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Vietnam War – The Battle of Ia Drang, LZ X-Ray

American involvement in Vietnam can stretch back as far as the end of World War II, depending on how you define “involvement,” but one thing is for sure; when the U.S. committed its combat troops to defend South Vietnam, things got hot almost immediately. The most stunning example of the ferocity of Vietnam battlegrounds is the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, the first time the U.S. Army fought a major battle against the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), North Vietnam’s regular forces. 

There are actually several notable firsts that occurred in the Battle of Ia Drang. It was the first time the U.S. employed a large-scale helicopter air assault and the first time B-52 Stratofortress bombers were used as tactical support. Both of these historic firsts would have a huge effect on the battle. 

The Beginning of Airmobile Assault on November 14

PAVN and Viet Cong guerilla forces controlled much of the South Vietnamese countryside by the end of 1964. Their main military forces were based in the central highlands, mountainous, almost impassable jungle areas that made attacks from motorized vehicles ineffective. The U.S. decided to use the new tactic of air mobility assaults to hit the communists based there.

The plan was to helo in a battalion-sized force and use helicopters to resupply and extract them. Heavy weapon support would come in the form of artillery, rocket fire, and close-air support aircraft. Lt. Col. Hal Moore, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, was ordered to launch an airmobile assault on November 14 and then to conduct search and destroy operations the following day. 

What American planners didn’t know was that the area was flooded with PAVN forces who were planning an attack on the U.S. Special Forces and South Vietnamese (ARVN) base at Plei Me, some 45 kilometers away. They also had heavy weapons and anti-aircraft guns that U.S. leadership didn’t think were present. 

When the 1,000 Americans and 900 ARVN troops landed in the central highlands, there were 2,500 PAVN and Viet Cong troops waiting for them – they were already surrounded and outnumbered.

Fighting was centered on two helicopter landing zones. The first was Col. Moore’s LZ X-Ray. LZ Albany was situated further north in the Ia Drang Valley. Before Moore’s force landed, the area was bombarded with air strikes and rockets, which signaled the PAVN that something was amiss. They abandoned the attack on Plei Me and moved to LZ X-Ray

The first lift of American troops landed just after 11:18 in the morning. By 12:15, the first shots of the Battle of Ia Drang were fired – they landed just 200 meters from a regiment of communist infantry. The Americans didn’t retreat; they advanced. 2nd Platoon, under the command of Lt. Henry Herrick, moved so fast and far it was cut off from the rest of the 7th Cavalry, while the rest of 1/7 regrouped to form a defensive perimeter as the airlifts of men and supplies kept coming in. 

The North Vietnamese were relentless in their attacks on the Americans, charging position after position, seemingly unconcerned with dying in their repeated assaults. The fire was so heavy the Americans were unable to dig foxholes, as rising up from the ground was suicide. Helicopters landed among that same intense, close-in enemy fire. Keeping close, it turned out, was an intentional tactic for the Vietnamese. 

360-Degree Perimeter around the LZ

Regular PAVN and Viet Cong forces didn’t enjoy the same kind of powerful close-air support the Americans did, and it was a huge problem in pitched battles. The PAVN learned early on that keeping the fighting close to American troops would negate the U.S. advantage in air strikes, artillery, and rockets. 

Troops landing in the LZ took immediate, heavy fire and quickly became casualties. The soldiers began to call ineffective artillery fire around the LZ to prevent an all-out charging PAVN assault. By 1520, the Battalion had fully landed and created a 360-degree perimeter around the LZ. By the end of day one, the perimeter had been established, and the 2/7 cavalry reinforced the 1/7. 

That didn’t end the assaults. PAVN forces launched three major charges against the perimeter throughout the night but were beaten back with grenades, rifles, and the help of some accurate artillery support. In the morning, Moore ordered reconnaissance patrols in the pre-dawn hours, but the Americans didn’t have to wait long. The PAVN then launched a two-pronged attack against the perimeter. 

The Americans took heavier casualties than usual but held their ground. Then the communists launched another attack that led Col. Moore to report a “broken arrow” back to headquarters – he believed he was about to be overrun. It brought all available aircraft to the unit’s defense. Moore’s men marked the area with smoke for the aircraft and then called in dangerously close artillery support. 

