Articles

This Vietnam vet describes what it was like to dodge machine gun fire to save his buddies

Tony Nadal is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who spent his whole life with the military in some way. Nadal was born on Fort Benning, Georgia, and his father was also an Army officer.


The younger Nadal only ever wanted to go to West Point and be an Army officer. That's exactly what he did.

Related: Legendary military correspondent looks back on the savage Battle of Ia Drang Valley >

His first duty station after airborne school and Ranger school took him to Munich, Germany. After three years of European service, Nadal got wind of Special Forces operations in Laos. He decided to move toward the sound of the guns.

After a Special Forces deployment in Laos, he returns to the U.S. to lead soldiers in an Air Mobile Division. On July 28, 1965, his Air Mobile Division was sent to Vietnam. His battalion was the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore. By November, they were responding to intelligence about an NVA position in the Chu Pong Mountains.

Nadal in Vietnam (AARP)

Moore led his battalion to an area called Ia Drang, landing at a place the Army dubbed LZ X-Ray. The battalion's eight Huey helicopters could only carry six men each, so they had to bring the entire battalion in 48 men at a time. By the time the 7th Cavalry landed 124 men, intelligence from a captured North Vietnamese soldier informed the Americans they were outnumbered 19-to-1.

"I can forget a lot of things about life but I won't forget the feel, the sense, the smell of LZ-XRAY," Nadal said in a video interview. "Colonel Moore immediately realized it was going to be a battle for survival."

Over three days, 3,500 U.S., South, and North Vietnamese soldiers fought for a contested victory, leaving 308 Americans and 660 NVA dead, with 544 U.S. and 670 NVA wounded. It was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and the North Vietnamese Army.

Combat operations at Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam, November 1965. Major Bruce P. Crandall's UH-1D helicopter climbs skyward after discharging a load of infantrymen on a search and destroy mission. (U.S. Army photo)

Then-Capt. Tony Nadal lost 15 of his men in the first two days of fighting. Sleepless and battered, his command was ordered out before the Air Force cleared the area out.

The video below was produced by AARP Studios for the American Heroes Channel. Tony Nadal describes how he feels as he pushes himself into the machine gun and grenade fire to retrieve the bodies of some of his soldiers.

"I feel the loss of all my soldiers," Nadal said. "When you get through all of the bravado, what you're left with is anguish. They fought for a cause… there was the expectation that when your country calls, you go."

The legendary battle was depicted in the book "We Were Soldiers Once… and Young" and the 2002 film "We Were Soldiers."
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