|Bravo Company 1965 - 1971
BATTLE OF GIA DÚC, BINH DINH PROVINCE, RVN
|BATTLE OF GIA DÚC, BINH DINH PROVINCE, RVN
BY RAUL VILLARONGA
WITH BILL McCARRON, JOHN “ROGER” RIFFLE, JERRY DIERSING AND MAURICE WATERS
|As we celebrate Memorial Day 2015, it is proper that I go back 49 years and remember those gallant soldiers
who served under my command with Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), 1st Cavalry
Division (Airmobile). Let us not forget the supreme sacrifices made on 28 December, 1966 by 1LT Daniel
Hennessy, 1LT Lamont Finch, PSGT Lonnie Barber, CPL Douglas D. Houg, SP4 Eric A. Branffors, SP4 Erineo M.
Mendez, SP4 Carl S. Mercer, SP4 Dennis M. Spahn, PFC Richard C. Jacobs, PFC James W. Pawlak, and PFC
In the early morning of 27 December 1966, two battalions of the 22ND NVA Regiment attacked LZ Bird in the
Kim Son Valley. The LZ was manned by B Battery, 2/19th Artillery Battalion, C Battery, 6/16th Artillery
Battalion, and the perimeter manned by C Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry.
The NVA overwhelmed the defenders on the eastern flank of the LZ, captured the 155 artillery positions, and
then began an assault on the 105mm artillery positions before being repulsed when the 2/19th fired beehive
rounds directly into the attacking force.
On 26 December 1966, Company B, 1/8th Cavalry regiment (ABN) was in a secure perimeter position on LZ
Gavin overlooking the Soui Ca Valley, standing down during the period of the 1966 Christmas Truce.
I commanded Company B of the “Jumping Mustangs,” a part of the 1st Brigade (ABN), 1st Cavalry Division
(Airmobile.) 1LT William McCarron was my Company Executive Officer, and was also located with the Company
during the stand-down.
I had been in command of Company B for several months, having taken over from CPT Gerry Plummer on a
ridge line overlooking the An Lao Valley. SP-5 Maurice Waters was my Senior Company B Medic. He
commented “I was a young inexperienced Medic with the rank of Sp 5. I was assigned as the B Company
Medic and was nervous with the responsibility of taking medical care of an airborne combat infantry company.
I was very impressed then and now with the skill of the officers at such a young age to command a combat
force in such challenging conditions.”
The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was serving its second year in Vietnam, and it espoused a new concept in
ground combat- an Airmobile Division with one Brigade of paratroopers, as well as several unique Air Cavalry
units unique in their equipment and tactics. Unique in this new formation were the Aerial Rocket Artillery
(ARA) gunships that could provide close-in support to the Infantry units.
In my opinion, the significant innovation was the troop transport units equipped with UH-1 “Huey’s” that
allowed the ground units to be airlifted and rapidly moved within the battlefield.
The Company had been engaged in combat operations in our area for several months. I realized later that the
biggest difference in operational tempo was that the Cav stayed in the field constantly, seldom returning to
its base camp. In the nine months I commanded Company B, we were only in An Khe once, securing the
Division Base, and we only had a one day standdown before deploying to the perimeter of the Base Camp.
The only other time I was in Base Camp was on the way to R&R, and then returning to the field. Such was the
saga of the Air Cavalry!
The only time we could “rest” was when we were assigned a mission of securing the Battalion CP and the
supporting Artillery Battery.
Company B was not in contact with enemy forces on the 26th, and we had not seen any enemy activity in our
area- a welcome respite for Christmas. The Company had early on airlifted in its “comfort packets” (rucksacks,
blankets, personal items, etc.) and in addition to “hot socks and dry chow,” we enjoyed the truce. That night
passed without incident, and no action was reported in the Battalion Command or Logistic nets.
