On 20 April 1968, the 198th Inf Bde assumed
control of Operation WHEELER/WALLOWA
from the 196th Infantry Brigade. The 196th Inf Bde had been placed under the operational control
of the 1st Cavalry Division while it participated in fighting near the de-militarized zone. The 198th
Inf Bde (with the 1st Bn 6th Inf, 1st Bn 52d Inf, and 1st Bn 20th Inf) began conducting combat
operations in the WHEELER/WALLOWA area. Primary emphasis was placed on clearing the
Que Son Valley (BT 0334) and Antenna Valley (AT 9137) and neutralizing enemy Base Area 116.
On 22 April 1968, Companies A, B, C of the
1st Battalion 6th Infantry moved to AO Manassas
as part of the WHEELER/WALLOWA operation., while Company D remained in the BURLINGTON
TRAIL area of operations. Headquarters, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry set up an additional Tactical
Operations Center (TOC) at LZ Center (BT 053 250). The primary tactical technique used during
WHEELER/WALLOWA operations was a company sized search and sweep or search and clear
operation to achieve contact, then a battalion or larger combat assault to exploit the contact.
[Note: use this link to review combat activitiy in early May 1968 in the vicinity of LZ Center.]
On 13 May, the 198th Inf Bde headquarters moved
to the Chu Lai tactical area of operations
while the 196th Inf Bde headquarters assumed tactical control of Operations WHEELER/
WALLOWA with five maneuver battalions (2-1 Inf,1-6 Inf, 1-20 Inf, 4-31 Inf, and 1-52 Inf).
On 14 May 1968, Co. A (A/1-6), Co. D (D/1-6), and
the Recon Platoon from Co. E, 1st Bn
6th Inf, [along with Co. A (A/1-20) and Co. B (B/1-20) 1st Bn 20th Inf, under the operational
control of HQ 1-6] were given the mission of attacking an NVA force that was well entrenched
on the Nui Hoac ridge, BT 056 226 to BT 065 226, near Hill 352 at BT 075 225, 17 miles west
of Tam Ky. This was the high ground directly south of FSB Center, BT 050 250. During that
same time, Co. C and Co. E (C & E/1-6) were to provide security at FSB Center, while Co. B
(B/1-6) was to man the OP to the east of the firebase at BT 065 254. Co. C (C/1-20), 1st Bn
20th Inf was to operate in the vicinity of BT 043 273, while Co. D and Co. E (D & E/1-20)
were to provide security for FSB Ross at BT 028 341 .
Enemy activity for 14 May 1968 began at FSB
Center. At 141235 May 68, the firebase
received two rounds of recoilless rifle (RR) fire resulting in 1 US KHA, 2 US WHA (Evac) and
2 US WHA (Minor). The enemy position was engaged with artillery and air strikes.
Soldiers had attempted to assault the enemy
bunker complex near Hill 352, but with little success.
Their positions were deemed "impregnable." A company-sized force of North Vietnamese Army
regulars were positioned in well-fortified, dug-in bunkers over six feet deep with reinforced covers,
and "S" shaped tunnels as the only means of entrance or exit. The enemy was armed with small arms,
automatic weapons, heavy machine guns, rockets (RPG), and 60mm mortars. These positions were
later found to be well supplied with ammunition, food, and water. The enemy had excellent fields of
fire on any attacking force, as the gently sloping ridges around Hill 352 had few normal terrain features
to provide cover and little foliage due to air strikes in the area. The day of the attack by the combined
units from the two infantry battalions was bright, sunny, and extremely hot.
The combined forces from 1-6 Inf and 1-20 Inf
began their attack by sweeping southward up
toward the high ground. Their positions from west to east were as follows: B/1-20, A/1-20, D/1-6,
and A/1-6. At 1455 hrs A/1-6 received heavy machine gun fire from their left (east) flank, with M-79
and small arms fire from their front up on the ridge. At 1503 hrs both D/1-6 and A/1-6 received
automatic weapons fire from the top of the hill at BT 056 226. During the next fifteen minutes A/1-6
and D/1-6 had four men wounded. At 1524 hrs A/1-6 received RPG rounds from their right front
up on the ridge to their south. They engaged the enemy position with light anti-tank weapons (LAWs).
