Operation WHEELER was characterized by
size combat assaults of the high ground
west of Tam Ky in Quang Nam province. These combat assaults were followed by search and
destroy operations to find and destroy enemy forces, base camps, and fortifications. On 11 Sep
1967, the operation was launched under the control of the 1st Bde, 101st Abn Div.
Operation WALLOWA involved intensive
of the Hiep Duc -Que Son Valley.
Small units were combat assaulted into the area to find the enemy prior to the insertion of ready
reaction forces. On 4 Oct 1967, the operation was begun under the control of the 3rd Bde,
1st Cav Div (Ambl).
On 11 November 1967 both Operations WHEELER
and WALLOWA were merged to
facilitate coordination and control. Seven US Army infantry battalions were participating in the
action to located and destroy enemy forces in the Que Son and Hiep Duc Valleys, to provide
security to Tam Ky, and to secure highway QL-1 north of Tam Ky.
The name Wheeler/Wallowa not only referred
to the operation, but also to an area of
operations (AO) which encompassed both Operation Wheeler/Wallowa and Operation
Burlington Trail in the southern portion of the AO.
On 12 Feb 68, after participating in Task
Miracle (the defense of Da Nang during
TET 68), the 1st Bn 6th Inf returned south and conducted combat operations under the control
of the 3rd Bde, 4th Inf Div. On 27 Feb 68, the 3rd Bde, 4th Inf Div tactical area of operations
passed to the 196th Inf Bde, and the 1st Bn 6th Inf came under their operational control. The
3rd Bde, 4th Inf Div moved out of the Americal Div area and deployed in the II CTZ further
to the south.
1. Security of Highway QL #535
One specified mission for the 1st Bn 6th
was participating in minesweeping operations and
security of Highway QL #535 from the intersection with Highway QL1 near LZ Baldy BT 133 453
to LZ Ross, BT 029 341 approximately 17 km (over ten miles) to the west near the Que Son Valley.
The road provided a land route for supplies and personnel to LZ Ross, thus allowing helicopters to
be used on other missions, and enhanced RVN pacification efforts in the area. One infantry company
from the 1st Bn 6th Inf was given the mission of securing the road and interdicting the enemy mine
teams, while the other companies conducted combat operations in the areas west of LZ Ross.
Composite view of Route 535 from LZ Ross (BT 029 341) at left to LZ Baldy (BT 133 453) near
Highway QL1 at right. This jpg map photo may be downloaded and printed at twice the size shown.
[View due to scanner limitations.] Maps provided by Vic Vilionis, Brian Beaderstadt and Wayne
Johnston. For full size maps- link to the northeast corner of Hiep Duc (Sheet 6640-3), the northwest
corner of Tam Ky (Sheet 6640-2); and, southwest corner of Hoi An (Sheet 6640-1).
Each day engineer minesweeping teams
by infantry security forces would leave from
LZ Baldy and LZ Ross and move toward each other on Highway 535. Their job was to clear and
secure the road for the movement of supplies and personnel in convoys of 30 to 40 vehicles that had
their own local security of armored cavalry and mechanized infantry. Despite minesweeping and
convoy security, the enemy usually damaged or destroyed at least one vehicle each day, sometimes
with casualties. The narrow road, with dense vegetation on each side, allowed the enemy to plant
mines after the mine sweepers passed or to set up an ambush with antitank weapons. Use these links
for views of LZ Ross, LZ Baldy, Highway 535, and mine damage.
The efforts of the Viet Cong local force
were successful initially. Their operations diverted
military assets that could have been employed against the 2d NVA Division off to the west,
demonstrated the limits of GVN control in the area, and helped to coerce support from the local
civilians. While the enemy avoided a daylight engagement with the infantry forces, they continued
to attack night defensive positions with mortars and sniper fire.
After Company B, 1st Bn 6th Inf,
in civic action activities in the area, additional
intelligence revealed that the battalion's night ambush positions along Highway 535 had been
reported to the Viet Cong by local civilians. To counter this problem, Company B, under the
command of CPT Dan A. Prather, stopped conducting combat sweeps in the daytime while
relying on fixed ambushed positions at night along the road. Instead, they focused on becoming
familiar with the area along the highway during daylight civic action and medcap operations.
They followed up with aggressive nighttime patrols composed of eight to fifteen soldiers operating
in a specific sector that they knew as well or better than the enemy. Mortar and artillery forward
observers were attached to each patrol and registration points were confirmed during the day to
enable a rapid shift for indirect fire support after dark.
During the first night of patrolling, two
had contact, resulting in two VC killed, and two
individual weapons captured along with six mines and several grenades. During the four week
period after the nighttime patrols were initiated, a total of 32 enemy were killed, with 12 weapons
and numerous mines and grenades captured. Documents captured later revealed that the local
force Viet Cong platoon that had been attacking the road was completely eliminated. During the
same period, only two soldiers from the battalion were slightly wounded, and neither required
The night patrols, locally known as "rat
soon were being conducted by the other infantry
companies as they rotated in for the road security mission. Company C had an incident that
exemplified the technique:
After establishing rapport with the local population, Captain John Hurtado (later KIA)[From "The Rats of the Regulars" by MAJ Joseph M. McDonnell, printed in the A Distant
received a report from an extremely reliable source that a local VC squad was planning
a night meeting in a destroyed village along the highway. The rat patrol assigned this
area approached the village at about 0200 hours on 15 Mar 68. On entering the village,
four Viet Cong leisurely stood up, one of them only two feet from the rat patrol leader.
At this point an incident that can only take place in a combat environment occurred.
