The following pages are translated excerpts from the diary of Vương Luyện, an assistant platoon leader belonging to the NVA 32nd regiment. Luyện is also a member of the Communist Party and began to write his diary since 26 August 1964, when his unit started to leave North Vietnam for the infiltration into South Vietnam.
This diary is only one among numberless others captured by the ARVN and US Forces during the big battles of Pleime, Chu Pong and Ia Drang.
Theses pages are selected because their author has written more regularly and with more details than the others, especially about the ambush on Provincial route #5 from Pleiku to Pleime. They cover the period from 16 October to 10 November 1965, the preparation for the ambush, the failure of the VC and their distressing withdrawal to the Chu Pong mountains.
16 October 1965
My unit has been on its way to the Winter-Spring Campaign and in movement for two days. I was so busy yesterday that I could not find time to write my diary. Today I am writing this during siesta time and by the side of a small stream deep into the jungle. The last two days were a series of hardships. The men from C3(1) are a lot inferior to those of C1 in operations. I had numerous troubles with stragglers all day long. I was always at their side to exhort them, to carry for them some of their gear but these irresponsible guys continued to lag behind. The route did not present too many difficulties and I wondered why our men had been so weak. There were times when 1/4 of the unit fell behind. Today some squads have been 80 % of stragglers. It is indeed hard for me and the platoon leader to be by ourselves. I have not been equipped with arm and ammo yet but usually have to carry two rifles. I did feel very tired but had to make efforts because what else could be done? My love to my comrade-in-arms dictates me to do so. I firmly believe that I am still able to endure and not to give up when faced with hardships. It is nearly time to resume our movement. I must be ready with my haversack. My dear diary, please wish me success!
19 October 1965
The whole unit came into position at about five o'clock yesterday afternoon and today since dawn we have continued to dig our positions and to standby for combat. The first day of our waylay to wait for the enemy is over and nothing happens; my platoon is apart in this forest with enough surprise and secrecy in our favor. There is no one else to help me and the platoon leader and so both of us are kept busy all the time. We have to dig our own positions and at the same time control the execution by our men. I feel very sad when recalling what happened yesterday. Only one hour after our departure, some men in my platoon had lagged behind and I had to be incessantly on their sides. Among the three stragglers, there was one known to me as T2(2) and that makes me hardly able to stand him. I had carried for him his haversack but even so he was unable to march. It was indeed a hard day; I had to pick up the sick people then strove to catch the unit and so until 2 o'clock p.m. It was until 11 p.m. that all the stragglers finally reported. It is unfortunate for the second platoon. What would happen when it is time to fight? If this situation continues, I am afraid that the mission would not be accomplished.
21 October 1965
Friendly units had begun their attack against the Post of Me(3) but none of the enemy activities were reported. There were just some helicopters flying around. At 7 p.m., the first information reported that 44 enemy vehicles were making preparation for the relief. We kept hectically waiting overnight; nothing came into view but flareships. As for today, all our men are under tension and in constant readiness for departure. In the sky aircraft of all kinds: jets, fighter, cargo, reconnaissance, keep flying without respite. Between 8 and 10 o'clock there are up to 50 helicopter sorties in the direction of the Post of Me. Whether they bring in reinforcements or just conduct a diversion, no affirmation could be made. We also receive reports that on the ground, 3 American Battalions, two Ranger Battalions and three Regional Forces companies are on their way for the relief. At about 10 o'clock, 9 vehicles are reported as moving and firing into the battlefield. They break a continued fire into both sides of the route, their machine guns and sub machine guns make a lot of noise and it seems that the engagement has taken place. Do they come upon one of our elements? At 11 o'clock, 29 tanks are reported as moving into the battlefield. I am writing the diary amid a complete silence: no aircraft in the sky, no firing on the ground and no more information about the enemy. Will they move again? Within the next few hours, will there be an assault? Will the third day also be a dull one with its slowness? I hope that from now up to the evening, I could write into this diary some important information, some success. I have just stopped writing when reports come that the enemy is now taking their meal at A-Di (?). It could be that they will resume their displacement after that.
