Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers LZ Albany (11/17/1965) - Apr. 6th, 2005
Posted on 04/05/2005 9:25:25 PM PDT by SAMWolf
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Chaos prevailed over the battle zone, but the helicopter crews never wavered. They had to save the troopers of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, who were dying in the tall grass.
Bell UH-1D Huey
An extensive training period ostensibly prepares pilots for combat flying. But flying in and out of Vietnam's hot LZs, where dust, heat and the enemy worked in concert to bring down the fragile aluminum birds, it took a good pilot with nerves of steel and a special sense of duty. Major Willard Bennett, commander of Charlie, or C, Company, 229th Aviation Battalion (Assault Helicopter), 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), was just such a pilot, with the ability to think and react adeptly in the most intense combat situations. On a November 1965 night, while flying over the hell that the Ia Drang Valley had become, Bennett put on an airmobile show that the grunts on the ground would never forget. No portion of the Army's airmobile training taught guts--pilots like Bennett provided that.
"I never worried about getting shot and killed--whether that was because I was young or we were so well-trained I couldn't say," Bennett recalled. "Getting shot in combat was just not something I really worried about. Flying in and out of hot LZs just came with the job." What Charlie Company's commander worried about instead were the underpowered and occasionally unreliable engines of the Bell UH-1D Hueys and the equatorial heat that could sap the strength of American flying machines.
"The Huey I flew on my first tour couldn't carry a very big payload," Bennett said. "Generally with a crew of four, we could only lift five or six guys. You had to get a running start most of the time to get airborne, and so they required a larger landing zone. By my second tour all that had changed--the engines were much more powerful and much more reliable."
Bennett's Charlie Company was normally attached to the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, ferrying the infantry to and from combat zones, supplying water and rations and, when it became too hot for the medevacs, ducking in for the wounded. Months before the Ia Drang campaign, Bennett was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for making an emergency night flight to an American forward artillery base on the mountain of Dak To, where a shell had cooked off and exploded in the barrel of a howitzer, critically wounding 17 men. When medevacs were turned back by dense fog that night, Bennett not only led his flight but also refused to turn back as long as U.S. troops remained in the field crying for help. Improvising in the air, Bennett called for troops on the ground to shoot flares from LZs along the way. Using this ingenious method, he navigated his way safely through the mountainous terrain to evacuate the wounded.
Many historians claim that the 230 American lives lost during the fighting at LZs Albany and X-ray versus the loss of more than 1,000 NVA soldiers by body count and 1,000 more estimated killed was a decided victory. Other scholars, however, claim the lessons taught were largely ignored and America was lured deeper into a war it could not win. If the fighting and its results proved to be a historical and military paradox, so did the enigmatic, 34-year-old major commanding Charlie Company.
As a student at Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University), Bennett had enrolled in the the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) to avoid the Vietnam draft. After graduation, having earned an artillery commission, he was sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where he ran into a fraternity brother stationed there for Army aviation training. "He was really sold on the program," Bennett said, "and it sounded good to me too.
"The program required an additional year's commitment, but I was young and wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life just yet. Besides, I had just gotten married, and the extra $100 a month the Army was paying aviators looked awfully good just then."
Bennett received his fixed-wing rating and soon was sent on temporary duty back to helicopter school. After qualifying in helicopters, he was assigned to Korea and, later, Japan. Much to his surprise, both Bennett and his wife, Vonnie, fell in love with military life.
After he returned from the Far East, Bennett's talents as a helicopter pilot were tapped to try out the Army's new concept of air mobility. He was assigned to the 11th Air Assault Test Division at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1964 for 18 months of crucial trials. The purpose was to examine and test theories in helicopter warfare. Satisfied with the evaluations of the 11th Air Assault Division, renamed the 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile), the Army mobilized the unit for war. Major Willard Bennett was assigned command of the 229th's Charlie Company and deployed with the division to Vietnam.
Although Charlie Company had been thoroughly trained in the Army's brand-new airmobile tactics, no training could completely prepare a pilot for the murderous skies over Vietnam. Bennett's role over the Ia Drang Valley may be considered a minor one in the grand scheme of the campaign, but to the severely wounded who were desperate for medical attention, and to the beleaguered troops surrounded and running low on ammo, a fearless chopper pilot was the answer to many prayers. The genesis of Bennett's mission occurred when Lt. Col. Harold Moore brazenly took his understrength battalion and confronted the enemy deep in his own territory.
