Story for Vietnam War Veterans Day

Lois Schaefer, State Americanism Chairman, Dept of ND VFW Auxiliary

As we commemorate Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29th, I would like to focus on the first major battle of the Vietnam War between the US Army and the North Vietnamese Army, the Battle of la Drang Valley November 14-16, 1965. Joe Galloway was a newspaper correspondent and columnist who got his wish to cover growing turmoil in Vietnam. He was with Lt. Col. Harold (Hal) Moore’s Battalion at la Drang Valley. Joe received the Bronze Star for carrying a wounded soldier to safety while under heavy enemy fire. If you have read Joe Galloway’s book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, or seen Randolph Wallace’s movie We Were Soldiers based on Galloway’s book and starring Mel Gibson, you are aware of what happened at the Battle of la Drang Valley. 

It was the first large scale helicopter air assault, and it was the first use of B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers in a tactical support role. The 7th Cavalry rode into battle, not on horses like Lt. Col. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, but on Huey helicopters. The Hueys played a major role in the battle, air lifting the soldiers on and off the battlefield as well as lifting out the casualties. Of course, in the process they came under the attack of heavy groundfire.

Huey At La Drang

Lt. Col. Moore’s 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary Regiment and supporting units were dropped into LZ X-RAY and found themselves surrounded and extremely outnumbered like Custer at the Little Big Horn. The North Vietnamese broke through US lines on the second day of the battle. Moore ordered Lt. Charlie Hastings to transmit the code Broken Arrow, which signaled that the unit was in a critical situation and needed immediate air support. As two F-100 Super Sabre jets swooped in to drop napalm, Hastings tried to recall them seeing they were too close to the American line. One of the aircraft failed to hear the order and several American soldiers were killed and injured. However, with air support and heavy artillery bombardment, which the North Vietnamese did not have, Moore’s troops were able to hold off and drive back the North Vietnamese forces over the three-day bloodbath and thus achieved a tactical victory.

Lt Col Hal Moore

Unlike Moore’s Battalion, McDade’s was surrounded and ambushed in close quarters. They were unable to call for air and artillery support due to their close proximity with the North Vietnamese. His Battalion suffered what could maybe be deemed a near massacre with 93% casualties, of which half were deaths, before being extricated from the battle. The North Vietnamese claimed victory here. 

Lt Col Hal Moore

Like many battles throughout our nation’s history of war, whether it be transport landings on the beaches of Normandy and islands in the Pacific, or air landings in Vietnam, life expectancy of troops dropped into hot landing zones (LZ) could be measured in minutes. At la Drang Valley, the average life expectancy was about 16 seconds….16 SECONDS!

Lois Schaefer, State Americanism Chairman

Dept of ND VFW Auxiliary

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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