Pleime Through New York Times' View
Saigon, South Vietnam, Friday October 22, 1965
By Neil Sheehan, Special to The New York Times
Embattled Camp Gets Help; Vietcong's Toll Rises
Several hundred South Vietnamese Infantrymen were flown yesterday to a United States Special Forces camp at Pleime, in the Central Highlands, where a Vietcong battalion had apparently suffered serious casualties in an unsuccessful 36-hour attack.
A military spokesman said the reinforcements had landed in American helicopters at an airstrip about half a mile from the camp and had then marched into it without meeting guerrillas.
According to the spokesman, a Vietcong battalion - numbering about 600 men - is still believed to be near the camp, on jungle-covered mountains about 215 miles north of Saigon.
The Vietcong apparently broke off the fight yesterday morning before the reinforcements arrived.
90 Bodies Are Sighted
Later reports from the camp said that the reinforcements and the original defenders - several hundred tribesmen led by United States and South Vietnamese Special Forces teams - were facing only scattered small-arms fire.
American Special Forces men in the camp radioed the pilot of an observation plane that they could see as many as 90 guerrilla bodies scattered around the camp.
Last night, the guerrillas again harassed the camp with .50-caliber machine-gun fire and 81-mm. mortar rounds.
The attack against the camp, about 25 miles south of Pleiku, began bout 7:30 P.M. Tuesday. The guerrillas pounded the camp with heavy mortars and 57-mm. recoilless rifles and then sent waves of infantrymen against it.
Reaching the outer barbed-wire barrier of the camp, the Vietcong soldiers were driven back by United States Air Force jet fighter-bombers, which roared in and lashed them with fire bombs of napalm, or jellied gasoline.
Military spokesmen said that the bombing had been extremely accurate and that most of the flaming canisters had dropped right into the barbed wire.
Throughout the next day, the guerrillas raked the camp with mortars, recoilless rifles and automatic weapons. The defenders' casualties were termed light.
A company of mountain tribesmen, led by United States Special Forces men - the Army's jungle-warfare training and leadership experts - had been caught outside the camp when the Vietcong struck. It fought its way back inside, however, with the aid of fighter-bombers.
Wednesday night, the camp was again subjected periodically to heavy fire from mortars and automatic weapons, but the Communists did not try to assault it. Transport aircraft dropped flares to guide the defenders and the assisting planes.
The planes were subjected to heavy antiaircraft fire. One observation pilot reported having sighted five machine guns dug in near an airstrip outside the camp
In another action, 15 miles south of Pleiku, four United States soldiers were killed when their military helicopter crashed and exploded on a reconnaissance mission. The mishap occurred a day after another helicopter was shot down in the area. All four of its crewmen were also killed.
Saigon, South Vietnam, Friday October 22, 1965
By Charles Mohr, Special to The New York Times
Vietcong Step Up Fire At U.S. Camp
Communist guerrillas besieging an American Special forces camp at Pleime "increased their pressure" last night and early today and the South Vietnamese Government responded by sending more reinforcements to the mountain outpost, military spokesmen said.
More Reinforcements Sent by South Vietnamese
An American propeller-driven A-1E Skyraider fighter-bomber was shot down this morning while attacking the estimated total of 600 Vietcong guerrillas who have ringed Pleime with .50-caliber machine guns and 82mm. mortars. The pilot parachuted and was rescued by an armed United States helicopter.
The Vietcong attack on Pleime began Tuesday night. The guerrillas left about 90 bodies on the camp's barbed wire after an unsuccessful infantry assault and have continued to pour machine-gun, mortar and small-arms fire into the position.
Jungle Warfare Experts
Originally occupied by a small American Special Forces team - jungle-warfare training and leadership experts - and several hundred aboriginal Montagnard irregulars, the camp was reinforced yesterday morning by several hundred Vietnamese regulars who were sent by air. Today additional reinforcements reached the post.
The volume of enemy fire into Pleime camp, 25 miles south of the major town of Pleiku, was reported to have increased during the night, but quiet prevailed after daylight, the spokesmen said.
