Chronological Study of the Evacuation of Kham Duc
FROM: Gary &
Bunny Honold [mailto:email@example.com]
got this in from a SF friend of mine that was permanently assigned to the
Mobile Strike Force Company I assaulted into Ha Thanh with. Ha Thanh
wasn't his first rodeo. I knew 4 people mentioned in the article. My
friend and SGT Jack Matheney mentioned in the Ngok Tavak segment, the
replacement A-105 Detachment CO wounded early in the action, and LTC
Schungle, the SF C-Team Commander. Captain Silva spent a couple nights in
the empty bunk in my 2-man BOQ room at C-Team Hqs in Da Nang on his way
back to duty after med-evac and convalescent leave. I always remembered
him because of his preference for carrying a Thompson sub-machine gun. I,
along with others, questioned the weight of the ammo. His stock reply was
that, "yeah, but while you had ammo, you were king of the hill
baby". LTC Schungle was "legend" because of his actions at
SF Camp Lang Vei when they were overrun and his being the last man off the
ground at Kham Duc when they were overrun. He also made an appearance out
at Ha Thanh when we were having some excitement of our own. He gathered
all the USSF personnel and said that if any of us didn't feel right about
being there we could hop on his chopper back to Da Nang, no questions
asked. The two SGT's who had been with the 3rd Platoon that had had all
but themselves and 8 Yards KIA our first full day in the AO took him up on
the offer. They didn't have much of a platoon left to lead anyway. The SF
1LT and my friend, both of whom had the Company/1st Platoon and I split
the survivors into our platoons.
article is long, but gives some great historical perspective and almost
minute by minute action of what led up to the camp falling. Army Aviation
and the Air Force had the biggest role in support/evacuation of the camp.
Marines did play a part too. Sounds as if the Air Force had a tough time
getting their act together.
Extracted from: http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=117587
15 Dec 11, 19:02
Real Name: Don
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: outside of Ft. Bragg
The evacuation of Kham Duc was a very confusing event. My battalion, the 14th
Combat Aviation Battalion was there providing Americal Division aviation
support. The bigger picture, however, was not easy to compile. I scrounged
every source I could find, catalogued over 60 pictures and created a dozen
maps, all trying to make sense of it. As I began sifting through all of this
information, I decided that to deal with it chronologically was the only
sensible way to cut away the fluff, myths and outright fairy tales and get to
the real story. What I have created has, I hope, very little of me in it. I
have been sparing in my conjectures, conclusions or opinions in an attempt to
get to the true courage and resourcefulness of a handful of Allied soldiers,
Marines and aircrews.
Part I, May 1965 through March 1968
Part II, April 1968
Part III, 1 May 1968 through 9 May 1968
Part IV, 10 May 1968
Part V, 11 May 1968
Part VI, 0030 12 May 1968 through 0900 12 May 1968
Part VII 1502 12 May 1968 through 16 May 1968
Part VIII 1502 12 May 1968 through 16 May 1968
Part I, May 1965 through March 1968
Nothing in history exists in a vacuum, as an isolated event that occurs and
is gone, there is always a prelude and a postscript. Such was the case with
the evacuation of Kham Duc. The event that would end as the often frantic and
sometimes confused evacuation started years earlier in political circles in
May 1965 The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) began operating across
the border into Laos. The Command and Control Detachment (C & C) was
established at Da Nang while Kham Duc was chosen as the first launch site for
the cross border ops and was named the Forward Operations Base One or FOB 1.
It was always considered a dangerous place, as one early SOG member reflected,
“You could walk out the front gate and get ambushed before you reached the
December 1965 As the Twelfth Plenum of the Lao Dong Central Committee
convened in December, 1965, spirits were high. In spite of the U.S. ramping up
its involvement in the South, members of the Committee felt optimistic enough
to adopt a resolution declaring “ultimate victory” in
the South was to be achieved “in a relatively short period of time” and
committing the North
Vietnamese government to “increase aid to the South.” They would accept
nothing short of unconditional surrender of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops.
Inherent in the resolution was an admission that the National Liberation Front
and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces could not win the war in the face
of increasing American military aid to the South.
Summer 1966 The Kham Duc FOB was becoming too small for SOG’s
requirements, and with the unpredictable weather a major factor (the very
first cross border op had resulted in the loss of an aircraft and all on
board) three Special Forces officers were tasked with locating three
additional launch sites that were not so remote, had more favorable weather
and would be large enough to accommodate the teams. The launch site at Khe
Sanh was expanded into a FOB and new bases were established at Kontum and Phu
Bai. By the end of 1966 Kham Duc was no longer part of SOG’s bigger picture
and was used primarily as a Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) training
December 1966 It was a much less enthusiastic committee that met in
December, 1966, at the Thirteenth Plenum of the Lao Dong Central Committee.
American bombing had exacted a high price from the North Vietnamese people,
and in spite of a brave face, the toll was beginning to show. A somewhat
stable government under South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu had
emerged, reducing Viet Cong control of the rural areas thereby greatly
impacting National Liberation Front recruitment, food and tax sources.
Viet Cong guerilla main force and NVA units were losing an average of 15,000
men per month by the end of 1966. Viet Cong recruiting netted an average of
only 3,500 per month and new NVA deployments south only numbered about 7,000
troops per month. The math was easy. More NVA regular units would have to be
One of Giap’s constant concerns was the possible risk of U.S. invasion of
Laos or Cambodia to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or an invasion of North Viet
Nam itself. Indeed, “Operation York” completed at Westmoreland’s request
was a plan for just such invasions and plans were moving forward.
The resolution adopted at the Thirteenth Plenum provided that, “diplomatic
struggle has an important, positive, active role to play in the war effort.”
No longer unconditional surrender, now there was a willingness to negotiate a
settlement of the war. A month later at another meeting, the “winning the
war in a relatively short time” idea, that obviously was now out of the
question, was quietly dumped, replaced by a resolution that called for “a
single decisive victory” that needed to be won “in the shortest time
possible.” A quick victory was the only way North Viet Nam could survive for
the long haul.
The North Vietnamese were very thorough in analyzing failure. After
identifying the causes of a setback, they explored history to see if that
situation had occurred before and what action had been taken then, and if it
succeeded. They pulled out the files from 1953 and the Viet Minh struggle
against the French. At that time, they had sought action from the French
Communist Party and other sympathetic organizations to cause disruption at
home while Ho Chi Minh proclaimed loudly at a press conference that he was
ready to negotiate peace. He did not mention at the press conference that he
had just ordered Dien Bien Phu to be taken.
For the present conflict, a third direction would be attempted. In addition to
the “fight-talk” strategy, Communist parties around the world would be
asked to promote anti-war demonstrations and to join with sympathetic
organizations in the U.S. to pressure Congress through the media. High profile
individuals would be invited to Hanoi and exploited in the press. (Pete Seeger
had been a disappointment, it seemed no one in the U.S. cared when he visited
North Vietnam.) Sympathetic committees and draft protestors, along with empty
headed “peaceniks” would, it was hoped, sway public opinion, particularly
as an election year approached. One important point that was noted were the
films showing demoralized and defeated French and Colonial soldiers being led
away into captivity that had coincided with the peace talks.
January - February 1968 From this new policy came the Winter/Spring
Offensive of late 1967 and 1968, a two phase plan, the first phase consisting
of the border battles that ended with Con Thien. This phase was regarded as a
failure, the Communists gained no ground, suffered badly and failed to pull
Allied units away from the cities. The second phase was the General
Offensive/General Uprising that came to be known as TET, also a failure,
seeing them lose every significant battle and experience an embarrassing
failure as the South Vietnamese did not rally to their side.
9 February The 2cnd NVA Division retreated intact 80 kilometers to the
mountains where it could regroup and reorganize its battered regiments. The
Division’s activities around Hiep Duc (LZ’s West, and Center) in January
left the division in rough shape for TET, consequently the single battalion
committed to Da Nang failed to accomplish anything and the rest of the
division was unable to accomplish the ordered attack on Que Son. Two prisoners
captured around Go Noi Island reported the division was, “demoralized, sick
10 February According to George McArthur, Associated Press’ Saigon
bureau chief who covered the war for 10 years and was a no nonsense top notch
reporter, “When (Walter) Cronkite broadcast in Hue during the Tet offensive,
he arranged to have a shelling of the ridgeline behind him. This was his
famous trip when he supposedly changed his mind. Baloney. He’d made up his
mind before he ever came out there. But the Marines staged a shelling at four
in the afternoon, and he was up on top of our mission building in Hue doing
his stand-upper, wearing a bulletproof vest and a tin pot. And I was up there
[on the same roof] doing my laundry. Crap.” Cronkite filmed the report,
artillery going off on cue, then flew home.
14 February Walter Cronkite in Saigon was told by Westmoreland that the
U.S. and ARVN were winning TET. From there, Cronkite went to Hue where he
spent four days conducting interviews and was eventually able to get out on a
helicopter that also carried 12 dead Marines.
28 February Walter Cronkite presented a commentary, supposedly setting
aside his impartial observer role, on the folly of U.S. involvement in Viet
Nam using the words, “mired in stalemate.”
However badly the first two phases went for the North Vietnamese, they did
have one bright spot – the American press and anti-war movement.
Although SOG had stopped using Kham Duc as a FOB, they wanted to continue
using the base as a launch site for raids into Laos, consequently, plans were
in place to install a GCA and TACAN, very sophisticated and expensive
equipment allowing all weather landings. Company A, 70th Combat Engineer
Battalion based in Pleiku, was given the installation task as soon as the
monsoons would allow.
Politically the North Vietnamese revised their conditions to begin
negotiations, asking only for a halt to bombing raids and other acts of war
against North Viet Nam.
March 1968 In assessing the NVA failures of the first two phases of the
Winter/Spring Offensive, the observation was surprisingly candid; “We had
somewhat underestimated the capabilities and reactions of the enemy and had
set our goals too high. Our soldiers’ morale had been very high when they
set off for battle . . . When the battle did not progress favorably for our
side and when we suffered casualties, rightist thoughts, pessimism and
hesitancy appeared among our forces.”
Whether or not Khe Sanh was a diversion to pull American troops away from
other areas, by March it was obvious the siege would gain no critical
objective for the NVA. The SLAM (seeking, locating, annihilating and
monitoring) concept introduced at Con Thien that employed air and surface
firepower in a coordinated manner was perfected at Khe Sanh resulting in NVA
losses almost reaching a figure equaling one fifth of all U.S. losses for the
entire war. Although the siege continued until June, in April the NVA were
unable to prevent link up by the 1st Air Cav Division.
During Khe Sanh, the thing Johnson feared most was “another damned Din Bin
Phoo.” What the North Vietnamese needed was a Dien Bien Phu. A knockout blow
that could be timed to seriously impact the negotiations scheduled to begin
shortly in Paris. Bernard Fall suggested that Giap may have delayed assaulting
the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu until two days prior to the opening of
the Geneva Conference. What an attention getter at the bargaining table.
“See your offer, raise you a surrendered garrison.” And Kham Duc was such
a place, a miniature of Dien Bien Phu, an airstrip and an outpost, surrounded
by mountains, close to the Laotian Border, a million miles from serious
support. The situation was not just noted by the NVA. One South Vietnamese
soldier assigned to Kham Duc who had served with the Viet Minh at the Battle
of Dien Bien Phu recognized the similarities. When asked in 1964 whether the
Kham Duc camp was a good one, he responded affirmatively. “Yes. Very good
camp. Just like Dien Bien Phu!”
Even the weather at Kham Duc was sympathetic to the NVA, limiting visual
flying weather needed for close air support for days on end. Because of its
unique location in the mountains, Kham Duc was subject to weather patterns
from both sides of the Annamite Range resulting in an average of 277 inches of
rainfall annually. Morning ground fog was almost a daily occurrence, hanging
deep in the valleys until burned off by the sun. Resupply by air was,
therefore, a random event, but was the only resupply possible because the
roads were not secured.
Kham Duc was located 75 miles straight west of Chu Lai and seventeen miles
east of the border with Laos. The above map gives a true indication of the
isolation of Kham Duc, especially when one realizes that LZs Maryann and
Siberia were not yet established.
The 2cnd NVA Division received orders to move back to Laos, prepare to destroy
Kham Duc, clear route 14 and open a road from the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the
The NVA correctly concluded that the only troops available to relieve an
attack on Kham Duc would have to come from Americal, so a decision was made to
split the division. One regiment, the 21st, was sent east to open a combat
area in an arc from Tien Phuoc north to tie down Americal troops 7 to 10 days
prior to the opening of the attack on Kham Duc.
The garrison at Kham Duc began detecting an increase in enemy activity across
the border in Laos. “C” Company, 5th Special Forces in Danang ordered the
11th Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force) Company of ethnic Nungs (Vietnamese of
Chinese ancestry,) to Kham Duc to conduct patrolling operations to locate and
track the 2cnd NVA Division. This was probably not a sound decision. While
some Mike Force companies were proficient at patrolling, the 11th Company had
only been under the command of its current CO, Australian Captain John White,
since the middle of February and was not yet completely trained, especially
training for small unit patrolling. However, the company was blessed with
competent platoon leaders and Special Forces cadre. In mid-March the 11th
Company arrived at Kham Duc and moved to Ngok Tavak to establish a patrol
base. The 12th Mike Force Company with 259 trainees, 2 US Special Forces, 1
Vietnamese Special Forces and 2 interpreters arrived at Kham Duc for training.
Ngok Tavek was not much to look at. A rectangular fort built by the French
during the “Beau Geste” era of Foreign Legion history, it was an
unremarkable overgrown hilltop on the south side of a small valley on Route
14. The overgrowth made it a good patrol base, easy to hide in, a double apron
of barbed wire and an old French minefield made it somewhat defensible. But
still, the only thing that made this hilltop any different from those around
it was the 35 yard by 50 yard area at the very top surrounded by a 6 – 8
foot berm with fighting positions built into it. Old bunkers and artillery
emplacements collected rainwater and there was even an old pigsty and chicken
coop. On a lower elevation to the west was the old parade ground, now used as
a landing pad. In the small valley 500 yards north of the position was an air
strip, well built and in surprisingly good condition, although overgrown.
