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Going toe-to-toe at Tam Quantity

Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.


During the buildup to the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968, Vietnamese communists gave clear signs of impeding action on the Bong Son Plain of Binh Din province. American troops stationed in the area had no way of knowing they soon would become embroiled in a ferocious fight that would span the course of two grueling weeks. Clearly, though, a battle was brewing. The only question was, when and how would it begin?

The answer came late in the afternoon of Dec. 6, 1967. Scout helicopters from the 1st Squadron of the 9th Cav.’s A Troop were flying near the village of Dai Dong, following up on intelligence reports that the 22nd NVA Regiment had moved its headquarters into the area. From their airborne perch, the scouts spotted a radio antenna outside a hut. Simultaneously, hidden enemy gunners took arm at the helicopters and opened fire. An aerial rifle platoon from A Troop went in to investigate. The platoon immediately came under intense enemy fire and found itself pinned in place. The 9th Cav. dispatched D Troop’s Red Platoon to assist. This unit also quickly became entrapped.

The 1st Cav. Division’s 1st Brigade (“All the Way”) had entered the lair of the 7th and 8th battalions of the 22nd Regt., 3rd NVA Div. And now, what had started out as an aerial reconnaissance mission had turned into a combat emergency, with two platoons threatened with annihilation. With darkness approaching, two additional units, from B Co., 1st Bn., 8th Cav., and from A Co., 1st Bn., 50th (Mechanized Infantry, arrived to assist. The 50th served as a general reserve in Vietnam, starting off with the “First Team.” These units, too, encountered instant violence.

“We immediately came under fire from the tree line,” recalls Jim Berry, a B Company radio-telephone operator (RTO) who stepped off a Huey utility helicopter and into a hail of bullets. Bill Spark, a medic from B Company, was with a platoon approaching a downed helicopter when the lead man was shot in the shoulder. The wounded sergeant lay in shock, fully exposed to enemy fire.

“We dragged him back for better cover,” said Spark, who administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in a vain attempt to save the man. Other lives also were lost quickly to NVA fire.

Two men of B Company and two from the 9th Cav. were KIA on December 6. As the fight continued into the night, descending flares cast an undulating light over the battlefield. The illumination revealed eerie surroundings. One person said that he was lying next to an enemy hand, protruding from the earth. “The dead soldier must have been in an underground bunker that had collapsed from our supporting artillery fire,” he recalled. With the help of the 50th Infantry’s fire-blazing armored personnel carriers, the extra forces rescued the entrapped platoons by day’s end. In the morning of December 7, the action resumed. GIs used a combination of blocking fire, artillery, and teargas when they moved in for the fight. The communists were largely concealed inside well-camouflaged bunkers that were protected by an extensive network of trenches. The terrain was interlaced with punji pits and booby traps. The mech unit managed to move through the intricate defenses, only to become entangled in hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. “This was my first taste of a big battle,” said one soldier. “This was my baptism under fire.”

While these GIs slugged it out in the trenches, other units were fully engaged elsewhere. Among them was C Company, 8th Cav., which was assigned to help seal off enemy escape routes. A second lieutenant in charge of the weapons platoon that headed north along the coast.

“We started getting sniped at within a half hour of moving out,” he said. Eventually, the platoon traversed a rice paddy while heading toward a village. “One hundred meters (190 yards) into the rice paddy, all hell cut loose,” he dropped to the earth. His rifles sank below his body and into the mud. “My weapon was useless. We had no option but to stay as low as possible” alongside RTO, Pfc. J Minnow, whose rifle was also gummed up with mud. “I was laying there listening to the rounds cracking, wishing I could cut the buttons off my fatigues so I could get even lower,” he said. One other briefly removed his helmet, which he always did before speaking. In that instant, he took a direct hit in the head. He fell forward into the water.

A chaplain who had just crawled into the scene, bandaged him as best he could. “We knew he wasn’t going to make it; we tried anyway.” Others in the unit continued to fall.

