Welcome to Charlie Company

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Welcome to Charlie Company website.  This site is dedicated to the fine men that served with Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1966 to 1972.

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Patrols in the Vietnam War

Many soldiers operated in units that carried out patrols. Describing what they were like one patrol sergeant told Time: “I don’t know, man. You chopper in. It’s raining. People are shooting at you. You’re running, just trying to stay alive. It doesn’t matter.”

A patrol was usually lead by a “point man.” “For me,” Tim O’Brien wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “Vietnam was party love. With each step, each light-year of a second, a foot soldier is always almost dead, or so it feels and in such circumstances you can’t help but love. You love your mom and dad, the Vikings, hamburgers on the grill, your pulse, your future—everything that might be lost or never come to be. Intimacy with death carries with it a corresponding intimacy with life. Jokes are funnier, green is greener. You love the musty morning air…You love your friends in Alpha Company.” Continue reading

Ambushes and Village Searches in the Vietnam War

Finding the Viet Cong was difficult and if they suspected ones were found they were hard to determine from normal villagers. One fore SEAL who worked in the Mekong Delta told the Washington Post, “It was literally pin the tail on the donkey. Half the time you ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.” And this led to a number of tragedies and dead civilians.

The film maker Oliver Stone fought in Vietnam and made movies about the war such as Platoon and Born on the Forth of July . He told Time: “I was in villages where villagers were killed and abused. It came from anger, fear. There were rapes, beatings and murders. I heard stories from people I was close to. You’re in a hot fire zone. A villager comes up from behind, say a sand dune. He’s surrendering, but sometimes a guy would just pull the trigger and plow him away.”

A U.S. soldier responsible for clearing out tunnels told Time, “We were passing by a monastery when mortars started flying around at us. Guys were screaming and yelling, ‘Mom!’ I was 18 years old. I was scared. I had a rocket launcher, and I fired it into the monastery. It went quiet. When we went in to look, there were a lot of dead. A French priest and some nuns.”

Sgt. Major Len Koontz told the Washington Post he had drank some water from a well where dead bodies had been dumped and came down with a severe case of diarrhea. His best friend Zach took his position. “We got ambushed . Zach got shot in the leg and falls. ‘Lenny, come and get me! But I’m getting shot at too, and I can’t move because I have the runs so bad. They shot him again and again, and he’s calling for me to come and get him, and I can’t move.”

Koontz told the Washington Post, “Consequently, Zach died of course.” Soon afterwards another friend Shelton,” took “a 50, caliber round in the stomach. As he’s falling, he takes another one in the head. A fierce firefight takes place, and I couldn’t get him out of there. He was alone, dead…In the morning we get reinforced and go back up with two platoons. Shelton isn’t there anymore.. they took his body and stripped it and mutilated him and stuck him in the middle of the a bomb carter.”

Search and Destroy Mission in the Mekong Delta 

Describing the Batangan Peninsula in Quang Ngai province Time O’Brien wrote in the New York Times: “The Graveyard we called it. Littered with land mines, almost completely defoliated, this spit of land jutting eastward into the South China Sea was a place Alpha Company feared the way others might fear snakes, or the dark, or the bogey man. We lost at least three men here; I couldn’t begin to count the arms and legs.”

On the Batangan Peninsula O’Brien’s company battled the 48th Viet Cong Battalion. “It was the 48th that Alpha Company chased from village to village, paddy to paddy, during my entire tour in Vietnam,” he wrote. “Chased but never found. They found us: ambushes, sniper fire, nighttime mortar attacks.”

The commander of the 48th, Ngu Duc Tan, a man with sixteen battle scars scattered around his body, later told O’Brien, “U.S. troops not hard to see, not hard to fight. Much noise, much equipment. Big columns. Nice green uniforms.”

To make the searching easier, the Americans dug canals to drain the swamps and used napalm and herbicides to clear the vegetation. Describing an area in northern part of the Mekong River, one former Viet Cong fighter told National Geographic, “The Plain of Reeds was an ideal hiding place. We were not afraid of anything but chemical warfare. Then we were helpless.”

Taking Fire on a Search and Destroy Mission Near Khe Sanh

Describing a search-and-destroy mission in Khe Sanh, platoon commander Andrew DeBona told the Washington Post, “Mike Company was used as screening patrol force. We’d usually work out from the combat base and conduct six-to-seven day patrols looking for the NVA or any sign of them…We were in our forth or fifth day…The plan was to have two platoons, 1st and 3rd…conduct a large semi-circle sweep operation. The terrain was largely elephant grass that varied in length form waist to shoulder height. The area we were sweeping towards was somewhat wooded…The 2nd Platoon, along with the section of 81-mm mortars, remained in our night defensive position [as ] the reaction force if we made contact.”

After “smelling” the enemy and finding flattened elephant grass that was slowly rising, he said, “I said, ‘Oh man…Keep your eyes opened. Keep moving.’ We hadn’t gone more than another 20 steps when all hell broke loose. Rounds were zipping everywhere….The really nasty twelve-sevens [.51 caliber machine guns] normally used for anti-aircraft—when those thing are coming at you it sound like the biggest bullwhip, and they were snapping all around.”

