combat writing badge

Ordered to Vietnam

by W. Michael McMunn (1996, 2003)

"They were young and did not leave much behind them and need someone to remember them."
by Norman Maclean ["Young Men & Fire"]

In the 1960s the quiet rolling hills and fertile farmlands of North Central Pennsylvania were worlds apart from the jutting mountains and steaming forests and jungles of Central South Vietnam. While Pennsylvania forests and farms teemed with white-tailed deer, grouse and turkey, the jungles of Vietnam were teeming with hordes of North Vietnamese soldiers. Fresh off the supply route known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese were intent on overthrowing the government of South Vietnam. They also wanted to inflict heavy casualties on the military forces whom the United States were sending halfway around the globe to prevent such an overthrow.

The details of how America got itself so deeply involved in the deadly and controversial struggle in Southeast Asia will be left to historians and to political and military analysts. We can honestly say that no military action in American history, except the Civil War, has caused as much domestic turmoil. None have caused Americans to look at a war, not so much as a fight against Communism in a small foreign country, but as a class struggle here in the United States.

This is the true story of two men and of two valleys: one, a valley of life and the other a valley of death. It was there, in those two places, that life began and life ended for two young men.

Benton, Pennsylvania is a small, quiet, rural community lying north of Bloomsburg. The borough nestles in a beautiful valley formed by Big Fishing Creek, a winding and popular trout stream. One long, straight and narrow main street runs through the village passing Horace Harrison's IGA Super Market, C.A. Edison Sons Hardware and the Benton Hotel. Down at the intersection, right near the town swimming hole, is the Benton Roller Mills. Just to the east of the borough, in adjoining Luzerne County, lies Huntington Township, an area marked by forest and field.

Continuing south on State Route 487 for about two miles, a traveler comes to Stillwater, a yet smaller community with a most picturesque name. The valley becomes flatter at Stillwater and, as in other parts of Columbia County, the landscape is dominated by farms, fields, rising forested hillsides and large, architecturally significant barns. When one is driving through the borough it flashes by so quickly that the traveler does not realize exactly where the business district is, but upon consideration it must be down there close to Kline's Garage. A traveler would easily miss Stillwater completely if it were not for the blue and yellow plaques noting its corporate limits.

Stillwater. The name fits the community. It is populated by families who have made farming their lifelong careers. Many farms have stayed in the same families for generations. Raising dairy cows, horses and other farm stock is the only way of life many have ever known. Plowing the fields, planting corn, alfalfa, clover and timothy, mowing hay and reaping the harvest are seasonal rites replayed on these same fields for a hundred years or more. Too much rain, droughts that last far too long, foraging insects and plant and animal diseases are everyday concerns that breed into these families a resiliency not found in all men and women.

As it does in other parts of the country a different rite occurs every autumn in this part of Pennsylvania. After the celebration of the Labor Day holiday the days become shorter and school begins. Now the halls of the old, two-story Benton High School come alive with the sound of returning students and teachers. The Benton Tigers have already begun football practice and await the first game of the season. Students again become accustomed to the daily routine of rising early, waiting in the cool air for the school bus, attending classes, playing in the large park across the street from the school and later, returning to their homes and the waiting chores. Life was much the same for the students who attended Northwest Area High School and Bloomsburg High School in the neighboring districts. Those districts, too, drew most of their pupils from the rural environs of Columbia and Luzerne Counties.

As autumn wanes the time honored and, in these regions it can be said, hallowed tradition of hunting takes center stage. Most boys learn the use of rifles at an early age and they soon become a part of the tradition. It is here, in these hills and fields, that hunters come from near and far to hunt black bear, pheasant, grouse and small game such as rabbits and squirrels. In the weeks following Thanksgiving Day they return to the woods to hunt the elusive white-tailed deer. Deer thrive in these forests of hemlock, oak and mountain laurel and often feed on the corn planted for silage, thus becoming a quick enemy of the farmer. Here hunting is such an institution that schools are routinely closed on the first day of buck season and often for the first day of doe season. Even union labor contracts recognize the day as a "holiday." Gunfire echoes through the hills around Benton and Stillwater when deer season opens and the hunters attempt to bag a trophy buck. If the hunt is successful, the antlers of the trophy are likely to be mounted on a wooden plaque and hung in the den or nailed to the side of the barn or hunting cabin.

In more peaceful times the young men and women, who grew up in small communities like Benton, Orangeville, Huntington Township and Stillwater, could be expected to pursue their dreams unaffected by the troubles in other parts of the globe. Many would be content to stay on the farm and continue the family business. Others would go on to college, perhaps enrolling at the nearby Bloomsburg State College and living at home to hold down expenses. Still others might travel to Williamsport to enter the Williamsport Technical Institute to learn a trade as did many of their fathers after returning from World War II and Korea. Bloomsburg State was a teacher's college in the years before 1975 and some high school graduates pursued a teaching career. Others would follow their fathers and find work at the Benton Foundry, the Wise Potato Chip plant in Berwick or at the Magee Carpet Company in Bloomsburg. The young women of these communities, who did not pursue a college degree, were more than likely content to marry and begin raising a family.

Nevertheless, in the 1960s things were different. After nearly ten years of escalating economic, political and military involvement in the southeast Asian country of South Vietnam the United States now found itself in a shooting war. Increasing numbers of young Americans were dying and the nation needed young men to fill the ranks of the military. For many young men the call to military service came somewhat naturally: these were the sons of men who had served their country during World War II or in Korea and, for many fathers and sons, entering the military and going to war was an accepted rite of passage. Ralph Brown's father, for example, had spent forty-four months in the South Pacific during World War II. Donald Crane's older brother Ray had just served out a three-year enlistment in the Army's Engineer Corps. For some an enlistment in the military service was perhaps their only opportunity to escape the prospect of an immediate future tied to the farm, foundry or factory. For others the call came involuntarily as in the form of that infamous "Greetings" letter from the local draft board.

The men sent to Vietnam from the United States were roughly one-third draftees, one-third draft-motivated volunteers and one-third true volunteers. In the early phase of the war most of the soldiers who went to Vietnam were enlistees or those who were making a career of the military. Following World War II and the Korean War Americans had largely grown up with, and accepted, the idea of compulsory military service and the peacetime draft. Congress had renewed the Universal Military Training and Service Act, adopted in 1951, every four years. From 1954 to 1964 draft calls averaged about 10,000 men per month. The Selective Service System was drafting all men classified as available for immediate induction (1A). In those years when called by the Selective Service young men served. As the "baby boom" generation was reaching maturity in 1964, the Department of Defense was considering the elimination of the draft. Then came Vietnam.

Donald Ellis Crane was born September 29, 1941 at Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania. One of 15 children (seven brothers and seven sisters) Donald Crane spent most of his life in the Hunlock Creek and Huntington Township area. Donald grew up in poverty. His father, Walter, was a hard-coal miner, a lumberman and a factory worker during different times of his life. He made little money and thus the family usually lived from hand to mouth. Of course, with such a large family Donald's mother, Erma, stayed at home and with the help of the older children tended to the younger children.

