The Battle of Dong Xoai


The Battle of Dong Xoai was a series of battles and air mobile operations carried out by the 118th Aviation Company(AML) and other elements of the 145th CAB over a period of about 10 days. This operation was very important in defining the character and traditions of the 118th. The performance of the 118th over the 10 day period thrust the 118th into the spotlight of Army Aviation history. The attributes of valor and mission accomplishment arose often out of the extended performance by the men of the 118th. Forever after Dong Xoai, the 118th, as a unit, became the example that all other helicopter units in Vietnam had to look up to. The frenzied yet purposed days of action for the pilots and crews of the 118th and their heavily challenged maintenance crews, were extremely intense and hazardous....yet they got the job done!

The 118th Thunderbird motto, "It Shall Be Done", was proven time after time. The Battle of Dong Xoai virtually insured the 118th would be emblazoned open the pages of US Army Aviation history in Vietnam. For years afterwards the battle cry within the 118th was, "Remember Dong Xoai!"


Combat operations began on 10 June 1965 and lasted until 20 June 1965. The town of Dong Xoai was situated at the most important road junction in the heart of northern "War Zone D". The Special Forces had established a hugely fortified compound that had numerous strong points at strategic locations, thereby taking the entire area under their command.

Some parts of the fortifications were still under construction when the first mortar shells awoke the defenders, within. In fact, the Navy Sea Bees were on site still doing construction at the time of the attack. The valor shown by one of their men, Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields, rose to such a high level that he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.(Follow the link to the Citation)


Likewise, 2nd LT. Charles Q. Williams, one of the Special Forces Team members, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic leadership in preventing the total annihilation of US forces at Dong Xoai.(Follow the link to the Citation)

Seabee Links and Memorial Web Sites


In honor of her father, CMA3(Construction Mechanic 3rd Class)Marvin G. Shields, who was killed at Dong Xoai and received the Congressional Medal of Honor, Marvin Shields' daughter has created a memorial web site.(Follow link to the web site)

For interesting and detailed accounts of the Battle of Dong Xoai as recorded by the Navy Seabees and from the perspective of the Seabees, go to the Official Seabee Historical Site

(What follows is a chronology to try and show what happened and when it took place. Sources used are listed at the end.(see map above)




10 June 1965


 Two UH-1B gun ships took off within minutes of being alerted and received their detailed briefings in the air. They were told the Dong Xoai SF Camp had been under extremely heavy mortar and small arms fire since midnight.

Remembrance of Ralph Orlando
 CWO Ralph Orlando a Bandit pilot, wrote in his diary : "The Viet Cong force was estimated at 1500-2000 and had hit Dong Xoai just 40 miles N. of Bien Hoa. 14 Special Forces were killed and 13 wounded. The town and compound were in a shambles. At least seven .50 cal machine gun positions were located throughout the area. The VC even had flame throwers and used human waves of troops to attack the SF compound."

 Garrett Sargent, door gunner on TDY to the 118th and a member of the "Shot Gun" Platoon from the 25th Div. remembers: "I remember we were on stand-by that night and I was on the first two Bandit gun ships that were called out at 1:00AM to go to Dong Xoai. We kept dumping our ammo and rockets 'till dawn and the the US Air Force came in. This went on day after day. I had a jacket made in Bien Hoa that said, ' I know I'm bound for heaven cause I spent my time in Hell, Shot gunner in the 118th Avn Co. Bien Hoa-Vietnam 1965' ."

Aerial view of Dong Xoai Camp(65)
(Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)


 The fire team started making firing passes once they were in position over the town. They were engaged by the VC as soon as they began firing. The two Bandits kept up a steady stream of fire to silence the guns surrounding the SF Compound where all the US and Vietnamese forces had taken refuge. The fire team leader's helicopter was hit by ground fire and the pilot was wounded. Once the Bandits were expended, they left the area returning with the wounded pilot to Bien Hoa.


 Elements of the 1st Bn, 7th ARVN Regiment were going to make the first assault with the 118th. Although the tactical situation was extremely confused at Dong Xoai with only scattered intelligence as to the enemy's strength and positions, the LZ for the first assault was an open field two miles north of Dong Xoai and next to the road leading to the Than Loi rubber plantation. Two more LZs were identified as suitable also within the vicinity of Dong Xoai.



 As the formation began its final approach from the east of Dong Xoai, fire was received, but the flight was ordered to hold suppressive fire as it was thought, at the time, that friendly troops or civilians might be in the LZ. However, they apparently were VC and as soon as the ships landed the waving people dove into their bunkers and began engaging the helicopters. After discharging the ARVN troops the flight, being low on fuel quickly departed and returned to Phouc Vinh for fuel and replacements. It was later learned that within twenty minutes after the elements of the 1st/7th ARVN Regiment exited the aircraft, they were cut down and the unit quickly ceased to be a fighting unit It was a cruel VC trap.

Remembrance of Ralph Orlando
 CWO Ralph Orlando, a Bandit pilot wrote in his diary: "The lift contained over 125 helicopters. Two LZs were used with the first on the road N. of Dong Xoai and the second at the rubber plantation. Of the 500+ troops lifted in, about 250 are unaccounted for!"

What is left of Thuan Loi Rubber Plantation and the water tower.
(Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)



 As the 14 aircraft formation approached the LZ, a herd of cattle appeared and moved up the strip to the intended landing spot, causing the lead helicopter to make the decision to land short. As lead landed a HUGE explosion took place. It was a signal. Immediately, the entire flight was engulfed in automatic weapons fire and mortar rounds. The Bandits continued to roll in and pour rockets and machine gun fire into the tree lines and buildings along the airstrip as the ARVN were cut down within steps of exiting the helicopters. One of the Thunderbird slicks had a mortar round hit just outside of the cockpit causing it to roll over and explode....killing the entire crew and 2 US and approximately 8 Vietnamese. (see Aircraft Incident Report UH-1B #63-08557 ) When the entire formation of 13 remaining aircraft were out of the LZ, only one aircraft reported no damage!!

More remembrance of Ralph Orlando
 CWO Ralph Orlando, a Bandit pilot wrote in his diary: "In LZ #2, A Company of 82nd Avn. Bn, 173rd Airborne Bde(Later redesignated 335th Aviation Company(AML), had one slick shot down on approach(by .51 cal). Their pilots were CW2 Raymond C. Galbraith and WO1 Zoltan A. Kovacs and CE and Gunner were PFC's William R. Batchelder and Walter R. Gray. As slicks landed, land mines exploded and the area was under mortar fire. As they pulled pitch for takeoff, a Thunderbird slick with CPT Walter, L. Hall, WO1 Donald R. Saegaert, SSG Joseph J. Compa, SGT Craig L. Hagen and two paxs on board lost RPM and crashed into trucks and buildings. The ship burned to nothing. The troops dropped off here were also wiped out."(See link to incident report in blue, above)


CPT Jim Thompson, Platoon Commander of the Bandits inspecting wreckage of the "Thunderbird" aircraft
were four crewmen and two passangers gave their lives at Dong Xoai.
Note mortar crater in foreground.
(Photo courtesy Ralph Orlando)
Two photos showing the crash site of 118th Thunderbird UH-B at Dong Xoai(65)
(Photo courtesy Jack Grasmeder)
Two photos above of Blue Bird 1 crash site.(65)
(Photos courtesy Joe D. Newsome)
Aerial view of the crash site(upper left)in the compound.(65)
(Photo courtesy Jack Waters)


 MAJ. Harvey Stewart, CO of the 118th, ordered remaining aircraft, some with troops aboard, to hold at Phuoc Vinh. A Bandit fire team had remained over the battle area to act as radio communications relay and fire support for the troops, as long as ammo and fuel allowed. Communications had apparently been lost with the SF Camp and their status was unknown. The 118th Flight Surgeon, Dr. Joseph Altomonte, apparently flying as a gunner, had set up a medical aid station at Phuoc Vinh to treat the ARVN wounded. He made radio calls for C-130s for medical evacuation of over 100 ARVN wounded soldiers.


 The message was from one of the Americans in the Dong Xoai SF compound. The message was tragic and heroic and said, "I am using my last battery for the radio and there is no more ammunition; we are all wounded, some of the more serious are holding grenades with the safety pins already pulled. The VC are attacking in human waves. The last wave has been defeated but we are expecting the next wave now."


 MAJ. Harvey Stewart, hearing the desperate SF message, stood and said, "I am going in!" With that he went to the parked helicopters with five other pilots and crew members and they climbed into the seats. In the end, it was decided that three aircraft would depart from Phouc Vinh for Dong Xoai to rescue the brave soldiers who were holding out to the last grenade.


(Newspaper courtesy Joe D. Newsome)



 Arriving over Dong Xoai, a call went out over the radio that the SF Compound and surrounding area was considered a "free strike" area. The Bandits contacted US Air Force fighter bombers in the region and received their support. While the US Air Force pounded key areas the Bandits attacked 1/4 mile south of Dong Xoai at a water crossing. The VC had concealed two French armored cars captured earlier. The Bandits had discovered them during a low level recon. Rockets destroyed them and rendered them useless.


 Moving in from the south, the three slicks flew fast and low as their door gunners fired at any trace of VC activity. The Bandits poured suppressive fire beside the flight paths of the slicks. With complete surprise, they landed inside the soccer field outside the SF compound as VC stood on buildings and on the compound walls firing at the aircraft not more than fifty feet away. One of the door gunners leaped from one of the aircraft exposing himself to enemy fire. Then firing his M-14, he ran into the SF compound entrance and led the last defenders(9 wounded Americans and 8 Vietnamese)back to the waiting helicopters. He was awarded the DFC for his act of valor. Within seconds after the three aircraft departed the soccer field, the area where they had landed exploded in mortar fire and was raked with large caliber machine guns from all quadrants. The fact that the helicopter crews were able to successfully complete their mission can be attributed to the element of surprise and the daring courage of the 118th pilots. They had exemplified their motto: "It Shall Be Done"! The three crews were decorated with one Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, one Distinguished Flying Cross and five Air Medals for heroism..

Dong Xoai Church used by VC as a Command Post.(65)
(Photo courtesy Joe D. Newsome)


 In the afternoon, the 52nd ARVN Ranger Battalion arrived in Phuoc Vinh. Plans were made by Senior Advisors to air assault them into Dong Xoai to recapture the road junction and the SF compound. Other 145th Combat Aviation Battalion companies had arrived and were prepared to assist the battle damaged , yet flyable 118th. Being given the honor to lead the assault, the 118th followed the previous route of flight and slipped into the soccer field receiving only scattered small arms fire as they landed. The VC were surprised and apparently did not expect another daring assault that day. The constant air strikes and gunship pounding throughout the day allowed the insertion of the 52nd ARVN Rangers successfully, but with some losses. The VC hastily prepared a defense around the church in town, but was slowly defeated. Finally the town and SF compound were retaken and reoccupied. Dong Xoai was under the control of the allied forces once again when darkness fell at the end of 10 June 1965.



11 June 1965


 A battalion sized combat assault with the 118th as the lead element carrying 100 paratroopers of the ARVN 7th Airborne Battalion was safely made into the soccer field at Dong Xoai. Although fire was expected by the units,, the Bandits and other armed teams flew low to draw fire from the enemy prior to the arrival of the slicks. The assault was successfully completed by elements of the 145th CAB.


 Following the insertion of the ARVN 7th Airborne Bn, the 118th immediately began to perform large scale medical evacuation of ARVN casualties. Hostilities were slowly coming to a halt except for isolated and rear guard actions as the VC disappeared into the surrounding jungle. The wounded were brought to the soccer field and then evacuated back to Phuoc Vinh were the 118th's own flight surgeon had set up a medical aide station. The Doctor, Joseph Altomonte, had been working for over forty hours with little rest, yet the seriously wounded were treated by medical personnel who were overwhelmed with work. At one time there were over 200 wounded awaiting treatment at Phuoc Vinh. Many lives were saved. The day ends with no major battles being fought.

Eyewitness Rememberance of Ralph Orlando

 CWO Ralph Orlando, a Bandit pilot wrote in his Diary: "Today was the worst day in Vietnam, to date! The mission we had was a volunteer deal to get the bodies of the men killed two days prior. Major Stewart and I were in a slick. The Major was in the right seat. Quatsie was the crew chief and LT Scott the gunner."(LT Scott was the Commander of the Door Gunner Platoon which was made up of volunteers from the 25th Division in Hawaii who came to Vietnam for 3 months TDY's to serve as Door Gunners).

"I think we put more stress and strain on that chopper today than Bell test pilots do. We left Bien Hoa at 1300 and picked up Dragon 36(from 197th Aviation Company, Bien Hoa)and his heavy fire team(gun ships) at Phouc Vinh. We contoured(low level)the terrain along with the fire team up to Dong Xoai. Upon landing near the destroyed compound, we were told that Red Hat 7(apparently the American Advisor) was at LZ #1 with 20 ARVN bodies and would not move until the bodies were taken away first So here we are, one slick hauling 20 bodies in shifts."

"After the bodies were removed to Dong Xoai, the troops moved to LZ #2. When they were a mile away the VC opened fire on them. They were hit hard and began to retreat. We advised the American with them to get to a safe landing spot so they could be picked up. While all this was going on, the Air Force was bombing the plantation at the landing strip. An Air Force F-100 was hit and the pilot bailed out into the rubber trees, 2 Km NW of the plantation. We went to assist him and another slick went to pick up Red Hat 7. The F-100 pilot sent up a flare to mark his position, but the nearest place to him to land was 200 meters away. "

"We made about 3 orbits and landed without escort or security of any kind. Major Stewart grabbed his AR-15 and got out and the Gunner, LT Scott followed. Before leaving, the Major told me to wait a few minutes and if they did not return by then to leave them since we were almost out of fuel."

"I waited with Quatsie(Crew Chief) for five of the longest minutes of my life but then they appeared from the trees running frantically and panting. The Major was running with a limp, he looked hit. They dove into the chopper shouting, "Go-Go-Go". I took off pulling every bit of pitch that the Bird could in almost a vertical takeoff. They shouted that the pilot was dead and that they saw the VC kill him. Dozens of VC that chased them from the woods appeared as we lifted off. "

"I found out later, we took two hits. One in the tail boom and one in the oil cooler blades. The fuel was looking bad, but we made it to Phouc Vinh. The Major did not get medical attention, he said he would be alright."

"At this time, we heard of a lift that was on its way to Phouc Vinh. So, we refueled and got airborne. We tagged along with me now in the right seat. The weather was looking muchworse every minute with rainstorms and clouds. The slicks dropped off their troops and now the weather was really bad. Flights were getting separated, fuel was low and it was a mess. We finally got back after going IFR a few times."


(Photos above courtesy Joe D. Newsome)


12 June 1965


 Again staging from Phouc Vinh, the 118th air lifted elements of the ARVN 1st Bn, 48th Regiment to Dong Xoai. Their mission was to reinforce the garrison already located at Dong Xoai. Troop strength on the ground was now approaching 1000. Except for isolated snipers and VC trapped in the town itself, the main body of the VC had vanished. Only small unit engagements to place this day. The Bandits and their fire teams provided continuous fire support to the ground forces and their advisors. No casualties were experienced by the helicopter crews. Extensive recon and searching for elements of the ARVN 1st/7th, committed to the battle on 10 June, confirmed that there were no signs of the unit!



13 June 1965


After being in continuous operations for over 72 hours, the 118th still provided the majority of the aircraft for the assault on this day. Despite casualties and damage to its aircraft, the 118th was fully operational with volunteer gunners consisting of clerks, cooks and anyone who wanted to go.

The 118th went to Xuan Loc and picked up elements of the ARVN 43rd Regiment. 100 soldiers were lifted into a LZ 1/2 mile N. of the original assault area. Scattered small arms fire was received from within the vast Than Loi plantation, but no helicopters sustained damage nor were there any casualties. This lift was conducted AT NIGHT under minimum lighting. After the Bandit fire teams searched for the 7th Regiment soldiers and found nothing, the 118th accomplished the night assault in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. Throughout War Zone D there were thunderstorms and heavy rain reduced visibility. Winds gusted up to 40 knots making flying extremely difficult. The reinforcements were finally inserted and the 118th aircraft finally recovered to Bien Hoa as single ships by 23:30 hours. Many of the aircraft had but minutes of fuel remaining.

Eyewitness Rememberance of Ralph Orlando
 CWO Ralph Orlando, a Bandit pilot wrote in his diary: " An A Company, 82nd Aviation Bn ship with CW2 Billy G. Hammer and WO1 Michael L. Wildes along with SP5 Donald L. Baker and SSG Kenneth L. Reed were not so lucky. They went IFR and crashed near Bear Cat. All aboard were killed. Also, an A/501st (Rattler) ship with Jim Dixon and Bill Gault went IFR and crashed. They were lucky with Jim only getting a broken leg."



Final Day


20 June, 1965


The Battle of Dong Xoai had its final chapter on 20 June, 1965. On that date the largest heliborne operation ever in the III Corps area climaxed the closing of the battle. The 118th was again chosen to lead the assault of 77 troop carriers and 40 armed escorts. Staging from Hon Quan, the mission was to conduct assaults to the area N. of Dong Xoai were recon and intelligence had indicated a concentration of VC forces in a rubber plantation. 1,089 paratroopers, the entire 3rd and 8th ARVN Airborne Battalions were landed by elements of the 145th CAB. There were no incidents of enemy resistance experienced except minor damage sustained by a single aircraft from one enemy small arms round.


Presidential Unit Citation
10Jun to 13Jun, 1965 (DAGO 43, dtd 1966)

The 118th Aviation Company(AML) as well as other elements of the 145th CAB were recommended for and received a Presidential Unit Citation and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with two palms. The citation indicates that 2,700 sorties were flown and 3,500 troops were airlifted in the Battle of Dong Xoai, from 10 through 13 June, 1965.


"MAJ. Harvey Stewart, Commanding Officer of the 118th was given the singular honor of being the first Army Aviator chosen to receive the Wright Brothers Memorial Award as the 1965 Military Aviator of the Year"(page 83, Army Aviation in Vietnam, 1963-1966 ,by Ralph B. Young)




from 145th CAB Report

About midnight the VC 762d and 763d Regiments began a coordinated attack on the town and Special Forces camp at Dong Xoai with one regimental sized force while another force positioned itself to ambush all likely routes and LZs for ARVN reinforcements. At 0100H the standby fire team from the 118th AVN went to support. At 0230H the CIDG force crumbled and the Americans withdrew to the district HQ with heavy losses. At 0600H the 118th went to Phuoc Vinh to pick up 1st Bn, 7th ARVN elements to insert into Dong Xoai. The VC around the LZ appeared as friendly civilians so the lift held their fire during the initial insert. While the helicopters escaped with relatively little damage, the ARVNs were defeated within twenty minutes. The air strip at the Thanh Loi Plantation was selected for the second insertion. A herd of cattle on the strip forced the 14 ship CA to land short of their original spot and this proved to be a great blessing when a huge mine exploded in that spot. The LZ came under heavy mortar and AW fire. One Huey was destroyed and the entire crew died. A daring rescue by three ships lead by the 118th CO got what was left of the Americans in the SF camp out in the early afternoon. Only a Cambodian CIDG force remained in the fight while air strikes pounded the entire area throughout the day and late in the afternoon the 118th inserted the 52d ARVN Rangers into the soccer field. Initially things were rough for this force but by night fall, they had retaken the SF camp, the ARVN compound, and most of the town. For the next several days, the 118th brought more troops in and lifted hundreds that required medical attention. On the 13th, SF A-311 Det arrived and began rebuilding the camp. SF 2LT Charles Q. Williams received the Medal of Honor for his actions in this battle. Losses on the SF side were 5 US, 3 LLDB, and 40 CIDG KIA; 16 US, 4 LLDB, and 54 CIDG WIA; 124 CIDG MIA while the VC lost 134 confirmed although hundreds more were probably carried away

Note: All details for this page were taken from the 145th CAB after action report, available from the VHPA web page; "First in Vietnam--A Pictorial History of the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion" published by the Battalion Information Office, Edited by CPT John W. Gordy, Jr.,1966-67, Dai Nippon Printing Co., LTD, Tokyo, Japan, and other sources and e-mails as indicated. Any additions or changes are welcome and should be directed to the Webmaster.

Stars and Stipes Article about Dong Xoai Battle

Copy of Stars and Stripes Article courtesy Fred Holder
who was a Crew Chief on 2nd Platoon aircraft.

