The Last Battles of the 58th
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On 03/13/75, the 58th ranger battalion was on an operation to relieve enemy’s pressure in the Dau Tieng county. The battalion with an APC M113 cavalry squadron attached to attack directly at the front. The 58th was split into two wings, the commander was with the alpha wing, and the deputy was with the bravo wing. The two prongs moved step by step until both wings was only 10m from the barbwires of the county military post then alpha wing opened fires ferociously to cover bravo wing attacked forward. Fifteen minutes later, bravo wing regained the control of the installation, rescued many men of the regional forces including a major in charge of the county.
While the gun-smoke was still in the air, the battalion was given 15 minutes to move to the highway then heli-lifted to Long Binh home base for a new duty. The complete 7th ranger group with the 58th, 32nd, and 85th ranger battalions, the 7th recon company, the 7th artillery company, and a TOW platoon was ordered by the Joint General Staffs to reinforce the MR-II. At 16:00h the 58th landed at Cu Hanh airport in Pleiku province under the NVA artillery bombardments.
After the complete 7th ranger group arrived in Pleiku, the 58th was ordered to replace an infantry battalion at the Chicara hill top. On the night of 03/14, the NVA from Thanh An started shelling Chicara by 82mm and 107mm mortars. The shelling lasted for three nights. The smarts NVA began a new round of bombardment every 30-45 minutes to keep the rangers in the trench, in their fox holes without sleeping. In the morning of the 15th, the 58th was ordered to move out of Chicara to protect the HQs of the rangers in MR-II at Ham Rong combat base. The battalion was given a 20 hours break, meanwhile the NVA forces besiege and overwhelmed the 25th ranger group in Thanh An county.
The 58th moved to the intersection toward Thanh An to protect two artillery companies of 105mm and 155mm. The gun men fired their canons all night long into Thanh An county to support the rangers of the 25th group. This group was trying to break contact and retreat back to Ham Rong combat base.
At 7:25 am 03/17/75, Col. Nguyen Kim Tay called his battalion commanders back to the group HQs for an emergency meeting. At the meeting, he ordered the 58th to protect two artillery companies on the move to Phu Bon province (give up Thanh An Pleiku). Col. Tay gave ordered to the 58th and artilleries to move first then the group HQs, the 85th and the 32nd at the end.
The 58th battalion arrived in Phu Bon at 14:15pm, the city was abandoned completely. There was not a service man in the city, from the provincial chief to soldier of the regional forces. The HQs of the 7th ranger group stopped temporarily at the air field of the province. The other battalions 32nd, 85th and two artillery companies also stopped and positioned along two sides of the road.
The bravo wing of the 7th group included the artillery, the TOWs, the 32nd and the 85th ranger battalions commanded by the deputy Lt. Col. Nguyen Hanh Phuc stayed in the town Phu Bon at the foot of the pass.
Meanwhile, another ranger group with M113 was fighting with the communists in the northwestern of the town. After a trip around the area Col. Tay decided to attack and hold Cheo Reo pass for other units continuing to move on toward Phu The county.
The HQs of the group was split into two parts, so as the 58th battalion. The commanders stayed with the alpha wing, the XO was with the bravo. The alpha wing of the 58th included the supporting and logistic company, 1st and 2nd companies was given duty to protect the alpha wing of the group HQs. The bravo wing included companies 3rd and 4th commanded by the battalion deputy, this wing waited for alpha wing to secure the pass then followed.
In the town of Phu Bon at the foot of the pass, the bravo wing of the 7th group included the artilleries, the TOWs, the 32nd and the 85th ranger battalions commanded by the group deputy commander Lt. Col. Nguyen Hanh Phuc.
After the alpha wing secured the top of the pass, the gun fight broke out at Phu Bon. The NVA moved in to attack the town and cut the retreating road at the foot of the pass. The bravo wing of the 58th positioned along a stream was ordered to counter attack to reopen the road for other units trapped behind. The battle lasted until 18:50 but the NVA troops still surrounded the battle field, the rangers dug in their positions waiting for the morning to come. As predicted, at 06:15 the NVA opened a new wave of attack but was pushed back. After one hour un-successful attacked, the NVA moved out of the fighting area toward the foot of the pass. Col. Tay ordered Lt. Col. Phuc to use the bravo wing of the 58th commanded by Capt. Phan Xuan Hiep and the M113s attached to counter-attacked and move on to the top of the pass. After 20 minutes, the bravo broke the siege to move on but the communists hang on to fight along the way. About 40m away from the top of the pass, Capt. Hiep received a bullet through his neck, before fell into unconsciousness, he reported to the commander of the battalion.
