Charlie Troop 1/9th Cavalry Battle of Song Re Valley by Paul Hart

Posted on October 5, 2011

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11 Days in the Valley

Charlie Troop and the Song Re

4 Aug. – 14 Aug., 1967

Action:

1st Cavalry Div. – Operation Pershing

Song Re Valley

Quang Ngai Province, RVN

Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 9 Cavalry, 1st. Cavalry Div. (Airmobile)

Mission: Recon in Force

Preface

The accounts stated here are from personal memories, conversations, documents and photographs included with this narrative. They are not intended to reflect an official After Action report or other Command report related to the mission of Charlie Troop in the Song Re Valley between 4 and 14 August, 1967.

Bong Son to the Song Re

Ralph Harvey, John “Wiley” Hazelwood and I were flight school classmates and joined Charlie Troop, an air and ground reconnaissance squadron, in early April at Landing Zone (LZ) Two Bits. Two Bits (north and south) was a forward fire base split by highway 514 and situated on a rise of land just west of the Vietnamese town of Bong Son. It was home to a number of 1st Cav. Units conducting operations along the coastal plain and in the mountains and valleys throughout Binh Dinh Province – US military designation, II Corp. Charlie Troop “Blues”, an infantry platoon, Red/Gun Plt. (armed UH-1 B & C models) and White/Scout Plt. (lightly armed OH-13’s) had always given a good account of themselves in furtherance the Squadron’s mission to locate and engage the enemy.

In war there’s always a price to pay and losses among air crews and Blues was an accepted fact of life. It came with the territory when you were always looking for trouble and there was plenty of trouble to be found. As such, the Squadron was comprised of all volunteers. “Young tigers” they called us, followed by “God bless”, when we raised our hands and were assigned to A, B, or C Troop. Most of us developed an “always the other guy” attitude, but knew all too well that for everyone else, we were the “other guy”. So when the inevitable happened, the Troop held a brief memorial service, silently promised to “Never forget” and were ready to “saddle up” and ride again. After all we were “the Cav.”

Ralph, Wiley and I found ourselves assigned to the Lift Plt. which flew four UH-1 D & H model “Huey’s”. Our primary  responsibility was to insert and extract the Blues into LZ’s or from Pick-up Zones (PZ’s) designated by our troop commander or various combinations of Guns and Scouts – Red teams, White teams or Pink teams. Generally, Combat Assaults (CA’s) were the result of suspicious observations, confirmed enemy sightings or hostile fire directed at the aircraft. Needless to say, landing and taking off a fully loaded helicopter in tropical conditions from rice paddies, mountain tops, ridgelines and sometimes even bomb craters can be very exciting and demanding. More so when the LZ or PZ was designated “hot” – meaning known or having a high probability of enemy fire. Red teams utilized machine guns, grenades and rockets fired in and around the area to provide cover for the landing and departing aircraft as well as the Blues on the ground. Lift ship crew chiefs and designated door gunners could also bring M/60 machine gun fire to bear from bungee slung or pylon mounted  weapons. It would certainly get your adrenaline pumping and heart rate up when you were on final approach into a “hot” LZ. Slide the outside panel of the armored seat forward for a little more cover, lower the visor on your flight helmet to protect your eyes and while one pilot concentrates on remaining in formation and flying the approach the other follows along with hands and feet ready to take over if necessary. “If necessary” simply meant that the guy flying gets “hit”. Most lift pilots, sometimes referred to as “slick drivers” due to a lack of onboard weapons, developed a very light control touch and keen feel for the aircraft. We became very good at what we did, receiving considerable practice thanks to our very active and highly successful Guns and Scouts.

