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February 26, 2007

Buried Treasures

If you got past the first few pages of the Washington Post, past the obligatory front page story telling you the the surge is doomed to failure, you might find a story of incredible courage:

On Nov. 14, 1965, Crandall, then a major and the commander of an assault helicopter company, set off at sunrise to fly about 450 U.S. soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment -- the same regiment once led by the ill-fated George Armstrong Custer -- to a 100-yard clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. The landing zone was code-named X-Ray. Unexpectedly, the clearing was virtually in the middle of an encampment of 2,000 North Vietnamese troops, and by the time three lifts of troops had landed, the North Vietnamese attacked from the surrounding hills, forcing the Americans into a fight for survival.

On the fifth and final flight ferrying the battalion in, Crandall was in the lead of eight Hueys and landed "almost on top of enemy soldiers," who unleashed a barrage of rifle, rocket and machine-gun fire upon the helicopter, according to an official account. Two infantrymen aboard Crandall's helicopter were wounded and a radioman was killed before they could get out. Crandall's crew chief was shot in the throat.

"I looked back and he wasn't communicating. His right hand was up on his throat, with his thumb in the hole on one side and his finger on the other, plugging it himself. There was a dead guy in the middle. It was awful," Crandall recalled.

The helicopters managed to pull away, but half were so riddled with bullets that they were later grounded. The cavalry battalion commander, Lt. Col. Harold "Hal" G. Moore, ordered the landing zone closed. Crandall, however, realized that Moore's men were likely to run out of ammunition.

A nearby Special Forces camp had a supply, but, Crandall knew, "the one thing you don't do in combat is to borrow ammo." So he obtained a load of bullets from a logistics base and, together with a volunteer, Capt. Ed "Too Tall" Freeman, mounted a two-helicopter mission to deliver it through smoke, dust and heavy enemy fire to a surprised but grateful Moore. When medevac helicopters were barred from flying, Crandall and Freeman kept going, bringing out some 70 wounded that day.

"He voluntarily flew his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire on flight after flight, delivering desperately needed ammunition, water, and medical supplies into one of the most hotly contested landing zones of the war, totally ignoring the almost unbelievably extreme risk to his life," according to the official Army narrative accompanying Crandall's medal.

Flying 22 missions over 16 hours -- stopping only to refuel, replace shot-up helicopters and wash the blood out of the back -- Crandall played a vital role in averting what would have been the heaviest U.S. casualties of any battle in the war, the narrative says.

"If there had not been so many Huey flights under heavy fire into the smoking volcano of LZ X-Ray bringing us ammo and water and carrying out our wounded . . . we in that field would have gone down," the narrative quotes Moore as saying.

"If the air bridge failed, the embattled men . . . would certainly die in much the same way George Armstrong Custer's cavalrymen died at the Little Bighorn -- cut off; surrounded by numerically superior forces, over-run and butchered to the last man," Moore wrote in his book describing the battle of Ia Drang, "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young."

The extraordinary heroism of Crandall and Freeman, as well as infantry soldiers, long went unrecognized because many witnesses were wounded and dispersed and "there was no one who had time to sit down and by lamplight write recommendations for medals," said war correspondent Joseph Galloway, who flew into the Ia Drang Valley on Crandall's last flight of that day.

Funny thing, perseverance. People who refuse to give up in the face of incredible odds have been known to accomplish... what do they call them... miracles? The Post, however, prefers to believe that willpower is a form of mental illness.

Similarly, if you got far enough into this story (interestingly enough, the person who read it to us this morning didn't and we can't tell you how often we've bailed in the middle of reading a story, leaving it unfinished) you might get to what some might consider an important "detail":

Since the years preceding World War II, the military has held a portion of the radio spectrum in reserve, from 138 to 450 megahertz. That part was borrowed by remote control manufacturers with the understanding that the signal be weak enough to be overridden by the military.

The reserve frequencies became active after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when officials discovered that first responders could not communicate with one another because they were operating radios on different frequencies. The Defense Department is using the mothballed frequencies in a system that eventually will link military and civilian emergency responders.

Queen Carroll of Dale City had to buy a new garage door opener because the radio signal the old one used was overridden by signals from the Quantico Marine base. "I feel there should be some kind of compensation," she said. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
The system has been slowly put into place at military installations across the country.

All of which just goes to show you, you should never give up, even when it looks like you're stuck in a hopeless quaqmire of defeatism and negativity. After all, even in the Washington Post it's possible to find something of value if you're willing to look beneath the surface.

On the otter heiny, it's rarely a surprise what makes page one.

Posted by Cassandra at February 26, 2007 08:40 AM

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Comments

Queen Carroll of Dale City had to buy a new garage door opener because the radio signal the old one used was overridden by signals from the Quantico Marine base. "I feel there should be some kind of compensation," she said.

Ah, at loonngggg last we're being asked to sacrifice!! Wasn't that what we were told would change the public perception of the GWOT? We would all band together and relish the raw scratch of the woolen underwear aganst our skin, if only we had a burden to share!

But here we are, just as I expected, not feeling all patriotic and war-like about it after all. No, we want to be compensated for it.

So frustratingly typical.

Posted by: daveg at February 26, 2007 09:26 AM

Sorry, didn't mean to suck all the oxygen out of the comments room!

Posted by: daveg at February 26, 2007 01:07 PM

DaveG,

I don't think you did, it's just that there isn't much to say about this that is "humorous" for the VC crowd. Just read, and think, and remember....

A lot of readers are vets or wives of serving men. It's sometimes a little to painful for them to remember too well.

I'm old enough to remember a lot of this, as it happened and was fed to us over the Nightly News (Uncle Walter at CBS or Huntley/Brinkley at NBC).

Lest we forget.
Please not again.
That which we have paid a heavy price for, to forfeit in a spasm of weakness and craven spirit.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 26, 2007 03:14 PM

Vietnam vet myself.

Posted by: Bumper Guy! at February 26, 2007 10:07 PM

Queenie,

Here is your comp sweetie: Take your fickle finger and shove it where the Sun does not grace.

Posted by: ltcolusmcret at March 5, 2007 05:21 AM

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