Units Involved: 1st Infantry Division, under the command of Major General John H. Hay
At the beginning of Operation Shenandoah II, the 2/28 was under the operational control (OPCON) of the First Brigade of the First Infantry Division. The First Brigade was commanded by Colonel Newman.
Major Battles involving B Company during Operation Shenandoah II: Ong Thanh, Loc Ninh Airstrip, Bu Dop
The battalion, actually a "battallion minus," under the command of Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Terry Allen, Jr., consisted of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), Recon Platoon, under the command of Lt. Irwin; Alpha Company, under command of Captain Jim George, Bravo Company, under the command of Captain Jim Kasik, and Delta Company, under the command of First Lieutenant (1 Lt.) Albert Clark Welch. Charlie Company, under the command of Captain Tom Reese, was detached to Fire Support Base "Caisson V," protecting the 15th Field Artillery unit near Chon Thanh. The 15th Field Artillery unit was our supporting artillery.
The battle of Ong Thanh took place on October 17, 1967, during Operation Shenandoah II. The Second Battalion, 28th Infantry (2/28) had been "in the field" a couple of miles west of the village of Chon Thanh since October 8th. The information on the battle of Ong Thanh, and the events leading up to the battle, are from notes written by LTC Jim Kasik, (retired) in 1990. Jim Kasik was a Captain and the company commander of Bravo Company at the time of Operation Shenandoah II.
Here then, are Lt. Colonel Jim Kasik's notes regarding the battle of Ong Thanh. The notes are in chronological order:
7 Oct 1967 - Battalion airmobiled to Chon Thanh via CH-47's [Chinook Helicopters] and then conducted a large scale airmobile in "slicks." Intelligence was very firm that the 271st V.C. Main Force Regiment was in the immediate area. The Black Lion air assault was expected to go into a " hot" LZ, therefore we had a small platoon of reporters with us. I even remember a woman in a black jumpsuit (I think she was from Life). The LZ had been hit with a B-52 strike that evening (prior) and then by the standard 1st Div. [TAC air, artillery, and gunships] prepatory fire. The LZ was not hot, much to the chagrin of the press; they left that evening on the resupply "hooks" [Chinooks]. Because of the rearrangement of the landscape by the B-52's, the NDP [night defensive position] was sited further south than planned [See Map]. Because of the marshes and flooding in the area directly west, all operations were in the North, East, and South directions. I remember sending out an ambush patrol to the west (having been told to do so). They spent the night in a lot of water. After that, B Company's ambushes were sent out on the other side of the NDP perimeter, in another company's area.
8 Oct - I don't remember much of this day. We were probably still clearing fields of fire and digging in with either single company or platoon size patrols going out. There also may have been an operation to remove a rice cache that was found on the way in - but I'm not sure.
9 Oct - S&D (Search and Destroy patrol). D Company lead, B company trail (follow). Small command element headed by a Lieutenant (Lt.) from Battalion S-3 accompanied us. LTC Allen wanted them with us so that he would have the capability to land his OH-13 and be with units on the ground if a clearing were available. Heavy V.C. contact was made at the area shown on the map. D Company went in and pressed it, we (B Company) maneuvered up on their right flank until we started to take some fire, and held our positions. D Company took as many as 10 WIA to include an ARVN Captain who was with us as a guide or "advisor." He was a spunky little guy and was hit in the groin. I remember him giving me the thumbs up as he came by on the stretcher. D Company was ordered back to the NDP. The small battalion command unit element also went back but had not been told to do so. B Company pulled back and after a heavy prep [of artillery fire] went back into the area about 200 meters east of the original contact. We ran smack into the V.C. Our point man [Specialist 4th Class (SP4) William Anderson] was shot through the chest at point blank range and died before a dust off could get in. Lt. Fortneberry [call sign "Two-Six"] and an NCO [Sgt. Don Koch] crawled up in front of a bunker and pulled his body out. All hell was breaking loose - a lot of V.C.'s firing from the trees, etc. We called in artillery fire so close that shrapnel was flying through the trees into our area. We were ordered to pull back and return to the NDP. A lot of V.C.'s firing from the trees this day. We could see the green tracers coming down on us.
10 Oct - I think A Company and Recon Platoon conducted patrol east of the preceding day's contact [See map. I'm pretty sure B and D were in the NDP.