As the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry began to land at nearby LZ Victor and move toward Moore’s beleaguered troops; a friendly fire napalm attack lit up the American and North Vietnamese. Fighting on the second day began before dawn, but after the intense morning fight, the PAVN began to withdraw by 1000. 

B-52 Bombers Began Bombing the Withdrawing PAVN Forces

Although still harassed by sporadic enemy fire and NVA snipers, the 1/7 Cavalry went and found Herrick’s lost Platoon. Although Herrick was killed in the fighting and they had been cut off from the main force, the unit’s own defensive perimeter held throughout the night. Moore’s unit had been weakened but not destroyed, and he refused to relinquish command of his men to fresh incoming units. 

Later in the afternoon of November 15, B-52 bombers began carpet bombing the withdrawing PAVN forces to the west of LZ X-Ray. Moore was again ordered to leave the battlefield, this time by the overall commander of American forces in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, to brief him on the battle. Again, Moore refused to leave his men. As night fell on the second day, the PAVN had regrouped and began to probe the American lines. 

Aftermath of the Battle of Ia Drang

Four early morning attacks by hundreds of communist troops erupted across the American line. Before the sun came up, artillery observers, machine gunners, and riflemen repelled vicious assaults from the PAVN forces with few casualties. The tide had finally begun to turn. By the time the sun came up, the North Vietnamese no longer had the manpower to keep fighting at X-Ray.  

Both sides claimed victory at LZ X-Ray. The Americans lost a total of 79 killed and 121 wounded, while the communists lost an estimated 1,215. U.S. leaders believed they could win the war by high body counts and estimated they had a 10 to 1 kill ratio at Ia Drang. The North Vietnamese learned they could get in close to the enemy to negate the advantage of American firepower. Even Col. Moore would later say that fighting the Americans to a draw was a victory for the North Vietnamese.


Tags: 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Air Force, American involvement in Vietnam, B-52 bombers, B-52 Stratofortress bombers, Cavalry Divisio, Central Highlands, Chu Pong Massif, claimed victory at LZ X-Ray, Col. Moore, Col. Moore's LZ X-Ray, created a 360-degree perimeter around the LZ, Joseph L. Galloway, Lt. Col. Hal Moore, Lt. Col. Robert McDade, North Vietnamese, People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), U.S. Forces, U.S. Special Forces, U.S. troops, Viet Cong forces, Vietnamese Army, World War II


  1. George L Flick

    The story of Ia Drang usually excludes the initial contact. Bravo Troop of the 1/9th Air Cavalry unit located what was thought to be a company sized unit. Their rifle platoon was inserted and quickly came under intense fire. They were surrounded by nightfall and would be wiped out if not extracted. The Squadron Commander, Col. John Stockton, requested permission to extract the platoon at night. Gen. Knowles, the ADC denied permission as a night extraction had never been done. Col. Stockton disobeyed the order and successfully extracted the rifle platoon at night. He was relieved of command for disobeying an order. He was later exonerated by a board of officers.

  2. Russell L Ross

    I recently found 364 pages of letters our father  wrote to his wife, Julie, during his service inthe Korean War. Interesting reading.For any veterans who have chafed with desk duty, you will see the humor in Dad’s reassurance to Mom++that he was in no danger as the Assistant G-3 for the 7th Division.++ How much Hal G. Moore suffered during the Korean War.page 80  from  A Soldier Once and Always by MIKE GUARDIAHal G. Moore as the Division Assistant G-3. “everything here is paper work.”Hal G. Moore “Life at Division was LUSH by war time standards.The Staff Officers Mess had a full service bar where one could buy martinis, Manhattans, and other finespirits, every night after dinner, the officers could see the latest Hollywood films at the DIVISION moviehouse.Hal G. Moore, Commanding Officer, of the heavy mortar company (for only 12 days ) 8 July 1952,23 July 1952.He knew nothing about mortars!page 67  from A Soldier Once and Always by MIKE GUARDIAThe company CP [ command post ] where I hang my hat is 2,800 yards behind the MLR.Life is very good around here . Fine chow and a good, dry place to sleep with a cot and all.Hal G. Moore “No complaints whatsoever.” page 70 from A Soldier Once and Always by MIKE GUARDIAAs Regimental S-3, within only a few weeks, had drafted  three ANTI – AIRBORNEOPERATIONS!!FACT: NORTH KOREA had no AIRBORNE FORCESThe 7th Infantry Division Commander orchestrated Hal G. Moore’s FAKE COMBAT,by personally placing Hal G. Moore in K company, when they were at Sindam -Ni, FAKE COMBAT for Hal G. Moore commanded Company K an Infantry unit ( for only 16 days ) from the 6 FEB1953 to Feb 22 1953, While they were stationed at Sindam – Ni some 50 miles behind and south of the MLR.The 7th Infantry Division LEFT the NLR at the END of OCT 1952.The 7th Infantry Division RETURNED to the MLR at the END of FEB 1953To get an early promotion to Major Hal G. Moore had to serve in a combat position, he didn’t!!so Hal G. Moore should not have made any more rank than CAPT>Hal G. Moore did not want the days he was in command of K company to show on his military records as it would look like he messed up as an S-3, NOPE it would show that he was never in any combat and not meeting the requirement for MajorFAKE COMBAT for Hal G. Moore commanded Company K an Infantry unit ( for only 16 days ) from the 6 FEB 1953 to Feb 22 1953, While they were stationed at Sindam – Ni some 50 miles behind and south of the MLR. The 7th Infantry Division LEFT the NLR at the END of OCT 1952.The 7th Infantry Division RETURNED to the MLR at the END of FEB 1953What Hal G. Moore didn’t have to do during the Korean War.picture Triangle hill U.S. Soldiers 7th Division.

