By William E. Welsh
The U.S. military had 409,000 soldiers and Marines in South Vietnam organized into approximately 100 infantry and mechanized battalions at the start of 1968. North Vietnamese forces had infiltrated into the country through various points along the Ho Chi Minh Trail since 1965, one of which was the Central Highlands comprising Kontum, Pleiku, and Darlac provinces.
The Central Highlands were “are a run of erratic mountain ranges, gnarled valleys, jungled ravines and abrupt plains where Montagnard villages cluster, thin and disappear as the terrain steepens,” wrote war correspondent Michael Herr, who had visited the region during the height of the conflict. They were “spooky beyond belief,” Herr said.
General William Westmoreland, the top commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, had sought throughout 1967 to carry the war to opposing communist forces by striking North Vietnamese base camps and troop concentrations along the Cambodian and Laotian borders. A running battle had occurred in November 1967 as the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade had battled two regiments of the enemy’s corps-level B-3 Front at Dak To in Kontum Province. Although the North Vietnamese forces had been badly bloodied, they reorganized and replaced their losses inside Laos and continued to operate around Dak To.
Specialist 5 Dwight Johnson of Detroit, Michigan, was one of the many soldiers of the 4th U.S. Infantry Division that continued to
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