Trung Luong, a true test of resolve
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.
(The 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division was tested to the maximum over three days in mid-June 1966 in a remote valley of a coastal province. It earned the Presidential Unit Citation.)
“I was appalled at the number of casualties the company had suffered,” recalled Ted Furgel, at the time captain of Alpha Company. “I found a secluded area, sat down alone, and cried, and cried, until I couldn’t cry anymore.”
Those casualties were the end result of a three-assault effort to take a seemingly insignificant village. The Trung Luong Valley is located in coastal Phu Yen province, a part of II Corps during the war. At its center was the abandoned hamlet of Trung Luong 2. It held no strategic value.
“We never wanted the village,” former Lt. Col. Ben Weco, Jr. Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry, told the Philadelphia Inquirer 34 years after the battle. “We just wanted them (the enemy.)” The battalion’s objective was to investigate North Vietnamese Army (NVA) activity in the valley. This was part of the larger search and destroy mission, known as Operation Nathan Hale, to clear the nearby Tuy Hoa Valley.
As it turned out, at minimum, the 7th Battalion, 18B Regiment, 5th NVA division, was present in the area of operations assigned to the 327th’s 2nd Battalion. Nicknamed the “No Slack” Battalion, the 2nd fielded three companies (A, B, and C) numbering perhaps 400 men on June 20, 1966. Members of the anti-tank and mortar platoons also reinforced Charlie Company, 138. A 105mm battery from 2nd Battalion, 320th Artillery, provided fire support.
A nasty surprise waited A Company when it approached the ville (GI slang for a village) itself. A reinforced NVA company opened fire on Alpha from Trung Luong 2 and then charged the paratroopers. Company members counterattacked, driving the NVA back into the village, but not for long. They were forced to withdraw and establish a defensive position after losing seven KIA. Meanwhile, Charlie Company was pinned down one-half mile from Hill 258. The hill formed the southern peak of a large hill mass. It was a sparsely jungled saddle shaped like a V and would be a focus of fighting.
In the afternoon, Bravo Company was lifted by helicopter into a hot landing zone (LZ) northwest of the hill. It was quickly pinned down.
“The fury of the combat was awesome,” remembered 1st Platoon lead 1st Lt. Larry Mcday. “B Company had taken approximately 44 casualties within the first two minutes of the landing. We were out of water; what water we had was given to the wounded; and we were low on ammunition.” Nine men were dead. Spec. 4 Frank Marsh was a medic with B Company. Before his courageous deeds were done, he had carried or dragged 10 wounded from the killing zone, according to his Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) citation. On his fourth trip under fire, March was shot in the thigh but managed to drag a GI to safety. He crawled back for another, as was hit again in the same leg by two more bullets. Although bleeding profusely, he continued to treat wounded. Even while awaiting medical evacuation, March administered first aid.
The next day, June 21, Bravo assaulted Hill 258, but it was empty of the enemy. The NVA abandoned their positions during the night. A and C companies, in the meantime, were busy attacking the hamlet. “It just seemed that the NVA were shooting everything they had in their arsenal at us,” remembered then Capt. Jones. He especially recalled the incoming rounds: “All of a sudden there is a deafening explosion. Very, very terrifying. The incoming barrage lasted about 15 to 20 minutes.” The GIs were forced to pull back temporarily. They lost eight KIA and 39 WIA. But after the final of three attempts, they succeeded in taking the village.
“One hour before dark, in the village, we numbered 35. A Company had done what was asked of it and we held our positions,” said Jones. “On the 22nd, Charlie (along with reinforcements from the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary) occupied a position dubbed Eagle. It was attacked at 0540 by the 2nd Company, 7th NVA Battalion. For at least three hours, until about 0900, the forces battled. When the NVA pulled out, their 2nd Company had been ‘Annihilated.’ C Company counted five KIA. 2nd Lt. Chad Burns was with Charlie Company that morning.
“The commander of the NVA unit assaulting us was captured during our sweep of the perimeter,” he remembered. “We wiped out his entire company. This fighting lasted for over four hours. It was two less-than-half-strength platoons against a NVA company.” Lt. Col. Ben Weco Stayed in the thick of things the full fight. A veteran of both WWII and Korea, he went by the call sign “Wild Gypsy.” He led the night defense of besieged companies on the ground twice and directly participated in a day light counterattack. When it came time to observe the battle from above by helicopter, he did so at a lower level.
For his role in the entire three-day engagement, Weco was awarded the DSC. Over those three days, 31 paratroopers were killed. Most — 18, or 58 percent — lost their lives on June 20. Gunfire accounted for 94 percent of KIAs. Two men died from shrapnel wounds. A and B companies each had nine deaths. Charlie sustained 13 KIA, including those from the attached platoons. As an airborne unit, it is not surprising that more than 80 percent of the KIAs were volunteers. An additional 155 men were WIA.
The 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry had persevered and was rewarded with a much-belated Presidential Unit Citation for Trung Luong 33 years later in 1999. Bud Sims, a machine gunner with Alpha Company who was wounded on June 21, paid tribute to the men of his unit. “I was and, to this day, still am proud of serving with the guys who I fought beside, bled with and damn near died with on many occasions,” he said. “It’s (Trung Luong) on my mind every friggin’ day. It’s never gone away, and it never will,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Any comments email, AboutVets@yahoo.com.
• • •
— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,
1st Cav/9th Infantry