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The Battle of Ong Thanh - 17 Oct. 67

The Battle of Ong Thanh - 17 Oct. '67

A photo taken in the NDP (Night Defensive Position, or perimeter) of the 2/28th Inf. prior to the Battle of Ong Thanh. The officer 2nd from the left was the Battalion Commander, LTC Terry Allen Jr. Next to him (center) was Major Don Holleder. The officer on the far right gesturing was 1LT Clark Welch, Delta Co. Commander. The other two officers were the Brigade Commander, COL Newman, and Brigadier General Coleman, Assistant Division Commander, who were being briefed.

In the battle to follow, LTC Allen and the HQ contingent he took out with him were all killed. Major Holleder was killed while trying to rescue wounded soldiers. LT Welch was wounded in three extremities and the chest. The combat photographer who took this photo, SP4 Verland Gilbertson, was also killed in the battle. At least 60 US soldiers were killed and at least another 75 were wounded out of our single under-strength battalion.

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garry young 25-Oct-2017 18:36
the day after the battle we,the rebels,gunships covered the hooks taking out kias.tarps were blown off of bodys.half of them had no cloths on. I called vc all kinds of names for doing it.later I learned it was clark welsh trying to help and save them.what a brave man.iam so glad I got to meet him.i told him rebels were there atbattle but could do nothing to help,we would have hit our own people.he said to that nobody could help that day.i have an undying respect for him and alwas willrip clark
Guest 19-Oct-2017 06:31
I am embarrassed to weigh in with my experience that day. I was with G5 HHC across the road from Charlie Company and behind the General's Villa. Of course we were all glued to the radios. I took the Jeep up to the hospital and helped unload stretchers. A day doesn't go by that I don't think of that tragedy. I remember one of the medics told me that it looked like some of the guys had taken their on lives. I can only think they would rather do that than be taken prisoner. That day lives in my heart and head. I can't fathom what all you men have to live with. With deep respect, Rick Gallavan
Dave Berry13-Oct-2017 05:40
Butch Helms: The guys who flew those tiny OH-13s into a little hole in the jungle to pull our wounded out one at a time were as brave as anyone who ever flew. From what I understand, they had to drop down into the hole cut out by our soldiers with chain-saws, balance one skid on a downed log while the wounded soldiers were loaded in, and then push the machines near the breaking point in order to climb straight up and out of the hole again, all while being shot at by VC soldiers. The Division Aviation Commander's career ended that day when he took a round through the bottom of his chopper and through his foot/ankle. They flew our wounded to a nearby clearing where they could be loaded onto medivac choppers to be flown to a hospital. Then, they flew back, lined up, and did it again. Your half-brother deserves the thanks of every Black Lion who was out there.
Butch Helms 13-Oct-2017 02:38
did anyone know W/O Howard Bennett. He flew OH-13’s. He was my 1/2 brother. It is said the he repeatedly flew back to get wounded until his aircraft was damaged too far.
Al Zielinski 12-Jul-2017 22:31
I was with co.A 2/2 and some of the 2/28 spent the night with us at our NDP before the went out on this operation. We got word that they had been involved in A horseshoe ambush and their command and rto' were the first hit. We wanted to go help even though we didn't know where they were but we were not granted permission. We figured we could have gotten there pretty fast in our APC's very frustrating. I still remember that day today as if it just happened yesterday.
KGWAtson 11-Jun-2017 20:01
I was at Lai Khe then, a trial Counsel for the Div. We actually weren't aware of the magnitude of the tragedy; only much later did I learn of the totality of the ambush. I heard on UTube a couple of 2/28ers say that they were told not to say 'ambush'. Awful but in Dec a history section of USARV put out a paper, complete, of 17Oct67 and DID c all it what it was. I underCtand that 13 Silver Stars and a MOH a s well as two DSCs were awarded for that battle; as far as I know, ALL should have had an award. It did seem that, at times, the Brass wanted to cover up bad judgment. Why? I think that everyone should know what got 64 men KIA and 75 WIA. This might help in the future to not jump in until you know how hot the fire is. In never found out why A and D companies were so shorthanded but, likely, if they had been full strength, we would have only lost more. They say and I agree....if you want to see a hero, look in the mirror or a hero is one who is afraid(who's not) but overcomes it to pderform his duty. It's men like that that can keep this country free. KGWatson, Col(Ret'd) Maggie Valley,NC, HHC,1st Div
Cindy Beale Mullen 05-May-2017 01:35
Did any of you know Thomas Larry Beale? That is my Dad and just trying to find out where in Vietnam he was.
Bill Vanden-Bulcke 15-Oct-2016 15:25
I was in Dian that day. An infantryman with B 2/16, I was very "short". Returning from the 1st Admin Co with my brown folder and DD214 secured firmly under my arm I noticed a large amount of chopper activity above the 2nd Brigade HQ area up ahead of me. Some short timer walking nearby said that the 2/28 was hit real hard and some casualties have already been received in Dian. Suddenly a chopper (not a dust off or slick) came down at a sharp angle and crashed through a 2nd BDE. admin hootch. Crew members injured and 2 men killed in the building.
kgwatson 16-Sep-2016 19:57
The question is...why would you leave a Cmdr. in charge of a combat mission WHO had received a Dear John letter,that would surely have affected his judgment. Its hard to believe that any Cmdr. in his right mind would have taken such a minute force into this unknown area;especially when he had little more than a company with him. I was with the 1st Div then. Col,USA(retd) K.G.Watson,JAGC
Mike Jones 28-Aug-2016 16:15
I remember it like it was yesterday. Something I would much rather forget.
joe leong 26-May-2016 05:03
These men were true heroes. They fought for each other.
Robert M. Paul 23-Apr-2016 15:13
I just read that LT Welch had passed away at his home in Virginia. What an amazing and heroic soldier. He is surely with God and the soldiers that died at Ong Thanh. If only most Army officers were of his caliber things might be different. Sadly they are not.