The startled rat patrol leader reached for and violently took the enemy soldier's assault
rifle away from him. The near simultaneous rifle firing of the other rat patrol members
killed the remaining VC. . . .[T]he Viet Cong obviously thought the rat patrol was part
of the VC force.
2. Combat Operations in April and May 1968
[The following narrative is a detailed report of combat in the
of LZ Center in May 1968.
Map locations are reported to the nearest 100 m. by six digit grid coordinates with a letter grid
identifier (e.g. LZ Center at BT 053 250). For brevity and accuracy, times of day are given in
military date time format (e.g. 050610 May 68 = 6:10 a.m. May 5, 1968). Other abbreviations:
WHA(E) = seriously wounded by hostile action, evacuated by Dustoff helicopter; WHA(M) =
minor wounds from hostile action, remained in the field; KHA = killed hostile action; and, RPG =
rocket propelled grenade, an enemy NVA weapon. A complete list of abbreviations is found
at this link elsewhere on this web site.]
On 20 April 1968, the 198th Inf Bde
assumed control of Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA
from the 196th Infantry Brigade. The 196th Inf Bde had been placed under the operational control
of the 1st Cavalry Division while it participated in fighting near the de-militarized zone. The 198th
Inf Bde (with the 1st Bn 6th Inf, 1st Bn 52d Inf, and 1st Bn 20th Inf) began conducting combat
operations in the WHEELER/WALLOWA area. Primary emphasis was placed on clearing the
Que Son Valley (BT 0334) and Antenna Valley (AT 9137) and neutralizing enemy Base Area 116.
On 22 April 1968, Companies A, B, C of the
1st Battalion 6th Infantry moved to AO Manassas
as part of the WHEELER/WALLOWA operation., while Company D remained in the BURLINGTON
TRAIL area of operations. Headquarters, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry set up an additional Tactical
Operations Center (TOC) at LZ Center (BT 053 250). The primary tactical technique used during
WHEELER/WALLOWA operations was a company sized search and sweep or search and clear
operation to achieve contact, then a battalion or larger combat assault to exploit the contact.
A. 5 May 1968
On 5 May 1968 NVA forces struck throughout
the 198th Infantry Brigade tactical area of
operations in the mountainous areas northwest of Chu Lai.
Baldy received eight rounds of 60mm fire, while LZ Colt at BT
327 was hit
with six mortar and three RPG rounds.
Ross at BT 028 341 was hit with 100 rounds of 60/80mm rounds, 32 x
rockets, and a dozen CS mortar rounds. By 0310 hrs they reported a fire near the ammo dump.
Soldiers from C/1-6 Inf, who had observed the rockets launch and counted 41 streaking toward
LZ Ross, requested gunship support. At 0550 hrs the gunships fired on the suspected launch
location at BT 950 270 and had secondary explosions. LZ Ross was the home of Battery A,
3d Battalion, 16th Artillery (155mm howitzers, towed) who provided reinforcing fires, and Battery
B, 3d Battalion, 18th Artillery (8" howitzer and 175mm guns) who provided general supporting
fires for Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA.
BT 228 314, units of the 1/1 Cav was struck with mortar fire and 22
of 122mm rocket fire.
Bowman was struck with at least 11 mortar rounds, but at 0345 hrs saw
two hugh secondary explosions at BT 240 117 from counter-mortar fire.
0225 hrs 5 May 1968 a trip flare was set off in the perimeter wire at
East (BT 131 203).
By 0355 hrs LZ East was receiving small arms fire and that confirmed a ground attack was underway.
At 0750 hrs, the S3,1-6 Inf, operating from the other split TOC location at LZ East, reported that
soldiers from D/1-6 Inf had found 1 B40 rocket, 19 Chi Com hand grenades, 2 NVA ponchos
and two blood trails moving NE.
[Note: this is a composite map from Series L7014 On left, Sheet 6640-3, Hiep Duc; on right,
Sheet 6640-2, Tam Ky.]
5 May 1968 LZ
Center at BT 052 250 received numerous mortar and rocket
culminating in a night time ground attack. The resident 105mm howitzer artillery unit at the base at
that time was Battery B, 3d Battalion, 82d Artillery, who provided direct supporting fires from there.
At 0135 the firebase received mortar fire from BT 047 268 that lasted for thirty minutes, and reported
sound and movement on the south side. They requested gunship support and Firebird gunships
arrived at 0210. Twelve more 60mm mortar rounds landed at 0240. A large secondary explosion
was observed at BT 038 262 at 0429 hrs. Seven dead NVA soldiers were found in the wire at
daybreak, and 3 AK-47 and 2 RPG rocket launchers were captured. The attacks continued during
the day. At 0759 when the base was hit with 3 RPG rounds and additional mortars. At 1355 hrs,
A/1-6 reported that bunker #1 at LZ Center received an RPG round and small arms fire. At 1600
hours, a helicopter attempting to land at the firebase received an RPG round resulting in two WHA.
Sporadic mortar fire and RPG attacks continued on LZ Center throughout the day and evening
(1700 hrs - 2 RPG; 1724 hrs - mortars;1820 hrs - RPG; 1850 hrs - mortars; 2100 hrs - RPG).
At 2045 hours, the enemy mortars had zeroed in on the Tactical Operations Center at LZ Center.
