Fighting the Viet Cong: Base Camps and Weapons Caches.
Above Photo: Viet Cong Guerillas in South Vietnam (© unknown).
SSG Arnold Krause C 2/12th Infantry was interviewed by Peter Alan Lloyd as part his of research for the novel, BACK.
It’s October 1, 1968. I’ve been an NCO for about six weeks. The men (boys?) in my squad and I are adjusting to each other. We have moved from our location south of Hoc Mon into a new area just north of Trang Bang and west of Cu Chi where the 25th Div. base camp is located. The battalion is set up in two fire support bases, Stuart (one company) and Pershing (three companies). The companies rotate between the two FSB’s every couple of weeks.
The area is mostly rice fields, divided by large areas of brush and trees. The rice paddies are lined with hedgerows which serve as natural fences and property lines. Winter is over, but many of the fields still have water in them, which will have disappeared by the time we reach November.
Just to the north of our fire support base (FSB Pershing), lies the areas designated the Boi Loi Woods on the left, the Hobo Woods in the middle and to the east and directly north of Cu Chi is the Filhol Rubber Plantation. These three areas reach north and touch the Saigon River which is one of our boundary lines for our tactical area of operation.
Flight operations picked up and each company took turns with eagle flights (combat assaults) to our north and east searching for “Charlie” (VC). A major supply route drops down from Cambodia, runs east of the Michelin Plantation near Dau Tieng, through the Iron Triangle, a stronghold for the VC before we defoliated much of the vegetation. (See above map).
The trail then cut across the Saigon river continued south west of the Filhol Rubber plantation and Cu Chi and on into the Saigon area. It is heavily traveled and many local villages are sympathetic to the VC.
Our task is to interrupt this supply route and to engage from the 9th VC Division, the 101st and 272nd NVA Infantry Regiments that are located in this region, which we believed might number 4,000 – 5,000 troops.
It’s evening and everyone has had chow, and is settling down to what we usually do with our free time. Some are cleaning weapons while others are jaw boning in some friendly conversation.
I, along with the other NCO’s of third platoon, are notified that SFC John L. Partee and 1LT David Riggs want to go over tomorrow’s mission. I make my way over to their tent. Our mission tomorrow will be an eagle flight east to an area near X. Sa Nho, a village, which we have been having a lot of trouble with. Bravo Co. will be joining Charlie Co. and will work the area to our west. They are supporting our flank in a blocking and attack position. We are going to sweep the wooded area to the northwest of the village to see if our intelligence is correct with information that says there is a large force holed up there. 2nd and 3rd Platoons will be handling the combat assault and each platoon will provide 30 men including the Platoon leader, his radio man and our Forward Observer. 1st Platoon is assigned road security along Alpha 6.
The 187th AHC (Assault Helicopter Company) is assigned to provide transportation in 2 lifts of 12 ships each. At 0745 we move out into the pickup zone which is outside the perimeter on the east side of the FSB and get into groups of 6 men and ready ourselves for the chopper’s arrival.
On time, the Crusaders from the 187th arrive and we scamper onboard at 0800 for the 10 minute ride to our LZ. Arriving at the LZ, two gunships are circling the area providing cover. We fly into the LZ and set down in an open and large rice paddy area and hop off of the slicks. There is no enemy activity and for the moment, all is quiet.
On the ground we fan out to create a perimeter of defense while we wait for the rest of the unit to arrive. Once all the “lifts” (more than one eagle flight, depending on how many choppers have been allocated to move the battalion’s troops for the day’s operations) have been completed, the lead platoon, in this case, it’s my platoon, sends out its flankers and we get into two files since the area is fairly open.
My squad has point and so I double check my topographical map and using a compass set the azimuth according to the first check point for the mission. Once we are in formation I wait for SFC Partee to signal for us to move out. Bravo Co. is just off to the left several hundred meters away but traveling in the same direction. The operation is hoping to create a blocking movement by one company and force the enemy to retreat or try to escape by moving into the other company where we can catch them in a cross fire. I receive word to get moving, and tell PFC Ed Wales, my point man what direction I want him to take as we start out.
As the day progresses we reach CP (check point) Alpha, then Bravo, and all is quiet. After a brief break where we stop to rest our feet, grab a drink of water and smoke a cigarette, then we head out to our third CP located inside a clearing in a wooded area.
By now we are outside of the village of X. Sa Nho. The advance is cautionary and slow as we approach the wood line. For some, the pulse rate climbs in anticipation and the beads of sweat slowing inch their way down the sides of the cheek bones. The moisture in the mouth gives way to a feeling like you have been chewing on a cotton ball and you try to swallow but can’t. This is the most dangerous time when the enemy could unleash their automatic weapons and pin everyone down in the open. I whisper to Eddie to slow it down and really scan the area as we creep closer. This time nothing happens until we penetrate the brush and enter the woods.