Although the Christmas truce was still in effect, at sunlight on 27 December, I deployed our rifle platoons to
patrol the area around the company positions, remaining at the Company Command Post with the 4th Platoon
commanded by 1LT Lamont Finch. Around mid-morning, I received a warning order from the Battalion to have
the Company ready for pickup on the PZ (Pick-Up Zone) and that we were going to be airlifted for an assault
in response to an enemy attack on LZ (Landing Zone) Bird in the early morning hours. We were alerted that it
had been a large enemy force, which overran the Fire Base. Information provided was that we may be landing
in a hot LZ, and that we were to be deployed to cutoff the enemy force which was thought to be heading
north from LZ Bird.
I alerted 1LT John Riffle, Platoon Leader of the 3rd Platoon that they would be the lead platoon in the
assault, followed by the 1st Platoon led by 1LT Daniel Hennessy, and then the 4th Platoon, led by 1LT Finch.
The 2nd Platoon was securing the LZ Gavin, and would stay securing the Artillery Battery there.
The Company Command group would be with the 3rd Platoon in the Assault. We were airlifted (one platoon
at a time) from the pick-up zone with 5-6 Huey’s, and were in constant communication with the Battalion as
we deployed towards the LZ.
We landed on an LZ a few miles north of Gia Dúc, without any incidents. 1LT Riffle and his 3rd Platoon
secured the LZ, and we proceeded to receive the remaining elements of the Company. We were supported by
a scout team (scouts and gunships) from A Troop, 1/9 Cavalry who habitually worked with us and proceeded
to reconnoiter the area south of our positions, as we were joined by the rest of the Company.
The weather was clear and no enemy forces had been spotted. Company B had operated in the vicinity of Gia
Dúc in late October 1966 and we had met very light contact at that time. The village was located on a finger
of land sticking out into the rice paddies, with a trail generally traveling north to south going through the
middle of the village. We felt comfortable with our knowledge of the terrain and familiarity with the area.
However, as we always did, we moved in a totally tactical manner in a typical movement to contact formation.
SP-5 Waters comments: “We were all very nervous since we had air assaulted to relieve an ambushed
company of the 1/12th Cav on December 17, 1966. We saw the expertise of the enemy force in setting up
ambush positions with cleverly positioned spider holes, command bunkers with "commo" lines stretched and
precision execution of their plan. We did not want to walk into an ambush like the 1/12th.
I remember pursuing the enemy force for several days and finding the military I.D. Cards and dog tags the
enemy had stripped from the bodies of the 1/12th Cav. Infantry who had lost their lives. We knew we were
hot on their trail so we were being careful.”
1LT Roger Riffle also remembers 17 December, and comments: “I can remember that Dec. 17th operation to
rescue the 1/12th .....and the macabre scene that is forever seared in my memory.
It gave all of us another wake-up to what can happen in war. We went back to An Khe after that experience,
as I remember, and I had a chance to go to early Christmas church services with Dan Hennessy. Little did we
know what lay ahead....”
Once on the ground, the Company moved from the LZ to the east across the north/south trail towards the
small hamlet of An Thoung (4). We moved out heading towards Gia Dúc in an inverted V Formation, with the
1st Platoon on the left (east) front, the 3rd Platoon on the right (west) side, and the 4th Platoon in the
The Company Command Group was with the 4th Platoon. I was very comfortable with that formation, since
the two front platoons would be moving along the wood line, and usually surprised any enemy force
concentrating on the center formation, and we could deliver supporting fires through our Forward Observer,
1LT Neal Laughey, 2nd Battalion, 19th Artillery (Abn) accompanying the Command Group. I wished that I had
the 2nd Platoon also, but I expected them to rejoin us shortly. They never did until after the Battle.
The company picked up a number of VC/NVA suspects (military age males) during the move. Since night was
fast approaching, I deployed the company to prevent enemy forces from moving north, with 4th Platoon near
and observing the north/south trail, the 1st Platoon on higher ground near and observing the Song Kim River
with the CP and 3rd Platoon positioned somewhat in the center. Additional suspects were apprehended prior
to dark without incident and the next morning around 0900 hours, 1LT William McCarron, the Company
Executive Officer and several other men escorted the suspects to the POW compound at LZ Hammond via
We arrived at Gia Dúc without incident, and I ordered both the 1st Platoon and the 3rd Platoon to enter the
village in a double flanking movement towards the village Center. The 1st Platoon was moving along a high
ground finger east of the village, and had to cross a rice paddy about 150 meters to reach the Village. The
3rd Platoon was moving through the wood line near the base of a hill, which sloped into Gia Dúc.