1-6 Inf units at the firebase reported the suspected location at grid BT 05 24. At 2158 hrs movement
was observed within 200m of the north side of the firebase. A "Spooky" Air Force C-130 gun ship
that reported on station at 2150 hrs and remained to provide fire support until 2310. Enemy
movement just outside the wire was targeted, and enemy activity was reduced. For additional
views of LZ Center, click here.
combat on 5 May 1968 also continued in the hills to the southeast of LZ
1030 hrs a Minuteman helicopter (#66-17075) from the 176th AHC was shot down at BT 072
245. At 051045 hrs a Firebird gunship helicopter from the 71st AHC was shot down at BT 075 248.
[Note: a long range recon patrol identified as "LRRP ROSIE" may have been inserted at 1115 near
the downed aircraft.] Soldiers from B/1-6 were picked up by helicopters at LZ Center and combat
assaulted at 1435 hrs to secure the area near the downed aircraft.
[Note: the 198th operational log reports that at 1330 hrs LRRP
ROSIE was joined by B/1-6. The
next log entry states "Res: 7 KHA, 3 MHA, 4 WHA." Casualty reports from a Memorial Service
conducted in late 1968 indicate that six soldiers (presumably from the Recon Platoon) from E/1-6
were killed on 5 May 1968: SGT James Paul Freeman, SGT Robert Eugene Quick, SGT Barry
Thomas Heinhardt, CPL Russell Willim Effert, CPL Duane Michael Normandine, and CPL Robert
George Weddendorf. It is not clear at this time whether the numbers of killed, missing, and wounded
reported in the operational logs were from the aircraft crews from the 176th AHC, the 71st AHC,
E/1-6, or some combination of those units.]
By 051750 hrs, 96 additional soldiers from
D/1-20 Inf (a unit under the operational control of the
Commander, 1-6 Inf) were air lifted to join B/1-6 on the ground. The enemy apparently observed
the move, because at 1824 hours B/1-6 and D/1-20 received numerous 82mm mortar rounds while
at BT 083 247. Within a few minutes D/1-20 had 1 KHA and 6 WHA, and requested an immediate
air strike at BT 083 246. [Note: an operational log entry on 060900 May 1968 indicated that the
casualties were caused by a pressure type mine, not by mortar fire.] As the strike came in, they
observed heavy NVA weapons firing at the jets. Apparently three soldiers were injured with the air
strike came in too close. The next day at 061100 May 1968, B/1-6 reported finding bodies, ruck
sacks, lighters, wallet, dog tags with names at the site of the burned aircraft they secured the day
before. The presence of two infantry companies on the ground did not deter the NVA. The enemy
were brazen in their movement in the area for at 061350 hrs B/1-6 engaged VC in the open at
BT 087 244 resulting in one kill.
To the southwest of LZ Center, soldiers
the weapons platoon of A/1-6 reported at 052020
May 1968 that they under a ground attack at BT 022 289. They fired on a suspected enemy location,
and at 2113 hrs reported that the firing had stopped. The next evening at 2046 hrs they reported
receiving small arms fire from several enemy locations at BT 026280, BT 030 283, and BT 028 280.
Popular Force soldiers at their location returned fire.
B. 6 May 1968
LZ Center at BT 052 250, looking westward. On the night of 5 May 68 the NVA attacked
northward toward the perimeter at the steepest part of the ridge line near the left center of this photo.
Their attack was stopped by hurling several cases of hand grenades down the slope. Photo by
Dave Bliss (1/6 Inf 1967-68).
Action in the area around LZ Center
unabated on 6 May 1968. Movement was observed
in the wire at 0050 hrs. At 0105 hrs, two VC penetrated the perimeter at LZ Center, and trip flares
were ignited in the wire. At 0330 hrs, ten 122mm rockets launched from BT 990265 impacted on the
firebase. At 0440 hrs Bunkers #8 & #9 engaged 4 VC with M79 rounds. At 0941 hrs a CH-47
Boxcar from the 178th ASHC was fired on by an RPG round while trying to land at the firebase.
An additional suspect enemy mortar site was pinpointed at BT 055 225. At 1004 hrs a rocket launcher
site was spotted by an aerial observer at BT 265 076. At 1140 hours, an air strike at BT 056 276
resulted in a secondary explosion. The jet took automatic weapons fire while making his bomb run.
In spite of air strikes and artillery attacks, the enemy forces continued to pound the firebase with mortar
fire. At 061400 May 1968 the TOC at FSB Center suffered a direct hit from two 82mm rounds,
resulting in 5 WHA (E) and 2 WHA (M). At 1800 hrs four more mortar rounds from suspect
locations about 1200m. northwest of the firebase. By 1850 hrs, a total of 25 rounds had impacted
on the firebase.
C/1-6 was patrolling to the northwest of
Center on 6 May 1968. At 1121 hrs they received
fire from BT 006 396 and BT 018 398. They fired mortars and called in artillery on the suspected
It should be noted that the ground attacks
at LZ Center on 5 and 6 May 1968 resulted in in 18
NVA KIA, 8 AK-47, 5 RPG, 1 9mm pistol and VC Silver Star captured in action. Documents
taken from the body of an NVA officer identified the attacking forces as elements of the 3rd NVA
Regt., 2nd NVA Division.
C. 7 May 1968
On 7 May 1968 the mortar and RPG attacks on
LZ Center continued. When mortar rounds
landed at LZ Center at 0651 hrs, soldiers from B/1-6 observed flashes from mortars firing from a
location at BT 089 244. LZ Center fired mortars at the location. At 0724 hours, two RPG rounds
landed in front of bunker #7 on the east side of the firebase. At 0841 hrs, a CH-47 Chinook aircraft
attempting to land at LZ Center drew automatic weapons fire. When a LOH in the area attempted
to provide fire support, the ground units in the area (D/1-20) advised him to leave because the fire
was from an enemy .50 cal heavy machine gun. At 0916 hrs, 4 RPG rounds were fired at the TOC
on the firebase. One went over the area, while three hit north of bunker #10.
