On this day in Military History: August 24, 1969
196th Light Infantry Brigade’s Company A refused to follow the orders of its commander, Lieutenant Eugene Schurtz, Jr., to continue an attack launched to reach a downed helicopter, 30 miles south of Da Nang, in the Que Son valley.
After five days of fierce combat against entrenched North Vietnamese forces, the unit had suffered heavy casualties. It was Schurtz who called Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Bacon to inform him that his men had refused to follow the order to leave because they had “simply had enough” and were completely “broken.”
Ultimately, the unit moved out after Bacon sent his executive officer and sergeant to give the troops a pep talk. Unfortunately, they discovered that all eight men aboard the downed helicopter had died.
In this case of “combat refusal,” as the Army describes it, Schurtz was relieved of his command and transferred to another position within the division. Neither he nor his men were disciplined.
This story ran rampant in newspapers in the United States at the time, highlighting how unpopular the war was. Also, the actions of the men demonstrated a general feeling of hopelessness and confusion common in Vietnam.
Essentially, the result of the mission proved to the soldiers how pointless their mission was. They were pushed to the absolute limit, but failed anyway.
This mission is often used as a cautionary tale for military leaders and rightfully so. Even the most powerful military in the world has a breaking point and it’s important not to find out where that line is.