The center element arrived into the high ground directly north of the village at about the time the 1st and 3rd
Platoon were moving in their assault. Since we had not spotted any enemy activity, we did not ask for any
supporting fires. Suddenly, I noticed that there was a flurry of activity directly to our front on the north-
central portion of the village, and the 4th Platoon opened fire on what appeared to be regular NVA forces in
uniform. The enemy quickly returned fire. Suddenly, intense fire was received by the 1st Platoon, as they were
crossing the rice paddy. The 4th Platoon deployed along the edge of the high ground and laid fire on the
village, and we could see that the enemy was scurrying back towards the center of the village. A few minutes
after we started firing, the 3rd Platoon made contact, and we could hear the sound of heavy weapons,
probably .50 cal Machine Guns.
1LT Roger Riffle commented: “On Dec. 28th, 1966....I followed your orders to take 3rd platoon to the 'right'...
to form what I remember as a 'blocking' position at the base of the 'finger' or peninsula of Gia Dúc. As we
approached, we were spread out.....and began hearing firing to our left. It was then that we started taking
violent fire. I wondered where it was coming from....there was a ‘bank’, basically a tree line, to our left front.
It was extremely dense...much underbrush, jungle really. We, unfortunately, were in a more exposed area. It
was then I saw a NVA pop up and run sideways. He was in uniform. I began hearing 'calls' from my men...
some of which were from those that were wounded. We deployed as best as we could....finding cover behind
trees and such. The enemy was extremely well camouflaged....and we were pinned down. We could hear the
response of our artillery and air support as we established our blocking position....and we were content to
have that happen, as we regrouped, and took care of our wounded and dying. I remember cradling one of our
soldiers as he was bleeding...not sure who it was.”
SP-5 Waters remembers- “I could see bullets splashing in the water around the soldiers of the 1st platoon
who were directly in front of the village. Capt. Villaronga was getting updates from Lt. Hennessy and was also
getting radio traffic from the platoon in the trees (3rd Platoon) to our right flank who had come under fire.
They reported that several of their men had been shot and Capt. Villaronga said to me "Doc, you better get
over there, it sounds like they need help.” I said "yes sir" and started to double time along the rice paddy
berm, I remember getting to the trees and running from tree to tree to shield myself from fire and soon came
upon the soldiers who were pinned down and deployed in a line at the edge of the village.”
Jerry Diersing was walking point for the 3rd Platoon, and commented: “All of the rice paddies were full of
water the morning of the 28th and 3rd platoon landed on higher ground an elevation higher than the village
and we slowly walked down hill towards the village and never did get our boots wet. I was walking point for
the 3rd platoon and the Capt (1LT Riffle, really) had me stop 50 yards from the village hedgerows which
would have been a little after 1200 hrs. After a short break and I never did know why, the C O (Platoon
Leader?) stopped us. I started walking towards the village still on dry ground and was about 20 yards shy of
the hedgerows when my right flank man Mendez yelled at me to let me know an NVA had just ran in front of
him back towards the village and that he had vegetation stuck in his helmet. Mendez never did get a shot off
and I only caught a glimpse of the NVA’s helmet as he ran through the hedgerow back into the village. CO
(Platoon Leader?) put us on line at that point and we walked abreast to the edge of the hedgerows when the
whole place was lit up with automatic fire from within. We then returned fire blindly firing thru the hedgerows
and back and forth across the hedges unable to see anything. The area prior to the hedgerows that we
walked through was a lot of high grass and small shrubs and bushes and a few coconut trees that spread
roughly from the village edge to 40 yards in the direction we landed from and from that 40 yard point it was
mainly knee high grass and small trees to where we landed.”
