Forward Observer: King 61



Department of the Army sent me to Vietnam in August 1966, one year after graduating from OCS at Ft. Sill.  After graduating from OCS, the Army sent me to jump school at Ft. Benning and then on to the 164th MI Battalion at Ft. Bragg, N.C..   Next, the Army sent me to Panama for two weeks of Jungle School Training (252 hours of training in two weeks).  Since I did make "Jungle Expert" in Jungle School, obviously I was well prepared to go directly then to Vietnam, although I never spent a day in a combat arms unit prior to shipment to Vietnam. Nor did I have any "refreshing" training.
Having grown up in Louisiana, I spent a lot of time running around in the woods near my home, barefooted, including swamps.  Fighting the mosquitoes, snakes, etc., was a sort of combat training.  Upon arrival in Vietnam, I did feel somewhat at home again.  One big advantage I had in Vietnam was that the Army issued me mosquito repellent and boots to wear, which my parents never gave me back in Louisiana.  Didn't really need the footgear most of the year anyway.  I had to save my footgear to wear to school in the winter.  One nice 8th grade teacher tactfully told me that I really should wear shoes all the time when I started high school, so I did.  Seemed the proper thing to do; I just wasn't as fast in shoes as I was barefooted.
DA had a policy, so I was told, that prior to shipment to Vietnam to a combat arms unit you were supposed to spend a minimum of six months in a combat arms unit.  So I called DA and asked them about this policy and informed them that I had not spent any time in a combat arms unit after receiving my commission as a butterbar.  DA told me to move out...that there was no time for me to go to a combat arms unit stateside, so I did.  Seemed the proper thing to do.
Upon arrival in Pleiku, I was assigned to an infantry rifle company as a ground FO.  We made an air assault from Huey's into a swampy area.  The Huey's couldn't land in the swamp; they just hovered and we jumped out.  It was only a few feet to the ground, so we didn't even need a parachute.  Having successfully completed 'Jump School", jumping only 5 or 6 feet from an aircraft was not a problem.  All in all, it was a great plan that really came together quickly, my free swamp training in Louisiana, jumping out of aircraft with shoes on armed with mosquito repellent (There were a whole lot more them than there were NVA's), etc.
Fear not...I do wear shoes to church, and I always have, even back in Louisiana.  And the shoes I wear now aren't my old combat boots either.

When I first landed in Vietnam and was sent to Pleiku in August 1966, I was assigned as a FO with the infantry.  We made an assault into the jungle and spent the next 89 days in the field, the longest sustained ground operation in Vietnam in 1966, according to the Army Times.  We had a gung-ho Infantry Colonel, the Brigade CO, who wanted to make Brig Gen, and thought this would help him with the promotion.

I remember being soaking wet for two weeks without drying out in the mountains of the Central Highlands along the Cambodian border in late 1966.  At night the temperature would get down into the 40's.   We (that is, me and the infantrymen) slept one night wrapped around trees in the Central Highland Mountains because the terrain was too steep to sleep any other way.   Insects were so bad in the Central Highlands that you had to take your mosquito repellent and spray a circle around your C-rations after you placed them on the ground to eat.  Otherwise, insects would be all over your food before you could eat it.

After camping for the night one time in the central highlands, we found an NVA grenade next to where I was to sleep.  It was too late for us to move again.  We didn't know if it was a booby trap or not, so I dug a hole next to the bamboo type grenade and carefully placed it in the hole and covered it up to keep someone from stepping on it and setting it off (I don't think it was rigged after all).

One fight we had on 19 Nov 66, along the Cambodian border, that was written up in the Army Times as one of the biggest fights in 1966.  Contact broke out about noon, and I called in artillery and air strikes until 7:00 a.m. the next morning.  We pulled back and called in B-52 strikes on the NVA bunker complex where the fight occurred on the border.  Three days after the strikes, the infantry went back in (I didn't have to go with them).  They found 166 NVA bodies that had been stuffed in the bunkers because the NVA couldn't get all the dead bodies back into Cambodia.  They had drug bodies into Cambodia for three days before our infantry went back in.  Small arms fire was so intense during the firefight that a green mist rose in the air from the bullets hitting the vegetation.  One infantry ammo bearer for the M-60's told me that when I walked in 105 mm artillery toward our positions, the NVA would panic from the artillery and run toward our lines.  The ammo bearer said he shot them with his 45 pistol, like shooting ducks in a pond.  The next morning I led two infantry platoons back in to recover our dead (the infantry BnCO asked me to do this because the infantry platoon leaders told him that I knew the terrain better than they did).  We did recover all the bodies; however, while raking 105 artillery rounds with VT fuses through the tree tops to flush out any NVA snipers, we had a short round.  My RTO caught a piece of shrapnel in the knee (took it off).  He was about 3 feet from me when this happened.  Morphine would not ease his pain.  We had to evacuate the RTO, and I never saw, nor heard, from him again.