U.S. Newspapers from Vietnam

(All are courtesy of Joe D. Newsome)



Left is Joe D. Newsome outside newly constructed mine field at Dong Xoai following the battle.
Right is CPT Val York, Bandit Platoon Leader inspecting a newly constructed bunker.(65)
(Photos courtesy Joe D. Newsome)

Battle of Dong Xoai Remembered

While at the 145th CAB reunion at Ft. Rucker, AL in June 2007, a group of men, who survived the Battle of Dong Xoai on the ground, gave a "Thank You" tribute. It was because of the helicopter crews of the 118th AHC and 197th AHC that they were all rescued and saved that fateful 10 June, 1965, 42 years before. Below is tthat presentation as given by those men to the attendees at the 145th CAB reunion.
  A-342 Remembers
June 2007
Reunions should be just that - opportunities to renew old friendships, catch up on news of families, remember those with whom we served, tell a few stories and catch a beer or two-or more. Military reunions tend to be in a class by themselves because of shared adventure during stressful times and the death of comrades in combat and while performing other duties. Military reunions also have a forward looking component-the hope for good health and prosperity for unit members, past, present, and future and the sincere hope that our soldiers prevail in whatever missions they are asked to undertake and return safely to their families.
For the surviving members of Detachment A-342, 5th Special Forces Group, and some of you here for this event, your reunion allowed us to renew relationships that began forty-two years ago this month at Dong Xoai, Vietnam; relationships that have grown stronger in recent years as we have found more time to communicate and have great new tools with which to do so.
For those of us on the ground during the Battle of Dong Xoai on 9-10 June 1965, this reunion has provided a wonderful opportunity to thank the "sky soldiers" who fought that fight and supported us so magnificently-gun ships and "slicks" that provided aerial fire support, evacuated the Special Forces and Seabee defenders, and brought to the Battle the reinforcements that stabilized the area. The 145th Combat Aviation Battalion pulled our "fat out of the fire," and we are ever mindful of that fact.
Detachment A-342 had been at Dong Xoai for only a few days when the attack occurred, as was typical on a dreary night of rain and fog. The attack that began shortly before midnight on 9 June 1965 was anticipated, in a sense. Some of you will recall that Song Be, a few miles to the north, had been hit earlier in the month and that a strong Viet Cong presence was believed to have remained in the area between War Zones C and D. Several days before the attack, supporting Seabees arrived without important construction equipment and Civilian Irregular Defense Corps (CIDG) troops were air landed on short notice with families, pigs and chickens.
Every combat veteran can speak with experience about conflict intensity, a very personal concept. The Viet Cong in the Dong Xoai attack were judged to be in excess of two regiments. We all had a good look at Charlie's arsenal-antiaircraft weapons, 75 mm pack howitzers, recoilless rifles, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, machine guns galore, flamethrowers, satchel charges and lots of AK-47s. All involved in a Ft. Benning-like Mad Minute that stretched into 24 hours.
Casualties were significant during the 9-10 June timeframe-Special Forces, Seabees, aircrew, U.S. Advisors, Vietnamese forces, civilians, and thankfully "beaucoup VC," as we said back then. The situation on the ground was such that no medivac or resupply missions were flown and initial Vietnamese efforts to reinforce the area by air were met by overwhelming enemy resistance. In an act of heroic proportions, three helicopters from the 118th Assault Helicopter Company and one from the 197th Armed Helicopter Company descended from nowhere about 1400 hours on 10 June and plucked the remaining defenders from two artillery positions in the Dong Xoai District Headquarters.
Over the past several years we had the pleasure of corresponding with Pete Booth and Bill Fraker, and reviewing notes on the battle-what aircrew were doing and what we were doing on the ground as our activities became intertwined. We are grateful to Pete, Bill and all of you for allowing us to participate in your reunion and meet others who were involve in the fighting at Dong Xoai and Thuan Loc-pilots, door gunners and ground crewmen. We greatly admire the skill and courage demonstrated by elements of the 118th and 197th. Those of you who have been saved by others will understand the meaning of our thanks.
Signed: Harold Crowe---Dallas Johnson---Dan McLaughlin---Bill Stokes---Jim Taylor