As the hot spring moved into a steamy summer, Charlie Troop conducted daily operations out of Two Bits and continued a “cat & mouse” game with the enemy. No matter how successful we were during the day and we had our successes, there was little doubt who owned night and it wasn’t us. As the months passed there were occasions when the Troop was called upon for missions out of the ordinary, whatever “ordinary” is in war? Something different; a pre-dawn combat assault, convoy cover along Hwy 1, re-supply and support of engaged ground units, night flights back to An Khe, emergency extractions of Long Range Recon Patrols (LRRP’s), medical evacuation (medevac) of wounded or dead and recovery of downed aircraft and crews. Whatever the need, Charlie Troop’s various platoons could and did respond. So there was an air of excitement in early Aug. 1967 when the Troop was assigned to conduct operations in the Song Re Valley.

The Song Re is a major north/south valley approximately 37 miles northwest of Bong Son and 32 miles southwest Quang Ngai City – US Military designation – I Corp. It was an Area of Operation (AO) that we were unfamiliar with but seemed sure to offer a welcomed change from the increasingly familiar routine and terrain around Two Bits. The mission called for day to day deployment of the Troop to a grass airstrip located at the southern end of the valley just outside the village of Gia Vuc. At the time, Gia Vuc was also home to US Special Forces (SF) Team A-103, operating in conjunction with indigenous personnel. The valley had long been suspected of being a significant Viet Cong (VC)/ North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sanctuary and the Cav. was preparing to find out.

In the early morning of Friday, Aug. 4 th, Charlie Troop saddled up, pulled pitch and flew towards the Song Re with eager anticipation. As our flight approached from the east, the village, SF camp and airstrip all came into view, as did the valley running to the north. After we landed and positioned our aircraft along the runway we could see we were in an unfamiliar but interesting place. A bit of exploring was in order. The look of the village and its people was different than what we were accustomed to seeing in and around Bong Son. We were in the “central highlands” and the home of various Montagnard tribes. Tribes that had a long and storied history of fighting against the forces of the communist north along side the French and now their US counterparts the Army Green Berets. Gia Vuc and the Song Re also had a history and Charlie Troop was about to add a footnote.

Into the Valley

The first signs of things to come occurred on Sunday, Aug. 6th. Maj. Harvey, Raider 6, Charlie Troop’s Commander, was conducting a recon mission and received a number of “hits” to his aircraft from automatic weapons. The following days, Aug.7th and 8th , the Troop conducted additional air and ground operations resulting in two gunships being hit by ground fire and Raider 11, forced down due to battle damage. The downing of Raider 11 resulted in the deployment of our Blues who successfully secured the aircraft and crew for evacuation. We certainly began to sense things were different in this valley, but little did we know how different.

Aug. 9th found the Troop saddled up, in the air and heading back to the Song Re at first light. It’s important to note that although Charlie Troop was part of a larger military operation, the exact nature and extent of our Song Re mission was not general knowledge or at least not to me. Considering the planned air assault on LZ Pat and “recon in force” to follow, I’m sure information was kept limited. As we arrived, landed and settled in, our first recon teams were already in the valley and “on  station”. Unfortunately, getting “settled in” didn’t last long. As a young “Peter Pilot” I really wasn’t aware of the operational facilities for the Troop at Gia Vuc or exactly who, where and how our communications were being achieved. We were generally briefed by our Ptl. Leader, Capt. Abe Stice, Raider 35, on the ground or in the air with the specifics of a particular mission. The nature of our operations and tactics, in addition to evolving battlefield conditions, often dictated an “on the fly” approach to these briefings. Objectives sometimes changed and airmobile flexibility was the key to success and a founding concept of the 1st Cavalry Div.

