THE 35th RANGERS BATTALION
After the unsuccessful surprising attack in the Lunar new year, year of the Monkeys (1968), the communists planned another massive attack called “General Attacking! General Up-Rising phase II” on many major cities in South Vietnam, especially in the Saigon, Cholon areas. Two regiments of the VC’s 9th division hit the race track Phu Tho, 6th district and the areas surrounded routes 46, 14. The other regiment of the 9th division could not get through the firing line of the three ranger battalions 33rd, 35th and 38th. After got inside the city, the VC battalions were blocked by the 30th ranger of the 5th group commanded by Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Duong who just replaced Col. Dao Ba Phuoc killed in ChoLon.
The 35th battalion commanded by Major Ho Van Hoa, a young 27 years old battalion commander. While the battalion was operating in the outskirt southwest of the city, Major Hoa was called to report directly to Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Minh commander of the Thu Do (Capital) tactical zone. He was directed to bring his battalion to Cho Lon replacing the 30th battalion which engaged with the enemy since the beginning of the offensive. General Minh also reminded him that Premier Tran Van Huong wanted the Rangers to sweep the VC out by the 9th of May and without aerial, artillery, tanks supports to minimize casualties for civilians. Cho Lon is the Chinese section annexed to Saigon city and is a heavy populated area.
The two ranger battalions exchanged positions in the rain, under the enemy gun fires. Major Hoa ordered his men to move into blocking positions of the alleys before the sun set. This move was to stop the VCs movements in and out of the AO. With fires power from AK-47s and RPG B-40s, the communists tried to suppress the 35th rangers who were advancing closer and put more pressure on them. The 2nd company led by First Lt. Huynh Thien Mang had completed the corridor along the Hong Bang street. The 3rd company commanded by Lt. Binh also moved in to occupy high stories houses around the autobuses station. Captain Le Quy Dau, The XO and 1st company of Lt. Canh hold the area near the post office of 5th district. Major Hoa and his CP stayed with the 4th company, commanded by Lt. Khiem controlled the intersection area of Phung Hung and Tong Doc Phuong streets.
The battalion completed its blocking positions before 7:30pm. Major Hoa ordered his men stretching out barbwires to isolate streets from each others secretly in the dark. As predicted, at 8:30pm, the Viet Cong from occupied high buildings increased their fires and with B-40 pounding on the ranger positions for ten minutes then poured out on the streets in the rain and darkness (electricity in Cho Lon area was cut). They screamed, and fired their AK-47s. Their effort was soon suppressed when their leading men got trapped in the barbwires and became live targets for the waiting rangers. Those VC ran behind pulled back immediately. In a chaos situation, they ran into one another some dropped their guns, and jumped for covers.
On the first night in the battle, the radio operators got into enemy channel and the rangers found out that they have been fighting with battalion 2nd, regiment 267th, 9th division of the NLF (National Liberation Front or southern communists). Major Hoa and a female political commissar fought by mouths all night long, they cursed, dared to skin each other. The next day the rangers got her killed in a collapsed house.
Early on the N+2 day, the enemy fires power increased dramatically with another VC battalion sneaked into the battle field the night before. With reinforcement the communists mounted new attacks trying to cross the Khong Tu street where Cap. Dau and the 1st company built blocking position. All attacks were repulsed, the rangers kept them at the other side of the street. The rangers later found out the VC battalion’s CP located on the 4th floor of a building. Without air-strike approval, the heavy guns platoon of Lt. Nghe was called in for action. Corporal Hien, the 57mm gunner was directed to carry his toy to a location for the special job... When the 57mm team found a place to position their 57mm gun, 1st Lt. Khiem got his 4th company ready... Immediately, after the explosion of the 57mm shell, the rangers screamed “Rangers!.. Kill!... Rangers .. Kill!” and charged across the street to attack toward the high building where the VC’s CP located. The VCs were hiding behind the windows of high houses opened fires on the rangers running, screaming on the streets below killed five, the attack was stalled but the 35th rangers hang on to the ground.
