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  • I am sorry Sir, but my men refused to go.

    There was mention of the 'mutiny' on the Ken Burns thread, which got me thinking that I had read about this incident in a Vietnam history.

    The following is taken from Death Valley (1987) by Keith William Nolan.

    The area, known as AK Valley, was in the northern part of the Americal Division's AO. Hard fighting by the Division and the Marines had been taking place since the Spring. On August 12, the NVA 1969 Summer Offensive in I Corps began.

    On August 23, rifle company A/4/31 commanded by 1st Lieutenant Eugene Shurtz re-occupied Hill 102. Hill 102 had been taken from the NVA by A company in July, and abandoned. Shurtz was Regular Army, a Distinguished Military Graduate of the ROTC, Ranger qualified and the son of a career Lt-Col. He had been in command of the company since August 6, after the previous company commander had been fired by the CO.

    Hill 102 had been defended by the NVA before it was occupied again by Alpha Company. Everyone in the company knew it would be abandoned once more. The day before they occupied the hill, Alpha Company had been forced back from a bunker line leaving two bodies behind, that of 1st Lieutenant Dan Kirchgesler and of Sergeant Derwin Pitts. Kirchgesler had been the company's only experienced platoon commander.

    A/4/31 was a part of Task Force 3/21 commanded by Lt-Col Robert C Bacon, a Regular Army West Point graduate on his second tour in Vietnam. He had assumed command only three days earlier. Bacon, along with a new Battalion Sergeant Major, had assumed command after the previous commander and BSM were killed when their C&C helicopter was shot down.

    On August 24 A/4/31 was ordered back to the bunker line to retrieve the bodies of Kirchgesler and Pitts. It had been extremely hot in the valley that summer. Over 100 degree days. The company had suffered terrible casualties. It had entered the valley with 95 men but now only had 52 men left. Intelligence believed that the bunker line was now unoccupied, but the soldiers of A Company thought they were too understrength to take on the mission. When the order came down that morning to move out, the company didn't move. Several of them (Sp4 Jay Curtis, Sp4 John Curtis, Sp4 Steve Niebuhr, and a medic named Sanders) requested an audience with the Inspector-General to put their request for reinforcements forward. It was Sp4 John Curtis (their spokesman) who told Shurtz they were requesting a helicopter to see the IG to ask for reinforcements before making any more attacks. Neither Shurtz or the two remaining platoon commanders were certain of what to do next.

    Shurtz radioed Bacon and advised him what was happening. Bacon at the time was with another company at the site of the C&C helicopter crash assisting in the retrieval of the bodies. It was this radio transmission which was heard in the BN TOC on LZ Center by some reporters.

    Shurtz: "I am sorry, Sir, but my men refused to go. We cannot move out."

    Bacon: "Repeat that please. Have you told them what it means to disobey orders under fire?"

    Shurtz: "I think they understood. But some of them have simply had enough-they are broken. There are boys here who have only ninety days left in Vietnam. They want to go home in one piece. The situation is psychic."

    Bacon: "Are you talking about enlisted men, or are there NCO's also involved?"

    Shurtz: "That's the difficulty here. We've got a leadership problem. Most of our squad leaders and platoon sergeants have been killed or wounded."

    Bacon: "Go talk to them again, and tell them that to the best of our knowledge the bunkers are empty. The enemy has withdrawn. The mission of A company is to recover their dead. The have no reason to be afraid. Please take a hand count of how many really do not want to go."

    Shurtz: "They won't go, Colonel, and I did not ask for the hand count because I am afraid that they will all stick together even though some might prefer to go."

    In fact only a few short-timers were actually refusing, but the men had more confidence in them then in their officers. Bacon was not angry, but frustrated. He realized that Shurtz didn't have the experience to handle the situation, having only been in command 17 days. Bacon radioed the Bn TOC and ordered the Bn XO, Major Richard Waite, and the new BSM, SFC Okey Blankenship, out to Hill 102 to get them moving "with a pep talk and a kick in the butt."

    Before Waite and Blankenship arrived in their C&C, Shurtz ordered the short-timers and the company to move out. Sp4 John Curtis had won a Silver Star earlier in his tour. He did not consider himself a coward or a mutineer. The company began to don their rucks in anticipation of moving towards the bunkers, when the C&C arrived. They sat down again.

    Major Waite approached the short-timers and listened to John Curtis's complaints about the shortage of reinforcements, weapons, and all the other horrors of operating in the valley. Blankenship walked through the company, making disparaging remarks and questioning their manhood. Blankenship was on his third tour of Vietnam, and held the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Eventually, Waite told the company to move out. Which they did, and recovered the bodies of Kirchgesler and Pitts without a shot being fired. They whole refusal incident had taken about an hour.

