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39 years after jungle battle, unit awarded

Written By vibykhmer on Saturday, August 29, 2009 | 7:27 PM


Courtesy of John Poindexter Cavalrymen, along with an infantryman (dressed in the ammunition vest), exhibit wildlife found in the Vietnamese jungle

Courtesy of John Poindexter An Alpha Troop platoon in a tight daytime defensive position while on patrol

Courtesy of John Poindexter A few of the Alpha Troop members at rest, along with a South Vietnamese soldier

Courtesy of John Poindexter Cavalrymen pose outside of an M113, nicknamed "Hussar."

By Michelle Tan - Staff writer
Saturday Aug 29, 2009

The news filtered down to Capt. John Poindexter and his troops around noon.

Four kilometers away from their position, an infantry company was surrounded by a battalion’s worth of North Vietnamese fighters. The Americans were running low on ammunition, and casualties were mounting.

Poindexter reached a decision — a decision he and his soldiers knew they had to make.

“The choice, to me, was one of [the] certainty of suffering versus a lifetime of guilt,” he said. “It was a collective realization of what we were getting ourselves into, but the consequence was to see a hundred men killed.”

For the next eight hours, Poindexter and his soldiers would battle the jungle and a determined, dug-in enemy force as they fought their way to their fellow soldiers.

The battle that day, March 26, 1970, was fierce and bloody.

But almost 40 years would pass before Poindexter and his men would be recognized for their courage and valor.

This fall, A Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, will receive the Presidential Unit Citation, a unit award equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest valor award behind only the Medal of Honor.

The award for A Troop is the result of five years of painstakingly detailed work led by Poindexter, who learned almost 30 years after what he calls the “anonymous battle” that his men never received the individual awards for which they were nominated.

The battle was mentioned briefly in a book Poindexter read called “Into Cambodia,” by Keith William Nolan. In the book, one of the soldiers was quoted as saying he and his fellow soldiers were nominated for awards but never received them.

“I resolved then, 30 years later, to resolve that terrible wrong,” said Poindexter, who volunteered for the Army in 1966, when he was 22, even though he had a job and was attending graduate school in New York.

Poindexter served in Vietnam from June 1969 to July 1970, leaving the Army after his tour.

In 2003, he began his research into the Presidential Unit Citation, tracking down former soldiers for their statements and assembling documentation. He spent a year writing the nomination packet for the award, detailing his soldiers’ actions from so long ago.

Poindexter submitted the nomination in late 2004, and it was approved in late 2008 by the Secretary of the Army. The Army issued the general order for the award in April 2009.

According to the citation for the award, “after being exhausted by months of continuous combat operations, [the soldiers of A Troop] volunteered to rescue Company C, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, a 1st Cavalry Division unit surrounded by an overwhelming enemy force near the Cambodian border, in The Dog’s Face, War Zone C, in Tay Ninh Province of the Republic of Vietnam.”

The soldiers of C Company were fighting a battalion of the 272nd North Vietnamese Army Regiment.

The enemy resisted hours of bombardment and was expected to “destroy or capture the 100 American infantrymen within hours,” according to the citation.

According to the citation, “Troop A skillfully penetrated four kilometers of nearly impassable jungle terrain and unhesitatingly mounted a fierce assault directly into the heavily fortified North Vietnamese Army position. The soldiers faced down “withering” machine gun, automatic rifle, rocket-propelled grenade and recoilless rifle fire as they forced the enemy away from C Company and inflicted heavy casualties.

Poindexter estimates there were at least 75 U.S. casualties that day, including seven dead.

Poindexter said he is proudest of his men.

His soldiers “had options, mostly didn’t have to be there, and once there, didn’t have to perform as they did, but chose to on their own volition,” he said. “But [they] then were not recognized for their valor for 39 years.”

The award represents the sacrifices made by all who served in Vietnam, Poindexter said.

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