Route 14 approached from the south to the bottom of the hill, turned east
skirting the hill then headed north around the west end of the air strip. The
place was named for the mountain north of the airstrip, Ngok Tavak. From the
fort, in a straight line right over the mountain was Kham Duc, five miles
American intelligence had been following an increase in road building activity
joining Route 966 in Laos to Route 14 in South Viet Nam. The road was a three
lane dirt, fair weather road with steel bridges replacing dilapidated
structures. Where route 14 turned north toward Ngok Tavek, the new road
extended east across the Dak Se River, then northeast towards Que Son and Tam
Ky following an old French trail. American bombing halted construction on the
road, but the NVA opened another trail one ridge line to the south. Some
reports say that the Mike Force at Ngok Tavak could hear NVA road building
activity, but this is wrong, what was heard was the Air Force bombing the
Route 14 near Kham Duc. This gives an idea of the condition of triple canopy
Kham Duc ChronologyPart II
Part II, April 1968
The chess moves began. The NVA focusing on Kham Duc in earnest, the
Americans, as during TET, aware the NVA could launch such an attack, and
knowing it could be successful, but, as during TET, not believing the NVA
would put themselves in a position of suffering such punishment. But the
Americans had no idea the value the NVA had placed on a victory at Kham Duc.
Generals win battles, and politicians win wars (or lose them, as the case
may be.) President Johnson made his famous “I will not seek re-election”
speech on March 31 that promised to halt the bombing and not widen the war,
thereby tacitly establishing U.S. strategy limitations for the rest of the
war. Operation Pegasus, the link up of the 1st Air Cav with the Marines at
Khe Sanh was set to launch. Behind Pegasus was Operation Delaware, a plan
for the Cav to continue into Laos, turn down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and enter
the A Shau valley from the northwest. The plan was cancelled by Major
General Tolson, CG of the 1st Air Cav because the President’s speech made
the operation politically impossible.
Making their way laboriously down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the small unit from
the People’s Army of Viet Nam Film Studio in Hanoi had been given a very
specific task; to join up with the NVA 2cnd Division by the first of May and
then be prepared to film U.S. and ARVN prisoners being led away, hands tied
behind their backs, to prison camps, the film then to be quickly taken back
to Hanoi, edited and produced for the world to see. Such films were not new,
the world had seen many films of captured U.S. pilots being humiliated. But
this film had a special purpose and, perhaps unbeknownst to the film crew,
its creation harkened back to a previous war.
Captain Henderson, CO of Special Forces Detachment A-105 at
Kham Duc was reassigned to Company C at Da Nang. Captain Christopher Silva
In response to an American suggestion, Radio Hanoi announced
they would be willing to start peace talks in Paris one month later on May
With the talks nearing, Hanoi’s “fight/talk” strategy became apparent
as, in spite of massive losses, the North Vietnamese planned more
offensives. The next offensive was planned with more battalions and more
targets then TET, but when it was all over, the Americans called it “mini-Tet.”
It was the costliest month of the war for the U.S as a result of the
aggressiveness of the Allied response to the offensive. The next offensive
was so tame the Americans could not confirm it was a real offensive.
Intelligence summary of 5th Special Forces Group confirmed that the 2cnd NVA
Division and two of its regiments were in the vicinity of Kham Duc. The
report went on to say, “the VC are using the CIDG recruiting programs as
means for infiltrating agents into the CIDG. Investigation following a
recent attack on a Camp Strike Force outpost revealed that several VC had
infiltrated the ranks of the CIDG . . . . a total of 27 actual or suspected
VC. . . . were subsequently apprehended.”
Company A, 70th Combat Engineer Battalion from Pleiku began
moving to Kham Duc. Over the next seven days, including one day down for
weather, between 50 and 60 C-130 sorties carried the engineers, most of
their equipment and much of the materials they would need from Pleiku to
Kham Duc. Finally, with everything but their D7 bulldozers, the engineers
moved into Camp Conroy. The dozers were a problem because they would have to
be delivered by C-124 and the pilots who flew the C-124s did not want to
land at Kham Duc. After major hemming and hawing one dozer was finally
delivered but when the aircraft returned with the second one, the pilot
claimed to have taken fire and would not land. It would be two weeks before
enough pressure could be brought to bear to get the second dozer landed. A
rough terrain forklift was also needed at Kham Duc so the huge bundles of
M-881 airfield matting could be moved around. The forklift could only be
carried in a C-124. Once again the Air Force balked, but pressure from above
finally got the forklift moved.
Above, a C-130 taking off after bringing in engineers.
Camp Conroy, the temporary home of “A” Company, 70th Engineers.
Camp Conroy was located to the west of the runway just above the parking
apron. The “Strikers” were the Camp Strike Force (CSF) CIDG militia who
lived at the camp with their families and were responsible for camp defense.
Unloading a D7 dozer from a C-124. These pictures are from the excellent
“A” Company web site. “A” Company played an important part in the
evacuation that has been largely overlooked.
5th Special Forces Group’s mounting concern about the
increase of traffic on Route 14 and the increase of anti-aircraft capability
prompted them to request artillery support from III Marine Amphibious Force
(III MAF.) They asked for two 105’s to be placed at Kham Duc and two
155’s to be set up at Ngok Tavek. An alert order went out to Battery D,
2cnd Battalion, 13th Marines, newly arrived in Viet Nam, to move two 105
howitzers to Kham Duc for further movement to Ngok Tavek.
The cat and mouse game around Ngok Tavek was ramping up. Both sides knew
where the other was and what they were doing, but the NVA had an advantage,
they were not committed to a base. White felt that his position at Ngok
Tavek was becoming dangerous. Resupply was by helicopter or by airdrop on
the airfield from Caribous, neither method designed to be subtle. Deciding
that discretion was the better part of valor, White elected to move into the
jungle and find another patrol base. When he informed Company C, 5th SF
Group of his decision, he was told to stay put, other plans were in the
works. There has been a misconception that 11th Company could have melted
into the jungle and conducted guerilla operations, but, according to White,
that is not the case. If they lost their recon mobility, White’s only
option was to return to Kham Duc.
A 30 man CIDG platoon and a 5 man mortar detachment, with a 4.2 inch and an
81 mm mortar, from Kham Duc was sent to Ngok Tavek. Remembering the intel
report about infiltrators in the CIDG, White took the mortars into the fort
but would not allow the CIDG troops in, placing them to the east on the road
from the truck park to cover the approach from Route 14.
Australian Warrant Officers, Don Cameron and Frank Lucas,
11th Mike Force platoon leaders, and the patrol they were leading was
ambushed at 1530 hours, 10 kilometers south-southeast of Ngok Tavek. The
Mike Force troops disappeared leaving the two Australians to fend for
themselves. They crossed a river and laid low for the rest of the day and
through the night. The radio operator and his PRC-25 radio were captured, as
well as the Signal Operating Instructions with the frequencies and call
signs for Kham Duc and Ngok Tavek. The two Australians thought the radio
operator was being tortured because they heard him screaming all through the
night. The next day helicopters searched for the lost patrol. Special Forces
Sergeant First Class Willie Swicegood, the third 11th Company platoon
leader, riding in a helicopter, spotted the pair when they laid out an air
identification panel. Cameron pointed the direction they would move, toward
a cleared area around an old hut, where they could be picked up. It took the
two all day to get there, and when the helicopter came in to pick them up,
their missing patrol materialized out of the jungle and rushed the aircraft.
After restoring order, the patrol was taken back to Ngok Tavek in two trips.
The missing radio operator was the only casualty, although another Mike
Force soldier was wounded. There has been a lot of erroneous information
concerning this incident, but I have gone to an account written by Cameron
and included in Bruce Davies book for what I have presented here.
The first Captain White learned about the artillery for Ngok
Tavek was when a Marine helicopter landed, three Marines stepped out and
asked him where he wanted the artillery. What White had never intended to be
a defendable outpost was being set up to be a battle. The base did not have
a proper perimeter, fields of fire needed to be cleared by hand, it could be
completely dominated from the surrounding terrain and the 105’s could not
punch through triple canopy jungle to hit targets on the ground. Route 14 to
Kham Duc was not passable, so every round the artillery would fire needed to
be brought in by helicopter. White was not enthused.
A C-123 arrived at Kham Duc with the first lift for Battery
D, 2/13 Marines, comprising one individual Marine and a load of ammunition.
Two C-130 sorties carried in 9 tons of ammunition, the two
howitzers and 45 Marines. Kham Duc already had a heady reputation, when the
second gun was rolled down the ramp, the Marines headed for the ditch
alongside the runway neglecting to set the brakes on the gun. When the C-130
revved up for takeoff, the prop wash sent the gun rolling down the runway,
much to the delight of the SF personnel and the chagrin of the Marines who
saw “their big bad reputation rolling away with the gun,” as one Marine
A third C-130 carrying more ammunition, a ¾ ton truck and driver turned
back because of weather.
The advance party of Marines headed by Staff Sergeant James Schriver arrived
by helicopter at Ngok Tavek. Schriver went looking for Captain White, who
was filling sand bags with his shirt off. An officer filling sandbags was
not something Schriver had ever experienced. An officer with his shirt off
was not something Schriver had ever experienced. When he went up to White
and saluted, Schriver immediately received a dressing down about how
saluting in the field was a good way to get an officer killed.
The C-130 sorties bringing in the engineers to Kham Duc had flown right over
Ngok Tavek and created some concern among the NVA given the job of attacking
the camp. Still, the plan went forward, the attack date was set for 4 May.
The 1st Regiment-a Viet Cong Main Force regiment of the 2cnd NVA Division
would conduct the attack. The regiment would move east along the new trail
as far as the Dak Mi River, then turn north, then east to the junction where
the Dak Tiang joined the Dak Se River. Major Dang Ngoc Mai’s 40th
Battalion , 1st VC Regiment with about 300 men would then cross the river
and hide west of Ngok Tavek until 4 May when the attack would commence. He
would be supported by elements of the GK 40 Engineer Battalion that would
provide flame throwers, satchel charges and tear gas. The 13th
Reconnaissance Company had been scouting the base for a month and would
provide guides. The rest of the regiment would set up to hit Kham Duc with
suppressing fire provided by elements of the GK 32 Recoilless Rifle
Battalion and the GK33 Mortar Battalion during the attack on Ngok Tavek, but
would not attack Kham Duc until the 40th Battalion had accomplished its
mission and could support them. Additional support would come from a
battalion of Soviet made 85mm guns and 23mm anti-aircraft guns that had not
This map shows the general route taken by elements of the 2cnd NVA Division
moving to attack Kham Duc.
The 85 mm guns and 23 mm anti-aircraft guns for the 2cnd NVA
Division had not arrived yet. The North Vietnamese asked for a one week
delay in starting the Paris Peace talks, the U.S. agreed. The start of the
attack on Kham Duc commencing with operations against Ngok Tavek was
rescheduled for 10 May.
The final lift of Battery D, 2/13 Marines to Kham Duc was completed.
Part III, 1 May 1968 through 9 May 1968
It is amazing that different command and supply structures can negatively
influence events taking place in an area not much larger than a tennis
court. The fact that Kham Duc was located on the fringe of the III MAF AO
sort of created an “out of sight, out of mind” atmosphere, so a
partially filled artillery requirement request would not appear so important
at Danang, and it did show an honest attempt. Although, in the final
analysis two 155’s at Ngok Tavek and two 105’s at Kham Duc probably
would not have made much difference. And it was the artillery that pinned
White to the outpost.
The 105’s and the first load of ammunition were carried to
Ngok Tavek and landed on route 14 at the bottom of the hill. The area was
called the vehicle park because it was a large flat area adjacent to the
road. Placing the artillery outside of the perimeter did not make much sense
except that the fort was ringed with tall trees and the vehicle park was the
only place where anything resembling fields of fire existed. The Marines
suffered their first casualty when a grenade being placed as a booby trap
exploded killing the Marine setting it.
The artillery at Ngok Tavek responded to some fire missions
that had come down from their battalion, but in the process used most of
their ammunition. Even though the Marines, under the command of Lieutenant
Bob Adams, were under White’s over all command, they still depended on
their own battalion for supply, and the battalion supply officer did not
make the distinction that ammunition at Kham Duc was not at Ngok Tavek.
Getting ammunition to Ngok Tavek was never going to be easy, the Marines
only had about 300 helicopters of all types in Vietnam (by comparison, the
14th Combat Aviation Battalion had over 100 helicopters just by itself) and
the availability of CH-53’s, the only Marine aircraft that could carry the
ammunition, was down to 31%. The dual line of communications provided other
problems as well. When White requested flechette anti-personnel rounds, the
request went up his command chain, but when the request was put to the
Marines at III MAF, the request was turned down. White never learned there
were 26 flechette rounds already at Ngok Tavek. Out of 1240 HE, 60
illumination, 80 white phosphorus, 40 smoke and 90 flechette rounds
delivered to Kham Duc, only 150 HE, 30 WP, 20 illumination, 10 smoke and the
flechette rounds were all that made it to Ngok Tavek.
Ammunition for Ngok Tavek. A CH-53 taking off from the apron at Kham Duc.
Picture from A Co. 70th Engineers website, taken from Camp Conway.
Fifth Special Forces was beginning to breathe a little easier as it started
to look like the NVA division had bypassed Kham Duc on its way east. In the
past the camp had been subjected to harassing mortar fire and light probing
to screen the passage of NVA forces.
