Week of June 25
In 1967 this was the first full week of Operation GREELEY in the Central Highlands of II Corps. Two battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, were sent to Đăk Tô to stave off attacks on a Special Forces camp. On June 17, the North Vietnamese 24th Regiment had attacked Đăk Tô; and for the first time in II Corps they had employed 122mm rockets and 120mm mortars. The terrain in the area was dynamic. Ridges and ravines blocked radio communication. The forest had a high hardwood canopy and thick understory growth that limited visibility and scattered marker smoke. It was the rainy season, and the showers made for poor footing and further impaired observation.
On the morning of June 22, Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment; under Captain Frederick Milton encountered a battalion of the 24th Regiment just before 7:00A.M. The point squad, descending a forested ridge opened fire on 24th Regiment scouts and fell back to its platoon. The platoon was ordered to advance with air and artillery support. They went forward and began receiving enemy fire from three sides. Reinforcements were sent. Dangerously inaccurate artillery fire had to be checked for an hour until reinforcements were in position. Air strikes and helicopter gunship runs began but were ineffective in checking the North Vietnamese.
It was clear A Company would be hard pressed. Another company on patrol a mile away was ordered to march toward Captain Milton's position. Troops at Đăk Tô were readied to board helicopters as further reinforcements. Above the high canopy and on the thicketed forest floor men sought out a landing zone (LZ). A meager one-ship LZ was found 800 yards from A Company's command post.
The North Vietnamese made two assaults of increasing size on the advanced position on the ridge between 8:00A.M. and 9:00A.M. These attacks forced some recently arrived reinforcements back, isolating the forward position. By the time a third even larger attack developed, all the officers of the forward position had been killed and all the noncommissioned officers were severely wounded. The senior surviving non-commissioned officer ordered those who could to retreat to the position around the Company headquarters, but few survived. Soon this second isolated position under fire was reduced to a few dozen men protecting a few dozen wounded.
By midafternoon, reinforcements were fighting their way toward Captain Milton's position. The North Vietnamese began to fall back. After nightfall the surviving troops were flown to Đăk Tô. 75 men were determined to be missing. On the June 23 troops of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment returned to search the site of the previous day's fighting unopposed. They found four soldiers still alive, and all the other missing soldiers were accounted for. A number of the fallen showed signs that the North Vietnamese regiment had executed captured wounded soldiers. Operation Greeley and the fighting in the region of II Corps around Đăk Tô would continue into August.1
1George L. MacGarrigle, The United States Army in Vietnam: Taking the Offensive, October 1966-October 1967. Washington DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1998. Spencer Tucker, The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (Santa Barbara, ABC CLIO, 2011) pp 427-8