From May 18 to 26, 1967, Soldiers of 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fought a series of five battles over a period of nine days in Pleiku province near the Cambodian border. American leadership wanted to fight infiltrating North Vietnamese as close to the Cambodian border as possible to prevent them from gaining a foothold in South Vietnam. North Vietnamese leadership sought to draw American forces into the harsh terrain near the Cambodian border to get them away from the populace and the coast, which would allow the Viet Cong to exercise more influence and limit American interference. This set the stage for meeting engagements in the desolate triple canopy jungle area in the western portion of the Central Highlands. On May 18, elements from B Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry made contact with North Vietnamese Soldiers and, in the process of their pursuit of the fleeing enemy, made contact with elements of the 1st North Vietnamese Army Division, the 32nd and 66th NVA Regiments. Nine days of fighting followed. During the battles that ensued, at least 369 North Vietnamese were killed, along with 69 Americans (259 were wounded in action).
In this interview, five Vietnam Veterans discuss their experiences in Vietnam, accompanied by Warren Wilkins, the author of “Nine Days In May.” The Veterans are Victor Renza, Bill May, and Landis Bargatze of 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, Richard Jackson of 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, and Mike Hamer of 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. The Veterans start by describing how they entered the Army; four were drafted, and one was a career officer who graduated from ROTC after a stint as an enlisted Marine. They talk about their training in preparation for Vietnam. Three of them trained as a unit for a year before deploying to Vietnam with the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. They completed their basic training together at Ft. Lewis, Washington, forging strong bonds that served them well in combat. One was a replacement Soldier who completed basic at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and Advanced Infantry Training at Tigerland at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. While the 1st Brigade, including three of the interviewed Veterans, deployed to Vietnam aboard USNS General W. H. Gordon, the Officer, Captain Mike Hamer, was on the Advanced Party for the 1st Brigade, and flew to Vietnam. The replacement Soldier, Landis Bargatze, also deployed by air. During the battles in May, Renza’s platoon was cut off, surrounded, and overrun. Both Bill May and Landis Bargatze’s units tried to reach Renza’s platoon. Before the lost platoon could be reached, their platoon sergeant (acting platoon leader) called for fire on their position as the North Vietnamese were about to overrun the encircled Soldiers. By the time Bargatze’s platoon reached them on the morning of May 19, all but seven out of thirty were dead. After a battle on May 20 where the Soldiers occupied a North Vietnamese base camp, the survivors of 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry were reinforced by the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry, including CPT Mike Hamer’s company. They fought on May 22, and were joined by the 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry. In a battle on May 26, SP5 Medic Richard Jackson, known as the “Witch Doctor,” describes treating several wounded Soldiers over a period of several hours, crawling from one to another and patching them up as best he could before he too was wounded and evacuated. At the end of the interview, author Warren Wilkins, who provides context throughout the interview, summarizes the battles. The Veterans then discuss what the battles and their service in general mean to them.