The Battle of the Knoll,

Map locations plotted by Steve Broering

Map locations plotted by Steve Broering

The real heroes are all dead. They put it all on the line. They put everything they had, everything they could ever be, and then they were gone. Forever.

The absolute anguish that we faced in Vietnam as a unit that had trained together in the states for six months before deployment was that this was happening all of the time to people we had trained with at Ft. Campbell, climbed with in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, and jumped with into the swamps of northern Georgia.

Photo by Jerry berry, 3/506th PIO

Photo by Jerry berry, 3/506th PIO

These men we knew like we know our own brothers. Often we knew their wives or their girl friends as well. Not just the men in our own companies, but particularly for the officers and NCOs, the men in the other companies as well. We all worked together to train the 3/506th for combat in Vietnam.

We all wore the

We all wore the “Pair of Dice” patch, from World War II fame, on our fatigues at Ft. Campbell.  While some of those at Ft.Campbell derided it as the mark of the “Purple Heart Battalion”.  As one battalion, we wore it with pride.  The patch identified us as members of a special battalion even when we did already know each other personally.  Both proved useful in bar fights in and around Ft. Campbell and later in Vietnam.

Early in our tour, Captain Nick Nahas’s Charlie Company fought the ferocious Battle at the Knoll. Lieutenant Ron Newton’s platoon bore the brunt of the bloody fight.  Tom Gaffney’s Alpha Company was called in to help the morning after that battle. In the afternoon after we arrived my platoon moved over the knoll itself where the actual battle had taken place the day before to check out the area. We found numerous well-prepared, individual fighting positions and strong, mutually supporting, well fortified, well placed, fighting bunkers all over the knoll and on a nearby saddle between the knoll and another hill top.

Indian Country

Indian Country, by Jerry Berry, PIO. 3/506th

Some of the bunkers had been torn apart by artillery, or airstrikes, but most of them were still there. It was the partially destroyed bunkers that led us to the hidden weapons and equipment.

When we tore the rest of the bunkers apart, we found weapons and ammunition as well as gear hidden in the walls and even hidden in the overhead cover. Cover is called a roof in civilian terms, but it is called “cover” by the military because the military version would stop steel shrapnel shards from airbursts that would tear straight through a civilian roof. However, even good cover will not stop a 750 lbs., Hi-drag bomb. It will not even slow it down.

Some of these prepared fighting positions on the knoll had been used against Charlie Company and some had obviously been empty during the battle. We tore them all apart. It was not anger; it was practical. We were looking for more weapons, ammo, and supplies of any type. We found stuff hidden everywhere around the knoll and particularly down in the valley behind the knoll, including AK-47s, other weapons, ammo, piles of rockets for RPGs, boxes of medical instruments and medicine, even a 100 lbs. bag of penicillin vials lying under a bush, over 1,000 vials.

This was just some of what we captured as a result of Charlie Company's Battle of the Knoll

This is just a fraction of the kinds of weapons we captured as a result of Charlie Company’s Battle of the Knoll, by Jerry Berry, PIO. 3/506th

They had left very quickly. They had left too quickly to take all of their stuff.

Behind the knoll that Charlie Company had fought so brutally on, we found a huge base camp in a valley that was protected by those fighting positions on the knoll. In the valley itself, there were several large classrooms, a couple of very impressive, completely dug into the mountain side, medical operating theaters, and a huge kitchen with the most ingenious smoke and heat dispersal systems for the stoves running up the side of the mountain.

For the VC, the battle on the knoll had allowed their personnel behind them in the valley the time to escape, but a lot of their equipment and supplies stayed behind and were lost. What we could not destroy on site, we helicoptered out. That huge base camp was why the NVA had fought so ferociously to stop Charlie Company on the knoll.  We found so much stuff the NVA had left in the base camp that two generals flew in to look at it.

When you come upon the site of an infantry battle, like the one Charlie Company fought on the knoll, if you have the experience, you can actually read it just like you could read a story in a book. However, this story was written first in the blood of the men that fought there.

Recent picture of the Knoll and the saddle. While there is a lot of agriculture now, back then this was climax forest, not jungle; it was too high.

