Invariably, wars produce battles that become historical benchmarks. Not enough can be written or spoken about those events. Arguably, the Vietnam War’s 1965 Battle in the Ia Drang Valley between the Army’s newly formed 1st Air Cavalry Division’s 7th Cavalry and the North Vietnamese Army achieved such magnitude.
Ia Drang’s distinction began with Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway’s 1992 book, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, which examined the entire battle. J. L. “Bud” Alley has written a book about just the final stage of that fight—the 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry’s engagement with North Vietnamese forces at Landing Zone Albany. His book, The Ghosts of the Green Grass (Codi, 393 pp. $29.99), reveals exploits unrecognized in previous writings.
Alley served as a 2/7 second lieutenant in 1965-66. Part of an experimental U2 (untrained second lieutenants) program, he went from college to his unit without attending a basic officer course, although he later received training in combat communications.
His story focuses on more than the fighting. Alley, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, walks the reader through a chaotic month of assembling the battalion at Fort Benning for deployment to Vietnam as part of the newly formed 1st Cav. Equipment and manpower shortages hindered planners. Uncertainty about practically everything plagued company grade officers and sergeants.
“I was not sure if a Harvard professor could make sense out of the complexities,” Alley writes.
After thirty days at sea on the USS Rose, the battalion arrived at Qui Nhon in mid-September 1965. Its operational base was at An Khe.
Impulsive and unpredictable leadership stalled the battalion’s development into a fighting force. The Army was thin with experience across the board, Alley says. Six weeks after the battalion arrived in country, its stressed-out commander asked to be relieved.
On November 17, 1965, the day the entire battalion finally deployed in the field, no strategy existed to counter an enemy attack. The day’s plan was simple: march indirectly from LZ X-Ray to LZ Albany to avoid a B-52 ARC Light strike. The battalion’s column stretched from eight hundred to fifteen hundred meters in length. Delays were frequent. “We had no maps or idea of our destination other than to follow the man in front,” Alley writes.
Having never chosen an extraction landing zone, the battalion leaders were uncertain as to which of two cleared areas constituted LZ Albany. When the company commanders gathered to discuss the problem, the battalion came under fire on all sides from NVA forces.
The battle that followed became a fight for survival. Alley graphically describes the intensity of combat that cost the battalion one hundred fifty-five dead and one hundred thirty-four wounded. He weaves in first-hand accounts, his own included, worthy of awe and admiration.
A bitter conclusion to the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley came soon afterward, when Gen. Westmoreland told the 2nd Battalion survivors that they had achieved “a great victory over the Communists from the North.” A year and a half later, units of the 4th Infantry Division fought nearly identical costly battles in the Ia Drang, fights that are described by Robert Sholly in Young Soldiers, Amazing Warriors.
As Charles Baker does in his book, Gray Horse Troop, Alley links the 7th Cavalry’s Vietnam War experiences to its 1876 Little Bighorn Battle, but in greater depth. Alley points out many similarities between the “ghosts” of Gen. George Custer’s last days and 2/7’s encounters.
Alley’s book is based on more than fifty interviews with the men, wives, and widows of the Seventh Cavalry fighters, as well as military records and other published and unpublished sources.
Bud Alley earned a master’s degree in history in 2011. But he still possesses a sense of humor. At times, with its wealth of dialogue, The Ghosts of the Green Grass resembles a novel.
For ordering info, go to the author’s website, www.theghostsofthegreengrass.com