Hieu D. Vu
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Kon So Lu was the name of a montagnard village located about twenty kilometers away in the northeast of the city of Kontum, the farther most province in the central highland. On the map, it was a large village on the left of route 14 to Tan-Canh Dak-To in the north. It became the site of a fierce battle between the rangers and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in March 1974.
In the early of March 1974, the 95th ranger battalion operated in the area of Doi-Ba-Cham west of Kontum. My platoon stayed with the company CP on the hill top. We linked up with the mortars platoon creating a defensive belt to protect the CP. I placed a three men forward post on the slope, in front of the platoon’s defensive arc and one squad at the foot on the back of the hill. This squad guarded the link with the battalion headquarters and the stream where we got water. The leader of the squad was sergeant Gabriel Pip. The name was clearly French, his French father had gone long ago and he grew up in a poor montagnard village. Pip was taller than average Vietnamese and montagnard man, he also had a lighter skin and was one of the survivor from Special Force CIDG camp Ben-Het (95th Rangers Battalion).
- Section 2
Everyday, I sent a squad out to search around our position at the foot of the hill for enemy activity. Sometimes I led the squad myself to tell the men in my platoon implicitly that I could do whatever other men could and to make sure they followed my instructions. Other times I made sudden visits sergeant Pip’s squad at the other foothill. That trip to find out what have been going on down there and to check if everyone were present, some gangsters (undisciplined soldiers) might left the position without permission). One afternoon the whole squad gathered with me for quick meeting, before my departure, I asked everyone.
- Do you men have any questions or anything which you want to tell me?
- Lieutenant! Why sergeant Pip did not make Bau on guard duty? We all did every night! Sergeant Pip likes Bau and treated him better than us!
One man asked the question. I turned to sergeant Pip sitting next to me.
- Why’s that. Pip?
- Bau is the radio operator. Pip answered. I nodded then said to everyone.
- Sergeant Pip is right! Bau is the radio-man, he has to stay with the PRC-25 all the times. After you men finished your guarding duty, you can do whatever you want but he is not.
Pip was a montagnard and it was difficult for him to dealt with some Vietnamese men, therefore I had to give him a hand.
- At here, sergeant Pip is the leader. In the army, we must follow the order before complaining. We might not agree but have to live with that including myself, the company commander and so on…
Then I turned to sergeant Pip and said to him.
- That the way the army is! You are the leader here, you must control the men in your squad. If anyone disobeys to you… beat the craps out of him, tell him to go up the hill and report to me… then I would bury him alive.
I already gained trust of the men in the platoon, I used to use “big words” but was fair to everyone and treated them unselfishly. My father never wrote letter but he told my mother what he expected from me “Your Daddy said that do not beat up your soldiers, they are probably about the same your age…”. Thanked to my parents, until the end of the war, I was cared, loved and respected from the men in my platoon and more when I left the battalion to serve at the forward headquarters of the 22nd group. As I was about to leave, Pip brought me a form and asked for approval. It was a request for a leave written in correct military form with very neat hand writing “Someone came from my village and informed me that my wife has just gave birth to a child and she needs me to be home for a few days…”. I was quite shocked after reading the request form. I t was obviously that the montagnard had a secret channel of communication. I asked Pip “Who wrote this form?“, he replied “Master Sergeant Ka Bui.”. I told Pip some more things to do for his request then got ready to go back.
On the first day of the month, we received our salaries. The soldiers grouped together and gambled, two men in my platoon won a large sum of money and asked me for a trip to town for enjoying cold beers and buying other things. I didn’t mind, in fact I wished them having fun but reminded them “You guys must depart to go back before 4:00pm. You get to be here before dark for night defensive and for your own lives. It’d take two hours walking through the responsibility area of the regional forces. It is unsafe if you are late for departure, you might bump into the NVA regular’s ambush or step on our boobie traps”.
The two men came back and brought with them coffee, cigarettes, tea, etc… and a small radio. That evening, except the guards, everyone grouped together in an under ground bunker. I was invited to come to share the “Happy time”, we sipped coffee, tea, talked and listened to the radio. It was wonderful, the radio not only provided entertainment but also a link to the outside world. From the radio, it was nine o’ clock. I told the men that we should have some sleep then got up. I walked slowly back to my tent, something wandered in my head. Young men like us gave up a lot of things since entering the army. We lost our young-hood and forgot many beautiful things of life. We also forgot space and time, because of the radio, I found out that it was Sunday.
In the central highland, it was cold at night. I was lying in a hammock covered myself with a blanket inside the tent, and trying to sleep. I felt cold on my back, the cold air penetrated through the material of the hammock got to my back. I stepped down and laid on the ground which covered with dried grass… Yeah! It was warmer and more comfortable, I could stretched out my back and legs and turned easily. One night, I was awaken up by the sergeant on guard duty (The soldiers was at the guarding spots, the NCOs walked around checking).
- Lieutenant! Khanh got a high fever from malaria. He can’t do his turn tonight!
- Anyone left in the platoon, who was not on guard duty tonight?