Seven members of C Company, including an artillery forward observer and a scout dog handler, died on “Pearl Harbor Day.” And we did four of A-1-8th and one from A-1-50th. An incredible act of bravery was demonstrated by Pfc. Tom Brown. Assigned as a cook to Hq Company of the 1st Bn., 8th Cav., he boarded a helicopter and flew to Dai Dong, where he quickly reverted to being a rifleman. Besides saving casualties from a hit APC, he personally destroyed several NVA bunkers, in one instance killing three communists at point-blank-range. Brown received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The able-bodied men took on the overwhelming task of pulling the dead and wounded under fire from the rice paddy and into a drainage ditch. They followed the ditch to a better position and continued the fight from a nearby village.

Three days later, on December 10, the 50th B Company was dispatched northward to clear villages along the coast. As the mechanized column moved near the village of Trong Lam, the first platoon came under heavy fire. Two other platoons went in to relieve the pressure. Before long, all three platoons were intensely engaged.

“We were getting withering fire at close range and didn’t have the option of fighting into the opposing force because we were blocked by a ditch,” said Richard Bruce, then the B company Cmdr. Bruce’s radio frequency was blocked, preventing him from calling in help. “I told my sergeant to go find out what happened to the radio,” Bruce recalled. “He took three steps and was shot through the chest.” Another platoon sergeant limped up and said the unit was being fired on from the trees. Bravo Company suffered 10 KIA that day near the village. (Only May 5-6, 1968 — the firefight at AN Bao — claimed more lives (16) from the 50th in Vietnam in a singe action from Truong Lam.)

Within five days, on December 15, D Co., 1st Bn., 12th Cav., was sent to reinforce the 50th near the village of My An (2), not far from Dai Dong. There it came up against elements of the 9th VC Regiment. Spc. 4 Long, an RTO, spotted three of his fellow soldiers lying wounded on the open battlefield. Long raced through the deadly fire zone in order to help the wounded men. For the next several hours, Long defended and protected the three soldiers. He labored each ferocity — repeatedly carrying the wounded men to safer ground and killing seven enemy soldiers at close range that he later was awarded he Medal of Honor.

Long was certainly not alone in his courageous actions. Cpt. Quinn, CO of D Company, attempted rescue of wounded troops and successfully continued rescue efforts even though he was seriously wounded. He was awarded the (DSC). By far, the deadliest day in of the fight for Tam Quan was December 15. Some 22 men of the 12th Cav.’s first Battalion lost their lives then. Charlie Company sustained the single largest number or KIAs at nine. Three medics from HQ Company died, too — some of whom were likely serving C Company. One company member, Sgt Boone received a posthumous Silver Star. Tragically, the only one associated fatality were three members of C Co,1st Ban, 8th Cav., killed by friendly artillery fire on December 15.

Sporadic fighting continued in the area for yet another five days. The battle officially ended on December 20. The Dai Dong and My An are collectively known as the Battle of Tam Quan, and to the men as the Battle of Dai Dong. Ironically, as Sheldon, artillery room sergeant with 1st Ptn, D Company, 1st Bat. 8th Cav., points out. The second battle of Tam Quan didn’t actually take place there, but was more focused on Dai Dong, Binh Phu, An Thai and Thien Dhang and Thien Chanh. No matter what its name, though, the horrendous fight left its mark.

“This was the first time we encountered a force big enough to stand and fight,” Cap. Quinn said. “They didn’t leave. They stood fast.” The Americans. though, held away. But they did so at a cost.

Three units sustained the lion’s share of the killed in action: 12th Cav. (23), 8th Cav. (17), and 50th Infantry (12). Five units accounted for the remaining seven men, including two U.S. advisors attached to the 40th ARVN Regiment. All told, 59 Americans were killed and 250 wounded in the complex fight for Tam Quan.

“Unbeatable importance of the Battle of Tam Quan is that we caught the enemy before they had a chance to attack us on that Tet Offensive,” said one soldier. This is a direct tribute to the men of the field of battle — to the 1st Brigade. In his wide-ranging after-action report, the 1st Brigade commander, wrote that that the force molded on the field of battle during those intense days was an “unbeatable combination.” The men who served in this battle, he wrote, were “gallant, quick reacting, flexible and tireless.” Furthermore, “their one burning goal — to find and defeat the enemy” — became a realization in gaining this important victory.

Any questions, email at

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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,

1st Cav./9th Infantry


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