During the evening of 6 May 1968, B/1-6 and
D/1-20 (a unit under the operational control of
the Cdr, 1-6 Inf) had moved from their location near the two downed helicopters to a location just
south of LZ Center. On 7 May 1968 at 0010 hrs their position was hit with 26 enemy 82mm
mortar rounds while they and D/1-20 were at BT 066 238.
On 7 May 1968 when D/1-20 moved out
patrol from their combined night defensive
position with B/1-6, they came under sniper fire from BT 070 239. At 070842 May 1968, D/1-20
reported taking automatic weapons fire from an enemy position at BT 080 238 while they were
located at BT 075 233. They identified eleven different enemy locations near their positions.
At 1130 hours, one soldier was dusted off as WHA because of two enemy hand grenades that
exploded near his position. The unit moved toward a new position at 1300 hours. By 1900 hrs,
they were in contact with an NVA company resulting in 2 KHA and 6 WHA. Dust off was
impossible because of the tactical situation. The soldiers were picked up at 080940 May 1968
when the unit was resupplied with ammunition.
At 070842 May 1968, 71st AHC Firebird
on station to support D/1-20 had to
depart the area because of the intense heavy automatic weapons fire from BT 068 227. At
0936 hrs Helix 25, a USAF Forward Air Controller (FAC), was on station to direct the airstikes
against the enemy locations. At 0944, the jet fighters on the airstrike received small arms and
automatic weapons fire. At 1000 hours, the FAC spotted an enemy platoon sized unit moving
on the ground. Artillery was fired at the target until additional jets arrived. At 1025 hours, one
of the A-4 jets for the air strike at BT 076 226 took .50 cal hits in his wing tank and broke station
to return to Chu Lai. He made a successful forced landing. By 071155 hrs, B/1-6 identified five
enemy .50 cal anti-aircraft positions: BT 068 227, BT 070 225, BT 074 226, BT 974 224, and
BT 075 225. Those positions shortly took their toll. At 1215 hrs an A-1 Skyraider aircraft
exploded after taking hits in the wing section. The aircraft was shot down at BT 070 225, but
the pilot bailed out and was recovered at BT 175 153. At one point their were eight Air Force
and Navy sorties of two aircraft each stacked up above the area ready to roll in and drop their
ordinance on marking rounds placed by the Forward Air Controllers. At 1300 hrs when the
air strike was completed, mortars from LZ Center, and 155mm and 175mm artillery were
fired into the area. The intensive anti-aircraft fire in the area and later the capture of a 12.7mm
AA gun indicated that the enemy's GK-31 AA Bn had been attached to, or was operating in
support of the 3rd NVA Regt.
At LZ Center, the air strike provided an
to sweep the perimeter. Two dead
NVA were found in front of bunker #8 with pistol belts, AK- 47 magazines, and two bags of
chicom hand grenades. Both had been killed by small arms fire from the perimeter.
Because of the extensive combat in and
FSB Center on 6 and 7 May, the tactical
headquarters for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade prepared to assume operational control of
two additional infantry companies from the 11th Light Infantry Brigade. Troop movements
were necessary to increase the defensive capability near LZ Center and LZ West.
D. 8 May 1968
On the morning of 8 May 1968 at 0740 hrs,
was moved out of the BURLINGTON
TRAIL area and transported from the vicinity of LZ East to LZ West at AT 990 250 in one lift.
By 0930 hrs C/1-6 was moved from LZ West into the area southwest of LZ Center at BT 024
224. Both A/1-20 and B/1-20 were moved from LZ Ross and inserted to the area just west
of C/1-6 at BT 019 269. There were now twice as many infantry companies in the areas near
LZ Center under the operational control of the Cdr. 1-6 Inf than there had been only a day
before. The additional troops, however, did not deter the NVA forces. At 080855 May 1968,
two 122mm rockets impacted 20m in front of bunker #20 at FSB Center. The suspected launch
site was at BT 080 263. The NVA had announced their intention to stay and fight.
At 081229 May 1968, B/1-6 was in contact at
BT 056 246 with one soldier WHA. They
had automatic weapons fire only 50 m. to their front. The dust off was completed, however,
by 1255 hrs. When the enemy opened up with a .50 cal. machine gun from BT 056 226,
the unit requested an airstrike. By 1400 hrs, B/1-6 had made contact with an unknown size
NVA force in a bunker complex to their front. The killed 13 NVA who had been dug-in,
and captured two AK-47s and, significantly, one 12.7 mm heavy AA machine gun.
This photo of the Soviet DShKM 12.7-mm [.51 Cal.] Heavy Machine Gun
soldiers from B/1-6 Inf on 8 May 1968 was provided by Spencer Bumgardner (B/1-6 inf
1967-68). The NVA used these heavy machine guns to cover landing zones. More
information about the AA gun is provided at this link. This particular AA gun was equipped
with a large circular anti-aircraft sight and shoulder braces for the operator who crouched in
the hole to the left of the gun to get elevation for shooting at aircraft. One soldier from the
unit, PFC Pete Wilmouth (shown in the photo above left) moved into position with a light
anti-tank weapon (LAW) and knocked out the enemy crew of the weapon. Other soldiers
in the unit successfully assaulted three or four enemy positions adjacent to the AA gun.
