by Larry Redmond Col (Ret)
REFERENCE the fight at An Phu on 6 Feb 68 that we had a recent inquiry about on the web site. Having been the CO of A Company then I would offer the following insights on that action.
We lost 12 troopers on 5/6 Feb. Lt Gerald Pelzman was killed early in the day on the 5th and the other 11 died in a second major engagement early on the morning of the 6th of February.
At any rate the 5th of Feb started with A Company being airlifted to a cold LZ near Nha Be, south of Saigon/Cholon. We searched Nha Be, an industrial and oil storage area, as I remember with no contact. We were then directed to move to An Phu; link up with the District US Army Advisory Team there, and move north toward Saigon/Cholon and block suspected enemy (mostly NVA) reported to be evacuating the city.
We moved to and linked up with the Advisory Team, then with a joint force of A Co and RF/PF moved toward Saigon. We moved about 1.5 K when we had a meeting engagement with an enemy force of unknown size. This developed into a pretty good fight. We had several walking wounded but no KIA. Then LT Pelzman was hit in the chest with a 51 cal MG round while leading his platoon in an effort to flank the enemy. By that time the bad guys had unleashed mortars, 57 RR and 51 cal MGs on us. It was obvious to me that we had met a fairly large force. We broke contact with support from artillery, helo gunships, etc. I don’t remember any fast movers but there may been, in the distance behind the area of engagement.
We pulled back to An Phu and I was directed to set up a perimeter and hold. They then inserted a second company, B 2-327 to strengthen the position as the intelligence now indicated a large force trying to move from Cholon in the direction of An Phu. As the senior captain I took charge of the entire perimeter. We set up with the An Phu Advisory Team.
Later, I was directed by one of the Assistant Division Commanders to place a platoon with the RF/PF element in a fort just south of town along the main road (think this was Highway 1). Believe this was in response to a request from the District Senior Advisor (but that is guess only on my part) who felt reinforcing the fort was necessary. The fort was about 150 to 175 yards outside the town but had a good commanding view of the rice paddies around the village. I sent Lt Ed Kowski’s platoon for several reasons: they were good; he was a former SF enlisted man with a previous tour in NAM and the most reliable LT I had. I had only been in command a little over a week at this point and the company was, and its personnel were, new to me. I went with LT Kowski to the fort and got him settled in along one edge of the perimeter. All seemed OK.
Throughout the evening there were periodic shots fired, mostly outgoing. Then sometime around 0230 probing began. A big firefight ensued near and around the fort. Up to that point we had good radio contact with all elements in and around An Phu throughout the evening. With this large scale fight we lost all contact with Lt Kowski’s element. We moved the CP radio around the area but could not establish contact. From the main street we could see flashes and explosions from around the fort. After about 20 minutes the RF/PF reported that the fort was under heavy attack but holding. I then had the Advisory Team ask for a check on my platoon and to get them another radio if necessary. It was reported that all was OK, the Americans were in the trench fighting but that they could not be reached because the center of the compound was under heavy small arms and rocket fire.
We continued getting reports to this effect about every fifteen minutes throughout the night. Firing at the fort continued sporadically off and on for the next two hours or so, as did incoming at various areas around the village proper.
Then at about 0530 the radio crackled and a voice stated that the NVA had broken in and were killing all the Americans. Somehow they had lost radio contact with the first assault and finally got it working. I organized and led a relief element down the road by moving in the paddies and we reached the fort just at dawn. At that point they had eleven dead and 6 or 7 seriously wounded. I don’t believe there was a man out of the approximately 25 in the platoon who did not qualify for a PH.
There were several NVA bodies in the fort, one in the block house where they apparently first penetrated the fort and more several in the wire. Lots of blood trails where other KIA or WIA had been dragged off. We immediately began taking care of the wounded and getting things sorted out. Shortly after that we began getting more help than I needed.
Finally the other Assistant Division Commander, BG Richard Allen flew in. He asked for a briefing. I told him what I could from what I knew. He looked around the compound, looked over at the village 150 yards away and said. “Looks like this platoon saved the fort and the village. If they had gotten this place they would have come right in your back door. They obviously weren’t expecting to find Americans here. Great job. What award are you putting Lt Kowski in for?” or words to that effect. Frankly, at that point, awards had not even been a slight blip on my radar. I told him I guess a SS. He responded, something to the effect that possibly a DSC was called for. The BN XO was there. I don’t know what happened on that issue.
We were pulled off the line along with B Company and replaced, I was later told, by a Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division. I can’t vouch for that but the 9th folks were coming in on the same choppers that we went out on.
We were flown to Bien Hoa, where we were filled up with replacements and three days later sent north to Phu Bai to assist the USMC at Hue. On 26 February I had a mortar round land in my foxhole and then started a long journey home.
I do not have any official logs on what happened. What I related above is my experience at An Phu some 37 years ago. This recollection is reinforced by conversations over the last 15 years with some of the troops who also were there. Each of those men had their own window on the battle. I know one thing, on my second tour with the 101st in 71 as a battalion S3, and later commanding a battalion in the 82d Airborne, I was absolutely paranoid about maintaining radio contact.
Hope all this helps. No Slack, Honor and Country!