Some patrols have been able to leave and return to the camp without making contact. Air Force observers reported that a hill north of the camp was covered with the bodies of guerrillas.
The fighter-bomber was shot down south of the camp by automatic-weapons fire. Earlier in the battle of Pleime, a B-57 bomber and an armed helicopter were lost.
Air Force planes dropped 900 flares over Pleime last night, and one pilot said the guerrillas appeared to have moved to more automatic weapons to replace those destroyed in 215 bombing strikes.
Saigon, South Vietnam, Saturday October 23, 1965
By Neil Sheehan, Special to The New York Times
Vietcong Ambush A Column On Way To Aid U.S. Force
A South Vietnamese Army column moving to help the besieged United States Special Forces camp at Pleime was ambushed by guerrillas today, and several armored personnel carriers and trucks were destroyed, a military spokesman said.
South Vietnamese Attacked 10 Miles From Besieged Outpost at Pleime
Another Plane Downed; Craft is 4th Lost at Post - American Pilot Rescued by Copter Under Fire
The spokesman said the column of several hundred infantrymen, supported by armor, had moved from the town of Pleiku to a point on a dirt road about 10 miles northeast of the camp when it was attacked shortly before dark.
It was not known what casualties the column suffered. Late tonight reports indicated that the convoy had not yet reached the camp, which is set among the mountain jungles of the Central Highlands, 215 miles north of Saigon and 25 miles south of Pleiku.
Heavy Artillery Arrives
Meanwhile, a United States military spokesman said, four battalions of heavy artillery began landing in South Vietnam to protect areas around American bases, roads and lines of communications.
The Pleime camp has been under siege by guerrilla forces estimated at two battalions - more than a thousand men - since Tuesday night.
By noon today United States and South Vietnamese Air Force fighter-bombers and Navy planes from Seventh Fleet carriers had flown more than 300 sorties, dropping bombs, rockets and napalm, but they had not succeeded in driving off the guerrillas.
The camp reported tonight that the Vietcong were pounding the position with white phosphorous mortar shells.
35 Hours in Jungle
The spokesman here said a United States Air Force pilot whose A-1E propeller-driven fighter-bomber was shot down yesterday while bombing guerrillas around the camp was rescued today in good condition after 35 hours in the jungle.
The pilot, Capt. Melvin C. Elliott, 36 years old, of Glendale, Ariz. was picked up by an Air Force helicopter in a clearing of scrub brush and high grass about eight miles southeast of the camp. The rescue helicopter was under constant fire from guerrillas, as it hovered over the ground until Captain Elliott could run to it from his hiding place.
The spokesman said other Air Force fighter-bombers suppressed some of the Communist fire by searing Vietcong gun position with napalm while United States Army helicopters swooped in and strafed guerrillas with machine guns.
The pilot of the rescue helicopter, Capt. Dale L. Potter, 31, of Joseph, Ore., said that captain Elliott looked "ragged and torn" as he ran out of the jungle but that he later was found to be uninjured.
Yesterday, another pilot, Capt. Myron W. Burr, 31, of South Windsor, Conn., was rescued after his fighter-bomber was crippled by Communist ground fire. Since Tuesday a total of four aircraft has been shot down around the camp.
United States military officials believe that incessant bombing has inflicted serious casualties on the guerrillas, but the Vietcong have refused to break off the siege of the Special Forces camp, which is an outpost for jungle warfare training and leadership experts. On Wednesday and Thursday, several hundred South Vietnamese Rangers and infantrymen were flown to the camp in helicopters to reinforce the garrison of several hundred mountain tribesmen, who are led by United States and Vietnamese Special Forces teams.
There is some speculation here among United States military officials that the Vietcong may be protecting an infiltration route from Laos that is believed to run past the camp, but other military observers reject this thesis and point out that the Vietcong already control vast stretches of the Central Highlands.
The defenders have so far suffered "light casualties," according to official reports.
Saigon, South Vietnam, Sunday October 24, 1965 (Reuters)
Column Again Attacked
The relief column moving toward Pleime was attacked by Vietcong forces again early today.