The sanguine analysis of the previous day was rudely crushed by
two events that occurred almost simultaneously. First, a defector was picked
up who related that he was part of a unit that was going to attack the camp
and the second was one of those light bulb moments that take your breath
away. A routine patrol on hill 676, just over four miles east of, and within
sight of the camp, suddenly met unexpected heavy contact. They pushed on and
took the hill after a two hour firefight to find that the NVA were in the
process of digging in defensive positions and had created a sand table of
the entire camp layout. To make sure the sand table was correct, all the NVA
had to do was stand up and look down on the camp.
A platoon sized patrol made contact just one kilometer south of Ngok Tavek.
Communication and Claymore wires were found cut at Ngok Tavek.
Captain White decided that the howitzers needed to be brought into the
perimeter. The ¾ ton truck could not move a gun, so the slings were
attached and the guns were pulled up the hill by hand, the first one on the
8th, the second the next day. At first the Nungs stood by amused, but
shortly they joined in the effort and the guns were set up, and registered.
Fields of fire had been cleared by blowing trees on the perimeter berm with
C-4 explosive. The felled trees were then incorporated into the bunkers at
The CIDG platoon decided to return to Kham Duc against the
advice of Captain White. They departed Ngok Tavek up Route 14 and walked
into an ambush. They returned to Ngok Tavek. Suspicions were raised because
the platoon had taken no casualties. They requested to be allowed to take up
positions inside the perimeter, but White refused.
Captain Christopher J. Silva, commander of Detachment A-105 rode into Ngok
Tavek on a resupply helicopter in response to Captain White’s concerns
about questionable loyalty among the Kham Duc CIDG platoon. Bad weather
prevented the aircraft from returning to pick up Silva. (One internet writer
claims he rode into Ngok Tavek in a Cobra with Captain Silva. There were no
Cobras in I Corps until August 68, Silva rode in on a CH-46.)
The exhausted Marines went to sleep on 50% alert.
About midnight, Ngok Tavek defenders heard the unmistakable sound of
equipment rattling as the enemy moved into position outside the perimeter.
Part IV, 10 May 1968
The 13th Marines had found themselves in Vietnam quite unexpectedly, in
almost a “Gilligan’s Island” sort of way. They had departed the U.S.
for a cruise that should end up in Hawaii, but had been diverted to Danang.
Some of the Marines had even packed their Hawaiian shirts and golf clubs.
Friday, 10 May, 1968
The defenders at Ngok Tavek consisted of three groups, the first was the
Mike Force with 122 Nungs, the three Australians, five U.S. Special
Forces, three South Vietnamese Special Forces and three interpreters, the
second group was the 41 Marines, and the third group, the five man CIDG
mortar crews and the 30 CIDG from Kham Duc.
0200 10 May
Major Mai’s 40th Battalion and supporting engineers,
now assisted by a local VC unit were in position He now had about 350 men
for the assault. They were waiting for the moon to set at 0300.
0245 10 May
Kham Duc Special Forces camp came under mortar fire as
about 65 rounds hit the camp on the east side of the runway. None of the
rest of the camp was hit.
0315 10 May
Assault squads with satchel charges would lead the
attack followed by flame throwers who would destroy the guns. CIDG troops
approached the fort shouting “friendly, friendly, don’t shoot!” They
were let into the fort. A second group a few minutes later roused
suspicions but it was too late. A satchel charge killed two Nungs manning
a machine gun, and a few seconds later, Marine Private First Class Paul
Czerwonka manning a .50 caliber was killed. Lance Corporal Joseph Cook,
Czerwonka’s loader, stood up and was shot. Mortars began falling around
the guns and the command post wounding Lieutenant Bob Adams and Staff
Sergeant Schriver of the Marines. Lance Corporal Raymond Heyne was killed
at the front berm. Special Forces Sergeant Glenn Miller was shot in the
head. When the CIDG mortar crew abandoned the 4.2 mortar, Captain Silva
rushed forward to man the weapon but was seriously wounded. Private First
Class Thomas Blackmon, already wounded, was shot in the head as another
Marine was trying to help him. Private First Class Robert Lopez was shot
dead at the berm. Private First Class Barry Hempel was killed by a mortar.
By this time the ammunition and the ¾ ton truck were on fire, but it
benefited the defenders exposing the attacking NVA.
NVA attacks around the other sides of the perimeter had been met with
minefields, barbed wire and the other two Nung platoons, so these attacks
collapsed in favor of the eastern approach through the gate. The second
Nung platoon had retreated to the LZ when their platoon leader, Sergeant
First Class Willie Swicegood had been wounded. The Marine defenders now
found themselves broken into separate disconnected fighting positions, the
NVA were being shot at from front, sides and behind as they bypassed the
Marines. Unable to push past the defenders, now pressed into the northeast
corner around the CP and east side of the fort or the Marines in their
scattered fighting positions, the NVA inside the fort were in the middle
of a crossfire melee. By 0328 the attack had ground to a halt and the NVA
began pulling back their dead.
Lance Corporal David Fuentes, of Mexican descent and of small stature, had
gone to sleep with his shirt and boots off, wearing only a cut-off pair of
utility pants. He found himself totally ignored by NVA soldiers, who
mistook him for one of them. As they rushed past him to get to the guns,
he felt like he was in a turkey shoot, just shooting enemy anywhere he
0330 10 May
Major Mai, whose CP was now only about 20 meters from
the perimeter, ordered in his 3rd company, but they too were unable to
dislodge the defenders. Three times the NVA threw tear gas, but it drifted
back over their own positions.
0400 10 May
Captain Eugene Makowski was roused out with
instructions to fly to Kham Duc and assume command of the 12th Mike Force
Company that was training there, then take them to the relief of Ngok
0420 10 May In response to Captain White’s call shortly after the attack
started, an AC-47 “Spooky” arrived on station. White and his small CP
group were unaware that the NVA attack had stalled and was calling for
“Spooky” to fire into the fort. White knew there were friendly wounded
around the guns, but felt the tactical situation justified it. The request
was never forwarded to the aircraft, consequently, “Spooky’s” fire
was concentrated outside the perimeter, right where it needed to be as it
turned out. The NVA were confused when they began receiving machine gun
fire from a different direction, they assumed it was from helicopters.
“Spooky” remained overhead dropping flares and providing a
communications link until relieved at daylight by an Air Force forward air
controller (FAC). While Ngok Tavek remained occupied, the FAC would call
in 30 tactical air strikes to keep the NVA at a distance.
An AC-47 “Spooky” also known as “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Three
7.62 mm mini guns, each firing 6,000 rounds a minute provided awesome
Major Mai, 40th Battalion commander was wounded and carried off the
battlefield. No more direct attacks were attempted, instead the battle was
reduced to sniping at movement and throwing hand grenades.
0530 10 May
As daylight approached, 40th Battalion began a slow
withdrawal to support the attack on Kham Duc leaving the local VC unit
supported by mortars and recoilless rifles to contain the defenders at
A small group of Marines who had been isolated throughout the night
decided that, as the sun rose, they were just going to charge out of their
position and go down fighting, taking as many of the enemy as they could
with them. Some of them decided to take time to have a last cigarette,
which probably saved their lives.
Lucas and Cameron decided to retake the rest of the fort, but could only
muster the Marines who were at the CP and a small number of Nungs to go
with them. Still, they moved out of the CP firing at anything that looked
NVA. As they cleared the berm, they came face to face with the group of
Marines who had, by now, finished their last cigarettes and were
attacking. Together, they cleared the last enemy from the fort and retook
the gun positions. There were 31 NVA bodies in the fighting positions, 50
NVA weapons were recovered. The bodies of Marines Lance Corporal Thomas
Fritsch, Corporal Gerald King, Private First Class William McGonigle,
Lance Corporal Donald Mitchell and Lance Corporal James Sargent were found
where they fell.
0600 10 May
A breakdown of trust occurred between the Marines,
Nungs and the remaining CIDG. The Marines were not about to be betrayed
again. The Nungs killed the CIDG that could be identified as traitors.
Surprising behavior for troops who had been conspicuous by their cowardice
only hours before.
A UH-1H, call sign “Dustoff 55”, piloted by Major Pat Brady CO of the
54th Medical Detachment began taking out the wounded. Brady’s commanding
officer would probably not have let Brady fly if he knew that soon Brady
would receive the Medal of Honor for using up three helicopters to rescue
51 men (that was according to the citation, the real number was 64) under
fire and in zero visibility during TET. That episode notwithstanding, 2cnd
NVA Division policy was not to shoot at medevacs, although, as those of us
who flew in I Corps well know, it was not always observed. Through the
course of the morning, Brady would haul 70 wounded back to Kham Duc.
There, an aid station had been set up on the landing apron for easy access
to the helicopters. The engineer and Special Forces medics patched people
up and prepared to send them out. A Chinook and a C7A Caribou evacuated
the Ngok Tavek wounded out of Kham Duc.
The first aid station was set up on the end of the apron for easy access
to evacuation aircraft. This was actually a revetment to protect gunships
that remained overnight. Picture from Camp Conroy and was probably taken
from the Company A website.
Incoming on the apron. At the far end of the apron was a refuel point for
helicopters. In the middle are ammo boxes at the rearm point for gunships.
14th Combat Aviation Battalion kept 6 gunships on station during the
daylight hours of the 10th and 11th of May, but they were withdrawn on the
12th to free up airspace for tactical air strikes.
Company A, 70th Combat Engineers returned to their work projects. One
group was building a new parking apron at the northern end of the runway,
another group was patching holes and a third was on the western side
working the sand screen on the south end of the runway.
0630 10 May
A UH-1 departed Da Nang for Kham Duc. On board were
Captain Makowski, commo Sergeant Jack Deleshaw, and medics Specialist 4
Tom Perry and Sergeant Jack Matheney, all from Company C, 5th SF Group.
0730 10 May
Captain Makowski arrived at Kham Duc, picked up a radio
and proceeded to Ngok Tavek to assess the situation. Captain Silva and
some other badly wounded were loaded aboard the Huey to be taken to Da
Nang. Makowski returned to Kham Duc to load up the 12th Mike Force
A flight of four CH-46’s, from Marine helicopter squadron HMM-265 under
the command of Major John McCabe arrived and began loading the Mike force
troops for the trip to Ngok Tavek.
CH-46 on the parking apron at Kham Duc.
0830 10 May
Operational plan Golden Valley, the reinforcement of
Kham Duc was initiated. The plan called for the 1st Battalion, 46th
Infantry to reinforce Kham Duc. The first company was to be on location in
one hour, the rest of the battalion and supporting artillery to arrive
within six hours.
0845 10 May
Americal requested a change in the plan, to use the
2cnd Battalion 1st Infantry instead of the 1/46th because 2/1st was then
uncommitted although with the 101st Airborne in the north of I Corps. III
MAF agreed and a command group and Company A, 1/46th , located close to
Chu Lai would take up position at Kham Duc until 2/1st could arrive.
0930 10 May
Major McCabe’s CH-46’s waited for Dustoff 55 to get
clear before they prepared their final approach, one aircraft at a time
landing at the Ngok Tavek LZ. The first aircraft landed and unloaded with
no problems. The second aircraft took fire but was not hit and safely
unloaded its troops. The third aircraft, CH-46A 152505, landed, and while
unloading received serious hits in the aft pylon cutting a major fuel
line. The crew radioed an emergency call and exited the aircraft. The
second aircraft, CH-46A 151907, was the nearest, so they circled back to
the LZ and took a direct hit just before touchdown, the aircraft catching
fire. The crew got out with one man suffering serious leg wounds. With two
wrecked aircraft blocking the LZ, the fourth aircraft returned to Kham Duc
without unloading troops. Forty five members of the 12th Mike Force
Company had made it to Ngok Tavek. An NVA 57 mm recoilless rifle section
commander from GK 32 Recoilless Rifle Battalion was credited with shooting
down two helicopters.
0950 10 May
Major Brady, Dustoff 55, had completed evacuating the
wounded out of Ngok Tavek but responded to the distress call and returned,
but with the LZ blocked by the downed CH-46’s, he hovered up to the berm
of the fort and set the front of the skids on a downed tree. The plan was
that he would take the wounded crewmember, two more wounded Nungs and
three CH-46 crewmembers out on what was to be his last trip. Inexplicably,
as the Huey lifted off, two of the Nungs and one of the remaining Marine
aviators, Lieutenant Horace Fleming grabbed the skids. Major Brady, now
committed to a take off, flew northeast then circled east and landed at
the end of the runway, staying at treetop level and keeping his airspeed
low. One of the Nungs and Lieutenant Fleming had fallen off, the remaining
Nung was brought inside. Brady retraced his route hoping to spot them but
was unsuccessful. A Marine inside the aircraft had tried to hold on to
Fleming’s hand, but when Fleming slipped loose, he said he shut his
eyes, unable to watch him fall. Later, Brady said he could not understand
why the two could not hold on for such a short time.
The airstrip at Ngok Tavek looking east. The mountain is on the left, the
old fort is out of the picture to the right. Lieutenant Fleming fell off
somewhere to the right, between the fort and the runway.
1000 10 May
The Kham Duc Special Forces Camp again came under a two
hour mortar attack. Engineers patching the runway opposite the CIDG camp
took cover in ditches alongside the runway.
1020 10 May
Third platoon, Company A, 70th Engineers working on the
south end of the runway detected movement in the woods about a hundred
meters to the east. After confirming the presence of NVA, a firefight
erupted that lasted about an hour and a half. It appeared the NVA were
trying to infiltrate through the CIDG camp that was unoccupied at the
time. Two NVA were killed by engineers as they tried to go around the end
of the runway to the west side.
1030 10 May
Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Deputy Company
Commander of C Company 5th Special Forces arrived to provide an airborne
radio link and to co-ordinate the withdrawal of troops from Ngok Tavek.
Captain Robert Henderson arrived at Kham Duc in the same aircraft to take
the place of the wounded Captain Silva.
1045 10 May
Captain White requested permission to abandon the
position but was told to hold on, help was on the way.
1050 10 May
Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry of the 198th
Infantry Brigade and a command group from the battalion led by Lieutenant
Colonel Garland Owens arrived at Kham Duc by C-130 and set up defensive
positions on the south end of the runway. Squad size units were put on
Observation Posts 1, 3 & 5 reinforcing the CIDG who occupied these
1200 10 May
Captain White felt that his battered force could not
withstand another attack, they were low on ammunition and his Mike Force
troops were very nervous. Constant airstrikes all around the position had
not silenced the sporadic 82 mm mortar fire. His request to evacuate the
position had been turned down with an assurance that help was coming. He
knew that there was no way help could arrive, the LZ was cluttered with
wrecked helicopters, the road would be ambushed and the airfield was
probably covered by enemy fire. He quietly made the decision to prepare to
evacuate, consulting no one and disobeying orders. Everything that
couldn’t be carried was piled into the command bunker. Two almost full
NVA flamethrower tanks were dumped on the pile and the whole thing rigged
with C-4 and a Claymore mine. Captain White was losing a couple of cases
of beer and some Scotch whiskey. One of the CH-46’s on the LZ had not
burned, so Warrant Officer Cameron destroyed it with two LAW shots. The
dead became a sensitive issue. The Marines simply could not accept the
idea of leaving their fallen comrades behind, although they understood
that trying to carry them back would be suicide. Even though they
eventually agreed that leaving them behind was the only option, it was
heart rendering. White asked Makowski to collect dogtags.
1300 10 May
Major General Koster, Americal Division commander
arrived at Kham Duc to assess the situation. This would be the first of
many trips over the next two days. Koster met the advance party of 20
personnel led by Major Donald Buchwald, Battalion S-3 from the 2/1st
Infantry and briefed them on the current situation at Kham Duc and the
mission of the Battalion. One source states that General Joseph Stillwell,
Jr. was with Koster. This was impossible, Stillwell died in 1966.
1300 10 May
Captain White contacted Lieutenant Colonel Smith and
simply said, “OK. We’re moving out.” Smith told him no, they were to
remain there. White simply handed the radio to Makowski. Although Makowski
had placed himself and his troops under White’s command, they still
could have remained if Makowski chose to do so. Makowski did not
completely make up his mind until the men were actually leaving. White
called a meeting of the “round eyes” and told them they were going, in
what order and designated the area on the east side of the wire where they
would gather, then he ordered the last few rounds fired from the 105’s,
some said there were 7, others said 9. A group disabled the 105’s and
made sure the truck was destroyed. White co-ordinated with the FAC so that
a napalm strike would start at the northeast corner, then be followed by
five successive strikes leading away from the fort in a straight line to
the southeast. The party would move through the burning area as soon as
they could, hoping that the napalm would have reduced any threat from the
NVA. Part of the Mike force led the way with the U.S. personnel in the
middle followed by the rest of the Mike Force. Perry and Deleshaw were to
stand guard on the opposite side of the perimeter until everyone had moved
out. Walking off the hill were 83 Mike Force, 3 Australians, 5 US Special
Forces and 14 Marines, 2 of them wounded. The bodies of 11 Marines and
Special Forces Sergeant Glenn Miller were left behind, some where they
fell, others moved close to the CP. Here a “jungle myth” says that as
Deleshaw and Perry rejoined the column, the VC chose that moment to
finally take the outpost and proceeded the attack with a mortar barrage. A
mortar round hit the tail end of the column wounding some Nungs. Perry
went back to help the wounded and was captured. This is not true, no one
knew what happened to Thomas Hepburn Perry, actress Katherine Hepburn’s
nephew. The VC never moved on the outpost until the evacuation was
1500 10 May
The column from Ngok Tavek headed southeast through the
burned area. They had gotten away clean, moved slowly and avoided open
areas. They descended a hill and crossed the Dak Se River. Sergeant
Matheney stopped on a sandbar where he could see the groups coming down
the hill and waited for his friend, Tom Perry. Captain White was at the
end of the “roundeyed” part of the column and Matheney informed him
that he thought they had lost Perry. White, who was also aware they had
lost Perry, responded, “I know. So, what do we do, go back for him?”
The question didn’t need an answer, it would have been suicide. At this
point in the narrative a fairy tale was introduced, traced back to a
sloppy interpretation of a report by someone on the staff of the 1st
Marine Division. This tale presents the idea that a Marine search party
went back to find Perry and the missing Nungs, was ambushed and went
missing at that point. Unfortunately, this tale has grown large with use
and is responsible for much of the controversy over the missing Marines at
Ngok Tavek. The facts as substantiated in accounts given by White,
Makowski, Matheney and every surviving Marine that walked out, is that
every missing Marine except Fleming was killed at the fort and their
bodies remained there.
1530 10 May
C-130’s began landing elements of the 2/1st Infantry
at Kham Duc. The C-130’s became the target of mortars as they pulled
onto the apron to unload. One of the first aircraft to land brought in
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Nelson the battalion commander. The battalion
set out to complete the perimeter and tie in with the defenses built by
the Special Forces, the CIDG, and the engineers. When Lieutenant Colonel
Nelson selected his command team for the mission he must have suspected
there was a chance for disaster because he rejected anyone with less than
60 days left in country. Nelson was elated to discover he had a complete
engineer company at his disposal and immediately set them to work digging
in his troops and digging out a bunker for his command post. The engineers
had the only working forklift available, so they became invaluable in
moving supplies as they were brought in, all done under sporadic mortar
C-130 receiving mortar rounds as it taxis out for takeoff.
1600 10 May
After leaving the streambed, the survivors of Ngok
Tavek climbed a mountainside where they reached a ridgeline and hacked a
landing zone out of the bamboo. Lieutenant Colonel Smith arranged with
Marine Major McCabe, who had returned with a flight of 4 CH-46’s, to
pick up the Ngok Tavek survivors. The aircraft could only carry about 10
at a time so a shuttle service began taking people to Kham Duc, each
aircraft making 2 trips.
1600 10 May
Captain Henderson and Lieutenant Thuan, in charge of
the CIDG at Kham Duc, whose call sign was X-Ray 6, attended a meeting with
Lieutenant Colonel Nelson and made plans to send out patrols the following
morning to sweep the complete perimeter of the camp. 3 patrols were to be
made up of 1 platoon Americal and 20 CIDG, one patrol was to be 3 USSF and
20 CIDG. Americal units were sweeping south, west and north of camp while
the CIDG were to sweep the area east of camp.
1630 10 May
The Air Force put a Combat Control Team, call sign
“Tailpipe,” in Kham Duc to control the flow of aircraft in and out and
coordinate with ground troops as the reinforcement progressed. The team
consisted of Major John Gallagher, Sergeant Norton Freeman and Sergeant
James Lundy and were equipped with radios capable of talking to the Air
A Combat Control Team and their jeep full of radios. Sergeant Lundie, the
man on the right was one of the controllers at Kham Duc.
This map shows the locations of the units as they set up the perimeter on
the afternoon of 10 May. Positions for the howitzers were prepared but
only 2 guns were brought in, the rest would wait until the 11th.
1830 10 May Finally, there were only 20 people left of the survivors of
Ngok Tavek, and the CH-46 pilot decided he would try and take them all in
one load. He landed his two rear wheels on the ridgeline holding his front
gear off the ground and began dumping fuel to lighten the aircraft. He
ordered everything not needed for the flight to Kham Duc to be thrown
overboard. The guns, ammo, helmets, protective vests, radios, even the
co-pilots helmet were all dumped. When the aircraft slid off the hill, the
rpm dropped to a dangerous level, but by nosing over into the valley, they
were able to regain lift and reach a safe altitude. 102 people had been
extracted. A heavy fire team of 3 Americal gunships provided cover for the
extraction. Ngok Tavek was over. Major Mai, commander of the 40th
Battalion was surprised the evacuation had been successful and that the
ambushes he had carefully arranged had been avoided.
Ngok Tavek the morning after the evacuation. The wrecked helicopters are
visible on the landing pad in the lower left. The two 105 howitzers are
conspicuous by their absence.
1830 10 May
All Marine personnel returned to Da Nang. The
Australians returned to Da Nang with Lieutenant Colonel Smith leaving the
11th and 12th Mike force Companies under the command of Captain Makowski
to be returned to Da Nang the following day.
1900 10 May
The lift of the 2/1st Infantry was completed bringing
in a total of 571 personnel. Two guns of Battery A, 3rd Battalion 82cnd
Artillery had been brought in, the remaining 3 would be lifted in the next
day as direct support with a total of 57 men and 5 105 howitzers.
With the departure of the last C-130, the mortar attacks that had been
sporadic but continuous all through the day finally stopped. The camp
settled down to a suspenseful but uneventful night.
2300 10 May
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jesse Black, Air Liaison
Officer for I Corps landed at Kham Duc to provide the air liaison (ALO)
function for the ground units.
Part V, 11 May 1968
There is no doubt that the courage and training of a few Marines, the
experienced Special forces and Australians along with an Air Force AC-47 had
turned the tide and prevented an NVA battalion from achieving a walkover.
Now round two was about to start and the outcome would pit the determination
of the NVA against the resolve of the Kham Duc defenders.
Saturday, 11 May, 1968
0558 11 May
The mortar bombardment started. It would continue all
day, 10 to 15 minutes of mortars and then nothing for an hour or two and
then more mortars. There was no way the mortars could focus on the aircraft
landing and unloading like they did the day before, there were just too many
aircraft and the NVA did not have that much ammunition. They concentrated
their biggest attacks at mealtimes when they hoped to catch groups of
soldiers. The CIDG camp was mortared causing casualties as the CIDG
abandoned their trenches and retreated back to their bunkers.
0600 11 May
A FAC arrived and began lining up TACAIR.
Five target boxes were designated around Ngok Tavek and were struck by 30
0830 11 May
Patrol sweeps were made east and southeast of camp to
clear the hillside and immediate area of enemy. No physical contacts were
made but artillery and air strikes were called in and adjusted on suspected
mortar positions spotted by the patrols.
0900 11 May
The water supply that came from a mountain west of Kham
Duc stopped running A patrol from the engineers accompanied by an infantry
squad went out to locate the trouble.
0930 11 May
A UH-1C gunship from F Troop 8th Cavalry was shot down
west of Kham Duc by .51 caliber gunfire. The aircraft jettisoned its rocket
pods and autorotated to a safe landing. This was ominous because it meant
the NVA were moving anti aircraft weapons to the high ground around the
camp. The engineers and infantry sent out to check on the water supply were
in the area and protected the aircraft until a Chinook could sling load it
out. A search was conducted for the rocket pods, but was unsuccessful. The
water problem was not solved.
0930 11 May
Elements of the 2/1st Infantry began to receive small
arms fire from the southern perimeter.
1000 11 May
A prisoner captured by a patrol stated that he was a
member of the 60th Bn, 1 VC MF Regt, and that his unit would participate in
the attack on Kham Duc.
1100 11 May
NVA mortars zeroed in on the 105 howitzer battery killing
2 and wounding 16.
1100 11 May
The reconnaissance platoon of Company E, 2/1st Infantry
had relieved 1/46th infantry on observation posts 1, 3 and 5. In addition to
the U.S. troops and a squad of CIDG, the three positions were reinforced
with a 106mm recoilless rifle each. Observation posts 6 and 7 were occupied
only by a 12 – 16 man squad of Camp Strike Force CIDG. The OP’s
consisted of three or more bunkers laid out in a triangle with the bunkers 8
feet by 10 feet and 4 feet deep with varying amounts of overhead cover. In
his monograph Gropman states that American .50 caliber machineguns were on
the OP’s and were used by the enemy after the OP’s were captured, this
is incorrect, there were no American .50 caliber machine guns on the OP’s.
Later Americal documentation that was carried forward in much of the MIA
information misidentified OP 3 and called it OP 2. In the SF scheme, the
original OP 2 was found to be redundant. There is no logical explanation how
the confusion started or why it continued.
This picture is of a typical observation post in the Central Highlands, I
cannot confirm this is one of the OP’s at Kham Duc.
C-130 unloading on the parking apron in happier days. OP 1, 400 meters above
the airstrip was located in the open spot on top of the hill.
Approaching Kham Duc from the north. OP 7 was located on the bare spot at
the extreme right center of the picture, 100 meters above the runway. OP 3
was located on the bare spot to the right of the other end of the runway on
the high ground 120 meters above the runway. Both locations had a commanding
view of the camp and were only about 200 meters from the final approach path
of a fixed wing aircraft.
1100 11 May
Companies C and D of the 2/1st Infantry consolidated with
Company A, 1/46th at the southern end of the runway. Company A, 2/1st
Infantry with the Command Post and 81mm mortars, took up positions on the
western side of the runway.
During the afternoon of 11 May, Battery A, 3/82cnd Artillery again came
under heavy mortar attack resulting in several wounded and two guns out of
1200 11 May
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jesse Black, Air Liaison
Officer for I Corps departed Kham Duc. He was relieved by Captain Willard
Johnson, who continued to provide the ALO function for the ground units.
1400 11 May
Company C, 5th Special Forces sent a request to Captain
Daniel Waldo, CO of Company A, 70th Combat Engineer Battalion asking him to
put forward his requirements for a possible extraction.
A short time later, Air Force Major Gallagher in charge of the CCT asked
Captain Waldo the same question, only this time the request came from USARV.
Lieutenant General Cushman, Commander of the III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF)
recommended to General Westmoreland that Kham Duc be evacuated. Westmoreland
agreed. Kham Duc had no strategic value, no artillery support and no
additional troops were available for a successful defense. In an insurgency,
there is no tactical advantage to holding ground, however, a tactical
advantage could be gained by pinning the NVA in an attack where they could
be hit from the air. The actual timing of the evacuation would be left up to
Major General Koster, Americal commander.