I reported our enemy contact to the Battalion and asked for air support, while the FO was calling in artillery
fire. It was obvious that we would not be able to cross the rice paddy to attack the enemy on the north side
of the village. I ordered the 4th Platoon to move to the right and reach the wood line, and move in alongside
the 3rd Platoon that was engaged in the village. The first Platoon was pinned down in the rice paddies to the
east, and by then I had lost contact with 1LT Hennessy. I was able to contact PSGT Donald Brown, who
assumed command of the 1st Platoon. I moved with the 4th Platoon towards the village. The firefight picked
up in intensity.
We received air support, which was placed on the center of the village, while flying north to south. I believe
the aircraft supporting us were twin engine Canberra jets,and they were very effective in their attack, My FO
maintained artillery fires on the enemy, however neither the 1st Platoon nor the 3rd Platoon were able to
penetrate the heavily fortified enemy position.
The 4th Platoon positioned itself to the south (right) of the 3rd platoon as we moved towards the line of
engagement. 1LT Finch was about 5 feet to my right, as we made contact with the enemy. Enemy positions
were extremely well camouflaged, and we could see the blue tracers coming from their positions. As 1LT Finch
was moving forward, he raised his head to observe the enemy positions, and I saw a blue tracer hit him in the
head, killing him instantly. PSGT Lonnie Barber, a mortar man assumed command of the Platoon, and was
also killed by the enemy. Our company was now engaged in close contact with the enemy at close quarters,
and it was impossible to place air support on the fortified enemy positions.
Maurice Waters narrates his unforgettable experience. “I started to work my way from soldier to soldier and
came upon the body of Ernie Mendez. He was lying on his back and as always he had a slight smile on his
face. He was loved by us all for his airborne spirit and I remember him to this day as a courageous warrior. I
crawled to the next tree and in an opening just to my right was a soldier who had been shot in his neck. Just
in front of me was a village hooch and I could not see any of the enemy. To my left was another soldier
manning an M60 machine gun. I opened my M5 aid bag and pulled out a battle dressing. I tried to reach to
the soldier who was shot in the neck and was immediately shot with a bullet that hit over my heart and
ricocheted across my rib cage and out my right shoulder. It felt like someone hit me in the chest with a 12
pound sledge hammer and I was knocked down by the impact of the bullet. I instinctively lunged back behind
the tree and started coughing up blood. I was sure I was shot through and through and being a Medic knew I
was going to go unconscious and die in about 10 seconds. I closed my eyes and wondered what heaven would
be like. After 10 seconds I did not go unconscious and said to myself, "well maybe I won't die"
Meanwhile, back in the Battalion Base, 1LT McCarron was informed of the situation and moved to the Tactical
Operations Center to monitor the action. “I heard of the battle when I returned to LZ Hammond and the
Company trains area after dropping of the suspected POWs. I believe it was Harry Heater that told me the
company was in deep shit. I went to the Tactical Operations Center immediately and followed the battle on
the radio. Needless to say it was chaotic, with B, C, and D companies all engaged at various locations. I was
then told to report to Graves Registration as they were bringing in KIAs and someone had to identify them.
Sp4 Charles Allen and I accomplished this for the Company KIAs.
According to the Staff Journal of the 28th, the company began moving south from An Thoung area at 0945. At
1215 the journal had the company located at the following locations: CP and 4th Platoon – 782902; 3rd
Platoon – 778900; 1st Platoon –789901. These coordinates put the Company just North of Gia Dúc (1). At
1235 the journal shows the company in medium to heavy contact. By 1300 the company had reported 4 WIAs.
The journal goes on to report fighting well into the afternoon with C Company moving up to the vicinity of the
1st platoon’s location and joining the fight. D Company was air lifted about 2 kilometers south of Gia Dúc (1).”
I reported our predicament to the Battalion, and started receiving information on casualties. The 1st Platoon
was cut-off from the Company, part of them pinned down in the rice paddy, and the first squad unaccounted
for. The 4th Platoon and the 3rd Platoon were in close contact with the enemy, and unable to move forward in
the face of the enemy fire. Company B had lost two of its four platoon leaders and a PSGT in this battle, and
the only Platoon Leader surviving was 1LT Riffle. My Company XO, 1LT Bill McCarron was in the Battalion rear
with the previously captured suspected VC, and 1st Sergeant Robert Craig rejoined the Company after the
attack as we were being re-supplied and evacuating our casualties.
