Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam 1965. The first major battle between American Forces and North Vietnamese Military, and Vietcong. From one of my favorite books, “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” by Colonel Hal Moore.
Lieutenant Neil Kroger’s platoon had taken the brunt of the enemy attack. Although artillery and air strikes were taking a toll on the follow-up forces, a large group of North Vietnamese soldiers had reached Kroger’s lines and the killing was hand-to-hand.
Specialist Arthur Viera was crouched in a small foxhole firing his M-79. “The gunfire was very loud. We were getting overrun on the right side. The lieutenant [Kroger] came up out into the open in all this. I thought that was pretty good. He yelled at me. I got up to hear him. He hollered at me to help cover the left sector. I ran over to him and by the time I got there he was dead. He had lasted a half-hour. I knelt beside him, took off his dog tags, and put them in my shirt pocket. I went back to firing my M-79 and got shot in my right elbow. The M-79 went flying and I was knocked over and fell back over the lieutenant.”
Viera now grabbed his .45 pistol and began firing it left handed. “Then I got hit in the neck and the bullet went right through. I couldn’t talk or make a sound. I got up and tried to take charge, and was shot with a third round. That one blew up my right leg and put me down. It went in my leg above the ankle, traveled up, came back out, then went into my groin and ended up in my back close to my spine. Just then two stick grenades blew up right over me and tore up both of my legs. I reached down with my left hand and touched grenade fragments on my left leg and it felt like I had touched a red-hot poker. My hand just sizzled.”
The ordeal of rifleman Arthur Viera, crumpled on the ground, terribly wounded, beside the body of Lieutenant Neil Kroger, was just beginning. “The enemy was all over, at least a couple of hundred of them walking around for three or four minutes-it seemed like three or four hours-shooting and machine-gunning our wounded and laughing and giggling,” Viera recalls. “I knew they’d kill me if they saw I was alive. When they got near, I played dead. I kept my eyes open and stared at a small tree. I knew that dead men had their eyes open. Then one of the North Vietnamese came up, looked at me, then kicked me, and I flopped over. I guess he thought I was dead. There was blood running out of my mouth, my arm, my legs. He took my watch and my .45 pistol and walked on. I saw them strip off all our weapons; then they left, back where they came from. I remember the artillery, the bombs, and the napalm everywhere, real close around me. It shook the ground underneath me. But it was coming in on the North Vietnamese soldiers, too.”