QuarterHorse Stories

BATTLE OF AP TAU O

as reported in "Danger Forward", August 1967



On 8 June 1966 A Troop, 4th Cavalry, moves through Lai Khe enroute to Hon Quan. Just north of chon Thanh, the lead vehicle hit a mine, halting the column. The Battle of AP Tau O had started.

The Battle of Ap Tau O was fought on the afternoon of 8 June 1966, some 85 miles north of Saigon, just south of Quan Loi and Hon Quan on National Highway 13. As A Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry (reinforced), was moving north on Highway 13, an air observer flying over the convoy spotted Viet Cong along the road. A Trp immediately engaged the enemy. It was 1440 hours and the cavalry unit had tied into what was later identified as the 272d Main Force VC Regiment, three battalions strong. The battle occured during the 1st Infantry Division's Operation El Paso II-a massive search and destroy, road runner, airfield and basecamp security mission. It began 2 June 1966, and concentrated on an extensive area north of Saigon in Binh Long Province and portions of Phouc Long Province.
On 8 June the operation for A Trp had begun as a road clearing mission from Phu Loi along Highway 13, through Lai Khe and on to Hon Quan, which is situated just to the southwest of Quan Loi.



(Men of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, keep an eye out for the VC as they move toward Hwy 13, scene of an attack by three VC Battalions on A Troop of the 4th Cav, on 8 June 1966.)


Elements of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, commanded by LTC Herbert J. McChrystal Jr., had been moved to Lai Khe as a rapid reaction force and subsquent to the column's passage through Lai Khe, the battalion closed at Quan Loi to assume the rapid reaction mission from that location. Meanwhile, the convoy progressed without incident through Lai Khe and continued toward Hon Quan. Just north of Chon Thanh, the lead vehicle hit a mine, halting the column. Waves of enemy infantry attacked the column from both sides of the road, employing the tradition VC technique of a brief firefight with maximum firepower. The 272d Regt was in position to the west of Highway 13 with it's 1st, 2d and 3d Battalions aligned north to south. The 1st and 2d Battalions were primarily engaged, while the 3d Bn to the south of the battle had engage the cavalry trail party.
When PFC Avery G. Smith's tank took a mortar hit that disabled it, he voluntarily left his position as loader and climbed out of the turret onto the back deck to defend his vehicle. Throughout the battle, the Russell Springs, KY., native fought off repeated attacks as the VC tried to overrun his tank. During the heaviest hours of fighting, PFC Smith remained exposed as he protected his tank and other vehicles nearby. Even after suffereing painful facial wounds, he continued to fight, often engaging the enemy at point blank range. Finally, all the vehicle's weapons became inoperative and it was Smith's efforts alone that saved it from being taken. When the tank took it fourth direct mortar hit, PFC Smith absorbed the burnt of the explosion, thus saving the lives of at least two of his fellow crewmen. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
As the tanks and armored personnel carriers (APC's) poured a heavy and steady stream of fire into the enemy, artillery and air strikes pounded the Viet Cong. Forty-three sorties were logged in by Air Force fighter bombers. After the size of the enemy force was determined, the 2nd BN, 18th Inf, was committed to the battle. The 2/18 Inf was heli-lifted to a landing zone south of Hon Quan and it proceeded to sweep south along Highway 13, attacking the northern VC flank and disrupting the enemy's attack.
Specialist 4 Wayne C. Stone, Columbia, SC, was an assistant machinegunner in A Co, 2/18 Inf, moving to assist the engaged cavalry troop. As his unit moved through the terrain spotted with dense growth, it encountered a VC force that opened fire from three directions. Taking defensive positions, the infantrymen began fighting back. When the VC threatened to overrun the position and capture a machinegun and several hundred of ammounition, SP4 Stone volunteered to rescue the ordnance. Racing some 50 yards through heavy small arms fire and flying mortar fragments, he came to within 25 feet of the VC. Gathering the weopon and ammo, Stone made a frantic dash for cover and was within a few feet of it when he fell, a large chunk of metal lodged in his back. SP4 Stone spent nearly two months in a hospital recuperating from the wound that almost crippled him. For his actions, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V" (Valor) device.
SP4 Edward L. Guilliams, Hampton, VA., was serving as a crew member on an APC which had taken hits that inflicted casualties. SP4 Guilliams gave first aid to his comrades and continued fighting, even when the only available weapons were a .45 caliber pistol and a M-79 grenade launcher. When the APC's radio became inoperative, he voluntarily exposed himself to heavy fire to pass on messages. Later SP4 Guilliams risked death to gather and redistribute ammunition. He also was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device.
The battle raged from 1440 hours until 1930 hours along a road bordered by thick jungle on either side and was at the onset of the yearly monsoon season-the season during which the enemy hopes and plans for massive offensives and victory. When the division troops, now reinforced by the 2 Battalion, 2d Infantry, under the command of LTC Jack L. Conn, swept the battlefield, they counted, among the enemy dead, the Commander of the 1st Bn, 272d Regt. On his body they found a document on which was sketched an ambush plan-an ambush that had been foiled by the Big Red One. The VC suffered a total of 93 killed in action; whereas US casualties amounted to only 13 KIA and 38 WIA.


AP TAU O - Michael L. Pepe

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