Only a few minutes later, D/1-6 received RPG or RR fire from the enemy position 200 m. away at
BT 056 226. At 1525 hrs, A/1-6 captured an enemy 60mm mortar that had been firing on them
from their left flank away to the east.
This August 1968 photo, taken by Bob Janke (C/6-11 Arty) who spent that month at LZ Center,
looks southward toward the slope of Nui Hoac ridge. The NVA were entrenched near the peak
at BT 056 227. Soldiers from A/1-6 Inf started their assault from the base of the ridge on the left
(east) portion of this photo, while B/1-20 was on the extreme right (western portion of the ridge).
By 1527 hrs the first dust-off medical evacuation
was completed for three of the seriously wounded
soldiers. More soldiers were wounded, any by 1539 hrs, D/1-6 and A/1-6 had 4 WHA (Evac), and
4 WHA (Minor). All along the ridge the enemy fire intensified. Both B/1-20 and A/1-20 on the west
flank of the attacking forces moving southward up along the ridge were receiving enemy mortar fire
from BT 050 225 that killed one and wounded twelve or more of their men.
Back on the east flank of the attacking forces
at 1552, A/1-6 received RR and RPG fire, but
gunships silenced the enemy position . On the west flank of the attack, at 1607 hrs A/1-20 received
enemy heavy machine gun .50 cal fire from BT 043 226 [the hill at the extreme right of the above photo]
and called for artillery and air strikes.
During this time A/1-6 Inf had begun their
assault on the ridge with the 1st Platoon in
the lead. SFC McCleery, who was serving at the time as the platoon sergeant and acting
platoon leader for the unit, was leading the assault. As they approached the first ridge, they
came under extremely heavy fire from the enemy bunkers and were forced to take cover. The
enemy bombarded them with mortars, rockets, machine-guns, and automatic weapons fire.
SFC McCleery realized the gravity of the situation with the pause, and that his men were in danger
of suffering heavy casualties. No stranger to the deadly hazards of combat, he had previously
received the Silver Star (8 Feb 68) the Bronze Star with "V" device (25 Apr 68), and two Purple
Hearts (25 Apr and 5 May 68). With complete disregard for his safety, he rose from his sheltered
position to begin a one-man assault on the enemy bunker line. He rushed from 60 meters away
across open ground toward the key enemy bunker. As he closed to 30 meters, he began firing
furiously from the hip. As he charged, grenades exploded close by and bullets were impacting all
around him In the words of one witness "[H]e continued on, moving right up to a bunker
and destroyed it with grenades. During this move he was wounded by an enemy rocket,
but this failed to slow him down." After he completed his heroic attack, SFC McCleery climbed
up and stood on top of the NVA bunker he had just destroyed, and in full view of the enemy,
motioned for his men to follow in the assault. He shouted to them "Come on boys"
He then continued the attack, flanking the
bunkers on the right side of the NVA bunker complex
perimeter. Approaching his second target, he was again painfully wounded by shrapnel, but he
succeed in silencing the position from which two North Vietnamese had been firing rockets and
hurling grenades. Still disregarding his numerous shrapnel wounds, SFC McCleery ran fifty meters
to a third bunker and killed its defenders with a burst of rifle fire. He repeatedly exposed himself
to intense enemy fire as he moved from bunker to bunker. According to a witness, "[A]s he
moved through the area he was under fire from several directions but did not slow down."
He then advanced on a fourth emplacement, destroying an enemy machine gun crew just as his
platoon began to penetrate the enemy perimeter.
Sergeant Alan Allen, who moved had forward
just in time to witness Sergeant McCleery's
encouraging stance on top of the key enemy bunker, began an attack on the left side of the NVA
bunker complex. The defenders, who were by now intimidated by the ferocity of the attack
they had just endured, began firing wildly. SGT Allen moved methodically, firing a shotgun into
the bunkers, dodging enemy grenades, and then throwing his own grenades into the defender's
positions. As one enemy soldier attempted to fire an RPG rocket at his attackers, SGT Allen
pushed the launcher with his foot back into the bunker and then fired his shotgun into the enemy
position at point blank range.