On the N+3, the 35th rangers had a special visitor, ambassador Ho-Lien of the Republic of China (Taiwan), he was surprised of the young battalion commander and the achieving of the rangers. Many Chinese newspapers had stories of the 35th on the front pages for many days. As with the order from the Premier ‘Fight but not... destroy!’. Major Hoa borrowed big hammers from civil-engineering department of the city and reorganized his men for a new offense. Meanwhile captain Reiz, the senior advisor of the battalion coordinated with a helicopter of the US 25th infantry division to drop a large numbers of smoke grenades on the streets of ChoLon. When the areas became smoky, the rangers started closed in by smashing walls to make holes so they can advance from houses to houses toward the enemy CP of the two battalions.
All four companies advanced from four directions, with big hammers first, when the holes were opened the rangers threw a hand grenade then jumped in and fought upward to upper levels until the house was completely clear. The 35th rangers kept continuing that process from houses to houses toward the VC’s CP from four directions. As the rangers advanced, the Viet Cong retreated and started panicking. They did not see any rangers on the streets, all they knew was that the rangers were coming with sounds of the hammers banging on the walls, then explosions from hand grenades and M-16 rifles. The Viet Cong soon found out that they were surrounded then pulled back and concentrated on Nguyen Trai street.
On Nguyen Trai street, the VC’s fires power pinned down the 4th company of 1st Lt. Khiem, any attempts to cross the street were suppressed. Maj. Hoa formed two ten-men special teams voluntary for a suicide attack. One team moved into houses facing the enemy across the street, the other only carrying hand grenades hiding in one house and prepared to go forward. At that moment, a ranger turned in a captured rucksack found on a death VC, the rucksack was filled with money. The battalion commander grabbed the rucksack and pour money on the ground, he distributed all the money for his soldiers, especially the two voluntary teams he said “You men deserve it... It’s yours! Keep and spend...”.
The Viet Congs were worrying about the other three rangers companies which were coming from other sides. Suddenly, the rangers opened fires and screaming along Nguyen Trai street then the 10 men team armed with hand grenades ran across the street. The rangers lost five men on the first wave then all the guns of the 4th company opened fires to pin the enemy down for the second team to cross street. The VC’s line was broken, they started to run for their lives. Some ran through A-Dong restaurant, trying to find way to the 8th district but gunned down or captured by rangers of the 1st and 3rd companies with the X.O. Capt. Dau. The remaining of the two VC battalions dropped their weapons ran toward Kim-Bien areas, most of them captured by the 35th rangers... They did not look like refugees. The rangers also killed or captured personnel of the VC’s CPs, among them the poet Le Minh Xuan, writers Truc Chi, Nguyen Ngoc Tan (Nguyen Thi), two movie camera men of the People Army Trung Chanh, Quoc Dung and two journalists of the newspaper “Liberation” Nguyen Ngoc Chau, Than Trong Han.
After the 35th ranger battalion controlled the AO completely, Lt. Gen. Tran Van Trung director of the Political Warfare Directorate visited the battalion and awarded the rangers with a sum of money. He was amazing of the result of the battle... and when the general looked back... he saw the 27 years old rang er commander was passing out the money which he just received from the general to his men. He walked to Maj. Hoa, warmly put his hand on the commander shoulder and said “Excellence! You’re very good!... but... not the right way...”.
Colonel Tran Van Hai commandant of the rangers called all rangers of the 35th to report to an assembly area and laid down their rucksacks for him to inspect as he already instructed Major Hoa ‘Do not touch civilian properties’ before the battalion moved into the AO. He found ... nothing but a pair of woodland uniform, rations and a poncho in each rucksack.
Twenty seven years ago, the 35th rangers battalion led by the 27 years old commander fought well to defense the nation, the freedom and democracy. Black Tigers of the 35th battalion brought many victories for the Rangers of the ARVN. Major Ho Van Hoa has doubled his age ... freed from communist labor camps... The paws ... probably are still sharp.... and still has power.
Compiled & Translated by
Hieu D. Vu
From: K.B.C. magazine Garden Grove, CA.92643, Issue # 18.