The Battalion had moved Company C and Company D to supporting positions near Gia Dúc. 1LT McCarron
remembers the Battle from his position at the Battalion rear at LZ Hammond. “The memories have dulled over
the past 49 years since the battle took place and I can really only comment on what I recall up to the time I
left to escort the VC/NVA suspects back to LZ Hammond on the morning of the 28th… I also remember having
to identify the bodies as they were brought to Hammond, "The worst day of my life.”
Our initial reports to the Battalion indicated we had taken heavy casualties, and we were unable to penetrate
the fortified enemy positions, so we asked for resupply of ammunition and Medevac of the wounded. The 3rd
Platoon secured an LZ for resupply and Medevac to the west of the Company position.
SP5 Waters tells us about a fellow soldier who asked him “…do you need help? I said yes, and he said OK,
I will help you. He put his arm around me and together we started to work our way back to an area out of the
direct line of fire. I don't remember how long I was there but soon a Medevac Huey landed and someone
helped me inside. I remember small arms fire being shot at the helicopter and was sure a couple of rounds
went through the fuselage. I still marvel at the bravery of the pilot who landed so close to a very hot area to
evacuate wounded soldiers.” The bravery of these Medevac pilots and their crews is something I will never
forget. I was concerned about the enemy counterattacking, but realized that we did not have the enemy
encircled and they would probably try to infiltrate along the wood line towards the positions to our rear. The
4th Platoon and the 3rd Platoon were alerted to that possibility and were to establish security on our flanks.
LTC Ardie E. McClure, our Battalion Commander, flew in to our position that evening, and I gave him a
detailed report of our situation. At this time we were in a standoff with the enemy. It appeared that we had
engaged a very large, well equipped enemy force. In view of the fortified positions and emplacements we
encountered, as well as the losses of key leaders, we did not resume the attack; instead concentrating on
indirect fires and air support to engage the enemy.
Company D had moved to a position south of Gia Dúc, and Company C was located to the north east of Gia
Dúc. I recently tried to contact LTC McClure, however I discovered that he had died in 2010 in Tennessee, and
I was unable to get his insights on the Battle.
The morning of 29 December 1966, Company B resumed moving into the village with the 3rd Platoon leading
and the 4th Platoon to our left. We discovered the extent of the fortifications, tunnels, spider holes to our
front. The enemy had vanished, and as usual did not leave many casualties behind. We were able to reach
the east end of Gia Dúc where we found an automatic weapon emplacement covering the rice paddy where
the 1st Platoon had attempted to cross. I found 1LT Hennessy’s body about 40 feet into the rice paddy where
he was killed, with several other members of his platoon. Around noon, we linked up with the remainder of
the 1st Platoon, under the command of PSGT Donald Brown.
Company B lost 10 KIA, including 1LT Daniel Hennessy, 1LT Lamont Finch, PSGT Lonnie Barber, CPL Douglas
D. Houg, SP4 Eric A. Branffors, SP4 Erineo M. Mendez, SP4 Carl S. Mercer, SP4 Dennis M. Spahn, PFC Richard
C. Jacobs, and PFC James W. Pawlak. I later found out from 1LT McCarron that a replacement Medic assigned
to HHC 1/8 Cavalry had arrived at our position during the battle and was also killed (the 11th KIA), but this
Medic was NOT identified initially as being with our Company since he was still shown as assigned to HHC.
Among the wounded was my Company Medic, SP-5 Maurice Waters.
Sp5 Waters remembers that “I had a chance to meet with and talk to one of the medics who was assigned to
the platoon to the command groups left flank in the tree line. I had not met with the other medic who I now
believe was Walter Wonnacott. “I was flown to Qui Nhon to a field hospital and remember lying on an army
cot when Lt. McCarron arrived to account for the wounded men of B Company. I was always so impressed that
he would follow his men and account for them and as I have found out more about "Bill" it is in his nature to
place the needs of his men above himself. I remember him asking me if I was all right. I was not sure of the
extent of my wounds at the time and answered I wasn't sure. From there I was evacuated to Clark Air Force
base in the Philippines for my first debridement surgery and then about a week later to Yokohama Japan for
final surgeries at the Army Hospital there.”
