It's an intentional oxymoron; it wasn't beautiful at all...

by Lt Frank Herbick, FO, 1/14th  

I had just recently arrived in-country.  Lt Dennis Dauphin showed up at the 2/9th Hq in Pleiku in November, 1966 at the same time.  I drew the Ia Drang assignment; he got to go to A/2/35 to guard an Engineer unit at a rock quarry.  (Just a week later, he got sent to the Ia Drang Valley on the Cambodia border, too.)

To start the "beautiful day" on the Cambodian border, the Company Commander Capt Stephen Childers (“C”, 1/14th), our Brigade Chaplain, one Platoon leader (Lt Jerry Orenstein) with his platoon,  and me and my RTO went for a stroll; we were scheduled to return in a few hours. Enroute, our point man saw smoke coming from rocks at the base of the mountain. The CO saw some openings between the rocks, and asked a volunteer to try and see if he could squeeze in enough space to check out the smoke. No sooner as the Private went down into the hole, one shot rang out. The Platoon leader looked into the hole and saw the Private dead at the bottom. Another volunteer was assigned to take our rifle slings and tie them together and enable us to pull out the body.  Some troops held the legs of the rescuer, and down he went.  Another shot, and another dead body.  

Capt Childers said: “Enough!” He would not risk another life, so he went down. Another shot, and now the CO was dead. So now we had a Chaplain in charge (by seniority), but, as a Chaplain, he is regarded as a “noncombatant”, plus, he was scared to death.  He was supposed to be out sightseeing.  Meanwhile, the troops were roaming around the rocks to see if they could see or hear the happenings down below. Someone found a hole where he heard the NVA talking, so he dropped a hand grenade into the hole.  Following the explosion, heard the NVA hollering.  The Platoon leader asked for more hand grenades, and dropped them into the hole to distract the NVA while we extracted our dead.  

It was getting dark; we had no communication with our troops and I had none with the Artillery. We huddled in a circle for the night, and I sent the RTO up higher on the hill behind us to try to establish commo. After a while he returned saying he couldn't get commo with our battery, but flipping thru the channels, he found another "Artillery" unit.  That turned out to be the USS New Jersey, sitting offshore in the South China Sea.  

This channel provided me with commo to “Sheriff 23” who said he was a “big boomer”.  His big boomer was had 16 inch guns.  (That told me he was US Navy). He fired a few rounds for us during the night which kept the NVA from attacking us.  At first light, we were greeted by the Americal Division and one other unit besides our 3rd Bde.  We stayed there for a month blowing away the mountain.  We heard the estimate was 3000 + NVA killed during our stay.  For us: just another day at the office.  


Lt Dauphin responds: “Well, Frank, regarding our assignments, you were about 6’2, weighing 200 lbs.  I was 5’11 and weighed 130, soaking wet.  You got the “hot assignment”.  But, don’t forget…I was sent to the Ia Drang just a few weeks later. My very first call for fire was refused because I spotted the enemy across the border! Stupid me! From that day forward, I knew what kind of war we were in engaged in.  You let the enemy dictate the terms.  



Webmaster's Note:
The incident captured in this War Story took quite a few ugly turns.  Both fellow redlegs Danny Yates and Bob Wilson, Artillery Surveyors with the 2/9th FA, recorded their actions and reports in the “Tour of Duty/Memories” link.  They reported on Engineers blowing the caves and a heavy bombing run to destroy/level the Hon Noc mountains.  (The enemy was known to return the caves and tunnels once we moved on). 

The incident of the 1/14th soldiers being killed is mixed with citizens being held hostage in the cave with the enemy.  The number of enemy killed ranged from 30 to 300 to 3,000. Other accounts indicate women and children died in the caves when the bombing began.  The Infantry Company Commander is heroically credited with trying to free the hostages in the process of losing his life.  

In the final analysis, this is truly a "War Story"; it reveals the “horror of war”.


Dennis Dauphin
bmaster, The Mighty Ninth


From the Journal of the 1/14th Infantry, Golden Dragons

On 19 January 1967, Steve’s company was searching the Hon Noc Mountains for elements of the North Vietnamese Army as part of Operation Thayer. One of his patrols saw a figure in a green uniform dart by and disappear into a cave in the mountains. Patrol members further reported hearing the voices of women and children in the cave complex. Once inside this network of caverns, Steve reported that "There are women and children in here." He then turned on his flashlight to get a better look at them and had only an instant to shout a warning to the men following him. A rifle emerged from behind the heads of the women, and a volley of shots was fired. One bullet pierced Steve's forehead, killing him instantly. His concern for the safety of women and children had cost him his life.