After living in different areas of Luzerne County, Donald spent most of his teenage years living near the village of Waterton. The old wood-framed two-story house was situated on a small plot of ground off a dirt road. It did not have the luxuries of running water, central heat or indoor plumbing. The Cranes obtained water for use in cooking, for the laundry and for bathing from an outside pump.

Donald graduated in the class of 1960 from the Northwest Area Joint High School. In the school yearbook, "The Norwester", they remember him as "a quiet lad with a pleasing personality." In several interviews the adjective "quiet" was time and again used to describe this unassuming young man. The yearbook also mentioned that his favorite class was English, that part of his time was spent working on a farm and "to be a bachelor is his aim." He was a member of the Future Farmers of America in his sophomore and junior years. Donald continued to work on a farm and worked at farming before he went into the service. The Post family employed him on the farm across the road from his home.

According to his brother Ray, Donald's favorite things centered around a simple life: country music, fishing and a love of the outdoors. Ray remembered the family growing up listening to the "Grand Ol' Opry" and the "Country Music Jubilee" on the radio. The many streams and the Susquehanna River provided unlimited opportunities for Donald to indulge in fishing. Working on nearby farms fulfilled Donald's love of the outdoors.

The yearbook states that baseball was his ideal sport. We see a handsome, smiling young man with an athletic physique in a photograph of the "Rangers" intramural softball team. He does not appear in any pictures of the baseball team. Due to the distance he lived from the school and his other work he was probably unable to play varsity baseball.

On January 16, 1964, he entered the United States Army as a draftee. The Army sent him to basic combat training at Fort Jackson a sprawling, eighty-two square-mile training center outside Columbia, South Carolina. At Fort Jackson (and at other basic combat training centers) an eight-week metamorphosis takes place where a civilian becomes a soldier. Amid the sand and pine trees of Fort Jackson and assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade Donald and the other young recruits learned their general orders, memorized the chain of command and received indoctrination into the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In the barracks area of Tank Hill they learned discipline, pulled their first days of KP, spent nighttime hours on "firewatch", conditioned their bodies with miles of running and hours of the "Daily Dozen" physical training regimen, and learned to spit shine footwear and polish belt buckles and brass. During the cool Southern winter days they marched out to the many firing ranges to learn to qualify with M-14 semi-automatic rifles, throw hand grenades, receive instruction on the "spirit of the bayonet" and learn infiltration while crawling under live machine gun fire. For several days the trainees lived "in the field" bivouacked under the tall pines of the military reservation.

Returning to the barracks the tired troops would spend hours cleaning tents, messkits, and rifles. In another old tradition these young men, under the watchful eyes of their drill sergeants, never passed inspection the first time around.

After successfully completing basic training Donald Crane received his orders for advanced individual training or AIT. As a draftee he was subject to being trained in any field or military occupational speciality (MOS) which the Army had a need to fill. Consequently, they sent Donald to Fort Gordon, Georgia for advanced infantry training. While the Army designed basic combat training to create a soldier, they designed the eight-week advanced infantry training course to create an Infantryman. Here he and others learned to become proficient in the tools of the "Queen of Battle": rifles, machine guns, pistols, mines and rocket and grenade launchers. They also learned to navigate the land using map and compass and spent long days and nights learning how to patrol, react to ambushes, set up defensive positions and become familiar with the types of communications equipment that were standard to an infantry platoon.

Ralph Wayne Brown was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on July 14, 1942. Ralph entered the old red-brick, two-story Bloomsburg High School in 1956 having transferred from Spring City, a small community northwest of Philadelphia. As a youth he attended school in Bloomsburg while living on a farm that, in 1960, became the site of the present Bloomsburg High School. The homestead was on a beautiful expanse of fertile flat land next to placid Fishing Creek. Ralph's uncle, Edward or E.J., was well known in the community and served as a school director for several years. The Brown family was fairly well known in the town having operated a dairy story at the farm for a number of years.

Unmotivated to remain in school and with an intense interest in horses Ralph dropped out of high school in April 1959 before he completed the ninth grade. An interest in horses is apparent as he appears in the Bloomsburg High School yearbook "Memorabilia" in a photograph of the school Horsemen's Club. Continuing his love of horses, he became employed as racehorse caretaker and a blacksmith. Ralph Brown spent much of his time at various racetracks in the eastern part of the United States and had been working at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds, across the street from the Magee Carpet factory, before his entry into the Army.

Ralph's parents later owned a farm in Jackson Township, in northern Columbia County not far from the community that the Crane's called home. Ralph had two brothers: Frank, Jr. and Edward. While Donald Crane was completing his fourth week of basic combat training Ralph Brown entered the United States Army. On February 26, 1964, as a draftee, he, too, was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for his basic combat training and upon completion sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for advanced individual training. Fort Lewis was a large Army training center located about 45 miles south of Seattle on beautiful Puget Sound. As a draftee, like Donald Crane, he had no choice in his job assignment and was subsequently trained as a mortar crewman.

In addition to the training center at Fort Lewis was also the headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division, the "Ivy Division." After basic training Ralph would spend nearly a year at Fort Lewis, where he was assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division. The Army had activated the 3rd of the 8th in the fall of 1963 and needed manpower. In September 1966, long after Ralph Brown's stint with the unit, they would deploy the 4th Division to Vietnam. Tiring of the routine of barracks life at Fort Lewis Ralph requested to go to airborne school and in January 1965 he was sent to the three-week jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon completion he was detailed as a radio telephone operator with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Benning.

On July 1, 1965, Ralph and other members of the 2nd of the 9th Infantry retired the Indian head patch of the 2nd Infantry Division and received the patch of the 1st Cavalry Division. He became a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. A little over two weeks later, on July 17, he was assigned to Delta Company as a mortar crewman; two days earlier Private First Class Donald Crane had been assigned to the same company.

Ralph was married to the former Vicki Mae Boudman and had two children, a daughter, Kelley and a son, John. He had married Vicki shortly before he entered the Army.

Brown, at age twenty-one, and recently married when drafted and Crane, at age twenty-two and single, were typical of the draftees of 1964. They were typical of the draftees of 1964. They were much like their colleagues of the era whom Selective Service usually drafted at a later age than they did with the draftees after 1965 who were inducted shortly after turning 19 years of age. At the time married men did have a special low priority 1-A classification, however.