Lt Col Hal Moore
The ball began rolling on November 14, 1965, when Moore, a hard-charging Kentuckian and West Point graduate (class of '45), mobilized the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), and moved them to a position at the foot of Chu Pong, a 2,400-foot mountain in the Ia Drang Valley, deep in NVA-held territory. There, dense tropical forests gave way to tall grass and red clay. Intelligence reports of a large enemy base camp in that area had Moore and his boss, 3rd Brigade Commander Colonel Thomas Brown, eager to seek out the enemy.
On the morning of November 14, Boeing-Vertol UH-34 Chinooks positioned 12 guns--two batteries of 105mm howitzers--6.2 miles east of LZ X-ray. The artillery began firing on the LZ as well as two other clearings to help create a diversion. As soon as the barrage was lifted, helicopter gunships further prepped the site with .30-caliber machine guns and 2.75-inch rockets.
"My battalion," Moore recalled, "had come looking for trouble in the Ia Drang; we had found all we wanted and more. Two regiments of People's Army of Vietnam [PAVN] Regulars--more than 2,000 men--were resting and regrouping in their sanctuary near there and preparing to resume combat operations, when we dropped in on them the day before. General Man's [NVA Brig. Gen. Chu Huy Man] commanders reacted with speed and fury, and now we were fighting for our lives."
LZ X-ray was heating up for helicopter pilots, too. Major Bruce Crandall, who commanded the 16 helicopters assigned to the mission, recalled: "I saw a North Vietnamese firing at us from just outside my rotor blades. After taking on wounded, I pulled pitch [lifted out] in a hurry. I had three dead and three wounded, including my crew chief, who was shot in the throat." The situation was perilous for the troops crammed inside the birds. "I started to unhook my seat belt when I felt a round crease in the back of my neck," LeFebvre remembered. He had been grazed. "I turned to my right and saw that my radio operator had been hit in the left side of his head. I grabbed the radio and jumped out....I fired two magazines of M-16 ammo at the enemy, then I was hit."
"We had very little to do with X-ray," Bennett continued. "I think I got in there on the second morning--the day they got napalmed." The NVA had thrown everything it had at the 7th and, although ravaged (Charlie Company lost all five of its officers and 57 of its 102 enlisted men), the survivors, with the help of Army and Air Force aviators, held the thin line and refused to accept defeat.
Air Force Lieutenant Charlie Hastings, the forward air controller, called in help. "On the second morning, I used the code word for an American unit in trouble and received all available aircraft in South Vietnam for close air support. We had aircraft stacked at 1,000-foot intervals from 7,000 feet to 10,000 feet, each waiting to receive a target," Hastings remembered. With the enemy so near and artillery and aircraft being called in closer and closer, perhaps an unfortunate mistake was inevi-table: An Air Force North American F-100 Super Sabre accidentally dropped two canisters of napalm into the melee, hitting American troops, before Hastings could call them off.
Additional reinforcements, the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Cavalry led by Lt. Col. Robert Tully, marched in from LZ Victor, two miles distant, and the NVA melted into the tall grass and mountains, leaving some of its 2,000 dead behind on the battlefield.
On November 16, after the battle had ended, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. Robert McDade, landed at LZ Columbus, three miles away. McDade led three companies--Charlie, Delta and a headquarters company. Tully's and McDade's battalions were sent to relieve Moore at X-ray. Before handing over his position, Moore made good on the promise he had made to his battalion back at Fort Benning to never leave a man on the battlefield and never permit a single man to be listed as "missing in action."
We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young :
Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway
| As was his custom, Bennett flew lead with Captain Ken Jayne as his wingman. As the helicopters thundered through the black night sky, the battle over Albany could clearly be seen. "The sky over the battle zone was in total chaos," Bennett remembered. "Artillery was firing, there were Air Force A-1s zooming in and out, dropping ordnance, rockets, tracers, flares--the whole thing was brilliantly lit up.
"As we got closer, I didn't think we were going to be able to find the LZ; the lights were blinding, the tracers coming from every direction. The radio was full of crackling garbage. And the sky--the sky was an absolute mess. The parachute flares would arch up high and then float down, and there were so many of them I kept thinking one of them was going to go through the rotors and that would be it.
"Finally, a guy on the ground started blinking a pocket flashlight, and one of us picked it up." Bennett recalled sending a brief, intense radio message: "'Blink three times if that's you...now five times...okay, we've got you...we're coming in on your light.' We followed that thin red beam of light in almost like an instrument approach, until we touched down."
If the troubled sky above the LZ was filled with gunfire, the contested ground at Albany was equally dangerous. As the rotors continued to turn, tracer fire lit up the area, and the battle began taking on a new intensity. The NVA now had two American helicopters as prime targets.