By 1516 hrs, they dusted off 7 WHA and one heat casualty. At
hrs they received
enemy mortar fire at BT 057 227, resulting in an additional WHA. By 1715 hrs, their
interpreter was KHA, and two additional soldiers were WHA (E) and dusted off at
1740 hrs. At 1830 hrs they were being mortared by the enemy, and at 1925 they
engaged an NVA force at BT 057 211 killing 3 NVA.
At 081450, C/1-6, who had been moving
from their LZ at BT 024 224, reached
the hill top at BT 048 226, killing one NVA and capturing 1 AK-47 and three chicom grenades.
By 1940 hrs they killed another NVA at BT 048 226. At 090545 they observed 3 NVA
on the ridge line at BT 057 230.
Because the NVA were operating at strength,
B/1-6 and C/1-6 moved into a night
defensive position at BT 057 227, in the vicinity of Nui Hoac ridge. [This location was
to be the scene of another tough fight only a week later for A/1-6 and D/1-6 and two
other supporting infantry companies]. In the early morning hours of 9 May at 0445 hrs
they received 20 rds of 60 mm fire. In addition, one RPG round went over their perimeter
from the NNE. Gunships on station at 0509 hrs received small arms fire as they attacked.
After the gunships returned from rearming, they had two secondary explosions on the targets.
They also took .50cal fire from BT 042 217. At 0700 hours, B/1-6 was still taking enemy
rocket fire. At 0955 they were taking mortar fire from SW of their location. By 1105 hrs,
they had received 14 more mortar rounds.
E. 9 May 1968
On the morning of 9 May 1968, B & C/1-6
moved eastward along the ridge toward
BT 057 228 with C/1-6 in the lead. At 091110 May 1968, D/1-20, under the operational
control of 1-6 Inf, assaulted a hill further east on the ridge at BT 062 229 and suffered 1 KHA
and 2 WHA. Helix 25 had spotted 30 VC dug in bunker position on the hill. At 1150 hrs,
while moving eastward toward that same enemy location from up on the ridge line, C/1-6
received heavy weapons fire from BT 060 228. Because of the volume of fire, B/1-6 and
C/1-6 consolidated their position at BT 057 227 and decided to wait for an airstrike. They
had 16 casualties and 5 heat casualties when assaulting the hill. [PSG Leroy Ferguson and
CPL Robert Earl Harris from C/1-6 are thought to be KHA in the assault].
As Helix 25, the USAF FAC loitered in the
to conduct an airstrike, D/1-20 was
400 m north of and down hill from the suspected enemy position on the ridge. B & C/1-6
were several hundred meters to the west. Helix 25 put in an air strike at BT 075 225
with 250 lb. bombs. Helix 42 replaced the other aircraft at 1350 and continued to receive
ground fire. At 1445 hrs C & B/1-6 received enemy mortar fire at BT 057 227. At 1555
hrs they continued to receive heavy weapons fire and mortars. Mortar fire continued at
1635 hrs. C/1-6 moved northward off the ridge line, but was hit with mortars at 1800 hrs
while at BT 060 230. They called 81mm mortars on the suspect location..
Back at LZ Center, the enemy continued
mortar and rocket attacks on 9 May 1968
At 0940 hrs one 82mm mortar round landed 30 m from the resupply pad, resulting in 2 US
WHA (M). An airstrike at 1000 hrs was directed against a probable .50 cal position at BT
039 220. At 1020 hrs, another 82mm mortar round made a direct hit on a bunker resulting
in 5 WHA. The dustoff was completed by 1035 hrs. Mortars continued at 1050, coming
from BT 064 239. At 1145 hrs, soldiers on the firebase observed a blast 50' high at BT
064 239. The blast was thought to have come from an enemy RR position at that location
that was destroyed by 81mm mortars firing from LZ Center. Additional enemy mortar rounds
landed on the firebase at 1505 hrs, including one on the commo bunker and one on the admin
F. 10 May 1968
In spite of all the firepower that had been
directed in the vicinity of LZ Center, the enemy
continued their mortar attacks on the firebase on 10 May. LZ Center was hit at 0758 and
again at 0825 by a few rounds. At 1130 hrs, the Americal Division Commander, MG
Koster, arrived at LZ Baldy for a briefing on the situation around LZ Center. The Assistant
Division Commander, BG Young, arrived at LZ Baldy 1415 to discuss plans for the units in
On 10 May 1968 the mortar attacks also
against the units in the field. At 1010
hrs, B/1-6 was hit by two rounds from BT 051 223. At 1140 hrs, Helix 25 called in air strikes
at BT 051 225, BT 055 227, BT 062 227, and BT 065 227. Two secondary explosions
were observed at BT 058 227. In spite of the air strikes, at 1245 hrs, B & C/1-6 received
heavy mortar fire resulting in B/1-6: 1 KHA [thought to be 1LT Roger Duce] and 2 WHA;
C/1-6: 3 WHA and 1 heat casualty in shock. By 1346 hrs they had dusted off 9 WHA,
1 KHA, and 1 heat casualty. Later that day, the USAF "Spooky" C130 gunship arrived
to provide support. Ground fire was observed by C&B/1-6 coming from BT 044 224 and
When the airstrikes began in the late
of 10 May, A/1-6 and E/1-6 used the
occasion to begin moving.. They were hit with enemy mortar fire with negative results.
By 1517 hrs, A/1-6 observed two VC in the open carrying a mortar tube at BT 07 24.