Although very small numbers of American troops had been in Vietnam since 1954, their strength in 1963 and early 1964 was about 16,300. In the early 1960s Vietnam was an assignment for the Army's Special Forces (the fabled Green Berets) and Army and Marine military advisors. Added to these forces were several Air Force cargo plane units and the Army helicopter companies that provided logistical support to the fledgling South Vietnamese Army. It is unlikely that the thought of being sent to Vietnam was very much on the mind of either Brown or Crane when they responded to their draft board's letters in the autumn of 1963. In 1966 a survey of high school sophomores found that only seven percent mentioned the draft or Vietnam as one of "the problems young men your age worry about most." In all likelihood Crane saw the draft as a means for securing a form of employment, perhaps training in a skill, getting his military obligation out of the way, getting away from his poverty-stricken surroundings and having an adventure. Brown may have accepted the draft as a way to provide for his growing family since work as a racehorse caretaker and as a blacksmith did not produce much of a regular income.

Since 1954 the United States had been supplying the South Vietnamese with military and economic aid. In 1961, the United States significantly increased weapons shipments and dispatched additional Special Forces counterinsurgency teams and military advisors. These measures took place after rises in guerrilla activity in the South and South Vietnamese political unrest had worsened. The conflict in South Vietnam, simmering beneath the surface since the Viet Minh had defeated the French and the 1954 Geneva agreements divided the country at the 17th Parallel, was evolving from guerrilla activities into a state of protracted warfare. The North Vietnamese were encouraging terrorist revolutionaries in the South to attack American targets and South Vietnamese government installations. United States involvement escalated dramatically in early August 1964. Two controversial incidents occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin that allegedly involved the American destroyers the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy and North Vietnamese gunboats. On the pretext that the North Vietnamese had attacked the American ships, President Lyndon Baines Johnson requested action and the United States Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The President, as commander in chief, now had the authority "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression." He reacted immediately with intense bombing of North Vietnam. Simultaneously he hoped to bolster the morale of the Vietnamese armed forces by increasing the level of American combat troops. Years later Johnson's Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, in his book In Retrospect, admitted that he had doubts that the second attack on the destroyer Maddox had actually occurred.

United States Marines from the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade based on ships in the South China Sea provided the first large combat units sent to Southeast Asia followed by the United States Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) from Okinawa; and elements of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Initially the Pentagon had deployed the Marine units and the 173rd to provide security for airfields, such as DaNang and Bien Hoa. From bases such as these United States Air Force fighters and bombers launched their attacks against North Vietnam and both United States and South Vietnamese Air Force planes provided South Vietnamese ground forces with close air support. However, intelligence reports of large-scale infiltration of regular North Vietnamese units into the South to support the indigenous Viet Cong and increased enemy activity during May prompted General William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, to forward a request to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, through Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, Pacific Commander, that they should increase American and other Free World Military ground strengths in Vietnam to the equivalent of forty-four battalions. On June 7, 1965, when Westmoreland sent his request, there were in Vietnam seven Marine Battalions, two Army maneuver battalions, an Australian battalion and, temporarily assigned (for sixty days) two battalions of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate), for a total of twelve battalions. The request to increase troops to forty-four battalions represented a dramatic escalation.

By mid-1965 the Marines, the 173rd and the 101st were joined by elements of the Army's 1st Infantry Division and more Marine units from Hawaii and Okinawa. On June 16, 1965, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara announced that the Pentagon would organize the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) at Fort Benning, Georgia and it would be "combat-ready" in eight weeks. For several weeks President Johnson had been hearing from his advisors how the tactical situation was worsening for the South Vietnamese. In a midday nationwide address on June 28 President Johnson told the world that "I have today ordered to Vietnam the airmobile division..." He further announced that troop strength in Vietnam would increase from 75,000 to 125,000 men almost immediately.

The "First Team," as General Douglas MacArthur had dubbed it, was to become the Army's first fully airmobile infantry division. The Pentagon had been testing the airmobile idea since February 1963 with the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) stationed at Fort Benning. Although the Army had not completed testing by the time of President Johnson's announcement, the dedicated officers and men under the command of Major General Harry W.O. Kinnard were confident that the idea would work. The unit's mission was to adapt large scale use of helicopters to increase the mobility of infantry units and to strike hard and fast. Although equipped, trained and tested for its impact in a low or high intensity combat environment it appeared that the escalating conflict in Vietnam was made to order for an airmobile division where the war was being conducted without front lines; the road system was poor; and the terrain consisted of rugged mountains in the northern area and jungles, rice paddies and rivers almost everywhere. Perhaps the success of the airmobile philosophy could best be summed up in the words of Major General Kinnard: "... we are freed from the tyranny of terrain." As the division was originally organized the 1st Brigade, one of the three brigades making up the division, would be parachute-qualified. Due in some measure to a lack of a sufficient number of parachute-qualified soldiers, and the rare opportunity in Vietnam to insert large numbers of troops by parachute, army planners eliminated the airborne element in 1967.

Following AIT at Fort Gordon Donald Crane was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, the home of the Infantry. On June 1, 1964 he was assigned to his first permanent unit, Company D (Combat Support), 1st Battalion, 188th Infantry Regiment, 11th Air Assault Division, as an assistant machine gunner. The 11th Air Assault was only a year old at the time so Donald was present to experience training in the new concepts of heliborne warfare as they were being developed. The unit worked extremely hard during the following months to prove to the Pentagon that airmobility worked. In October of 1964 Company D was attached to the 408th Supply and Service Battalion for a dramatic joint training exercise with the Air force. With a hurricane brewing off the coast of Georgia the Air Force had grounded most of its planes. To prove his point that air cavalry operations would work General Kinnard sent three aerial reconnaissance forces aloft, probing for holes in the clouds. Despite fierce winds and rain he was able to airlift a full battalion of troops only one hour behind schedule.

After the exercise was completed Donald's MOS was changed from assistant gunner to that of ammunition bearer for a mortar crew. He kept that MOS for the remainder of his time in the service.

In actual strength the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was no larger than a brigade in size. In a ceremony in early July 1965 at Fort Benning's Doughboy Stadium the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) was officially designated the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) when the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division were brought from Korea. On July 15 Donald Crane officially became a member of the First Team. When the orders came down to deploy to Vietnam, the Army also depleted the units of the 2nd Infantry Division, then stationed at Fort Benning, to help fill the billets. The Army raised several battalions from scratch. In his superb study, "Anatomy of a Division: The 1st Air Cav in Vietnam," Shelby L. Stanton notes that the Army authorized 15,890 men upon activation, but they assigned only 9,489. Because many of the troops were nearing the end of their service obligations more than 50 percent of this original compliment was ineligible for overseas deployment under peacetime service criteria. From the start presidential decisions plagued the division, and for that matter the entire United States war effort. The President refused to declare a state of emergency, refused to call up National Guard and Reserve forces, and refused to extend the active-duty tours of draftees and reserve officers.