LTC Robert M. Paul. US Army, Retired
former lieutenant, platoon leader, 1/12th INF, 4th I.D. Nam 1969-70
Jack Curry 17-Oct-2015 12:21
This morning I thought something was special about 17 Oct. Then it "clicked" in my head=Ong Thanh. 48 years have passed. I was a support troop with 121st Signal BN at Lai Khe. I remember well the radio traffic, booming arty support and activity on the air strip. Being a mortician I was transferred to 1ID Graves Registration in the S&T BN of 1ID in Nov of 67. We were still receiving personal effects(PE's) in Nov and Dec to ship to Oakland or Dover and eventually on to the families.
A bad day long ago. May those who died rest in peace. Jack Curry US56585543/67-68/Retired Mortician
jesse joyce 04-Jan-2015 22:28
I was a Platoon Sgt with c-2-1, big red one, a few klicks from 2/28th. on the 15th of oct a 105 round (friendly, if there is any such thing) meant for 2/28th landed between my platoon and the 2nd platoon, killing the psg, sfc gaylon gipson and his rto sp4 reed and seriously wounding approximately six others. they had no career nco's left so i was immediately transferred to the 2nd. we were able to distinguish two small fire fights on the 15th and 16th and a big one on the 17th. I don't understand why we weren't ordered to assist, probally due to the brigade s-3, maj holleder, who evidently never met will rogers. I visited two field hospitals a few days later to give black scarves to several of our wounded, who were going home. I saw row after row of wounded from the 2/28th. it was a chilling experience to see so many wia's from the same unit.
Dave Berry25-Sep-2014 02:50
Thank you for all you did, and for all you tried to do.

Dave Berry
Dennis McSweeney 21-Sep-2014 15:56
Dennis McSweeney: Commanding Officer Battery C, 2/33 FA October 17, 1967, Big Red One

