|Echo Company 1968 - 1971
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|ECHO COMPANY 1968-69
Echo Company was formed and became operational in late May, or early June 1968. It initially consisted of a mortar
platoon that would provide base defense to the Battalion forward LZ's, and a Reconnaissance Platoon.
The Recon Platoon worked directly for battalion operations. We seldom entered the field with more than 20-24 men and
performed most of our missions, after insertion, in teams of six men. A significant portion of our missions required
movement at night, in known enemy strongholds.
Our primary mission was reconnaissance, which required insertion into an area of operation, usually five kilometers by five
kilometers, by a means designed to keep us undetected. Typically insertion was followed by detailed examination of the
terrain, by six man teams. Our missions usually lasted five days, during which We received no re-supply. Thus We were
required to carry everything needed for mission completion on our persons. During these operations, We tried to avoid
detection and contact with the enemy, but were not always successful.
We were also used as an offensive instrument. Much of our operational success involved killer team operations. We
inserted into an area of operation of the size described above. Teams of six men would, after dark, move into areas of
suspected enemy operations, with the sole mission of making contact with and killing as many of the enemy as possible.
We became very successful at these operations. Survival depended upon our ability to disappear into the darkness after
making contact, and to remain concealed until We could rejoin the rest of the platoon, which was often from one to four
kilometers from the killer team.
Unlike many reconnaissance units in Vietnam, We had no prior training to equip us with the skills necessary to perform the
assigned tasks, but rather learned on the job. For the first month after the units’ organization, it appeared as if the Recon
Platoon would do little more than serve as a base security element. There was no leadership in place to prepare us for
what was to come.
This changed in early July of 1968, when a remarkable man, Joe Musial, who became known by his nickname throughout
the Cav., “Sgt. Rock”, took command of the platoon. Having served with the Recon Platoon, which was then part of D
Company, during his first tour in 1965-66, Rock had not only learned the necessary skills, but was a master at teaching
those skills, even if his methods were often unorthodox.
Rock did not endear himself to the men immediately, as his first act was to take away all creature comfort, including air
mattresses, machetes and entrenching tools, and anything else that could produce unnecessary noise in the bush. He
quickly taught us the methods and value of noise discipline, scouting skills, navigation and coordination with fire support
units. He not only deserves the credit for training the Recon Platoon but in developing leadership within the unit.
NCO's and men who were not able to adapt to what the unit needed were quickly transferred out, and leadership was
developed from within. The value of this leadership development is best demonstrated by the fact that, although Rock left
the field in March 1969, the NCO's he trained were ably serving as platoon sergeants and squad leaders as late as October
1969. Until that time, no NCO's were assigned from outside of the Platoon.
In October 1968, it was learned that, for the first time since Rock's arrival, an officer was being assigned as platoon leader.
This fact angered the platoon members, who felt that Rock was the only leader needed. However, Rock urged us to give
the new officer a chance, and We quickly learned that this officer was more than up to the challenge.
Lt. Dave Hadly, a platoon leader in C Company was placed in command of the Recon platoon, and even after he became
Company Commander, continued to operate as platoon leader until he left the field in March 1969. He quickly dispelled
the common belief that West Pointers made good field grade officers, but poor company grade officers. Dave had a keen
interest in guerrilla tactics, and had intensely studied the subject. Because of his standing with the battalion leadership, he
was able to convince operations to allow us to not only operate as a reconnaissance unit, but to go offensive.
That Dave and Rock were on the same page became apparent almost immediately. Dave and Rock were given great
latitude in trying innovative tactics, and other than battalion telling us what was needed during an operation, operational
planning was done internally. Rock and Dave sought input from the NCO's in mission planning. We developed multiple
ways of insertion into our area of operation, which minimized the possibility of our being observed. Operations by six man
teams, as opposed to squad or platoon movement became the norm.
It also needs mentioning that the freedom in planning and carrying out our missions is attributable to retired Maj. Gen.
Todd Graham, then our Battalion Commander, and Maj. Tom Wieskirch, the Battalion Operations Officer, who
recognized the skill and intellect of Dave and Rock. They both recognized that even when trying new and innovative small
unit tactics, planning must be carried out with dual emphasis on mission success and unit safety. Their leadership was a
critical element in the units’ success.
The training and skill development of the Recon Platoon occurred during the unit’s service in I Corps and reached such a
level that the battalion recognized the unique missions We were performing and the success level We had attained by
authorizing us to wear tiger striped camouflage uniforms. We were the only unit so authorized within the battalion.
Additionally, due to our on the job training, and the nature of our operations, the MOS of many NCO's in the Recon
Platoon was changed to 11 F. This MOS designated a specialist in special military operations and intelligence, and initially
was awarded only to Non Commissioned Officers in the Special Forces who had completed a multi-month training course.
The unique nature of our operations resulted in the assignment of this classification.
As a further result of our successes, the platoon was presented, prior to the 1st Cav Div deployment to III Corps, with a
blue scarf bearing the emblem of a stalking panther, with blood in his mouth, and lettering stating "The Panther Stalks
You---Silent Death. The use of the panther was based on a local legend in the Quang Tri area about the dangers presented
by this animal. This is the genesis of our being identified as the Blue Panther's. We also had printed business cards with
the same logo, which would be left behind after a successful mission, and from which the enemy also came to know us by
Validation of the units’ success and documented proof of our fame came after our move south. Our primary function in
the north, dictated by terrain, was as a traditional reconnaissance unit, although We also had a number of offensive
contacts with the enemy. However, after the move south, We were given significantly more operations of an offensive
nature that proved highly successful. This proof came in the form of a bounty poster, which came into the possession of
Battalion's intelligence section, and which offered a reward to anyone killing a member of the Blue Panther's.
