, and furnishes the bulk of fire power at the squadron night defensive positions. At 50 tons apiece, the tanks are the heavies of the Regiment – in more ways than one. ‘When we go in, there’s already a fight in progress,’ says H Company commander Captain Harold Fuller. ‘When the squadron moves, we’re the lead element.’ And with good reason, for up front the going is usually toughest. The big tanks can knock down jungle too thick for ACAVs [Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles] and Sheridans. But ramming down trees eight inches in diameter creates special maintenance problems. That’s were the M88 VTR [Vehicle Tracked Recovery] comes in. The M88 recovery vehicle is the workhorse of the tank company’s maintenance team. Except for another M48, it’s the only thing around big enough to drag out a downed tank. At the NDP [Night Defensive Position], a skilled crew can quickly put a disabled vehicle back into operation. All of which makes tank company almost self-sufficient. As Capt. Fuller says, ‘With our own maintenance section, we’re a complete unit.’”
· Quan Loi remembered. “Quan Loi comes as a shock when you step off the plane. No comparison between it and Long Binh or Bien Hoa. Cut out of the rubber trees, the base camp looks like a splotch in the middle of ‘no-man’s land. Red dirt is embedded in everything. Well remembered about Quan Loi was the extreme abundance of red laterite clay DUST. Seems this stuff got into everything, our clothes, food, tents. I had red clay coming out of my pours for about 3 months after returning to the States. In the day time the VC were always trying to hit the ammo dump or the POL area, using the Quan Loi Tower as their aiming point. That was nerve racking… During the ‘rainy’ season, being able to set the clock by the 1600 hours rain fall starting… Quan Loi also got its ‘SMALL’ share of USO shows, and Red Cross Girls visiting. Remember the bands from the Philippines? Were they really as bad as I remember? How about a cool swim in the pool at the French Country Club on the Southwest side, after walking thru the perimeter wire to get there. Pretty weird seeing a 10 meter concrete diving platform in a war zone. Getting in and out of Quan Loi was simply a question of either getting a ride on a convoy up and down ‘Thunder Road’, which had to be swept for mines daily…or catching a ride on one of the flights coming to the airstrip. That choice was a real no brain’r…”