Operation Masher 1966

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Peter H
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Operation Masher 1966

Postby Peter H » 01 Oct 2008 10:03

Graveyard' at LZ 4: Battle of Cu Nghi: on the Bong Son Plain between Jan. 28-31, 1966, battalions of the 7th and 12th Cavalry, 1st Cav Division, won a hard-fought round with the NVA and VC

Article by Al Hemingway,VFW Magazine,January 2004


As a misty rain fell on the morning of Jan. 28, 1966, the drone of a hundred helicopters, carrying soldiers from the 7th Cavalry into the southern end of the Bong Son Plain, pierced the silent gray skies. This movement was the opening for Operation Masher (later continued as White Wing), a determined effort to eliminate the enemy presence in the fertile An Lao Valley.

At a meeting held on Jan. 13, top American, South Korean and South Vietnamese commanders had devised a classic hammer and anvil operation to rid southern Quang Ngai Province and the northeast quadrant of Binh Dinh Province of Communists.

Binh Dinh was a hotbed of enemy activity. The South Vietnamese had just about given up on ever pacifying the area. That was the main reason why the joint allied operation was formulated--to gain control of this important region.

On Jan. 25, three days prior to the start of the operation, Col. Harold Moore's 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cav Division (5,700 men) prepared to strike at its objectives. However, tragedy beset the cavalrymen. A C-123 Provider aircraft mysteriously slammed into a mountainside near An Khe, killing all aboard. All told, 46 men, including the entire crew of the plane, were lost. "The bodies were badly torn," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Mertel. "It was not as bad to get killed on the battlefield, if one had to."

Meanwhile, Moore met with Special Forces Project Delta leader Maj. Charles "Chargin Charlie" Beckwith to discuss the operation. Beckwith's all-American teams were to patrol northwest of the 1st Cav, in the An Lao Valley.

In a 'Hornet's Nest'

On Jan. 28, soon after takeoff, enemy gunfire struck a C-47 Chinook, causing it to crash at Landing Zone (LZ) Papa. A company from 1st Bn., 7th Cav, responded to protect the downed bird. When it encountered heavy fire, the remainder of the battalion entered the fray.

To the southwest, the 2nd Bn., 7th Cav, was on the move. Two rifle platoons (minus one because of the plane crash a few days earlier) landed at LZ 2 and linked up with C Company, which had been lifted into LZ 4.

LZ 4 was close to the villages of Cu Nghi and Phung Du, which were both surrounded by palm trees, hedgerows, rice paddies and paddy dikes. Also nearby was a cemetery. Numerous mounds (the Vietnamese bury their dead in a sitting position) dotted the burial ground. Because the LZ was so close to the villages and the cemetery, there was no preparatory artillery fire.

As the first helicopters neared, the enemy let loose automatic weapons fire. The remaining choppers began to land in various locations to avoid being hit. With the company scattered, fire intensified. The cavalrymen had run into elements of the two battalions of the 22nd NVA Regiment.

Firmly entrenched in earthworks, palm groves and bamboo thickets, the NVA had C Company in a murderous crossfire. The unit was so fragmented that soldiers had a difficult time finding each other. Driving rain made air and artillery support impossible.

"We're in a hornet's nest," screamed Capt. John Fesmire on the radio to battalion headquarters.

Indeed they were. With remnants of the company strewn all over the LZ, Fesmire's troopers were cut off. A Company came to the rescue. But the NVA began pouring automatic weapons fire at the troopers as they attempted to cross a rice paddy.

"Every time you raised your head, it was zap, zap, zap," remembered 2nd Battalion commander Lt. Col. Robert McDade. "The dirt really flew."

A half dozen helicopters attempted to reinforce the beleaguered men. As the birds neared LZ 4, local Viet Cong (VC) concentrated their firepower on the vulnerable choppers. All six sustained hits; only part of one platoon of B Company could land.

As darkness approached, rain fell in torrents. The poor visibility was ideal for the enemy, who tried to infiltrate the perimeter throughout the night. "We captured two VC that night trying to breach our lines," said Pfc. Jim Hackett, A Company medic.

Deadly Duel

McDade told his men to consolidate their positions and regroup. "Sgt. Bill Bercaw went out looking for the Charlie Company guys," Hackett remembered. "He went out numerous times to find and bring them back. That was the bravest thing I saw at LZ 4. He was a real hero for doing that." Bercaw would be awarded a Bronze Star with V device for his bravery at Cu Nghi.

The next day, the rain subsided and A1-E Skyraiders and B-57 Canberra bombers struck enemy positions, relieving the pressure on McDade's men. By late morning, Moore, with a company from the 2nd Bn., 12th Cav, arrived on the scene.