Lieutenant General Cushman suggested the following order of march out of
1. "A" Company, 70th engineer battalion (less assets required to
maintain the airfield until completion of the withdrawal)
2. Vietnamese dependents
3. Civil Affairs and /Psyops
4. Americal battalion
5. USAF personnel
6. C and C Detachment
7. 2 MSF companies
Major General Koster modified the order of march, to be accomplished over a
period of three days:
1. Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry on Americal aircraft -108 men
2. Company A, 70th Engineers, aircraft arranged by their HQ – 125 men and
3. Vietnamese dependents on transport arranged by SF – 260 individuals
4. Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations team on transport arranged by
SF – 65 men
5. 2/1st Infantry plus Battery A, 3/82cnd Artillery on organic Americal
aircraft - 628 men plus howitzers
6. United States Air Force personnel on transport arranged by AF – 4 men
7. Command and Control detachment on organic Americal aircraft – 65 men
8. Civilian Irregular Defense Group on transport arranged by SF – 280 men
1400 11 May
The 11th and 12th Mobile Strike Force (Mike) companies
were airlifted to Danang, the move was completed at approximately 1730
hours. Sixty members, 1 LLDB and 2 USSF of the 137th CIDG Company from Ha
Thanh were brought in on the same aircraft before darkness halted the move.
The CIDG company moved into the training camp just south of the Special
1600 11 May
A meeting was called by Lieutenant Colonel Nelson for all
unit commanders for the purpose of coordination and planning joint US and
CIDG patrols for the next day.
1900 11 May
Captain Waldo of the engineers received word from his
battalion that his extraction would start the next morning with 5 C-130’s
in the morning and 5 more in the afternoon. This would continue for two and
one half days until the unit was extracted. His bulldozers would have to be
taken out in C-130’s, so they would have to have the tracks removed. This
was scheduled for the last lifts on the third day. They began disassembling
Part VI, 0030 12 May 1968 through 0905 12 May 1968
An evacuation under fire of all personnel including civilians is the most
unpredictable situation in warfare. To accomplish it involved getting three
services and allied troops on the same page.
Sunday, 12 May, 1968. Mother’s Day
0030 12 May
Special Forces Detachment A-105 at Kham Duc received word
from Company C in Danang that the camp would be evacuated later that day.
0230 12 May
Observation post 3, manned by a squad of CIDG and by the
headquarters element and one squad of the Recon Platoon, Company E, 2/1st
Infantry and supported by a 106 mm recoilless rifle and its two man crew
came under mortar and ground attack. Several times the outpost called for
mortar and artillery fire on their position.
0300 12 May
AC-47 Spooky arrived and began dropping flares.
0320 12 May
Observation post 7, occupied by one squad of CIDG,
reported to X-Ray 6, the CIDG commander at Kham Duc that it was under mortar
0330 12 May
Last radio contact with OP 7 who reported they were under
attack with satchel charges and small arms. The OP fell despite supporting
mortar fires from the main camp.
0415 12 May
Observation Post 1 came under heavy small arms, hand
grenade, and mortar attacks.
0423 12 May
The Air Force I Corps Direct Air Support Center (I DASC)
at Danang was responsible for all air support of ground troops in I Corps
and began assigning tactical air support for Kham Duc. I DASC did not
control transport aircraft, but the log noted that, starting at 0900 there
were 20 C-130 sorties scheduled into Kham Duc for 12 May.
0430 12 May
Observation post 3 requested that Spooky fire directly
into their position.
0445 12 May
Radio contact with observation post 3 was lost. 2nd
Lieutenant Ransbottom radioed Kham Duc that they were killing enemy troops
as rapidly as they tried to enter his command bunker. Given orders to escape
and evade, three wounded Americans slid 10 feet down the hill in front of
their bunker. Specialist 4 William Foreman, the most seriously wounded of
the three suffered shrapnel wounds from grenade fragments. PFC John Colonna
had a shrapnel wound in his knee and Sergeant Edward Sassenberger had a
bullet wound to his back. They could see and hear NVA gunfire coming from
the bunkers. Two NVA with weapons walked slowly past within 5 feet of them
followed seconds later by two more. The last enemy soldier looked at the
Americans with the look of not being sure of what he was really seeing. He
walked on, but then returned with the others a moment later walking very
slowly, deliberately and obviously searching. Sergeant Sassenberger shot
them when they were just a few feet away. Knowing the NVA on the hill were
alerted, the three wounded Americans continued another 100 feet down the
hill. As the sun came up, they found a secure hiding place near the eastern
end of the airstrip.
0500 12 May
The Special Forces camp began receiving mortars.
0500 12 May
Observation post 1 radioed the main camp that it was
surrounded. They requested the AC-47 “Spooky” fire into their position.
The attackers were driven back down the hill.
0505 12 May
Last radio contact with the CIDG on OP 1. They were,
however, still in contact with the Americans on OP 1 and they were still
0520 12 May
FAC Captain Wilbert Spier, callsign HELIX 42, arrived,
made contact with ground forces and began organizing tactical air support (TACAIR.)
0530 12 May
Spooky fired directly into OP 1 as the NVA pressed
0545 12 May
AC-47 “Spooky” departed, replaced by a C-47 flareship.
First set of F-4’s arrived. With the aid of the flareship, Captain Spier
put in three F-4s on multiple passes on targets. But when the sun came up,
so did the morning fog, and nearly the entire area was blanketed. Spier had
familiarized himself with the terrain and the enemy positions before the fog
came up and was able to direct the fighters even though most of the ground
was obscured. He assigned altitudes and let the fighters line up following
his aircraft, then told the crews when to drop their ordnance. Using this
method, he was able to put ordnance as close as six hundred meters to the
perimeter. The ALO on the ground, Captain Willard Johnson, could not see the
FAC or the fighters, but he could see and hear the bombs impacting, and he
was able to help Spier move the bombs closer to the camp perimeter and onto
0605 12 May
Commander, 7th Air Force, General Momyer was directed by
MACV to evacuate Kham Duc
0630 12 May
4 CH-47 Chinooks, tail numbers 475, 459, 465, and 460,
from the 178th Assault Support Helicopter Company (ASHC) call sign
“Boxcar” departed Chu Lai to begin the evacuation of Kham Duc.
“The best laid plans –“ The sanguine evacuation plan prepared by the
14th Combat Aviation Battalion using CH-47 Boxcars from the 178th ASHC and
UH-1’s from the 176 AHC.
CH-47B “Boxcar” of the 178th Assault Helicopter Co. (ASHC) the
distinctive double six dice on the aft pylon easily identified them.
0630 12 May
Defenders on OP1 were ordered to escape and evade back to
the battalion perimeter. Two men, though wounded were able to escape with a
radio. They took up a position about 40 meters from the OP and directed
mortars and artillery on the OP. They were ordered to move an additional 60
meters as air strikes were called in. From this position they continued to
adjust air strikes and artillery.
Specialist 4 Julius Long, Private First Class Harry Coen and Sergeant Joseph
Simpson, although wounded, escaped from OP 1 and began making their way to
the perimeter. When they came in sight of the airfield, they saw what they
believed to be the last C-130 taking off. PFC Coen, who had a stomach wound,
began running and shooting his weapon. Specialist 4 Long attempted to catch
him, but failed. Private First Class Coen was not seen again. Long then
carried Sergeant Simpson to a hiding place where they spent the night.
0640 12 May
Direct hit on USASF 81mm mortar pit by NVA 82mm mortar
resulted in 1 CIDG cadre KIA, 1 CIDG cadre WIA, and 1 USASF WIA.
0700 12 May
The airlift control element (ALCE) of the 834th Air
Division at Da Nang, lined up several C-123s and C-130s fully loaded with
ammunition for resupply.
0710 12 May
14th Combat Aviation Battalion commanding officer (CO)
call sign “Arab 6” Lieutenant Colonel Carson, and operations officer
(S-3) Major Todd, call sign “Arab 3” arrived at Kham Duc and ordered the
start of the extraction to be delayed because of ground fog.
0730 12 May
Captain Spier, Helix 42 was relieved by Helix 25, Captain
Paul Judge. During his time on station, Spier directed 10 fighters, most of
them able to make eight ordnance delivery passes per sortie.
0735 12 May
Ground fog was lifting, Arab 3 ordered the extraction to
start. Chinooks departed LZ Ross for Kham Duc.
0735 12 May
X-Ray 6 received word that 4 CIDG from OP 7 were in the
village and wanted coordination made for them to come through American
lines. This was successfully completed.
0755 12 May
Kham Duc reported ground fire at the south end of the
runway, Chinooks started their approach from the north.
0800 12 May
Weather 90% clear and improving.
0800 12 May
The 834th Air Division Airlift Control Center (ALCC,)
which controlled all Air Force C-130 airlift in Vietnam, was told to begin
extracting people from Kham Duc. At this point an interesting situation
developed. The 834th claimed that they were not informed until 0800 that an
extraction was to take place. However, since the day before 25 C-130’s
over a three day period had been arranged for the evacuation of Company A,
70th Engineers and 5th SF had been arranging evacuation all night, not to
mention the MACV directive at 0605. Yet, the first C-130’s directed to
Kham Duc were on resupply missions. The I DASC log mentions that 20
C-130’s were going in to Kham Duc on the 12th starting at 0900 but does
not state if they were for resupply or extraction. The Air Force tried to
blame this lack of communication on the Army or Marines as reported by
Gropman in his monograph. Obviously, the miscommunication belonged to the
0803 12 May
The lead Boxcar, CH-47B 67-18475, commanded by Captain
Sturdivant was hit by 51 caliber fire from OP 7. The number 1 engine, both
sides amidships and the cockpit were on fire. With all control systems
inoperative, the aircraft came down in the middle of the runway just on the
east side of the asphalt, rolled and burned completely. All crew members
escaped out the back ramp. Army helicopter gunships were in the air
providing support. One of the gunship pilots who saw the incident was quoted
later as saying that the ground fire just "ate him up.” The remaining
three aircraft of the flight broke off the approach and orbited for about 20
minutes waiting for orders. When fuel got short, they returned to LZ Ross,
where they were directed to return to Chu Lai.
CH-47B 67-18475 burning on the runway. Taken from Camp Conroy looking across
the runway at the SF camp.
Another picture of CH-47B 67-18475 on fire, taken from the south end of the
Photo taken after the evacuation. Camp Conroy and the parking apron are in
the middle. The location of Boxcar 475 is on the runway at the red arrow.
The centerline of the runway can be determined by the vertical line just
below the path that crossed from the SF camp to the apron.
0810 12 May
An Air Force A1E Skyraider assigned to the 6th Air
Commando Sqdn based at Pleiku and flown by Major James Swain dropping napalm
and cluster bomb units (CBU)s on the ridgeline west of the airstrip was shot
down by 51 caliber fire from OP 1. Swain successfully bailed out and opened
his parachute. Two UH-1C Musket gunships from the 176th Assault Helicopter
Company (AHC) went into orbit around Swain as he descended and landed
directly off the southwest end of the runway. During his descent Swain was
receiving so much fire that the gunship crews were surprised he survived.
Warrant Officer Ed Fitzsimmons, also of the 176th AHC, flying a Minuteman
slick and escorted by the Muskets landed close to Swain, the doorgunner (not
a pilot as Gropman states) ran over and cut Swain free, then hauled him back
to the slick and threw him bodily into the helicopter. The gunship pilot
reported that the NVA were “just like ants down there, they’d stand
behind trees and shoot at you, you just couldn’t kill them all.” He
later likened Kham Duc to a World War II movie with, “burning airplanes
all over hell.”
An A-1E from the 6th Air Commando, picture taken at Pleiku.
0820 12 May
As a result of the critical situation, the initial
extraction plan, which was originally conceived for three days, would now
have to be executed in a compressed time frame. All units in 7th Air Force
were alerted for a maximum effort to extract forces from Kham Duc. The
information available was that there were between 600-1200 personnel and
about 50 tons of equipment. The ALCC started transports to Kham Duc.
0830 12 May
Two UH-1H Dustoff aircraft begin evacuating wounded from
the airstrip. This continued until 1030. During this time two Marine Corps
CH-46 Seaknight helicopters evacuated 24 wounded. Specialist 4 Juan Jimenez,
a rifleman assigned to Company A, 2/1st Infantry, was occupying a defensive
position when he was severely wounded in the back by enemy mortar fire.
Specialist 4 Jimenez was declared dead by the Battalion Surgeon in the early
morning hours of May 12. He was then carried to the helipad for evacuation.
However, due to the situation, space was available in the helicopter for
only the wounded, and Specialist 4 Jimenez' remains were left behind.
0830 12 May
A request was made to the engineers to try and remove the
wreckage of the Chinook from the runway. The night before the blades, push
arms and belly pans had been removed from the bulldozers, so an attempt was
made with the bucket loader. A burning engine was successfully moved clear,
but in picking it up, the operator approached the fire moving too fast and
ended up surrounded by flames. The engine was moved clear of the runway, but
the rear tire of the loader caught fire, then the hydraulics underneath
started burning. The operator jumped clear leaving the engine running. As
the engineers began putting the blade and push arms back on one of the
bulldozers, a water truck successfully put out the fire.
0830 12 May
Captain Waldo of the engineers was getting concerned
about the probability of evacuation, so he contacted Lieutenant Colonel
Nelson’s headquarters for an update. They informed him it was still on,
but only people and no equipment, and his people were to be on the first
C-130. Waldo suggested that the evacuating aircraft probably needed an
0830 12 May
The NVA began to close in on the Kham Duc perimeter.
Firing positions were being dug and radio antennas were being set up on the
overrun OP’s. An NVA troop buildup against Company A, 2/1st Infantry’s
perimeter in the northwest was broken up by ground fire, mortars and
Defensive positions of A Co. 70th Engineers. Notice the M-14. OP 1 was in
the cleared area on top of the hill in the background.