Recent picture of the Knoll and the saddle, circa 2015. While there is a lot of agriculture there now, back then this was climax forest, not jungle; the elevation was too high for jungle. Photo by Steve Broering

Walk this scene with me, over there in between two sizable but still very shot-up trees growing close together are two large piles of expended M-60 machine gun ammunition, shiny brass 7.62 mm shell casings in one pile and black, now disconnected, metallic links in the other, near that a twisted pile of bloody, originally OD green bandages, now black because of the still wet, clotting, blood, nearby next to another badly shot-up tree with multiple bullet slashes and ragged holes stands a clump of empty M-16 magazines, shiny brass 5.56 mm shell cases and then a large jumble of expended, metallic-brown, M-79, 40 mm, grenade shell casings.

Recent picture of a NVA/VC fighting position found on the Knoll. Steve also found some shrapnel nearby. Photo by Steve Broering

Recent picture of a NVA/VC fighting position found on the Knoll, circa 2015. See the trail below. Steve also found some shrapnel nearby. Photo by Steve Broering

There was a little blood and more sap still dripping from a low gash on another tree, and over there lay a discarded steel helmet with a bullet hole through it. The bullet had exited cleanly out the other side of the helmet.  Lying nearby was the blood encrusted helmet liner. There were several empty OD green, plastic canteens lying around, their caps open. Empty, gunmetal grey, M-16 magazines and bright brass, 5.56 mm shell cases were scattered in singles and clumps everywhere. Battle had happened here.  You could see that.  Anyone could see that.

All of these signs pointed to hard, close, combat. They point to the infantry at work, only 8% of the armed forces, but they suffer 85% of the casualties. Perhaps there was great courage here, at this place of battle. That, you are too late to see.

Perhaps the dead soldier that fought here, right here behind this shot-up tree, where all of his blood is still pooled, and the empty 5.56 mm shell cases are piled high, and also scattered deserves the Medal of Honor, but he and everyone that saw his deeds are dead.

No medals. No bugle call. The real heroes are all dead.

Airborne!  RIP

Airborne! RIP by Jerry Berry, PIO, 3/506th (Airborne) Infantry Regiment

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58 thoughts on “The Battle of the Knoll,

  1. Pingback: A Dangerous Tossing Game, Played At Night | JohnEHarrison

  2. Jerry Berry

    The Battle on the Knoll was the first major battle for us, Currahees, since deploying to Vietnam in late October 1967. It was quite a learning experience for the entire battalion. I have mentioned this battle in several of my books. Some forty-six years after the battle, there are still unanswered questions and a lot of theories about events leading up to the battle and the battle itself. If anyone is interested in the full account of this event, I encourage you to go to this link: http://www.currahee.org/Vietnam_War.Stories.htm (Trail of Death by Jerry Berry). I had walked the trail leading up to the Knoll less than 24-hours prior to the battle.

    Reply
    1. Steve Broering

      Hi. Could someone point me to a map/coordinates of the location of this battle? I live in Dalat and am curious about operations and battles/skirmishes in and around Lam Dong province.

      Reply
      1. JohnEHarrison Post author

        Let me know if you find it. I believe that the base camp, it was huge, ran along the stream shown to the South of the Knoll. Of course, that was almost 50 years ago, so it is little better than a guess as to the location. Good luck.

      2. steve broering

        This should be easy to get to. Looks like agriculture has denuded/encroached on the area. I’ll try and head down there next week and get some pics.

      3. steve broering

        Sorry should read “easy to get to”.

        On Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 1:09 PM, steve broering wrote:

        > This should be easy to get to. Looks like agriculture has > denuded/encroached on the area. I’ll try and head down there next week and > get some pics. > > On Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 12:32 AM, JohnEHarrison <

      4. JohnEHarrison Post author

        Wow. It was not easy to get there when we went there. But, the pictures I see from Vietnam now show a totally different country. I would love to see the pictures. I would also love to know if any of the base camp was still there. Good luck.

      5. Steve Broering

        The landscape has certainly changed since you were here. A small road about 6km east of The Knoll now leads due-south from QL20 over the plateau and down the “escarpment” as it follows hydropower pipes off the plateau. N-NE of The Knoll a river was dammed for hydropower (and changed 3 of the notable waterfalls in the area: Thac Gougah, Pongour and Bao Dai).