    The next morning Bacon flew out to Alpha company's location and replaced Shurtz with Captain Bernhard F Wolpers. The company stayed in the valley for six more days until August 31, before they humped back to LZ Center and were mobbed by reporters. That was the first they learned that the incident, to which none of them had given a second thought, had become a world-wide story..."the grunts revolt".

    Eugene Shurtz was a victim of his inexperience, not a coward, and was made the scapegoat. To his superiors he waffled when he should have charged and, more importantly, had embarrassed the Americal Division in front of a hostile press. He was assigned as the assistant brigade personnel administrative officer on LZ Baldy, then promoted to Captain and sent to Chu Lai to complete his tour as the brigade stand down officer. He was discharged in 1970 with an end or tour BSM and an ARCOM.

    Alpha company abandoned Hill 102 two days after they had occupied it. The same day they walked into LZ Center, a re-enlistment Sergeant was helicoptered in. Policy at the time was for any soldier who re-enlisted for three years to be immediately transferred out of the bush. Results for the Sergeant for that day were considered to be "outstanding."

    Robert C Bacon retired as a full Colonel.

    John Curtis rotated out of Vietnam with Sergeant's stripes, his Silver Star and a BSM.
    So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

    Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

  • #2
    Bacon: "Repeat that please. Have you told them what it means to disobey orders under fire?"

    I have trouble with the word "Repeat" used by an officer on the radio, it is meant for something else "say again" would be correct.
    Trying hard to be the Man, that my Dog believes I am!

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Trung Si View Post
      Bacon: "Repeat that please. Have you told them what it means to disobey orders under fire?"

      I have trouble with the word "Repeat" used by an officer on the radio, it is meant for something else "say again" would be correct.
      Actually, I've heard it used. Makes you want to find a deep foxhole.
      My worst jump story:
      My 13th jump was on the 13th day of the month, aircraft number 013.
      As recorded on my DA Form 1307 Individual Jump Log.
      No lie.

      ~
      "Everything looks all right. Have a good jump, eh."
      -2 Commando Jumpmaster

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Trung Si View Post
        Bacon: "Repeat that please. Have you told them what it means to disobey orders under fire?"

        I have trouble with the word "Repeat" used by an officer on the radio, it is meant for something else "say again" would be correct.
        I don't know if Nolan turned a paraphrase into a quote or if the BC used the word "repeat." But the incident is real enough. I saw the former company commander later when he commanded the stand down center for the 196th Bde. "The Charger Hotel."
        No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

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        • #5
          "This is Flexible Six. Have your men dismount and sweep the line."
          "This is Fullback Six. Negative out."

          We went in mounted on the APCs with tank support, broke the siege of Sou Tre, kicked the NVA's ass, and suffered zero casualties in the process.

          Whenever Flexible Six felt we were behind schedule, we refused to travel the roads or trails in the hostile areas. He would then badger some other line company to take point and use the roads and trails. Results, people needlessly killed and equipment lost with us even further behind schedule.

          The ultimate, we were blocking force along the Saigon River at night. During the day, he pulled us out to conduct S and D missions. We got way behind due to one of those road patrols in hostile territory. It was way after dark when he wanted us to return to the blocking line in the trees which involved crossing three miles of open rice patties. That order was refused without his knowledge. The following day, we did a recon by fire before entering the woodline at the river. He started bitching about us shooting for no reason. Sure enough, Charlie had ransacked out camps taking some stuff we didn't pack out. We left some surprises when we finally left for good.

          Refusing to go? Happened more often then reported.
          “Breaking News,”

          “Something irrelevant in your life just happened and now we are going to blow it all out of proportion for days to keep you distracted from what's really going on.”

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          • #6
            Worse than mutinies were the fraggings that took place later in the war of unpopular leaders and NCO's who pushed too hard. When troops take to murdering their leaders, discipline is long gone and the survival instinct has taken over.

            And then there were the patrols and units who went out to their designated areas, set up camp and just stayed there doing nothing until it was time to RTB, at which time they reported "No contact".

            The United States came perilously close to an all out rebellion in the closing days of Viet Nam, IMHO.
            Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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            • #7
              I Corps - 1969

              The following is also from Death Valley by Nolan. It sets up the situation in I Corps in 1969.

              "Mostly though, by the summer of 69, the ground war in South Vietnam had become most actively focused in the southern sector of the 1st MarDiv TAOR; this was where the border between Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces ran horizontally across the Que Son Mountains. The 1st Marine Division occupied Quang Nam, while the 23d Infantry Division (Americal), US Army, occupied Quang Tin. In the mountains between them lived the 2nd NVA Division. The mountains belonged to the enemy; from there, they kept the pressure on and the cost was almost constant.

