We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
—SHAKESPEARE, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3
It’s easy to forget the numbers, but how can we forget the faces, the voices, the cries of young men dying before their time? Between October 23 and November 26, 1965, a total of 305 young American soldiers were killed in combat in the Pleiku campaign. Their names march down the lines inscribed on Panel 3-East of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, each one a national treasure, each one a national tragedy. Some tell a story by their very juxtaposition: Lieutenant John Lance Geoghegan’s name is frozen in the black granite beside that of PFC Willie F. Godboldt, the man he died trying to save. What would they have become, all of them, if they had been allowed to serve their country by their lives, instead of by their deaths?
Yes, there is an organization, the Ia Drang Alumni, our own Band of Brothers, and we have a dinner before Veteran’s Day in Washington every November and a lunch wherever the 1st Cavalry Division Association holds its reunion each summer, for we find pleasure and healing in the company of the friends and comrades of our youth.
We begin by calling the roll, first reading the names of all those who fell and those who have joined them since. Then, one by one, we stand to call out our own names, ranks, military occupations, companies and battalions, and where we fought in the valley. There are no dues—those were paid in blood long ago—and no officers. A veteran chopper pilot from the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry, Mike Sloniker, and civilian war correspondent Joe Galloway together run the annual Ia Drang reunion and dinner as a labor of love and loyalty to the Ia Drang veterans—living and dead.
Each year one or another stands before us and tells what he remembers of the men on his right and on his left and what they saw and did in the valley. Only now do we begin to understand why old soldiers have always gathered to murmur among themselves of days gone by. Those were the days, my friend.
And what of the others, our old and former enemies of the 320th, 33rd, and 66th People’s Army regiments? For them there was no expiration of enlistment, no rotation home at the end of one year. They fought on for ten more years. Death or victory was their term of enlistment, and for most death came first.
Ho Chi Minh’s old soldiers and sergeants of these regiments and others of the People’s Army do their best to take care of each other, unofficially, of course. On a given evening once a week, or once a month, the men of a particular unit gather at one of the Hanoi coffeehouses that cater to old soldiers, there to talk among themselves, share news and gossip about their friends and families, and, occasionally, to tell a war story of their days in the Ia Drang. Since 1975, the Vietnamese Army has worked to recover the remains of almost one million men and women who fell in battle during the American war. They have been reinterred in war cemeteries that dot the rice paddies, each marked by a low wall and a tall obelisk.
In the small, closed world of the military, great victories, great defeats, and great sacrifices are never forgotten. They are remembered with battle streamers attached to unit flags. Among the scores of streamers that billow and whirl around the flags of all the battalions of the 1st Cavalry Division there is one deep-blue Presidential Unit Citation streamer that says simply: PLEIKU PROVINCE.
Schoolchildren no longer memorize the names and dates of great battles, and perhaps that is good; perhaps that is the first step on the road to a world where wars are no longer necessary. Perhaps. But we remember those days and our comrades, and long after we are gone that long blue streamer will still caress proud flags.
Tony Nadal, left, and Matt Dillon on the first battalion-size operation l/7th Cav conducted in Vietnam, in Happy Valley near An Khe during October 1965.
The 11th Air Assault (Test) Division’s commanding general, Harry Kinnard, left, and 3rd Brigade commander Col. Tim Brown in May 1965.
Hard good-byes: Ray Lefebvre with his wife, Ann, and children the day he left for Vietnam.
John Herren and Bob Edwards aboard the USNS Maurice Rose transiting the Panama Canal late in August 1965.
Air Force pilot Charlie Hastings had a grunt’s eye view of war.
Ia Drang campaign began with the seige of Plei Me camp (inset); Montagnard troops kept families with them.
Doc Carrara treats a sick Montagnard child in an isolated village five miles east of Plei Me camp on November 10.
Clouds of smoke boiling off the X-Ray battlefield made the aviators’ jobs all the more difficult and dangerous.
Battalion command group just before X-Ray: Standing left to right, Basil Plumley, Matt Dillon, Hal Moore, and Tom Metsker. Kneeling left to right, unidentified trooper and radio operator Bob Ouellette.
Battalion surgeon Robert Carrara led a sadly under-strength crew of medical aid men who worked miracles in the hell that was LZ X-Ray. They saved the lives of many of the 121 men wounded in action there.
Lt. Col. Bob Tully, right, shown here with General Dick Knowles, commanded the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cav in the Ia Drang.
Henry Toro Herrick: He led a charge that baffled everyone.
Neil Kroger died holding the line in Charlie Company.
Bob Taft was first casualty in fight for dry creekbed.
Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An commanded enemy forces in the Ia Drang Valley from a bunker on the slopes of Chu Pong massif. An and his superiors claim a victory in spite of heavy losses, and say they learned how to fight the newly arrived American forces and their helicopters. A North Vietnamese map, captured in 1966, accurately depicts enemy maneuvers and attacks during the Ia Drang campaign.
Galen Bungum, left, and Joe F. Mackey, two of the unhurt survivors of Lt. Henry Herrick’s Lost Platoon. They and their buddies fought off hundreds of North Vietnamese with the help of artillery.
