“… I came in on the last day of the battle. I remember the NVA bodies were piled so thick around the foxholes you could walk on them for 100 feet in some places. The American GIs were the same color as the dirt and all had that thousand-yard stare of those newly initiated to combat.
The next day, after a restless night, my battalion, the 2/7, walked away from [Landing Zone] X-ray toward another clearing called Landing Zone Albany. Around lunchtime, we were jumped by a North Vietnamese formation. Like us, about 500-strong.
The fighting was hand-to-hand. I was lying so close to a North Vietnamese machine-gunner that I simply stuck out my rifle and blew off his head. It was, I think, the only time during the war that a U.S. battalion was ever overrun. The U.S. casualties for this fourth day of battle: 155 killed, 121 wounded. More dead than wounded. The North Vietnamese suffered a couple of hundred casualties.
The fight at LZ Albany was largely overlooked as an aberration—poor leadership, green troops. In this first encounter between their main force regulars, the two sides focused instead on X-ray. Interestingly, both drew the same conclusion: that each could win using the tactics of attrition.
The ferocity of the fighting during those four days was appalling. At one point in the awful afternoon at Albany, as my battalion was being cut to pieces, a small group of enemy came upon me, and thinking I had been killed (I was covered in other people’s blood), proceeded to use me as a sandbag for their machine gun. I pretended to be dead. I remember the gunner had bony knees that pressed against my sides. He didn’t discover I was alive because he was trembling more than I was. He was, like me, just a teenager.
The gunner began firing into the remnants of my company. My buddies began firing back with rifle grenades, M-79s, to those of you who know about them. I remember thinking, “Oh, my God. If I stand up, the North Vietnamese will kill me; and if I stay lying down, my buddies will get me.” Before I went completely mad, a volley of grenades exploded on top of me, killing the enemy boy and injuring me.
It went on like this all day and much of the night. I was wounded twice and thought myself dead. My company suffered about 93 percent casualties—93 percent.”
—Jack P. Smith, this factual account of combat was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, January 28, 1967.
SOURCE: Death in the Ia Drang Valley