The Bravest of the Brave

By Andy O’Meara
August 30, 2010

We knew the Regiment as the Blackhorse Regiment for the single black horse that was the unit symbol.

It decorated the sides of our track vehicles and aircraft as well as being the shoulder patch worn by each Blackhorse Trooper.

Prisoners we captured told us that they were told never to fire on a Blackhorse vehicle “…because the Blackhorse never breaks contact.” We fought until the enemy was dead or captured and we owned the battlefield.

My presence had been requested by the Regimental Commander. The Regimental Operations Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Dozier, had received a request from the Province Chief for helicopter support for a raid by a combat patrol of the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) on a communist village.

The Province Chief wanted the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment to conduct the helicopter support mission.

The Province Chief had received a clandestine message from a senior Viet Cong officer, who wanted to defect.

The officer was the executive officer of the K4 Battalion of the Dong Ngai Regiment.

The defection had to appear to be a kidnapping or his family would be killed in retaliation. The PRU team was the obvious choice to conduct the combat patrol.

The Provincial Operations officer had contacted the Blackhorse Operations Officer requesting helicopter lift for the patrol to and from the communist village.

In return he promised that we would get the intelligence take – the location of the companies of the K4 Battalion of the Dong Ngai Regiment – formerly a VC Regiment now filled with NVA replacements.

I reported to Colonel Patton. Jim Dozier was with him. They needed my help. They needed a member of the Regiment to accompany the patrol.

The individual would act as radio operator to control the lift ships during the raid as well as to call for artillery fire, if artillery support was needed.

The individual had to speak Vietnamese and be trained in the conduct of combat patrols.

And finally the Blackhorse patrol member would have to participate in the interrogation of the prisoner to obtain the locations of the units of the K4 Battalion. I was the obvious choice for the mission.

The lift ships were departing in a few minutes for the Provincial Headquarters in Bien Hoa to pick up the PRU patrol.

Patton’s instructions were simple – “Don’t come back without the enemy unit locations.” I replied, “Yes Sir.”

I was told that the lift ships would pick me up at the Regimental Headquarters within a few minutes.

I returned to the Tactical Operations Center to brief my people, designate my replacement, pick up my submachine gun, a back pack radio and steel helmet; and I headed for the chopper pad. The Choppers showed up within minutes.

I climbed aboard Major “Doc”Bahnsen’s Command and Control (C&C) Ship and we lift off. The flight picked up a heading for Bien Hoa and after a flight of about fifteen minutes landed at the Bien Hoa air field.

The PRU patrol was waiting. The patrol consisted of a control team, assault team and fire support team. The control team consisted of four men – the patrol leader and three men, who would provide local security.

The assault team was made up of five men and the fire support team of eight men. The patrol leader joined me in the C&C bird and the remaining troops boarded the lift ships.

We exchanged a few brief words letting him know that I would accompany him and call in the choppers to extract the patrol when the mission was complete.

He told me that a blue Lambretta, a French motor scooter, would be parked in front of the hooch where the defector awaited capture by the PRU patrol.

All of the patrol members were former VC and were dressed in black pajamas—indistinguishable from an enemy combat patrol. They carried AK47s and wore Chinese web gear.

We flew directly to the enemy village. Doc made several false insertions around the perimeter of the village that quickly sent the VC to the safety of tunnels under the village, while the villagers hid in fox holes dug in the center of each hooch – under the universal teak platform that served as dinner table, bed and card table in the homes of the villagers.

Doc made the final insertion in a clearing on the west side of the village adjacent to a large cemetery. The troops quickly dismounted.

They had been thoroughly briefed and took their positions, while the Control Group took up a concealed position in a drainage ditch along the perimeter of the cemetery.

Forming a single file, the patrol moved down the road into the village looking like a hard core VC combat patrol.

The Security Team led the way followed by the assault team. Once inside the village the security team split with two fire teams.

One team covered the patrol from the east side of the road, while the other team covered their movement form the opposite side of the road.

They moved through the village until they spotted the blue Lambretta. The security team provided all around security, while the assault team quickly entered the hooch.

The prisoner was identified. His hands were tied behind his back and he was led back through the village. This time the assault team led the way, followed by the security team that continued to provide cover from both sides of the road.

After what seemed an eternity, we saw the PRU patrol approaching along the road leading from the village. They had their man.

The Patrol Team Leader gave me the word. I radioed Sergeant Tim, who controlled the flight operation frequency. He had kept all traffic off the net awaiting my call, which consisted of four words: “Ready for pick-up.”

Soon we heard the sound of the chopper blades as the birds approached the Landing Zone. As soon as they set down the PRU Patrol members headed for their assigned birds.

