The Virtual Wall, memorializing Vietnam casualties since 1997
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The Battle of Plei Doc
1st Battalion, 8th Infantry
18-20 May 1967

The Plei Trap Valley and the surrounding areas of the western Central Highlands formed one avenue for North Vietnamese Army infiltration into South Vietnam. The 4th Infantry Division had responsibility for the area, and the battle at Polei Duc was only the first of many engagements.

On 22 March 1967 Companies A and B, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, were engaged by a battalion or more of North Vietnamese regulars near Polei Duc in the Plei Trap Valley adjacent to the SVN-Cambodian border. "A" Company endured the heaviest fighting that day, losing 20 men; "B" Company lost 6 men. Two months later and just a few miles distant, it was B Company's turn to take the brunt of the action.

1st Bn, 8th Infantry, had established a Fire Support Base at Duc Co on 13 May 1967 with orders to conduct search and destroy missions within a defined radius of the FSB. On 18 May Companies A and B set out to the west of the FSB, with Company C and two artillery batteries remaining at the FSB. The concept of operation required that "A" and "B" stay close enough together to allow for mutual support in the evnt of trouble, but a combination of terrain and vegetation prevented full implementation of that concept. Toward noon B Company encountered scattered enemy troops and established a company perimeter on the high ground formed by a ridgeline. The Company Commander detached 4th Platoon to patrol along a trail heading northwest and 1st Platoon to do likewise along a trail headed southwest from the position. Both platoon leaders were instructed to move no further than 200 meters from the company perimeter.

1st Platoon returned from its patrol without enemy contact. 4th Platoon was less fortunate and was engaged by heavy AW fire. When the 4th Platoon leader attempted to pull back toward the company perimeter it became apparent that a large enemy force had been inserted between the company perimeter and 4th Platoon. Simply stated, 4th Platoon had been isolated and was under attack from its rear and both flanks. The Company Commander's effort to move forward to link with 4th Platoon failed in a hail on enemy fire, and his attempts to out-flank the enemy found no flanks to circumvent. The 120 or so US soldiers had been engaged by a North Vietnamese Army regiment (either the 32nd or 320th Regiment) with some 1300 men.

At this point the broken terrain and heavy vegetation entered the equation. "A" Company was only a half mile or so distant and was promptly directed to join on "B" Company - but was able to make only slow progress across ground broken by ravines, covered with jungle growth, and increasingly well defended. "B" Company's continued efforts to link with the cut-off 4th Platoon were fruitless for similar reasons - the enemy troops held excellent defensive positions along the ravines which cut through the battlefield. Meanwhile, the 4th Platoon leader, Platoon Sergeant Bruce A. Grandstaff, took the only possible actions - he moved his men westward, away from the company perimeter, and called in artillery within 50 meters of his own men. At this point, elements of a second NVA battalion entered the fray, attacking 4th Platoon from the west. By 1:30 PM 4th Platoon was under heavy attack from all directions, and just before 3:00 PM PSgt Grandstaff advised his position was being overrun and called in artillery fire on his position. That call was the last contact made with 4th Platoon.

At 4:30 PM C/1/8 advised that enemy fire had slackened to its front. At about the same time the first reinforcements were brought into a newly-cut landing zone, and shortly thereafter elements of "A" Company arrived via helicopter (they had given up on fighting their way in and had cut a pick-up zone). By 7 PM "A" Company had joined and at 7:20 it set off toward the west to find the missing 4th Platoon. That effort failed and at 10:30 PM "A" Company was directed to form a night defensive perimeter.

At dawn on the 19th A Company began the search again, locating the 4th Platoon's final position at shortly after 8 AM - and discovered they had missed it by about 200 yards the preceding night. A Company recovered the 4th Platoon's survivors - one uninjured and 7 wounded - and collected the dead. In addition to 31 wounded, B Company had 30 dead and one MIA:

19 May was spent policing up the battlefield and conducting searches in the surrounding areas. Although sporadic contact was made with enemy forces, there was no heavy fighting. One soldier, SP4 Joseph A. Mancuso, North Bellmore, NY, of B/1/8 was killed on the 19th. The 20th was more of the same; A, B, and C companies 1/8 Infantry moved to the west, attempting to regain contact with the NVA but without significant engagement.

At 4 PM on the 20th the three companies established a joint night defensive position, with B Company facing south, A Company facing west and north, and C Company facing north and east. At 8:30 PM the NDP came under mortar attack, followed shortly thereafter by ground attack, primarily from the south but including both the NDP's east and west flanks. Although the attackers managed to get to within 5 or 10 yards of the defensive perimeter, the perimeter proper was not breached and the attacks ceased by 10 PM. Bravo 1/8's line was subjected to a grenade attack shortly after midnight. Heavy air and artillery support was used throughout these attacks and the remainder of the night.

Although the after-action report indicates the 20 May attack cost 1/8 16 dead and 65 wounded, the casualty database identifies only 15 men killed in the action:

This minor mystery has been clarified. PFC William W. Lumsden of Compton, MD, assigned to Combat Tracker Team #3 and attached to 1/8 Infantry, was killed in the attacks on the night of 20/21 May; since his casualty date is 21 May he probably was killed in the grenade assault against Bravo 1/8 which took place shortly after midnight.

1/8 Infantry lost two other men at Plei Doc -

According to the after-action report, the US casualty list - 48 dead, 96 wounded - was less than the cost to the North Vietnamese. Although the NVA were very meticulous about recovering their dead from the battlefield and had opportunities to do so on the 18th and the 20th, 157 NVA dead and several wounded were left on the Plei Doc battlefield.

22 in Lewis Unit Found Dead
(Saigon AP)

Searchers for a platoon of American infantrymen who called in United States artillery fire on their own position in close-quarter fighting found 22 of the men dead and eight wounded today.

The rescued men said they survived by fooling the Communist troops by playing dead.

The platoon, from the Fort Lewis trained 4th Infantry Division, was cut off from other units yesterday in heavy fighting in the Central Highlands near the Cambodian border.

Other units were unable to fight through to the 30 man platoon until early today.

A heavy toll was wrought on the enemy by jet planes, artillery and helicopters. Of the estimated 500 men in the force that attacked the platoon, 97 were found dead. The spokesman said the count would rise.

Planes and artillery pounded what was thought to be the escape route of the Communist force.

The platoon was cut off when it attempted to capture a Communist soldier about 36 miles southwest of Pleiku. As the Americans chased the soldier, North Vietnamese regulars struck.

The last radioed words from the platoon, from a sergeant later killed (Sgt. Grandstaff), were "I've got only four people left. Bring the artillery in on top of me."

Watching the North Vietnamese approach, one survivor, Pfc. Clifford A. Roundtree, 20, Anderson CA, whispered to another, Melvin W. Schultz, 22, Culver City CA; "Pray, Pray. Only a miracle can save us now."

"Then I went limp all over," Roundtree said. "They thought I was dead. Someone sat on my shoulders and went through my pockets. I could see his boots out of the corner of my eye as I lay with my face in the mud."

Also playing dead, Schultz, a medic, was rolled over on his back, then kicked in the stomach. He said someone jumped on him and sat on his head and that his pockets were emptied.

Specialist 4th Class Kenneth N. Barker, 20, Brownstown IL, faked death by lying face down with his arms stretched in front of him. He said the North Vietnamese folded his arms across his back, tied his wrists, then kicked and rolled him across the ground. His watch was taken and his pockets picked.

The five others rescued were seriously wounded.

Seattle Times, Seattle WA, 19 May 1967

Courtesy of
Darilee Bednar

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Last updated on 25 Nov 2005