At 2228 hrs, C/1-20, a unit under the
control of 1-6 Inf, occupied the position
at BT 057 288. They received heavy weapons fire and small arms fire from 300 m to their
southwest. Their forward observer was wounded. Moments later, they reported enemy
movement on all sides. When the dust off arrived to extract the wounded, they took
ground fire from the west. Gunships supported the extraction, and negative contact was
experienced after 2325 hrs.
G. 11 May 1968
Enemy activity resumed on 11 May
At 0810, Helix 25 had an air strike going
in at BT 071 225. He observed two secondary explosions. The attacking jet took ground
fire that damaged his radios. A resupply helicopter attempting to land LZ Center at 1015
hrs took hits in a blade and had to return to Chu Lai for repairs. At 1245 hours, LZ Center
took one mortar round. Later in the afternoon at 1745 another round landed just outside
the perimeter. At 1804 they took two more rounds, and A/1-6 reported hearing the mortars
firing. Ten minutes later two more rounds landed at the firebase. At 2110, A/1-6 fired
artillery into BT 072262 and heard one large secondary explosion. At 2200 hrs, another
mortar round landed at the firebase.
At 110840 D/1-20, under the operational
of 1-6 Inf, was in contact at BT 067
257 on the ridge line just to the east of LZ Center. They were pinned down and receiving
heavy automatic weapons fire. Some elements of the unit were cut off from the main body.
At 0857 hrs, one of the gunships on station was hit in the fuel tank by .51 cal fire from
BT 062 252. A/1-20, who had been operating north of LZ Center, moved eastward to
link up with D/1-20, while B/1-20 moved south to link up at 0920 hours. Results in D/1-20
were 6 KHA, and 7 WHA (E) by dustoff at 1040 hrs.
Midmorning of 11 May 68, elements of A/1-6
moved eastward from LZ Center toward
the area where soldiers from D/1-20 had been cut off. At 111148 May 1968, A/1-6 made
contact with the enemy at BT 065 254. They had just entered a draw and spotted D/1-6
soldiers killed in an ambush previously, when the enemy opened up on them. They had
2 WHA at BT 067 253 from automatic weapons fire and small arms fire. By 1227 hours,
one of the wounded men died [thought to be 2LT William Lee Menconi], but one NVA
had been killed and an AK 47 captured. At 1428 hrs at BT 068 259 A/1-6 reported
hearing NVA voices and engaged the target. At 1430 hrs they reported the possible
destruction of a 12.7mm AA machine gun at BT 067 253.
H. 12 - 14 May 1968
Although fighting continued in the
on 13 May, the 198th Inf Bde headquarters
moved to the Chu Lai tactical area while the 196th Inf Bde headquarters assumed tactical
control of Operations WHEELER/WALLOWA with five maneuver battalions (2-1 Inf,
1-6 Inf, 1-20 Inf, 4-31 Inf, and 1-52 Inf).
[The 196th Inf Bde headquarters had been occupied with fighting
to west in May
1968. On 10 May 68, the Kham Duc Special Forces Camp at ZC 006 085 came under
enemy attack. The 196th Infantry Brigade was tasked to provide reinforcements to the
camp. The 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry along with Battery A, 3d Battalion, 82d Artillery
were moved to Kham Duc on 10 May 68. Due to the heavy enemy pressure on the
camp, the decision to evacuate personnel was made and on 12 May evacuation began.
As insufficient time permitted evacuation of the five 105 howitzers of Battery A, 3/82 Arty,
battery, personnel destroyed the gun tubes. Having completed the mission to the west,
on 13 May 1968, the 196th Inf Bde headquarters assumed operational control of the 1-6 Inf,
along with the other infantry units it normally controlled.]
(3) The battle at Nui Hoac Ridge (MOH for SFC McCleery)
On 14 May 1968, Co. A (A/1-6), Co. D
and the Recon Platoon from Co. E, 1st Bn
6th Inf, [along with Co. A (A/1-20) and Co. B (B/1-20) 1st Bn 20th Inf, under the operational
control of HQ 1-6] were given the mission of attacking an NVA force that was well entrenched
on the Nui Hoac ridge, BT 056 226 to BT 065 226, near Hill 352 at BT 075 225, 17 miles west
of Tam Ky. This was the high ground directly south of FSB Center, BT 050 250. During that
same time, Co. C and Co. E (C & E/1-6) were to provide security at FSB Center, while Co. B
(B/1-6) was to man the OP to the east of the firebase at BT 065 254. Co. C (C/1-20), 1st Bn
20th Inf was to operate in the vicinity of BT 043 273, while Co. D and Co. E (D & E/1-20)
were to provide security for FSB Ross at BT 028 341 .
Enemy activity for 14 May 1968 began at FSB
Center. At 141235 May 68, the firebase
received two rounds of recoilless rifle (RR) fire resulting in 1 US KHA, 2 US WHA (Evac) and
2 US WHA (Minor). The enemy position was engaged with artillery and air strikes.
Soldiers had attempted to assault the enemy
bunker complex near Hill 352, but with little success.
Their positions were deemed "impregnable." A company-sized force of North Vietnamese Army
regulars were positioned in well-fortified, dug-in bunkers over six feet deep with reinforced covers,
and "S" shaped tunnels as the only means of entrance or exit. The enemy was armed with small arms,
automatic weapons, heavy machine guns, rockets (RPG), and 60mm mortars. These positions were
later found to be well supplied with ammunition, food, and water. The enemy had excellent fields of
fire on any attacking force, as the gently sloping ridges around Hill 352 had few normal terrain features
to provide cover and little foliage due to air strikes in the area. The day of the attack by the combined
units from the two infantry battalions was bright, sunny, and extremely hot.