When all were safely aboard, “Doc” gave the command and the lift ships increased the speed of the rotors and in a graceful movement with nose down, lifted off and picked up a heading for the Provincial Headquarters.

Everything had gone according to plan.

We landed at the Bien Hoa air field. Vehicles were sanding by for the PRU patrol and a jeep awaited the prisoner. They had forgotten about me; so I hopped in the back seat with the prisoner.

The Provincial Intelligence Officer sat in the front seat opposite the driver. We headed to the Provincial Headquarters.

I reminded the Intelligence Officer of our agreement. The Blackhorse provided the lift ships and the prisoner was to provide the locations of the units of the K4 Battalion.

We pulled up in front of the Headquarters, an old French colonial structure with a large covered veranda across the front of the building. There was a loud commotion as we entered the Headquarters.

The prisoner had family or friends on the staff. The prisoner was untied and they embraced. He was welcomed by the Province Chief. They had planned a luncheon to honor their new comrade in arms.

I had to remind the intelligence officer several times of the quid pro quo – they owed us an intelligence read out.

The intelligence officer spoke privately to the Province Chief, who nodded and the intelligence officer, the prisoner, an interpreter and I entered a side room.

I spread my map on the table. The intelligence officer explained the promised intelligence owed the Blackhorse Regiment; and the prisoner took my grease pencil and carefully marked the locations of the units of the Battalion on the map.

I had to request transportation back to the air field. In due course a jeep and driver showed up and took me to the airfield.  As I approached the C&C bird, Doc said; “The Old Man is hot.

He has been calling for you every five minutes for the last hour.” I nodded and belted myself into the chopper seat.

The birds lifted off and head to a field location, where George Patton had a Spartan Tactical Operations Center. Located nearby in concealed assembly areas were a cavalry squadron, a mechanized infantry battalion of the U.S. 1st Division, and a Vietnamese Ranger Battalion.

Everyone was ready to converge on the enemy locations as soon as the Operations Officer could produce the order.

As we landed Colonel Patton exploded: “… it O’Meara. Where the Hell have you been? We’ve been standing around here … for three hours waiting for you.” I replied: “Yes Sir.”

He motioned me to a field table where the Operation Officer awaited the intelligence to write the order.

It took only a few minutes and the unit commanders departed at a run for their assembly areas. Soon the sound of engines starting could be heard in concealed position all around us, which was followed by dust plumes as the vehicles moved out to execute the attack.

The field table was quickly loaded into the Operations jump Command Post vehicle and I stood alone in the clearing. My ride was long gone. Colonel Patton called to me: “O’Meara you can ride with me.”

He always sat of the right side of the C&C ship directly behind his pilot, Captain Charlie Watkins. I ran around the chopper, hopped in and belted myself in. I replaced my steel helmet with a flight helmet and soon heard the Colonel telling me to let him see my map.

I handed it to him and he directed the pilot to fly in the direction of the enemy positions.

We observed the area occupied by the enemy was cut by deep ravines formed by erosion during the rainy seasons.

Colonel Patton directed the pilot to fly over the forested area of the enemy position to observe the Blackhorse units surround the enemy position.

A Chinese Communist 51 caliber MG opened fire as the chopper approached the enemy position.

The green tracers of the machine gun rounds slowly reached up towards the bird increasing velocity as they passed on either side of the chopper.

They were followed by the sound of rounds thudding at they struck their target. The engines were hit and suddenly we were without power.

Charlie Watkins maintained control of the chopper, auto-rotating the falling bird, allowing the turning blades to slow the descent of the aircraft.

He succeeded in directing the crippled bird into a clearing with a crash that damaged the chopper and shook up the occupants, but no one was seriously injured.

I asked the pilot to report our situation to the Operations Center; then pulling off my flight helmet and replacing my steel helmet I took my M16 and looked for Colonel Patton. He was gone.

We were taking small arms fire from a wood line directly ahead of the chopper. Patton was running in the direction we were receiving fire and hit the ground.

He began firing at the muzzle flashes in the tree line with his revolver. I ran after him and hit the dirt beside him.

I began placing fire on the individuals firing from the tree line with my M16. Then I turned to Colonel Patton and said: “Colonel you are the point man in the attack of the Regiment. You are the lead man in the attack.”

He replied: “Fuck you O’Meara.” Grabbing my M16 he resumed firing. I took out my 45 caliber pistol and began to place well aimed shots at the muzzle flashes of the enemy soldiers.

Looking around I observed an American mechanized infantry platoon closing on a position to our left rear.

I told Colonel Patton to hold up the attack until I could get some reinforcements; and I ran in the direction of the infantry platoon.

They spotted me and recognized me as a friendly. I spotted the platoon leader’s track and climbed up the front slope of the vehicle.

Squatting beside the platoon leader I told him that the Regimental Commander’s chopper had been shot down; and to take his platoon and provide cover for the commander and the downed chopper.

