The Battle at LZ Colt*
(October 10, 1967)
My recollection is that we air assaulted into LZ Colt on the 7th of October, though it could have been a day earlier.
The firebase location was not my choice because I always tried to occupy high ground which could be defended. Colt was no more than a small terrain rise amid paddy fields, and the sparse population around the base was very hostile--it was VC country.
We could see with field glasses small groups moving in and out of surrounding jungle areas and I thought we would be in for trouble. In the middle of the terrain rise was a large pile of rocks where we ultimately made our tactical command post and located the artillery battery.
The brigade obliged us to choose the firebase location, despite my objection, because it allowed intersection of supporting artillery. As the Cav moved into new locations the firebases always had to be under the umbrella of supporting artillery. And my four rifle companies deployed in search and destroy operations outside of Colt always remained under cover of the artillery battery of 6 105mm howitzers inside the perimeter.
Our perimeter consisted of one rifle company (the Cav battalions had five rifle companies plus headquarters and supply companies). Overall we had roughly 250 men inside the perimeter. My tactical command post was very small, perhaps 20 people at most.
The headquarters and supply companies remained in a rear area, called brigade trains. Major George Moore, an outstanding officer whom I admired greatly, was my head of operations and his assistant was Lt. Pinchot. Lt. Pinchot I believe handled air support operations, though as an assistant to Moore he would be able to undertake a variety of planning activities.
On 8 October the Division commander, Major General Jack Tolson, visited my battalion. After inspecting our situation I told him that we had run out of concertina wire--we were able to deploy only one roll around the perimeter instead of the usual three rolls (one on top of two).
We also had run out of trip flares and claymore mines. General Tolson was disturbed about this (wondering out loud why the brigade had not helped with this problem) and told me he would have more wire and munitions immediately sent out the next day by CH47 helicopter.
Unfortunately the next day we were inundated by monsoon rain and no aircraft could fly. Foxholes filled almost to the brim with water.
The battalion surgeon was called to the perimeter during the rain to attend to a Vietnamese woman and baby who appeared to be wounded or injured, and begged for help. The surgeon ignored my standing orders not to allow anyone inside the perimeter and took the injured child to a location near the pile of rocks and then inside my tent because of the downpour.
I was not there at the time.
After treating the child and woman, they were escorted out of the perimeter.
On the 10th of October, around 0300 hours, the firebase was infiltrated by North Vietnamese regulars wearing Cav uniforms--they may have come through the wire, or through tunnels.
We later found on one of the bodies a crudely drawn map showing in detail just where the battalion operations center was, where my tent was, and where the sleeping tents were around the ops center.
The map must have come from a debrief of the Vietnamese woman and injured child.
The infiltrating sappers aimed precisely for the operations center and particularly my tent. A hand or rifle grenade was thrown into my tent instantly killing Major Moore who was next to me, and seriously wounding me.
As Cav soldiers and officers rushed out of their sleeping tents and the operations center to respond to the attack, the infiltrators fired at them point blank or threw grenades at them.
Lt Pinchot was one of the men killed and he died instantly as did all the others. After being wounded in my tent I rolled out into a foxhole and a North Vietnamese fired three bursts of AK-47 into me. Convinced life was over, I said the Lord's Prayer, and asked God simply for strength to save my battalion through the night, and that my family be taken care of after death.
Suddenly a strange sense of relief came over me, I felt no pain, no fainting, no more terror.
A medic crawled to the foxhole amid much weapons firing but I sent him off to take care of other wounded first. He later told me in the hospital that he thought I was near death in the foxhole. I knew that he had killed one of the sappers.
I managed to obtain a radio and immediately called in defensive artillery fires all around the perimeter which I had planned carefully the day we air assaulted into Colt.
The Brigade commander soon was in a helicopter above LZ Colt--he knew that I had called in artillery fires and he asked how seriously wounded I was. When I told him he said he was going to land immediately and take command even though it was pitch dark. I urged him not to do this because I was fully conscious and still able to control events--besides landing surely would hazard the helicopter and crew due to incoming small arms fire and mortars which the North Vietnamese were focusing intensely on the firebase. He did not land.
The defensive fires continued throughout the night and prevented a North Vietnamese regular battalion from overrunning the firebase.
Their plan had been for the sappers to kill the Cav battalion's leadership and then to overrun in the early dawn. However, we saved the battalion although I recollect 7 of us were killed and more than a dozen were wounded. But 13 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed inside the perimeter as a result of our firefights.
At about 0630 hours medevac helicopters landed on Colt although they took small arms fire on the approach. Wounded were taken out and evacuated to the brigade aid station. I was dragged out of my foxhole and put on the helicopters with other wounded.
The brigade chaplain gave me last rites at the aid station because the doctors believed my wounds were so severe that I might not make it.
As I was being evacuated the Brigade executive officer, another lieutenant colonel, came in to take command.
The situation on LZ Colt was confused with many casualties. I recollect that several soldiers were recommended for awards though I was not in a position to initiate any myself due to serious wounds. I was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross to MACV Headquarters but the award apparently did not have sufficient supporting statements from Brigade, perhaps due to the confusion and injuries who could have made them, so that the award came back to the Division for downgrade to Silver Star (oak leaf cluster). As soon as I was able I wrote to the wives or mothers of those killed on LZ Colt.
For further information on this battle you can refer to the Army history book:Taking the Offensive October 1966-October 1967 by Col George L MacGarrigle, published by the Army Center of Military History. It is for sale by the Government Printing Office. Pages 275-78 of this book cover the details unearthed by Col MacGarrigle in his research. Unfortunately there are some inaccuracies about this event. The author never bothered to interview me although at the time he was writing and interviewing various folks in Washington. I was available as Army Chief of Staff. I could have given him accurate information.
* Edited from General Wickham’s April/May 2001 correspondence with the family of Lt. Pinchot. Published with the permission of General Wickham.