For a division that would rely on helicopters to get troops and supplies to and from the battlefield the worldwide call went out for pilots and crewmen to fly the new Bell UH-1-series Iroquois utility helicopters, affectionately nicknamed "Hueys." During a presidential briefing on July 27 Secretary McNamara told the President that about one-third of the Army's helicopters were already in Vietnam. In August 1965 the division shipped out under strength and without many soldiers who, having trained with the 11th Air Assault Division, were experienced in the concept of helicopter warfare.

One maneuver element that made up the 1st Cavalry Division was the 7th Cavalry Regiment. The 7th Cavalry was first formed at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1866. They initially filled it with Civil War veterans and frontiersmen, many of whom were Irish immigrants. The Irish influence on the regiment was noted in an old drinking song, "Garry Owen," said to be a favorite of George Armstrong Custer, which became the regimental song. The song, and the greeting of "Garry Owen, Sir" exchanged by officers and men of the 7th Cavalry, survives to this day. With the American West opening up to settlement protection of the railroad surveyors and gold miners who crossed Sioux Indian territory became the primary mission of the 7th Cavalry. Moving to Dakota Territory in 1874, the unit was under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Custer's subsequent defeat at the hands of the Sioux and Cheyenne will be forever remembered by all Americans.

Although the cavalry had traded in its horses for olive-drab jeeps in February 1943 and the United States Army had eliminated the regimental system in the 1950s, the Army deployed two units designated as the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, to Vietnam in the summer of 1965. The men newly assigned to the First Cavalry now wore the large distinctive black and gold shoulder patch bearing the profile of a horse's head. Throughout the Army it was known as the "horse blanket" because of its size. In the spirit of the old cavalry off-duty helicopter pilots, who rode into battle aboard machines that were inconceivable to the cavalrymen of old, often wore dark blue frontier cavalry hats with gold braid and crossed-saber insignia, not unlike their forebears.

In the summer of 1965 then-Private First Class Robert Towles joined Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry as a rifleman. On July 30, 1965, two days after President Johnson's televised announcement, the men of the 7th Cavalry received Letter Order #342 assigning them from the Third U.S. Army, Fort Benning, Georgia to Destination - SECRET; ETA - CONFIDENTIAL, Theater of Assignment - PACOM (Pacific Area Command). The destination and ETA (estimated time of arrival) at the destination may have been officially classified but due to the President's public announcement there were few people in the United States who did not know where the First Cavalry was heading.

A total of six troop carriers, four aircraft carriers and seven cargo vessels were employed to move the division "across the pond." The men and equipment of the 3rd Brigade, including the 2/7, shipped out of Charleston, South Carolina on the USNS Maurice Rose Monday, August 16, 1965. Two soldiers who were among the troops embarking with Delta Company were Privates First Class Donald E. Crane and Ralph W. Brown.

According to Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (Retired) and Joseph L. Galloway, in their excellent book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young," it took the "Ramblin' Rose" the better part of the month to reach the port of Qui Nhon, Republic of Vietnam. Ironically, the last elements of the 66th Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army left their base at Thanh Hoa Province, North Vietnam (just north of the North-South Demilitarized Zone) on the very same day that the Maurice Rose left Charleston.

Then-PFC James H. Shadden, a mortar man from Tennessee, and a member of the mortar platoon of Delta Company, remembered that he first met Brown and Crane when the Army assigned them to the 1st Cavalry. On board the Maurice Rose someone had managed to bring aboard a guitar and, with a shared love of country music, the group spent many hours "picking an (sic) singing, in transit." Shadden recalled both as "good ol' country boys" just like he, and they found that they had something more than the Army in common. The days at sea were structured to help alleviate boredom and prepare the troops for combat. The time aboard the ship was spent in refresher training, map reading, readying equipment, physical training, playing cards and becoming familiar with their newly issued M-16 automatic rifles.

Leaving Charleston the Maurice Rose passed between the islands of Cuba and Haiti as it proceeded on to the Panama Canal. Its journey took it to Honolulu, Hawaii, there to disembark an appendicitis patient, and then it sailed on to Okinawa where the ship picked up a detachment of Marines.

Most of the 1st Cavalry Division reached the coastal port of Qui Nhon, Vietnam by mid-September 1965. Although prepared to fight their way ashore the landing was uneventful. After debarking from the ships the troops boarded helicopters and were flown inland to Pleiku Province. In the Central Highlands, with the help of the 101st Airborne Division, they carved out a large base camp north of the town of An Khe. During the autumn of 1965 a series of events and ominous intelligence reports would bring elements of the 1st Cav into a historically unparalleled campaign.

Throughout the history of land warfare life has never been easy for the infantryman. The Second Indochina War was by no means an exception. The terrain in the Central Highlands was a mixture of jungle-covered mountains and flat lands of bamboo and deep elephant grass. South Vietnam has a monsoon climate with two main seasons: hot and wet and hot and dry. The dry season generally lasts from November to April. The wet season lasts from May to October. In the Central Highlands the weather, although tropical, is cooler at night than in other parts of the country and fog often develops in the mountains. Besides the oppressive heat and humidity the men had to contend with a variety of insects, leeches, snakes and diseases such as dysentery and malaria. During the months of October and November 1965 many men of the 1st Cavalry Division were unavailable for "foxhole duty" due to illness.

In the field an infantryman carries with him everything needed to hopefully survive his encounters with the elements and with the enemy. The field load of a typical infantryman was a new lightweight M-16 automatic rifle and a minimum load of ten magazines of 5.56 mm ammunition. Most men usually carried at least twice as much rifle ammunition with them. Each man normally carried at least two or three canteens, an entrenching tool, C-rations, rifle cleaning equipment, insect repellent, a poncho and perhaps a jungle hammock. Carrying extra mortar rounds for the mortar crew was also usual for a rifleman, as was carrying extra machinegun ammunition for the machine gunner, at least four hand grenades, smoke grenades, Claymore mines and, perhaps, a light antitank weapon (LAW) or two. With clothing, a steel helmet, first aid pack, bayonet, and sundries the load would easily weigh at least 75 to 80 pounds.

Infantrymen have often said that combat consists of long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Compounding the harsh climatic conditions was the unpredictable confrontation with an enemy who controlled the conditions of battle and provided the infantrymen with those moments of sheer terror. Several studies of battle conducted from 1966 to 1972 concluded that it was the Viet Cong and main force North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units who determined the time and place of battle in 75 to 88 per cent of all combat engagements. Despite the significant technological advantages of aircraft, artillery, radar and communications equipment enjoyed by the Americans the most common forms of battle during the Vietnam War were ambushes and wave attacks initiated by the Revolutionary Forces. Unsophisticated enemy mines and booby traps exacted even more American and allied forces casualties.