  3. Russell L. Ross

    Joseph Lee Galloway’s original story of Landing Zone X-RAY Nov,14-16, 1965

    Twenty JAMESTOWN ( N.Y. ) POST- JOURNAL- Wednesday Evening,November 17,1965
    Chu Pong Mountain, South Viet Nam ( UPI )—- The soldiers eyes were red from loss of sleep, and maybe a bit
    from crying too, now that it was all over.
    A three-day growth of beard stubbled his cheeks. But was hard to see because of the dirt. He was hurt, in terrible
    pain, but you’d never know it. Slivers of shrapnel had ripped his chest and spared his leg.
    He sat on the landing zone below the Chu Pong mountain where more Americans had died than ever before in
    a battle against Communists in a war over Viet Nam He had gone through hell — three days of it— and still a
    bit dazed, more from lack of sleep then his wounds, though. When I walked up to him, he spoke, But not to me
    in particular, nor to the other guys sitting around sipping the first hot cup of coffee they had since the fight
    Loses a Friend
    ” I took care of 14 of ’em myself,” He said. “They were tough little bastards. You had to shoot them to pieces
    before they quit coming . . . just rip them apart.”
    I squatted on my heels waiting for him to say more, But he didn’t. Somebody told me he had lost half of his
    platoon, including a friend he had served with for more than eight years. “What is his name?” I ask.
    ” It’s not important,” the sergeant slouching nearby said. “He’s just one of us and he did a damn good job.”
    Everyone did a damn good job. And nobody knew it better than Gen. Knowles, task force commander and
    deputy commander of the 1st Air Cavalry.
    “These men were just great,” he told me. “They were absolutely tremendous. I’ve never seen a better job
    anywhere, anytime,”
    Back From Battle
    Monday another American soldier walked out of the jungle into the valley of death. Bullets whizzed over his
    head and kicked up dirt at his feet.
    ” Get down you fool!” We shouted.
    The GI kept walking, He carried no weapon, He walked straight and tall.
    A mortar shell exploded nearby, He didn’t waver, Shrapnel chopped off branches above my head. But the
    American out there in the open came on until he was within a few feet of the battalion command bunker. He
    looked funny, dazed.
    Then we knew, he was shell shocked. He paused for a moment and looked around He recognized the aid
    station set up under the trees and walked toward it.
    Just as the soldier reached the station he slumped to his knees, then pitched forward on his face, That is when
    we saw his back for the first time.
    It wasn’t pretty, It had been blown open by a communist mortar.
    Medics were unable to reach the soldier because of the almost solid wall of communist bullets and jagged steel
    fragments coming from the jungle. So he walked out, The bullets and mortar did not bother him anymore, Hehad his
    Veterans Cried
    The men of the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry fought like heroes. They died the same way, Some took their wounds
    without a whimper. Seasoned Veterans cried.
    Col. Hal Moore of Bardstown, Ky., the commanding officer of the 7th Battalion, 1st cavalry, Came over to me,
    ++ tears streaming down his face, His men were catching from the slopes of this mountain range less than five
    miles from the Cambodian border.
    I’m kind of emotional about this, so excuse me,” Moore said to me. “But I want you to tell the American people
    that these men are fighters.
    “Look at them.”
    Moore pointed to a Negro soldier lying in the shade of a tree. A Communist bullet had torn a huge hole in his
    stomach The soldier had his hands over the wound. You could see him bite his lip. He was in terrific pain, But
    he made no whimper as he waited for a medical helicopter.
    ” Look at them,” Moore said again. ” They’re great and the American people ought to know it.
    It was shortly after 8:30 a.m. Monday when one of those terrible accidents of war happened.
    I was sitting in the command bunker, A mound of dirt screening us from the communist snipers, looking at the
