|(Note: This article mentions Klaus Bingham several times.
Klaus was with Recon Team "Asp" and he was killed on 10
May 1971. Recon Team "Kansas" was lost on 7 August
1971. Oran Bingham was with Recon team "Kansas".
Please note that when you read Klaus Bingham, it should be Oran
Bingham. Robert Noe)
THE LAST STAND OF RECON TEAM KANSAS
Outnumbered worse than the Alamo defenders, here's the story of a
SOG team's desperate last stand.
By Maj. John L. Plaster, USAR (Ret.)
The once bustling Khe Sanh
Marine Base in South Vietnam�s extreme northwest had been a ghost town
more than three years by the summer of 1971. Though used briefly that
February to support the South Vietnamese Army�s invasion of Laos,
after that bloody debacle the South Vietnamese abandoned not just Khe
Sanh but the entire region, yielding immense areas to the NVA, who
almost overnight began extending their Ho Chi Minh Trail highways into
In late July 1971, U.S. intelligence began tracking a large enemy
force shifting across the DMZ a dozen miles east of Khe Sanh,
threatening the coastal cities of Hue, Danang and Phu Bai where the
last sizeable American ground units were based.
It was essential to learn what was happening near Khe Sanh, a
mission assigned to a shadowy organization called "SOG." Created to
conduct covert missions deep behind enemy lines in Laos, Cambodia and
North Vietnam, the top secret Studies and Observations Group had
shifted most of its operations in-country by 1971 to cover the
continuing U.S. withdrawal. From among its clandestine assembly of
Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and USAF Air Commandos, the Khe Sanh
mission eventually became a prisoner snatch assigned to Recon Team
Kansas, an 11-man, Special Forces-led element, which included eight
"Recon Team Leader Loren
Hagen shortly before his final mission." (Photo by Tony
But how do you grab a
prisoner in the midst of 10,000 or more NVA? Headed by an easygoing,
lanky Midwesterner, First Lieutenant Loren Hagen, along with Sergeants
Tony Andersen and Bruce Berg, the RT Kansas men had brainstormed
through several scenarios until settling upon the best option: They
would land conspicuously on an abandoned firebase -- which obviously
would draw some sort of NVA reaction -- put up a short fight, then
extract by helicopter. Except half of Hagen�s men would stay hidden on
the hill. When the NVA sent a squad up to see if the Americans had
left behind sensors or bombing beacons -- as SOG teams often did --
the hidden men would ambush the NVA, seize a prisoner and come out.
In case a serious fight developed, Lt. Hagen reinforced his team
with three more Green Beret volunteers, Staff Sergeant Oran Bingham
and Sergeants Bill Queen and William Rimondi, for eight Montagnard
tribesmen and six U.S. Special Forces, a total of 14 men.
Landing at last light on 6 August 1971, Lt. Hagen surveyed the
scrub brush and bomb craters below them and split his defense into
three elements to cover the hilltop�s three slopes. Immediately they
went to work restoring the old firebase�s two dilapidated bunkers and
shallow trenches. The enemy must have seen them land, and Hagen
reckoned to be ready.
A Foreboding Night
It was well after dark when the SOG men noticed campfires on two
facing ridgelines, unusual because the NVA normally masked itself. By
midnight enemy probers were at the base of the hill, firing
provocatively from the north, south, east and west.
At 1 a.m. a USAF AC-130 Spectre gunship arrived, walking 40mm and
20mm fire around the hill nearly all night. Never once did the team
fire their weapons, staying blanketed in darkness. Then at 3 a.m. the
SOG men heard trucks and tailgates dropping. This was odd, very odd.
Beneath the hill, dismounting NVA soldiers formed up into platoons
and companies, which their leaders marched through the darkness to
their assigned attack positions, to wait for dawn.
Just before sunrise it became forebodingly quiet. Then Lt. Hagen
heard more trucks arriving.
Fifty miles away at a coastal airbase, a USAF Forward Air
Controller (FAC) and a flight of helicopters was lifting away for the
false extraction; they would be above RT Kansas in 30 minutes.
As darkness gave way to light, Lt. Hagen detected glimpses of NVA
on one slope; then on another slope pithe helmets appeared, bobbing in
the fog. When his men reported NVA on the third slope, too, Hagen
realized the hill was completely encircled by NVA -- but that would
require a whole regiment, at least a thousand men!
"The NVA were laying a
Soviet-made tactical fuel pipeline, like this one, near RT
Kansas' hilltop, the first ever extended into South Vietnam. It
would be of strategic value a few months later during the Easter
1972 Offensive." (Def. Intell. Agency)
The NVA regimental commander
understood he had to dispatch the Americans quickly. They'd
inadvertently landed almost within sight of the Hanoi High Command's
most critical new venture, the first six-inch fuel pipeline laid
across the DMZ, absolutely essential in a few months when entire tank
battalions rolled through here for the war's largest offensive.