In October the fortified Special Forces camp at the Montagnard village of Plei Me (about 25 miles southwest of the provincial capital of Pleiku) was manned by a Special Operations Detachment, some Vietnamese Rangers and more than 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) personnel. On the night of October 19, 1965 the North Vietnamese Army's 33rd Regiment attacked the camp in force. Military intelligence suspected that the North Vietnamese had a grand plan of luring the Americans and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) into a trap; the Special Forces camp was only the bait. Intelligence also picked up the presence of a second NVA regiment, the 32nd. That unit was deployed along the road from Pleiku to Plei Me. Relief columns sent to rescue the defenders of Plei Me would run into an ambush. The enemy's immediate plan was to ambush the relief column and then use both regiments to attack Plei Me.

The North Vietnamese had ambitions beyond that campaign, however. At this point in the struggle South Vietnamese government control was eroding. Well-armed and well-supplied regular force units were now supplementing the indigenous guerrilla force units, known as the National Liberation Front or Viet Cong, and making their presence felt in the Republic. North Vietnamese infiltration into the South, which had been roughly 1,000 men per month, was now reaching 2,500 men per month. As the rainy season ended the Hanoi government of Ho Chi Minh was ready to exploit those advantages. By 1965 the Hanoi regime sought to secure and dominate northern and central South Vietnam, cutting the country in half on a line from Pleiku to Qui Nhon and holding it with three divisions. Ten years later, with United States forces out of Vietnam and with the United States Congress refusing to provide further military aid to the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese used almost the same strategy and ultimately succeeded in taking over the country.

On October 23 an ARVN column from the 3rd Cavalry Squadron, the 1st Battalion of the 42nd ARVN Regiment and the Special Forces-led 21st and 22nd ARVN Ranger Battalions, with the help of American artillery, smashed the ambush and relieved Plei Me. The two NVA regiments broke contact and moved to secret Viet Cong sanctuaries on the Chu Pong Massif, a cluster of peaks and ridges covered with double-canopied rain forest that run along the Cambodian border. The massif was named after its highest peak, Chu Pong.

Once secluded in the jungle and tunnel sanctuaries the NVA sought to recover from the losses that they had suffered at Plei Me. Steep and rugged on the eastern side the hills slope gently on the Cambodian side and allowed easy access for the movement of supplies and men. Coming off the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Ia Drang Valley provided easy transport and a natural gateway to Vietnam's central highlands. It was at this time that General Westmoreland gave the 1st Cav the mission to pursue, seek out and destroy the enemy and, in the process find, his main supply depots before the NVA could evacuate them. The arena would be a 900 square-kilometer area that would become known as the Ia (river) Drang Valley and a campaign known as Pleiku.

At the direction of MACV commander General William Westmoreland the 1st Cavalry began the campaign on October 27, 1965. Following two weeks of chasing the North Vietnamese through the rugged area of the Central Highlands Major General Kinnard decided to send in fresh troops from the division's 3rd Brigade. Simultaneously the NVA's 66th Regiment had reached the Ia Drang from its trek from North Vietnam. The two forces were destined to clash.

The 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under the command of then-Lieutenant Colonel Harold G. (Hal) Moore, was given the mission to air assault into the Chu Pong Massif area and conduct limited search and destroy missions. On November 14, 1965, at a small clearing designated as Landing Zone (LZ) X-Ray, the air assault was continuing smoothly when the battalion's Bravo Company came under intense fire. Unbeknownst to Lieutenant Colonel Moore he had landed his battalion in the middle of the NVA's staging area for its next major assault against the allies. The three North Vietnamese battalions in the Chu Pong numbered over 2,000 men to Moore's 450. American Troops were facing regular North Vietnamese Army troops in steel helmets and full field kit instead of black pajama-clad indigenous forces.

The battle for LZ X-Ray raged unabated for three days as the 66th Regiment and remnants of the 33rd Regiment employed human wave attacks repeatedly in attempts to overrun the perimeter and to test the resolve of the green American forces. Tactical air support, artillery, and B-52 bomber strikes helped break the siege, but the exceptional bravery and courage of the LZ's defenders and the calm, professional leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Moore were the deciding factors. Before the North Vietnamese broke contact the Americans suffered 79 killed in action and 121 wounded in action. These were the heaviest casualties suffered by United States troops to that date. A Pennsylvanian, Second Lieutenant Walter J. (Joe) Marm, became the first member of the Division awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the battle. The Cav had inflicted casualties of more than 1800 dead according to Lieutenant Colonel Moore. This was the first clash of major United States ground forces and main force North Vietnamese Army units and is regarded as the campaign that ushered in helicopter warfare.

Among the units coming to the relief of the LZ's beleaguered defenders were elements of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry and the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. After airlifting the wounded and survivors of LZ X-Ray back to Pleiku for rest, recovery and reorganization the Skytroopers of the two replacement units established a night defensive perimeter. The scene at X-Ray looked like an alien landscape. Except for the largest trees there was little vegetation remaining. The intense gunfire had chopped down most of the trees and parachute flare canopies dotted many of the trees which remained. The ground was uneven and cratered from the impact of bombs, artillery, grenades and rockets. The litter of spent ammunition cases, bloody bandages, and discarded ration boxes was everywhere. The day was spent digging in and included the grim task of evacuating the bodies of the dead.

The soldiers who were bivouacking at X-Ray spent a fitful night with the stench of rotting corpses, continued sniper fire and the glow of the parachute flares that punctuated the darkness. For all intents and purposes the battle of Landing Zone X-Ray was over. The next morning the two battalions began preparing for overland movements to two other landing zones: the 2/5 was to return to previously established LZ Columbus to the northeast and 2/7 was to march to LZ Albany, a new landing zone two miles to the north.

The 2nd of the 7th was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. McDade. Although McDade was a veteran of World War II and Korea, he had commanded the battalion for less than three weeks. While he had been with the division for two years as the G-1 or administrative staff officer, he had not been in command of troops for ten years. That aside, according to Lieutenant General Moore the battalion itself "was the same mix of draftees, good NCO's (non-commissioned officers), green lieutenants, and good company commanders that were found in its sister 1st Battalion, 7th Cav." Unfortunately, many men assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry had not worked together or received the same airmobile training received by the 1st Battalion when it was part of the 11th Air Assault Division (Test).

As was true for many units that made up the 1st Cavalry Division, when orders came down to fill the ranks quickly and prepare the 2nd of the 7th for deployment to Vietnam, soldiers and equipment came from all over the world. Most of the assets of the 2/7 Cav had been transferred from the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment then stationed at Fort Benning. Then-PFC Robert Towles, a member of Delta Company, recalled that "a major problem with D 2/7 is that the company hardly ever worked together as a unit, and the platoons seldom had more than casual contact with each other." However, for the most part the individual soldiers had been on active duty for some time and were well trained in their respective combat specialties. According to information gleaned from the company's morning reports the unit was composed of roughly half draftees and half enlistees. Brown and Crane had each been in the Army for over a year and a half and shipped to Vietnam with less than six months left on their two-year draft obligations.

On Wednesday, November 17, with artillery fire preceding the lead elements, the column, led by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, left LZ X-Ray at 0900 hours to be well out of the area of the Chu Pong Massif by midmorning when giant B-52 strategic bombers from Guam would arrive overhead to conduct an "Arc Light" strike on the North Vietnamese sanctuary. The mission of the two infantry battalions was undefined other that the 2/7 was to establish an LZ and interdict any NVA movement along the Ia Drang River. Although intelligence reports of enemy activity near LZ Albany were negative it remains a mystery why a division that had trained and lived by a philosophy of moving troops quickly by helicopter would require the battalion to march overland in a region known to have been swarming with regimental and battalion-sized units of enemy soldiers less than twenty-four hours before.

At a predetermined location about three kilometers northeast of X-Ray the men of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cav and Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cav turned northwest and continued their march toward LZ Albany, about another two and one-half kilometers. Alpha, 1/5 was attached to the 2nd of the 7th to replace the battalion's Bravo Company, which had fought at LZ X-Ray and had been evacuated back to Pleiku with the 1st of the 7th. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry continued marching northeast about one and one-half kilometers toward LZ Columbus.

Accounts vary as to the exact order of march. According to General Moore's account the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was led by Alpha Company, followed by Delta Company (under the command of Captain Henry (Hank) Thorpe), then Charlie Company, Headquarters Company, and finally Alpha company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry. Captain John Fesmire, the company commander of Charlie Company, stated that it was Alpha, Headquarters, Delta, Charlie 2/7 and Alpha 1/5. The battalion after-action report places Charlie ahead of Delta. Delta Company was the battalion's combat support company and consisted of the recoilless rifle or antitank platoon, the mortar platoon and the machine gun platoon. One of the great tactical errors committed by Lieutenant Colonel McDade was that he had the unit moving in a simple column formation that served to disperse the troop concentration over a greater area. Although this may have saved some lives it had the additional effect of dispersing firepower. Due to the ambiguous nature of the march order issued by Lieutenant Colonel McDade some in the column discarded caution and had not positioned flank security for their march to Albany.

The mortar platoon was equipped with 81-mm mortars that, for transport, broke down in the component parts of a tube (weight 28 pounds), a baseplate (weight 48 pounds) and sights or mount (weight 31 pounds). Each member of the crew carried one of these cumbersome, heavy components, plus three mortar rounds and the same gear carried by the men in a rifle platoon. Although in Vietnam dense jungle or canopied forest sometimes hindered its use, an infantry battalion's mortars are usually the first type of artillery fire it will use if there is a contact with the enemy. Time and weather seldom prevent its use. Depending upon the ammunition fired, an 81-mm mortar has a range of about 3600 meters. Captain Thorpe stated that normally the company would only take one mortar tube and mortar crew on an operation. Despite his protests to Lieutenant Colonel McDade that the extra mortars would be cumbersome and of no use due to the dense jungle canopy McDade insisted that all three mortar tubes accompany the battalion. Two of the men in the mortar platoon were Private First Class Donald E. Crane and Private First Class Ralph W. Brown. Brown was an assistant gunner with the 3rd Squad of the mortar platoon; Crane was an ammunition bearer also assigned to the mortar platoon.

Before long heat, humidity, fatigue and jungle began taking a toll on the cavalrymen. As afternoon approached, the weary battalion was unknowingly entering an area crawling with NVA soldiers from the 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 33rd Regiment, and Headquarters, 3rd Battalion, 33rd Regiment. The 33rd Regiment had fought and taken casualties in the battle at Plei Me. The Air Cavalry's 1st Brigade had inflicted further casualties on the regiment while pursuing them following that battle. However, the 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment was in the area having arrived off the Ho Chi Minh Trail and anxious to take on the Americans.

Upon nearing the spot designated as Landing Zone Albany the battalion's reconnaissance platoon surprised an NVA reconnaissance team and took two prisoners. The long column of Skytroopers came to a halt as Lieutenant Colonel McDade advised that he was going forward to interrogate the prisoners. At this point unit integrity began to disintegrate. McDade, along with the battalion intelligence officer, an interpreter, radio operators, Alpha commander Captain Joel Sugdinis, his executive officer, and others, came forward to the location where they had captured the NVA prisoners. Minutes later McDade called all of the company commanders forward to his location. It is entirely possible that the NVA prisoners were purposely used to halt the column and bring the cavalrymen within the ambush zone.

As unit commanders and radio operators began gathering at the prisoners' location, about 100 yards away from LZ Albany, the men of the 1st Cavalry relaxed and took a break. They had been marching through hilly, heavy jungle, around giant, gray anthills and through chest deep, razor-sharp elephant grass for more than four hours now and, after having spent a tension-filled night at LZ X-Ray, had been awake for most of the past sixty hours. Now-Lieutenant General Moore said, the battalion was strung out along a line of march for a distance of at least 550 yards. Toward the center of the column the men of Delta Company were lolling around. Charlie Company, 2/7 and Alpha, 1/5 had flank security posted.

As platoon-sized units probed the immediate area for more North Vietnamese and as the entire column began to get to its feet to resume the march to LZ Albany the head of the column came under small arms fire. The scattered shots were replaced by the "clump" of incoming mortar fire and the crescendo of gunfire rose to full earsplitting volume. In no time a full scale battle was raging with intense automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire raining in on the Cavalry troops. The most savage one-day battle of the Vietnam War had begun.

The clash, which had begun at the head of the column, now spread quickly down the right flank of the American unit with Charlie Company and Delta Company immediately taking heavy casualties from grenades, automatic weapons and mortar fire. Screaming for the battalions' medics, desperate men tried to be heard above the din of battle. Since most of the radio operators had moved forward with the commanders the elements, who now found themselves in a fight for their lives, were without radio communications and could not tell other units of their position, coordinate an effective defense or call for help. Taking cover behind the giant anthills the surprised soldiers responded by using every weapon in their arsenal: M-16 automatic rifles, M-60 light machineguns, M-79 grenade launchers, light antitank (LAW) rockets, hand grenades and .45 caliber semiautomatic pistols. They responded as best they could but they were no match for the firepower being laid down by the well-prepared NVA.

As the center of the column came under heavy attack mortar crew members PFC Donald Ellis Crane, age twenty-four, and PFC Ralph Wayne Brown, age twenty-three, reacted as they had been trained. The exact positions of Crane and Brown within that part of the column are unknown. It is known that they never had a chance to set up their mortars and exchange counter-mortar fire. Their only chance to defend themselves was with their individual weapons and they both did it until they were mortally wounded. Captain Thorpe believes that they died within the first two minutes of the battle. Due to the intense enemy fire he was unable to return to his company. His immediate action was to form a defensive position at the head of the column. For his actions he was awarded the Silver Star. His valor was acknowledged and the award was presented in 1996 thirty-one years after the battle.