              The killing ground north of the Que Sons was called the An Hoa Basin. The Que Sons formed its western and southern frontiers, a spur called Charlie Ridge its northern. In the An Hoa arid basin, it was a war of attrition, one operation always followed by another. By 1969, the Arizona Territory, in the southern corner of the Basin, was the war's bloodiest arena. At a time when the political watchwords were Vietnamization, Pacification, and Troop Withdrawal, the grunts in the Arizona were still operating Search & Destroy. Their's was a stagnated war of attrition which, by 1969, was responsible for most of their casualties (USMC casualties in Vietnam would eventually exceed USMC casualties in WWII).

              The US Army, which had first moved into I Corps in April 1967 to reinforce the thin Marine line, was also solidly in place by 1969. The lowlands on the southern side of the Que Sons- the Hiep Duc and Song Chang Valleys- were protected by a string of fire bases manned by the 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. Consequently, Hiep Duc was the Americal's westernmost advance, as was the An Hoa Basin for the 1st Marine Division.

              The 1969 Summer Offensive was unlike many Vietnam campaigns only because of its mood. It was the first major engagement after announcement of US withdrawals. A new slogan was heard: Why be the last man killed in Vietnam? Such sentiments were rarely expressions of cowardice or antiwar protest. More simply, a cynicism that always had existed among the grunts about the validity of attrition tactics became crystallized. They knew they were leaving, and they knew the job wasn't done. A spiritual malaise began to affect the entire war effort.

              It was not until the second week of August that the NVA came out of the woodwork. There was a flashpan of fighting all across South Vietnam that first night (including sappers in the wire at 1st MarDiv HQ and rockets on the Americal HQ); the struggle centered on the Arizona and the Hiep Duc and Song Chang Valleys. It was an eighteen-day campaign (12-29 August), blandly labelled the 1969 Summer Offensive."
              So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

              Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

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              • #8
                196th Brigade AO

                More from Nolan and Death Valley, especially dealing with the 196th Brigade's AO.

                "The border between Quang Nam and and Quang Tin Provinces ran a twisting but generally horizontal line from Laos to the South China Sea. The TAOR of the 1st Marine Division ended on the northern side of this line. The TAOR to the south was the responsibility of the US Army and, in the summer of 69, that meant the 196th Infantry Brigade (Col Thomas H Tackaberry*) of the Americal Division (MG Lloyd B Ramsey**). The 196th had four line battalions: 2-Infantry to the north on LZ Ross and to the east near the coast on LZ Baldy; 3-21 and 4-31 Infantry in the center of the brigade area on LZs East, Center, West and Siberia; and 1-46 Infantry to the south on LZ Professional. The other two brigades of the of the Americal Division operated even farther south in an area of guerilla ambushes and booby traps; it was the 196th which made the nose-to-nose contacts with the communist regulars. There were two main areas of NVA infiltration in the 196th AO- both valleys below the Que Sons. Hiep Duc Valley consisted of cultivated rice fields with a Que Son spur (the Nui Chom ridge line) to the north and an unnamed spur to the south. This second spine provided the northern frontier for a deserted area called the Song Chang Valley for the river that ran through it.

                Hiep Duc was the AO of the 4th Battalion of the 31st Infantry, Song Chang the AO of the 3d Battalion of the 21st Infantry; the battalion rears were at Landing Zone Baldy (along Highway One on the coast) but the grunt companies operated from small, bunkered hilltops along the southern ridge. They were situated successively inland across the forested spine: East, Center, West, and the fourth and newest fire base, Siberia, named in deference to its isolation and to the 31st Infantry Regiment's combat expedition during the Russian Revolution. LZ Siberia was the last outpost into the Que Son Mountains, and it overlooked the Heip Duc Resettlement Village.

                "It was forbidding terrain, the most scary I was ever in," commented Capt Jerry Downey, a company commander and staff officer in the 196th InfBde. "One could feel the presence of the enemy or the ghosts of those who had gone before whenever one moved through. It was positively eerie."

                The hamlet where the Hiep Duc Resettlement Village was eventually erected had been overrun by the VC on 17 November 1965. Communist revolutionary justice took effect; as one reporter noted, "Officers who flew over the town Wednesday saw no sign of life. They saw the bodies of the district officials impaled on tall spikes around the headquarters building." ARVN troops retook Hiep Duc after tough fighting, but due to a lack of manpower, they abandoned the prize.

