Hill top 668 (out west of Ben Het)
|Literally my most vivid recollection of Vietnam war was on a hill
top (668, out west of Ben Het) with about 650 troops - what was left of
two battalions of Mike Force.
I mentioned in an earlier post that these two battalions were under my command as part of Task Force Lien out of Dak To in summer of 69 - it was same time the tanks got knocked out at Ben Het. About a Division of NVA against about a Division of ARVN, US and Mike Force troops. Both sides had plenty of artillery, infantry and mech backup, we had air superiority of course, but as Jim L, I believe, has mentioned, they had some air support as well. The Mike Force was mostly doing sweeps through areas of known NVA positions, doing BDA's in force, and generally being put into the point of activity by the ARVN (hey why not - got rid of the pesky little Montagnards and the Communists at the same time...).
We identified a good infiltration spot for a large scale insertion, had a C130 drop one of those 10,000# bombs with the long fuze, to make an instant multi ship LZ in the dense forest on Hill 668. The LZ was made where we wanted it, but the insertion didn't start until 4 pm due to lack of sufficient air assets. I couldn't talk them out of the insertion, so it went on until dark, and both battalions had to dig in on the hill for RON. We had inserted 1100 Mike Force troops basically on top of the combined Regimental HQ of the 66th and 28th NVA Regt's. Or so close that they moved in during the night. Bad Move on our part. Pinned our guys down for about 10 days, no water, lots of bad guys etc. Two companies from one of the Mike Force battalions attempted to break out by land the next morning, and were immediately overrun by vastly superior forces. Some of the 'yards E&E'd all the way to Dak To, which took them as much as three weeks, as I recall (about 20-25 kms through defoliated and foliated teak forest). Anyway, the rest were stuck on the hill, and I would go out to the LZ on 668 multiple times per day with ammo, water and other supplies, and bring out WIA and KIA troops, both US and 'yards. Two of the US FO's were captured, tied to a tree in the NVA camp that night, and woke up the next morning to find that they were alone... They too E&E'd back to Dak To, and had a story to tell when they got back!
We soon lost all our USSF and US artillery FO officers on the ground either KIA or WIA, so the LTC sent me in as ground commander with a mission to extricate as many of the troops as possible as soon as feasible. I was down to probably less than 7 or 8 US on the ground. First Sgt. Rocky Lane was the ranking NCO and I was the only officer. The Task Force had already given up on continuing the mission - at that point, it was just down to survival mode. I knew beforehand that the situation was bad, because whenever I had gone in with the slicks, we had to have Cobra and A1-E escorts to lay down as much ordnance as possible just to keep Charlie in his holes while the slicks did their business. Usually it worked, although almost every time one or more of the slicks was hit by ground fire. Some of the bravest pilots I ever worked with - maybe as brave as the guys who supported SOG. It was so bad on the ground, that the US had to triage the WIA, and threaten the fake casualties with becoming real casualties just to keep the evac choppers from being so overloaded they couldn't take off. I had heard of such, but hadn't seen it to that point.
We were surrounded by (weeks later we went in and counted foxholes) over 2000 hard core regulars from the 66th and 28th NVA Regt's. One soldier from the K-9 Bn (probably an FO), actually crawled inside our perimeter with a field telephone before we zapped him (I had gotten intel that the K-9 was in the opposing forces, and the phone actually had "K-9" scratched on the box! Felt more confident in Intel reports after that!) They were so close we could hear them digging, banging their messkits and yelling at us. That is fairly close - I think their tactic was to get as close as possible to minimize the danger of our airstrikes and arty fire. I think the tactic worked, as the only artillery we had with the range to get to us were US and ARVN 175mm and US 8" batteries at Dak To. It would sometimes take an hour or more to get the US batteries to fire, but the ARVN's would fire on demand - never did get a straight answer as to why the US batteries couldn't respond quicker. They would mumble about clearance and other such bullshit, but I never bought that argument. More likely incompetence.
Anyway, the yards were so spooked by the constant NVA H&I fire from B-41's, 81mm and recoilless rifles (75mm?) that they were just huddling down in their foxholes in the mud...I went around the perimeter at night after I got on the ground, and decided that if the NVA wanted us, all they would have had to have done is walk in - it was that bad. Also, before I went in, I received a "Top Secret" message saying the NVA were going to use nerve gas on us - so I made sure that I had a gas mask, and asked for 800 more - the powers that be said they didn't have any - and if they gas you, too bad. Great. So much for support.
I had been out there about 3 or 4 days, just trying to soften up the enemy with airstrikes, and calling in 8" and 175mm arty as close to us as we dared, and getting a little sleep, meeting with the US to strategize how we were going to get out - whether to break out (hadn't worked before) or to just pound the hell out of Chuck 'til we could arrange air extraction. I was sleeping under a poncho, but on the ground, not a hammock due to grazing fire, next to my foxhole, with a radio and an M-16. I also had a .45 with about 10 magazines - I was ready! About dawn on the 4th day I was there, I woke up to tat-tat-tat.......tat-tat-tat.... two three round bursts from an RPD or an AK, and then all around our perimeter, the sound of mortars being fired (tunk, tunk etc.) I yelled for everyone to get under cover and get ready for an assault, dove into the hole and was on the radio calling for support before the first round hit. I remember thinking while I was down in the hole and listening to that whsh-whsh of mortar rounds dropping that one would have to land in the hole with me to get me, and that if that happened, I would never know it anyway...That was when they first gassed us. They didn't use nerve gas, but they used CS 81mm rounds mixed in with HE rounds, and the CS being heavier than air settled into the foxholes, which got our terrified troops out of the holes and let 'em get zapped by the HE. Very effective tactic against troops with no gas masks.
As it turned out, we got our support quicker than normal, and the NVA must not have known how weak our position was, because they never followed up with the ground assault. We eventually got off the hill, but it took several days like that, and that was as hairy as I ever wanted my stay in beautiful Vietnam to get.
Badger sends (gives me the creeps just to think about how we dodged the bullet on that one)