NVA snipers tied in the trees and armed with AK-47 automatic rifles picked off the American leaders and radio operators. Chaos reigned as the Americans tried to return fire that seemed to be coming from all directions. Indeed, it was since the Americans had walked into a battalion-sized U-shaped ambush and another NVA unit struck at the center. The tall grass made it virtually impossible for the soldiers to distinguish between friend and enemy and in the horrible confusion of that November day friend often killed friend. Charlie and Delta Companies took the brunt of the attack as the North Vietnamese attempted and succeeded in cutting the column in two and overrunning the stunned and helpless defenders. Charlie Company suffered forty-one killed in action; Delta Company lost twenty-six men on this fateful day. Many, many others were severely wounded.

To this day James Shadden says that he has "... wondered thousands of times about these guys (Brown and Crane), never have talked to anyone who could enlighten me on their death ..." Not surprisingly, he goes on to sadly relate that one of the reasons for this lack of knowledge is that "... there were not many of us left so info is hard to get."

As the intense battle progressed, Colonel Tim Brown, commander of the 1st Cavalry's 3rd Brigade, was flying in a command and control helicopter over the scene anxious to send in ground reinforcements, artillery, air support, aerial rocket artillery and medical evacuation helicopters to help the confused, struggling and dying men of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry and Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry. The combination of heavy fire, smoke, dust and mix of two forces engaged in hand-to-hand combat made any support unthinkable. Eventually, the surviving Americans began to cluster into defensive perimeters and it became possible to call in close air support from helicopter gun ships. However, because of the confused situation on the ground and the proximity of the combatants some observers on the ground were horrified as close-range napalm bombing sometimes turned into "friendly fire" and killed United States soldiers along with the enemy.

As day turned into night Company B, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry was flown into the area and Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry marched from Landing Zone Columbus toward Albany. Heavy artillery and aircraft flare illumination around the perimeter of LZ Albany discouraged further massed NVA attacks during the night. Nevertheless, it did not prevent the ruthless North Vietnamese from combing the area, seeking out lost or wounded Americans and shooting or bayoneting them on the spot. More than one soldier lived through the night by feigning death or lying beneath the bodies of others who had been killed.

In the morning light the full horror of the tragedy became apparent. Bodies of friend and enemy lay near one another. The close-in napalm and bombs horribly burned both American and North Vietnamese. The bodies of the execution victims were found shot in the head at close range. By the time the battle was declared over, some sixteen hours after it began on the afternoon of November 17, the 1st Cavalry Division would be counting another 151 Americans dead, four missing and another 124 wounded in this phase of the Pleiku campaign. They estimated the enemy dead at LZ Albany at 503.

While the fight at LZ X-Ray could be described as a United States victory, the battle at LZ Albany was a debacle. If measured in terms of casualties inflicted on the enemy then the Ia Drang campaign was surely a victory for the Americans. General Westmoreland quickly flew to Pleiku, received a briefing and described the battles in the Ia Drang to the American people in those terms. The North Vietnamese acknowledged later that they had suffered over three thousand soldiers killed during the campaign. Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade would continue to lead the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry until March 1966.

The battles of Landing Zones X-Ray and Albany were but preludes to the type of war that the United States military would continue to wage in Vietnam. Over and over the military used the infantry as bait to lure the enemy into a fight where they could then employ the overwhelming strength of American artillery and air support to become the deciding factor between victory and defeat and inflict heavy casualties on the enemy. General Westmoreland continued to believe that his strategy of killing more VC and NVA than the Revolutionary Forces could replenish would eventually result in an Allied victory. The United States would use this strategy repeatedly throughout the duration of the Second Indochina War against a determined enemy whose convictions would not allow defeat in a war of attrition. The North Vietnamese also learned some valuable lessons during their fight with the Americans in the Ia Drang. One of those lessons was that overwhelming American air and artillery superiority could be effectively countered by engaging the Americans at close range and controlling when contact would be broken.

As for the 1st Cavalry Division, it would go on to be the only division to operate in all four tactical zones of Vietnam, plus Cambodia, and to have elements assigned in-country for an unprecedented 2,056 days, longer than any other American division. Among its other campaigns would be Masher/White Wing, Paul Revere II, Irving Thayer II, Pershing and Pershing II and Jeb Stuart.

Back home in North Central Pennsylvania most families were busy making preparations for the coming Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming hunting season. The beautiful, bright colors of autumn were gone, replaced by the monochrome of leafless trees on the hillsides. Now the farmers began to relax, check for signs of deer, choose a good site for their tree stands and, overall, get ready to go into those same woods for white-tailed deer. They had already harvested and put most of the corn crops into corn cribs; silage had been put into the tall silos next to the barns. However, because of the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, hundreds of families throughout the nation were beginning to receive news of the horrible events that had taken place in Vietnam and would soon overtake their lives. Holidays, work and hunting would become the least of their interests in the coming weeks and years. Americans would now turn their attention to burying their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers of their children. Hundreds of shiny aluminum coffins were beginning to arrive and be unloaded at Travis Air Force Base in northern California. Hundreds of telegrams were being sent to the families of the dead notifying them that "The Secretary of the Army regrets ..." Vicki Mae Brown, who lived with her mother in nearby Orangeville, received her telegram after midnight. According to the Berwick Enterprise the telegram had arrived in Bloomsburg before midnight and there had been some difficulty in finding her home. The paper also reported that she was near collapse when informed of her husband's death.

For the first time since the Korean War Americans were seeing the crumpled bodies of young men on the front pages of their newspapers and on their television screens at supper time. The hometown newspapers of the day (locally The Bloomsburg Morning Press and the Berwick Enterprise) carried news of the deaths of Ralph Brown and Donald Crane on their front pages. This was early in the war when combat deaths were regularly reported in newspapers of all size but in small towns, such as these, news of local young men dying in Vietnam remained front page news throughout the duration of the war. In November 1965 Brown was only the second Columbia County soldier to die in action, the first having perished only one month before. Interestingly, although both men were from a small geographical area neither newspaper linked the fact that they had served together in the same unit and had died together on the same small plot of ground in the Ia Drang Valley. The story of Ralph Brown's death appeared in the November 19 edition of the Berwick Enterprise and the November 20 issue of the Morning Press featured a large front page photograph of him. The Berwick newspaper did not report Donald Crane's death until November 22. Sadly, Crane's name was misspelled "Craine" in the caption beneath his picture when it appeared on the front page of the Bloomsburg Morning Press and the article was inaccurate in the date of his entry onto active duty. Small articles appeared (again days apart) in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette and the Grit, a weekly newspaper published in Williamsport. Articles reporting their funerals appeared a column apart in the Berwick Enterprise, yet no connection was made of their being in the same military unit when they were killed.