- No lieutenant!. Everyone must guard two hours every night. It is not easy to put someone on guard again.
- Sh…! They are right. Tomorrow we will have to march out as everyday, not sitting around… Stretch out the defensive belt to cover Khanh’s spot. When your time is up, tell the next on guard sergeant to place the men back as normal.
When the sergeant left, I could not got back to sleep. Again, I put on my boots then walked to the sick man. He was shriveling inside a blanket. I just asked him some questions and gave advice concerning malaria then walked around the defensive belt, stopped at every guarding spots then backed to my tent.
Next morning, before led my platoon out, I stopped by the company’s CP to report about Khanh’s illness. I was told by the nurse and the commander that most of us got some kind of malaria. Operation in the highland, there was no-way to avoid it. The real problem was if we want to send men to the hospital for treating malaria then probably the whole company would end up in the hospital… except critical cases. The reality was much tougher than what I had learned in the Infantry School, and … we don’t have much choice. The decision was up to the heart, mind and flexibility of the commander.
Two weeks passed by quietly, then we received order to pull back to Kontum. I was directed to stay at the hilltop to transfer the AO to an unit of regional forces then led my platoon protecting the rear of the company. As the last platoon to pull out, we had to carry some 60mm mortar shells for the heavy weapon platoon. Each man in my platoon had to carry additional two 60mm shells. The rucksacks became too heavy, one could not load the sack on himself, he had to kneel down and another comrade loaded the sack on his back. When the platoon started moving down to the foot of the hill, everyone must be very careful to avoid falling forward.
We were ordered to stay on alert at the camp Dinh-Bo-Linh (B-15) and were re-supplied with foods and ammunition. At almost midnight, I was called up to the company’s PC for a meeting. The commander, 1st Lt. Tai briefed us about our next mission. The new AO located in the northeastern of Kontum, the NVA regulars already overran several companies of regional forces and our new assignment was to retake the lost ground and to halt the enemy advancing. According to the S-2 officer, the NVA 95-B separated regiment was again already presented in the battlefield, therefore the up coming battle would be serious… The commander handed us maps, gave the final advice then said to the company’s sergeant “Wake everyone up at four o’clock then lead the company to the assembly area for the whole battalion”.
At 4:00am, the company reported platoon by platoon then moved to the assembly area then got in one of the truck of the awaiting convoy. Darkness still covered the sky, and it was cold. I sat in the front seat next to the driver, closed my eyes trying to get some more sleep, my head nodded back and fort, my body moved left and right because of the terrain. The convoy moved on the road around the city of Kontum then turned north on route 14-B. When the sun rose, I saw some soldiers in woodland uniforms walking on the dust road, they probably from a night ambush squad. The rangers on the ground waved their hands at every passing truck. The forward headquarters of the 22nd group located on the left, hidden behind trees, but we could saw the barb-wires, trenches and soldiers on guard. On the right, the trees were cut down to make a landing zone for chopter. At the corner where the road turned, there was a small hill, all the trees were cut down, army engineer tractor was building base for a company of 155mm artillery unit. Those big gun barrels were made by stainless steel, we call them “Grey hair old men”. That company would support us directly for the coming battle.
The convoy passed by the group HQ about 700 meters then suddenly stopped. Fifteen minutes later we were ordered to get off the trucks and continued on foot. I said to myself “Sh…! In this hilly terrain and with full rucksacks, we broke our backs by the time we reached the destination”. I counted the men in my platoon and checked to make sure we got enough men and equipment then directed the leading squad to lead the way. One man asked “What’s going on. Lieutenant?”, I replied “Hell! I don’t know but we have to walk from here!”. By the time I reached the leading truck, I got the answer. On the road side, two men of the 1/41 22nd infantry division stepped on a mine and was blown apart, their bodies blacken with blood and smoke. Other infantry men were looking for the missing parts of their two unfortunate comrades, one of their scarf flew up and hung on a tree branch. None of the rangers stopped to ask, they probably got used to the deaths, beside we needed to preserve our energies for a long march and keeping up with the trail of men. Along the road, there were small trees, the enemy could hid behind the trees and blew another mine like our Claymore or their sniper could blew my head away with a single bullet. I told the radio men walking behind me to put the radio in the rucksack like anybody and bent the antenna like an arc. I put the map on the big side pocket on my trouser and told the men to keep a distance from the man walked in front, I did not want to loose many men for a mine. The road curved along the hill, it was beautiful with a lot of hills rose up and down, high mountains appeared from a distance far away. Where was the enemy? They were hiding somewhere underneath the thick canopy of the jungle and waited for us to come.
