Screaming Eagles Through Time
Vietnam - Page 4
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General Zais had promised seven months before that the Screaming Eagles would go back to the A Shau. And they did in March 1969. Nevada Eagle had been followed by Kentucky Jumper, and the 2nd Brigade, in Massachusetts Striker, was sent into the A Shau.

Down came the cold whipping rain, There was no sun, the sky merely changed from black to angry gray and brought a shadowless light to the land. With the light came the assault ships, 30 of them, to land and wait on the LZ Sally airstrip for the weather to break over the mountains. The infantry was there waiting for them, hundreds of men separated into groups of five to fight their collective boredom until the assault began.

A Pfc., in country less than three months, fumbled in his back pocket and produced an old plastic bag that had held a radio battery and now kept his most precious possessions. From his wallet he pulled a small pocket calendar with a picture of Jesus Christ on the back and crossed off the 11th of March.

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Massachusetts Striker began March 1, but bad weather impeded the build-up. As the 326th Engineers started the first of a string of firebases in and along the edge of the A Shau, paratroopers made airmobile leaps toward the valley floor. The "First Strike" battalion was the first off, landing amidst an enemy company on the abandoned Firebase Veghel. "No Slack" troopers were the first on the floor itself, making a combat assault onto the old airstrip at A Shau.

The "First Strike" battalion pursued an enemy battalion for 33 days, pushing them back until they made a stand at Don A Tay, "Bloody Ridge." The 2nd of the 327th, after its combat assault into the A Shau, found several trucks and bulldozers along a heavy duty road that NVA engineers had been constructing. In early April the 1st Bn., 501st Inf., joined the operation with a combat assault onto Fire Base Thor, spearheading the brigade's move into northwestern Quang Nam Province.

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The "First Strike" battalion mopped up on Dong A Tay, then was inserted onto Fire Base Lash. Within four days Spec. 4 Milton Copeland of Charlie Co., found the first items of a 100-ton cache just south of the "Yellow Brick Road," Route 614. Fourteen trucks, more than 600 brand-new SKS rifles, Chinese Communist radios and field telephones and large stocks of medicine were turned up in the digging.

Operation Massachusetts Striker ended May 8 and paratroopers had killed 176 enemy, captured 859 individual and 34 crew-served weapons.

With rucksacks almost empty, the infantry flew back to the coastal plains for the next operation and the next. The 1st of the 501st and the "First Strike" battalion would be going to the Tam Ky area to fight with the Americal in mid-May. A Pfc., in-country almost six months now, pulled a plastic bag from his hip pocket. He got his wallet out and removed his plastic calendar. A door-gunner loaned him a pen and he scratched out all the days of two months. He had had other things on his mind.

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On May 10, Operation Apache Snow was initiated with possibly the largest single airmobile assault of the Vietnam War. The XXIV Corps operation involved a total of seven battalions of the 101st Airborne, the 1st ARVN Division and the 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Two Screaming Eagle battalions were simultaneously inserted into LZs near the Laotian border in less than 45 minutes. The 101st also matured as an airmobile division - no helicopters were lost. "Everything meshed together without incident or accident - a fantastic achievement," said General Zais.

The Allied battalions were to block enemy escape routes into Laos along Highway 922 and to interdict the highly used enemy Route 548, on the valley floor. The battalions were also to exploit a large cache area pin-pointed near Fire Base Airborne.

For three days "Rakkasans" of the 3rd Bn., 187th Abn. Inf., engaged trailwatchers in the vicinity of a hillmass called Dong Ap Bia. Little did they know that this was their personal Rendezvous With Destiny, for the hillmass was held by the major portion of the 29th NVA Regt.

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Lt. Col. Weldon F. Honeycutt maneuvered his companies along ridges leading to the top of the hill in an exploratory assault to determine the enemy's strength. That evening the 1st Bn., 506th Abn. Inf., was ordered to reinforce the "Rakkasans" in taking the hill and killing the enemy.

For the next three days the combat situation remained static. The NVA units held the hill while the Screaming Eagles probed and looked for weaknesses. At the same time, the hill was bombarded continually with artillery, aerial rocket artillery and airstrikes.

On May 18, the "Rakkasans" assaulted the enemy stronghold for the second time. One unit, Delta Co., reported being within 25 meters of the top when a torrential rainstorm struck and forced the paratroopers to move off the hill which rain had turned into a slick mudslide.

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Two additional battalions, the 2nd of the 501st along with Co. A, 2nd of the 506th, and the 2nd Bn., 3rd ARVN Regt., were ordered to move up the hill and join the other two battalions for a final assault.

At 10 in the morning of May 20 the four-pronged assault began. By early afternoon the Allies had defeated the enemy and secured Hill 937, the highest point in the hillmass, thus ending the 10-day battle in which more than 600 enemy were killed.

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Taxes aren't the only things taking a bite out of a soldier's wallet. Spec. 4 Lane T. Carrothers was near a rocket when it exploded. He felt a tug at his back pocket but was otherwise untouched. When it was safe to stand up, Carrothers took a quick inventory. A piece of shrapnel was embedded in his wallet. Holding up a torn MPC dollar for inspection, Carrothers remarked, "If people back in the world think inflation is hard on the dollar, they ought to see this."

Companies of the second "Currahee" battalion were meanwhile turning up an enemy hospital, command post complex and several caches.

In the month-long operation the Screaming Eagle elements accounted for 691 enemy killed, three prisoners, 241 individual and 40 crew-served weapons and more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition.