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Hereford’s Hard Story

Some stories are harder than others. Harder to unwind, harder to absorb. Such is the story that played out over the course of about an hour one sweltering afternoon in May 1966 near Vinh Thanh in Binh Dinh Province, during an operation the Americans had dubbed Crazy Horse. Private Robert Roeder survived that horror-filled day in 1966, but will now admit that he also died that day, on a small one-ship landing zone named Hereford. It was a shockingly brutal culmination to what was a bloody series of fights in some of the most rugged terrain in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

Little remembered today, the Hereford fight received a good bit of attention in the summer of 1966 partly because among those killed there was Look magazine senior editor Sam Castan, and a detailed account of the battle by noted military historian S.L.A. Marshall was published in Harper’s magazine. Castan’s widow, Fran, immediately challenged Marshall’s reporting methods in general and his contentions about Sam Castan’s motives and actions in particular. John Laurence, a CBS correspondent and close friend of Castan’s, later offered revealing insight into Castan’s integrity and frame of mind in the hours before the Hereford battle in his book The Cat From Hue. Nevertheless, Marshall’s take on Hereford was generally accepted as the last word. In our cover story, however, Mike Christy, a two-tour Vietnam veteran who in 1970 commanded the 1st Cavalry Division company at the center of the Hereford story, paints a picture that differs in significant ways from Marshall’s. Christy, who became acquainted in recent years with Hereford survivors, conducted extensive interviews with members of Charlie Company, including Roeder, who was not even noted as being at Hereford in the Marshall account.

In the course of researching this story, a number of Castan photos that accompanied Marshall’s Harper’s article, long believed to have been shot at Hereford, now appear—according to survivors— to have actually been taken earlier that morning at another landing zone. Although Christy’s story, unlike Marshall’s, sheds some light on how Charlie Company’s mortar platoon came to be left in such an untenable position that day—unnecessarily, it turns out—it remains a story truly knowable only to those few who survived, and those many brave men who died there.


Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.