        A map of the area can be found online at:
        http://www.virtualarchive.vietnam.ttu.edu/starweb/virtual/maps/servlet.starweb

        Just search Title/Keyword for “6632-2” and hit display results.

        Also the Lat/Long in Google Earth in decimal degrees should be roughly at:
        11.521105° 108.297645°

        I’m not completely clear on where the base camps should be. Sounds like there was a large abandoned camp and then a second active camp that was the source of the hostilities. It’s amazing how little the locals know about any of the history so asking at the site doesn’t often work well. All of these areas were certainly picked over by scrap-metal hunters after the war so the locations are known – just a matter of finding someone who remembers.

      6. JohnEHarrison Post author

        If you look at the map: My recollection is that the base camp was in the valley just above the notation “Quan Di Linh”.

        The NVA/VC always located their camps near water and that valley had year round water in a small creek. At least it was a small creek in the winter. Along the creek, but well above it, is also where the stoves were for their kitchens. The venting system for the stoves was incredible and ran almost all the way up the hill.

        The most obvious structure likely to remain are the two operating theaters. They were down in the valley, again well up from the creek. They were rooms dug out of the ground to a depth of at least 8′ and were about 20’x12′ and about 15′ or 25′ apart. Since they were dug into a hill, one side was not dug so deep, but the whole thing was dug down into the mountain. Since you are talking about a lot of dirt, and since all of the dirt taken out was removed from the site and hidden, I would assume that these very un-natural, rectangular, holes would still be there, albeit with the sides probably caved in and lots of vegetation in them because of the trapped water. We tried to burn most of the supporting structure, but I do not believe very successfully.

        Most of the rest of the camp was above ground, but still down in the valley. The classrooms, there were several, were split log benches facing black boards, or just wooden frames. It was really large, at least battalion sized, if not more. We are talking about a space that housed probably at least 600-900 men when it was full. It was very spread out down the valley and it was fully operational within no more than a few of days before we arrived two days after the battle.

        I would not call any of their camps “abandoned”. They had a constant sewage problem with so many men in one place, and particularly after all of the “people sniffers”, that were really urine sniffers, were deployed. So like in the castles of old Europe, they would stay in one place until it was pretty foul, and then move on. But after the monsoons had done their cleansing work, they would move back.

        There was one ambush position we found near Phan Thiet that had been used against the Japanese, then against the French and then the Americans. The same foxholes, and spider holes. They just cleaned them out and put in new camouflage and waited for new targets. The guy that showed it to me was a Cham that had used it against the Japanese when he had been in the Viet Minh.

        All of the defensive positions were up on the ridges and hills surrounding the place. They would mostly be on what is called the “military crest” of these hill tops and saddles. They varied from one man spider holes to fairly large, 3 or even 4 man, crew-served weapon positions. Unlike most of what we saw, these were real field fortifications with overhead cover of logs, large rocks covered with dirt, and wood walls and I believe that most if not all of them had wood floors as well. They were also well camouflaged. This was planted camouflage, not cut and placed. The ones we found, we tore apart. We were still finding them when we ordered to leave. It would not surprise me for someone with a metal detector to find several more still there with weapons and ammo hidden in the walls and roof.

        BTW their grenades would be very unstable by now and we found a lot of those in the positions.

        The trails they used were easy to spot on the ground, but the VC/NVA were very adept at camouflaging them as well. Just dropping a plug of grass every few feet on a trail would break up its out line so that it would be impossible to spot from the air.

        I wish you luck again. This is fascinating.

        john harrison

      7. jerryberry@currahee.org

        Hi, LT,

        Do you are Steve have any photos other than what I have included with the story? Am I understanding that he has visited the location?