The platoon leader issued orders to his platoon over the radio and following his lead they headed in the direction of the downed chopper. 

After he had positioned his M113 vehicles in defensive positions on either side of the downed aircraft, I told him to report to the Regimental Commander. 

The chopper crew had set up the M60 MG (C&C door guns) in the bottom of the ravine by the time the infantry platoon leader reported to the Regimental Commander.

It was beginning to get late in the day and the shadows were lengthening as the sun began to set. Patton turned to the infantry platoon leader and the platoon sergeant and said the enemy is holding up in the ravine on the right side of the chopper.

He told them: “I have set up an ambush at the base of the ravine. Take your platoon to the head of the ravine and drive the enemy into our ambush.”

The lieutenant’s eyes opened wide as he turned to his platoon sergeant, whose eyes were just as large. It was a difficult challenge. It was beginning to get dark and driving the NVA soldiers from their prepared defensive positions was no small challenge. Patton sensed the problem.

He drew his .357 magnum revolver and said: “Follow me.” Leading the platoon to the head of the ravine, he led the way as they made their way down into the vegetation that had overgrown the ravine.

Remaining on high ground, I observed the platoon as they made their way down the ravine. I positioned myself opposite the point man of the patrol, allowing me to observe enemy movement ahead of the patrol. I called out: “Hold what you’ve got.

There is movement ahead of you. Throw grenades.” Two grenades were thrown into the brush ahead of the patrol, which exploded with resounding concussions.

When the smoke cleared, I called out again: “It’s clear. Continue moving.”

Following the progress of the infantry from the high ground, I again spotted enemy movement.

Again I called out: “Hold up. There’s more movement ahead. Throw grenades.”

Again two grenades sailed down the ravine and exploded with devastating explosions.

The American M26 Grenade is highly lethal and the enemy was evidently terrified. They feared our grenades would detonate the rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), which they planned to fire into the infantry platoon.

There was no sign of enemy movement. I called out a second time that it was clear. And the platoon proceeded down the ravine.

I spotted movement again and called out to hold up and throw grenades again, which they did. The detonations resounded through the ravine.

When the smoke cleared there were no signs of enemy movement. I called out the all clear and they completed the movement to the base of the ravine.

I have no idea how many enemy soldiers were killed in the movement down the ravine, but when they reached the base of the ravine they found a wounded enemy soldier. Climbing down into the ravine, I joined Patton and the platoon.

That wounded enemy soldier was shouting: “Lou Dang. Lou Dang.” Patton asked, “What’s the problem.” I pointed to an RPG beside him and said; “He is warning us of the danger of the RPG.”

A medical evacuation helicopter had arrived on the scene. Two medics helped us load the enemy soldier on a stretcher. The medics positioned themselves at the front of the stretcher.

Charlie Watkins and I took up positions at the rear of the litter to make our way up the steep slope of the ravine. Before we could lift the stretcher, Patton drew himself to a position of attention and saluted the enemy soldier, who had fought against us.

And the enemy soldier lying on his back on the litter returned the salute. It was a mark of respect between two soldiers.

Then we began the steep ascent up the slope to the medical evacuation chopper. It was hard going and Charlie and I had most of the weight at the bottom of the litter.

After some heavy lifting we made it to the top of the ravine and the medical team took charge of the wounded soldier. I was soaking wet with sweat and blood.

Patton’s damaged chopper had been evacuated and a replacement helicopter stood ready for the use of the Regimental Commander.

Patton thanked the platoon leader and his platoon sergeant and we made our way to the replacement chopper.

As I belted myself into the seat and put on my flight helmet, I realized that I was soaking wet, covered with blood, sand and muck. 

As the pilot lifted the bird directly up out of the clearing the prop wash chilled us. In the western sky we could see a thin blood red line on the horizon as the sun set.

I was shivering like a leaf. And my knees were shaking. For the first time, I realized that we had had a very close call.

The Regimental Commander turned to me with a broad grin and said: “That was better than sex.” And he slapped me on the thigh. I managed a weak smile in return.

The pilot picked up a heading for the Regimental Headquarters, when we cleared the trees surrounding the clearing.

Patton was in his element. He was a fearless warrior – a man among men. Patton intuitively recognized that as long as we maintained suppressive fire and pressed the enemy, he had no freedom of maneuver.

Pressing the enemy became a protective shield for Patton and the soldiers under his command. It characterized Patton’s method of operation.

We learned from prisoners that the enemy taught their soldiers never to engage a Blackhorse vehicle because the Blackhorse never breaks contact.

It was the ultimate compliment to the man, who taught the Regiment to find the bastards, then pile on – Colonel George S. Patton, III.

Source: Andy O’Meara

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