We take great pride in the fact that our successes dictated such a reaction by our enemy, who found it necessary to adopt
this reward incentive as an inducement to eradicate the platoon. We can think of no greater recognition of the impact We
had on enemy operations.
This recognition came soon after our arrival in III Corp, when We began performing a number of killer team operations,
with great success. Enemy losses inflicted by the undersized Recon Platoon were significantly higher than expected,
according to Todd Graham, our Battalion Commander. We seldom had more than twenty-four men available to go into
the field at any time, and these operations were conducted by six man teams.
Additionally, the Recon Platoon was the first unit in the battalion to be employed to work with the Brown Water Navy
performing Nav-Cav operations on the Vam Co Dong River. The platoon would board vessels, and be inserted along the
riverbanks to search the area. Immediately, We began to find large caches of weapons and materials, among which was
one of the only 120mm Mortars captured fully intact, stacks of wooden coffins, rice supplies, and numerous weapons and
The most important find occurred on January 2, 1969, when the campsite of an NVA officer in charge of coordinating the
infiltration of equipment into the area was discovered, along with a logbook, which included maps of the area showing
where materials were cached. As a result of this find, other units within the battalion were assigned to work with the Navy,
and the battalion began to amass ever-increasing quantities of NVA munitions and supplies. According to former Battalion
Operations Officer, Maj. Thomas Wieskirch, the discovery of the logbook and interdiction of the supplies sent into the
area resulted in the NVA having to cancel a planned offensive, similar to Tet, which had been scheduled for the spring of
Despite the nature of our missions, the Recon Platoon never had a man killed in the field as a result of enemy fire during
the period of May 1968- June 1969. However, during this time period, every man suffered some type wound, from minor
to severe. Our first fatality was Glenn Miller, whose death in October 1968, was the result of friendly fire, when a sister
company mis-fired a mortar round which landed within our perimeter. A second loss due to friendly fire was the last
casualty during this period. John Kopriva was killed in June 1969 when a scout helicopter mistakenly fired at the Recon
Platoon, which was waiting to ambush NVA scavengers in an AO that was being vacated by a line company. Fast action
by the platoon sergeant, who popped a smoke grenade, prevented what would have been more casualties, as a Cobra
helicopter was following the Scout, with rockets ready to fire.
The worst day of this period for Echo Company occurred on March 21, 1969, when LZ White was attacked by enemy
mortars and rockets and infiltrated by an enemy sapper unit. We lost eight men on that night, most from the mortar
platoon. The mortar pits were the area in which the attack was directed. The names of all men killed during this action can
be found on this site.
The mortar platoon, unfortunately did not receive the recognition they so richly deserved. While the Recon Platoon was
often able to return to the battalion rear for showers, clean cloths and hot food, the Mortar Platoon was continuously
assigned to the battalion forward LZ. Also, almost every man in the Mortar Platoon spent time in the field with the Recon
Platoon. Because the Recon Platoon was almost always under strength, men from the mortar platoon would often
volunteer to go on missions, and each quickly learned the same skills and performed the same duties as those assigned to
Additionally, during the day, particularly when the battalion was on LZ Tracey, the mortar platoon performed numerous
snatch missions, when not required for duty in the mortar pits. These missions involved teams boarding choppers, and
searching for men of apparent military age. When spotted, the choppers would land and the team would interrogate these
men, and if suspicious would detain them for further investigation of whether they were, in fact, NVA or VC operatives.
These missions were not without risks, as on one such mission a Kit Carson scout assigned to the unit was killed by sniper
fire. While others in the battalion may not have recognized the contribution of the men in the mortar platoon, those of us
in the Recon Platoon highly valued their service, and willingness to assist us by volunteering to serve with us in the field.
The men in Echo Company have the distinction of being one of the only two companies in the First Cavalry Division, the
other being C Company, to serve in all four Corps in Viet Nam. These two companies were based on LZ Elrod, in IV
Corps for a short period of time, the only time the First Cav served in that area.
In March 1969, Dave Hadly and Rock were ordered out of the field. Both had remained in the field for a longer period
than normal, and they were re-assigned to S-2. As much of the senior NCO corps was short, many were pulled out of the
field at the same time. The men who served during the times mentioned and who remained in country as late as October
1969, say that while the platoon continued to have great success in performing assigned missions, the platoon was never
again given the autonomy it had enjoyed as far as mission planning, and that the types of missions assigned changed.
The Mortar Platoon, which had suffered so many losses on March 21, 1969, had to be reorganized, and a new leadership
was put in place. The men who served between May 1968, and October 1969, agree that although our entire tour was
significant, our heyday was from deployment in III Corps, and during operations in the area of the Angel's Wing and
Parrot's Beak, until late March of 1969. It is clear that the stars aligned with Rock, Dave Hadly, Tom Wieskirch and Todd
Graham commanding or directing the unit during that period. The mutual trust going from the lowest man in the field, to
the top of the battalion chain of command, and back down, allowed for a distinguished tour for the men who served during
The amazing thing is that the forty plus men who have been found, and who have participated in Echo Company activities
since returning home, have learned that the bonds of friendship and trust, forged in combat, remain as strong today, as
they were in Vietnam. We each value the other men with whom We served and recognize that We share a very unique
A review of the daily staff journals from October 1969 until the First Cav left Vietnam clearly shows that the men of Echo
Company continued to serve with distinction, and valor. The story of their service is left to be written by the men who
carried on the tradition.