In yet another rite, one that was being carried out with increasing frequency throughout the United States, the bodies of both men were returned to Pennsylvania by airplane and train accompanied by a uniformed escort of the United States Army. On the cold and windy afternoon of Sunday, December 5, 1965 Ralph W. Brown was buried with full military honors following a service at the Salem E.U.B. Church in Unityville, Pennsylvania. The Bloomsburg Morning Press estimated that about 200 persons attended the funeral and that many automobiles passing by on the adjoining road stopped to observe the ceremony. Members of the Millville American Legion Post carried Brown's casket. An honor guard from the Army's Indiantown Gap Military Reservation rendered an eighteen-gun salute and "Taps." He was buried in the hilltop cemetery about 100 yards from the simple white country church. A large tombstone marks his grave noting the fact that he had been killed in action in Vietnam. Having sold their farm in Columbia County, Ralph's family had moved to Essington, Pennsylvania shortly before he entered the service. His wife, Vicki, would later remarry but in 1980 she would die of a heart attack at the young age of thirty-five. She was buried next to Ralph.

Ralph Brown was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, The Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with "V" device, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

Donald E. Crane's wake was held on the same evening as Ralph Brown's burial. Donald's burial took place on the afternoon of Monday, December 6. They held services at the Zofcin Funeral Home in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania about 20 miles from the location of Ralph Brown's grave. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War Posts from Shickshinny provided the color guard. A firing squad and a bugler from the tiny, nearby Red Rock Air Force Base participated in rendering full military honors. He was laid to rest in the small Sorber Cemetery at Reyburn, outside Shickshinny. During his time in the United States Army he had been awarded the following medals and decorations: the Bronze Star with "V" device, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm and a number of weapons qualifications awards. His father was presented with the flag which draped his coffin.

For the Crane family 1965 had been a particularly tragic year. Earlier in the year Donald's mother died at the age of forty-four. Donald had been unable to attend his mother's funeral due to the buildup of forces for Vietnam. Now he joined her in death: Donald was buried next to the grave of his mother. His grave is marked by a simple, flat, white government marker noting that he died in Vietnam, had been a member of "CO D, 7 CAV, 1 CAV DIV" and that he had received the Purple Heart.

Before serious research began on this story the author believed that (given the fact that the men were about a year apart in age and their addresses were close to one another) they might have been boyhood friends who had joined the Army together on the "buddy" system. In the end the facts were that, although they had lived near to each other before going to war, it is unlikely that Brown and Crane knew each other before they became members of the mortar platoon of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division. Ironically, they left Pennsylvania for military service within weeks of one another and, tragically, they had returned home to the peaceful valley within days of one another.

The casualties at LZ's X-Ray and Albany would not be the first nor the last of the Vietnam War. Tragically, they would only foretell the deaths of over 56,000 more American men and women in southeast Asia.

The names of the men who died in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965 can be found etched on the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Panel 3-East. Casualties whose names appear on "The Wall" are listed alphabetically by their date of death. Ralph Wayne Brown's name is on Line 71; Donald Ellis Crane's name is on Line 73. We remember them, along with the other men of the 1st Cavalry Division, for their courage, their dedication and their devotion to their families and country.


In the spring of 2002 a major motion picture "We Were Soldiers", based upon the Moore-Galloway book was released in theaters. The story depicted in the film centered on the battle at LZ X-Ray. It ended right where the tragic story of D Company, 2nd of the 7th Cavalry begins: when they relieved the troops who had fought at X-Ray the day before their fateful march to LZ Albany.

Seeking to have Ralph Brown and Donald Crane remembered in their own community, efforts were made to contact the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise newspaper. On March 31, 2002, Easter Sunday, a front page story appeared recounting their stories. The article was well received in the community.

In the background James Bowen, a boyhood friend of Ralph Brown, was laboring on an effort of his own. Jim had served a pre-deployment tour with the 1st Cav. He had already been discharged from the Army when he received word of the death of his friend. He had never forgotten Ralph or the other Cavalrymen over the intervening years and contacted local school officials about an appropriate memorial. Along with the Military Order of the Purple Heart a beautiful plaque was fashioned to pay honor to both Ralph Brown and Donald Crane. Bowen credited Chic Thackara, a wounded World War II combat veteran from Bloomsburg with initiating the project.

On Saturday, July 6, 2002, under a warm sun, with the plaque standing on a flag-draped table, a short memorial ceremony was held at the Bloomsburg Fair Grounds. The ceremony was attended by members of the public and several surviving members of the Brown family, including his children Kelley Brown Hamilton and John Brown. Michael Slease of the Augusta Regiment of Pennsylvania's Provincial 3rd Battalion, a French and Indian War re-enactor group, spoke movingly of the lives and deaths of Ralph Brown and Donald Crane. At the conclusion the Augusta Regiment was joined by members of Cooper's Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, a Civil War re-enactor group, in firing a 21-gun salute.

The plaque was placed in a display case at Bloomsburg High School to remind future generations of youth of the sacrifices of men from a earlier era.

"Garry Owen"


The story of Donald E. Crane and Ralph W. Brown would not be complete without acknowledging those individuals who contributed to this effort to remember them. I first became interested in the men while researching data for a visit of the "Moving Wall." The sponsoring organization sought out biographies of local men who had been killed in action or who remain missing in action from the Vietnam War. While doing research on the names, I discovered that two men from the same rural area had died on the same date. At the time no biographies were found or submitted. Not knowing the true story of the men I remained intrigued by this coincidence and kept the names in the back of my head.

Six months later my wife, Diane, presented me with a copy of "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young", Hal Moore's and Joseph L. Galloway's history of the battles at LZ X-Ray and LZ Albany. For the first time I realized that, not only had Brown and Crane died on the same day, they had died at Ia Drang and had been assigned to the same mortar platoon. A note to Hal Moore's e-mail address provided me with a gracious response and the names and addresses of two excellent sources, former Cavalrymen Robert Towles and James Shadden. Robert Towles had served in the recoilless rifle platoon of D 2/7 and James Shadden was in the same mortar platoon as Brown and Crane. Both Towles and Shadden had been severely wounded in the battle at LZ Albany. The value of the information they provided and their willingness to share their memories cannot be overestimated. Also providing valuable information were: Henry Thorpe, Peter C. Cole, a First Cav veteran, who is compiling a history of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), Dick Ackerman of Reconnaissance Platoon, 2/7, and the staffs of Bloomsburg Area High School and Northwest Area High School. Thanks also for the encouragement provided by Joseph L. Galloway.

For Further Reading

    Coleman, MAJ J.D., editor The First Air Cavalry Division, Vietnam: Volume I, 1965-1969 The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) San Francisco (1970).

    ___ Pleiku St. Martin's Paperbacks New York (1989).

    Moore, Lt. Gen. Harold G. & Galloway, Joseph L. We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young Random House New York (1992).

    Scott, Leonard B. The Expendables Ballantine Books New York (1991).

    Stanton, Shelby L. Anatomy of a Division: 1st Cav in Vietnam Presidio Press Novato, CA (1987).