The guerrillas poured fire from rifles and automatic weapons into the slowly moving file of men and vehicles, but broke off the attack after five minutes, a United States military spokesman said. Casualties were described as light.
Pleineute, South Vietnam, Sunday October 24, 1965
By Charles Mohr, Special to The New York Times
Vietcong Drive On U.S. Outpost Appears To Ease
Communist pressure seemed to have eased today on the besieged United States Special Forces camp at Pleime.
South Vietnam's Relief Unit Breaks Out of Ambush - Faces Hanoi's Troops
Red's Losses Are Heavy, At Least 100 Bodies Found - American Bombers Pound Attack Force
A South Vietnamese armored column sent to relieve the outpost was stalled short of its goal, however, after a bitter battle at close quarters last night and early today. A regular battalion of the North Vietnamese Army was identified among its foes.
The armored column suffered what American officers called moderate casualties. But the North Vietnamese, pounded by American air strikes and by canisters of shot from the cannons of tanks, suffered more heavily.
Reds Flee From Road
In the morning, an observer with a South Vietnamese Ranger battalion, which spent the night on the fringe of the main battle, could see khaki-cad Communist troops trotting westward from the dirt road where the battle had been fought.
As the rangers moved through a jungle of clinging, rasping briars to link up with the armored column, they found sobering evidence of American air power - a cluster of five North Vietnamese bodies, the heads split by shrapnel from heavy bombs.
Although accounts were confused about a confused battle, it appeared that more than 300 bodies of Communist soldiers had been counted near the road and that others were probably lying in dense brush farther away.
South Vietnamese Government losses were also substantial. Two gasoline trucks were destroyed by enemy fire. For a time, the Communists also overran two artillery weapons, but they were later recapture.
Battle In 5th Day
The Special Forces camp at Pleime, about 25 miles south of Pleiku on the Vietnamese plateau, has been under attack by a large Vietcong force since Tuesday night.
It has remained impossible for supply helicopters to land at the camp, although daring medical-evacuation pilots made several trips into the fortress under enemy fire.
Apparently the Communists have been less interested in overrunning the camp than in attracting and ambushing a relief column. This time, however, the South Vietnmese and their American advisers anticipated the ambush and turned it into a battle.
As the armored column, supported by several hundred South Vietnamese infantrymen, probed cautiously southward toward Pleime, a battalion of South Vietnamese Rangers dropped by helicopter into an area just to the rear of the point at which an ambush was considered most likely.
The rangers had moved into this tiny village of mountain tribesmen when the din of .50-caliber machine guns filled the afternoon air along with the blast of mortar shells and recoilless cannon.
The tribesmen - half-naked, primitive people - stuck their fingers in their ears like children being told a frightening story.
In the ferocious free-for-all on the road, the armored cars at the head of the column traded .50-caliber machine-gun fire with the North Vietnamese regulars and suffered only light casualties.
Saigon Company Cut Off
Back along the road, however, other Communist troops pinched in on the middle and the tall of the long column and did considerable damage. A South Vietnamese company lost its radio and was cut off all night. The supply train for the artillery and the big guns themselves were put out of action. In hastily dug foxholes, the South Vietnamese troops fought at close range, and many died.
The rangers near Pleineute could do little to help because an attempt to attack the Communists from the rear would have brought the rangers under the fire of their own armor. The exposed rangers were also in danger of attack by a superior force.
In the dusk, as American jets bombed enemy positions on the roadside, a Communist machine gunner sent crimson tracer bullets arching toward the planes at each pass. Informed of this by the rangers, the aircraft swiped at the antiaircraft position. As each plane went into a screaming dive, the machine gun would fire again.
In the morning, a ranger killed a brilliant green snake slithering into the camp, and men stretched and warmed themselves the first rays of sunlight. There was a stir of excitement when fleeing enemy troops were seen darting through a clearing 300 yard away. Bombers were called in, but they appeared to miss the enemy troops.
Most of the aircraft, however, had proved more accurate. One trail examined by the rangers - a narrow footpath hard to follow even on foot - was stitched with gaping holes from 20mm. cannon shells.
