Vietnam Stories: What I learned in the Ia Drang Valley

  • Rodney E. Tenney shakes hands with Congressman Jim Cleveland on the Capitol steps in 1966. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, October 14, 2017

In the summer of 1965, stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., I volunteered for an artillery battalion being formed to join the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam and became the forward observer for A Battery, 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 17th Artillery.

In November, I was in the Ia Drang Valley with an airborne brigade of the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) providing indirect fire support in confrontation with regular North Vietnamese (PAVN) troops.

Ken Burns’s series, Hal Moore’s book, We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: Ia Drang and Mel Gibson’s movie based on that book each acknowledge the role of indirect fire (mostly artillery and helicopter gun-ships) in achieving victory for the 1st Cavalry Division in the first confrontation between American ground troops and regular North Vietnamese troops. They do not acknowledge the role of the South Vietnamese troops that blocked the advance of North Vietnamese troops down Route 19. It was an American victory, but there was a substantial contribution to that victory by the South Vietnamese troops.

When I returned to the United States in 1966, my first stop was Fort Sill to share with staff of the artillery OCS what I had learned about deployment of artillery in an air mobile division, in a jungle environment mostly against guerrilla troops (Viet Cong).

My second stop was my congressman’s office in Washington to tell him (Jim Cleveland) why we should not be in Vietnam and why we would ultimately lose.

Based on my experience and extensive reading about the French experience in Vietnam and the British experience in Malaysia, I had come to that conclusion before shipping out for my tour of duty. Mr. Cleveland listened, introduced me to other congressmen who listened, and offered me a job, which I accepted.

The war continued. American and Vietnamese casualties mounted. Eventually the United States lost the war and withdrew. It was a war that should not have happened – should have ended much earlier.

And for me it was a memorable experience. I learned that combat is not like the John Wayne/Audie Murphy movies, and I learned a lot about how government decisions are made.

It was an experience that I do not regret, and I am thankful that I survived.

(Rodney E. Tenney lives in Concord.)