As the morning sun grew brighter the hurried call of “down bird” spread along the flight line. Lift pilots and crews scrambled to get engines burning and blades turning, while Blues grabbed their gear and jumped on board. The call of a “down bird” was always foreboding and with response time often critical, hands, hearts and minds always raced. This was no exception. Birds cranked, Blues ready, “Flights up” and Raider 35 leads our flight of four north. Radios crackle with anxious voices as we learn that two of our gunships have been shot down by heavy caliber (12.7 cal.) automatic weapons. Major Harvey, Raider 6, crashed on or near the valley floor in an open area at the base of a hill. The aircraft was heavily damaged when it rolled over on it’s roof and as Ralph said at the time, “The rotor blades beat the ground to death.” The crew chief had suffered a broken hip, but beyond bumps and bruises the others were OK. His wingman, Raider 25, Capt. “Bo” Thompson and his crew were not as fortunate. The aircraft had come under intense enemy fire, erupted in flames in flight and crashed close to a  nearby hilltop. Due to the significant enemy threat no immediate attempt could be made to get to the burning wreckage, but experience would tell us that there was little possibility that the crew survived.

As we inserted the Blues near Raider 6 I recall being on the ground watching the black smoke from 25 rising into the morning sky. I sat for a few seconds uncomfortably wondering where the big guns were and if they’re just waiting for us to take off. Ralph obviously had similar thoughts.

An entry in his daily journal reads, “The enemy was so well positioned to shoot down aircraft. They anticipated which way you would turn to dodge fire and have the heavy weapons set up there to shoot you down. You knew you were going to get it, it was just a matter of time.”

We made quick work of the crew extraction and returned to Gia Vuc with no further contact. The loss of Raider 25, Capt. Robert “Bo” Thompson, WO Francis “Alex” Rochkes, 1Lt. Honorio Fidel and SP4 Ray Moran weighed on everyone’s mind and the valley took on a whole new perspective.

I didn’t know Capt. Thompson, WO Rochkes or the others very well. At Two Bits the various platoons lived in separate areas and generally kept to themselves except for meals, movies and memorials – this would be no different.

NOTE: You can read a description of this battle in the attached “Report on LZ Pat”.

In the fog of war it seemed like only minutes after returning to Gia Vuc we were again airborne and flying north , another “down bird”, Raider 24. There was more anxious chatter on the radio, more concern over heavy caliber weapons and more decisions to be made.

Raider 24, WO Davis, had been shot down in the same vicinity as Raider 6 and 25 only hours before. His wounded X-Ray or co-pilot, WO Chuck Iannuzzi, had already been medivaced by his wingman, but the remaining crew needed immediate extraction. With heavy enemy fire in the area, Capt. Stice ordered our flight to “hold” south of 24’s location as he flew into the combat zone and landed near the downed aircraft. He remained on the ground until Raider 24 and his crew were safely onboard then successfully maneuvered away from the enemy threat. He rejoined the flight and all returned to Gia Vuc . For his actions on Aug. 9 th Capt. Stice was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross – see attached.

Raider 24 – Paul & Chuck

Red 24, WO Paul Davis and Red 24 x-ray,WO Chuck Iannuzzi, had already  flown one mission into the Song Re on the morning of the 9 th and were parked on the airstrip when the “down bird” alert sounded for 6 and 25. Paul recently described the events that day.

“The A/C that I normally flew and had flown in the days before the 9th was down due to battle damage and other maintenance issues. This aircraft was assigned to HQ. We were really short on A/C in C Troop guns so they loaned it to us to fly that day. The crew chief and door gunner were part of headquarters Co. and it was the first and only day we ever flew together. I recommended them for Air Medals for their parts in the days adventures.

I normally flew in the left seat as Aircraft Commander and Chuck Ianuzzi was my Co-pilot. We had flown together less than two months on Aug.9th.

I had flown in the left seat earlier that morning but when we got the word that Red 6 and Capt. Thompson had both been shot down we were the next team to go and at the last minute I told Chuck to switch seats and that he  would be flying left seat. (Authors note: The “left seat” was the aircrafts co-pilots seat, but was often utilized by the aircraft commander because it afforded better forward visibility due to the position of the instrument panel.)

We were almost directly over Capt. Thompson’s burning aircraft when we were hit. We were at about 800 feet AGL (above ground level) when the first rounds came through the front of the A/C – left chin bubble – thru the left petal and cyclic into Chuck’s vest. The round fragmented hitting him in the right arm and taking out the green Plexiglas window over his head.

