QuarterHorse Battle of Benchmark 69

"QUARTER HORSE" A TROOP, Battle of Benchmark 69, 8 June 1966

After Action Report


INTRODUCTION: The 272d VC main force regiment was defeated on 8 June 1966, in a densely wooded area along National Route 13, referred to as Bench Mark 69. The VC were attempting to stop the efforts of the 1st Infantry Division in the An Loc, Loc Ninh area.

BACKGROUND: Operation El Paso II began on 2 June 1966 when intelligence indicated that three Viet Cong and one North Vietnamise regiments were poised to resume their "Monsoon Campaign" by attacking GVN and US Special Forces compounds in Ninh Thanh, Hon Quan, Loc Ninh and Song Be. Because of this threat, Commanding General, II Field Force, Vietnam, directed one infantry and one artillery battalion to be employed to Loc Ninh to strengthen the defensive in those areas. No significant battle had been fought prior to 8 June 1966. The 3d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division had been dispatched to Loc Nihn with three Infantry Battalions and one Artillery Battalion. Between 19 and 26 May the 3d Bde established a defensive perimeter around the Loc Ninh airstrip and patrolled and conducted search operations westward to the Cambodian border without substantial contact. The 3d Brigade returned to it's base on 26 May 1966 at Lai Khe. Subsequently, intelligence from a number of sources indicated that the VC, having postponed their attack, intended to go ahead with their original plans. Agents reported through the Vietnamese Army that the VC were inaugurating a campaign to last from 20 May until 20 August to destroy friendly forces along Route 13 to interdict the route; and to harass or attack Loc Ninh, Hon Quan, Chon Thanh, Minh Thanh and Song Be. VC forces involved consisted of six regiments. It was agreed that these regiments included three of the 9th Viet Cong Division, 272d, 271st and 273d, and another grouping of the 101st, 141st and possibly the 250th regiment of PAVN.

THE BATTLE OF BENCHMARK 69 (Ap Tau O): On 8 June 1966, Troop A, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry departed Phu Loi at 0700 enroute to Hon Quan where there existed a threat of a Viet Cong monsoon offensive. Under the direction of LTC Leonard L. Lewane, above them in a OH 13 helicopter, the troop proceeded up the old railroad bed (vic XT8399191) to Lai Khe rather than us highway 13, the scene of many mining incidents. At about 0805 the lead tank of the 1st Platoon hit a mine (vic XT837241) with no resulting casualties, but the vehicle was disabled. At this time an APC of the second platoon was experiencing mechanical difficulties and the decision was made to send both vehicles back to Phu Loi. When the column resumed it's northward move it left the railroad bed and moved across country. The third platoon took the lead from this point and moved on to Lai Khe to refuel. Two vehicles dropped out of the column and were picked up by the trail party and brought forward. After refueling the column pushed north on highway 13 out of Lai Khe. The AVLB got stuck at the north check point of Lai Khe and was left for the trail party to retrieve. The troop passed through Chan Thanh at 1300 hours and had made no enemy contact. The decision was made to push on to Kon Quan. At about 1415 hours the 3d platoon lead vehicle hit a mine (vic XT766751). A short time before a claymore had been detonated, but no casualties resulted. Almost simultaneously the entire column came under intense fire. Lt. Joseph Lake, 3d Platoon Leader, reported that he was in heavy contact with an undeterminable force. CPT Ralph Sturgis, Troop Commander, immediately ordered the 2d Platoon, led by Lt. David Kinkead, to come up and reinforce the third platoon. Reports indicate that the Viet Cong were employed along 3,000 meters of the highway with the majority of their concentration on the west. The Troop Commanders vehicle was hit by recoiless rifle wounding the driver, SP4 James Dempsey. The observer SGT Nick Sapporito, took over the driving responsibility. Moving forward the crew could see a recoiless rifle crew taking aim on them again. All of a sudden the entire area became very hot, as SFC Pearson Cole, commander of the flamethrower APC let loose with a burst from his M132 flame thrower APC, roasting the VC to a crisp. The Troop moved forward onto some high ground and began to set up a perimeter. The first platoon leader, Lt. Louis Bouault, reported that one of his vehicles was experiancing mechanical difficulties (vic XT766729) and that they were leaving a tank with it for security. Further up the road a 1st Platoon APC was blazing afire resulting from several hits. At 1630 hours the FAC (CPT Richard Wetzol) reported that the Viet Cong had captured an APC and had driven it off into the woods with the headlights on. Fire was not immediatly called in on the vehicle for fear theat a US Soldier might still be in the vehicle. A later check revealed that it was the vehicle in which 1SG Michael Pepe had been seriously injured in when it took two direct hits from a recoiless rifle. (Photo below)