- 45, 45 (CO’s code name)... this is Thai Bao (XO’s code name).
- Thai Bao!... 45 listening!
- Thai Bao report... I got hit lightly!... 45 try to bring my children (men) up there...
The commander knew his deputy got hit badly, monitored the two companies and M113s moving up to the top of the pass then moved on toward Phu Tuc county. Finally, the 7th ranger group got through the Cheo Reo pass. The commander of the 58th maintained contact with his men, while driving a jeep with full speed in crowded traffic in search for his wounded brother in arm Capt. Hiep. The captain was carried on a M-113. The CO carried the XO to his jeep, assigned an army nurse to take care of him then called a heli-vac to take his XO to a military general hospital in Nha Trang.
The 7th rangers group continued to move to Phu Tuc with the 58th battalion led the way. About 30m from the town of the county, the CO sent a recon team into the town for scouting. The team came back and reported that the enemy was already controlled the town. When Col. Tay heard about the communists in town, he ordered all units fanned out and waited for the morning to come then he will make decision.
At 7:00am 03/19, Col. Tay ordered to attack, the 58th with three M48 tanks support attacked from the front road to the town, the 32nd and 85th attacked two flanks. The NVA from a sapper unit escaped to the eastern, left behind six bodies of their comrades. Col. Tay ordered the group kept moving toward Tuy Hoa city.
At 17:00, the 7th ranger group arrived at the Ba river. The Traffic was crowded in the area, civilians and all branches of service men were also there, while army’s engineers were making a floating bridge. The rangers moved along the river bank, until they found a narrow area then crossed the river. The 58th crossed first to secure the area at the other bank for the rest of the 7th group to follow. At 21:00pm, the ranger group was at the other bank, and continued to move to Son Ha county, arrived at 4:00am on 03/20. At Son Ha, the HQs of the 7th ranger group was heli-lifted to Nha Trang, Col. Tay ordered the CO of the 58th tried to bring the battalion to Tuy Hoa city.
After five days moving through the jungle on foot by using military compasses, the 58th and survivors of the 32nd and 85th reached Tuy Hoa at 11:45am on 03/26. Both the 32nd and the 85th battalions were broken apart at the foot of Cheo Reo pass. The commander of the 32nd, Maj. Ha Mong Thuy was killed, the commander of the 85th Maj. Hoang Dinh Doc was wounded and heli-lifted to Nha Trang. When the NVA overran the ranger positions at the foot of Cheo Reo pass, they captured many rangers, included Maj. Dao Van Khoi, the G-3 operation officer of the rangers MR-II.
The 58th battalion gathered at the airfield and waiting for the order from the ranger Central High Command. General Do Ke Giai arrived and ordered the battalion to move to Duc My and protected the ranger training center. At Duc My, four companies of the battalion held four high hills surrounded the rangers camp and sent out recon teams to survey and detect the enemy.
In the night of 03/29/75, the airborne brigade defensive line at Dien Khanh county was broken, the Lam Son training center, Rangers training center and the Artillery school moved out toward the intersection at Ninh Hoa. The 58th HQ and supporting company moved inside the ranger camp to find out the camp was abandoned, the battalion commander ordered his men burned the ammunition and gasoline storages before moved to the camp’s firing range at the Deo mountain. At the firing range, he ordered his four companies moved out of their positions to the intersection at Ninh Hoa.
At Ninh Hoa, civilians and services men from all branches of the Armed Forces on the run. National highway 1 was in a state of chaos, full of people. The communication between the 58th and the ranger high command broke down. After many trials to call the high command failures, at 19:45pm, the commander gathered his company commanders and ordered to destroy all heavy equipments, individuals fighting, trying to stay alive and report at the 7th group home base at Long Binh near Saigon city.
The battalion commander with his body guard and two PRC-25 radio men walked toward the city of Nha Trang. They arrived at 23:00pm. When the four men approached an intersection, suddenly voices came out from the loud speakers located at the city information office called the ARVN officers and soldiers reported to the Revolutionary Government. The four rangers immediately slipped out of the city, and ran toward the city of Phan Rang south of Nha Trang.