In preparation for the assault on Hill 532 (the peak of Nui Hoac Ridge), 1LT Larry Swank, the
1st Bn 6th Inf Artillery Liaison Officer (LNO) and former artillery forward observer (FO) for
A/1-6 Inf, called in an Americal Division Artillery time-on-target (TOT). Every artillery piece
(105mm & 155mm howitzers, and 8-in gun) that could reach the target were coordinated to
mass their fires on Hill 352. The 8-in guns fired delayed fuzes to explode below ground and
destroy enemy bunkers. Photo of the artillery TOT provided by Larry Swank.
The combined forces from 1-6 Inf and 1-20
began their attack by sweeping southward up
toward the high ground. Their positions from west to east were as follows: B/1-20, A/1-20, D/1-6,
and A/1-6. At 1455 hrs A/1-6 received heavy machine gun fire from their left (east) flank, with M-79
and small arms fire from their front up on the ridge. At 1503 hrs both D/1-6 and A/1-6 received
automatic weapons fire from the top of the hill at BT 056 226. During the next fifteen minutes A/1-6
and D/1-6 had four men wounded. At 1524 hrs A/1-6 received RPG rounds from their right front
up on the ridge to their south. They engaged the enemy position with light anti-tank weapons (LAWs).
Only a few minutes later, D/1-6 received RPG or RR fire from the enemy position 200 m. away at
BT 056 226. At 1525 hrs, A/1-6 captured an enemy 60mm mortar that had been firing on them
from their left flank away to the east.
This August 1968 photo, taken by Bob Janke (C/6-11 Arty) who spent that month at LZ Center,
looks southward toward the slope of Nui Hoac ridge. The NVA were entrenched near the peak
at BT 056 227. Soldiers from A/1-6 Inf started their assault from the base of the ridge on the left
(east) portion of this photo, while B/1-20 was on the extreme right (western portion of the ridge).
By 1527 hrs the first dust-off medical
was completed for three of the seriously wounded
soldiers. More soldiers were wounded, any by 1539 hrs, D/1-6 and A/1-6 had 4 WHA (Evac), and
4 WHA (Minor). All along the ridge the enemy fire intensified. Both B/1-20 and A/1-20 on the west
flank of the attacking forces moving southward up along the ridge were receiving enemy mortar fire
from BT 050 225 that killed one and wounded twelve or more of their men.
Back on the east flank of the attacking
at 1552, A/1-6 received RR and RPG fire, but
gunships silenced the enemy position . On the west flank of the attack, at 1607 hrs A/1-20 received
enemy heavy machine gun .50 cal fire from BT 043 226 [the hill at the extreme right of the above photo]
and called for artillery and air strikes.
During this time A/1-6 Inf had begun their
assault on the ridge with the 1st Platoon in
the lead. SFC McCleery, who was serving at the time as the platoon sergeant and acting
platoon leader for the unit, was leading the assault. As they approached the first ridge, they
came under extremely heavy fire from the enemy bunkers and were forced to take cover. The
enemy bombarded them with mortars, rockets, machine-guns, and automatic weapons fire.
SFC McCleery realized the gravity of the situation with the pause, and that his men were in danger
of suffering heavy casualties. No stranger to the deadly hazards of combat, he had previously
received the Silver Star (8 Feb 68) the Bronze Star with "V" device (25 Apr 68), and two Purple
Hearts (25 Apr and 5 May 68). With complete disregard for his safety, he rose from his sheltered
position to begin a one-man assault on the enemy bunker line. He rushed from 60 meters away
across open ground toward the key enemy bunker. As he closed to 30 meters, he began firing
furiously from the hip. As he charged, grenades exploded close by and bullets were impacting all
around him In the words of one witness "[H]e continued on, moving right up to a bunker
and destroyed it with grenades. During this move he was wounded by an enemy rocket,
but this failed to slow him down." After he completed his heroic attack, SFC McCleery climbed
up and stood on top of the NVA bunker he had just destroyed, and in full view of the enemy,
motioned for his men to follow in the assault. He shouted to them "Come on boys"
He then continued the attack, flanking the
bunkers on the right side of the NVA bunker complex
perimeter. Approaching his second target, he was again painfully wounded by shrapnel, but he
succeed in silencing the position from which two North Vietnamese had been firing rockets and
hurling grenades. Still disregarding his numerous shrapnel wounds, SFC McCleery ran fifty meters
to a third bunker and killed its defenders with a burst of rifle fire. He repeatedly exposed himself
to intense enemy fire as he moved from bunker to bunker. According to a witness, "[A]s he
moved through the area he was under fire from several directions but did not slow down."
He then advanced on a fourth emplacement, destroying an enemy machine gun crew just as his
platoon began to penetrate the enemy perimeter.
Sergeant Alan Allen, who moved had forward
just in time to witness Sergeant McCleery's
encouraging stance on top of the key enemy bunker, began an attack on the left side of the NVA
bunker complex. The defenders, who were by now intimidated by the ferocity of the attack
they had just endured, began firing wildly. SGT Allen moved methodically, firing a shotgun into
the bunkers, dodging enemy grenades, and then throwing his own grenades into the defender's
positions. As one enemy soldier attempted to fire an RPG rocket at his attackers, SGT Allen
pushed the launcher with his foot back into the bunker and then fired his shotgun into the enemy
position at point blank range.
