Echoes from the Regiment’s Service in Vietnam 1966 – 1972
Don Snedeker, 11th ACVVC Historian
4th Qtr 2014
· Getting there ‘furstest with the mostest’. Operation Attleboro (8-20 October 1966) was General Westmoreland’s first multi-battalion attack on enemy base areas in War Zone C. It was also the first time the 11th ACR was called upon to move quickly into a new area and bring its mobile firepower to bear upon the VC. The following extract from the Combat Operations After Action Report for the period describes First Squadron’s transition from an ongoing operation east of the new Blackhorse Base Camp to support the Big Red One during Operation Attleboro. The entire squadron moved over 100 miles in under six hours and entered combat the following morning. This action proved the capability of the Regiment to fulfill Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s maxim to “get there first with the most”. Attleboro was followed in early 1967 by Operations Cedar Falls, Junction City, and Manhattan.
“8 November: 1st Squadron terminated its operations in the GIA RAY – VO DAT area at 1000 hours. Squadron elements cleared GIA RAY at 1300 hours on their way to LAI KHE [1st Infantry Division headquarters] stopping for Class I [fuel] and Class III [ammunition] resupply at the LONG BINH STAGING AREA. The first elements of the squadron arrived, 200 km’s [kilometers] later, in LAI KHE at 1630 hours, and by 1830 the entire squadron had closed. The move involved approximately 200 vehicles and 1000 men completely combat ready. [On 9 November, 1st Squadron, under the operational control of the 1st (US) Infantry Division, began Operation Attleboro, returning to Regimental control on 20 November.]”
· You can run, but you can’t hide. From an article on 2 October 1967 in the Pacific Stars and Stripes entitled “Chopper Outruns A Red”: “A routine administrative run turned into a chase for two lieutenants recently. First Lt. Matt D. McKnight, S-5 officer for the 1st Sq., 11th Armored Cav, Regt., was riding an H23 observation ship to the 1st Sq. Command Post during a recent operation. As the ship neared the CP, pilot 1st Lt. Kevin Kenney asked to fly cover for a convoy. Kenney steered the aircraft over the trucks and armored vehicles moving along Highway 1. The convoy halted when a claymore mine was prematurely detonated, barely missing the lead vehicle, and Kenney piloted his ship to the head of the convoy. ‘We dropped right down on the deck,’ McKnight said, ‘with Kevin holding the ship about five feet off the ground. We could see a wire leading from the road and followed it for about 200 meters. We saw a VC running from the bushes and chased him down. We hovered about two feet above him, and I motioned for him to get up and surrender. Instead he made a break for the thick jungle nearby. I fired five rounds at him as he ran, and hit him five times. He wasn’t dead, so we gave him first aid and evacuated him. We went back to where we had first pinned him down and found batteries, detonators and lots of ammo.’”
· Aero-scout in the attack. In the space of just eight days in March 1969, Air Cavalry Troop’s aero-scout Justin ‘Guy’ Ballou was awarded a Bronze Star with “V” for valor and a Distinguished Flying Cross. On March 9th, Warrant Officer Ballou was flying over the Aero Rifle Platoon, which had been inserted into a fortified enemy base camp in the Catcher’s Mitt east of Lai Khe. The ARPs sustained several casualties from the dug-in enemy. Mr. Ballou was attempting to land his light observation helicopter (LOH) to evacuate the wounded when it was “hit by intense enemy automatic weapons fire and crashed over the bomb crater in which the wounded men were lying.” His Bronze Star “V” citation continues: “After extinguishing a fire started by the crash and pulling the men from under the wreckage of his aircraft, Warrant Officer Ballou quickly administered first aid and set up a defensive perimeter around the bomb crater. Despite the intense hostile fire, Warrant Officer Ballou left the safety of the crater and picked up a medical kit dropped by an aircraft overhead. Realizing the need for communications, he once again left the relative safety of the area in order to secure a radio left behind by the wounded personnel. Crawling through hostile fire, he secured the radio and quickly called for reinforcements. When the friendly element arrived [platoons from Delta Company, India and Kilo Troops], he once again left the crater and crawled to a position where he could brief the armored elements on the enemy and friendly situations.” Eight days later, Warrant Officer Ballou was back in the air, piloting another LOH over the Michelin Rubber Plantation. His sharp-eyed observer spotted a large force of North Vietnamese Army soldiers amidst the rubber trees. Realizing that they had been detected, the enemy sent up a stream of AK-47 and machinegun fire. Despite the heavy ground fire, “Warrant Officer Ballou began making low level passes over the area in order to mark the positions for tactical airstrikes.” His Distinguished Flying Cross citation continues: “In spite of the accurate enemy antiaircraft fire, he remained in the contact area for nine hours in order to direct the airstrikes [a total of eight airstrikes hit the enemy in the space of those nine hours], place suppressive fire on the enemy positions, and mark them for helicopter gunship assaults… Although he was forced to leave the area because of extensive damage to his aircraft, he was personally credited with killing sixteen of the enemy…” Warrant Officer Ballou and his Air Cavalry Troop mates had uncovered the lead two regiments of the 7th North Vietnamese Army Division that had recently infiltrated from Cambodia. Over the course of the next week, the Blackhorse Regiment, along with elements of the 1st and 25th (US) Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions, reduced these enemy regiments’ morning reports by almost 350 and prevented a planned attack on Saigon. Guy Ballou was also awarded a Silver Star and another DFC during his tour with the Blackhorse Regiment in Vietnam.
· Do you want to be the last VC to die in this war?. The Regimental psychological operations (PSYOPS) section worked long and hard at convincing enemy soldiers to Chieu Hoi – to give up life in their jungle base camps and to rally to the South Vietnamese government. The following report from early 1970 describes how they approached this mission, using broadcast messages from helicopters circling suspected enemy unit locations and leaflets scattered across the jungle, rice paddies, and hamlets. “An intensified PSYOP’s campaign has been launched against the 101st [NVA] Regiment and its supporting unit, the 50th Rear Support Group. This is being accomplished by broadcasting their hardships and shortcomings using divisive and chieu hoi themes, and disseminating leaflets designed to make the individual discontented with his leaders and the ever increasing problems that face him. A second campaign was initiated with the use of specially designed banners and posters to induce the NVA soldier to surrender or rally. They ask in a subtle manner if the individual wants to die or be the last to die in this war, and also inquire about the well being of his family.”
· Surprise, surprise, surprise! From the June 1970 edition of the Blackhorse Newspaper: “A group of NVA soldiers running a small enemy convoy must have been rudely surprised when they rounded a bend and saw a gaggle of F Troop vehicles bearing down on them. But if they were, they didn’t have time to show it. Within minutes four of them were dead and one captured. The incident occurred in an area seven miles east of Snuol [Cambodia]. F Troop was on a reconnaissance mission when they discovered a two-lane highway tunneling through triple canopy jungle. They started up the road to investigate. Shortly afterward they ran into the three trucks and two jeeps that formed the convoy. The troopers also captured 400 lbs. of medical supplies, 2000 lbs. of rice, numerous packs, and some rifles and small arms… Two days later they ran across an NVA motor pool. Searching an area near the convoy contact, F Troop cavalrymen found an abandoned 2½ ton truck and two 55 gallon drums hidden in the jungle. An exhaustive search of the area netted an additional five trucks and eighty drums of diesel fuel. Also recovered in the area were 900 lbs. of rice, 300 lbs. of corn, two truck jacks, one wheelbarrow and some small arms.”