11 Oct - I think B Company lead and D Company trailed. We got into the biggest base camp I have ever seen [See map]. It was recently used and in good repair but otherwise unoccupied. LTC Allen radioed that "each bunker gets a grenade." We ran out of grenades rapidly. I remember joking with Lt. Welch that we'd have to put in a rail line and haul box cars of grenades in. The area was well camouflaged and the VC had cooking sites that had trenches covered with branches and such to dissipate the smoke. Several wells had also been dug in the area and I remember dropping smoke grenades into them.
12 Oct - D Company, Recon, and perhaps A Company went back into the large base camp [See map]. I think LTC Allen went with them on the ground for the first time. In fact I am almost sure of it, because I remember a medic looking at a sore on his ankle that evening that had given him problems. A lot of signs were found but no VC. That night an ambush patrol that was relatively close to the NDP opened fire on an undermined VC force hat some believed had followed the companies back to the NDP.
13 Oct - B Company lead, A Company trail. We went out southeast and got into another base camp that had been B-52'd [See map]. It was hard going with a lot of trees down, etc. B Company crossed a perpendicular trail and continued on. As A Company was crossing, Captain George saw a V.C. down the trail and ran after him with his command group throwing grenades and shooting. They evidently wounded him, but he escaped, leaving his AK-47 as a trophy for Captain George. I think Jim had it sent to a museum around his home town of Spartanburg, S.C. Anyway, we all had some good laughs about it at the evening commanders meeting.
14 Oct - Moved on foot to site of new NDP [See map]. This was the NDP of 17 Oct. I believe the order of march was Recon, A Company, B Company, D Company. D Company did have some light contact and dropped off a stay-behind ambush. No further contact that I recall.
15 Oct - Things were really getting tense. We had seen a lot of V.C. signs and there were numerous small contacts, firefights, claymorings, etc. that I have omitted. Although tense, in general the troops felt we could handle whatever we ran into since the battalion had been doing well. B Company and Recon Platoon did a S&D patrol south of the new NDP [See map]. I'm fairly sure Recon was in the lead (that was their normal place). We discovered a kind of trail that was really spooky. It was in solid jungle and consisted of broken saplings to your left and right as you walked down it. If you were not directly between the broken small trees, you would totally miss it. I think it was a marker system used by the V.C. to move at night. We followed this trail for a distance very carefully and came to a larger, more prominent trail. Recon clover-leafed the area and discovered a V.C. rucksack or pack sitting against a tree. We set up a hasty ambush (Recon with B Company supporting) and pretty soon two or three V.C. appeared walking north. Recon opened up and hit at least one, however the other drug him out of sight. I'm fairly certain Lt. Irwin has the V.C.'s sandals as he was literally shot out of them and they were quite bloody. I've still got the canteen he dropped. Our route called for us to break east at this point which is what we did rather than proceeding further south - perhaps avoiding the fate of D and A Companies two days later. There was some talk of continuing south, but since it was basically a single company force, LTC Allen opted against it and took a larger force in later. The area had obviously seen a lot of use by the V.C., but so had all the other areas we had been in. D and A Companies were in the NDP this day working on positions and conducting small close-in patrols.
16 Oct - Search and Destroy. Delta lead, Bravo trail. Route further to the east [See map]. In some ways what happened this day was almost a preview. We had a group of Kit Carson Scouts - Vietnamese Irregulars led by a U.S. Army Captain. He was a solid soldier. I remember talking to him and he telling me what a fine group of people he had as they all looked after one another. He talked of his hope to earn an award for valor, but didn't see much chance of it since he had what most considered a rag-tag group of irregulars. It sounds corny, but the officer and enlisted people were for the most part a highly motivated bunch of folks and placed a lot of reliance and faith on one another. Anyway, he and his group were on the point and picking up all kinds of signs. There was a fairly sizeable contact and he and his group moved forward to "feel things out." Al Welch told me later in the day that as he moved up, he turned to Al and said "Well it looks like the sons-a-bitches are tryin' to kill us again." They did. He took a round through the head shortly thereafter as all hell broke loose. B Company tightened up on Delta's trail platoon and held our fire. We were laying low on the ground when one of the platoon leaders, I think it was Three-Six, Lt. Bracey (a fine and courageous black officer) radioed that he saw movement to his right flank. We got the word up and down to hold fire until we saw something. All of a sudden, a group of V.C. materialized moving right toward us. I'm talking a distance of 20 to 25 yards - fleeting glimpses through the trees. We opened fire and shot them up pretty good. I remember one of the V.C. throwing a grenade that hit a tree and bounced back toward them. They stopped firing and disappeared into the jungle. I rapidly got the company to cease fire because there were not real targets and more importantly, I believe they were trying to feel their way up our flank and find a week spot or break. They seemed to key on our fire and work their way around it, so it was best to let them commit and key on them when they presented a moving image through the foliage.
