Defense Media Network

Ia Drang Valley: Pvt. Bill Beck’s Battle

An air cavalryman in an iconic fight

“The fighting lasted all night. We used everything – rifles, grenades, bayonets – doing some of the fighting in the glow of flares and some of it in pitch darkness. At one point I braced my rifle on the body of a dead NVA and sighted over top of him to shoot at his comrades.

For hours that must have seemed an eternity, Beck operated the machine gun while NVA charged him from a tree line 100 yards away. “There was a lot of noise and helicopters and some Air Force planes firing rockets nearby. Guys were screaming.”

For almost an hour, significant help came from an Air Force A-1E Skyraider that made repeated firing passes on the NVA. Then, the A-1E was hit, possibly by shrapnel from its own ordnance. It passed in front of Beck gushing flames. The aircraft piled into a clump of trees, killing pilot Capt. Paul T. McClellan, Jr.

Battle of Ia Drang Valley

U.S. Army cavalryman advance on Landing Zone X-Ray during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley. U.S. Army photo

After hours of fighting, Beck’s platoon, company, and battalion still held against the North Vietnamese.

Over the next two days, Beck was caught up in close-quarters fighting with NVA. More Americans were killed near him. During an assault across the same creek bed, he watched a U.S. soldier ram a bayonet into an NVA trooper’s chest, then take wounds himself.

When the shooting stopped, an American army of draft-era citizen soldiers had battled North Vietnam’s most experienced troops and prevailed.

During an assault across the same creek bed, he watched a U.S. soldier ram a bayonet into an NVA trooper’s chest, then take wounds himself.

“In later years when we talked about it, the colonel said I’d held the flank of Landing Zone X-ray in exactly the way Chamberlain’s 24th Maine soldiers secured Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg,” said Beck. “North Vietnamese regulars were rushing out of the woods, pouring right into us, and they had just one purpose, to overrun us and inflict a battalion-sized defeat on the United States Army.”

In recent interviews, Beck said he never learned the identity of “Doc” Nall, who helped save Adams. He would like to find Nall.

Beck left the Army as a specialist four. In 1996, after three decades of bureaucratic delay, Beck and Adams were awarded the bronze star with “V” device for valor. Others say Beck should have gotten a higher award.

Today, Beck lives in Camp Hill, Pa. A free-lance artist since 1972, he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but, “day by day, I’m handling it,” with help from his wife of nine years, Jennifer. He sees fellow veteran Russ Adams occasionally.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-201">
    Jack French

    They are all heroes–even to this day. The Ia Drang will never be forgotten. I was not there. I know some of the heroes personally, and have touched the names of those Cav guys on the WALL who gave their ALL for us.
    Best to Bill and the rest of the Ia Drang troopers. Your efforts and sacrifices are not forgotten.
    From a comrade-in-arms of the 282nd Avn Co (RW) Blackcats.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-202">

    To those who gave all for their country. I applaud you with all my heart and soul. You are the reason that our country still stands today. Don’t feel that you gave your lives, blood, and sweat in vain for you are the ones that make our country strong. Don’t let anyone take your honor away for you fought with dignity and courage. God bless you all and forgive those who make judgement upon these brave men.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-208978">

    Ive known Bill “satch” Beck for over 30 years. I am only 43 so I was’nt even around when this battle was fought. I have read many different things about Viet Nam but may I say this is the most impressive thing I have ever read. Satch never speaks of this bexause of his humility but one thing I will say is how proud I am to tell people that I know this hero and I call him friend.