Just A Little Walk In The Woods
with the Delta Raiders
Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
Written in August of 1968 for Stars & Stripes Magazine
Complements of Cleo C. Hogan Jr.
It was a clear cool night as I lay in my prone shelter foxhole and felt the gentle touch of my Radio Telephone Operator as he whispered, "wake up Sir, it's 5:30." As I awakened from the touch, nervous and weary from six days of constant jungle fighting, and the all night exploding of the huge 10 inch Naval Gun Fires, directed at Hill 100 some 500 meters to the North, I was startled by the sounds of the jungle, the constant chatter of the small monkeys, and the chirruping of the wild parakeets. But then I was wide awake and the realization that another day in the jungle was about to begin. All around were the normal sounds of the troopers preparing for the 100% pre-dawn alert. As I stared into the darkness, I realized that some thirty minutes would pass before the first flicker of light would creep up the reverse slope of Hill 309, the huge mass of rocks 1000 meters to the East. What unforeseen activities would take place today? Would we again come face to face with the foe, which although morally wrong, we hated so much? And then the first gleam of light appeared over Hill 309 and like a huge blanket began to unroll and light up the jungle valley below. As the men began to heat their "C" rations, and make their instant coffee in small tin cans, I received the morning call from the Battalion Commander, Ltc. Richard Tallman. I reached for the phone, and with hope in my heart, I wanted to hear him say, "We've decided to pull your company out, and bring in the B52's", the giant 8 engine jets so drastically feared by the NVA. I answered with my call sign, "This is Raider 6", and prepared to receive the message I knew he was going to send. And then came the mission for the day. I listened as he said, "We feel your company can now take Hill 100. The Navy has pounded it all night with their 10 inch guns and the 105's and the 4.2s have expended nearly 350 rounds, it should be real soft for you." However he continued "don't take anything for granted. That artillery won't get them all." Then the same words of wisdom that each company commander received daily, "keep your point well out front, make sure he has an M79 with shot round, keep your flanks alert, walk the artillery in front of you." These are all things a good company commander could not forget to do. And then on with the plan, "at 0730 two sets of fighters will drop bombs and napalm. I want you to be moving when the jets come in".
The plan was clear, concise and to the point. I indicated I understood the message, and at once I began to ponder over how I would attack the hill. From the front? No, that's how I tried it yesterday.. From the left flank?.. No, the map shows a stream on the left flank and the jungle would be much thicker there,.. yes, it must be,.. from the right flank looking North. There would be 2 small draws and 1 small hill between here and the objective. I would take 2 platoons with me, and leave one on the small hill to give me covering fire if I had to withdraw, or to assist in the assault on the hill.
I assembled the platoon leaders to give them their briefing. There was 2Lt Lee Grimsley, a quiet Negro lieutenant that always produced superior results,...2Lt Dave Loftin, who had no knowledge of the 7.62 Russian shells with his name and today's date on them that would give him a plane ticket back to the U.S. and a reserved room in the U.S. Army Hospital at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina,...2Lt Dave Bischoff, the clown of the group who could turn the dullest day in to a party, yet completely military minded. I gave them the plan. 2d Platoon would lead, followed by 3rd platoon and 1st platoon would support from the small hill since they had taken the blunt of the fighting yesterday. It was unnecessary for long detailed plans with these men. They were professionals, seasoned with countless NVA contacts, veterans of the Tet offensive and the march to Hue, and six previous days of jungle fighting.
It was now 0725 and right on schedule, I heard the familiar whine of the F104 as the jet descended like a hawk on a mouse, and then the thunderous noise of the bombs as they tore apart the earth and threw the jungle vines high into the air. But all too soon it was over and everyone knew it was now time for the Infantry to complete the job started by the Navy and Air Force. The Company moved out and the fateful moment in the life of 1SG Arthur Scott, Sgt. E-5 Ronald Bowman, and an NVA soldier draws nearer. The clear cool night had given way to a bright hot day and now 1st Platoon was in position on the hill and 2d Platoon was 150 meters from the objective, Hill 100. At 1115 without the slightest warning, the sly enemy from his concealed bunkers opened up on the point element of 2d Platoon. The bunkers were less than 30 meters away and yet in the bombed out mass of jungle vines they were completely concealed. The initial burst had claimed the life of the point man and wounded four others including 2Lt Dave Loftin. The men of 2d Platoon laid down the tremendous volume of fire power characterized by the M16 rifle and the aggressiveness of the 101st paratrooper. It seemed like hours, but it only took minutes to break contact and pull back.
