As dawn broke on D plus 1 (9 January 1967) the units forming the anvil of Cedar Falls were maneuvering into their final posi-tions as the 1st Division's 2d Brigade continued its day-old operation in Ben Suc. The hammer forces of the 1st Infantry Division (the organic 3d Brigade and Task Force Deane) initiated their assault at 0800 with simultaneous attacks across the Iron Triangle and into the Thanh Dien forest. The impact of the hammer on enemy forces was imminent.
The mission of the Iron Brigade was to conduct airmobile assaults with five battalions into the Thanh Dien forest, conduct search and destroy operations to kill or capture enemy forces, destroy enemy installations, and evacuate all inhabitants from the area of operations. The operations order had been issued to all participating battalions on 5 January, and the previous four days had been spent in detailed planning and preparation. The initial positions for the elements of the 3d Brigade formed a semicircle to the north of the Thanh Dien forest. Six landing zones (LZ's) were designated. The terrain in this area ranges from flat to gently roll-ing; the undergrowth is dense. The few streams in the area are fordable with minor difficulty.
The 3d Brigade's area of operation, according to intelligence sources, was thought to be an important supply base and hospital area. The enemy units believed to be in the area were listed as base caretaker elements and headquarters defense units. The Americans expected to find base camps and supply installations and well-constructed bunkers, tunnels, and trenches, all protected by exten-sive mines and booby traps. These expectations proved to be accurate.
Major units constituting the task organization of the ad Brigade included five infantry battalions, two cavalry squadrons, and one artillery battalion. At 0735, 9 January, an extensive air and artillery preparation began on Landing Zone 1, the northernmost point of the ring of men and weapons that was soon to be formed around the Thanh
Dien forest. For the 3d Brigade and the 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William C. Simpson, Operation CEDAR FALLS began at 0800 as the first of sixty helicopters touched down. The entire battalion was on the ground in less than five minutes. The artillery and air strikes turned three kilometers toward the east and Landing Zone 2. At 0840 Lieutenant Colonel Rufus C. Lazzell and the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, joined the battle. At 0910 the first enemy reaction to this portion of the operation occurred in the vincinity of Landing Zone 1 in the form of small arms fire. There were no casualties. By this time the preparatory fires had shifted to the west and Landing Zone 3.
The 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Elmer D. Pendleton, started landing at LZ 3 at 0920. As the battalion expanded its zone of operations, the first indications that the enemy was retreating were noted. Within twenty minutes the infantrymen had found several freshly dug foxholes, recent oxcart tracks, a tunnel containing a pot of steaming rice, and a cache of munitions. located next was a 55-gallon drum of diesel
fuel, a 66-pound enemy mine, and a newly constructed base camp. Two light observation helicopters overflying the area of operation were hit by ground fire and so damaged that they had to be evacu-ated. Small quantities of weapons and munitions continued to be found.
At 1155 the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, commanded by Lieu-tenant Colonel Jack G. Whitted, touched down on Landing Zone 5, located between Landing Zones 1 and 3, and began search and destroy operations.
By noon the 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, was reporting sniper fire and seeing an unknown number of Viet Cong escaping to the south on bicycles. Near Landing Zone 3 the battalion found an arms cache in an enemy base camp which included 2 recoilless rifles, 1 60-mm. mortar, and 135 Russian rifles. In the same area they soon uncovered some grenades, 24 gas masks, 75 tons of rice, and 4.5 tons of salt.
By midafternoon the 3d Brigade set up a forward command post for communications at the now secured village of Ben Suc. The battalions of the brigade now in the operational area continued their search and were uncovering large quantities of materiel and abandoned enemy installations.
At 1350 the 2d Battalion, 18th Infantry (less Company A), passed to the operational control of the 3d Brigade and prepared to air assault into the operational area. At 1600, as the first lift of the battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Lewis R. Baumann was going into a landing zone three kilometers south of LZ 3, two claymore mines were detonated by the enemy. An alter-nate landing site was designated three kilometers to the west where the battalion landed without incident. The battalion then reverted to the operational control of the 2d Brigade.
At 1820 the 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, apprehended sixty per-sons four kilometers north of Landing Zone 3. They were moved to the evacuee holding area at Ben Suc.
As darkness fell, night defensive positions were established by these five combat battalions now in the Thanh Dien forest sanc-tuary of the Viet Cong.
Task Force Deane
At 0800 on 9 January the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment attacked west from its staging areas near Ben Cat. After securing the bridge across the Thi Tinh River and Position GREEN, one kilometer to the southwest, the regiment knifed toward its objec-tives some seven kilometers to the west. By 1000 the Blackhorse
Regiment had penetrated the entire width of the Iron Triangle from east to west and had severed it from the Thanh Dien forest on the north. Only slight enemy resistance had been encountered.