    wounded in the aid station just a few yards away.
    Suddenly, I felt a searing heat on my face.
    An American fighter-bomber had misjudged the Communist positions, and dropped a load of napalm. The
    flaming jelly gasoline, impossible to shake or scrape off once it hits skin, splashed along the ground in a huge
    dragon’s tail of fire less then 25 yards away.
    Screams penetrated the roar of the flames.
    +++two Americans stumbled out of the inferno.+++
    Their hair burned off in an instant. their clothes were incinerated.
    ” Good God!” Moore cried. Another plane was making a run over the same area. The colonel grabbed a radio.
    ” You’re dropping napalm on us!” he shouted. ” Stop those damn planes.”
    At almost the last second, the second plane pulled up and away, its napalm tanks still hanging from the wings.
    It was an hour before a medical helicopter could get into the area and tend to the two burned men. One GI was
    a huge mass of blisters, the other not quite so bad. Somehow his legs had escaped the flames. But he had
    breathed fire into his lungs and he wheezed for air.
    Chu Pong Mountain rises 2,500 feet from the valley below. From the top, you could almost lob a mortar shell
    into Cambodia. The mountain slope were heavily jungled. And they hid at least two battalions of North
    Vietnamese Army regulars—- possibly the same troops who pinned down two companies of air cavalrymen not
    far away about a week ago.
    The cavalry were looking for them, spoiling for a fight. They found the Communist Monday and dropped by
    helicopter into a small landing zone about the size of a football field at the base of the mountain on the valleyfloor.
    One platoon got about 300 yards up the mountain before the Communist opened up. From Behind, cut it off
    and fired on the main cavalry force from three sides with small arms, heavy machine-guns, and mortars.
    Time and again, the cavalrymen tried to move in and help the platoon’ pull back, It was futile. The fire was to
    heavy. The platoon spent the night on the mountainside. Their losses were heavy, but the damage to the
    Communist was said to be heavier.
    “We got 70 communist bodies stacked up in front of our positions,” the platoon leader radioed back Monday.
    Men Dying
    It was shortly before noon Sunday when the cavalrymen swept down in the area about 12 miles west of Pleiku.
    Ever since the nine day battle around the Special Forces camp at Plei Me, the cavalrymen have been
    sweeping the jungles and running into sporadic contact with hard-core Communist units.
    ++Brig. Gen. Richard Knowles, deputy commander of the air cavalry division, OFFERED ME A RIDE IN HISHELICOPTER.
    WE CIRCLED OVER THE BATTLE GROUND. Air strikes went in below us. An American A1E skyraider was hit
    on a low- level bombing run, and the pilot had no chance to bail out. The plane crashed and exploded in a
    cluster of trees.
    Men are dying down there, but they are doing their job. “This is good,” Knowles said.” This is what we came for.
    We’ve got a U.S. battalion well -equipped down there.”
    Many Dead
    I got my chance to join the men on the ground about 8 P.M. I went with a helicopter loaded with supplies and
    we were level with the middle of the mountain and in the darkness we could see the muzzle flashes of rifles
    and machine-gun spitting bullets at us. I said a prayer.
    Sgt.Maj Basil Plumley of Columbus, Ga., met us at the landing zone, and led me back to Col. Moore’s
    command bunker.
    ” Watch your step,” Plumley said, ” There were dead people, all over here.” They were dead Americans many
    wrapped in ponchos.
    At Day break Monday, Medical helicopters began landing and taking off again with the wounded.
    A detail was assign the job of collecting weapons and ammunition from the wounded before they wereevacuated.
    Jimmy D Nakayama casualty report. no crushed ankles or torn skin.

  4. Guy

    My friend was there


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