North Vietnamese soldiers were soon swarming around the narrow mountain finger on which Charlie Company had deployed to do battle. Robbins heard Jordan on the radio: "I'm taking fire. I'm pinned down. I can't move." Carpenter ordered Baker to swing his platoon around Jordan's left in an attempt to flank the fire that was pinning down Jordan's men from the front. Baker had just wheeled his men around Jordan's left when they were flattened under murderous automatic-weapons fire from their own left. Crippled and bloodied, Baker's platoon was now pinned down itself.
Then, suddenly, intersecting fire from several heavy and light machine guns began raking Carpenter's command position. He ordered Robbins and his platoon up the ridge, hoping to relieve the pressure from over there, but, recalls Robbins, "all of a sudden we got hit. We couldn't maneuver. Carpenter was pinned down on our left. They were really getting hit over there."
All three platoons had wounded men, so withdrawal was unimaginable to Carpenter. "When you've got a bunch of guys wounded, you're not going anyplace," Carpenter says. "At least I'm not going anyplace, leaving wounded kids around, and that was the crux of the whole thing."
Thus Carpenter stuck. From Baker's left the North Vietnamese had just launched their first assault, lobbing grenades and attacking behind bursts of automatic-weapons fire, one of which killed Baker instantly. Seconds later Baker's platoon sergeant died when two grenades exploded near him. The platoon was leaderless. "There was no way to figure out what was happening over there," says Carpenter. "They were only 30 meters away, but you couldn't see anything in the bamboo."
Then came a chilling, nameless voice calling Carpenter on Baker's radio: "We're all dead. We've been completely overrun. I'm the only one alive. We're all dead." The voice broke off.
"I thought I'd lost one whole platoon," Carpenter recalls. Enemy soldiers now made a second assault, this one against Jordan's front. Carpenter began to see the North Vietnamese in and among Jordan and his men, some of whom dropped back to form a tight defensive perimeter around the command post. No one experienced the surrcal terror and chaos of the unfolding drama more vividly than Mike Baldinger, a medic, who was dashing frantically around the position answering cries for help.
"I knew we were surrounded, because everywhere I went on the perimeter, I could hear [Vietnamese] voices," Baldinger recalls. "You could see them running past you in the bamboo. I remember working on a wounded soldier named Marcus Hurley. I was lying next to him and trying to put albumin in his arm with a needle. I was holding the bottle up in the air when it got shot out of my hand. I started to reach back for another when this sergeant yelled, 'Doc, look out! Grenade!' "
Baldinger glanced back and saw a potato masher bouncing toward him, and a North Vietnamese soldier about 100 feet away. Baldinger pushed himself up against Hurley's body to shield him from the blast. The grenade exploded, driving shrapnel into Baldinger's back. Glancing around, he saw the sergeant and the North Vietnamese soldier lying dead. He returned to Hurley. "I was trying to stick the needle into a vein when I heard some firing right on top of me," Baldinger says. "I turned around again, and an NVA soldier was about 30 feet away. He was walking backward and spraying an AK-47. I didn't have my rifle with me—I needed both hands to work—so I took my .45 out of the holster and shot him twice in the back. They were running around all over. They were like ghosts."
There was really only one thing left to do. About a mile and a half away, Carpenter's battalion commander, Lieut. Col. Hank (the Gunfighter) Emerson, listened anxiously on his radio-telephone as the circumference of Carpenter's world grew smaller and more violent. Emerson had been Carpenter's tactical officer at West Point, and he had come to admire the young captain so much as a soldier that when Carpenter returned to Vietnam for a second tour of combat duty, Emerson asked for him. Yet the Gunfighter never thought more of him than he did at that hour, when he heard Carpenter talking coolly to the aerial spotter.
Carpenter: "They're in real close to us. They're in among us."