As they pressed forward, the infantrymen bogged down in a deadly duel with a Communist machine gun. "My gun is jammed!" hollered Spec. 4 Steve Young. Racing back to the trench under heavy fire, he cannibalized parts from another M-60 machine gun to get his operating again. He then ran back to provide cover for the advancing soldiers.

Napalm finally eliminated the threat. "When we finally reached the machine gun, we discovered it was a .50-caliber, probably stolen from us or the French," Hackett explained. "Also, the VC manning it was an old man who had been chained to it."

Costly Victory

Soon, elements from the 1st Bn., 7th Cav, linked up with other 3rd Brigade troops and completed the sweep of the area. Most of the heavy fighting was over.

During the three-day Battle of Cu Nghi (LZ 4), 77 cavalrymen were killed and another 220 wounded. Including the 42 men of A Co., 2nd Bn., 7th Cav, and the four crewmen, 10 helicopter pilots and seven Green Berets, the grand total came to 140 Americans killed. LZ 4 rated its reputation as the "graveyard."

Maj. Bruce Crandall, commander of A Co., 229th AH Bn., earned a Distinguished Flying Cross at the LZ. His respect for the men he saved was clearly evident. "You always had great confidence in the infantry," he said.

Though the cost was high, the 1st Air Cavalry Division had driven the VC from the region. Yet as author John Prados wrote in his article "Operation Masher" (The Veteran, February/March 2002): "Within a week ... intelligence reports mentioned the adversary returning to the sector. It was no wonder that Binh Dinh Province remained problematic throughout the war?

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Peter H
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Re: Operation Masher 1966

Postby Peter H » 01 Oct 2008 10:27

Photos from Time-Life's A Contagion of War,1983

..LZ4..the command group of Company A,2nd Battalion,7th Cavalry take shelter in a ditch ..while Captain Joel Sugdinis(squatting) calls in artillery and 2nd platoon leader Lt Gordon Grove(standing) peers out towards enemy lines..
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Peter H
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Re: Operation Masher 1966

Postby Peter H » 01 Oct 2008 10:31

..under intense enemy fire,members of the 2nd Battalion,7th Cavalry,sprint past burial mounds in the village cemetery of Phung Du..


Note coconut palms,the province of Binh Dinh being Vietnam's main source of coconuts,copra,palm oil.
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Peter H
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Re: Operation Masher 1966

Postby Peter H » 01 Oct 2008 10:41

..weary and wounded soldiers of Company C rest in a trench to escape the grazing fire of North Vietnamese automatic weapons..
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Re: Operation Masher 1966

Postby Peter H » 01 Oct 2008 10:48

Wounded soldier is evacuated across a rice paddy.
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Re: Operation Masher 1966

Postby Peter H » 03 Oct 2008 11:25

"The Hardluck 2/7th Cavalry"

Time Magazine,12th August 1966

On the rosters, it is called the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry of the 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) Division. But to Viet Nam veterans who keep up on their casualty rates, it is the "hard-luck" battalion. And the hardest-luck platoon in the hard-luck battalion is the 3rd Platoon of A Company. Last January all of its men were killed when their C-123 crashed near An Khe before Operation Masher. Last week the unlucky 3rd got it again.

One afternoon the 26-man platoon was airlifted to a tiny landing zone in the northern Ia Drang Valley near the Cambodian border, where a North Vietnamese regiment had been spotted. No sooner had four of the six choppers unloaded than an enemy ambush opened up from the surrounding jungle. Most of the men were cut down in their tracks. Three overran one enemy machine-gun nest, only to be chopped up by another. "Sergeant Shockey," the platoon's first sergeant called out, "the commander's dead, and I'm dying. Take over the platoon." Moments later, Sergeant Leroy Shockey himself was felled.

Then, as suddenly as it started, the shooting stopped. As the North Vietnamese moved among the bodies lifting wallets, ammunition and weapons, Shockey played dead—through no fewer than six searches. Other North Viet namese fanned out through the jungle, looking for the five men who had slipped through the fire. "Come out, G.I.s," they shouted, "we want you." As a heavy rain swept down and the shouts drew closer, the five made a pact. "We won't surrender, right?" whispered Sergeant Willie Glaspie. "To the finish," agreed Sergeant Francisco Pablo. But the North Vietnamese gave up the search and cleared out.

The next morning, the rest of A Company arrived after an all-night march. "I cried when I saw them," Glaspie recalls. "And I cried when I saw our dead." Of the 26 platoon members, only Shockey and seven others survived. A few hours later, a chaplain arrived for a special Mass. "The smell of death was still in the air," Pablo recalls. "Spent shells were all around. And the blood had been rain-washed pink." Two days later, Pablo and Glaspie volunteered for another helicopter-infantry assault. "We ain't unlucky," Glaspie shrugged. "This is just war."


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