Then the frantic work of carving a Medivac pad out of the jungle vines. In less than 30 minutes the work was completed and the big bird with the Red Cross on the side arrived overhead. Very carefully the men were loaded onto the helicopter. The chopper lifted off and the men were off to an entirely different world,...a world of white sheets, 3 hot meals a day and pretty nurses, what a price to pay for such simple pleasures.
For a moment I thought it was over, but then I realized it wasn't. For out there in the jungle lay the lifeless body of a Delta Raider. Although the order had been given to pull back for more artillery and air strikes, and although I realized his Soul was in the hands of a just God, I simply could not leave the body to the ravages of the jungle. Almost at once everybody volunteered to go after their fallen comrade. I decided a small group would go consisting of 1SG Scott a veteran of 18 years service and Sgt Bowman a veteran of 10 years service. Four other men would go part way and go all the way if needed. With the stealth of a deer and quietness of a mouse, 1SG Scott and Sgt Bowman made their way back to the spot where the body lay. There in a clearing in a huge bombed out place with nothing for cover was where they must go. Very slowly they walked out and bent over to pick up the body. Then just as they began to lift it, the event never to be forgotten unfolded before them. Suddenly there to the front less than 25 meters away an NVA with his full battle equipment appeared from behind a small mound of dirt. He seemed to know he had the upper hand in the situation and with slow and deliberate movements he raised his 7.62mm machine gun to hip level. A loud click indicated he had taken the safety off and was preparing to fire. Acting on instinct, 1SG Scott and Sgt Bowman fell to the ground, only to find there was nothing to hide behind. Perhaps a silent prayer and then the preparation for the sudden death to come was all that was in the minds of the two paratroopers. As they lay there on the barren ground, a smile flashed across the face of the NVA as if he found it very amusing that they were at his mercy. Seconds turned into the first minute. What was he waiting for? Was he enjoying the prolonging of the inevitable end? By now sweat saturated the jungle uniforms of the trapped men and a big lump in their throats prevented them from saying anything to each other. The two Americans simply lay frozen against the ground. Words will never describe what went through the minds of the men, as they exchanged glances with the NVA. As the first minute turned to two minutes other thoughts came to the men. Should I make a quick play for my M16. No, he'd have us for sure, he's already got his aimed, its sights are trained right on us. The two men could even see the bright color of the brass bullets in the belt as it fed into the gun. Realizing they could not simply lay there all day and perhaps anxious to end it all rather than endure this torture, the two men very slowly got to their feet, making no attempt to go for their weapons. Very carefully they reached down to pick up the body and complete the task that had led them into this situation. Fully expecting to be shot from the rear as they turned away, the two men slowly started back to the company. They took their first step, then another, and another. Like a Russian Roulette revolver with its one loaded chamber and eight empty ones, they wondered which step was going to be the loaded chamber. But then 25, 50, 75, and now 100 steps. They were counting steps, not feet, yards, or meters, but counting the unit of measure that was putting distance between them and the ugly barrel of the 7.62. And now as a cold sweat popped out on their foreheads they dropped behind a small mound and knew they were safe. They looked at each other, are we dreaming, did it actually happen? They looked down at the body they had come after and realized the job they had started still was not finished. Then a silent prayer for the deliverance from this act and perhaps a word for the NVA who could have ended it all.
Thoughts still ponder in the hearts of these two men, as they wonder why they were spared. Was it a gesture of good will on the part of the NVA, would his weapon have fired if he had pulled the trigger, or was it that perhaps he had seen too many men die in this useless struggle that continues where peace and tranquillity should reign.
Whatever the reason no one will ever convince 1SG Scott and Sgt Bowman that it wasn't an act of God and a gesture of good faith from an enemy we so often curse and despise and never really understand.
Cleo C. Hogan, Cpt Inf, 101st Abn Div 96383
Cpt Cleo C. Hogan has been assigned to the 101st Airborne Division since January 1966. Came to Vietnam with the 2d Brigade in December 1967 and assumed command of the Delta "Raiders", Company D, 2d Battalion, 501st Infantry during the "Tet" offensive. After serving as a rifle company commander for nearly 5 months, he is now assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.
below are links to more
Hill 100 | Delta Raiders Overrun Outpost | Infantry, Arty Chew Up NVA Unit
Going Home | Heavy Fighting Near Bastogne | Hill 805, A First Sergeant Remembers
The Introduction | Across The River & Into... | Raiders "Lighten The Load"
You should know Joe Hooper | Most decorated soldier dies | The List
Airborne Trooper Saves Girl | Flashback | Night Sweats | 'Grunt' More Than A Name
Delta Raiders Ambushed Near Firebase Bastogne | To My Dad on Veterans Day