"My crew chief and gunner, as normal, kicked off the ammo and hopped out as soon as we touched down, to help bring in the wounded," Bennett said. "There were no stretchers or anything that night; they just pulled in the wounded and stacked them like cordwood in the cargo bay." The crew chief and gunner were both awarded the Bronze Star with V for Valor for the night's actions.
The enemy began to walk a fierce mortar barrage through the LZ, and Bennett pulled pitch and executed a short hop to another spot, followed by Jayne. "It just seemed like the thing to do," Bennett said in retrospect. "My crew chief and gunner were still on the ground and had to wade through the tall grass and continued loading wounded. The mortars were falling all over the place. Right about then, [the] fuel warning light lit up." Amid the fierce mortar barrage, the clatter of rounds punching holes in the aircraft and the confusion of the radio and cries of the wounded, he made a quick calculation. "I knew that when the fuel panel started to flicker yellow, that meant we only had 20 minutes of fuel left," he recalled. "If we beelined it back to Pleiku, that was probably close to 15 minutes." Bennett coolly eyed the flickering yellow lights and waited as the battle raged on around him until the wounded were dragged aboard.
"We loaded everybody we could," Bennett said. "We'd be lucky on a hot day to get away with five to six people on with a crew of four, but I think we must have gotten more that night."
Finally Bennett and Jayne (who would also be awarded the Silver Star for the night's actions) lifted their groaning Hueys up and out of the tiny LZ. "Together, I think we got out 14 to 15," Bennett said.
Now Bennett's attention focused on the fuel warning lights. He raced back to Pleiku and sat down on the main air strip, where an aid station was located. "I gave the order to shut down the helicopters right there," said Bennett. "I knew if we lifted off and tried to hover over to our area, we would never make it."
It was 0200--only two hours had passed since Bennett had been shaken awake. It would take another 34 years before the Army would award Bennett a much-deserved Silver Star in 1999 for his gallantry that night in the Ia Drang Valley.
The battle at LZ Albany added the names of 151 Americans to a growing list of those killed in Vietnam. Another 121 were wounded. The LZ was abandoned the next day. One American, reported as missing in action, was recovered four days later when he waved down a passing helicopter.
In terms of numbers on a chart, the Ia Drang campaign was an American victory, but for commanders like Bennett, the victory was bitter. More than 300 American dead had soured the taste of success
Night Shift Bump for the Freeper Foxhole
Yep, it's that wonderful time of the month again :-(
Good night Victoria.
Geez. The days sure do fly by fast. Are you all done with the sewing room?
I hope to have all the drywall work done by this weekend so that the wife and one of my daughters can get the painting done. Next weekend, the 16th or so I will be busy installing the new oak floor.
Should be done by the end of April with the whole thing, yippee!!!
Ia Drang thread here. Please come, Ronnie.
Ronnie Guyer was there. LZ X-ray.
And everyone at the Foxhole.
Two young men had been friends from childhood. One was a Christian, the other was not. The second man was about to embark on a long ocean voyage, and the believer felt the urge to speak to him about Christ before he left. "I'll do it on the way to the dock," he promised himself. But when they reached the dock, he still hadn't done so.
He went on board to say goodbye, and thought, "When we bring the baggage to his room, I'll speak to him." But the porter took the trunks and suitcases, so they did not visit the stateroom. Finally he said to himself, "I'll be sure to witness to him in some quiet place before the ship departs."
Suddenly, however, there came the announcement that all visitors must leave. Two months later word came that the man had died overseas.
In Luke's gospel, we read of a man possessed by many demons who had been wonderfully restored by Jesus. In gratitude to the Lord he wanted to stay with Him to worship Him (8:38). But Jesus said, "Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you" (v.39).
Will you apply Jesus' words to your life and tell someone of His grace and salvation-beginning at home? Don't put it off. Tell someone now about Jesus! -M. R. De Haan, M.D.
To the fountain of life let the weary be led;
In the cross and its banner our glory shall be,
While we herald the tidings, "Salvation is free!" -Crosby
Any place can be the right place to witness.
How Can I Break The Silence?
Good morning, woke up to a T storm in progress.
RICK RESCORLA was at the IA DRANG Valley's LZ Albany saving 100's of lives in 1965
RICK RESCORLA was at the World Trade Center saving 1,000's of lives in 1993 & 2001
RICK RESCORLA sits at the right hand of JOHN PAUL the GREAT in 2005
Help us honor RICK RESCORLA properly:
(Photo #1-Where RICK RESCORLA walked in Vietnam, exactly)
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