DUC VALLEY, Vietnam -- The fighting here is a very close, personal,
The valley bottom is dried terraces, each terrace three or 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 hedgerow are ditches and bunkers -- ditches
and bunkers that you just know Charlie is in.
Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, Americal 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 seventy-three men and two officers.
Thursday evening, when the fighting was over, they would number only forty-six
men and one officer.
Thursday morning Bravo Company 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
At eleven a.m., two machine guns, two AK47s and an M79 grenade launcher blew
that hope away.
Pinned down in the late morning sun, a very hot sun, Bravo had one man killed,
a new guy, and thirteen 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
By two p.m. the sixty-one men of Bravo Company 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, Captain William H. Gaylor, explained the situation. There would
be no helicopter gunship support. The gunships had more important things to do
than support Bravo Company. Air and artillery couldn't be used because the Marines
were too close. They had no mortars. The infantryman, with his rifle and grenades,
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 fifteen 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 machines guns
As night fell, the company straggled back to find a place to sleep.
Friday morning, more tired than Thursday morning, but now only forty-seven strong,
Bravo knew they would have to go back in to get the bodies.
(This story appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 31, 1969, edition of Pacific Stars & Stripes.)