Shortly there after, we got the word to pull back as air and artillery continued to pound the area. I can remember even using the company 81 MM mortars [which were with weapons platoon - 4th platoon - back at the NDP, where they were dug in and waiting to assist] to saturate the area I thought the V.C. had gone. We reversed direction and my trail platoon became point and D Company followed me back to the NDP without further contact. I remember seeing the Kit Carson Scouts carrying their captain's body, wrapped in a poncho and slung under a pole. They were crossing the small stream that ran down the draw [this was probably the Ong Thanh]. The Kit Carson Scouts were evacuated that afternoon and I remember the Vietnamese saying there were "many V.C. out there." That evening at the commanders meeting, orders were issued to go back into the area of contact (of 15 October) and to proceed further south. I do not recall anyone protesting the route. If my memory serves me correctly, the criticism involving the route generated after 17 October and a lot of it came from the rear echelon types. Yes, the route was similar to mine of the 15th, however, I think it was more to the wet or east. In any case, it was not identical.
17 Oct - A Company lead, Delta trail. [See map] Battalion Commander and command group on the ground. LTC Allen, Sgt. Major Dowling, Captain Blackwell the Battalion S-2, and others also in the column. Division photographer and other Public Affairs types also along from Division Headquarters. Recon Platoon screened the area west of NDP. B Company was NDP security, which involved security wihtin the NDP itsself, and manning two to three man observation posts 100 to 200 meters from the NDP, plus seven to eight man [squad size] "combat outpost" approximately 1000 yards northeast of the NDP. The combat outpost was LTC Allen's method for dealing with an area he perceived as a possible threat.
My recollection of the 17th is not as good as it should be, probably because all that took place over the next 36 hours or so. II'll give it my best shot:
About mid-morning we (in the NDP) began to hear firing from the ‘recon-in-force' patrol and I remember hearing Jim George (Alpha 6) and LTC Allen (Dauntless 6) over the radio. Alpha 6 was receiving fire from his front and was deploying people to try and "develop the situation" based on guidance from Dauntless 6. I still remember the strange feeling I had because I thought at the time that "it sounds llike we're not going to pull back this time, but rather ‘take it to them.'" Somewhat later, no more than 30 to 40 minutes, the sound of firing really got intense and Alpha 6 was reporting taking heavy fire ffrom V.C. on the ground and in the trees as well as Chicom claymore mines being detonated around them at close range. There was a report that the S-2 had been wounded in the back or shoulder and was being attended to. LTC Allen radioed later that he was O.K., his wound not being critical. The rest of the command group seemed to be functioning normally. About noon or perhaps sooner, transmissions from Alpha 6 became very distressed. He had a lot of wounded, including himself [Captain Jim George, a.k.a. Alpha 6, had been blinded by pellets from the blast of a Chicom claymore mine. The blast had also had a detrimental effect on his hearing] and he was not in contact with all of his elements. Shorlty thereafter, Delta 6 [Lt. Welch] reported heavy fire from the trees and from the flanks. To my recollection, LTC Allen was still in control. In fact, I think he was still on the radio after both Alpha 6 and Delta 6 had been hit. It was sometime after noon that LTC Allen was reported hit. Either Sgt. Major Dowling or their kilo [radio operator] reported LTC Allen's being wounded. Now, the stange thing that began to happen was the lack of radio transmissions coming out of the contact area. There was no lack of radio transmissions from the C&C [command and control] helicopters that were orbiting in droves, but on the ground the radio's silence became deafening. About 1300 - 1330, the Battalion S-3, Major Jim Sloan [Sloan had replaced Major Jim Shelton who went to Division G-3] issued orders to me to assemble my company (minus the security forces - the listening posts and the combat outposts) and move down the western side of the draw while recon was to screen the eastern side. I was to assist A and D Companies. After leaving behind the listening posts and combat outposts, B Company consisted of 45 - 55 men and about 5 or 6 PRC-25 radios. We moved south and about 100 yards outside the NDP I met Jim George being helped back. I asked him what I could do to help him and he said, "Help get my people out of there." We moved down the west side of the draw. My Kilos knew that this was a bad situation and began arming themselves to the teeth with M-16, smoke and frag grenades, extra bandoliers, etc. from troops who were making their way in small groups to the NDP (you know it is serious when RTO's start taking on extra weight). Three quarters of the way down the draw, we came upon a black soldier who must have weighed 110 pounds carrying a white (180 pound) trooper on his back. The black soldier had been shot through the ankle and the white soldier had a head wound. We told him it would be easieer going in the open area of the draw but he replied that he thought there wre V.C. over there. I told him we had security forces on the other side so it was O.K. now. He picked up his burden and headed north towards the NDP. As I got to the southern end of the draw, I was told to hold there, set up a defensive perimeter and provide cover and assistance to troops coming back.
