THE PIKE -March 8, 1967
When the 3/39th took over the Rach Kien AO from the 2/14th of the 25th Infantry Division on February 13, 1967, it was clear that it would be no picnic. Rach Kien and the surrounding area had long been a stronghold for insurgent forces. These forces did not wait long to test their new and green opponent. The strategy of guerrilla warfare calls for attacking only when and where the balance of forces is high in their favor. A small outpost, known as "The Pike", consisting of a few bunkers and barbed wire perimeter, perhaps a mile or so from Rach Kien, presented a vulnerable target. It was defended by a small squad from A Company and elements of the ARVN 46th Regiment..
The Viet Cong attacked the position at approximately 4 AM on March 8, 1967. From the S3 Daily Reports they apparently had 2 Machine Gun positions to the north of the outpost with elements attacking from the west and southeast. Frantic calls for help were monitored in Rach Kien, with the radio operator apparently wounded and unable to provide any information other than furtive pleas for help. Helicopters flying over the area reported secondary explosions within the perimeter. The outpost was completely overrun. It took more than an hour before US and ARVN elements were within the perimeter. The insurgents had withdrawn by that time and all that was to be done is to remove the wounded and the dead. Of the 34 or so ARVN in the area, 6 had been killed and 9 wounded. US casualties were 5 killed and 2 wounded.
Someone, somewhere decided that this isolated outpost had to be rebuilt and defended. Within several days the bunkers were rebuilt and it was manned by a strengthened A Company, 2nd Platoon squad. It seemed to be a challenge to the Viet Cong as well as a matter of pride for someone within the 3/39th or 9th Division chain of command to maintain the outpost, though its strategic value was questionable.
Meanwhile, another tragedy struck B and C Companies. They were engaged in a battle with a large enemy unit on March 11, 1967 which prompted the need for substantial fire support. Most if not all of the casualties of that day resulted from "friendly fire" according to a wounded survivor of that action. Again, one would suspect inexperience of personnel and various support elements involved as a likely contributor to this tragedy, as well as the presence of well trained and seasoned insurgent forces in the area. Ironically, General Westmoreland would briefly visit the 3/39th at Rach Kien the next day. A "Fortune" magazine article of April 67 noted that the Westmoreland staff expected the 9th Division to play mainly a "supportive" role to the ARVN, since "main force" elements had not played a role in the Delta up to that point. Westy and his staff had apparently not been introduced to the locals.
On March 20, 1967, about two months after the 3/39th took over in Rach Kien from the 25th Division, A Company took one of its most devastating losses. 11 men were killed and 27 wounded, when a fortified outpost known as "The Pike" was overrun by the 2nd Ind. Viet Cong Bn. a second time. One of those killed and two wounded were from the 2/4th Artillery. Estimates (!) were that 55 VC were killed in the attack.
Here is a chronology based on the S-3 Log kept by the Battalion. At 0026 Hrs., A Co. reported an explosion about 20 meters to the left front of Bunker 21. There was no activity until 0358 Hrs. when an ambush patrol near Pike reported receiving small arms fire, first thinking it was friendly fire from the units at Pike. At 0400, the Forward Observer (FO) for 2/4th Artillery advised that Pike was receiving small arms and mortar fire. At 0405, flare ships and gun ships were requested from Brigade. At 0415, the ARVN 46th Regiment was requested to be ready to move to Pike from the north. Artillery and mortar fire was being directed to the area surrounding Pike. The gun ships and flare ship could not get in close for a look until this fire was halted, which they requested at 0422. At 0425 Hrs. Bunker 10 reported incoming 40 and 60 mm rounds. At 0425 all Bunkers were ordered to 100% alert status. At 0428 Echo Mortars were directed to fire one tube to the north and on tube to the south of Pike. At 0434 it was decided that all artillery and mortars would cease fire at 0437 for three minutes so the gunships could get in for a closer look. Meanwhile a unit of the 46th ARVN were moving east on east-south road to north of Pike, but were advised that they were too far north.