0830 12 May
Private First Class Andrew Craven and two other men
escaped from OP 1 and moved out 50 meters. They could hear the enemy in the
position they just left.
0835 12 May
As Company A, 1st/46th began withdrawing for extraction,
Company C, 2nd/1st Infantry began repositioning to cover the withdrawal. At
this time the NVA launched a ground attack against Company C that was broken
up by ground fire, artillery, gunships and air strikes.
0835 12 May
Six B-52 Arc Light Sorties were launched around Kham Duc
on Hill 676 and other locations thought to be occupied by NVA. None of the
bombs fell within three kilometers of the camp.
B-52 Arc Light sorties east of the camp. Picture taken from Camp Conroy, A
Company, 70th Engineers.
0845 12 May
7th AF ordered KC-135 tankers from Thailand to provide
continuous refueling for the aircraft over Kham Duc.
0900 12 May
An Air Force airborne command and control center, (ABCCC,)
call sign Hillsboro, was ordered by 7th Air Force to be prepared to assume
control of the air operations over Kham Duc from I DASC. Hillsboro was a
C-130 outfitted with an array of radios and other electronics and had as its
primary mission controlling fighter and bomber operations over Laos. By the
time Hillsboro took over, I DASC had ordered 10 Marine A-4D, eight B-52s and
10 Air Force fighters to Kham Duc.
This is the ABCCC module being loaded into a C-130. The module contained 16
to 20 radios of all types.
The ABCCC had five controllers, called the “battle staff,” communicating
over the radios. Across from the controllers was a huge map board of the
battle area. At Kham Duc Hillsboro’s original mission was to Laos, they
had no maps of the Kham Duc area. Eventually, the senior controller hand
drew a map based on actual observations on the ground.
Part VII 0905 12 May 1968 through 1500 12 May 1968
“Trouble, trouble, boil and bubble,” enough command elements are in
place to provide confusion for everyone. Lieutenant Colonel Nelson, the ground
commander, wanted all air strikes to go through his artillery radio net in
coordination with Tailpipe and the ALO, but the Air Force radio jeep was
destroyed and they were reduced to one HF in the SF commo bunker. This
conflicted with Hillsboro, who was reluctant to allow their fighters to be
controlled from the ground when they had FAC’s in the air. Hillsboro had no
experience working with helicopters, this was left up to Arab 3 who was
relieved by Boxcar 23 during refueling. Air Force transports were controlled
by the ALCC who had no one on scene until after 1600. On top of all this, III
MAF, 834 Air Division and Americal were handing out orders as they saw fit.
0905 12 May ALCC directed all transports to remain clear of Kham Duc
until the Arc Lights were complete.
0920 12 May Hillsboro passed their first set of fighters to the FAC’s.
0930 12 May Helix 01, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Schuman arrived to
assume the role of on-scene AF commander. Schuman decided to use one FAC
controlling air attacks on the northwest side of the runway, the second
putting in air on the southeast side and the third controlling strikes in any
other area where needed. Hillsboro would receive the fighters as they came in
and assign them to an altitude, then pass the fighters off to the FACS as they
needed them. Hillsboro usually had four sets of fighters stacked up. The
FAC’s were placing strikes on targets about 45 seconds apart.
0930 12 May Engineers managed to get the blade and push arms back on
one of the bulldozers and began to push the CH-47 wreckage off the runway.
0930 12 May Civilians and dependants had been moved from the village to
the drainage ditches on the west side of the runway for evacuation.
0930 12 May Lieutenant Colonel Schungel, Captain Warren Orr, the
Company S-5, and the LLDB (Vietnamese Special Forces) company commander,
callsign “Bolobobcat X-Ray 3” arrived at Kham Duc.
0936 12 May Ground attacks on north and south ends of runway against
Americal units started. Attack on the southern end was stopped by air strikes
and ground fire. Attack on the northern end was stopped by artillery and
0945 12 May ALCC started C-123s to Kham Duc.
1000 12 May Three FACs were now constantly on station, the fourth FAC
was found to be redundant. One FAC operated each side of the runway with the
third at a higher altitude passing fighters off from Hillsboro to the FAC’s
1000 12 May Hillsboro controlled 18 flights since their arrival.
1000 12 May The Combat Control Team called the Engineers asking if the
runway was clear enough for an aircraft to land. Captain Waldo told them it
was if they avoided the debris field or overflew it, or they could wait a few
minutes more until the bulldozer could make another pass, but he was told that
a C-130 was on final from the south and he needed to clear his bulldozer off
the runway. The C-130 piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Daryl Cole landed in a
mortar barrage receiving several hits in the right wing fuel tanks and a blown
main tire from mortar shrapnel. Cole successfully landed short of the Chinook
wreckage, turned around and taxied onto the apron. The Engineers had been told
to have people ready to go on this aircraft, but they halted when they saw
infantry from Company A, 1/46th approaching who had also been told the
aircraft was theirs. Civilians rushed from the drainage ditch toward the
aircraft. When the ramp was lowered, it was discovered that the aircraft had
come from Cam Ranh Bay and was loaded with ammunition and supplies, the crew
was unaware they were on an evacuation mission. The panicked civilians rushed
on board and would not move so the aircraft could be unloaded. Captain Waldo
contacted the 2cnd/1st Infantry Battalion S-3 to find out what had happened
and was told of the extent of the confusion, but was assured the next aircraft
would be his. This was the first time he had heard that everyone was to be
evacuated. Now loading would be controlled by the Air Force CCT commander in
conjunction with the battalion S-3. At this point some narratives say the
bulldozer driver was shot, he wasn’t. Specialist 5 Don Hostler tracked the
dozer back into Camp Conroy and shut it down.
In 1970 Hostler’s bulldozer still sat in the ruins of Camp Conroy, right
where he parked it.
Here a “jungle myth” has been started, that Company A, 1/46 began pushing
civilians out of the way to get on the aircraft. This is not true, the
confusion resulted from two different groups legitimately believing this was
their assigned aircraft and the civilians looking for the quickest way out.
There were concerns among the SF people because of the low loading priority
given the civilians. The confusion abated when Lieutenant Colonel Schungel and
Lieutenant Colonel Nelson ignored everybody and together created their own
1006 12 May A ground attack was started from the northwest, the
abandoned village, into Americal units on the west side of the runway. This
attack was broken up by air strikes and ground fire.
1010 12 May The NVA had gained control of all high ground around the
camp, and had overrun all the observation posts except OP 6 from which the
troops had been withdrawn, although US and CIDG troops still controlled one or
more bunkers on OP 1. Numerous air strikes were called in on the machine gun
position on OP 7 and mortar positions located on high ground to the west of
1030 12 May Three CH-47 Boxcars landed and picked up troops. Two others
were unable to land because of mortar and 51 caliber fire on the runway.
1030 12 May The civilians could not be budged from the cargo
compartment of the C-130 preventing the unloading of some of the cargo.
Lieutenant Colonel Cole decided to attempt a takeoff with the civilians and
cargo still on board. With fuel leaking out of the wing tanks and with a flat
tire, Cole tried to get up enough speed to get airborne, but the weight and
the blown tire were too much so he aborted the takeoff and taxied back onto
the apron. When he shut down the engines, the civilians left and returned to
the ditch. The crew decided the blown tire had to come off. So far two
aircraft had been destroyed and one was disabled on the ground, 80 people had
1030 12 May The 7th Air Force decided that it was "completely
unfeasible" to carry out any evacuation by C-130s, and cancelled the
1030 12 May The Air Liaison Officer at III MAF notified the ALCC that
Kham Duc would not be evacuated and to prepare for air resupply.
1030 12 May The 834th ALCC began to prepare a massive airdrop of
ammunition into Kham Duc. A C-130, already loaded for resupply, completed an
1037 12 May One C-123 and three C-130’s were in a holding pattern for
landing at Kham Duc for possible resupply.
1045 12 May A Special Forces 1st Lieutenant was asked to mark enemy
positions with a smoke grenade. The enemy were so close he threw the grenade
from his bunker. Moments later A-1 Skyraiders dropped napalm on his smoke. The
attack was stopped. The 1st Lieutenant was knocked down, slightly singed.
1100 12 May Between 1000 and 1100 Hillsboro controlled 14 fighter
sorties. Hillsboro had problems turning fighters over to FAC’s because they
were having trouble identifying how many FAC’s and who they were. In
addition, Hillsboro was having problems with VHF frequencies, a problem that
was intermittent all day long. At times the FAC’s considered taking control
from Hillsboro, but the problems were solved to the point that the hand off of
fighters to FAC’s went smoothly with one FAC working each side of the runway
and another FAC at a higher altitude receiving fighters from Hillsboro and
handing them off to the two low level FAC’s.
A Cessna 0-2 Skymaster used by the FAC’s. At Kham Duc they had a shortage of
aircraft and were borrowing 0-2’s from Tam Ky, Quang Ngai and Pleiku.
1100 12 May Private First Class Andrew Craven and his two companions
from OP 1 were making their way to the airfield when they encountered an NVA
position. Private First Class Craven, walking as pointman, opened fire. The
NVA returned fire hitting Craven, he was seen to fall with multiple chest
wounds. His companions were able to escape and made it to the battalion
1110 12 May A C-123, piloted by Major Ray D. Shelton, landed from the
south, stopped and turned around at the Chinook wreckage, never reducing
power. 44 Army engineers and 21 civilian Vietnamese got on board, but the
loadmaster didn’t bother to count until they were airborne. When there was
no more room, they shut the ramp and took off heavily overloaded. Shelton
reported that there was intense ground fire from every quadrant, and mortar
shells hit all around him after landing. He was loaded and on his takeoff roll
in no more than three minutes.
A C-123K. J-85 take off assist jet engines are outboard of the main engines.
1120 12 May Captain Phillip Smotherman, callsign Helix 41, was
directing fighters over the northwest side of the runway when he felt a thump
and heard a bang in the right wing of his Cessna 0-2. When he looked, he saw
that a large part of his right wing tip was gone. He had no aileron control
and only minimal elevator response, so he made an emergency radio call that he
had been hit and was going down. He still had complete rudder control, his
engines were operating normally and he really did not want to bail out, so he
elected to try and land on the runway at Kham Duc. Using his rudder, he nursed
the aircraft around until he was lined up on the runway, but coming down the
runway towards him was Major Ray Shelton’s C-123. Again using his rudder he
skidded to the side of the C-123’s flight path, than back in line with the
runway. After a reasonably normal landing given the circumstances, Smotherman
taxied the aircraft off the runway and up onto the bank just past the Special
Forces camp. As he was cutting the switches, he and his observer were hustled
out by a Special Forces sergeant as their aircraft began taking mortar fire.
Some reports say that Smotherman was involved in a midair collision, this is
1130 12 May Captain Waldo of the Engineers received a call from the
Battalion S-3 telling him that the C-130 on the apron was his if he could help
get the tire fixed. The engineers drove an equipment truck out to the
aircraft, it contained a cutting torch and other tools needed to help with the
tire. The aircraft was continuously losing fuel from the right wing.
1130 12 May Four UH-1D Minutemen and one UH-1D Dolphin from the 174th
AHC arrived carrying ammunition. After unloading, they took off for LZ Ross
loaded with troops.
Arab 3, the S-3 for the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion controlled helicopter
operations over the UHF frequency assigned to the 178th ASHC. When their UH-1
had to refuel, the duties were taken over by Boxcar 23 until Arab 3 returned.
This radio frequency became the controlling frequency for evacuation aircraft.
Because the Arab aircraft could talk to the troops on the ground and the
FAC’s, and because of his altitude, he had an excellent overview of the
latest known enemy firing positions and the best approaches for aircraft in
and out of Kham Duc. Consequently, Arab 3 became the desired contact for all
of the transports, fixed wing and helicopter. Typically, Arab 3 would be
notified by an aircraft intending to land with the load requested. Arab would
pass this information on to the 2/1st Infantry Battalion CP who would alert
the unit to have the requested number of people in the drainage ditch. When
the aircraft was on short final, the unit being picked up was requested to pop
smoke. This was necessary, but made everyone nervous because the smoke became
the immediate target for mortars. Some units would not pop smoke and the
aircraft bypassed them, then the infantry was chasing the plane down the
runway, or in the case of helicopters who were hovering back and forth on the
runway trying to locate their load. On climb out, each departing aircraft
would report to Arab 3 with type of aircraft, call sign and actual or
estimated passengers. This allowed a running total to be kept and reported to
Americal Division. Some Marine helicopters and at least one C-130 failed to
make contact with Arab 3 and landed anyway. Either the aircraft had not been
given the correct UHF frequency or Arab 3 was on another net, but regardless,
there were at least 3 other command nets including Hillsboro that they could
1200 12 May During the previous hour Hillsboro controlled 6 fighter
1200 12 May When mortars made a direct hit on the artillery less than
ten yards away, Lieutenant Colonel Cole decided he needed to try and get his
aircraft off the ground. The damaged tire had been removed by people taking
turns cutting it with a bayonet and the engineers carefully cutting the steel
cords with a blowtorch. A fire extinguisher was kept handy because of fear of
catching the magnesium wheel on fire. The number 1 engine was closest to the
fuel leaks, so with the other three engines running, Cole taxied the aircraft
past a disabled ¾ ton truck and over cargo and equipment that had been
unloaded. As they lined up on the ramp to the runway, mortar shells hit so
close that two cockpit windows on the right side were blown out. On the runway
the remaining engine was started and the aircraft was able to take off. The
C-130 had lost 4,000 pounds of fuel, but safely made it back to Cam Ranh Bay.
