LAST DAYS OF THE 30th RANGERS
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After Easter offensive, the batter city of An-Loc was defended by the 3rd and the 5th rangers groups. The rangers restored the control of the city and built up a strong defensive line in the north of the city by the 5th and in the south by the 3rd group. The NVA and VC maintained a force of divisional size in the occupied region of Loc Ninh county. From that day until early 1975, skirmishes between the two opposing forces cost the 30th battalion of the 5th rangers group hundred of lives included two of its company commanders in exchanged for hundreds of the enemies. The 30th was always regarded as the best battalion of the 5th group and this story came from the diary of captain Nguyen-Phan, S-3 operation officer of the battalion.
March 1975, all companies commanders were called for a meeting at the battalion operation headquarters, none of them knew “What’s going on?”. Long-An (code name for addressing on the radio PRC-25), CO of the 1st company said.
- Should we have something to drink! (Usually, after the meeting the men stayed for supper at the HQ)- You men would not feel hungry after this meeting! Capt. Nguyen-Phan, S-3 of the Bn. replied.
After Viet-Trieu ( Maj. Nguyen-Ngoc-Khoan, CO of the battalion) briefed the purpose of the meeting, and about the order from the higher command, everyone were stunt and silence filled the atmosphere. The steel defensive line would has been removed and abandoning the city of An-Loc. The Joint Generals Staff (JGS) wanted to deploy the rangers to other fronts.
That night the 30th battalion pulled back closer to the outskirt of An-Loc, ready for a heli-lift in the next morning. According to the operation plan, one battalion of the 3rd ranger group from Chon Thanh (a county in the south of An-Loc) would has moved north for rendezvous with the retreating forces on foot out of An-Loc, included the headquarters of the Corps-III’s rangers. The plan worked smoothly, only small clashes along the retreating route, the rangers’s casualty was minimum, and after two days and nights marching, all units arrived at Chon Thanh safely.
At Chon Thanh, the rangers rested for one night and prepared for another heli-lift to Tay Ninh (a city southwest of An Loc near the perot beak region) the following day. At 6:00am in the morning, all units of the 5th group moved to the LZ, meanwhile the communists started shelling lightly into the county of Chon Thanh. The enemy showed signs of violence and obviously they already had had a plan. Suddenly, the 30th battalion was ordered to stay, and placed directly under the command of the HQ of the Corps-III’s rangers. The 30th rangers fanned out to protect the LZ and watched the rangers of the 33rd, 38th battalions and the group’s headquarters disappeared with the chopters. A jeep arrived to pick up the battalion commander and his S-3 officer to the rangers headquarters in Chon Thanh. There were several fires, results from the communists artillery’s bombardment and panicked civilians with children on the road trying to look for shelters. After retreating from An Loc, the headquarters of the Corps-III rangers moved in with the HQ of the 3rd group in Chon Thanh. The battle was closer...
At 9:00am the meeting began with the present of Col. Nguyen-Thanh-Chuan commander of the Corps-III rangers, Col. Thoan deputy commander of the 5th Infantry division, Col. Nguyen-Van-Biet commander of the 3rd rangers group and battalions commanders and staffs. The meeting had been going on for half an hour then suddenly the communists shelled heavily on the HQ of the rangers and the HQ of the county’s regional forces. One radio man of the battalion was wounded, the radio saved his life. The Tactical Operation Center (TOC) and everyone had to move to the communication under ground bunker. Within one hour the TOC bunker was collapsed to the ground under enemy artillery’s bombardment. Later a VC prisoner said that the communists had forward artillery observers in just outside the defensive line of the rangers. Everyone were safe in the underground bunker but the S-3 officer could not used the PRC-25 to contact the awaiting 30th battalion at the LZ.
At the same time NVA/VC infantry with tanks T-54 attached launched attacks in many areas including the rangers HQ and the county’s HQ. One enemy battalion with tanks broke through the outer defensive line, the rangers fought back valiantly also the 36th battalion of the 3rd group was called back to save the HQ and relieving enemy’s pressure. With air support from the A-37 squadron, the rangers pushed the enemy out of their positions around 1:00pm, the NVA/VC left behind many corpses and burning T-54 tanks. News of restoring the control came back from many places. One squad of the 3rd group knocked out three T-54 tanks after three hours embattled with the enemy, all the rangers in that squad were awarded immediately after the battle. During that time, Viet Trieu (CO of the 30th) and his S-3 officer seemed like visitors, just sitting and looked at the people fighting. One reason due to the fact that the two men lost contact with the XO and the battalion, and the rangers HQ did not direct the commander of the 30th rangers to bring his battalion to defense the HQ. Without soldiers, the two men felt like two highly ranking kung-fu men without swords or at least ... a stick in their hands. Around 3:00pm, captain Phan made contact with the 30th battalion, Phuong Bang (code name of the XO) was on the PRC-25 talked to the S-3 officer. When the communists bombarded and attacked the HQ of the rangers and lost contact with the commander of the battalion and the S-3 officer, Phuong Bang held a meeting with the companies commanders then decided to wait until 5:00pm. If they did not hear anything from the commander, then he would bring the battalion into the town of Chon Thanh to find the leaders, death or alive. His voice was shaking because of happiness for the two comrades.