At 0440 Hrs. it got critical. A Co. 2nd Platoon Leader, Lt. Oshel, reported VC coming into bunkers around the edge. "We need help fast." At this time B Co. was ordered to ready one platoon and the Falcon Platoon to move out in vehicles to Pike. The FO reported about 100 VC coming in and to "blast" the area north of Pike. The 2nd Platoon Leader reported about 70 to 80 VC coming on in a frontal attack and directed gunship to fire 100 meters north of their position. At this point communication with the Pike is lost. Meanwhile, the ARVN 46th Regt. reports that they were moving toward the Pike on the north side. They spot heavy automatic weapons fire from the Pike towards the north side.
The gun ships seem to be having trouble locating the exact Pike position. It was suggested they pick up someone from Rach Kien who can direct them. They turn on their landing lights and are estimated to be 2 miles NW of the Pike. Another complication was that an ambush patrol from the Pike, led by Lt. May, was trying to get back in. At 0452 they were advised not to try to get back in until communication with the Pike was established. At 0457 a flare ship arrived and was directed to start dropping flares.
At about 0500 a chopper with the Bn. C.O. comes into the area and starts to coordinate the action. They report a lot of smoke in the area with tracers visible as the flare ship starts dropping flares at 0510. They direct the mortars and artillery to cease fire, so they can get a closer look. At 0520 the Bn. C.O. reports that fire from Pike is directed at hooches 3 to 400 meters N to NW of Pike and that there is a fire in the Command bunker or right next to it. Artillery and mortar fire is restarted at 0524, with the 46th Regt. adjusting fire, and they direct Lt. May to have the ambush patrol try to get a radio inside Pike.
There is also an attempt to move in reinforcements from the ground. At 0535, the Falcons and a B Co, Platoon move toward the Pike in a convoy. The 46th informs that a VC machine gun position may be deployed at the junction on the road east of Pike and the convoy is advised to unload before that point and proceed tactically on foot. At 0542 there is no more small arms fire heard. Radar picks up a troop concentration moving into jungle but air strikes are called off due to friendly troops in the area. At 0600 the 46th is within sight of the Pike which is covered with heavy smoke. Artillery fire is called off. Lt. May reports about 250 VC about 300 meters NW of Pike which was relayed to the gun ships. Gun ships go in after spotted enemy troops.
At 0622 the ambush patrol goes into Pike. They advise that they have at least 10 WIA and Medevacs are dispatched. The attack was over. From a captured VC, it was learned that the attack was carried out by the 2nd Ind. Bn. He stated that they came from the hamlet Trung and were headed back to Lang Son. He stated that 5 or 6 were killed and 11 wounded. The "estimate" of VC KIA was first 75, then changed to 55. A Recon Platoon from the 5/60th was deployed to search for VC bodies.
A survivor of the second attack on The Pike described how, as they initially manned the outpost, a white flag (white is the color of mourning to the Vietnamese) had been planted outside of the perimeter by the Viet Cong, apparently taking up the challenge. The attack began almost at the same time of morning as the first one and the difficulties of quickly providing support were the same. An ambush patrol outside of The Pike could not maneuver safely to render support quickly. The nearby elements of the ARVN 46th were also hampered in responding quickly. The first helicopter in the area had difficulty even locating the area. According to a wounded survivor of this attack, enemy forces threw satchel charges into the bunkers and entered some of the bunkers to eliminate any found survivors. It was only through the heroic efforts of Lt. Oshel and others that anyone survived the attack, as artillery was called in on the outpost by those still there to beat back the attack. This time the outpost was not rebuilt. The bunkers were still burning two days later.
This article is the product of incomplete information. It is based mainly on the S3 Daily Logs and information provided by survivors of these actions. Also, a soldier from A Company in protest apparently refused to carry a weapon subsequent to the Pike action and was court-martialed . Anyone who can add information, especially on the circumstances leading up to the court martial and on why this outpost was maintained in the first place, please send it via email to "firstname.lastname@example.org", or send via regular mail to: Gerhard Grieb, 1900 Rt. 108, Sandy Spring, Md. 20860-1339.