Bodies of Communist soldiers struck by the blast of a large bomb were stripped of their weapons by South Vietnamese troops. On the road, a reporter counted 24 captured weapons, most of them Communist-bloc small arms, along with one 57-mm. recoilless rifle. One prisoner was also taken.
The point of the armored column had been within five miles Pleime when the fight began, but its scattered elements regrouped and reorganized farther back along the road, presumably for a drive to the outpost later.
Pleiku, South Vietnam, Tuesday October 26, 1965 (Associated Press)
Americans Pursue Guerrillas
A South Vietnamese armored column that began reaching Pleime last night consolidated its position just outside the camp and at dawn reported only sporadic fire from the Vietcong.
United States troops, in a sweep to the west and north of Pleime, engaged a retreating Vietcong platoon of 35 to 50 men. A spokesman said the guerrilla platoon apparently was part of a rearguard detachment covering the Vietcong withdrawal.
The Vietcong's week-long offensive apparently was designed to clear supply lines from Laos, and North Vietnam. A United States military informant in Pleiku said the Pleime defenders - 300 Montagnard tribesmen and a dozen United States advisers - together with air attacks, had knocked out about 750 of the 1,200-man Vietcong force.
Saigon, South Vietnam, Tuesday October 26, 1965
By R.W. Apple, Jr., Special to The New York Times
First Cavalry Force Backs Drive of Saigon Column
Troops of the United States First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) have been thrown into the battle at Pleime in the Central Highlands, a military spokesman said today.
Vietcong Casualties Heavy in 7-Day Fight in Highlands
[A South Vietnamese Army column backed by the United States troops broke the seven-day Vietcong siege of the Special Forces camp at Pleime early Tuesday. The Associated Press reported from Pleiku, 25 miles from the camp.]
The American units, including infantrymen, artillery and a squadron of helicopter-mounted cavalry, were committed on Saturday, the spokesman said. The news had been held up for security reasons.
Brig. Gen. Charles Knowles, assistant division commander of the First Cavalry, said at Pleiku that his troops had joined the fighting at the request of the South Vietnamese authorities.
Vietcong forces surrounding the Pleime camp had opened fire again yesterday afternoon. They pounded the camp with heavy mortar fire from 8:30 to 11:30 P.M.
Casualties among the mountain tribesmen and United States Special Forces advisors defending the camp were again described by the spokesman here as light. There was no breakdown of American casualties.
The camp was supplied on Sunday afternoon by parachute drop from United States Army Caribou light transport planes. Since the siege began more than 270.000 pounds of ammunition, food and other materiel have been dropped into the tiny triangular fortress.
According to Lieut. Col. William A. McLaughlin, commander of the 310th Air Commando Squadron, more than half of the 29 United States Air Force C-123 transports used on supply mission have been hit by ground fire.
Saigon, South Vietnam, Tuesday October 26, 1965
By R.W. Apple, Jr., Special to The New York Times
Vietcong Attack At Pleime Halted
Vietcong guerrillas fought their way to within 20 yards of the beleaguered Special forces camp at Pleime this afternoon before being repulsed.
U.S. and South Vietnamese force Stops New Assault 20 Yards From Camp
Crawling to their stomachs across the red earth surrounding the outpost, the Communists launched a major assault at noon. They moved up under the cover of intensive .50-caliber machine-gun fire and sporadic heavy mortar barrages.
One guerrilla - a pair of wire cutters in his hand - was captured at the barbed-wire enclosure.
At 1:45 P.M. as the frontal attack on the triangular fortress was being thrown back, a second action developed to the southwest. There, a unit sent from the outpost trades small-arms fire with Vietcong troops for more than five and a half hours.
By 9 P.M. the perimeter around Pleime was quiet again. The 1.500 defenders of the Central Highlands fortress - mountain tribesmen, South Vietnamese troops and American advisers who are experts in jungle warfare training and leadership - suffered light casualties during the day.
United States strategists are still puzzled by the persistence of the Communist effort at Pleime. They concede that they would not have thought the Vietcong would choose to fight a prolonged battle against so small and remote an outpost.
A senior American commander suggested that the Vietcong must be using trails in the area to infiltrate men and equipment from Cambodia into South Vietnam. The camp lies only 14 miles from the wilderness of northeastern Cambodia.
