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"Jolly Green Giant", Pleiku, Vietnam, 1967.

"Jolly Green Giant", Pleiku, Vietnam, 1967. (Dennis O. McGee/National Archives)

The battle raged for more than eight hours as every inch of jungle was fought for dearly, with sweat and machetes flying.

The hand-to-hand combat through this tough mountainous terrain is a battle in itself. Elements of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division engaged in Operation Sam Houston west of Pleiku are fighting two wars.

The war against the north Vietnamese Army elements has subsided somewhat after much bitter fighting at the start of the operation, but the war against the jungle is something the infantrymen have to contend with every day.

The two forces facing the 4th Infantry Division combined to fight the U.S. troops when the operation began. In the initial battle at a small landing zone a company and artillery battery faced an estimated NVA battalion.

The heavy jungle provided excellent coverage for the NVA soldiers who were attempting to overrun the small U.S. force holding the landing zone. Even after trees were knocked down near the landing zone they were used for cover by the enemy.

Even air strikes could not move the NVA out of the battle area until the battalion had been almost wiped out. After the battle, one of the captured prisoners was discovered to be a company commander in the Red battalion.

When questioned as to why they had stayed and fought to almost the last man he replied, “We had a misson.” When asked what that mission was he said, “To search out and destroy an American company, to kill them all.”

More than 90 enemy bodies were counted around the perimeter of the landing zone, but intelligence reported 400 new graves just on the other side of the Cambodian border.

Since that battle, the NVA have been hard to find, but the jungle is always there, and it must be fought first in order to find the other enemy. In this battle the jungle is just as formidable as the other enemy. Its triple canopies, dense undergrowth and bamboo are constantly fighting the infantrymen as they try to move.

It also forces the men to carry extra rations, extra water, extra ammo, shovels and axes in addition to their normal gear, for in this jungle, landing zones for supply helicopters are few and far between.

It is unbearably hot during the day and cold at nlight. It has its ever-aggravating mosquitoes, red ants and bugs that seem to love human flesh. The jungle also effectively hides the deadly enemy which has been hard to find.

It is hard for the infantrymen to move for a full day through the jungle as they must take frequent breaks and stop early to dig in for the night. The 4th Inf. Div's 2d Brigade, is known for its well-built bunkers —everyone have overhead cover.

They also try to claim a little part of the jungle each night as they cut down enough trees to make a small drop zone in case they need emergency supply or in case they need to evacuate wounded.

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