The 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry had been operating west of the village of Chon Thanh since October 8th, conducting "search and destroy" operations in an area known to be occupied by large Viet Cong forces. Only four of the battalion's five companies (HHC, A, B, and D) were involved; C Company was providing fire base security for the supporting artillery unit.
D Company had engaged a large enemy force on 16 October directly south of the Battalion's night defensive position, killing at least 30 VC soldiers with direct fire, mortars, and artillery at the cost of only four men wounded in action. Captain Bernard F. Jones, a MACV Advisor with a Vietnamese Provincial reconnaissance unit attached to D Company, was killed in the action. In the late afternoon the 2/28 elements withdrew to the Battalion position.
LTC Terry Allen, commanding 2/28, set his plans for 17 October based on a two-company search-and-destroy operation led by A Company with the Battalion Command Group and D Company in trail. The two companies would be protected by artillery "marching fire" to its front and flanks.
On the morning of 17 October, Alpha Company, with a total of 65 men, led out from the night defensive perimeter moving south toward the area where the 16 October fight had occurred. D Company, with 73 men and the command group, followed in trail. A Company was moving very cautiously, with point and flank patrols; by late morning the force had moved only about 1200 meters. Shortly before noon Alpha was engaged by a very much larger enemy force.
The action took place in heavy jungle west of the Village of Chon Thanh (Highway 13) in Binh Long Province. Although considered the dry season, it was humid and moist with daytime temperatures in excess of 90 degrees. The double canopy jungle was in relatively flat ground surrounded by intermittent streams (such as Suoi Ong-Thanh), which flowed south and west.
The opposing force consisted of two battalions of the 271st VC Regiment (300-400 or more soldiers). The VC had suffered heavy losses in an engagement with the 1/18 Infantry on 06-10 October and the firefight with Delta 2/28 the previous day. They had withdrawn to a base camp called the "Long Nuguyen Secret Zone" to refit and rearm. The VC did have plentiful supplies of ammunition for AK-47 rifles, RPD machine guns, some captured .50 caliber machine guns, perhaps some Chinese 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, Chicom claymores, and many RPGs.
The action was initiated when the Alpha Company point reported sighting a small group of enemy soldiers moving across their front. CPT George, Alpha's commander, ordered a hasty ambush. As the ambush force moved forward they were engaged by a heavy volume of automatic weapons fire and Claymore mines. The friendly force was not so much surprised by the enemy fire as they were overwhelmed by it. Two platoon leaders were immediately killed, and within 15 minutes, after trying to regain control of the situation, CPT George was blinded, deafened and wounded by an enemy Claymore while attempting to personally attack an enemy machine gun with hand grenades. Alpha's First Sergeant moved forward, retrieved CPT George, and led CPT George east away from the enemy fire which coming from the west. This action, while saving CPT George, left A Company leaderless. Practically every man in A Company was killed or wounded in the first 30 minutes of action.
D Company, commanded by 1LT Welch, formed a perimeter around the battalion command group. LTC Allen had no radio contact with A Company, and enemy fire was now hitting D Company. LTC Allen directed 1LT Welch to move forward to contact with A Company. 1LT Welch moved part of Delta forward, but found only Alpha's dead and wounded rather than a fighting force. Welch then directed a fighting withdrawal to the Delta perimeter, collecting as many of Alpha's wounded as possible. LTC Allen was on the radio requesting air strikes when Welch reported that it appeared that A Company had ceased to exist as an effective fighting force. Delta pulled into a tight perimeter approximately 60 feet in diameter and prepared to defend itself.
Enemy fire was heavy, with small arms, machine guns, and RPGs chopping through the underbrush into the Delta position. It became apparent that the enemy was maneuvering around both sides of the Delta perimeter, intent on destroying the Americans. LTC Allen was desperately trying to direct air strikes against the enemy, but they were ineffective due to the nature of the double-canopy jungle and the proximity of friend and foe. Delta's Artillery Forward Observer, 2LT Durham, brought artillery fire closer into his position while avoiding the area to Delta's front where Alpha's dead and wounded were laying in the jungle. Enemy soldiers were already maneuvering through that location, killing any Alpha Company wounded they found.
Practically all the D company radios had been destroyed or damaged by enemy fire and radio communications were maintained only by gathering damaged radios so they could be cannibalized. 2LT Durham, the artillery forward observer, was protecting his artillery net radio with his body while operating his radio handset to talk with the stub of his wrist, as his hand had been blown off by enemy fire. He continued to adjust the artillery fire more closely in, still smiling and calling to both 1LT Welch and Delta's First Sergeant.
At this point LTC Allen ordered 1LT Welch to withdraw along their ingress route, but doing so would have required abandoning the wounded and Welch ignored the order. Enemy fire continued to hit the Delta perimeter from three directions and casualties continued to mount.
At about 1400, some 2-1/2 hours after the contact began, a relief force fought its way to the Delta perimeter. By that time LTC Allen and everyone in the Battalion Command Group was dead, Alpha was destroyed, and Delta was more than decimated.
The fight at Ong Thanh resulted in the loss of at least 60 Americans - 55 killed in the action, 2 missing, and 3 who would die of their wounds. The VC left 163 bodies on the battlefield. The American dead were
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