The commander also said that he believed the Vietcong, who have not been conspicuously successful this fall, were badly in need of a striking victory for propaganda purposes. Perhaps, he added, they thought they could overrun the Special Forces camp quickly and without significant losses.
Whatever the Communist thinking, the struggle for Pleime has become important to the allies because it has offered them a rare opportunity to fight a continuing battle with the usually elusive enemy forces.
Today's action came as a surprise because last night a South Vietnamese armored column broke through the cordon of enemy forces and reached Pleime. It appeared that the weeklong siege had been lifted.
American advisers at Pleime who are now under the command of Maj. Charles Beckwith, estimated that the enemy force was of regimental size - about 2,000 men. Many of them wore the trim khaki uniforms of North Vietnamese regulars.
A North Vietnamese master sergeant, left behind because he was sick, was captured by a patrol today. He told interrogators he was infiltrated into South Vietnam three months ago along with the rest of his infantry battalion.
The sergeant said there were also other Hanoi units in the area, but he did not say how many.
A correspondent who accompanied the patrol said many of the Communists had been killed in their foxholes and bunkers by napalm bombs dropped by American fighter-bombers.
A red-haired Army enlisted man, Specialist 4 Daniel H. Shea of Roslindale, Mass., recounted how he and two other men sallied out of the besieged camp last Wednesday to look for survivors of an American helicopter that had been shot down by Vietcong machine gunners.
With him were Capt. Harold H. Moore of Fayetteville, N.C. then the camp commander and Sgt. 1st Cl. Joseph Bailey, and Oklahoman.
When they reached the underbrush at the edge of the camp's airstrip, a Vietcong sniper, apparently equipped with an efficient telescopic sight hit he sergeant twice. He slumped to the ground.
"Just the minute before," Special Shea recalled, "he had been saying that it was dangerous to try to get out to that helicopter, but the pilots had tried to help us and this was the least we could do for them."
With the enemy bullets whizzing overhead, Specialist Shea fell to his knees and gave mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration to Sergeant Bailey for almost three quarters of an hour while Captain Moore tried to call in a smokescreen to cover a retreat into the fortress.
There was no smoke available, so Specialist Shea, who is 24 years old, tried to carry Sergeant Bailey to safety without a smokescreen.
"We didn't get him halfway up when they hit Bailey again," the young soldier said. "Second later they hit me in the arm. Bailey was dead."
They never reached the downed Army helicopter.
Pleime, South Vietnam, Wednesday October 27, 1965
By Charles Mohr, Special to The New York Times
Siege at Pleime: Americans Marvel at Tough Foe
A battalion of United States troops leaped from helicopter today to a burned and scarred slope out outside the barbed wire of the Pleime Special Forces camp, which has been under attack for eight days.
The troops, members of the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile), deployed through bomb craters and foxholes containing the blackened bodies of some guerrilla dead and swept around the west side of the camp. But they made little contact with the enemy.
It appeared that the battle of Pleime might at last be ending. But it had also seemed to be over at midday yesterday as 17 American Special Forces men, bearded and dirt-caked, relaxed around their team building.
Suddenly shots rang out, and the Americans, who have been specially trained in anti-guerrilla warfare, spent the next hour under cover as perhaps as many as 2,000 rifle and machine-gun bullets ripped through the building.
Those same tired Special Forces men stood on bunkers today, watched the Airmobile troops land and then began loading the bodies of fallen South Vietnamese on helicopters.
When a reporter reached the camp Monday by helicopter, he asked a Special forces sergeant where the camp commander, Maj. Charles A. Beckwith of Atlanta, Ga., could be found.
"When you see a real big man yelling 'Press on,' that's him," the sergeant said.
The most striking first impression of Pleime was the depth of the professional respect the Americans had for their enemy, among whom were hundreds of North Vietnamese regular army troops.
Major Beckwith called the attacking troops "the finest soldiers I have ever seen in the world except Americans."
"I wish we could recruit them," he said.
"I wish I knew what they were drugging them with to make them fight like that. They are highly motivated and highly dedicated."