Already the 304th NVA Division was massing here, plus a regiment of
the 308th Division, preparing for the 1972 Easter Offensive.
A fourth battalion moved into place; then, concealed in the ground
fog, a fifth battalion arrived. Later, SOG�s commander, Colonel John
Sadler, would learn an entire regiment had stormed the hill, supported
by a second regiment, a mass assault by approximately 2000 enemy
A Human Wave
As the clearing ground fog disclosed that terrible truth, Lt. Hagen
had no time for inspiring words, just serious soldier work; in those
final moments he repositioned weapons while his men readied grenades
and stacked magazines. The Catholic Montagnards made the Sign of the
Then they came.
A well-aimed RPG rocket smashed into Bruce Berg's bunker,
collapsing it and signaling the attack -- fire went from nothing to
ten thousand rounds per second! Andersen could see dozens of NVA
rushing in lines up his slope, meeting them with his M-60 machinegun.
Hagen hollered that he was going to check Berg, and ran directly into
a ferocious maelstrom, with bullets ricocheting and slamming the earth
in front of, behind, and beneath his dashing feet. He made it a dozen
yards when fire from the other slope cut him down, killing him.
Then Klaus Bingham left a bunker to reposition a claymore and a
bullet struck him in the head, apparently killing him. One Montagnard
in a trench below Tony Andersen fired several bursts then jumped up to
pull back and fell into Andersen's lap, dead.
Four men had died in less than four minutes. It was up to Andersen
now, the senior man.
The Last Stand
Small arms fire rattled closer on all sides and grenades lobbed up
from below the hillcrest where waves of NVA were scurrying behind
small rises and rolling from bomb crater to bomb crater. Andersen
dashed over the hill to look for Hagen but couldn't see him anywhere
-- just 100 khaki-clad NVA almost at the top! He fired one M-60 belt
at NVA advancing up his own slope, then sped to the other approach and
ran belt after belt on the 100 assaulting enemy. By then grenades
started coming from behind him as NVA closed in from his rear. Just a
dozen yards away, beyond the curvature of the hill, enemy heads popped
up, cracked a few shots, then dropped back down.
Still a dozen minutes away, the approaching Cobra gunships went to
full throttle, leaving the slower Hueys behind.
Meanwhile RT Kansas had just run out of hand grenades when a North
Vietnamese grenade exploded beside Andersen's M-60, rendering it
useless; he spun his CAR-15 off his back and kept shooting, then he
tossed back another grenade but it went off in front of him, nearly
blinding him, yet he kept shooting. More shrapnel tore into him, then
an AK round slammed through his webgear and lodged in his elbow,
knocking him down. He stumbled back to his knees and kept firing.
The perimeter was pinched almost in half when Andersen grabbed his
last two living Montagnards, circled below the nearest NVA and somehow
managed to reach the survivors on the opposite side. He found Bingham,
started to lift him, and saw he, too, was dead from a head wound. All
around him he heard, "zzzsss, zzssss, zzssss," as bullets flashed past
He dragged Bingham back to where Bill Queen lay, wounded. Only
Rimondi wasn't yet hit and still fired furiously. Andersen put them in
a back-to-back circle just off the hilltop where they would make their
last stand. AK bullets had destroyed their team radio, another slug
had shot Andersen's little survival radio out of his hand so Rimondi
tossed him another survival radio, their last.
Now the NVA were streaming, rolling over the crest like a tidal
wave, their rattling AKs blending together into one never-ending
burst. Andersen's men were firing not at NVA but at hands wielding AKs
over parapets and around bunkers. There was no place left to fall
back. Andersen was shooting NVA little further than the length of his
CAR-15 muzzle, and the time it took to speed-change a magazine meant
life or death.
From the air it looked like an ant mound, with moving figures
everywhere. Cobra lead rolled in and sparkled 20mm cannon shells
around the surviving SOG men, and at last fighters arrived, adding
napalm and Vulcan cannons to the melee. Then at last the assault
ebbed, turned, and the NVA fled for cover, just as the Hueys arrived.
Though wounded repeatedly, Andersen crawled out to fire his CAR-15
to cover the landing Hueys. With Rimondi's help, Andersen dragged as
many teammates� bodies as he could to the first Huey, then helped the
wounded Queen and others aboard the second.
"3 months before RT Kansas fought the most one-sided fight in
American history, the USAF already had plotted three enemy
pipelines running out of North Vietnam but these extended into
Laos. The most critical pipeline was secretly being laid across
the DMZ into South Vietnam." (USAF)
"Lt. Loren Hagen (right,
rear) and Bruce Berg pose with five indigenous teammates. Both
Hagen and Berg would die on the small hilltop, along with six of
their Montagnard soldiers." (Photo by Tony Andersen)
A Terrible Toll
In one hellacious half-hour, nine of Recon Team Kansas� fourteen
men had been lost.