Chuck also had shrapnel wounds from the tail rotor petal, cyclic and other debris in his legs as well. I got some glass and metal fragment cuts on my face. At least two rounds hit the front of the A/C and three more in the tail rotor drive shaft and engine area. The vertical stabilizer had a hole as big as a softball about a foot below the tail rotor itself.

When we were hit, the A/C pitched up and went into a violent spin due to the loss of the tail rotor drive shaft. I entered an autorotation and the spinning stopped. I shut the engine down and headed for a small clearing next to the river bed and that’s where we landed. The rotor RPM was low and because I could not pull pitch at the bottom we hit hard enough to spread the skids.

We were no more than 700 to 800 meters from where Red 6 and Capt. Thompson had crashed. We were flying over the center of the valley and did not see the gun that shot us down. It was later discovered that the NVA would pull the guns back into a cave like structure when not in use and move them out to fire and then retreat.

We were on the ground for about five min. when my wingman was able to get close enough for us to put Chuck on his A/C and they took him back to the aid station. One of our Charlie Troop Slicks came in about five min later and picked the rest of us up.” Chuck recalls being in the valley about to complete a two hour mission “………. were just about to head back to Gia Vuc when all hell broke loose. I felt like someone had slammed me in the chest with a twenty-five pound sledge hammer which threw me back into my seat. About that time I felt searing pain with intensity like I have never felt before in my life. I looked at my right arm and I saw it squirting blood all over the console and map. At the same time we were spinning around because we lost our tail rotor and we were going in. Paul was busy trying to stabilize the aircraft and prepare for a crash landing so I reached around with my left hand to switch the mike to broadcast and make a Mayday call. It went something like this: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is Raider 24, we’ve been hit and I’ve been wounded. We lost our tail rotor and we’re going in.”

I took a round right in the middle of my chest protector and it plowed up without penetrating through until it had reached the end and exited by my right arm removing part of my bicep and forearm. When it exploded it also sent shrapnel into the right leg, left leg and foot, left hand and arm as well as my chest when it broke through the chest protector.

The wound in my bicep on my right arm was an artery and would squirt blood then stop and start squirting again with the next heart beat. Without trying to sound morbid, there was blood everywhere. Paul looked at me with blood squirting and all he could say was: “

Aw Chuck, please don’t bleed on the map.Chucks armored chest protector or “chicken plate” had been hit by a 12.7 cal. round, did its job and then some. The ‘chicken plate” was made of a metal, ceramic and ballistic nylon combination weighing approx. 20 lbs. It was designed to stop and absorb the shock of small arms rounds. The vest was formed to the upper body and contained in a canvas type shell that slipped over the crew members head. Wraparound straps fastened with Velcro in the front to hold it securely in place against the chest. I later heard that Iannuzzi’s vest had been shipped back to the states for further inspection at one of the Army’s R & D facilities.

In early 1968 after the Cav. moved north and as the battles of TET unfolded, pilots and crew members began wearing an  additional soft “flack” jacket over their “chicken plate”. As Dylan sang, “The times they are a changing”. Although Chuck was seriously injured he would survive the Valley and recover from his wounds. In 68 or 69 we would cross paths again as instructors at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.

Chuck had been “grounded” by his injuries, but by 1970 had recovered sufficiently to request a flying assignment. His request was granted and a “check ride” was scheduled with an instructor.

Paul Davis recalls, “

What are the chances of two pilots being shot down on their last flight together in am and then their next flight together here in the States with me as the AC / Instructor pilot for your Check Ride when you were trying to get back on flight status. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

Chuck and Paul remain friends and continue to share the bonds forged that day in the Song Re. “Cleared In, Use Caution” As the battle on, around and for LZ Pat raged throughout the morning and into the afternoon, the small airstrip at Gia Vuc became an increasingly busy place. Air Force C123’s and Army Caribou’s continually delivered artillery shells, rockets and ammo, while heavy lift CH 47 Chinooks and CH54 Flying Cranes keep the supply of JP4 topped off. Air America was in and out flying their distinctive white and blue Pilatus Porter and all heads turned when the two remaining “Guns-a-Go Go” settled down on the busy strip ready for action.

