The enemy began their local assault throughout the province. The initial attack in my district was on the National Police headquarters which was within a click (kilometer) of the district headquarters. The Vietnamese Regional Force company in our compound was called in to help. As a Captain, serving as District Senior Advisor, I was the one to request US assets. I quickly got on the radio to our headquarters (HQs) Operations Advisor, who was an Australian major and asked him to rustle up some air support. As the reaction force formed up, I then had my radio telephone operator strap the PRC 77 radio (the PRC 77 is a model number, analogous to calling the issued rifle an M-16) on my back, went to our communication bunker and performed a radio check. I had saddled myself with a bandolier of ammunition, a few fragmentation grenades and a couple of star clusters, grabbed my interpreter and joined the departing relief force.
As an interesting side note, my interpreter was rather good with English, to include understanding colloquial phrases. As we worked together during my tour, he helped me acquire some fluency, to include Vietnamese colloquialisms and slang – which proved useful when dealing with village & hamlet chiefs. Along with all my gear and my M16 rifle, I sidled up to the Vietnamese officer in charge and we cautiously headed out the gate toward the police headquarters. We got halfway there, when the point team took heavy fire from an enemy machine gun. We scrambled off the road behind whatever cover we could find and attempted to assess the situation as the Vietnamese troops returned fire. The Vietnamese lieutenant was on his radio and I unhooked the handset from mine and advised HQs of our situation and asked how we were doing on air support. The major advised me that he had gotten lucky and a fire team of two AH1G Cobra gunships was enroute. No sooner did I say, “Roger, out” then I got a call from the lead gunship, Stormy 26.
I advised the pilot of our situation, identified our location on the ground and where I thought the enemy was. As the two Cobras flew overhead, the enemy machine gun stopped firing, presumably to avoid giving away the position. The pilot reported that he didn’t see any enemy and would make another pass. Unless the enemy fired though, he would have a hard time identifying their position. Without really thinking, I jumped up, started firing and ran a few yards across the road to another covered position hoping to get a better view of the enemy. Just before I reached the other side, the enemy opened up again. Fortunately, they missed, as I dove into a shallow ditch next to the road. Apparently, their fire was enough to alert the Cobras, who called to get clearance just before proceeding to make a coordinated gun run on their newly acquired target. I had conferred with the District Chief regarding US fire support earlier that month when we first started getting reports of possible enemy infiltration. This was a new protocol implemented because of the My Li incident which had occurred a little over three years previously. Basically, it required confirmation that the target was indeed an enemy, so that innocent civilians would not be engaged. Based on local intelligence sources, the Dat Do District Chief was confident that civilians had abandoned their homes and were no longer in a hostile situation. The American teams had to rely on their counterparts, since we had no way of verifying the status ourselves.
I gave the Cobras the go-ahead and they made several passes using their 7.62 mm miniguns to neutralize the target. Once they finished their runs, the point team cautiously began moving forward. Receiving no enemy response, the remainder of the element began moving toward the NPHQS. As we passed the apparent machine-gun position, identified by a significant spread of shell casings, we also noticed what appeared to be blood trails, confirming the success of the gun runs. Once we reached our objective, the troops cleared the building and surrounding area, collected up personnel and equipment and we returned to our compound.
Over the next several days, consistent enemy contact was reported in the three major districts of the province: Duk Thanh in the northern section, Xuyen Moc in the eastern section and my own Dat Do in the central part of the province.
During the afternoon of 24 May 1972, the Vietnamese district intelligence officer, who previously had been assigned to a Vietnamese Ranger unit, and who spoke English rather well came to me to announce that enemy forces were in the process of covertly moving into positions to surround the district compound with the intent of attacking after dark in an effort to overrun the compound and raise the Viet Cong flag. Additionally, other enemy forces were similarly positioned to do the same in Xuyen Moc and, Duc Thanh. There was a South Vietnamese resettlement center, Suối Nghệ, located inDuc Thanh that was a local centerpiece of the “success” of Vietnamization (President Nixon’s program to transition the war effort from Vietnam dependency on US support to self-sufficiency) and consequently a premier target. I got as many details from him as I could and quickly contacted higher headquarters, identified the problem and requested air support. I waited to hear back, while assisting the resident RF company leaders, through my interpreter, in shoring up our defenses. On a side note, prior to the drawdown, advisers would attend a short training program at Fort Bragg to learn the language and culture of the Vietnamese, so it was easier to work with them. By the time I was assigned, the program had been discontinued, so whatever Vietnamese I could pick up from my interpreter & translator would be useful.
Then in late afternoon I received good news, in the form of a “radio check” request on our tactical frequency, from Sundog 77, an Air Force Forward Air Controller (FAC), who had been dispatched from Bien Hoa airbase. I apprised him of our situation and he responded by saying he would take a close look. After orbiting our area in his O2 Skymaster, he gave me the grim news.
There appeared to be a few hundred enemy located around the southern half of our perimeter. He advised me that he would call for air support but given the close proximity of the enemy to friendly troop locations, known as “danger close”, the Air Force solution would be somewhat limited. He also indicated that he would rely on me to help locate the enemy as best I could under the circumstances. I gave it some thought and realized that doing so from a ground fighting position would be nearly impossible without exposing myself to enemy fire. The solution to that problem came in the form of an observation tower that was affixed to the District Chief’s house and was approximately 20 feet off the ground. With the radio, my rifle, a set of binoculars and wearing a flack vest and helmet, I made my way up the tower and got into a somewhat fortified perch, consisting of 6 x 6 pressure-treated wooden posts, at the top. Fortunately, at that time the enemy apparently did not see me, as I drew no fire. The view was improved, and I was able to see into the jungle just beyond the cleared perimeter of our defensive position. I crouched down to minimize my exposure. The sound of the observation aircraft
flying around overhead was somewhat comforting – maintaining a link to US assets, not otherwise available. A short while later, Sundog notified me that he had an inbound aircraft that was outfitted with CBU 24 cluster bomblet units. These were unguided bombs that contained over 600 tennis ball sized BLU-26 sub munitions that could be pre-set for contact explosion or air bursts. Since the predominant threat was dismounted infantry, the Air Force ground crews pre-set the bombs for airburst detonation, maximizing the shrapnel effect on the enemy. The aircraft was an A37 Dragonfly, a straight wing lighter jet aircraft that was originally designated the T37 as a trainer.
As requirements for air support in Vietnam changed, the aircraft was adapted to carry ordinance and provide air support in constrained environments. As the Dragonfly was approaching, I called down to my RTO and told him to alert the Vietnamese to pop smoke just outside of the defensive wire labyrinth surrounding the compound. As the smoke grenades detonated, marking our perimeter, the enemy began firing what turned out to be an 82 mm mortar at the tower, to neutralize its observer (moi). Fortunately, for me
their aim was not very good and I remained unscathed, although some fragments did zoom by.
The aircraft released its payload and the explosions were deafening. The Forward Air Controller made one more pass over the target and was satisfied that it had been neutralized. As it was approaching darkness, the Vietnamese decided to wait until the morning to search the area. What they found was interesting…