Lt. Hagen had died, along with Bingham, Berg was presumed dead, six
Montagnards had died, Rimondi and Queen both suffered multiple frag
wounds, Andersen had been struck by both smallarms fire and shrapnel,
and their other two Montagnards, too, all had been wounded
"It�s amazing that any of us came through it with the amount of
incoming that we were getting," Tony Andersen says today, 25 years
later. He attributes their survival to his deceased team leader, Lt.
Loren Hagen. "He epitomized what a Special Forces officer should be --
attentive to detail, a lot of rehearsals, followed through on things,"
he explains. "We were ready. I think that was probably the only thing
that kept us from being totally overrun. Everybody was alert and knew
what was happening and was waiting."
As for Hagen�s bravery, dashing into a wall of AK fire to try to
save Bruce Berg, that didn�t surprise Andersen, either. "Lt. Hagen was
that kind of officer. He was a good man."
Against the lost of most of his teammates, Andersen learned, the
USAF counted 185 NVA dead on that hill little RT Kansas had killed
half a battalion and probably wounded twice that many NVA. But that
gives Andersen sparse satisfaction compared to the loss of most of his
Perhaps Andersen�s most difficult duty was carrying the bodies of
his six Montagnard teammates -- his "family" he called them -- to
their home village. "As soon as they saw us driving up in the truck,
they knew. Wailing and moaning started, and all the grieving." The
villagers gathered in a circle around the headman�s stilted longhouse.
"Through one of the interpreters I tried to explain how proud we were
of them, what good fighters they were, that they had died for a good
That would be borne out a few months later when the intelligence
generated by RT Kansas� spirited defense helped U.S. analysts read
enemy intentions, enabling American airpower to counter the NVA�s
And though details of this incredible fight would remain classified
for decades, enough was disclosed that First Lieutenant Loren Hagen's
family was presented the U.S. Army's final Vietnam War Medal of Honor;
Tony Andersen, who held together what remained of RT Kansas through
those final mass assaults, received the Distinguished Service Cross,
while Queen, Rimondi, Berg and Bingham were awarded Silver Stars.
And now, today, with full disclosure, we can appreciate the
significance of their fight:
At the Alamo, 188 Americans had stood against 3000 Mexicans, a
ratio of 16-to-1; at Custer's Last Stand, 211 cavalrymen succumbed to
3,500 Sioux warriors, or 16.5-to-1; at the 1877 Battle of Rorke's
Drift, the most heralded action in British military history resulting
in -- 11 Victoria Crosses -- 140 British troops withstood assaults by
4000 Zulus, or 28-to-1. Lt. Hagen�s 14 men had held on despite being
outnumbered 107-to-one, four times as disadvantagous as Rorke's Drift
and seven times worse than the Alamo, one of the most remarkable feats
of arms in American history.
(This article is
derived from Maj. Plaster�s book, SOG: The Secret Wars of
America�s Commandos in Vietnam, published by Simon &
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Robert, and all interested:
I always figured that [Pastor] Bill Rimondi was manning the M-60
during the RT Kansas battle that day (CCN Aug. 7, 1971), but I
never had confirmation of it until now!
Bill's Son-in-law, in the USMC, is wanting to know more. Bill hasn't
talked to me about it since that day, and he very seldom talks about
it with his Wife and Daughters, but I just found out that he
recently confided in one of his daughters that the recorded version
is incorrect, and that he was the only one carrying the M-60
That is really significant. It is also in keeping with what Bruce
Berg and I had discussed at the end of our recon attempt in that AO
the prior week. Bill R. was attending RT leader's training at the
time, so he wasn't with us on the prior RT Oklahoma recon attempt.
Afterward, I went to Taiwan for a week of R & R, and the same
morning I returned Bill and I met and talked at CCN just as he was
returning from that now famous RT Kansas battle.
Having Rimondi carry the M-60 was originally my idea. That, along
with digging in with sand bags, steel pots, and calling in Tac air
around us. It was obviously not a place where a standard recon team
could survive overnight. That A Shau AO was so heavily occupied, and
so aggressively defended by the NVA, that going in heavy seemed to
be the only way I could imagine getting in there and staying on the
ground long enough to gather any intel. I thought Bill Rimondi would
be the logical person to carry the M-60, since he frankly had a bit
more muscle mass than the rest of us on our team.
We still have more questions regarding this, which I hope to know
the answers to one day.
Bruce Rusty Lang, M.D. 615.522,9946
2526 West Tenth Street
Dallas, Texas 75211-2622