“Guns-a-Go Go” represented the Army’s field testing of three heavily armed CH 47 Chinooks in Vietnam. “Guns” carried a nose mounted 40mm grenade launcher, two side mounted 2.75” rocket pods (19 per), 2 side mounted 20mm cannon (1 per side) and five 50 cal. heavy machine guns (2 per side front and back and 1 mounted on the lowered tail ram), very impressive. One had been lost in the Bong Son A/O months earlier after a reported failure of the 20mm mounting bracket caused rounds to impact the rotor blades – not good for the aircraft or ill fated crew of 7. You can learn more about this project via a quick Google search of Guns a Go Go – interesting reading. The Tet Offensive of 1968 took the final toll on “Guns” and the project was ultimately scrapped as the first UH-1 Cobras began arriving in country.

The day continued at a hectic pace and Charlie Troop was fortunate that we suffered no additional losses of aircraft or personnel. Returning to Two Bits for the night some changes were in order for the following day. We also had time to contemplate the loss of 25 and the fate of Iannuzzi. Let’s see; tomorrow I’ll only have 237 days and a “wake up” left – well maybe……..

Raider 6 x-ray

The flight back to the Song Re on the morning of the 10th took on a more somber and cautious feel. Since “6” was the Troop Commander, his aircraft and crew often found themselves “in harms way” and crew members generally volunteered for this additional risk or action however one might view it.

Ralph would write, “The 6’s copilot, 6 x-ray, had enough of gunships because of the crash and roll over. He wanted to return to the lift section where he started. It seems the 6’s x-ray always came from the lift section. Probably because the gun platoon couldn’t spare anyone. A new 6 x-ray was needed and I volunteered. Besides the 6(Troop Commander) was named Harvey also. I start flying gunships tomorrow as 6 x-ray.” I’m sure Ralph anticipated the adventure and pulled his belts tight as he settled into his new role.

Battles Over, War Continues

The battle for LZ Pat was over and Charlie Troop was involved in scouting the Song Re for additional or withdrawing enemy units. Obviously some remained, as the call of a “down bird” once again passed along the flight line This was all too familiar as Lift crews and Blues scrambled to get airborne and back into the valley. Raider 21, Lt. Wales aircraft was hit by automatic weapons fire and his crew chief and gunner were wounded. He was able to fly out of the immediate area before being forced down due to the damage. Their position was secure and the Blues were inserted. Lt. Wales and the crew were quickly recovered and returned to the medical aid station at Gia Vuc. Later in the day Blues were called upon to conduct a ground recon and the flight received small arms fire as we approached the LZ. No aircraft, crew or Blues were hit and no enemy engaged once they were on the ground. I should note that at some point on the 10th the Raider 25 crew was recovered from the crash site above the valley. None had survived the enemy fire or fiery crash. Their remains were flown to Graves Registration at LZ English for identification , processing and return to the US and their families for burial. Talk about a tough job. Our mission continued with limited contact and a sense that the action in the Song Re was winding down. One thing for sure, this would be the enemy’s classic battle strategy in Vietnam; close up and personal, intense, then disengage and disappear into the mountains, jungles, hills or villages and wait to fight another day.

Although we operated out of Gia Vuc and in the Song Re through Aug. 14th, there was little additional enemy contact and the overall “recon in force” would be summarized in the Report on LZ Pat as having “successfully accomplished its mission of locating the enemy in a here to fore unexplored region and destroyed one of his fortified areas.”