10:00pm, another meeting at the rangers HQ in Chon Thanh, radio interception men attached (G-7 of the JGS) reported about a report of the VC battle field to their HQ of the region. Two points emphasized, first the VC commander recognized that he did not weight the enemy (four rangers battalions and RF) correctly, second the VC requested for reinforcement for a new attack in the next 24 hours. The rangers would hang on to the battle field with whatsoever left. While the meeting was still going on, G-7 men brought in another intercepted message from a communists T-54 tank. This tank got lost after the battle in the morning, crew members called the VC’s HQ for returning direction. After checking the enemy’s tank location and its returning direction, the rangers HQ ordered the 30th battalion to kill or capture that T-54 tank. Captain Phan left the meeting to the HQ of the battalion, he gave orders to the three companies in Chon Thanh to prepare for actions and the 4th company, which stayed to protect the LZ to search for the enemy’s tank.
Nearly midnight, captain Dang-Ngoc-Quy commander of the 4th company reported that his men found the T-54 tank and closed in. Everyone at the TOC held their breaths every minutes passed by, listening through the internal frequency channel of the 4th company... 100m... 70m... then 50m. Captain Quy screamed on the hand-set (combinet) of the PRC-25... Fire!!! Three loud explosions by M-72 rocket launchers.
- My children just blew away that crab! (My men just blew away that tank!) Capt. Quy reported. A loud applause replaced for the answer of Capt. Phan.
Continuously for one week days and nights, fights broke out in many areas. Le Lai combat base in southwest of the rangers HQ was taken and retaken back from the enemy’s hand. Four ranger battalions hang on in Chon Thanh against two NVA/VC divisions. The enemy’s AAAs reduced the supplying flights for the rangers, even the chopters pilots tried hard desperately. Until the ninth day of fighting, the NVA/VC succeeded in isolating the town of Chon Thanh, all transportation means were cut off including chopters for re-supplying and evacuation.
The ranger hang on bravely for the next five days, not a single out post lost into communists hands. Those were miserable days, all the deaths and wounded were carried to the LZ and waited desperately for the evacuation chopters to come... that sadden the remaining rangers, they could not bear to see their comrades died slowly while still awaited for the chopters. Long An commander of the 1st company reported to the HQ of the battalion that when his company secured the LZ and route 14. The 30th rangers on the 12th and 13th days received casualties, one company commander was wounded, three assistant company commanders KIA including First Lt. No of the 4th company, grown up from an orphanage institute, tried un-success to become a catholic priest and stayed single until that faithful day when a delayed 130mm shell exploded in his bunker, the remain of his body not collectable. Lt. Phuc of the 1st company also got killed when led his men to rescue one RF’s out post. Lt. Chau killed with a whole platoon which he stayed with, when the rangers re-taken the position, all death bodies were there and none of the men was wounded or taken prisoner. The rangers got angry, hatred arose up to their throats, the believed that the communists killed all the wounded rangers of that platoon. When the new reported to the HQ of the battalion, no-one could say a word, clenched their teeth instead...
The rangers in Chon Thanh already prepared to fight to the death then the final order came out from the HQ of the Corps-III rangers... Get ready to retreat! Captain Phan received the order around 3:00pm and the operation would have begun at 7:00pm. At that time, most units having difficult time in figh ting with the enemy. The 30th rangers has had the 4th company of Capt. Quy engaged in heavy fight, he reported back to the battalion HQ every minutes. After conference with Viet Trieu and Phuong Bang (CO, XO), Capt. Phan told the commander of the 4th company about the retreating plan. At 7:30, Capt. Quy led his men back to the battalion HQ then enemy artillery shelled on the location of the HQs of the 3rd group and Corps-III rangers where the 2nd company of the 30th dispatched to protect the HQs. Ho Huynh commander of the 2nd company reported that the HQs already moved out safely but his company could not moved because enemy artillery concentrated on its position. The battalion commander directed Ho Huynh to move out quickly at all cost because the HQ of Corps-III rangers ordered the 30th leading the way for the retreating. Ho Huynh directed his men running under artillery bombardment, by the time the rangers arrived at the regrouping point, the 2nd company lost half of its men.
More than 15 days at the battle field, the 30th rangers battalion accomplished its duties. Held the position, pushed back many human waves attacks and eliminated many enemies. The battalion also had taken casualties, three assistant company commanders, three platoon leaders KIA and more than hundred killed or wounded. This battle was not widely known to public because it was too close to the end of the Vietnam war... As mentioned about, after the successful retreat, the 3rd rangers group was sent to the Phan Rang front (coastal province), the 5th rangers group attached to the 25th Infantry division in Tay Ninh and the 33rd rangers group attached to the 3rd Cavalry brigade in Ho Nai (north of Saigon city). The Corps-III rangers moved its HQ to the compound of the Thu Do (capital) tactical zone to direct the defense of Saigon city until the last day of South Vietnam.
Dallas, Texas 08-19-1995
From: - Nguyen Phan, Tu mot thoi cay dang (from a hard time), Maroon Berets publication new year of the Dog.