After landing, maintenance crews counted more than 85 bullet and shrapnel
holes. Cole had carried out only four passengers. The commander of the Combat
Control Team, Major John Gallagher, had ordered, over their objections, his
two enlisted men, Sergeants Freedman and Lundie, to board the aircraft.
Gallagher had heard that there would be no further C- 130 evacuations, his
jeep with all of the radios had been destroyed by mortars and he believed that
his mission was over. The ALO, Captain Willard Johnson, elected to go with
them. By now about 145 people had been evacuated, 69 by the Air Force, the
rest in helicopters.
1200 12 May The NVA had completed their encirclement of Kham Duc and
were trying to close up to the wire. Behind the Special Forces camp, a draw
ran up from the river to a point close to the CIDG compound. This had been an
avenue of approach since the beginning of the battle and this was where the
NVA chose to make their major assault at noon. From the moment the attack was
discovered forming on the low ground to the east, the NVA had been brought
under attack by planes dropping napalm, CBU’s and 750 pound bombs. Still
they pressed forward until the bombs were being dropped in the final wire
barriers, then the attack collapsed. During the attack, the CIDG began leaving
their trenches. Some were changing into civilian clothes and trying to sneak
out to the ditch beside the runway. The LLDB officers went to the front gate
in an attempt to establish control. Finally the CIDG were held in the trenches
at gunpoint. X Ray 6 found it curious that the 137th CIDG Company had not been
subjected to ground attack and had only received two mortar rounds in their
compound. It is easy to be hard on the CIDG but it must be remembered that
they were militia who usually fought very tenaciously in defense of their
village. This was not their kind of battle. Somewhere the story started that
the LLDB commander cowered in his bunker and would not come out, this is not
true. He did, however, remain very close to the medical bunker and in close
proximity to the commo bunker. By contrast, the LLDB senior NCO was very
active and involved.
1200 12 May The 2 men who had been adjusting fire on OP 1 rejoined the
battalion after being ordered back to the perimeter for evacuation.
1210 12 May Captain Phillip Smotherman, callsign Helix 41, now on the
ground in the Special Forces camp, was shown the bunker formerly occupied by
the CCT, there Smotherman found a functioning HF radio that allowed him to
make contact with I DASC in Danang. After reporting that he had landed safely
and was in one piece, he was told that, by order of General Momyer, he was now
the ALO because he was the only Air Force officer on the ground. Smotherman
borrowed an FM radio from Special Forces so he could talk to the ground
1300 12 May In the previous hour Hillsboro controlled twelve fighter
1300 12 May Six 178 ASHC Boxcars successfully landed and evacuated
1300 12 May Four UH-1D Minutemen and one UH-1D Dolphin from the 174th
AHC completed their second sortie each bringing in ammunition and hauling out
troops. The 14th Combat Aviation Battalion UH-1’s had evacuated a total of
14th Avn Bn UH-1D hovering over the parking apron.
1315 12 May MACV ordered the 834th to resume the extraction by C-130,
because time was running out, and there was no other way to bring out the
1315 12 May When the MACV combat operations center (COC) directed the
834th ALCC to resume extractions by C-130s and C-123s, some aircraft had been
sitting since early morning loaded with supplies, and others were rigged for
airdrop. Now crews were told to empty their airplanes and fly to Kham Duc to
1350 12 May A last desperate effort was made to rescue who ever
remained alive on OP 1. A Dustoff UH-1H escorted by two UH-1C Blue Ghost
gunships from F Troop, 8th Cavalry would attempt to land and evacuate the
wounded. Both gunships were shot down. The first autorotated into a clearing
and the crew was picked up by the Dustoff. The second was able to make it to
the side of the runway where it crash landed rolling on its side. The pilot,
dazed, but well trained, his aircraft on fire lying on its side, was trying to
cut off the switches when he was literally pulled out the front windshield and
pushed into a bunker by people on the ground. Minutes later mortar fire struck
1358 12 May 7 CH-47’s landed, loaded and took off. The eighth CH-47,
tail number 67-18469, was hit by 51 cal fire on takeoff and lost the #2 engine
and hydraulics. With the aircraft on fire, the pilot attempted to land beside
the runway. At an altitude of 400 feet, one forward blade separated causing an
uncontrolled landing. Private First Class Richard E. Sands from Company A,
1st/46th Infantry, sitting next to the door gunner, was hit in the head by a
51 caliber round. Five people including a medic checked Sands and determined
he had been killed instantly. Attempts to remove his body failed because of
the fire and incoming mortar rounds. Everyone else on the Chinook escaped
The wreckage of CH-47B 67-18469 burns.
1400 12 May Staff Sergeant Freddie Bostick, Squad Leader from the 3d
Squad of the Reconnaissance Platoon, Company E, 2/1st Infantry had
successfully led his squad and the CIDG squad with him away from Observation
Post 5 where they had been all night. They got to within 350 meters of the
inner perimeter when they encountered an NVA force that outnumbered them. They
deployed and fought their way through to the safety of the perimeter without
losing a man.
1400 12 May Again the NVA launched a large ground attack against the
rear of the Special Forces camp. The attack was stopped at the perimeter wire
with ground fire, mortars and air attacks. Persistent NVA activity in this
area prompted continued air strikes until the evacuation was complete.
1400 12 May During the previous hour, Hillsboro had controlled 10
1415 12 May C-130s were ordered to resume landings at Kham Duc for
1425 12 May ALCC reported six C-123s and ten C-130s being unloaded for
1430 12 May Communications with OP 1 ceased.
1500 12 May The Combat Control Team (CCT) of Major Gallagher, Sergeants
Lundie and Freedman were ordered to return to Kham Duc and complete the
mission. Freedman and Lundie had only left Kham Duc under orders, but also
under protest. Now they were going back. The C-130 piloted by Major Jay Van
Cleeff was at Cam Ranh Bay being briefed for an airdrop mission into Kham Duc,
because it was "too dangeorus to land at Kham Duc," and they were to
fly to Da Nang to pick up the cargo of emergency supplies. As they began to
taxi they were told they now had three passengers that needed to be landed at
Kham Duc. They had just been told to land in a place that was too dangerous to
land in. The CCT was brought out to the aircraft, Major Gallagher protesting
all the way that their mission was futile, they no longer had equipment at
Kham Duc and the extractions had been canceled. Van Cleeff had orders and was
not about to argue, they took off for Kham Duc.
1500 12 May Between 1400 and 1500 hours, 3 CH-47 sorties picked up
troops. 2 Marine CH-46’s picked up 18 wounded, 2 more CH-46’s picked up 19
A Co. engineers waiting for a ride. Just past the man standing up is the
culvert that joined the runway with the parking apron. The pipe is the water
pipe that ran under the runway to the SF camp. Picture is looking south.
1500 12 May During the previous hour, Hillsboro had controlled 18
Part VIII 1502 12 May 1968 through 16 May 1968
The NVA attack was running out of momentum, it had been carefully planned
to strike different parts of the camp in successive blows, one to follow
another. After the last attack failed, they did not have the command
flexibility to adjust and attack weaker parts of the defense. Every attack
had been beaten back, they could not successfully interdict the airstrip and
losses were heavy. FAC’s were having difficulty spotting groups of NVA and
were now devoting an entire fighter strike to single NVA soldiers. Hillsboro
had gotten its act together in a magnificent way. The high altitude FAC was
told by Hillsboro what ordnance the next aircraft in the stack was carrying,
the fighter would then be handed off to whichever one of the low level
FAC’s could use the ordnance. If the ordnance could not be used by either
FAC, the fighter was moved back to the top of the stack, sent to the
KC-135’s to refuel or simply sent back to base. From this point on, all
Air Force transports would have fighter escort on each wingtip. The
situation was not the same for helicopters, successful coordination was
never established between the helicopters and Hillsboro. The helicopters
simply followed in behind the fixed wing transports and their escort.
1502 12 May
C-130, serial number 60-0297, piloted by Major Bernard
Bucher made his final approach into Kham Duc from the southwest. On final he
reported taking severe small arms fire. The aircraft took on a load of
civilians and CIDG personnel, about 150 in all. Bucher than taxied back to
the southwest end of the runway, turned around and backed up as far as he
could. With the engines throwing up a huge cloud of red dust, the aircraft
accelerated down the runway, taking off to the northeast. Unlike the
helicopters who turned west after takeoff, Bucher continued on a straight
climb out past his fighter escort, right into the sights of two 12.7 machine
guns set up on a knoll north of the runway. Bucher reported taking heavy
ground fire just before the right wing exploded and folded up. The C-130
rolled inverted and hit the ground in a fireball about a mile off the end of
the runway. Captain Spier, who had been the first FAC on station in the
morning was now back in the air. He saw the location of the machine guns and
within seconds called in a fighter who destroyed both of them. There was no
more NVA activity from that location the rest of the day. In addition to the
Vietnamese, there were five Air Force crewmen on board, and as it was later
determined, Special Forces Captain Warren Orr, S-5 of Company C, 5th SF,
whose job it was to interact with the civilians. He was last seen near the
aircraft helping the civilians, and later a Vietnamese positively identified
him from a photograph and confirmed that Orr had boarded. It took a
considerable amount of time to determine who had been on board the C-130,
whether American or Allied. There was yet to be a successful C-130
evacuation mission from Kham Duc.
With the destruction of the two 12.7 machine guns, the NVA had no more heavy
weapons remaining except for mortars. They would now have to try and stop
the evacuation with light machine guns, RPG’s and other small arms. They
did have one desperate measure remaining, however, to try and fire 122 mm
rockets at pinpoint targets.
The final map created by 14th Combat Aviation Battalion showing enemy
positions as of 1500.
1515 12 May
Lieutenant Colonel William Boyd had been diverted from
Chu Lai to Kham Duc. Just before departing Chu Lai, he encountered Major
James Swain, the A-1E pilot who had been shot down early in the day.
Swain’s advice to Boyd was, “For God’s sake, stay out of Kham Duc, it
belongs to Charlie.” From the moment they reached altitude after taking
off from Chu Lai, they could see the smoke from Kham Duc. For whatever
reason Boyd could not make radio contact with any controlling agency,
although Helix 41 and the Special Forces, call sign Brass Study were on HF,
and Arab 3 and Hillsboro were on UHF. He decided to pick his moment and land
as soon as the C-130 on the runway had gotten clear. The C-130 was
Bucher’s, and as it took off, Boyd noted that never in his career had he
seen so many tracers fired at something, and of course, he watched Bucher go
down. Boyd sideslipped his aircraft to minimize his descent time, leveling
off on short final. They could see NVA troops aiming and firing at them from
the perimeter. A quarter mile out, a 122 mm rocket skipped across the runway
and exploded. (Here a discrepancy occurs, one account saying they landed and
the second account saying they made a go around. I could not reconcile the
accounts.) After landing, It only took three minutes to load over 100 troops
who were waiting in the ditches alongside the runway. The C-130 taxied north
to turn around for a departure to the southwest, all the time taking mortar
rounds. A 122 mm rocket flew over the aircraft. They took numerous hits on
take off and climb out and again about a mile off the end of the runway, but
nothing was serious and there were no casualties. When the aircraft landed
at Cam Ranh Bay, they counted over 100 bullet holes mostly concentrated in
the fuselage, leading edges of both wings, and the left wing. One of the
passengers found a can of spray paint and painted "Lucky Duc" on
the side of the aircraft.
1515 12 May
A platoon each from C and D companies, 2/1st Infantry
were the only American combat troops still on the ground. The 2/1st Infantry
Battalion S-3 called Captain Henderson the "A" Detachment
Commander and told him to move all remaining US personnel to the runway for
immediate departure. Henderson still had CIDG and camp strike force (CSF)
personnel that had not been evacuated, and knew that would mean leaving the
Vietnamese with no Americans on the ground. When questioned further, the S-3
representative stated that the order to move had come from “Saber 6” -
Major General Koster, CG of Americal and all US personnel were to move out
at this time. Captain Henderson held a short conference with Lieutenant
Colonel Schungel and informed him of the situation. Lieutenant Colonel
Daniel Schungel was not a man to be intimidated. He had received a silver
star for organizing the anti-tank defense at Lang Vei and the last some of
his men saw of him was when he charged an NVA tank with a grenade in each
hand. Wounded, he hid under the mess hall floor with another man until they
could walk out to safety. Schungel told the S-3 that Special Forces
personnel would depart only after the Vietnamese were gone. The US Special
Forces were the only point of contact between evacuation and the Vietnamese
and were the best chance for an orderly departure. The Vietnamese were
excited and frightened and many were in a state of despair after losing
their families when Bucher’s C-130 went down.
1530 12 May
Lieutenant Colonel John Delmore had fully expected Boyd
to take off to the northeast and had started his approach from the southwest
following Boyd. When he saw Boyd taking off right at him, he was forced to
pull up and go around. This maneuver gave the NVA advanced notice of his
intentions and caused confusion regarding his fighter cover. Delmore and his
crew had witnessed Bucher's crash and could not have been excited about
making a second approach. About 400 feet above ground the aircraft began
taking hits from small arms that sounded like sledgehammers hitting the
fuselage. Several hundred yards out the sides of the cockpit began to open
up as metal peeled back and smoke began to fill the cockpit. The NVA had
targeted the flight crew as rounds tore through the cockpit floor and exited
through the roof. The right wing dropped just before touchdown but the
pilots were able to level off in time. The engines were shut down because
they were totally out of control. Hydraulics were gone, there were no brakes
and very little steering control. Delmore blasted through the debris of the
crashed CH-47 and was able to turn his aircraft off the runway and up the
bank across the drainage ditch. The five man crew was unhurt and exited
through the jettisoned crew door. Within 20 minutes they were able to catch
a ride out of Kham Duc on a Marine CH-46.
Delmore’s C-130 heading for the bank. Picture looking northwest, Camp
Conroy on the left.