The battle of Pleime began the night of Oct. 19 with an assault on the triangular camp, 220 miles northeast of Saigon, and its defense force of 350 mountain tribesmen advised by nine American Special Forces men.
The camp held out and on Friday was reinforced with 14 more Special Forces soldiers and about 250 South Vietnamese airborne troops. For the next four days, the North Vietnamese regular army troops in the attack force and the defenders clashed just outside the barbed wire.
On Saturday, other troops ambushed and partly overran a huge South Vietnamese armored relief column five and a half miles up the road and stopped it for a full day.
The two concentric lines of trenches and the grounds of Pleime are carved from red earth, and the fine dust has turned the sweating men a rich copper color.
The filth of the besieged camp is appalling. Every night, scores of rats scuttle over the bodies of the sleeping men, and lice burrow into their unwashed uniforms.
Empty shell cartons and ammunition boxes and brightly colored parachutes littered the camp.
"Tell Him We're Dragging"
On Monday night, word came on the radio that President Johnson had "expressed concern" about Pleime and that the generals in Saigon wanted a new situation report to pass on to him. There were laughs.
"Tell him we're dragging, man," said one soldier.
But on Monday night, the intensity of enemy fire slackened greatly, and none of the Special Forces men paid any real attention to the five rounds of recoilless rifle fire and eight rounds of mortar shells that hit the camp.
Aside from such enemy hazards, there were many from supporting forces. For example, two persons were killed when heavy supply packages dropped by air fell on them, and one such package left a gaping hole in the mess hall roof.
Throughout the siege, United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps planes dropped hundreds of bombs so close to Pleime that shrapnel flew around the camp. Two defenders were wounded by American bombs.
But as the executive officer, Maj. Charles Thompson of Morristown, Tenn., said as he ducked his head during a strike: "We like it! We like it!"
"The Air Force saved this camp," became a common remark.
But there are limitations to air power. The defenders almost took a kind of pride in the fact that bombing had not silenced the heavy machine guns of their enemy.
"Old Charlie [Vietcong] just stands up in his hole and keeps shooting back at the whole Air Force," said one man.
Two helicopters were shot down by enemy antiaircraft fire, and eight Americans were killed in them. Two A-1E Skyraider fighter-bombers and an RB-66 photo-reconnaissance plane were lost.
Early in the fight. Sgt. 1st Cl. Joseph Bailey of Lebanon, Teen., borrowed a tiny, gold fringed American flag from Pfc. Eugene Tafoya of Albuquerque, N.M., and ran it up the flagpole under the saffron-and-red South Vietnamese flag.
"If we are going get zapped we might as well get zapped under our own colors," Sergeant Bailey said. An hour later, he was dead.
At 5:30 p.m. Monday the armored relief column appeared on the crest of a northern hill and rumbled down toward camp. The original mountaineer defenders and the airborne South Vietnamese troops who had come in on Friday cheered and waved their yellow scarves.
Children of the mountain tribesmen were playing in the trenches or clinging to their mothers skirts. More than a hundred wives and an underdetermined number of babies and older children were living in the entrenchments with the mountaineers.
Many of the children were armed. A camp favorite was a 12-year-old boy named John, who was dressed in a helmet and uniform and armed with grenades and a carbine.
On Monday morning, one little boy was killed in a fire in a mortar bunker. Then with the arrival of the relief column in the afternoon, the war did seem over in Pleime.
Yesterday morning, the special forces and two companies of airborne South Vietnamese troops moved confidently out onto the northern slope, which had once had six machine-gun positions. In four previous trips there, Americans had died while capturing three of the .50-caliber guns, and the survivors have been driven back into camp each time.
They had not forgotten the fight on Saturday when a single Vietcong soldier had emerged from a hole, charged two platoons of mountaineers with a hand grenade and routed them. Major Beckwith himself had fired seven bullets into the enemy's back, but he had said, "That was a real soldier."
In yesterday's sweep, the bodies of about 40 Vietcong soldiers were found. Some of them were in deep L-shaped holes dug within 60 yards of the camp's barbed wire, and no one could explain how they had been able to dig such holes without detection.