An OH-13 had landed as I was moving up and I heard close in gunfire. The OH-13 was idling on the ground when I approached it and my third platoon Sgt. - Sgt. Nelson and a couple of soldiers were putting a body into the passenger side. I said, "Who the hell is that?" He was obviously dead, wet and covered with mud. Sgt. Nelson responded that "some major just landed here and told us to go running into the jungle with him. We told him there were V.C. out there, but he said ‘Come on.' He got about thirty yards and they nailed him." I think I found out who he was when Colonel Newman arrived and asked if Major Holleder was in the area. Major Holleder was the Brigade S-3. [Holleder had been an All-American football player at West Point, so his death made big new back in the U.S.] The OH-13 took off with the body and things got suddenly quiet - very few soldiers were coming back by now. I remember thinking that if the V.C. were determined to go for the NDP (it had been under sniper fire earlier) we would be in a hurt. Colonel Newman [Brigade Commander] arrived shortly and issued orders to expand my position by putting platoons in various sectors while we awaited the arrival of C Company, who would lead the way through into the contact area. So, I spread my platoons even thinner and began popping smoke like mad to mark our positions [so that the Airforce, who were now flying bombing sorties into our area to help protect us, would know where our positions were]. This popping of smoke may have led the V.C. to believe that a large relief force had already arrived, as the main fighting ceased, with only a very sporadic sniper shot now and then. At about 1500, Captain Tom Reese arrived with C Company in full force. We moved south, C Company lead, B Company trailed. In the main contact area to the south of us, Private Joe Costello was wounded but able to move around. He had found a radio that had the antennae half shot off. A seriously wounded RTO, Private Grider [he had a sucking chest wound] gave Costello the Battalion frequency. Costello got on the radio and started calling for help. The only person that could hear him was General Coleman, from First Division Headquarters, who was circling overhead in a helicopter. This was the first indication to anyone that there were still people left alive in the main contact area. We made it to this area, where the majority of the dead and wounded were, and we established a perimeter. Bravo Company was in the eastern half of the perimeter. I got the platoons in position. I remember putting a machine gun team in position and giving them a sector, several dead soldiers from Battalion were laying near by. I found the S-2's body laid neatly on a stretcher, his wounds dressed, except for the bullet hole in his forehead (Captain Blackwell, a fine soldier). It was obvious that the VC had come through and shot what wounded they could. Perhaps 15 to 20 yards south was an ant hill behind which were the Battalion Commander, the Sergeant Major, and their Kilo's. All were dead. From the way they were laying it appears they had been oriented to the east. The majority of the dead and wounded were still further south and west although some were widely scattered. More people were coming down from the NDP and I think some engineers were landing at the south end of the draw, where Major Holleder was killed [the engineers were going to clear a bigger area to get Dust Off helicopters in]. The dead and wounded were initially carried back to this site for evacuation, but this was impossible because of the numbers and the distance. Captain Carl S. Kizer had come down with some Headquarters Company people and grabbed anybody who had a chain saw and began cutting out the hole that allowed OH-13 helicopters, and later, Huey "slicks," to land closer to us and carry out the dead and wounded. I remember taking LTC Allen's map lest it be left for the V.C. I believe LTC Allen and Captain Blackwell's bodies were carried back to the draw and evacuated from there.
I guess I could go in more detail but it would serve no purpose. The important thing was the bravery and courage that was shown that day and many other days thereafter. The Black Lions came back quickly and fought with tenacity and valor at such places as Loc Ninh, Bu Dap, the Tet Offensive and many others.
A few points:
Opinion - (mine only): The unit should have used more standard 1st Infantry Division tactics. Locate the enemy, pull back and pound him with artillery, rather than trying to go at him in a ground fight. It may be that there was no choice in the matter once contact was made. There may simply have been too many V.C. I don't know. I was not there. We went back the next day [18 Oct] and got the rest of the bodies and equipment out. We took a few sniper rounds, that is all, and no one was wounded or killed this day. We did our job, and then got the hell out. The area was then B-52'd.
[Signed] Jim Kasik, Dauntless Bravo 6.