During his assault, SGT Allen was joined by
another soldier who calmly asked "just as if he
was standing on the parade ground at Fort Hood" the somewhat incongruous question "Hi
sarge, how's it going?" Both continued the attack. At one point, SGT Allen realized that he
had lost the pin to a grenade he was holding, but no longer needed to throw. Carefully handing it
to another soldier who was crouching in one of the former enemy positions, he said "Here, hold
this grenade, I don't have a pin." SGT Allen then continued the attack. He was awarded the
Silver Star for his actions. According to his citation, he "was personally credited with destroying
five key enemy bunkers with hand grenades, killing 11 insurgents and capturing 13 enemy
There is no question that SFC McCleery's
example inspired his men. After his gallant
attack breached the perimeter of the enemy's key defensive position, he single-handedly destroyed
three additional bunkers and killed eleven entrenched North Vietnamese soldiers. Following the
examples of SFC McCleery, SGT Allen, and SFC Hall, the ridge was taken by soldiers from the
1st Bn 6th Inf and the dug-in defending North Vietnamese were either killed or completely routed.
By 1945 hrs, A/1-6 had killed 22 NVA, while D/1-6 was credited with 13 NVA killed.
Numerous weapons were captured: 7 AK-47, 2 M-16, 1 M-79, 1 RPD Lt MG, 1 RPG-2,
1 60mm mortar, and 1 RR.
The battle casualties, which could have
far greater but for the heroic actions of
SFC McCleery, SGT Allen and SFC Hall, were as follows: A/1-6: 1 KHA [thought to be
SGT Richard Lee Gilbert], 11 WHA (Evac), 5 WHA (Minor); for D/1-6: 3 WHA (Evac),
2 WHA (Minor);
[Note: the available records indicate that SFC Sherwin E.
a platoon sergeant for A/1-6,
also participated in the lateral assault on the enemy bunker complex. His exact movements
during the attack, however, are unknown at this time. He received the Bronze Star with "V"
device for his heroism. If you have knowledge of his actions at the battle, please contact the
web master, email@example.com]
[In the battle on Nui Hoac ridge, Sergeant Finnis D. McCleery
himself in combat.
In the words of the 198th Infantry Brigade Commander, SFC McCleery's ". . . actions turned
what could have been a disastrous defeat for his unit into a complete rout of the enemy."
The Americal Division Commander characterized his actions as "conspicuous gallantry and
intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty." His heroism
was recognized on 6 Sep 68 by the interim award of the Distinguished Service Cross from the
USARV Commander, with the specific recommendation that the heroism exhibited was deserving
of the Medal of Honor. The Commander, USMACV (GEN Creighton W. Abrams) agreed, and
forwarded the recommendation through channels to the Secretary of the Army via the Chairman,
Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ultimately, the President of the United States approved the award. SFC
McCleery was presented the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on 2 Mar 71. The
narrative on his official Medal of Honor Citation gives but a hint of the combat action the soldiers
in the unit experienced that fateful day.]
This August 1968 photo, taken by Bob Janke (C/6-11 Arty) from LZ Center, shows the expanse
of Nui Hoac Ridge across the valley from the firebase.
On 15 May 68, D/1-6 and A/1-20 were to
the attack eastward along the Nui Hoac
ridge with A/1-6 in reserve. B/1-20 was to remain at the scene of the fighting from the day before
at BT 056 227. At 1104 hrs, A & D/1-6 and A/1-20 started receiving mortar fire in the vicinity
of BT 065 226 [thought to be the area of the ridge shown just to the right of the top of the pole in
the above photo]. Enemy contact continued until 1800 hrs with the companies receiving automatic
weapons fire and mortars. Artillery fire, gunships, and air strikes supported. Air Force tactical
fighters drew heavy anti-aircraft fire. Five enemy weapons (5 M-16 and 1 M-79) were captured.
US casualties were 2 KHA [thought to be SGT Francis Hayes and SP4 Joseph H. Picarelli],
4 WHA (E) and 17 WHA (M).
Heavy fighting and sporadic contact with
3rd NVA Regt. continued in the area approximately
17 miles west of Tam Ky until 26 May. The result of these contacts (including combat by the 1/1
Cav vic BT 787 300) were 365 NVA soldiers KIA, 67 individual weapons captured, and 21
crew served weapons captured.
One might wonder why so many lives were
risked with multiple attacks on the fortified positions
of Nui Hoac Ridge and Hill 352--an area that never was intended to be captured for use. The
mission, however, was to engage and destroy the enemy wherever he was found. Extensive
prepatory fires (delayed fuse bombs, napalm, and artillery shells) turned the heavy green canopy
of the ridge into a barren brown (and much lower) landscape. The attacks turned back the 2nd
NVA Division from a planned major offensive, and completely decimated the 3rd NVA Regiment
and its attached Anti-Aircraft Battalion.
On 29 May, the 1st Bn 6th Inf moved from
WHEELER/WALLOWA to Operation
BURLINGTON TRAIL because of an enemy buildup in the Tam Ky - Tien Phuoc area. On
8 June 1968, soldiers in the 1st Bn 6th Inf began tactical operations in the area near Chu Lai.
Further to the west, tactical operations continued.
Cumulative losses in Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA for 1 May to 31 Jul 68 were:
US Forces -- 122 KIA, 473 WIA (evacuated), 242 WIA (minor)
Enemy Forces -- 865 KIA, 560 WIA, 178 individual wpns and 38
crew served wpns
[Information about the assault on Nui Hoac ridge came from official
records and an interview
with Alan Allen. Additional details of the assault on the bunker complex will be added as they
become available. Details concerning participation by the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry in the Operation
WHEELER/WALLOWA will be added as they become available.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional information about the unit in these actions.]
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