One of our infantry CO's found an OP asleep on his outpost in the middle of the night.  The CO took the trooper's M-16, pulled the pin on one grenade, gave it to the trooper, and told him not to go back to sleep the rest of the night.  He didn't go back to sleep.

One of our infantry CO's couldn't read a map.  One time he called in our position to battalion and it was obviously wrong.  When we... me and other infantry platoon leaders....brought it to his attention, he had us to try to march to where he had thought we were rather than admit he had a mistake and send in the correct coordinates.  The problem was that if someone spotted troops on the ground they couldn't identify, they'd call in friendly fire on you in a hurry.  We set up a system where I would always call into battalion, via my artillery unit, so they would know where we were at all times.  Battalion had also figured out that this captain couldn't read a map.  Someone told me that the infantry CO got a max OER when he left Vietnam, but I don't know if that was true.  

1st Lt Scott, our Infantry Company CO, had one of his flank points fire his rifle to reestablish contact with us because he lost sight with the man next to him while maneuvering in the Central Highlands (a real no-no).  NVA were in the area.  We thought we were coming under attack.  When Scott unraveled the incident, he took the grunt's M-16, gave him a stick, and put him back on our flank as a point guard and told him to fire the stick if he lost eye contact with us again.  He didn't.

Friendly fire was a problem.  One day we were shot up three times by "friendly fire" (which, by the way isn't friendly if you are on the receiving end)--105 artillery, M-60's from a Huey, and M-60's from a Chinook.  After the third incident, I called the battalion C&C ship and promptly told them to get their head out of their ass.  They told me I couldn't talk to them that way (the infantry BN CO, an LTC, and other majors were on board), so I just repeated it again.  They kept trying to raise me on the radio, but for some reason my radio just "malfunctioned", or so I told my RTO.  The infantry Bn Operations officer, MAJ de Jesus, had me report to him when we got back that night to pull Bn guard.  He apologized to me for the incidents and told me that they did have their head up their ass that day.  {Webmaster's Note - Maj Vincente deJesus was the S-3 of the 2/9th Arty Bn}


One of the Infantry BnCOs was flying back on a Huey with two NVA prisoners and a couple dead GI's.  One of the prisoners gestured toward the dead GI's and started laughing and making fun of them.  The CO kicked him out of the Huey at 1,600 feet, and then looked at the other prisoner and asked him if he wanted to make fun of his dead soldiers.  I don't think he understood English, but he got the message anyway, and declined to make fun of our dead soldiers.

When several of us were patrolling in a jeep in Pleiku to see if any of the infantry troops were getting into trouble in the bars, 1st Lt Farmer, an Infantry Platoon Leader, saw an MP starting to arrest one of his troops.  Farmer had the driver stop the jeep on a dime.  He bailed out, ran to the troop, grabbed him, and started yelling at him and kicking his butt, and threw him in the jeep with us.  The stunned MP never said a word.  As soon as we were out of sight of the MP, Farmer apologized to the GI for roughing him up.  The GI said that's OK, and thanks for getting me out of that mess.  Later, Lt Farmer was killed in action.

I  offered to extend my tour for six months if I were not assigned as a ground FO.  The new BnCO, Gerald Bobzien, declined to accept that condition.  If I were I Col Bobzien at the time, I probably would have responded the same way.  As BnCO, you have to assign officers where needed.  When I left Vietnam, I had been a 1st Lt a long time.  I was a 1st Lt when LtCol Holbrook sent me back out for the last two months in country.  As BnCO, if you have a problem, you don't send a green 2nd Lt out to fix the problem, so I understand Holbrook's decision.   With all the 2nd Lt's we had in the battalion who had never served as FO's, it just seemed to me that they could get their butts out there and learn the hard way just like I had to do.  When I arrived in Vietnam, I had never been assigned to a combat arms unit.  My artillery experience was all in OCS at Fort Sill.  Fortunately, my first Recon Sgt was Sgt Holder, who was a gunnery instructor prior to his Vietnam tour.  Holder taught me a lot very quickly.
Given that my replacement was killed two weeks after he came out, Bobzien may have done me a tremendous favor.  My replacement did spend a few days with me in the field before they flew me back to Cam Rahn Bay to go home.  Unfortunately, he never realized how inexperienced he was, so he thought he knew it all.  Sadly, didn't seen too interested in learning anything from me.  At least I had enough sense to learn as much as I could from the likes of Sgt Holder, and others more experienced than me when I arrived.
Honestly, I preferred serving with the infantry.  It was where the real action was.  After all the time I spent as a Forward Observer, this was where I felt most comfortable.  After being in the field, serving in an artillery unit just seemed too confining.  That's why I turned Holbrook down on two jobs he offered me to get me out of the field.  The third job he offered me was the AO job, which I accepted.  Having the Air Force, Navy, and Army ordnance at your disposal as an observer was a rather satisfying responsibility.