Two Bits and Beyond

The 15th of Aug. found most of Charlie Troop resuming operations around Bong Son, remembering those lost and wounded in the Song Re and looking ahead to the rains of the monsoon. Life returned to “normal” over the next several months until once again we broke camp, saddled up and flew north into unknown territory . We left Two Bits behind and were soon calling the Marine base at Dong Ha on the DMZ home. “TET” loomed just over the horizon as 1968 dawned and soon the valley areas of Khe Sanh and A Shau would become familiar names to further test the young men of Charlie Troop. But that’s another story for another day and another old Sky Trooper to tell.

Postscript

Captain Abe Stice

Capt. Stice was wounded on Sept. 5th during a night attack on LZ Two Bits. He was medivaced to the US where he recovered from his wounds. Abe remained involved with veteran affairs, is currently retired and living in the Great State of Texas. We’ve remained in contact over the years.

WO John “Wiley” Hazelwood By the time Charlie Troop set out for Gia Vuc and the Song Re, Wiley was already in a military hospital in Japan recovering from injuries sustain in crash on July 9 in which his crew chief, SP4 William Strobel, was killed. Wiley rejoined the Troop in September, flew out the remainder of his tour, and completed his military service. He married, raised a family and owned a manufacturing business in his home town of South Hill, Virgina. Wiley was active in various military organizations and was proud to contribute a chapter based on our time with Charlie Troop to the Matt Brennan edited book “Headhunters”. Wiley passed away suddenly his sleep from unknown causes on Dec. 21st 2003 – He always had a funny story to tell – RIP.

WO Ralph Harvey

Ralph, Raider 6 x-ray, continued in that position until he was wounded during a mission on October 9th . He was medivaced home, recovered, transitioned into the CH 47 and returned to the Cav. for a second tour. Ralph remained active in military aviation in his home state of Pennsylvania for over 40 years retiring in 2008 as one of the senior W5 aviators in the US Army. He married Peg, a nurse he met at the VA Hospital during his recovery, raised a family and continues to live on a small farm in eastern Pennsylvania. We keep in touch and attended our first flight school class reunion (66-23/67-1) in Branson, MO, Sept. 2009 – 42 years and everyone wondered, “What took so long?”

WO Paul Davis

Paul returned home and held various Instructor Pilot assignments including Senior Flight Instructor in the Flight Evaluation and Standardization Div. at Hunter Army Airfield and completed his military service in 1971. He remained in civilian aviation for the next several years before opening a successful sales and advertising company that he still operates full time in Jacksonville, FL. Paul and his wife, have one son (born while he was in Vietnam), two grandsons “ and have been privileged to serve as teachers in the youth department of First Baptist Church for the past 35 years.”

Additionally, Paul serves as the Chaplain for the local Fraternal Order of Police auxiliary.

WO Chuck Iannuzzi

Chuck recovered from his wounds and completed his military service in the early 70’s. He struggled with substance abuse problems related to PTSS (post traumatic stress syndrom) “…. until Feb. 1981 when I became a Born Again Christian and Jesus Christ delivered me from all of these issues.” Married since 1973, he and his wife have three sons and five grandchildren. Chuck spent his working career in the construction and remodeling industry as well as related retail businesses. He is currently retired living in the sunny state of Florida.

WO Paul Hart

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I completed my tour with Charlie Troop in late March, 1968 while flying along the DMZ during the TET Offensive. Things were very hot and the big bird back to “The World” couldn’t take off soon enough. I fulfilled my military obligation and flying duties as a UH 1 Instructor Pilot at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA in Dec. 1969. Married for 40 years, two daughters and 4 grandchildren. I’m a retired New Jersey detective and have been working as a stained glass artisan in southern Arizona since the early 90’s. Life’s been good and I’ve been fortunate, very fortunate.

Dedicated to the 21 Officers and men of Charlie Troop who gave their lives during my tour of duty – April 1967 thru March 1968.

“Never forgotten”

Paul Hart

Raider 37

sorry for any inconvenience this may cause anyone.

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