23 October 1965
While I am writing this diary, the enemy aircraft are hovering low over. There are times they stoop down to treetops level but they do not see anything. By now the whole platoon is waiting for the order to begin the assault. All necessary equipment is at hand and once the order is given, let's go. Information from the higher command notifies that the 21st Ranger battalion belonging to the 42nd regiment (?) and one tank company have departed. It is now about 2 o'clock, it is heard that friendly units have also departed. Will there be a fight or will we be again waiting and waiting as the other day? I again hope that this afternoon I will have the opportunity to register some success in the diary. At noon today, the enemy aircraft conducts a heavy airstrike in a village in the rear of the battlefield. We could hear very distinctly the noise made by their bombs and rockets.
We spent all day long yesterday to keep waiting as we are doing now. Suddenly at half past two the order for departure was given. I thought that "this is it" but it was only an alert: the battalion ordered us to dig alternate positions. We finished the work at 7 o'clock. On the way back to our primary positions, it was very dark and we strayed for a long time.
24 October 1965
At last we met them! On 23 October, at half past four the enemy fell into our battlefield. My unit received the order to assault. When we approached the route, friendly units had already opened fire and blocked both ends. We came to the positions of T31(?) at about 6 o'clock but both T(4) found no enemy to engage and altogether rushed to the opening end of the battlefield. At 7 o'clock I was ordered to stay back with A6 (sixth squad) to secure the flank of the assault unit. We had just settled in our positions when I myself again received the order to go on reconnaissance with the reconnaissance team. When we arrived up to the top of the Doc Lap Hill, we discovered an enemy observation post; the enemy soldiers were digging their positions. That night I was at the same time assistant platoon leader and reconnaissance squad leader. Afterwards I led the squad to another enemy position then we came back to prepare for the attack. I did not know what time it was by then. The enemy who was attacked by a friendly T attack returned fire intensely. They made use of all their weapons. We kept quiet. When the shooting was over my platoon was ordered to move forward along the left side of the route. I was with the A5 (fifth squad). After a long displacement, we stopped and waited for the order to open fire. No order was given. Two of our men were sent to establish contact. Unfortunately they strayed and we lay there until dawn. We were planning to withdraw when suddenly we received a volley of machine gun fire and a mortar shell from the enemy. We suffered 5 casualties among them, the platoon leader and a recruit who had his left arm torn off. We immediately gave them first aid and withdrew. But since then we strayed away from the company. It was the first time that I was in charge of the evacuation of the wounded and the command of the unit in separate action. The platoon leader though wounded had been able to withdraw during the day with some men. He then sent back one man to pick us up. We arrived at K5 at noon that day, sent our wounded to the surgical station. The remaining of us carried all the wounded's weapons besides some left at K5. We reached our unit at 7 o'clock. We had strayed for one day and one night and had eaten during this time only dry cooked rice. Three of our comrades are still missing.
26 October 1965
My unit moves to another place. With those who remain, we form a squad, integrated into a friendly platoon to prepare for combat. With those who come back from the evacuation of wounded we also form another squad and keep ready for the mission. But all day long we find nothing. In the sky the aircraft keep flying, numberlessly and incessantly. Our former positions are hit by airstrikes, there are no casualties but some of our equipment, which we still leave there, is damaged. At 6 o'clock I cross the route with the sixth squad to pick up the friendly platoon on the other side. It is until 2 o'clock in the morning that we finally come back. We do not eat anything and just sleep. At dawn we hurriedly prepare to coordinate with the C Company. The enemy aircraft keep flying; the helicopters lower themselves to the treetops in flocks; the jets too and the Dakotas as well.
27 October 1965
The sixth squad was integrated into the third platoon yesterday after noon. I have now only the fourth squad and together with the 1st platoon, we are attached to T32 in order to carry out the mission. I was sent on reconnaissance last night. The battlefield was relatively very large. We made a very careful reconnaissance. The assistant platoon leader of B1 has come back. I am no longer alone; I now have someone to help me. I will certainly accomplish the mission. At noon I returned to our former position to recuperate the equipment of our wounded. This morning two of the stragglers have come back, the third would be certainly missing. I am writing this on the side of a trail in the jungle, which has just been recently hit by enemy airstrikes. The aircraft keep flying and flying.
