Week of June 11
On June 9, 1965 at 11:30P.M. elements of the Việt Cộng 762nd and 763rd Regiments totaling at least 1,500 men attacked a Special Forces camp of the 5th Special Forces Group at Đồng Xoài, and the adjacent district headquarters. The Defenders included eleven advisers of U.S. Special Forces Team A-342, 24 men of U.S. Seabee Team 1104, and about 400 South Vietnamese Montagnard Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) soldiers. Under cover of darkness the Việt Cộng launched four attacks overrunning most of the camp; supported by mortars, recoilless rifles and flamethrowers. For the first time, significant numbers of AK-47s were used by the Việt Cộng. By 1:30A.M., two armed helicopters of the U.S. 118th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) arrived and began to fire at Việt Cộng heavy automatic weapons positions made apparent by their use of tracer ammunition. They did not leave the area until their ammunition was gone, despite damage to the lead ship and a wounded pilot.
At dawn on the June 10, the 118th hurriedly transported South Vietnamese troops of the 1st Battalion of the 7th Infantry Regiment to an open field two miles from Đồng Xoài in troop carrying "slick" helicopters. After the departure of the helicopters these troops were overwhelmed by Việt Cộng fighting from prepared ambush positions. An attempt was made to land the remains of the 1st Battalion at an alternative site, the Thành Lợi Rubber Plantation. Low overflights by armed helicopters did not reveal an enemy presence, but when the first wave of slicks landed, heavy fire broke out from a disciplined concealed enemy. They fired mortars and other heavy weapons causing many casualties, destroying one helicopter and killing its crew. Further attempts to land troops were stopped.
At the Đồng Xoài district headquarters the remnants of the Special Forces and Seabees and some South Vietnamese were holding out against heavy weapons fire and repeated close assaults. Pressed hard and low on ammunition, many were already injured. Two armed helicopters of the 118th loitered to give fire support and act as radio relays. Wounded Special Forces First Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams assumed command after his commander had been severely wounded. When the headquarters came under fire from a machinegun, Williams took a 3.5" rocket launcher and asked for a volunteer to accompany him as loader. A wounded Seabee, Petty Officer Marvin A. Shields, volunteered immediately. They made their way over open ground and silenced the machinegun. Both received serious wounds from enemy fire, and Williams was only able to drag Shields to cover, sending others from the headquarters to recover him. Shields later died of his wounds. For this and other actions in the defense of Đồng Xoài, Shields and Williams were both awarded the Medal of Honor.
In the afternoon the desperate situation at Đồng Xoài became apparent to the 118th AHC, and they decided to evacuate the district headquarters buildings by air. While Williams coordinated preparation to evacuate and continued defense at personal peril, the 118th sent in three slicks accompanied by armed helicopters. The armed ships worked with Air Force aircraft that had arrived to suppress the Việt Cộng. After the fire abated, the slicks landed in a soccer field near the buildings and Williams coordinated the evacuation of the wounded and other defenders there. Almost immediately the Việt Cộng closed on the building and attacked the helicopters. Door gunners fired in all directions, and a crew chief dismounted with an M-14, entering the compound to bring out the last to be rescued.
Later on June 10 the 118th returned with the South Vietnamese 52nd Ranger Battalion. Đồng Xoài had been under observation and attack from the air since the evacuation. The Rangers took casualties but enemy resistance had declined. The next morning the 118th landed the South Vietnamese 7th Airborne Battalion. The 118th continued in until June 20th. For their courage on June 10, 1965 crews of the 118th AHC's three rescuing slicks were awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross and five Air Medals. For participation in the battle of Đồng Xoài the 118th received a Presidential Unit Citation.1
1Spencer Tucker, The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (Santa Barbara, ABC CLIO, 2011), pp. 308-9; 9-11 June1965:Seabee Team 1104 and the Battle of Dong Xoai, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, http://www.seabeesmuseum.com/Shields.html, collected June 10, 2015; Medal of Honor Recipients Vietnam War, Center of Military History Website, Citation for Williams, Charles Q. , collected June 10, 2015.