The man in front took a bullet in a grenade on his belt, “and suddenly there’s this tremendous flash and plume of white smoke…he’s screaming and thrashing around because this thing is burning him [and] there’s mass confusion.” “I had an M-16 in each hand. I said, ‘C’mon, we’ve got to find those missing guys.’ We went booming back up there and we found all of them…deader than a doornail. All five of them were within 10 or 15 feet of one another. It was like a shooting gallery for the bad guys.”

Search and Destroy Missions

Much of the grunt work done by American GIs involved search and destroy missions, in which soldiers, often dropped off by helicopter, hunted for Viet Cong guerrillas or NVA regulars to protect villages and slow infiltration. Many search and destroy missions took place in the Mekong Delta, where patrol boats were used like helicopters to deliver troops and draw enemy fire.

There were very few conventional battles in Vietnam and much of the fighting took place during search-and-destroy missions in which American GIs were frequently ambushed by Viet Cong guerrillas who found many good hiding places in the lush jungles, swamps and high grass, moved freely at night, and often received food and assistance from local villagers.

On November 2, 1962, David Halberstam wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “recently American and Vietnamese officials, in an attempt to change the pattern of the war with the north, designed a new tactic: The idea was to strike quickly into the heart of the mountains, defy the laws of guerilla warfare (the laws say you don’t attack the enemy unless you have a 7-to-1 manpower edge, but heck it should be more like 10-to-1), hit a larger enemy force by surprise, tear him—and run like hell.”

American units were constantly harassed by sniper fire. Describing a sniper attack, in 1967, Tom Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “The siesta ended with the buzz-buzz-buzz of bullets passing close and the crack of distant rifles. ‘Snipers!’ someone shouted. The men in the squad rolled over cautiously. They put on their helmets and reached for their rifles. From the other side of the big house Bennet shouted: ‘Here, here!’ The squad followed the sound. It came from a hut that looked as though it were about to fall down. The child, a girl of around 2, was held tightly by her mother. She was a thin, worn woman, barefoot…Here eyes were expressionless…In her face was only intense fatigue.”

Free-Fire Zones

Free-fire zones were places pounded with artillery or annihilated with napalm and bombs in an effort to drive out the enemy. American soldiers were authorized to shoot at anything that moved. Large swaths of the Mekong Delta, believed to be dominated by the Viet Cong, were declared free-fire zones. Some places were described as “Wild Wes-like shooting galleries.”

Villagers in free-fire zones were encouraged to move to “strategic hamlets,” but often they didn’t want to because their families had lived in their home villages for generations and they were afraid of losing them. If the staid they could be regarded as “target of opportunity” and fired upon.

The policy of village destruction, heavy bombardment, free-fire zones, “relocation” of peasants and other indignities created hundreds of thousands of displaced people and wounded. In Quang Ngai, the province that surrounded My Lai, 70 percent of the villages had been destroyed by B-52 bombs, bulldozers, napalm, artillery fire, lighters and matches, gun fire and other means. Some 40 percent of the population lived in refugee camps and civilian casualties were in the neighborhood of 50,000 a year.

“The wreckage was all around us,” Tim O’Brien in the New York Times wrote, so common it seemed part of the geography, as natural as any mountain or river. Wreckage was the rule. Brutality was S.O.P. Scaled children, pistol-whipped women, burning hootches, free-fire zones, body counts, indiscriminate bombing and harassment fire, villages in ash, M-60 machine guns hosing down dark tree lines and any human life behind them.”

Mao Guerilla Tactics and Spider Holes

The Viet Cong used tactics pioneered—or at least used effectively—by Mao Zedong and the Red Army in China in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Mao was a great spokesman for guerilla tactics. “The guerilla,” he wrote, “must move among people as a fish swims in the sea.” He said guerilla tactics are what “a nation inferior in arms and military equipment may employ against a more powerful transgressor.” On guerilla tactics themselves, he wrote:. “They consist mainly of the following points: Divide our forces to arouse the masses, concentrate our forces to deal with the enemy…Arouse the largest number of the masses in the shortest possible time.”

The Red Army had a great deal of success by following tactics outlined in the following slogans: “When the enemy advances, we retreat. When the enemy halts and encamps, we harass him. When the enemy seeks to avoid battle, we attack. Whenever the enemy retreats, we pursue.” The highly mobile Red Army attacked quickly with a sudden concentration of force and then quickly dispersed after the attack was over.

Large battles against forces that outnumbered them were avoided at all costs. Communists in unfriendly territory operated underground and in cells and through united front operations. When a military operation was taken it aimed to follow classic Maoist insurgency theory: overrun police outpost and remote military bases; let the state overreact with human rights abuses; capitalize on the resulting public anger over the abuses to gain support and win new recruits.

Mao was not a great military tactician but he was able to surround himself with talented military minds. He also realized that one of the greatest underutilized military assets was women. Jiang Jee was young female revolutionary who was killed in fighting the Nationalists and made into a martyr.

The North Vietnamese employed spider holes in Vietnam War. “It was very common for Japanese troops to dig very small, one-man concealed foxholes,” William L. Priest, who wrote Swear Like a Trooper: A Dictionary of Military Terms and Phrases, told the Washington Post. The man in the spider hole would wait for an enemy soldier to pass by and then would pop up, often shooting the soldier in the back. “It’s a suicide mission,” Priest says. “Take out as many men as you can from behind before you’re taken out.” The phrase was also used in Vietnam to describe similar underground sniping holes used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, according to the US army Military History Institute. [Source: Washington Post]