A Shot in the Dark
by Richard Dieterle
APRIL 8, 1968 — After just a few days on the ridge, we moved out to sweep the area to the west of Khê Sanh. It had been the role of A Co. and the rest of the battalion to clear the western and southern flanks in the mountains and hills around Khê Sanh. The first night we set up on one of these hills, not having encountered any resistance during the day. We had a hard day moving up and down the undulating terrain of the mountain ridges. Much of it was clothed in knee high yellow grass, a color that was necessarily pleasant to animals raised for thousands of millennia on African savannas. The color of the grass in the bright sunlight, set off against a cloudless blue sky, was a striking sight. Many hills in the mountain country had large areas of grassland mixed with tropical jungle. We would trudge through the grass in insufferable heat, then enter into the dark forest, where the temperature would plummet. By comparison, the sensation was like coming in from the heat into an air conditioned room. Yet the temperature in the jungle was no doubt hot; but in relation to the scorching sunlit savannas, it was quite a contrast. There was no human habitation in these regions, and I had always assumed that the patches of savanna had been created in Vietnam much as they had in Africa: by the foraging of elephants, who knock down trees, leaving whole tracts of ruined forest to be overrun by grass.
We set up on a high hill that I recollect had a bald top with some relatively short grass on it. Sometime not long after dark, during the first shift, shots rang out down the line to our left. This put us on 50% alert for awhile. It was far enough down the perimeter that from our foxhole we could not hear the moaning that went on, so we were told, throughout the night in front of the position from where the shooting came. After daylight, there were more shots. We saddled up and began to move out. As we passed by the scene of all the excitement, we were told that a new black guy and gone out at first light and shot one of two men that had been hit the night before. Papers on them had shown that they were NVA FOs that were looking for a good place to spot their own artillery on us. As they were walking along, they thought they were the only human beings in the area and talked in a normal tone of voice which alerted people on our perimeter that enemy personnel were headed their way. They had no sooner walked over the final slope into full view, than our guys opened up and dropped both of them. One was killed outright, the other suffered in a state of shock all night, and was still alive by morning. The new guy had shot the injured survivor on his own initiative, and although people did not treat him with overt hostility, there was widespread resentment that he had not considered the value of this man as a prisoner. As an officer with extensive knowledge of enemy artillery and rocket units he could have told us a lot.
In an After Action Report (Pegasus-LAM 207 A) dated 24 April 1968 by Lt. Col. Christian F. Dubia (July 11, 1924 - July 1, 1990) to Headquarters, 1st Battalion 8th Cavalry, in regard to Operation Pegasus, §2b, there is an action attributed to B Co. that is almost certainly what A Co. experienced on April 8.
At 2035H B (?) Co in vicinity XD842345 (LZ Snapper) had 2 NVA with field gear and weapons activated a trip flare. They were immediately engaged with M-79's and small arms fire. Assessment revealed one (1) NVA KIA (rank 2Lt) equipped with web gear, one (1) AK-47, documents to include tactical training manuals, weapons roster, and personal history.