At Phan Rang, they spent one hour to get inside the airport located at Cam Ranh bay. The airport was overcrowded, and there was not any airplane available. It was 5:00 am in the morning of 04/01/75, they need another hour to get out, exhausted the four rangers sat down on the road side of the highway to take a rest. In desperate, the commander said to his radio men to destroy the PRC-25 and trying to find way back to Saigon (Long Binh) then he shot the machines by his Colt-45. After that moment they separated, the CO and his faithful body guard was on foot again toward the city of Phan Ri. They arrived at 13:00 pm, totally exhausted, they stopped at a house on the street, eating a pack of instant noodle soup then fell to sleep. The two men continued to walk toward the city of Phan Thiet.
At the beach, again it was crowded with people, men, women, children and services men from all branches, infantry, airborne, marines. They couldn’t find any available boats until on 04/04, after made a dealt with a boat’s owner, the two men following him swam to his boat anchored off the beach.
The boat arrived at Long Hai at 19:00 in the evening of 04/05. After swimming to the shore, the two rangers were requested to drop off their weapons and machine by the securities. Again they stopped at a house asking for foods and rest until the next morning. In the early morning, they thanked the people and walked to a town in Ba Ria province, and from there hitch-hiked back to Long Binh home base of the 7th group and the ranger battalions.
Finally, they were at home resting while waiting for refreshment and regrouping. Miraculously, only 15 men missing, the battalion after battles in the central highland still had 365 men and was increased with rangers from MR-I and MR-II to 836 men. On 04/15/75, there were two newly formed ranger divisions, the 101st and 106th. The HQ of the 106th based inside the race track, and included the 7th group. The group was responsible to defense the Phu Lam area (Southern of Saigon city) from the interstate bus station to Cay Da Sa area. The 58th occupied high buildings in defense the NVA and VC units from Long An province advancing toward Saigon city, the 32nd defensive line stretched from Mui Tau along the Dai Han highway (Built by Korean army engineers), the 85th was dispatched to operate in the Gia Dinh province (West of Saigon city).On the 04/28/75, at 19:00pm the enemy from Long An began to attack the 58th battalion in many areas. The battalion commander ordered the 57mm, 75mm SKZ and six M30, M60 machine guns to get ready and his G5 psycho-logistic officer to advise civilian people to move out of the fighting areas toward Minh Phung school, where the 7th group HQ based.
On the balcony of a three floor house, the CO could see the enemies moving toward the defensive line of the 58th, 200m... 100m, he ordered his men to wait ... and wait 30m ... 20m ... 10m meters. He fired his Colt-45 and threw a mini hand grenade, all the rangers guns fired almost at the same time. Two third of the enemy fell on the first wave, the remaining ran back, out of the firing range. The commander then ordered his 81mm mortar team to fire on the back ground of the VC to stop them from running away then the M30, M60 opened fires. About ten minutes later, the battle ground became quiet... There were no more fired back from the enemy.
At 6:00am 04/29/75, the battalion commander was reported that only 7 rangers were wounded. After sending wounded men to the army hospital, the CO ordered his companies fanned out searching the battle field of the night before. The rangers captured more than 100 weapons of all kinds. The NVA and VC did not return during the day but they positioned their rocket launchers in the Tan An area ready for the night. The 58th commander ordered his men to dig their fox holes deeper to the neck, one for each men and get ready for the next wave attack.
At 22:00pm, the enemy attacked ferociously, wave after wave but couldn’t get through the defensive line of the 58th. The XO of the battalion monitored the defense, while the CO called for artillery supports. Through the night of 04/29, artillery shells from Tan Son Nhut airport fell accurately on the enemies. At 05:00am on the 04/30/75, the communists moved away from the ranger positions, they siege the Ba Hom regional force post instead.
It was the very last battle for the 58th ranger battalion. As a miracle, after pushed back four ferocious waves of attack through the night, none of the ranger was killed or wounded. It was a special case, a miracle for the 58th battalion... It happened only one time during the military career of the commander.
At 10:00am 04/30/75. President Duong Van Minh ordered all remaining units of the ARVN to lay down their weapons. The story of the 58th ranger battalion ended that morning. The battalion commander and many other high ranking officers ended up their military careers in the re-education camps... Long Giao, Long Khanh, Suoi Mau, Bien Hoa in south Vietnam, Son La, Yen Bai, Ha Nam Ninh in north Vietnam
From The Special Publication of the Maroon Berets (Houston) pages: 19-25.
Rewritten and translated by Hieu D. Vu