Suddenly there is ‘movement’ in front of us and five men dressed in black pajamas are seen sprinting away toward Bravo Co. Wales flips off the safety on his weapon but can’t get a shot off because he is packing a M-79 Grenade Launcher and there wasn’t enough clearance to fire.
My line of fire is also blocked because I am behind Wales at the time. I yell to the men behind me that we have movement to our front and to fan out and find some cover. LT David Riggs moves to direct the men behind him on where to advance.
Bravo Co. under the command of CPT Allan Wissenger sees and engages more of the enemy with automatic weapons fire over on our left flank, then 1LT R.W. McDaniel, Charlie Co’s C.O. directs 2nd platoon to swing around to our (3rd Platoon’s) right and join the firefight.
There is more than just the VC we saw sprint away from us. The enemy is dug in and is located in the middle of the heavy wooded area we just entered. It is difficult seeing and targeting the enemy. CPT Wissinger calls for aerial support from Cu Chi.
I’m trying to keep an eye on the new guys in my squad, George Toto from Pennsylvania and Jesse Tostado from San Bernadino, Ca. Neither has seen any combat yet and I want to make sure they are in the right position to support the rest of the fire team.
I tell both of them to pick up on any muzzle flashes or smoke and keep their return fire just above ground level to hit the enemy. I tell them to keep their heads down unless they are firing their weapons, otherwise they’ll take a bullet.
Wales is firing his M79 into the trees just above the enemy positions.
The terrain is too dense for our two platoons to try and maneuver around and through the trees without taking on unnecessary risk and casualties, so 1LT McDaniel has us hold our positions and keep up the fire, hoping that when the LFT’s (light fire teams or gunships) arrive from Cu Chi they can try and get the enemy to move in Bravo Co’s direction or break and run from cover so they can hit them from above.
Two Huey gunships arrive on station with the call sign Diamondhead 26. CPT Wissinger’s RTO radios the LFT that we will pop smoke to mark our forward positions and that they are to hit 50 meters to the north of the markers. Wissinger has a better view and can direct the aerial support. LT Riggs tells us to pop smoke to our front.
The gunships calls out the color of the smoke as “purple” and we confirm. The gunships then hit the enemy positions with rockets and mini-gun fire. Just to top off their day, the other gunship hits them with CS gas which takes some of the fight out of them.
The fight lasts about an hour before the firing stops. The enemy is defeated, having no place to run to. 14 VC are killed and another 11 are taken prisoner. There are no U.S. losses in the battle.
Battalion S-3 officer MJR Joe Rigby orders the two companies to look around the area and search the battlefield for weapons and anything we can find. As we scan over the area we see fresh bamboo bunkers along with some trench works skirting the edge of the hedgerows. Santiago, a Spec 4 from Texas and some of the guys are poking around and soon discover some concealed spider holes in addition to the other earthworks.
One of Bravo’s ‘tunnel rats’ volunteers to check out one of these spider holes. It’s hard to believe how small some of these tunnel entrances are. For most of them, only a small man with a very slender build can squeeze into them.
Personally, I did not find it too appealing to go down into one of these armed with a flashlight, knife and a .45 Cal pistol. But, to each his own and Bravo Co. had a young kid who enjoyed the challenge and he started down into one of the openings.
A few minutes later he hollers’ out that it’s all clear. He discovers what appears to be a small underground hospital or aid station and a host of medical supplies in addition to an ammo cache which was partially concealed above ground. A lot of the items found come from the Red Cross and some of it was wrapped in U.S. newspapers, one from the Chicago area.
We’re standing around looking at the items that are being brought up from below ground and can’t figure out how this stuff arrived at its destination. Was it given to them through an international outlet and it made its way down from Hanoi? We never figured it out.
After all usable contraband is removed from this underground world, the 65th Engineers do their best to destroy what they can of the complex using shape charges. The ammo cache contained 87x82mm rds, 29 cases of RPG-2 rds, 30 cases of AK-47 rds, 73 Bangalore torpedoes, 15 cases of 60mm rds, 7 pistols (various), 1x60mm mortar tube, 5lbs of documents, 66,000 piasters, and 1 complete surgical kit.
The eleven detained suspects are part of the 7th Cu Chi Battalion Rear Detachment and are airlifted back to Cu Chi to be questioned, along with the first aid supplies that was uncovered.
It’s getting late in the day and we have a pickup scheduled at 1530 Hrs to take us back to FSB Pershing. If we miss the hookup, we could be walking back to FSB Pershing. The extraction goes as planned and without incident. This was a good day for us and the unit. No one was killed and there were just some minor injuries that did not require a dust off. Nine days later, we would encounter a larger force in the same area which would result in a large firefight.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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