A weary company fights on with rifles, grenades, guts

Soldiers carry a wounded comrade through a swampy area, 1969.


By BOB HODIERNE | Stars and Stripes | Published: August 15, 2019

HIEP DUC VALLEY, Vietnam — The fighting here is a very close, personal, infantry fight.

The valley bottom is dried terraces, each terrace three of four feet higher or lower than the one next to it. Around each of these tiny fields are thick hedgerows. And in the middle of the hedgerows are ditches and bunkers — ditches and bunkers that you just know Charlie is in.

Bravo Co., 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Division knows it. They were here when it all started last week and have been chewed up and chewed up again until Thursday morning they numbered only 73 men and two officers.

Thursday evening, when the fighting was over, they would number only 46 men and one officer.

Thursday morning Bravo Co. moved slowly forward — forward being the direction they had to move — to join Marines fighting from the other end of the valley. The Marines were just a few hundred meters ahead and everyone hoped this time they might find nothing in between.

At 11 a.m. two machine guns, two AK47 and anM79 grenade launcher blew that hope away.

Pinned down in the late morning sun, a very hot sun, Bravo had a man killed, a new guy, and 13 others wounded or nearly unconscious as a result of the heat. Heat that sometimes reaches 120 degrees.

Carefully they pulled back, leaving the body of the new guy, to evacuate their wounded.

By 2 p.m. the 61 men of Bravo Co. were ready to move back into the same area. No one really wanted to go. They just wanted to sit in the shade and be left alone.

The commander, Capt. William H. Gayler, explained the situation. There would be no helicopter gunship support. The gunships had more important things to do than support Bravo Co. Air and artillery couldn't be used because the Marines were too close. They had no mortars. The infantryman, with his rifle and grenade, was expected to dig out the North Vietnamese.

Wearily, Bravo moved forward again — only to be pinned down almost at once. Low crawling ahead, the first 15 men were cut off from the rest of the company. Men who had been tired for days, men with no water, men who were really scared, were on their own.

The man nearest the cut off group was told to carry grenades forward to them. He refused, crawled back and asked the medic for pills for his nerves. While hiding back with the wounded, the nervous soldier was wounded by an M79 grenade round fired by the NVA.

While the rest of the company lay pinned down and helpless, the point group fought it out with Charlie. Late in the afternoon, just as darkness was coming, the point men managed to escape, crawling a few meters back to the rest of the company.

Four more Americans were dead — their bodies still forward.

The company threw out tear gas and looking like monsters in their gas masks, tried to advance against the enemy to recover the bodies. They managed to get just one of them. Five more NVA were dead and two captured M60 machine guns destroyed.

As night fell, the company straggled back to find a place to sleep.

Friday morning, more tired than Thursday morning, but now only 47 strong, Bravo knew they would have to go back in to get the bodies.