Peter Arnett’s view on Hill 875….
November 22nd 1967, Associated Press journalist Peter Arnett delivers a three page report on one of the worst battles the Vietnam War had seen. A fight which saw 115 US soldiers from two companies of the 173rd Airborne Brigade killed with more than 250 wounded and seven more missing in action. Forty two of those killed were at the hands of a 500lb American bomb dropped on them in one of the war’s worst ‘friendly fire’ incidents.
There are many reports on the battle for Hill 875 but for me, Arnett’s is as compelling and hard-hitting as they get. He was entrenched in Vietnam from 1962 until the war’s end in Saigon in 1975 making him a genuine authority and not one of the many ‘tourist journalists’ who made it their ‘Woodstock’.
‘Hour after hour of battle gave the living and the dead the same grey pallor on Hill 875. At times the only way to tell them apart was to watch when the enemy mortars crashed in on the exhausted American paratroopers. The living rushed unashamedly to the tiny bunkers dug into the red clay. The wounded squirmed towards the shelter of trees blasted to the ground. The dead-propped up in bunkers or face down in the dust-didn’t move.’
This was one of dozens of missions Arnett accompanied soldiers on, the result is a level-headed, bullshit-free account of the reality of warfare. It’s sobering stuff to say the least and it was the likes of Arnett who helped drive the rally against government cover ups and put the Vietnam War and all its bloody horrors square in the eyes of an American public increasingly hostile to their government’s actions.
‘The foxholes got deeper as the day wore on. Foxhole after foxhole took hits. A dog handler and his German shepherd died together. Men joking with you and offering cigarettes writhed on the ground wounded and pleading for water minutes later. There was no water for anyone’
There was in fact no food either, when the relief battalion finally arrived they had only brought enough supplies for one day and what they had they ate before they arrived at the hill. For three days the American troops faced unrelenting fire, it typified the senseless nature of war; young men being slaughtered for the right to ‘own’ a hill. How many times have Generals sent their troops to their deaths for such a cause? How many Vietnamese died for their country’s independence?
‘Crouched in one bunker, Pfc Angle Flores, 20, of New York City said: “If we were dead like those out there we wouldn’t have to worry about this stuff coming in” He fingered a plastic rotary around his neck and kissed it reverently as the rounds blasted on the ground outside. “Does that do you any good?” A buddy asked him ” Well, I’m still alive” Flores replied. “Don’t you know the chaplain who gave you that was killed on Sunday?” said his Buddy.’
Arnett describes how the Americans used bombs, napalm and every kind of air firepower but the truth was only manpower could truly win that battle. One hundred and fifteen young Americans died trying to capture a hill in a country most of them had never heard of before. Arnett gets that across in every sentence. It’s a three page long must-read if ever there were one.