        Jerry in Montana

      8. JohnEHarrison Post author

        He has located the place on two maps and he plans to visit. I do not believe that he has visited yet. He also plans to take pictures then.
        Did you take any pictures of the base camp we found?
        john harrison

  3. frank l. sullivan

    may they rest in the arms and love of god. bless all of you my friends.
    frank l. sullivan
    ssg, us army
    retired war eagle

    Reply
  4. Vestacenje Gradjevinskih Objekata

    I am really impressed with your writing abilities as well as with the format on youjr blog.
    Is that this a paid subject matter orr did you modify it your self?
    Anyway kedep up the nice high quality writing, it’suncommon to see a great
    weblog like this one nowadays..

    Reply
  5. Steve Broering

    Well, my hat’s off to those of you who were at The Knoll almost 50 years ago. I made the trip down today (I think I was in the right spot) to grab some pictures and get a feel for the area. Didn’t have time to search for the basecamp or bunkers. Next time. I’ll post/send pics here if I can figure out how to do it.

    The site is relatively easy to get to by scooter or motorcycle. I followed the main ridgeline trail in from QL20 that leads into the knoll saddle. I wouldn’t try it unless I had to in the wet season however as several of the hills are steep and these hard-packed trails get quite greasy when wet.

    Untended guava trees grow atop part of the knoll now. What I believe to be the basecamp valley is still intact and heavily forested. An overhead high-tension powerline nearly bisects the area. The only people I met at the site were forestry workers who have a small station on the hill on the westside of the saddle. One worker was older Viet Kinh from Hanoi and the other was younger ethnic K’ho – neither had a clue to the battle.

    Definitely was a smart location to establish a base. From below it’s hard to discern any special details and from above, you see everything.

    Reply
    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      Thanks for going.

      I would love to see the pictures. Our PIO (Public Information Officer), Jerry Berry, is positively drooling to see them.

      It was a long time ago, almost 50 years now. It still feels like yesterday.

      Reply
      1. Steve Broering

        I tried posting the pics on my Google Plus page. Try googling my name and google plus and see if they turn up.

        My pleasure going out. Stopped by Thac Pongour and Thac Bao Dai also for a little sightseeing. Tell Jerry I’ll get better pics next time. I forgot my micro 4/3rds with 11mm lens.. and my geotagging wasn’t working either today so the locations are approximate.

        Strange but true story too… We (translator friend) got to the top of the knoll, had just parked and started taking in the vista when in the distance came this rolling, booming sound. I have no idea what artillery sounds like in real-life but my friend who really didn’t know where we were at or why we were there said, “That sounds like bombs going off”. Shivers up the back for sure. Honestly, I don’t know how you guys did it back then…

  6. JohnEHarrison Post author

    I found your pictures on Google Plus Steve Broering. They are great.

    The maps actually took me back better than the pictures. That place has been logged. It looks really different now.

    It was not jungle when we were there, it was forest, but it was a virgin forest. You probably know, but most do not, there is very little undergrowth in virgin forest. Really tall trees and not much else. That road would have been nice, but we would not have walked on it.

    Thunder does sound a lot like artillery going off, and sometimes at night when it lights up the horizon it can look like it too. Bursts of diffuse light in the distance followed by rolling thunder. Now you know by personal experience, why the air bombing campaign was named that. It is surprising, sometimes disconcerting, how much in day to day life triggers memories of battle.

    1st Platoon, not my platoon, got in a firefight, on the other side of the hill down the saddle from the knoll. So, that battle would have taken place right behind where you were when you took Picture #9. I cut a tree down, using an M-60 machine-gun like a chain saw, to clear an LZ for the 1st Platoon wounded from that firefight about where the forest worker is standing.

    It was a long time ago; it was yesterday.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  7. Phillip Vernon