29 October 1965
And so the month of October is nearly over. Time has run too fast and we just have only a fighting. We have been waiting for the enemy but until 11 o'clock this morning, we still have zero as results. At half past four yesterday afternoon, we were ordered to depart. At the same time it began to rain. It would be a good opportunity for us to conduct the attack. We were only at midway when we were ordered to stop. Then suddenly we were ordered to move back! What a sad thing! One after the other our columns returned to our point of departure. We had just begun to sleep when warning orders for an attack were given. But finally nothing happened. At 5 o'clock we were again on the move. At midway we withdrew then advanced anew. When we were near the battlefield, the enemy was already there. It was the first time that I saw the M113 APC's but not very distinctly these vehicles were in columns along the route while the enemy troops were moving around. This time there would be a big fight; we did nothing but wait. Then suddenly and finally, we were ordered to withdraw to let the job to the recoilless rifles and the mortar elements. When we reached our positions, there still happened nothing. A moment later the recoilless rifles and mortar elements also went back. The results still remained a zero. What a discouraging situation! Two times already! What are the higher echelons planning to do! We are kept in readiness for an eventual attack.
30 October 1965
All of us thought that the enemy had finally disappeared completely. We felt very sad, particularly those of the 33rd regiment which so far could achieve nothing. I had the same feelings. At about 2 o'clock I was sent with a team to the Ga Village for rice resupply. At the same time there were reports that one Ranger battalion was moving on foot toward the battlefield. I regretted to be sent on detail but I kept executing the order. We had been marching for two hours when suddenly we were ordered to rush back to take part in an attack. All of us hurriedly ran back and reached our positions late in the afternoon. The unit having departed, we again had to run to catch them. But at midway, the unit was seen on its way back! Alas, this is the third time that that happens! Everyone had thought that there would be nothing since departure; and it was true! My platoon had to move to the periphery because there were already two platoons inside. Again we had to dig foxholes.
2 November 1965
For three consecutive nights we had been moving. We walked throughout the night, had no time to sleep during daylight. We had at the same time to dig foxholes and to be ready for combat. The enemy was crafty. They launched their troops into our rear to create for us troubles. In the last few days, helicopters of all kinds together with fighters and jets have been flying all the time over the area. They also audaciously blocked our axes of displacement in order to kidnap our cadres and soldiers. We shall return to protect our bases and shall revenge!
4 November 1965
We reached our base yesterday afternoon. I met a man who was native of the same village as mine. He has been here for some months and gone through a recent fighting. Through his conversation it seems that his morale has lowered a little. I had to encourage him. I must keep helping him in order to prevent any regrettable incidents. Flocks of helicopters keep flying. Where would they land?
10 November 1965
I had not written anything for the last six days. Our unit had to go forward for resupply of food and ammo but due to the enemy activities, we could get only a small amount of rice. In the evening of 6 November, I went with 10 men to the Ga village to pick up rice. The enemy had just left the village in the afternoon and we had to be very careful. We came back to the unit at 7 o'clock on the next day. I was caught since then by fever. It was the first time that my temperature went up to 40 degrees. Fortunately it gradually went down and I could return with my unit to the place we had left one month ago.
The woods around had been destroyed heavily by enemy airstrikes. We could stay here for a few days then resume our mission. This was only the end of the first phase and not of the whole campaign. But in brief for the first phase we have got no major results.
̣(1) For the sake of security and brevity, VC units’ size is designated by a letter: squad by A, platoon by B, company by C and so on. (T.N.)
(2) T2 is not a proper name and allegedly means in the context "faithful element" (to the Party).
(3) So called by VC instead of "Post of Pleime".
(4) "T" allegedly designates a battalion but the unit mentioned here remains unidentified.