The remains of Delmore’s C-130 in 1970. This picture gives a good idea of
the ridge at the northeast end of the runway that had been cut down to
reduce the height of the obstacle in the flight path. OP 7 was located on
the ridge to the right of the trees.
Another shot of Delmore’s C-130 taken in 1970.
1545 12 May
Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Montgomery had also witnessed
Bucher's and Delmore's fate, but as soon as the runway was clear, he did not
hesitate and landed in a hail of small arms tracers. The crew held their
breath as Vietnamese civilians ran under the spinning propellers, but no one
was hurt except the loadmaster who was knocked down by the rush of
civilians. The loadmaster was again knocked down by an exploding mortar
round, but was unhurt. The C-130 crew counted more than 50 mortar and rocket
rounds exploding around the aircraft. With a mixed bag of about 150 people,
including civilians, CIDG and a few Americans, Montgomery took off. In spite
of all the NVA fire, Montgomery's C-130 was not hit. Immediately on
Montgomery’s heels was another C-130 that took out 130 people and as soon
as he was clear, another landed and took 90. Neither aircraft took a hit.
1600 12 May
General Momyer directed the ALCC to stop using C-130s for
the evacuation because of the high losses.
1600 12 May
During the previous hour Hillsboro controlled 18 sorties.
1600 12 May
Special Forces began evacuating and destroying their
bunkers. Weapons from the armory were given to anyone that wanted one, then
starting at the rear of the camp working toward the front, each bunker was
blown, checked to make sure it was destroyed, then the next one was blown.
Radios were destroyed with thermite grenades. Ammunition bunkers were set
with timed fuses.
1610 12 May
Major James L. Wallace flew the last C-130 into Kham Duc
and took out the last of the Camp Strike Force Company and the Americal
command group along with Captain Smotherman. The only people remaining on
the ground were 15 people of the Vietnamese and US Special Forces command
groups including Lieutenant Colonel Schungel, Captain Henderson, BB X-Ray 3
and Sergeant Matheney. Wallace was on short final to Kham Duc with wheels
and flaps down when Momyer’s directive about C-130’s came down. Captain
Smotherman described the attitude on the C-130 as they climbed safely to
altitude with an understatement, “the reduction in tension was
noticeable,” Here, Gropman introduces a fallacy by stating that Smotherman
was on the last aircraft out- he was, but on the last fixed wing.
1630 12 May
After insuring the camp was destroyed, the command group
moved to a ditch beside the runway. A flight of 3 CH-47 Boxcars arrived, one
landed and the group boarded. Lieutenant Colonel Schungel made sure that
there were no personnel left before boarding, the last man out of Kham Duc.
No NVA were seen by the group and no fire was placed on them during this
1632 12 May
Arab 3 in the 14th Combat Aviation Battalion C&C UH-1
made a high speed low level visual recon of the airstrip to confirm that
there were no troops remaining in sight. As the aircraft completed a cyclic
climb and reached a safe altitude, they reported over the “guard
channel” that the evacuation of Kham Duc was complete and no friendlies
were in sight. (guard channel was a UHF frequency dedicated to emergencies.
Every UHF aircraft radio constantly monitored the Guard frequency. It was
the best way of quickly getting an important message to all aircraft.)
The collective breath-holding as the Boxcar got clear had turned to
backslapping and jubilation on the airwaves, but was cut short when a voice
announced that there was a problem; they had just dropped off 3 men on the
airstrip. As the UH-1 had pulled out at the end of their recon, Van
Cleef’s C-130 was landing on the opposite end of the runway with the
Combat Control Team that had left earlier in the day. Although Brass Study
radios were shut down, Hillsboro, Arab and the FAC’s were still active,
and on all the radio nets it was known the evacuation was almost over, yet
Van Cleef had no contact with anyone until he heard the guard transmission
and then broadcast his fateful message on guard. Not knowing what the
mission of the CCT team was, Van Cleef had waited on the ground (Van Cleef
said five minutes, the CCT said only two minutes) after the CCT had exited
the aircraft. This fact did not go unnoticed by the NVA and soon mortar
rounds were marching down the runway towards the C-130. When they began to
see tracers headed their direction, they decided it was time to leave.
When the CCT hit the ground, they first headed to their old bunker in the
Special Forces camp, but found everything in flames and no one left alive.
They crossed the runway to the 2/1 battalion CP, then to the artillery
bunkers and found those empty too. Now aware that they were alone, they went
to the ditch beside the runway to figure their next move. NVA troops had
spotted them and were beginning to close in, setting up a machine gun on
each side of the runway, one of them under the wing of Delmore’s wrecked
C-130, the other near the wreckage of the UH-1 gunship. Another group of NVA
were approaching from the southwest end of the runway. They were unable to
communicate because their emergency UHF radio was disabled.
After the FAC’s made several low passes over the field without success,
Hillsboro requested the next transport in the stack to land and see if the
men might break cover with an aircraft on the ground. Lieutenant Colonel
Alfred Jeanotte, Jr. had been on station for sometime as he nosed his C-123
over and lined up on the strip. In the meantime, the CCT had killed the crew
of the machine gun next to Delmore’s aircraft, but could not reach the one
on their side of the runway.
With fighters on each wingtip, the C-123 touched down and rolled down the
runway. As the aircraft rolled by them, the men left the ditch and began
chasing the plane, but were not seen by the crew, who did see a lot of
bullets hitting the ground around the aircraft. Realizing they had not been
seen, the team returned to the ditch as the C-123 applied power and took
off. As the aircraft took off, it banked to the left and one of the crew saw
the team running back to their ditch. With the team now located, Jeanotte at
first said that he would go around and make another pass, but then realized
his fuel was too low for another takeoff. The next aircraft in line was
another C-123 piloted by Major Joe Jackson who approached from the
southwest. Some published reports say that Jackson applied full aileron and
opposite rudder to sideslip the aircraft in, but Jackson’s account refutes
this, instead he nosed the aircraft over and made as steep a descent as he
could, leveling off at 500 feet, 1500 feet from the end of the runway. He
slammed the aircraft on to the ground and cut the engines, but did not
reverse the props because it would have shut off the two jet engines,
consequently, his landing roll took him almost to the Chinook wreckage.
1646 12 May
As Jackson turned around for a takeoff to the southwest,
a 122 mm rocket fired from the ridgeline to the north came bouncing down the
runway stopping about 30 feet short of the aircraft. The team climbed
aboard, then, steering around the rocket, the jet engines were brought to
full power and the aircraft took off in less than 1,000 feet of runway. They
had been on the ground less than a minute. Although they had been under
constant enemy fire, they did not take a single hit.
Major Jackson became a hero rescuing the Air Force from a stupid mistake,
which in no way diminishes the character or courage of the man. This poster
was created from the photo below and gives an excellent idea of the
situation on the airfield after the evacuation. The C-123 is turning around
to take off to the southwest, the CCT team is running to catch them.
A highly inaccurate depiction of the pick up of the CCT.
This is the other artistic depiction of the event, also inaccurate in
representing the location of the downed 0-2 and C-130 as well as those
aircraft being on the same side of the runway as the CCT’s hiding place.
1745 12 May
Because of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the
FACs ended their operations and left the area.
1800 12 May
Airstrikes were directed around the airstrip, Hillsboro
controlled 18 sorties.
During the airstrikes following the evacuation, Specialist 4 Long was
wounded twice by bomb fragments. Sergeant Simpson died during the night.
Specialist 4 Long left him and began making his way to the east.
10 B-52 missions totaling 60 aircraft were devoted to Kham Duc
dropping 6,000 bombs within 500 yards of the runway. On one of the missions,
78 secondary explosions were observed, some were ten times the magnitude of
the bomb burst. A total of 130 secondary
explosions were recorded for the missions.
0935 16 May
The three wounded Americans who had escaped OP 3,
Specialist 4 William Foreman, Private First Class John Colonna and Sergeant
Edward Sassenberger were unable to make their way to the perimeter but were
able to evade capture. A FAC spotted three people on the ground waving
shirts, they had used rocks to spell out the message, "AMERICANS TO BE
PICKED UP." The FAC notified I DASC who arranged for an evacuation.
They were hospitalized in Danang.
Specialist 4 Long was captured. He was repatriated on 16 March
1973. While in captivity he never came in contact with any other POW from
Ngok Tavek or Kham Duc.
Nguyen Van Huu and his NVA film unit edited their film and added narration
in Hanoi. The film turned out to be a grainy poor quality ten to fifteen
minute tribute to the “People’s Army” that was of no use at the peace
talks. One interesting aspect of the film is that it credits the battle to
the 21st NVA Regiment made up of North Vietnamese and does not mention the
1st Regiment, a VC Main Force regiment made up of South Vietnamese. The 21st
was never firmly located by U.S. intelligence, so might very well have taken
part in the battle. Other sources indicate that perhaps the 11th Battalion
of the 21st along with the 10th Sapper Battalion may have been present. The
film also mentions that the attack was reinforced with the promised 85mm and
23mm guns that were actually no-shows.
Sadly enough, years later, some of the families of POW’s, including those
families of the Marines killed at Ngok Tavek claimed to recognize their
missing loved ones in a VHS version of the film. Julius Long, who viewed the
film upon his return from captivity, said he was not in the film and saw no
one in the film that he knew, either before or during his captivity. There
have been conflicting accounts of Long’s comments on the film, but what I
have written is, in my opinion, the most reliable.
The actual evacuation occurred in the following order:
Company A, 1st Bn 46th Infantry
Company A, 70th Engineer Battalion
First elements of 2/1st Infantry and Battery A, 3/82cnd Artillery
CIDG dependants and other civilian personnel
Rest of 2/1st Infantry except for one platoon each from C and D Companies
and Bn command group
Remainder of CIDG dependants and Vietnamese civilians
137 CIDG Company from Ha Thanh
C and C personnel
CIDG Camp Strike Force
2/1st Infantry command group
Command group from USASF and VNSF
The majority of the evacuees were carried out by the Chinooks of the 178th
ASHC who carried out 774 people in 19 sorties, mostly U.S. personnel. They
wanted to carry an average of 30 passengers per sortie, but some carried 45
or 46 and one carried 70.
There had been six successful C-130 sorties, one carried out only four
people, the rest carried out more than 600.
14 Marine CH-46’s from MAG 36 and MAG 39 made 30 sorties averaging 9
passengers each, mostly U.S. and wounded.
One C-123 sortie carried 65 Engineers and civilians.
14th Combat Aviation Battalion UH-1’s evacuated a total of 64 troops and
Dustoff medevacs pulled out an unknown number of wounded.
11 KIA–BNR (Killed in action-bodies not recovered) at Ngok Tavek - Private
First Class Paul Czerwonka, Lance Corporal Joseph Cook, Lance Corporal
Raymond Heyne, Private First Class Thomas Blackmon, Private First Class
Robert Lopez, Private First Class Barry Hempel, Lance Corporal Thomas
Fritsch, Corporal Gerald King, Private First Class William McGonigle, Lance
Corporal Donald Mitchell, Lance Corporal James Sargent All bodies recovered
1 MIA – Lieutenant Horace Fleming
2 KIA–BNR - Sergeant First Class Glenn Miller, Captain Warren Orr
(initially listed as MIA)
1 MIA – Specialist 4 Thomas Perry
OP 1 – Originally 11 US total
6 MIA – Private First Class Harry Sisk, Private First Class Antonio
Guzman-Rios, Specialist 4 Julius Long (later POW), Private First Class Harry
Coen, Sergeant Joseph Simpson, Private First Class Andrew Craven
OP 3 - Originally 13 U.S. total
10 MIA – Lieutenant Frederick Ransbottom, Specialist 5 William Skivington,
Specialist 5 Imlay Widdison, Private First Class Roy Williams, Private First
Class Danny Widner, Specialist 4 John Stuller, Specialist 4 Maurice Moore,
Sergeant First Class Johnnie Carter, Private First Class Randall Lloyd,
Specialist 4 Richard Bowers
Other US Army KIA-BNR
Specialist 4 Juan Jimenez – remains left at aid station
Private First Class Richard Sands – remains in wreckage of Boxcar 469
Other Army losses:
KIA 12 – this number is difficult to confirm.
5 KIA – BNR crew of C-130 - Major Bernard Bucher, 1st Lieutenant Stephen
Moreland, Major John McElroy, Staff Sergeant Frank Hepler, Airman 1st Class
VNSF/CIDG and civilians – it took a long time to resolve the civilian
numbers because those carried out by C-130 were taken to several locations
including Danang, Chu Lai and Cam Ranh Bay.
MIA/KIA - 64 including those lost on the OP’s.
Of the 260 civilians, over 200 were CSF dependants. 150 casualties is the
commonly used number for the C-130 that was shot down. These casualties were
a combination of civilians and CIDG. Total civilian KIA’s were 183.
11th and 12th Mike Force Companies as reported by Captain White.
Many of the U.S. BNR category have since been recovered. Any estimate of NVA
casualties is pure guesswork. When the subject was brought up to North
Vietnamese officials, the subject was quickly changed.
AIR FORCE PARTICIPATING UNITS
134 strike sorties were recorded for the support of Operation Golden Valley.
The Air Force fighter aircraft that participated belonged to the following
A - 1s: 6th Air Commando Sqdn, Pleiku;
F - 4s: 12 Tactical Fighter Wing, Cam Ranh Bay;
F - 100s: 37 Tactical Fighter Wing, Phu Cat;
F - 4s: 366 Tactical Fighter Wing, Da Nang;
F - 5s 522 Sqdn, Vietnamese Air Force, Da Nang;
F - 105s: 388 Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhi, Thailand.
Air Force C-130 transports were from several different units, some on
temporary duty from the Philippines and other locations outside of Vietnam,
but all were under the command of the 834th Air Division and were controlled
through the ALCC. C-123s came from the 311 Air Commando Sqdn. Phan Rang.
Marine A-4D aircraft flew 16 sorties.