James Edward Smythe
On November 21st, 1966, as part of the 1st Air Cavalry Division's Operation Paul Revere IV in the southwestern corner of Pleiku Province, the 1st Battalin, 5th Cavalry (1/5) continued it's Reconnaissance-in-Force operations along the Cambodian border with three companies.
The operations had begun on November 17th when the rifle companies of the 1/5th Cav air assaulted into three widely dispersed landing zones (LZ), each contigious to the Cambodian border. They were to conduct a Reconnaissance-in-Force along the border within their respective areas. Each company was given a definite area of operations (AO) in order that the battalion's sector of the border could be fully searched. Little contact was made until 09:30 on the morning of November 21st when two platoons of Company C encountered an aggressive enemy force of superior size.
Mid-November days were pleasant. Low winds and partly cloudy skies took the edge off 90 degree highs, while 68 degree lows prevailed at night. The lack of rain left stream crossings uncomplicated, and the infantryman remained dry and comfortable.
Within the battalion AO, the terrain was gently rolling with occasional gentle rises of 20 to 30 feet. There were clear forests in the northern and southeastern portion of the area to the heavy jungle in the central area of operations. Brushwood, elephant grass clearings, and occasional bamboo groves were found along the border.
This area had long been used as an infiltration route from Cambodia. Previous operations in the area had never failed to turn up numerous caches, assembly areas and well-travelled trails. Monagnard agents coming in from Duc Co had recently reported regimental size North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troop asembly areas north and west of Duc Co on the Cambodian side of the border. The enemy situation appeared to warrant another recon in force operation, in order to determine the extent of enemy activity, keep him off balance, and deny him unrestricted use of the area.
The battalion had been in the field for 72 days on the 17th of November. The Commander described the battalion as in good shape as each company was up to full strength and fit. On the 17th, A Company, reconnoitering to the northwest of LZ Hawk, made contact with an NVA squad around 13:00 hours. After 45 minute fight, the NVA evaded to the southwest and pursuit of the enemy failed. Result of the contact was 1 U.S. killed and 4 wounded in action while the NVA had 1 man KIA. This contact lent credibility to suspicions that there were recon elements of a much larger NVA force operating in the area. On the 19th of November, 20 NVA were spotted close to LZ Hawk to the west.
Suspecting the A Company, located at LZ Lime, was between a large enemy force and the border, the battalion commander hoped to drive that force into A Company. He air assaulted Company C into LZ Hawk from where they moved to the edge of the strike area, arriving by 22:00 hours. The Commander wanted another company in the area as A Company was operating uncomfortably far from other friendly forces with too much area to cover. After 4 days of searching, the battalion was widely dispersed on the 21st of November.
Company C was in ambush position along a widely used trail they had discovered on the 20th. As they continued to patrol the area, they made what they thought were a few small contacts and began to follow up on one of them. Enemy resistance began to increase, the deeper into the area Company C moved and by mid morning they in full contact. As the contact escalated, air strikes, artillery, and helicopter gun ships were used to support the men of Company C. The Contact continued for the morning and into the afternoon.
As a result of the heavy fighting during the day, C Company ultimately lost 34 killed in action and 11 wounded. The NVA lost 145 dead but the bulk of their large force had escaped into Cambodia, just missing Company B who was working it's way to help out Company C.
A full after action report of the battle, with maps, can be reviewed here, along with the complete list of the men who were killed in action.
SP4 James Smythe is buried in Yocum Pond Cemetery, Reed Springs, Missouri.
Photo of Cemetery Marker
- - - The Virtual Wall, April 29, 2014
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