In the brush, the Pleime defenders captured an assistant platoon leader of a North Vietnamese regiment who had been left behind because he was ill. He trembled but was treated kindly and given a cigarette.
One American said: "We ought to put this guy on the north wall and throw out these Government troops. He could probably hold it alone. If we could get two more, we would have all the walls taken care of."
The operation ended suddenly when a single sniper opened fire and hit a South Vietnamese soldier.
Meanwhile, the armored column and its riflemen had also moved out confidently in a southward sweep. But a band of guerrillas began shooting up the camp, and the armored column, consisting of 16 tanks numerous personnel carriers and about 800 government riflemen, were forced back to Pleime by what seemed to be a small but well dug in Vietcong force.
Five American advisers were carried into the camp wounded, one of them dying.
The bodies of 19 South Vietnamese soldiers and many wounded were brought in. The siege of Pleime was no longer over.
During the afternoon, snipers continued to pick off an occasional South Vietnamese.
As medical evacuation helicopters began to come in, the Special Forces doctor, Capt. Lanny Hunter of Abilene, Tex., had to struggle to keep what he called the "smiling wounded' or even unscathed South Vietnamese from scrambling aboard in place of critically wounded men.
The night was again fairly quiet with only five mortar rounds fired at the camp. Today, Specialist 7 Leo Drake, a lanky medical corpsman, emerged from the kitchens at dawn with a soup bowl of steaming coffee and shouted, "Good morning, all you lucky people in Pleime!"
While the bodies of only about 40 Vietcong soldiers have been found so far, there are believed to be many more enemy dead.
The South Vietnamese said 124 others had been counted after the ambush of the armored relief column last Saturday, and the Americans largely confirmed the figure without having seen all of them themselves.
Saigon reports of Vietcong bodies "hanging on the barbed wire" at Pleime were totally false and brought only laughs from the camp's defenders.
Government casualties were numerous but fewer than those of the Vietcong probably by a significant margin.
Saigon, Vietnam, Saturday October 30, 1965 (Associated Press)
Vietcong Raid Pleime Camp
The Vietcong attacked the Unitd States Special Forces camp at Pleime last night with mortar and small arms fire, an American military spokesman reported.
The enemy force, estimated at 35 to 50 men, fired 10 mortar rounds into the camp and maintained sporadic small-arms fire until after midnight.
Saigon, South Vietnam, November 16, 1965
By Charles Mohr, Special to The New York Times
3 Prisonners Tell Of Aid From China
Captured North Vietnamese soldiers said today that their units had received assistance from Cambodian "militiamen" during their infiltration into South Vietnam and that each infiltrated regiment had one Chinese Communist adviser.
North Vietnamese Also Say Cambodians Helped Them
These prisoners, picked up in the vicinity of Pleime in late October and early this month, appeared at a news conference in Saigon today.
One said that the people of North Vietnam "hate the Americans" for the daily air strikes directed against North Vietnam.
The young men, wearing cheap khaki uniforms, emphatically asserted that their regiments had passed through Cambodia to reach the Pleime area in central Vietnam. One of them, Nguyen Xuan Lien, said his regiment had received rice and other assistance from what he called "regional forces or militiamen of Cambodia."
The Cambodian government has strenuously denied that the North Vietnamese use Cambodian soil as a staging area, and particularly, that the Cambodian Government has assisted them.
Earlier Report Cited
The statement that Chinese advisers were with regular North Vietnamese Army units in South Vietnam followed a report by an American Special Forces sergeant that he saw a Chinese body near Pleime last month.
An official American spokesman commented that "we don't have positive knowledge of Chinese advisers, but it is a distinct possibility." As for the remarks on Cambodia, the spokesman said that it was known that some Vietnamese units had entered South Vietnam from that country but that he had no knowledge that they had received the assistance described.
The North Vietnamese soldiers who appeared at the news conference had rough peasant-style haircuts and looked nervous and shy as military policemen led them into the conference hall. But within minutes they became almost voluble.
