Many would argue that the Battle of Suoi Tre should never have happened. And, looking back, there was good evidence to support that argument. However, in war, decisions made are not always based on the best of judgment. Then, as a result, the outcome will be less than satisfactory.

On 19 March 1967, the 145th CAB distinguished itself by exceptionally valorous actions in what was to become known as the Battle of Suoi Tre! Many believe it was the most significant one-day battle to that date in the III Corps Tactical Area. The 145th CAB was in direct support of 3rd Bde, 4th Inf. Div. The mission for the 145th CAB is to conduct a combat assault into a landing zone located approximately five miles north of Suoi Da, RVN(see map below).

The initial operation plans were for the assault to take place on 18 Mar 1967, several miles further north of the actual landing zone. However, obstacles prevented the 2nd Bn, 22 Inf.(Mech) and the 2nd Bn, 34th Armor from securing the landing zone as planned.

On the evening of 18 March, the assault was rescheduled for the next day, 19 Mar, with LZ Gold changed to a new location. The armored and mechanized elements were still unable to meet this new schedule but, it was decided by the overall mission commander that the assault would be conducted into an unsecured LZ with the armored and mechanized elements to reinforce the inserted infantry at a later time.

The hazards of using unsecured LZ's were known to be many. Everyone was aware that there were relatively few clearings in the dense jungle adequate for Air mobile operations. Past experience clearly had shown that when this was the case, the Viet Cong either mined or established ambushes on or near the potential LZ's.

PZ Ap Tri Dan

The left photo shows the 10 aircraft of the 118th Thunderbirds parked behind the 10 aircraft of
the 68th Top Tigers all parked on the paved airstrip/road which was the Pick-Up Zone (PZ) at Ap Tri Dan.
The right photo looks to the rear of the line-up of aircraft and shows the fire teams of the Bandits. (67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)


The 68th AHC,"Top Tigers" and the 118th AHC, "Thunderbirds" eagerly awaited the end of 29 minute artillery preparation which would mark the beginning of the first lift. En route and landing formations would be V's of 5 aircraft with the 68th AHC the lead company. The CO of the 145th CAB would be C&C. The 68th and 118th were supported by heavy fire teams of Mustang and Bandit gun ships and the 334th Armed Helicopter Co., a sister unit.

The first two flights of 5 from the 68th AHC landed to the smoke and both lifted off with no problem. They encountered little resistance upon entering LZ Gold, but received automatic weapons fire upon departure. At the moment the aircraft of the second two flights of 5 of the 118th AHC touched down, a command detonated 155mm artillery round was exploded. Two helicopters of the 118th were completely destroyed and five others seriously damaged from the blasts. More mines were detonated and the landing zone became a holocaust of fire and flying steel.


Photo taken within minutes after the first command detonated bomb was exploded.
The bright fires visible in this photo and the dark smoke are magnesium/aluminum fires
from several aircraft. Other white smokes around LZ Gold are from the 29 minute artillery
preparations prior to the aircraft landing.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)


Personal remembrance of Bill Bradner
MAJ. Bill Bradner, 118th XO was flying and in the left seat of "Thunderbird lead" was MAJ.Joe Boggs, the CO. Bill tells the following: "On my first approach, I had to land almost against a tree line to get the whole flight in LZ Gold. Just as I touched down, the LZ was one explosion after another and the trail aircraft told us we had three ships disabled in the LZ and two more flying out of control. A gunner by the name of Bobby Cutino took one of the M-60's from a disabled ship and began to lay down some defensive fire cradling the weapon in his arms. The infantry troops were dazed and all hunkered down a few yards from the aircraft. One of the ships that was out of control was flown by CPT Bob Kelly and MAJ. Bill Benton. It had been blown into the air and staggered out of the LZ but they said on the radio the controls were almost locked. Somehow they made it to an open spot a short distance from the LZ. When I got there, Bob was out of the aircraft and on the ground . He knew he had been hit in his upper thigh. The only question he had was something like 'is it still there'. We cut his trouser leg and found that he had a wad of commo wire embedded in his leg about four inches below the groin. He was evacuated to Tay Ninh and recovered OK."
Another photo showing several aircraft burning in the LZ following the command
detonated bomb blast.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)

The VC were in well established bunkers and had numeric superiority. It was later learned that major portions of two VC regiments were engaged in the battle. Heroism became the norm rather than the exception all day long.

Realizing the necessity for reinforcing the ground units already trapped in LZ Gold, the Thunderbirds and the Top Tigers returned to the PZ at Ap Trai Dan(see map above) for additional troops. They returned to LZ Gold landing in open areas immediately adjacent to LZ Gold, thinking there would be no mines there.


More personal remembrance of Bill Bradner
 Bill Bradner continues: "We left to return to the PZ to pick-up more troops to reinforce the folks on the ground. We found that a couple more ships had been badly damaged so we were left with only three. After picking up the troops we headed back and picked out an area about 200 yards away. We elected to come to a low hover instead of sitting down to let the troops off. As we came to a hover the VC set off another mine just in front of us and blew us back toward the ship behind us. We lost the chin bubble and part of the windscreen. Both doors were blown loose and we had dirt and crud all over us. We staggered out of the LZ and returned to the PZ to pick up the rest of the troops and check the ship for damage. I was really surprised when we looked it over because the whip antenna on the tail was completely missing and we had quite a few shrapnel holes in the skin but nothing too serious. Why we didn't lose our tail rotor I'll never know. We put in two more loads of troops and went to Tay Ninh to see how Bob Kelly was doing and later flew back to the 'Birdcage' at Bien Hoa"
Two photos taken several hours after the explosions with all the grass and ground cover
burned off. Note the aircraft, burning in the photos above, are now consumed. Also, note
the large crater from the command detonated bomb. All the white pock marks are the
results of the 29 minute artillery prep prior to the first lifts. (67)
(Photos courtesy Richard Little)

Major Joe Boggs, the CO of the 118th Thunderbirds who was flying with Major Bill Bradner, XO remembers LZ Gold .

 This is my account of the Battle of Suoi Tre. I begin with some comments on Saturday, March 18,1967, the date the operation was ORIGINALLY planned to take place.
Saturday, March 18, 1967
"The 145th Combat Aviation Battalion had the mission to insert an Infantry Unit into a landing zone (LZ) in War Zone C. The operation was staged from a pickup zone (PZ) located on the edge of Ap Trai Dan. The Infantry Unit's mission, with the help of a direct support artillery unit, was to establish a Fire Base in the location of LZ Gold. The original plan called for an Armored Cavalry Unit to go out and secure the LZ. Then, once secured, the 145th Cbt Avn Bn was to airlift the Infantry Unit from the PZ to the LZ. And, I believe it was to require 6 or 7 lifts. Enroute to secure the LZ the Armored Cav Unit was ambushed and stopped. Their efforts during the day were unsuccessful in securing the LZ prior to our arrival."
"For this planned operation LTC Harold Moore, CO, 145th Cbt Avn Bn was the Air Mission Commander. MAJ Ted Covington, BN S-3 was flying with him in the Command and Control Aircraft (C & C Aircraft). There were two Assault Helicopter Companies (AHC) participating in this battalion operation. They were the 118th AHC and the 335th AHC, a company not assigned to the 145th, but on loan that day from the 173rd Airborne Brigade where they were assigned as the direct support aviation company. I don't recall who was the commander of the 335th AHC."
"Around mid-afternoon a standard combat assault operation was considered but the final decision was against it. We waited and after waiting all day, the 145th mission was canceled. It was around 6 PM and the AHCs were released. The element of surprise, because of some flight activity near the LZ on Saturday, may have telegraphed our intentions. I, personally, expected to encounter opposition in the LZ if the mission was continued the next day."

Sunday , March 19, 1967 (Palm Sunday)
"Again, the 145th Cbt Avn Bn had the mission to return and complete the mission from the previous day. However, this time it was planned as a combat assault insertion of the Infantry Unit. The operation was again staged from the PZ on the edge of Ap Trai Dan. The 118th AHC, again, was a participating unit. The 68th AHC was the other company on Sunday. The 335th AHC was not included. Again, LTC Harold Moore, CO, 145th and MAJ Ted Covington, Bn S-3 were directing the operation from the C & C Aircraft."
The following account of the operation is how I remember it. It is a sincere attempt to be as factual as possible. I do admit to some of my personal feelings creeping into my remembrance of the operation. It does stand out in my memory as the worst day the 118th encountered in combat operations during my tenure as Commanding Officer (Oct 66 to Mar 67).
"Our final briefings on the operation were conducted at the PZ. For whatever reasons, Old Warrior 6 selected the 68th AHC as the lead company in the operation. I felt the 118th should have been the lead company. My rationalization was that we had spent the whole previous day on this continuing operation, and the 68th had not. The 118th had been the lead company in the operational plan on the previous day. From the final briefing, several facts were known. Among them were that War Zone C had a limited number of LZs that could handle a battalion size combat assault and, that no preparatory artillery fires were planned on the LZ. Our formations would be ten aircraft in each company with the second company trailing the lead company by two minutes. Again, having been there the previous day, I felt we probably had lost the element of surprise because of some flight activity near the LZ on Saturday and may have telegraphed our intentions. I expected to encounter opposition in the LZ."
"The operation began around 9:00 AM. I was flying the lead aircraft of the 118th formation and the 118th was trailing the end of the 68th formation at the specified two minute interval. The 68th made its approach into the LZ, disembarked their troops; took off and reported, "LZ COLD" . It was a surprise and some relief to hear that transmission. I led my company down and into the LZ. As I landed the troops disembarked and I was just starting my takeoff when there was a horrendous explosion behind me. Radios became alive and reported that three aircraft near the middle of our formation had been damaged and were burning. Myself and the remainder of the 118th aircraft managed to fly out of the LZ. One aircraft reported control problems and had to quickly land just a short distance away from the LZ. A Bandit Gun Team put a protective cap on them until help could arrive. Five Thunderbird aircraft made it back to the LZ, still in flyable condition. A sixth aircraft got back to the PZ a little bit late despite moderate damage. However, that aircraft could not be used when the mission continued. At this point the 118th had only five operational aircraft."
"The operation was temporarily stopped to assess the situation and to decide how the operation would be continued. It was decided that the troops on the ground from the first lift would secure an area in the LZ large enough to accommodate flights of five aircraft. The insertion would continue in flights of five aircraft. The 68th had two flights of five and the 118th continued with one flight of five."
"In the second lift, the two flights of five ahead of me in the 68th went in and out with no problems. As I approached the LZ Old Warrior 6 called me (Thunder Bird 6) and directed that my flight not fully land; instead come to a hover and let the troops jump out (I think he perceived this would speed up our entry and exit from the LZ). As directed, I came to a hover (as well as I could-the elephant grass was very high and made it difficult) and the troops jumped out. Before I could start my takeoff, there was a strong explosion in front of my helicopter. It blew out the chin bubbles and part of the windshield. Everything went black, debris struck me and MAJ Bradner, my XO, who was flying with me on Sunday. It felt like the force of the explosion lifted the helicopter upwards and backwards. Old Warrior 6 called, "Thunder Bird 6, are you okay?" I responded, "I don t know, but I m coming out." I pulled pitch and surprisingly the helicopter flew out. When we landed back at the PZ I could not get the pilot's door open. Apparently the pressure of the explosion had warped the front of the aircraft enough to jam the front doors. MAJ Bradner and I had to exit through the cargo doors. We quickly inspected the aircraft and found that the FM antenna had been cut off about 3 inches above the ceramic grommet. Apparently the pressure of the explosion had lifted our aircraft into a position where the aircraft to our right rear in the formation had almost cut off our tail boom, but instead had just clipped our antenna. Other than the damage to the chin bubble and windshield and a few bullet holes in the tail boom the aircraft appeared flyable. It had flown okay from the LZ back to the PZ, so we continued to fly the aircraft until all lifts were inserted. I only recall that we received sporadic hostile fire after the first two lifts. As more troops were on the ground the ground fire seemed to lessen."
Other items of interest related to this operation.
On the crank for the very first lift, one Thunderbird pilot reported a hot start. So, I requested that the spare aircraft replace him. The 68th AHC had the requirement to provide the spare for the operation. It was THAT aircraft that took the brunt of the explosion in the first lift. I am not sure but I believe we only had one aircrew member killed in this operation and it was the pilot of the SPARE AIRCRAFT .

Those that were there may remember that one of the helicopters, on returning to the PZ following the last lift, had a fire in its fuel cell. We used all of the fire extinguishers available but could not put it out. We helplessly watched as the aircraft burned. The crew chiefs salvaged any parts they could take off of it safely. I think it was well documented that what happened to us at LZ Gold was command detonated mines. The major explosion in the 118th's formation in the first lift was a rigged unexploded 250 pound bomb. Had there been preparatory fires as some accounts have stated I believe there would have been a chance it would have disrupted the VC's command detonated scheme. I do not agree, as some accounts have stated, that the explosion was a rigged unexploded 155 artillery shell.

I was later told by a person that was on the ground in LZ Gold that during the ground assaults by the VC and NVA, artillery pieces were fired point blank into the assaulting troops. One of the rare occasions where a normally indirect fire weapon was used in a direct fire role. The body count was reported to be in excess of 800.

Joe Boggs, Thunderbird 6
Minor damage to 118th Thunderbird aircraft from the exploding
command detonated bombs in LZ Gold.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)

Personal Story of a "Grunt" in LZ Gold

2LT Jim Olafson was a Platoon Leader with the 4th Div. that day and was lifted into LZ Gold by elements of the 145th CAB. He doesn't remember which Assault Company he rode in on. But, the interesting thing about his story is that he returned to the US, went to flight school and came back to Vietnam on his second tour and was assigned to the 118th Assault Helicopter Company, "Thunderbirds"!!!


Personal remembrance of Jim Olafson

  "As we approached the LZ, both the door gunner and crew chief began firing their M-60's. At the time I thought this was just a precaution and normal procedure. In a matter of seconds it was apparent that we were taking fire and you could hear bullets passing through metal on the chopper. No one said anything and the pilots concentrated on making there approach and getting us on the ground."

"As a grunt on board a chopper taking fire, it is a very helpless feeling. When you are on the ground and taking fire, you can find a place to hide. That wasn't the case on the chopper. The feeling of being totally at the mercy of fate is very prevailing and there isn't one damn thing you can do about it."

"As each bird approached the ground, we started jumping off of them at approximately five feet or less. During the time that we were exiting the choppers, there was a large amount of incoming fire both from small arms, automatic weapons and mortars. I'm sure that there were also some RPG's being fired towards the choppers but at the time it was not something that was really important to me or my personnel. As quickly as possible we tried to make our way forward in an attempt to secure as much of the LZ as possible for the other lifts that would be coming in."

"I recall that there was one chopper that was damaged to the point that it could not get back in the air. I'm not sure whether it was during this first insertion lift or during the second lift. I remember that the crew of the chopper stayed with us on the ground until later in the day when the LZ was more secure and they could be extracted. They may have been lucky in the fact that they didn't have to make any more insertions that day. At least they all survived that day and that was the important thing."

Note: click the words BRONZE STAR to read about these 118th crew members.

"My platoon lost 13 men during that operation. There were also a large number of wounded guys who survived mainly because there were pilots who risked everything to extract them to medical facilities.


Jim Olafson also remembers Donald W. Evans, Jr .

In January 27, 1967, almost two months prior to this battle and very near the Battle of Soui Tre, one of my platoon's men that didn't make it was my platoon medic who refused my orders to get on a bird and leave. Because of his heroic efforts, many of my men survived that engagement. I had the unfortunate honor of writing the Congressional Medal of Honor for him. That award was presented to his wife exactly one year from the date it was written. His name was Donald W. Evans Jr. from Ojai, California."

Initially, suppressive fire from escort Bandit and Mustang gun ships was impossible after the first lift due to friendly elements scattered throughout the LZ areas. But with the help of the commanders on the ground, the fire teams showed the utmost in determination and remarkable tactical grasp of the situation by locating the enemy emplacements. They effectively supported the troop carrying aircraft delivering withering and accurately deadly fire on the VC. It was only much later that tactical air and artillery could be utilized. The armed helicopters were instrumental in preventing the loss of additional lives and aircraft.

Immediately following the explosions in LZ Gold, many damaged aircraft and injured crews staggered out of the LZ but, were unable to make it back to the PZ. Being mostly 118th AHC single ships going down, this required the Bandit gun ship fire teams to break-up into single gun ships to give cover and protection from above. This they did until help could arrive or the crews could be extracted.


Personal remembrance of Tom Payne
 1LT Tom Payne, Fire team leader with the Bandits remembers: "When the explosions happened it took everyone by surprise, even though we had secretly anticipated it was possible. As the damaged aircraft of the 118th staggered out of LZ Gold, there were too many to cover with fire teams so we broke down into single gun ships to follow them to the ground in open areas and clearings. We circled and watched and provided cover from above until help arrived. To my knowledge, not many of them received much gunfire from the VC as they sat damaged on the ground so we were lucky there. Our fuel ran low after a while because it was hot and the gun ships could carry only about 900 pounds, so we returned to the PZ where there were refueling bladders. I remember as we sat refueling one of our 118th AHC slicks came hovering back to the PZ with doors all ajar and warped and one counter weight on the rotor GONE. Amazing too was the fact that this crew had HOVERED the five or so miles from LZ Gold back to the PZ along the only road in the area. Quite a sight."

A 68th Top Tiger aircraft that took a hit in the fuel cell but, was able to fly
back to the PZ at Ap Tri Dan where it landed, shut-down and all the
radios, etc removed before it caught fire.(67)
(Photo courtesy Richard Little)

Courageous air crews flew a total of 8 lifts into LZ Gold and the adjacent areas after the initial holocaust. 145th CAB records show that 5 individuals were awarded the Silver Star, 19 DFC's, 14 Bronze Stars for valor and 96 Air Medals for valor.

Four enlisted crew members of the first helicopters downed in the landing zone began stripping the radios, weapons and other valuable equipment. They realized LZ Gold was in imminent danger of being engulfed in flames so they secured fire extinguishers and flack vests to beat back the flames from the disabled aircraft. They ran through the inferno looking for the wounded as the fire set off hand grenades dropped during the confusion of the initial mine explosions. These crewmen began giving medical aide to wounded infantry soldiers and loading them onto aircraft which returned on successive lifts. They voluntarily remained in LZ Gold under heavy fire throughout the morning and early afternoon. Many more examples of valor abounded throughout the day. These are but a few examples of the many acts of bravery which occurred during the Battle of Suoi Tre and LZ Gold.

If you have first hand knowledge of the Battle of Suoi Tre and LZ Gold please e-mail the Webmaster so your account can be considered for inclusion. Thanks goes to Bill Bradner, Jim Olafson and Tom Payne for their accounts of the action.

(Copied primarily from "First in Vietnam--A Pictorial History of the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion" published by the Battalion Information Office, 1966-67, Dai Nippon Printing Co., LTD, Tokyo, Japan)

For an interesting perspective on the Battle of Suoi Tre and LZ Gold visit the web site for A Company, 2nd Bn, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division which was on the ground during LZ Gold. There story is at: 2/12/ Infantry.



Lieutenant General Bernard William Rogers


Pages 136 & 137:  

Suoi Tre

The target for the helicopters was an egg-shaped clearing close to Suoi Tre, near the center of War Zone C and ninety kilometers northwest of Saigon. It was just three kilometers away from the area in which, during Operation ATTLEBORO four months earlier, the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, of the U.S. 1st Division had defeated elements of the 272d Viet Cong and 101st North Vietnamese Regiments at the battle of AP Cha Do. Events would reveal that the 272d had returned.

On 19 March, in an area surrounded by a tree line of sparse woodland which had been blighted by defoliants, U.S. helicopters air landed the 3d Battalion of the 22d Infantry and the 2d Battalion, 77th Artillery (-), led by Lieutenant Colonels John A. Bender and John W. Vessey, Jr., respectively, under the control of the 3d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (Colonel Garth). Their mission was to establish a fire support base (GOLD) in support of Phase II of JUNCTION CITY. Heavy action was not expected. However, from the outset it was apparent that things would be different at Suoi Tre.

As the three lifts of choppers touched down, five heavy command-detonated charges were set off by the Viet Cong in the tiny clearing. Three helicopters were destroyed and 6 more damaged with a toll of 15 killed and 28 wounded.2 A Viet Cong claymore-type mine was also detonated against C Company of the 3d Battalion, wounding 5 infantrymen.

After the 1st of the 26th had secured the area, the 36th South Vietnamese Ranger Battalion, among other units, occupied and helped secure it. On 21 March the 36th Rangers discovered batteries and a wire in the wood line near the fire support base; following the wire, they found four holes filled with explosives. There was a center hole, and radiating from it was wire leading to three other holes at a distance of about twenty-five meters. In each hole were the necessary detonating caps. In the center one were also the following rounds: eight 75-mm., seven 81-mm., fourteen 60-mm. and 105 pounds of TNT. The other holes had similar but smaller loads: only 35 pounds of TNT each and various numbers and types of U.S. ordnance. It was all set to be command detonated. From then on the Big Red One, when it placed artillery and air strike preparatory fires around and into any landing zone into which it was bringing troops, always used a number of instantaneous fused bombs to strike the planned landing site of its chopper lifts in order to cut any wires and yet not chew up the terrain so much that it would be difficult to land and traverse.

118th Crew members Awarded

Bronze Star Medal with "V" for Heroism

General Orders Number 2185, dtd 5 June 1967, awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device for Heroism to SP4 Howard R. Childress, SP4 Harvey W. Morton, SP4 Roger F. Thomas and PFC James E. Walenga. These men were all crew members on 118th Assault Helicopter Company aircraft in LZ GOLD!


For heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force: On 19 March 1967, a flight of ten helicopters from the 118th Assault Helicopter Company landed in an area which had been heavily mined by the Viet Cong. Moments after the helicopters had unloaded their troops the landing zone erupted in a holocaust of fire and flying shrapnel. Nine aircraft were damaged, two were completely destroyed, and three had to be abandoned in the landing zone. Serving as enlisted crew members aboard these aircraft, these men reacted immediately to the situation and began stripping radios, weapons and other valuable equipment from the downed helicopters. Seeing that the landing area was in imminent danger of being engulfed in flames, they and their fellow crew members, using fire extinguishers and flack vests, valiantly fought the blaze while fully exposed to murderous enemy fire. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, these men remained in the minefield administering first aid to wounded and stunned Infantry soldiers. Later, when an aircraft returned to fly the crews out of the area, they forfeited their seats to safety and loaded the helicopter with wounded, remaining in the minefield to render further assistance to the ground troops. Their heroic actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon themselves, their unit, and the United States Army.