    JOHN…THE WOUNDED 1ST PLATOON GUY WAS PHILLIP MALOTT WHO WAS ONE OF MY FIRETEAM LEADERS FROM 1ST SQD 1ST PLT.. AFTER ARRIVING WE WERE MAKING A SWEEP OF THE AREA AND RECEIVED FIRE FROM THE TOP OF A SMALL RISE (HILL).. WE BACK OFF ..LT SCHULAX CALLED IN SOME FIRE SUPPORT (105s) ON THE HILL AFTERWARDS WHEN WE (1ST PLATOON) WERE ON LINE GOING UP THE SIDE OF THE HILL WHEN THE VC OPENED UP ON US (WE FOUND OUT LATER THAT IT WAS AN OLD WW11 BAR AUTO RIFLE )..WHEN THE GOOK OPEN UP ON US PHILLIP WAS HIT IN THE FOOT AND WE WENT BACK DOWN THE HILL AND CALLED IN A DUST OFF FOR HIM… LATER THAT DAY IS WHEN WE FOUND THE BASE CAMP WITH A FIELD HOSPITAL WATER PIPEING OF BAMBOO…. WEAPONS, FOOD, RICE, TONS OF MEDICAL EQUIPMENT , CLASS ROOMS WITH CHAIRS, AND A LARGE HOLE IN THE SIDE OF HILL WITH BODY AND BODY PARTS COVERED WITH LIME BUT NOT COVERED UP WITH DIRT YET …. THE SMELL WAS SOMETHING I STILL REMEMBER TODAY……..WE HAD TO SET UP A SMALL PERIMETER AROUND THE HOSPITAL AND TRYING TO EAT C-RATS WAS HARD TO DO WITH THE SMELL.. JERRY RANKIN WHO LIVES HERE IN KY WAS IN THE C-COMPANY FIRE FIGHT FROM START TO FINISH AND COULD GIVE YOU A GOOD INSITE INTO WHAT WENT ON THE AFTERNOON AND NIGHT OF C-COMPANYS FIGHT AT THE KNOLL ,BUT YOU MIGHT HAVE TROUBLE GETTING HIM TO TALK MUCH ABOUT IT …WE TALK AND VISIT EACH OTHER FROM TIME TO TIME BUT HE WILL ONLY TALK ABOUT IT IF YOU ASK…IF YOU WANT ME TO CALL HIM AND ASK IF HE WOULD TELL YOU ABOUT IT LET ME KNOW…TAKE CAE …PHILLIP VERNON

    Reply
    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      Thanks for the write-up Phillip. That was a strange place. What was really strange to me was they ordered us to leave, and we were still finding tons of stuff and sent us up on top of a mountain, above the tree line, above the water line, in fact so high up that guys had to walk down to get water because the choppers bringing it could not get up that high. I had to tie myself to a rock when I went to sleep so i wouldn’t fall of the mountain. Do you remember that? No VC ever went above the water line. I would be happy to talk to Jerry if he wants to talk, but I have no desire to impose. That was a tough night.

      Reply
    2. Michael Bush

      My Uncle would have been with you guys and i wish he was still here today to talk about. thank you for your service and the hard work you put in.

      Reply
      1. Jerry Berry

        John and Michael,

        I knew Mike. He was one of us “boat troopers” assigned to Lt. Ron Newton’s 2nd Platoon, 3rd Squad. After his tour with our first group, he re-upped with E Co, LRRPs, 2-327th Abn Inf., and was wounded a few months afterward. The next thing I find was a notice in an old 1969 Screaming Eagle Assoc. Magazine (which I have) that he died at Fitzsimons Army Hospital on January 8, 1969. That told me that he most likely died from wounds, or complications from them (?). The trail nearly ends there.

        I believe his mother (Barbara) lived in Lakewood, California. If my information is correct, I believe he passed away Fitzsimons Army Medical Center (January 8, 1969) in Aurora, Colorada. I would appreciate if Michael Bush would contact me concerning his uncle. I do have photos of him. Mike was listed as an E-5 (Sgt.) at time of death.

        Jerry in Montana
        Former Battalion PIO
        3-506th 1967/68
        Airborne

      2. Jerry Berry

        LT and Mike (Again),
        I stand corrected. Mike Munson was in Lt. Newton’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Squad. From my Vietnam Journal, I have the following PFC. MICHAEL L. MUNSON INTERVIEW concerning the Battle at the Knoll (pre-battle just before the contact).

        • Pfc. Michael L. Munson [1st Squad, 2nd Platoon] says: “We [the whole squad] spotted about 12 of them [at point G on map]. This was in the evening, approx. 4:15 p.m. (1615 Hours) when we were on our way back to the Company CP.

        • That’s when we drew back and our platoon moved out. We drew back onto this ridgeline and we moved out down the trail. We moved out onto the trail we went through this tree line. Through the trees and the first squad went on the left up the hill and the other two squads went up on the right.