The 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Sigholtz, air assaulted at 1115 into Landing Zone 4 on the northeast perimeter of the semicircle encompassing the Thanh Dien forest. By 1145 the battalion had linked up with the infantrymen of the 1st Division who had landed earlier.
Landing Zone 6, the eastern anchor of the tightening ring around the forest, was the next to be occupied by 1st Division forces. At ~1235 the 4th Battalion of the 503d Infantry (-), com-manded by Lieutenant Colonel Michael D. Healy, air assaulted into Landing Zone 6 and seventy minutes later had joined forces with the 2d Battalion. Blocking positions were established and limited search and destroy operations conducted. These two battal-ions of the 503d brought the total number in and around the Thanh Dien forest to seven.
Meanwhile, to the south, the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry (Lieu-
tenant Colonel Robert W. Brownlee), and 35th Ranger Battalion (with elements of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry) maintained the blocking positions opposite the southeast side of the triangle held since the termination of NIAGRA FALLS.
25th Infantry Division
On D plus 1 the anvil forces of the 25th Infantry Division assumed, prepared, and improved their final blocking positions and actively conducted search and destroy operations along the west bank of the Saigon River. Tankdozers assisted in clearing the areas.
Units of the 2d Brigade continued operations in the southern sector of the division area of responsibility. At 1645 at a point on the Saigon River four kilometers northwest of Phu Hoa Dong, Company B. 2d Battalion, 34th Armor, engaged a raft with fifteen Viet Cong aboard. Employing 90-mm. guns loaded with "cannister and shot," the men of Company B destroyed the raft and killed all occupants. The brigade continued to find quantities of munitions, weapons, and rice in the numerous huts, tunnels, and bunkers, many of which were mined and booby trapped. Three sampans were located and destroyed.
The 196th Light Infantry Brigade continued its mission in the northern area of the division sector. The hamlet of A Go Noi (1) was searched and the inhabitants screened; a medical team, part of the search and destroy forces, treated the inhabitants. Nine Viet Cong were shot as they tried to cross the river during the hours of darkness. Several classified papers were captured during the day, documents which pertained to the postal, communications, and transportation section of Military Region IV. One paper classified top secret concerned economy of ammunition by Viet Cong units. It stated that ammunition could no longer be provided for Ameri-can weapons and that in the future money would be furnished for the purchase of such ammunition. It went on to say that ammuni-tion for Chinese weapons would be limited. The paper included a price list for weapons and ammunition that the Viet Cong should use when making purchases.
Small Unit Actions
Operation Cedar Falls was characterized by small unit actions. Typical are those of Company C, 2d Battalion, 503d Infantry, on 9 January as reported in the 173d Brigade's after action report. On the morning of 9 January Company C was located in Posi-
tion BLUE, ten kilometers east of the Iron Triangle. At 1055 the company was airlifted out of its pickup zone and twenty minutes later landed in LZ 4 on the northeast corner of the perimeter sur-rounding the Thanh Dien forest. Its mission was patrolling, form-ing blocking positions, and setting up night ambushes.
Each rifleman of the company was armed with an M16 rifle, 400 rounds of ammunition, 2 smoke grenades, and 2 fragmentary gre-nades. There were 2 M60 machine guns in each of the three pla-toons; each gunner carried a total of 1,500 rounds of ammunition. In addition, each squad had 2 M79's (grenade launchers) with 45 rounds per grenadier and an average of 2 claymore mines. The company as a whole was equipped with 3 81-mm. mortars with 30 rounds per mortar. Each individual carried 3 C-ration meals while on operations.
By 1130 on 9 January the company had cleared its landing zone and was establishing a blocking position. Captain Thomas P. Carney, the company commander, moved to the right flank to co-ordinate with the commander of the unit to the north-Company B. 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry. With the co-ordination completed, the company's three platoons established defensive positions along an oxcart trail west of the Thi Tinh River. The company's area of operation was primarily dense jungle with the exception of one section which had been defoliated within the last year. Based upon an assessment of the situation and terrain by the two adjacent company commanders, night ambush patrols were to be placed on an overgrown trail in the western portion of the perimeter. After the defensive position had been established, patrols were sent out to search the immediate area for signs of the enemy and for possible ambush sites. The 3d Platoon soon discovered a hut connected to a combination tunnel and bomb shelter. That the hut had been inhabited recently was confirmed by the freshly cooked rice which was found. Further search of the area revealed a cache of twelve bicycles and 200 pounds of polished rice on a concrete platform. Everything was destroyed with the exception of the bicycles, which were later to provide transportation for the men of "Charlie" Company while in base camp. The 33-man weapons platoon found one small hut while screen-ing to the rear of the company command post. After destroying the hut, the platoon moved east toward the Thi Tinh River and found a fordable stream. The platoon then returned to the company base area. Sergeant Nathaniel King was in charge of the 1st Platoon's patrol. Two foxholes were discovered; neither showed signs of recent use. Sergeant King also reported finding a footpath running
parallel to the overgrown trail in the western portion of the com-pany's position. Although the trail showed no signs of recent use, there was evidence that the small footpath was heavily traveled, probably because it could not be observed from the air.