Alpha 2 over run by NVA

Compiling all of the reports in the perimeter, CPT Sturgis realized that there was one tank stuck south of the 1st Platoon tank and an APC that had been under sporadic fire. Under the capable guidance of Lt. Kinkead, the evacuation of the wounded personnel was organized. With a lull in the fighting, CPT Sturgis called for his trail party, which had been held up at Chan Thanh, to come forward. The trail party, headed by the Troop XO, Lt. Ronald Copes, reached the first stuck and retrieved it with no difficulty. At this point LTC Lewane landed on the highway to brief Lt. Copes on the tactical situation and the latest reports on enemy locations. Radio contact had been lost with the 1st Platoon tank and APC but suddenly the voice of SFC Eugene Blair, 1st Platoon Sergeant, could be heard requesting assistance. CPT Sturgis immediately divertd the Air Force jets to SFC Blairs position and SFC Blair called them in very close to his position due to attempts by the Viet Cong to storm his position. When the VC were driven off SFC Blair was assured that the trail party would soon link up with him. Prior to his SFC Blair, an infantryman for 17 years, had never rode inside of a tank. When the trail party reached (vic XT756722), the lead vehicle hit a mine seriously wounding the driver, SP5 Oliver. The vehicle commander exchanged drivers and the column moved on. It went about 75 meters further and hit another mine at which time the trail party came under mortar, recoiless rifle and automatic weapons fire. The tank took a direct hit and burst into flames throwing the vehicle commander, SSG Charles Norris clear of the track. SSG Norris had a brief struggle iwth a VC in the bushes and then reached the safety of an APC. As soon as he got inside of the vehicle a grenade was tossed inside, but an alert crewmember, tossed it out before it exploded. The column again started north leaving the burning tank behind and picked up the first platoon vehicles before closing into the perimeter. Specialist Oliver appeared badly burned and blind in one eye. Specialist Oliver was the first driver of the tank that led the trail party. It was believed at first that Oliver was killed, when the mortar round hit the vehicle, but as he explained, he was thrown into the jungle unconcious. When he regained his senses, he could hear the VC running off into the woods and the other vehicles moving off, so he ran back to the road and climbed into the still burning tank and drove it into the troop perimeter. Shortly after contact had been made the 2/18th Infantry Battalion was airlifted from Hon Quan to assist Troop A. The only suitable landing zone was a considerable distance to the north so consequently the battalion did not reach Troop A until after the fighting had subsided. The 2/18th Infantry immediately searched the area for VC bodies, and then tied in with Troop A on the perimeter. The fighting lasted for four (4) hours resulting in American losses of 14 KIA and 37 WIA. The VC272 Regiment which was engaged suffered 105 KIA (actual body count) with an additional 250 estimated killed. Troop A had 2 APC's destroyed, and two tanks badly damaged.