In addition to Lien, they were identified as Hoang Van Chung, 27 years old, a tiny private in a medical aid detachment of the North Vietnamese 32d Regiment, and Tran Ngoc Luong, a tall, sallow, 20-year-old who was a medical corpsman in the 33d Regiment. Lien, 25, was a corporal and rifle squad leader in what he said was the Second Regiment.
Lien and Luong are both from rural villages in Quang Binh Province in North Vietnam and Chung is from the North Vietnamese town of Nam Dinh. Luong was captured by American troops west of Pleime when his field hospital was overrun by units of the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The two others were listed as "returnees to the national cause" rather than ordinary prisoners, because they gave themselves up.
The men said that before leaving North Vietnam this summer they were told that three-fourths of South Vietnam was already "liberated" and that they were going to oppose an American "invasion" of the South.
They said they had found that the South Vietnamese and Americans had superior material equipment and transport and that living conditions in the jungle were grim.
Pleime, South Vietnam, December 4, 1965
By Hanson W. Baldwin, Special to The New York Times
Scarred Stronghold at Pleime Is fortified Anew
Bomb craters around the outer wire at Pleime still soar the earth, and the jungle growth nearby is littered with white patches from sent parachute flares.
But the broken wire is replaced, the families of the soldier-tribesmen are coming back to this Special forces camp and the fort around which so many died so short a time ago is stronger than ever.
The furious combat that began late in October with the siege of Pleime may have been decisive against Communist attempts to dominate Vietnam's Central Highlands and thus cut South Vietnam in two.
At any rate, the battles were the climax of the year's campaign by the Vietcong, aided by strong units of the North Vietnamese Army, to overrun district capitals in the II Corps area, to threaten Pleiku and to dominate Highway 19, a strategic Highlands route.
Early in the monsoon season, these efforts met success. Town after town fell. Larger and larger areas in the Highlands came under Vietcong control. Only the stout defense of Special Forces camps such as the ones at Pleime and Ducco and the arrival of the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile), with its aircraft, helped the South Vietnamese to turn the tide.
The struggle for the Central Highlands is far from over. The enemy is expected to come again from secret base areas that are reported to exist in the tree-covered mountains across the Cambodian border.
Capt. Harold M. Moore, a 24-year-old Special Forces officer from Pekin, Ill., commanded the seven-man American jungle-warfare leadership team during the siege. He is still in command and cheerful.
Captain Moore and the camp commander, Capt. Tran Van Nhan, pointed proudly today to their fort's defenses and to its Montagnard fighting men. Some of the tribesmen still bore wounds; some, as young as 12 years old, showed no fear of a Vietcong attack.
Outside the barbed wire, outside the Claymore mines and the dugouts and the watchtowers are the burned remnants of a village that once housed families of some of the fighting men in the fort.
Wreckage of an A-1E Skyraider fighter-bomber, downed in the fighting, lies on a nearby hillside. Cartridge cases from the enemy's 7.62 mm. carbines and rifle ammunition litter the ground. The hills are pocked with craters and the woods seared brown and black where napalm spread its fiery carpet.
But the South Vietnamese flag - three red stripes across a yellow field - still flutters above Pleime, and the garrison is stronger than before the siege. The fort has gone underground - its living quarters and its gun positions are protected by layers of sandbags and by the red clay.
At Ducco, where half the garrison is South Vietnamese and half is Montagnard, the story is the same. The post is stronger than before, and patrols are moving into the brush.
Refugees who fled are coming back. Villages are growing again in the back country near the Cambodian border.
Articles retrieved from New York Times on line
on August 22, 2007
- Books, Articles
* Pleiku, the Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam, J.D. Coleman, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1988.
* We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, Random House, New York, 1992.
* "First Strike at River Drang", Military History, Oct 1984, pp 44-52, Per. Interview with H.W.O Kinnard, 1st Cavalry Division Commanding General, Cochran, Alexander S.
* The Siege of Pleime, Project CHECO Report, 24 February 1966, HQ PACAF, Tactical Evaluation Center.
* Silver Bayonet, Project CHECO Report, 26 February 1966, HQ PACAF, Tactical Evaluation Center.
- Viet Cong