All patrols returned to the command post by 1630. Hot A--rations and a .50-caliber machine gun arrived by resupply chop-pers, and the company settled down to warm chow.
During darkness the company employed three-man listening posts around its position. One post located between the 2d and 3d Platoon positions was occupied by Sergeant Frank Bothwell, Specialist Four Walter Johnson, and Private First Class Joseph Russo. They had moved into position shortly after nightfall, situ-ating themselves three meters from one another in a triangular position for easy communication and 360-degree observation. The terrain was generally flat and overgrown with elephant grass and bamboo. The men were instructed not to engage the enemy unless absolutely necessary.
The three men lay quietly. After minutes of silence, movement was detected at about 1940 at a distance of approximately fifty meters. The noise became louder. Because of the thick vegetation, vision was limited. The men were prone and could not move with-out being detected. The enemy was now nearly on top of the posi-tion. Sergeant Bothwell knew that if he reached for his M16, the noise would be heard; he prepared to throw a fragmentation grenade instead.
Johnson was in a better position to observe the enemy; however, he knew he must come to a sitting position to fire and would thereby expose himself and his comrades. However, as the enemy came closer, Johnson realized that the time for action had come. He sprang to a sitting position and fired approximately five rounds before his weapon jammed. An enemy grenade exploded and a fragment hit Johnson in the neck. In an attempt to have his grenade detonate on impact, Bothwell had pulled the pin, released the handle, paused three seconds, then tossed it toward the enemy. The grenade, however, exploded in flight and rained fragments on the position. Russo was wounded in the hand and was unable to fire his M79. Bothwell radioed back to the command post inform-ing them of the casualties; he then sprayed the area with M16 fire and, assisting Johnson and Russo, withdrew to the company position.
The wound in Johnson's neck, although not fatal, was very close to the jugular vein. The medical evacuation helicopter arrived twenty-five minutes later and evacuated the two men.
While the listening post was seeing action, an ambush patrol
under Sergeant Julius Brown had been in position near the footpath. The patrol had left the command post at 1900 and moved south along the path, passing its ambush site and then backtracking to it to mislead any enemy elements following them. The ambush site had been chosen because of the cover available and the indications that the path was frequently traveled at this point. There were nine men in the patrol, six armed with M16's, two with M79's, and one with an M60 machine gun. The patrol maintained radio silence but was able to receive any messages transmitted to it. Captain Carney received reports from adjacent units that movement had been detected near their company command posts. He warned Sergeant Brown to keep on the alert for infiltrating Viet Cong.
At 1945 came the sounds of firing from Sergeant Bothwell's listening post. Shortly thereafter another warning of enemy activity in the area was received. The ambush patrol lay quietly waiting.
At 2045, sounds of movement were heard near the ambush site. Private First Class Gary Gaura became anxious and crawled to Sergeant Brown's position a few meters away to get instructions. Brown told him to do nothing and be still. When Gaura crawled back to his position, he coughed, and the enemy, now only about fifteen meters away, halted sharply. The Viet Cong remained silent and motionless for approximately ten minutes and then moved on around the patrol's killing zone. Private Gaura counted fifteen silhouettes. The enemy crossed the trail, avoiding the ambush, yet remained in the immediate area.
About one and a half hours later, the enemy column moved to the west and out of range and sight. Fifteen minutes later machine gun fire was heard from the direction of the adjacent company. At 2300 the sound of movement was again heard and out of the brush came a single enemy soldier. He cautiously moved toward the ambush position. Again someone coughed, alerting the enemy, but this time it was too late; there was no chance for escape. Private First Class Michael Farmer, armed with the M60 machine gun, squeezed off five rounds. The enemy fell wounded. Another enemy soldier emerged into the ambush site. He looked at the wounded man, turned, and walked away. The wounded man cried out. The straggler wheeled, sprayed the area with automatic weapons fire, and proceeded toward the man on the ground, walking so close to the ambush position that he nearly tripped over the barrel of the M60. Bending over, he lit a candle which illuminated both men. Private First Class Michael Hill fired his M60 machine gun but it malfunctioned; simultaneously Private First Class Martin Norman fired his M16. The candle went out.
Silence was maintained until morning when the two enemy dead were found along with two AK47 weapons. Among their personal items was a document containing codes for the Military Region IV headquarters; it appeared that the second Viet Cong had been a courier whose job was to transport important documents.
At 0630 the ambush patrol moved out of the area and returned to the company command post.
It later developed that the captured documents were one of the most significant finds of the operation and had a direct bearing on the subsequent capture of a high official assigned to Military Region IV.
Return to the Table of Contents