Sergeants Carl Palmer, Paul Hurdle, and Ernie Savage (left to right) of Herrick’s platoon. Hurdle died fighting a rear-guard action that bought time for his buddies. Palmer commanded only briefly after Herrick’s death, then he also was slain. Command then passed to Savage, who held the decimated, isolated platoon together for 26 desperate hours under siege. The platoon’s losses: 9KIA, 13 WIA.
Alpha 1/7 machine gunners enjoying warm beer at An Khe: left to right, Edward Dougherty, Russell Adams, Theron Ladner, Rodriguez Rivera, Bill Beck. They held the line with two M-60s.
Top: Rick Rescorla, left, and Myron Diduryk.
Clinton Poley, center, in the battalion aid station.
Bottom: Doc Carrara works on Arthur Viera.
Medic Charles Lose bandaged wounds with toilet paper and T-shirts and kept 13 men alive by sheer will.
Willard Parish says the enemy seemed to be “growing out of the weeds.” After Parish ran out of machine-gun ammo, he kept firing with two .45 pistols. More than 100 enemy dead were found around Parish’s foxhole.
Bill Beck, 19, learned the meaning of fear alone with a machine gun in the tall grass.
Rick Lombardo, right, and his good buddy Pop Jekel thought it couldn’t get worse than X-Ray. It did.
Ed “Too Tall to Fly” Freeman won a battlefield commission on Pork Chop Hill and flew the world on mapping missions before Vietnam. He and Bruce Crandall claimed the toughest jobs for themselves.
Ancient Serpent 6, Bruce Crandall, led the bravest helicopter pilots in the world into the LZ X-Ray firestorm to deliver ammo and water and bring out the wounded. Greater love hath no man …
Pathfinder team escorts two North Vietnamese prisoners taken at LZ X-Ray. During three days of fighting we captured only six PAVN prisoners. Most chose to die fighting.
A badly wounded American is carried to a helicopter. At Charlie Med in Pleiku, corpsmen pumped in four units of whole blood at a time while Army surgeons worked frantically to plug the leaks.
Major Frank Henry, left, and Doc William Shucart. Henry called in air and artillery that saved the day at Albany. Shucart tended the wounded at the rear of the column.
Joel Sugdinis and his XO, Larry Gwin, watched in horror as the PAVN attack rolled over two Alpha Company platoons.
Ghost 4-6, Bob Jeanette, gets a 25-cent haircut at 1st Cav base camp in An Khe.
Lt. Col. Bob McDade had just taken over 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav when it was sent into the bloody Ia Drang fighting.
Charlie Company CO Skip Fesmire, left, and recon platoon leader Pat Payne in happier days before LZ Albany. Charlie Company lost 46 killed and 50 wounded.
Captain George Forrest ran a gauntlet of enemy fire to reach his Alpha/1/5 soldiers.
Jim Young, wounded and alone, wandered among the enemy but made it home for Christmas.
Sergeant Fred J. Kluge led a midnight patrol in search of Ghost 4-6 and U.S. wounded.
Sergeant Major James Scott gets a Purple Heart for wounds suffered at LZ Albany. He bandaged himself and, witnesses say, was still “fighting like a demon” hours later.
Bob Towles and a dozen men of Delta Company formed a line, but the enemy flanked them.
Jack P. Smith saw his friends die all around him but lived through a terrifying night.
Purp Lavender was wounded by friendly fire returning from the Kluge night patrol.
James H. Shadden, left, and Snyder Bembry. Shadden heard an NVA officer kill Bembry.
Delta Company mortarmen take a break in the jungle just minutes before the North Vietnamese attacked. Left to right, Duncan Krueger (KIA), A. C. Carter, Osvaldo Amodias (KIA), unknown, James H. Shadden. This eerie photo was taken with a small camera that survived the badly wounded Shadden’s journey home.
A 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav trooper on guard beside the body of a fallen comrade. The scene along the column, where more than 150 Americans died, horrified the first relief patrols.
Three lucky survivors from Headquarters share a beer at Camp Holloway. They are, left to right, John Howard, Bud Alley, and Dan Boone. Alley and Howard led parties that escaped.
Major H. Norman Schwarzkopf leads ARVN paratroopers along a Highlands trail from Due Co to Pleiku in August 1965.
Hal Moore and Basil Plumley on the day 1st Battalion, 7th Cav returned to An Khe base camp from the Ia Drang.
Hal Moore, Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap, and Joe Galloway after a meeting in Hanoi in September 1990, to discuss the battles of the Ia Drang.
Tom Metsker with wife, Catherine, and daughter, Karen. Metsker was killed November 14, 1965, in LZ X-Ray.
Jack, Barbara, and Camille Geoghegan at Fort Benning before the 1st Cav left for Vietnam. Geoghegan died trying to rescue a wounded trooper, Willie Godboldt.
Hal Moore and Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An during a four-hour discussion of the Ia Drang battles. An arrived with his old battle map and diaries and talked candidly about his actions.