For his heroism in battle, I recommended 1LT Daniel Hennessy for the Distinguished Service Cross, which was
awarded posthumously. His Citation reads as follows: ” For extraordinary heroism in connection with military
operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam: First Lieutenant
Hennessy distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 28 December 1966 while serving as a
platoon leader with elements of the 8th Cavalry in a search and destroy mission in Quan Hoai An Province,
when his platoon received intense hostile fire from a nearby village, Lieutenant Hennessy dauntlessly led an
assault on the Viet Cong positions. Maneuvering through a hail of bullets, he moved to the head of the
platoon and was the first man to enter the hamlet. Unmindful of his vulnerable position, Lieutenant Hennessy
fearlessly engaged the enemy with his rifle and hand grenades. He then called for artillery strikes within ten
meters of his own position, which allowed his platoon to reach cover at the edge of a rice paddy. As he
shouted orders and pointed out hostile emplacements, Lieutenant Hennessy was critically wounded by Viet
Cong fire. Realizing that his wounds were fatal, he courageously continued to direct his men, until finally
turning over command to his platoon sergeant with his last words. Demonstrating impeachable valor and
profound concern for the men under his command, he inspired them to overwhelm and defeat the entrenched
hostile force. First Lieutenant Hennessy's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life,
were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his
unit, and the United States Army.”
At the time of the recommendation, we did not realize that we had engaged a regular NVA unit, rather than a
Viet Cong or Main Force formation. I had the privilege of visiting Dan Hennessy’s home town in Pennsylvania
while assigned there many years later. There, I met his cousins, who for the first time were told how this
young man died for his Country.
Several months latter, I was informed by the 3rd Brigade Deputy Commander (and former 1/8 Cavalry
Commander) LTC Louisell, that his Brigade had captured the Adjutant of the 22nd NVA Regiment. His notes
on the Battle of Gia Dúc indicated that we had inflicted very heavy casualties to the Regimental Headquarters
and the Heavy Weapons Company in the Battle of Gia Dúc. That is when I confirmed that we had engaged a
much larger formation, and understood how we suffered the casualties that we did. That was however, no
consolation for the loss of lives on that day.
Bill McCarron tells me that he had at one time read the narrative of this Battle, as published in a North
Vietnamese article. They described how “….the glorious Liberation Forces had annihilated over 100 American
Soldiers as they attempted to land in their helicopters.” I would like to see such a narrative as a counterpoint
to the facts. Perhaps someday we may be able to meet with some of the enemy soldiers involved and
compare our stories.
Maurice Waters is the current President of the “Jumping Mustangs Association.” Villaronga, McCarron, and
Waters will be attending the upcoming 1st Cavalry Division Reunion in Fort Hood in mid-June 2015. I don’t
know if Jerry Diersing or Roger Riffle will attend, but look forward to meeting with all Company B Members
LZ Bird. The NVA/VC forces demonstrated they were still capable of offensive action with an attack on
LZ base Bird in the contested Kim Son Valley on 26 December. The Firebase had been hurriedly constructed
and, due to a Christmas truce, had less than one-half of its authorized manpower present. The NVA/VC nearly
overran the Firebase before being repelled by "beehive' rounds (containing thousands of tiny metal arrows)
and helicopter gunships. The 1st Cavalry sent in a battalion of troops to pursue the retreating attackers. U.S.
losses in the attack were more than 60 percent of the defenders of Firebase Bird, with 27 dead and 67
wounded. The U.S. estimated that NVA/VC losses in the attack and pursuit were 267 dead. During the
remainder of Operation Thayer II the 1st Cavalry consolidated and strengthened its positions in Binh Dinh
province, preparing for Operation Pershing, another major operation to begin at the end of the Têt truce from
8 to 12 February. The U.S. claimed to have killed 1,757 NVA and VC combatants during Thayer II at a cost of
242 Americans killed and to have driven out of Binh Dinh province one regiment and severely damaged two