Reference the battle on the Cambodian border on 19 Nov 66, I was the FO out with the B-1/14 infantry rifle company.  CPT Ware was the infantry CO.  He suffered a sucking chest wound and was replaced by a 1LT Scott during the battle.  I started directing artillery fire at 12 noon, as you correctly cited, when all hell broke loose, and actually called fire in until about 7:00 a.m. the next morning.  During the night, the NVA would try to move in on us.  When the infantry OP's would alert me, I would call in some defensive target rounds.  The never got in to us that night.
One ammo bearer for one of the infantry M-60 machine gunners carried a 45-cal pistol.  After the battle, he told me that every time I walked a volley of 105 artillery shells in from behind the NVA (they had gotten out of their bunkers to attack us by then), that they would panic and charge our lines.  He said he gunned them down with his 45.  Said it was like shooting "ducks in a pond".

The enemy body count for that battle was 166 KIA,which was taken 3 days after the battle. The night of 19 NOV 66, the Infantry BnCO flew out to the field where the battle was fought and talked to me, as the senior fire support officer in the fight, among other staff members.  He wanted my recommendations on how to conduct support fire (artillery, air strikes, etc.) from that point on.  I recommended that we pull our units back and call in the B-52's with their 750 bombs using fuse delay to penetrate the triple canopy in the high trees where we were fighting.  This way the bombs would be on the ground before exploding; thus, the NVA's bunkers would only serve as death traps to them.  The LTC did exactly as we discussed.  We pulled back to the 2/9 Arty Bn position on 20 NOV 66, the day after the battle, which was about 3 miles from the battle scene (best I can remember).  When the B-52's unloaded, the 750 pound bombs sailed over our heads, at a very high altitude of course.  We watched the bombs fall, but we couldn't see the planes.  On impact and explosion, the ground shook.  I got in my bunker in case one of the bombs fell short, but when the ground shook, I scrambled out of the bunker figuring my chances were better in the open.  The first air strike was off target a little, so they were given corrections and rolled in the second time plastering the NVA bunker complex.  It was impressive.  Three days after the battle, they sent another infantry rifle company, not my company, in to survey the damage.  They discovered that the NVA had been dragging bodies back through the jungle toward the Cambodian border for 3 days, but they had left 166 bodies in the bunkers.  Some we had killed during the battle and they stuffed their bodies in the bunkers.  Others had taken cover in the bunkers and were killed by the concussion of the 750 pound bombs exploding even thought they didn't have a scratch on their bodies.  They had blood running out of all the opening in their bodies and never moved from their position in the bunker when the bombs hit.  The NVA tried to remove their KIA's from the battlefield to try to convince us that we had not killed any of them.
We suffered about 25 KIA and another 50 WIA's.  The best I can remember we had two U.S. Army rifle companies and one CIDG company, for a total of over 300 men.  The enemy had at least one regiment, and possibly many more in a bunker complex they had constructed.  They massed across the river (border between South Vietnam and Cambodia), scouted us, and attacked.
LT Dave Whaley replaced me as FO after this battle.  At that time I became the Air Observer for five months, flying some 180 missions.  Up until that time I served as FO for five months for B-1/14th.  My last two months in Vietnam I spent as a FO for another infantry rifle company on the South China Sea.  I don't remember the names of LZ's much because I really wasn't in them hardly at all.
Yes, we were called the bastard brigade because the 3rd Brigade/25th Inf Div was a "separate brigade" for operational purposes.  The other two brigades of the 25th Inf were in the southern part of Vietnam (Cu Chi).  They moved the 4th Inf Div in to take our place in the Pleiku area, and we moved to the east on the South China Sea and worked with the 1st Air Cav Div.  I believe our move was in Dec 1966, but dates are getting away from me now.  When we made this move, I was an AO by then.
I can tell you a lot about the 19 Nov 66 battle you asked about.  I was told that the Army Times wrote that battle up as one of the largest battles in the war in the year 1966.
Incidentally,  when I joined B-1/14th in Aug 1966, we made an air assault into the jungle west of Pleiku, and stayed in the field (jungle) for 89 days before they brought us in out of the field.  The infantry brigade CO (a COL) wanted to make BG, so he wanted to keep a unit in the field to set the record for the longest time in the field without a break.  Supposedly, we set that record for him.  At least this is the story that was told to me.


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