Sunday, April 21, 2024

 Soldiers shield themselves as best they can from dirt and debris stirred up by a Huey squeezing into the tight, one-ship landing zone around noon. The pilot touches down and two officers jump from the helicopter and land in a large mud puddle. One GI chuckles, pokes his buddy and laughs quietly at the officers in fresh jungle fatigues, stamping the mud off their polished boots. A dirty, unshaven captain greets them wearing torn jungle fatigues and mud-covered boots, toting an M-16.

The trio moves to the edge of the landing zone where towering elephant grass offers a bit of protection from the early afternoon sun. The major unfolds a map and the three begin discussing a mission. Within minutes there is strong disagreement over the plan. Lieutenant Colonel Rutland Beard, commander of the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry (Airborne), 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and his operations officer, Major William Roll, are insisting that Captain Don Warren, Charlie Company commander, leave his 20-man mortar platoon alone on Landing Zone Hereford to provide fire support to Warren’s company as it moves down the steep precipice toward the valley below.

Warren is equally insistent on keeping at least one rifle squad behind to provide security: “Sir, my mortar platoon is down to half-strength because of malaria and has only M-16s and a couple of M-79s. If I leave behind a rifle squad, they will have at least one machine gun for security.”

Beard tells Warren that the mortar platoon will be on the hill for less than an hour before it will be lifted out and taken to another LZ. Warren’s eyes lock on Beard’s, “Anything could happen in an hour, sir.” Irritated at Warren’s near insubordination, Beard warns: “Captain, if you don’t do as I order, you will be in more trouble than you can imagine. Is that understood?” Warren hesitates a moment before answering tersely: “Yes sir, colonel. Will that be all, sir?” Beard indicates yes, and Warren spins on his heels and walks over to his rifle platoon leaders to pass on the orders. Beard takes a sideward glance at Roll, shakes his head and turns toward his helicopter.


Warren has every reason for concern about the safety of his understrength mortar platoon. Hereford’s topography makes it nearly impossible for even a fully armed rifle company to defend it from a determined enemy. It is a small saddle 165 yards long by 45 yards wide that is partially encircled by tall elephant grass. Beyond the elephant grass, it is completely surrounded by a rugged, unforgiving landscape, the most hostile being the steep, razorback ridgeline reaching northeast toward a towering mountain nearly 1,000 feet high. At the base of the ridge, Hereford’s northern boundary begins sloping gently downhill to the landing zone’s southern edge.

At the southeast rim of the perimeter is a sheer drop over a rocky precipice. The northwest limit of the perimeter is a steep, rock-faced, vine-covered drop-off into the valley. Completing Hereford’s narrow boundaries is a large, craggy, brush-covered hill on its western margin. With all its tactical shortcomings, however, Hereford is the only suitable landing zone within miles of a large enemy buildup in the untamed wilderness of central Binh Dinh Province.

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