After their tremendous ass-whoopin' at the hands of the NVA during their last attempt to secure Kham Duc, the squad pulled back to the battalion position once again, east of the town. There they sat and watched the steady rain of steel by US airstrikes and artillery as they cared for their wounded, cleaned their weapons, and topped off their ammunition. They had suffered very heavy casualties, and ached for a chance to get back at their enemies.
But there they sat for the remainder of the day, and all the next day, watching the bombs fall and 105mm shells strike. It was sunrise on January 12, 1968 when SFC Bleier roused the men. As they ate cold C-rats for morning chow Bleier explained they were once again attacking into Kham Duc, but something was different. Old Sarge didn't look right; dark circles under his eyes, his skin was sickly pale, and his hands were shaky. "You alright, Sarge?" "Yeah, I'm fine." But the men picked up on this, and the heat of their anger and desire to re-engage the enemy in Kham Duc quickly dissipated.
The squad joined the platoon, which linked up with the rest of the company and met the attached armor at the line of departure, approximately a klick outside the town. The whole company was on line, with a platoon of tanks interspersed. The formation crept forward, waiting for the cough of incoming mortars, or the stutter of enemy machine guns, at least the crack of a sniper rifle, but nothing happened. Once the formation was within 300 yards of the town the Company Commander called a halt and conferred with his platoon commanders. 1st Platoon, in the center, was ordered into double interval skirmish line, with the squad in the center, in order to advance into Kham Duc as the other two platoons and the tanks assumed supporting positions...
"I can't believe it's so quiet. Maybe we got lucky, Sarge, maybe the flyboys and the cannon cockers wiped'em out!" says one of the new guys. "Yeah, don't hold your breath Slick. If old Victor Charles isn't in there, it's because he chose to not be in there," replied Bleier. "Dammit, I bet they slipped past us again," muttered Malone. "Yeah, well, that ain't all bad... What was that!?"
And then the old Jack Luck strikes again: the VC SMG gunner passes his test and fires, opening up on Bleier (center, with yellow bead, and Hoge above him). Bleier is hit and lightly wounded, but he was already shaky, so, without further adieu, he bolts to the rear like a frightened deer...
Hoge returns fire at the VC SMG gunner, but misses.
This squad has lost it's guts!!! The squad leader ran, and even when Malone tried to do something heroic, it just didn't quite work out, did it? The only good news is that I rolled well on the casualty rolls:
Malone was just nicked, he's on light duty for five days, and Nickerson is at BAS for seven days, though Lipps was hit bad enough to require evacuation to the United States. Hoge and Bleier are good to go, but, after his cowardly showing, Bleier is being sent back to battalion. The VC lost 3 KIA and 2 captured.
In the overall scheme of things, Operation Hearbeat City was a disaster. It was a reaction to a massive infiltration by NVA troops across the border from Cambodia, missed by the US high command. The US troops had a great time, partying it up for Christmas, then woke up to NVA nearly overrunning their bases, and taking over several ARVN posts and friendly towns. The cost of repulsing the base attacks, and then evicting the NVA and VC from their newly conquered territories was severe, and made worse by the fact the enemy was not annihilated, but managed to slip away, back across the border to its sanctuary in Cambodia.
The Brigade pulled back to its combat base at Dak To, conducting a very limited schedule of security patrols, making sure to stay near its base while it reconstituted itself. The enemy, while he escaped, was still badly bruised, and content to bide his time, also rebuilding his strength. This period of minimal contact continued for two and a half months; the Brigade, once again near full strength and full of confidence due to a round of aggressive training at the company and battalion level, began early April determined to expand its area of influence. The North Vietnamese began April 1968 determined to reassert themselves across the border...
To date our 11-man squad has permanently lost 21 members:
7 men Killed in Action
9 men Wounded in Action, severely enough to be evacuated to the US.
2 men Missing in Action
3 men transferred out of the squad (two "3-time Losers," one promotion)