                It wasn't until November 1967 that Operation Wheeler / Wallowa began finally to destroy the enemy stronghold. The push was spearheaded by the 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry, Americal Division, and supported by infantrymen of the 196th Brigade. Elements of the 1st Air Cavalry and 101st Airborne Division were also committed. Casualties were heavy but Hiep Duc was finally "pacified" in November 1968 after a final action along Nui Chom involving the 4-31. In March 1969, the civil affairs section of 4-31 had the Resettlement Village constructed in the ashes the NVA had left behind. LZ Siberia was also bulldozed out of the nearest hilltop for the village's security, and the former inhabitants were trucked and helicoptered in from refugee camps at Tam Ky and Nui Loc Son. For the first time since 1965, the farmers of Hiep Duc returned to their fields. The communists' opinion of all this was made clear in May 1969, when sappers infiltrated the village and killed fifteen civilians. After that, enemy activity dropped to a low ebb and the 4-31, operating off LZ West and LZ Siberia, found little evidence of their presence. Direct defense for the village came from a small ARVN garrison at LZ Karen (located between West and Siberia on the ridge). The area, at least in MACV briefings, was being showcased as a model pacification zone."

                * Thomas Howard Tackaberry retired a Lieutenant-General in 1981. He had served as Commander of Fort Bragg and XVIII Airborne Corps.

                ** Lloyd B Ramsey became the Provost Marshall General in 1970.
                So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

                Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
                  Worse than mutinies were the fraggings that took place later in the war of unpopular leaders and NCO's who pushed too hard. When troops take to murdering their leaders, discipline is long gone and the survival instinct has taken over.

                  And then there were the patrols and units who went out to their designated areas, set up camp and just stayed there doing nothing until it was time to RTB, at which time they reported "No contact".

                  The United States came perilously close to an all out rebellion in the closing days of Viet Nam, IMHO.
                  I witnessed a few threats, unrelated to combat ops orders but not any followthrough. An old friend, 2nd tour E6 Recon Sgt type recently told me that in Summer '71 in the rear, O's and NCO's headed for their bunkers at sundown. (Not that my experience has much to do with this.)

                  I looked for a documented case of an actual combat troop assassinating a leader for that reason, and came up empty. The obvious retort is that you can't find any cases because in a firefight, you can shoot or frag anyone and maybe no one will ever be the wiser. Cause of death forensics were pretty cursory, too. So the general claim that troops murdered some leaders under fire is what we call an empirically unfalsifiable assertion. That doesn't make it true. How frequently this occurred is an interesting insoluble question.

                  I know somebody put out a bounty on Honeycutt after Hamburger Hill. I know SF NCO Alan G. Cornett attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate a field grade staff officer in the rear. It was personal.

                  The pool of documented fraggings occurred in the rear, and the perps were typically RA REMF spoons, supply, maintenance, etc, usually drunk and or high, personal motives unrelated to any combat orders or antiwar activity.

                  (Bond and Gillooly studied convicted fraggers. George Lepre wrote a whole book on fraggings.)

                  (The signature piece on US Mil collapse is by a Col Heinl 1971, easy to find on the web, deals with just about everything except fraggings.)

                  JM$.02

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
                    Worse than mutinies were the fraggings that took place later in the war of unpopular leaders and NCO's who pushed too hard. When troops take to murdering their leaders, discipline is long gone and the survival instinct has taken over.

                    And then there were the patrols and units who went out to their designated areas, set up camp and just stayed there doing nothing until it was time to RTB, at which time they reported "No contact".

                    The United States came perilously close to an all out rebellion in the closing days of Viet Nam, IMHO.
                    I witnessed a few threats, unrelated to combat ops orders, but not any followthrough. An old friend, 2nd tour E6 Recon Sgt type recently told me that in Summer '71 in the rear, all O's and NCO's headed for their bunkers at sundown. (Not that my experience has much to do with this.)

                    I looked for a documented case of an actual combat troop assassinating a leader for that reason, and came up empty. The obvious retort is that you can't find any cases because in a firefight, you can shoot or frag anyone and maybe no one will ever be the wiser, and there's no statute of limitations on murder, so nobody' gonna own up later either. Cause of death forensics were pretty cursory, too. So the general claim that troops murdered some leaders under fire is what we call an empirically unfalsifiable assertion. That doesn't make it true. How frequently this occurred is an interesting insoluble question.

                    I know somebody put out a bounty on Honeycutt after Hamburger Hill. I know SF NCO Alan G. Cornett attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate a field grade staff officer in the rear. It was personal.

                    The pool of documented fraggings occurred in the rear, and the perps were typically RA REMF spoons, supply, maintenance, etc, usually drunk and or high, personal motives unrelated to any combat orders or antiwar activity.

                    (Bond and Gillooly studied convicted fraggers. George Lepre wrote a whole book on Why pers fragged superiors.)

                    (The signature piece on US Mil collapse is by a Col Heinl 1971, easy to find on the web, deals with just about everything except fraggings.)

                    JM$.02
                    Last edited by Jeffy; 28 Mar 16, 12:31.

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