ROSTER OF A TROOP PARTICIPANTS, Battle of Benchmark 69, 8 June 1966


CPT RALPH M. STURGIS SP4 LAMONT N. BURGESS lLT RONALD A. COPES SP4 ROBERT CORBIN 2LT LOUIS L. BOUAULT SP4 JOSEPH M. DABNEY 2LT DAVID C. KINKEID SP4 MICHAEL E. DALISLIE 2LT JOSEPH R. LAKE SP4 JAMES H. DEMPSEY SP4 JOHN R. ELLIOT 1SG MICHAEL L. PEPE SP4 WILLIE G. FARMER PSG RICHARD L. LANHAM *SP4 GEORGE L. FERNANDEZ PSG OSWALDO MEDINA SP4 GERRY FORD SP4 ROGER R. FRIERHUTE SSG and SFC SP4 GEORGE E. HENRY SP4 WILLIAM W. HOLLEY ALBERT E. ARMITAGE SP4 JAMES L. HONAMER EUGENE F. BLAIR SP4 MICHAEL JARVIS *ARTHUR N. DRYHAN SP4 RUSSELL P. KECK FRANCIS E. FISCHER SP4 STEVEN L. LAMBERT ARGYLE HARPER JR. SP4 SAMUEL J. LARKIN ROBERT A. JACKSON SP4 ROBERT D. LENA WILLIAM W. McCARTY SP4 L.C. LUKE HAROLD H. HOLLDNER SP4 ROBERT L. MILLER CHARLES E. NORRIS SP4 LORENZO MORGAN FRANCIS C. RUMMEL SP4 THOMAS R. MURPHEY DENNIS L. SANDERS SP4 FREDERICK SCHILLER CARLOS SANTIAGO-GONZALES SP4 HAROLD O. TEAL JOE E. WARD *SP4 JOSEPH TORZON SP4 JAMES L. WALLS SGT JOE O BENOKLER SP4 GARY A. WARNE SGT MERLIN R. CALMER SP4 BUELL L. WHITE *SGT DONALD E. COOK SP4 MELVIN I. ZOLLER JR. SGT ROY C. COUCH SGT JOHN W. GUNN PFC STANLEY A. AURINGER SGT WILLIAM H. HARRIS PFC JOHN L. BARTON SGT JOHN C. JOHNSON PFC HARLAN D. BUCKNER SGT PIERCE K. KECK PFC MAURICE A. CEARBOBEAU SGT WAYNE T. LURA SR. PFC ANTHONY V. CHISHOLM SGT THOMAS SAPORITO *PFC ROGER L. CONNER SGT MERLE D. SLATER PFC DARL B. CRISETAN SGT JOHN D. WILLIAMS PFC HERTON E. DENSON JR. PFC JOSEPH DeROSSI SP5 ROBERT W. BOWLING PFC JAMES CRANE SP5 DONALD L. CALHOUN PFC ROBERT P. DILLON SP5 WILLIE G. CUPP PFC ROBERT G. FRANZ *SP5 DEWEY L. FERGUSON PFC BURTON B. GUSLING SP5 DONALD W. GUSTISTA PFC DAVID R. GRODI SP5 RODNEY D. HARKENSON PFC EDWARD L. GUILLIAMS SP5 WILLIAM R. KAMPFERT PFC JACK A. HOWARD SP5 WARRAN KING JR. PFC RONALD J. IRIART SP5 JOHN W McGLOKIN PFC SHEPPARD E. IVEY *SP5 JOHN R. OAKEY PFC TERRANCE B. JAMES SP5 HUGH OLIVER JR. PFC RICHARD E. KESSLER SP5 EDWARD L. RANDALL PFC JOHNIE R. KINNEY *SP5 PHILLIP R. SHITH PFC RONALD L. LANDING SP5 ARNOLD D. STEVENS PFC LANE J. LOSSEE SP5 APAGITO G. VEGA PFC THOMAS M. MUSICK SP5 ARNOLD E. WALKER PFC JOHN F. OIAHAL *PFC GEORGE R. PENDYGRAFF *PFC TERRILL G. PETERSON PFC DAVID PISKLESIMER PFC KEITE PRICE PFC WILLARD W. REHRIG JR. PFC GARY L. REVETTI PFC JOHNNIE M. ROBINSON PFC JERRY D. SANDERS PFC RONALD W. SCHRIDBAUER PFC MICHAEL E. SCEWARTZ *PFC AVERY G. SMITH PFC ROBERT C. SNYDER PFC JOSEPH S. TERRIEN II PFC ROGER C. VAN DORNE PFC VAN HENTENRYCK PVT FLOYD B. MILLS (*) indicates EM KIA on 8 June 1966. Awards to be made posthumously.


FIRE SUPPORT for Battle of Benchmark 69, 8 June 1966


There was a minimum of one FAC on station at all times. These FAC's were in constant communication witht he Squadron Commander and Troop Commander. At the time initial contact was made, there was a flight of fighters high in the clouds on the way to another area. These fighters were quickly diverted to the battle area. The battle occured in an area which was outside the fan of the Artillery at Chon Thanh and the Artillery at Hon Quan, consequently it was strickly an Air Force show with no Artillery. From the initial air strike, close air support was continuous and unlimited. A total of 43 sorties were flown with 17 flights of fighter bombers.

Ordinance expended included: 26,240 lbs high explosive 28,500 lbs napalm 13,160 lbs frag bombs 24 canisters CBU

There was a minimum of 2 UH 1B fire teams air/borne at all times.

RESULTS:

Enemy losses included: 170 VC KIA (actual body count) 250 VC KIA (estimated) 4 VC Captured 30 Small Arms 12 Crew served weapons 78 Chi Com Grenades

Friendly Losses: 13 KIA 30WIA

D Co., 1st Engr: 2 KIA 4 WIA


My thanks to Michael L. Pepe for provided this report.


AAR - Cedar Falls


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