During his assault, SGT Allen was joined by
another soldier who calmly asked "just as if he
was standing on the parade ground at Fort Hood" the somewhat incongruous question "Hi
sarge, how's it going?" Both continued the attack. At one point, SGT Allen realized that he
had lost the pin to a grenade he was holding, but no longer needed to throw. Carefully handing it
to another soldier who was crouching in one of the former enemy positions, he said "Here, hold
this grenade, I don't have a pin." SGT Allen then continued the attack. He was awarded the
Silver Star for his actions. According to his citation, he "was personally credited with destroying
five key enemy bunkers with hand grenades, killing 11 insurgents and capturing 13 enemy
There is no question that SFC McCleery's heroic
example inspired his men. After his gallant
attack breached the perimeter of the enemy's key defensive position, he single-handedly destroyed
three additional bunkers and killed eleven entrenched North Vietnamese soldiers. Following the
examples of SFC McCleery, SGT Allen, and SFC Hall, the ridge was taken by soldiers from the
1st Bn 6th Inf and the dug-in defending North Vietnamese were either killed or completely routed.
By 1945 hrs, A/1-6 had killed 22 NVA, while D/1-6 was credited with 13 NVA killed.
Numerous weapons were captured: 7 AK-47, 2 M-16, 1 M-79, 1 RPD Lt MG, 1 RPG-2,
1 60mm mortar, and 1 RR.
The battle casualties, which could have been
far greater but for the heroic actions of
SFC McCleery, SGT Allen and SFC Hall, were as follows: A/1-6: 1 KHA [thought to be
SGT Richard Lee Gilbert], 11 WHA (Evac), 5 WHA (Minor); for D/1-6: 3 WHA (Evac),
2 WHA (Minor);
[Note: the available records indicate that SFC Sherwin E. Hall,
a platoon sergeant for A/1-6,
also participated in the lateral assault on the enemy bunker complex. His exact movements
during the attack, however, are unknown at this time. He received the Bronze Star with "V"
device for his heroism. If you have knowledge of his actions at the battle, please contact the
web master, email@example.com]
This August 1968 photo, taken by Bob Janke (C/6-11 Arty) from LZ Center, shows the expanse
of Nui Hoac Ridge across the valley from the firebase.
On 15 May 68, D/1-6 and A/1-20 were to continue
the attack eastward along the Nui Hoac
ridge with A/1-6 in reserve. B/1-20 was to remain at the scene of the fighting from the day before
at BT 056 227. At 1104 hrs, A & D/1-6 and A/1-20 started receiving mortar fire in the vicinity
of BT 065 226 [thought to be the area of the ridge shown just to the right of the top of the pole in
the above photo]. Enemy contact continued until 1800 hrs with the companies receiving automatic
weapons fire and mortars. Artillery fire, gunships, and air strikes supported. Air Force tactical
fighters drew heavy anti-aircraft fire. Five enemy weapons (5 M-16 and 1 M-79) were captured.
US casualties were 2 KHA [thought to be SGT Francis Hayes and SP4 Joseph H. Picarelli],
4 WHA (E) and 17 WHA (M).
Heavy fighting and sporadic contact with the
3rd NVA Regt. continued in the area approximately
17 miles west of Tam Ky until 26 May. The result of these contacts (including combat by the 1/1
Cav vic BT 787 300) were 365 NVA soldiers KIA, 67 individual weapons captured, and 21
crew served weapons captured.
[Additional details of the assault on the bunker complex will be added
as they become
available. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have information about the action.]
[In the battle on Nui Hoac ridge, Sergeant Finnis D. McCleery distinguished
himself in combat.
In the words of the 198th Infantry Brigade Commander, SFC McCleery's ". . . actions turned
what could have been a disastrous defeat for his unit into a complete rout of the enemy."
The Americal Division Commander characterized his actions as "conspicuous gallantry and
intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty." His heroism
was recognized on 6 Sep 68 by the interim award of the Distinguished Service Cross from the
USARV Commander, with the specific recommendation that the heroism exhibited was deserving
of the Medal of Honor. The Commander, USMACV (GEN Creighton W. Abrams) agreed, and
forwarded the recommendation through channels to the Secretary of the Army via the Chairman,
Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ultimately, the President of the United States approved the award. SFC
McCleery was presented the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on 2 Mar 71. The
narrative on his official Medal of Honor Citation gives but a hint of the combat action the soldiers
in the unit experienced that fateful day.]
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