OVER 400 VC KILLED FRIDAY
Saigon, Nov 13 (UPI) The newly arrived Third Brigade of the US Army 1st Infantry Division killed more than 400 Viet Cong Friday in it's first action, a bloody clash with the Communists 35 miles North of Saigon. As the Big Red One Infantry Division soldiers moved back to their base camp at Lai Khe, 23 miles north of Saigon, other companies mopped up the battle area against sporadic sniper fire resistance. Officials said a conservative estimate was at least 400 Viet Cong were killed in the seven hour battle yesterday on the Eastern fringes of the Viet Cong Iron Triangle stronghold, 35 miles north of Saigon. By noon today the Americans had counted 196 Viet Cong bodies. UPI correspondent Robert Ibrahim reported that there were plenty of other bodies in the underbrush that were not counted because of a fear of bobby traps. The spokesman said the American Infantrymen suffered only light casualties but much of their armor was shot to pieces by a deadly mortar barrage. Eight armored personnel carriers were destroyed along with three or four trucks. The Americans were on a road-clearing operation along highway 13, their job was to open the road and hold it for a Vietnamese troop convoy. They did just that, despite the almost suicidal Viet Cong attack that began before dawn Friday. VC STANDUP AND FIGHT. The attach was only the latest in a series of stepped up Communist attacks on US troops that have cost the Viet Cong dearly, in contrast with their old tactics of melting away whenever Americans approached. The switch in Communist tactics can be dated to Oct 30 when human waves of Viet Cong tried to storm a company of American Marines dug in on a hilltop outside the US Air base at Da Nang. It was the first Red attack on an entrenched US position. Marine losses were slight, but 56 Viet Cong were killed. Since then the Communist have stood and fought at Plei Me in the Central Highlands and in War Zone D Northeast of Saigon. In both places they inflicted moderate casualties, but paid a heavy price in staggering losses of their own. The Viet Cong started the fight at Highway 13 Friday by slamming into the Americans from all sides with Mortar and Recoilless Rifle fire. The battle raged at such close range at times that a US artillery battalion lowered their barrels and fired at the Reds at almost point blank range. Early today the Commander of the 3rd Brigade, Col William D. Brodbeck, of Ohaha, Neb., found communist bodies less than 25 yards from the foxhole he used as a command bunker to direct the defense of the road. The Communist's launched their attack from the small village of Bau Bang, the same one used to attack a government force on a similar road clearing operation last July 15. SFC Lyle Johnson of Dallas, Texas said he heard voices coming from the darkened jungle just before the attack. Johnson said "I notified the people on my right and left and just then we saw them run across our front. They had M89's (grenade launchers) and began to lob them into our position. But we came right back at them with our .50 caliber machine gun and mowed them down. 2LT John Garcia, Albuquerque, New Mexico, said, we tried to maneuver to get out into them. But the fire was too heavy. However, Artillery and the .50 Caliber machineguns mounted on our APC killed a lot of them. Because of the fact the guns were mounted on top the APC's, we had elevation, we could see across the high grass. If the guns had not been up, we could not have done so well. Garcia was one of the heros of the battle. One of the trucks got a direct hit in the cab related. "I grabbed a fire extinguisher and started to go toward the truck. But an APC behind me got hit and burst into flames. I expended the fire extinguisher and ran back to my own APC to get another one. That's when we got hit. Garcia suffered light fragmentation wounds. He was one of five men awarded Purple Hearts today by the deputy Commanding Officer of the Division. There will be other Purple Hearts passed out, but the five men were the only ones able to stand up in uniforms today to receive them. Garcia was also recommended for the Silver Star. Before the Thursday's battle was over, the Infantrymen had support from the US AirForce planes firing rockets and dropping bombs and napalm. When the Communists broke off the fight in the afternoon, they left behind the charred bodies of dozens of Viet Cong killed in massive napalm attacks. The time and place for the battle had been clearly chosen by the Viet Cong, not forced upon them. One school of thought in Saigon believes the Communists have been misled by American anti-war demonstrations into believing US public opinions would force a recall of American troops if enough of them are killed. Last weeks death toll was the highest of the war-70 dead in seven days-and this week's may be even higher.
ARMY COMMENDATION MEDAL. By direction of the Secretary of the Army, under the provisions of Para 33 AR 672-5-1, the Army Commendation Medal with V device for heroism is awarded to: First Lieutenant Kent W. Owen, US AirForce distinguished himself by heroism while serving with the 524th Tactical Fighter Squadron, attached to Hq and Hq Company, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division on 12 November 1965 in the Republic of Vietnam. Lt. Owen was flying forward air control in support of 1st Infantry Division units engaged in combat at Ap Bau Bang. He observed three separate attacks on armored personnel carriers by hostile recoiless rifle fire. From his normal controlling altitude of 1,500 feet, the source of the fire could not be pinpointed. Disregarding his personal safety, Lt. Owen descended to an altitude of 50 feet in order to locate the weapon crew's exact position. During this maneuver his aircraft sustained direct hits from small arms fire. Despite the damage, he climbed to his original altitude and directed fighter aircraft into the gun position. The strike was a complete success. In addition, Lt. Owen directed fighters against a mortar emplacement and a village. Following the fighters' departure, armed Viet Cong were observed fleeing from the ruined village. He again descended and engaged the insurgents with an M-14 rifle. Two of the Viet Cong were observed to be hit in this action. First Lieutenant Owen's actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the US AirForce and the US Army.
LAI KHE, Vietnam - SFC Ralph Basalet sat on a rice paddy dike, his back to the woods and within range of Viet Cong sniper fire. He was telling what it was to be a hero. The Sergeant from A Co. 2nd Bn, 2nd Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, described his part in the bloody battle of Bau Bang, which took place not long ago five miles north of Lai Khe. He spoke quietly, without brovado. "We were on the line, on the edge of a rubber plantation. And then all hell broke loose. The VC opened up from the tree line 60 to 80 yards away. There were hundreds of them. We had personnel carriers on the line and they knocked out one of them fast with a recoilless rifle. I ran to the PC. The gunner on top was hit bad in the head. The inside gunner was hit bad too. The rest of the crew as in a state of schock. They were sitting there, cradling the wounded man in their arms". Basalt ran 200 yards through VC fire to get a medic. Then a second PC was hit, and Basalet ran to it. “I threw open the door and two men were trying to grope their way out. A third man was dead. Riggs (PFC Leroy Riggs, also a Silver Star winner for this action) and I carried the wounded to the helicopter pad. I went back for the body, but a Lieutenant ordered me to get away. I was about a hundred yards off when the PC blew up. That hurt, I felt sick about not being able to get that body". Basalet and Riggs raced back to the PC and helped more wounded to the helipad. Then Basalet returned and climbed on the burning PC. He tore off it's .50 Caliber machine gun. "This was what we needed for the Reds. One of my men, he was on the .50-caliber now, started gunning down the crew on that VC recoilless rifle. He'd shoot them down just as pretty as that. Then the Company Commander called and ask if anybody could adjust artillery fire on the tree line. He asked me if I could do it and I said I could, and I did. Right in there where Charley was. It broke his back. Then the planes came in. They ripped them with napalm and bombs. I remember I could have reached up there and kissed them.” The other day Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, on his tour of the Republic of Vietnam, gave Basalet and Riggs their Silver Stars, but Basalet soon went back to the war.