        Jerry in Montana
        3-506th

  8. Jerry Berry

    Phillip, it’s good to see your post and read your recollections about finding the base camp after the battle at the Knoll. Somewhere in my files, I also have a list of VIPs (Gen. Rosson, Gen. Matheson, Col. Geraci, etc.) that flew in to see all the things you guys found. Do you remember that? BTW, please tell Jerry Rankin hello for me and to send me his current e-mail address. We lost contact with one another a few years back. Jerry was in Weapons Platoon (Lt. Moore’s 4th Platoon, Co. C) and among those who went in to rescue 2nd Platoon and recover bodies later that evening, along with Lt. Cox’s 3rd Platoon. Jerry was a heck of a rifleman. I will look for more photos and notes and share with you two. Cpt. Gaffney years ago sent me his detail notes about moving to help Company C. I also have a large binder with some 100 pages of the official interviews with Company C, 2nd Platoon members conducted by the DOA after Operation Klamath Falls terminated. Do either of you recall that interview session.

    Reply
  9. Jerry Berry

    Phillip, would you please ask Jerry if he was one of those six men from Lt. Moore’s platoon who accompanied me up that “trail of death” the evening before the battle to photograph the bodies from the ambush the night before? I am thinking he may have been one of the ones. Looking back now, what a stupid decision on my part. We were convinced that the enemy were watching us coming and going during that mission and Cpt. Nahas warned me it was too dangerous! I have nightmares to this day of that two hour trip. We knew that the enemy usually returned to recover their dead and/or lay booby traps and were somewhat surprised to find the bodies still there. Our point-man signaled us numerous times thinking he saw movement or heard movement as we got close to the location. That was the longest mile or so that I have ever taken in my life! LOL I quickly learned to respect more our LRRPs and their missions.

    Reply
  10. Jerry Berry

    LT, I would like to leave one more piece of information for your readers concerning the Battle at the Knoll. Years ago, I did a write-up for one of my Veterans Day Articles, on Medic Floyd Skaggs, who was among those killed in the Battle at the Knoll. Readers can find the articles, as well as others that I submitted to various hometown newspapers for Veterans Day at: http://www.currahee.org/ARCHIVES/f.skaggs.htm. It will give additional details about that battle. Medic Skaggs should have received the MOH or at least the DSC for his actions in my humble opinion.

    Reply
    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      I can’t think of anyone that would have a better right to their opinion than you Jerry. That was a horrific battle. The piles of brass, links, M-79 casings and blood everywhere are in my mind’s eye. I can’t get rid of them.

      Reply
  11. althompson101

    I was impressed with the medical supplies. What I questioned was the use of injectable vitamins. Would have to run that by Doc Lovy. Perhaps they assisted the body in trauma recovery.

    Amazed at the American made weapons found from time to time.

    Reply
    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      Many of the medical supplies were made in France including all of the penicillin. The American weapons many times dated back to the French who used a lot of American weapons, particularly at first and at the end of the conflict. At first because it took a while to get the French arms industry in operation again and at the end because free weapons and ammo from America was cheaper that French.

      Reply
  12. Michael Bush

    great write up John. i was wondering if you had anything on my Uncle Michael Lee Munson. 2/C/3-506th 1967/68 Screaming Eagle.

    Reply
    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      Sorry no. I do not remember his name. If he was a senior sergeant I probably worked with him when we trained the battalion and I certainly trained him in the classes I taught during training. unfortunately after 49 years I have difficulty remember people that were in my platoon, much less those in the company. We worked with Charlie Company many times I remember when they came in to reinforce us on 2/20/68 and how glad i was to see them. We had lost 8 KIA and 22 WIA on 2/19/68 so we needed some help.

      Reply
  13. Jerry Berry

    Merry Christmas Mike, Just saw your post on LT’s site and wanted to reply. Mike M. was a friend and fellow Currahee (same tour at both Ft. Campbell and in Vietnam. I have some quotes from him for my “Battle at the Knoll” and elsewhere. Would be glad to share and will do so here after Christmas gatherings done.

    Jerry in Montana

    Reply

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