October 17, 1967, will live with me forever. My 105mm direct support artillery battery was in support of The Black Lions' Company A and D. During the course of the battle my battery was in a continuous fire situation. The tone and urgency expressed by the Division's aerial observers was near panic. No doubt in my mind that LTC Terry Allen and his troops were in a dire situation. My cannoneers gave it their all in providing danger close artillery support during the two hour battle. Afterwards, we realized that Terry Allen marched his troops into an ambush. The VC were waiting. The Americans were slaughtered. God bless our soldiers who fought that day. May the 64 soldiers who gave their life rest in peace.
Guest 09-Apr-2014 22:22
Such a sad event.
Randy G. Baker MSgt USMC (Ret) 05-Aug-2013 06:59
It was during this same engagement that my cousin, Army SSgt Luther A. Smith, of Delta Company, also lost his life. He left behind a wife and three daughters, the youngest of whom he never got to see as his wife was pregnant with her when he was killed. I never met my cousin because we grew up in New York. I will never have the opportunity to get to know him now, but I will carry his memory and that of the ultimate sacrifice he made in service to his country with me as long as I am blessed to live. God bless him.
Bob Dembro 18-May-2013 18:11
I sen back to home base on 16 June 16, 1967 to get ready to DEROS. On the 17th the company arrive back at Lai Khe and I was told then that The company been involved in a skirmish and
some members of Company C died. One was my best friend Michael Morrow. R.I.P. Bother. It took a lot out of me as I didn't couldn't fall asleep on the 14 hrs back to the states. I arrived at Chicago O'Hare and had a layover of four hours. I was approach by a Colonel and
a Sargent and asked if I wanted to go and have a bite to eat. Needless to say I got sloshed and missed my flight back to the states. I was woken up the next morning by the MP's and told to fix my dress. I got home a day late. I went right to bed and didn't wake up until two days later. I was under the bed. I wouldn't leave my house for another three months.... God Bless all my friends who never made it back... Trying to forget...
Dave Berry21-Mar-2013 03:38
Thank you for what you did. The aviators who flew in to get our wounded were heroes and saved many lives. It was a miracle that we didn't lose any of your aircraft. I heard them being fired on and I know some were hit. I have shared your comments with some of my Black Lion friends and you will probably hear from some of them.
Dave Berry.
Burton W. Bucher 20-Mar-2013 22:04
W2 Burton W. Bucher (Nighthawkbravo) I flew in support of the Black Lions that day and remember it like it was yesterday. We flew as the 3rd Bde Aviation section of the First Infantry division out of Lai Khe--had 6 H-13s and had as memory serves used 2-3 that day.. We got the call they needed medivac ships and had no idea what we were going into--and really what was going on---came onto the site and talked on the radio-between ships-we had 6 on station when I was there. The troops had cut down a few trees to make a hole big enough to get a H13 into --- Huey wouldn't fit--too big --- we shot a approach to a hover then a vertical descent of 100-120 feet and rested our skids on a cut down tree---Loaded the wounded one at a time --then a vertical climb of 120 feet out of that hole with everything the ship had to give 3200 rpm overspeed to 3300rpm as we pulled power --riding right pedal looking for a hollow in the trees to help build rotor rpm---right on the jagged edge ---we flew to a rice paddy open area not 1-2 klics away--we landed and transferred to the Huey medivacs--then back to the hole and do it again--I got six out that day-- the other 13 pilots about the same --we only took the wounded--not the dead--I read the book "They marched into sunlight" and remember that they said the pilots didn't seem to care or were disconnected---I can tell you we did care!!!! it's just we were right on the edge of what that ship could do and pushed them beyond their limits---The Pucker factor was very high and that "moments of fear" thing was all the same between the pilots as we talked later--we were totally focused on the job at hand --we didn't lose a ship that day and got out 35-40 guys that wouldn't of had a chance-----Proud to have served----Nighthawkbravo 3rd Bde 1st Inf Div.
Guest 26-Mar-2012 22:11
Dave Otto 04-Mar-2011 20:07
I arrived in RVN 17 Oct 67, and was immediately sent to the 2/28th as a replacement. I will never forget drawing my web gear from the supply hut, with all of the recovered web gear and steel pots stacked outside. I don't pretend to know how you who lived through that day feel, but I have spent 40+ years asking myself why?
You've got a great site here.
Don "Doc"Reynolds 05-Sep-2009 15:56
I was a medic/doorgunner with the 173rd AHC Robinhoods at Lai Khe from July 67 to July 68.I was not flying that day.Late in the afternoon we were told to take our ambulance to the west side of the runway where we usually loaded troops for combat assaults. We were informed that there was a mass casualty situation and that every available medic and medical transport available on the base camp was to report there. We took our ambulance, and waited for at least an hour. Shortly before dark two C-47 Chinook helicopters landed. We had been excited that we would have an opportunity to utilize our medical skills to treat the wounded, but instead of applying our medical skills to treat wounded troops, we spent the rest of the evening and far into the night transporting about 63 KIA from the battle to Graves Registration at Lai Khe where we assisted the Graves Registration folks in sorting and identifying the soldiers who died. It was one of the most frustrating and sad days that I ever spent in Vietnam, and I have remembered those fine men on a regular basis, usually in my nightmares, for the past 42 years.
A few years back, I found out that the battle had a name (Ong Thanh) and read both books. I had a difficult time with the fiction book "They Marched into Sunlight" which compared the battle with contemporary events in the US at the time, But I bought the book "The Beast Was out There" by General Shelton, which answered many questions I had about the circumstances of that tragic day and night. Thank you for your memories and excellent documentation.
Don "Doc" Reynolds
173rd AHC Robinhood
Michael Hill15-Aug-2009 02:24
Dave this is what a hero is,,,, thank you for these photos and memories
Dave Berry07-Nov-2007 05:24
Jim Shelton is a true hero and a good friend to many of us. David Mariniss' book "They Marched Into Sunlight" and Rob Kenner's PBS documentary based on it ("Two Days in October) also discuss what happened in the jungle and what was happening on the home front at the same time. The Battle of Ong Thanh was a tragedy that cost the lives of many brave soldiers and marked everyone who was there.
Leonard Martinez 07-Nov-2007 04:08
The definitive book on this tragically mismanaged battle is "The Beast Was Out There" by Brig. Gen. James E. Shelton, USA (Ret.) published by Catigny (2002)
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