Around noon, I received order from the company commander to take over position of a platoon from the 1/41 infantry. The infantry platoon leader, Lt. Phuoc also graduated from Thu Duc military academy long after me but led the platoon before me, because I had to go through the rangers training. While my men spread out and prepared lunch, I walked with Phuoc to get more information about his responsible area. On the road, there was a large black spot and broken helmets and a radio PRC-25 support set with blood stains scattered everywhere. Lt. Phuoc told me that a week before they ambushed and destroyed a whole platoon, the black spot was where they laid the mine, they took the radio and left behind the support set with blood stains. He pointed to a tall tree rose above the rest and told me that his platoon spread out during the day to keep the road then pulled back to the tall tree for night defense. Phuoc said good bey then the infantry platoon moved out. I walked on the road to the other end of the hill. The road went down smoothly and there was a small stream at the end. Army engineer built a small bridge for trucks to cross and the road continued to the north. The platoon was having lunch but I could not swallowed foods. The two batter corpses in the morning and the broken helmets, radio support set scattered on the road showed the evident of “The Death”. After lunch, I called the sergeants for a meeting then decided to place one squad down in the area of the stream, squads rotated each day to go down there. I believed the enemy would attack from the direction of the stream, and our squad would alert us on time. I explained to the men that I don’t want to group together liked the infantry platoon. I f we stayed like that, the sappers would got in closer and closer, studied our movements, habits then one day would attack suddenly. I n that case the only thing which we could do was running… Those broken helmets were the proof and example for us.
Every morning, I led the whole platoon patrolled on the road and the area, searching for sapper or any signs of enemy activity. I did not like the idea of placing men along the road, they could be captured or kidnapped when felt to sleep. Late afternoon, the platoon pulled back to the assembly area then spread out for late meal. We waited until the sunset then the night squad moved down to the stream. The rest of the platoon set up some grenade boobie traps then retreated back to the night defensive location near the bank of the Dak Bla river. Each man must dug his own fox-hole, I did not allow to make tents, we all slept on the ground next to the fox-holes.
I rested my head on the rucksack, a lots of things appeared in my mind… In the north, I got one squad… Did they put some grenade traps as I said? Did they moved to a new position each night? I already told them when detected the enemy, fired three warning shots then retreated back to the platoon position and everyone here must be in the fox-holes ready to fight… The most important thing was to wait for the night squad came back safely and my order before opening fires. In the south, there was a friendly unit… nothing to worry! The Dak Bla river was on the east and the current was very strong… unless they wanted to commit suicide. On the west, I positioned the M-60 machine gun and placed boobie traps… Anything else needed to be done? I already fell to sleep.
Two weeks passed by quietly, the NVA probably did not want to mess with us then I received the order to report to the S-3 operation officer, Maj. Phu at the forward headquarters of the 22nd group. I transferred the command of the platoon to sergeant Nguyen van Ne, the platoon would had another lieutenant soon after my departure. I said good bey to everyone … “Don’t forget us lieutenant!” … “I will”… Again I walked alone.
Reported to the operation officer, I was assigned to work in the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) as a watch officer for S-3. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about operation, staffing, skills and quick reaction of an S-3 officer. I also had a chance to learn more about leadership, personal characteristic from other high ranking officers. Colonel Bui van Huan was the commander of the 22nd rangers group. He was one of the commander whom I respected, when he got angry, he might yelled or gave the subordinate some slaps and… that was it! At night, when the madness cooled down, Col. Huan called that person to report to him then he would gave some advises, persuasions. As far as I knew about Col. Huan, he never gave anyone bad points or made bad reports. One time, he gave me order to call the S-1 officer at the home base to prepare a punishment report for a company commander for absent reason. At night, Col. Huan walked into the TOC and the first question he asked me was about the absentee company commander “Did 1st Lt. T. come back yet?”, I replied “Yes! He did return. Colonel.”. Col. Huan directed me “Tell the S-1 to discard that report”, then he talked to my boss the S-3 officer, Maj. Phu “With a report likes that, it means terminating his military career”. Even in operation at the forward base in the jungle, all officers must had been well groom, clean shaved, short hair cut, iron uniforms and shining boots. Ranks must have been sewn into the collars, Col. Huan did not expect officers became cowards (pinned metallic ranks on the collars, so they could took off easily… to run).
- Section 3
On Sunday March 16 1975, the 22nd rangers group was the last regular unit of the RVN which retreated from Kontum province. The 95th battalion “Black Tigers” held the village of Trung Nghia and happened to be the last battalion of the group to retreat. When the battalion reached the city of Kontum, the rangers found out that the city was deserted and there were not any trucks waiting for them. Meanwhile, Col. Huan made contact and reported to his superior that one of his battalion was still trapped in the city and was advised that in that situation he got to abandon the 95th and moved on. Colonel Huan decided that the whole group all moved out or stayed together then he ordered some men from the recon company put guns in the heads of the truck drivers and forced them to return to Kontum to pick up the 95th battalion. The 22nd group succeeded even the rangers had to abandoned their rucksacks to make enough room for their brothers in arms. In the middle of March 1974, the 95th and the 62nd were ordered to exchange their AOs. Major Do van Muoi, commander of the 95th spread out his companies in search and destroy tactic. Two forward companies made contacts everyday, they reported killed enemy and captured weapons back to the group HQ. Meanwhile the NVA 95-B regiment realigned its forces and prepared for the coming battle. Their forward observation artillery officers plotted predefine targets then waited for the reinforcement from one regiment of the 320th (Steel) division which controlled the area of Duc Co, southwestern of Pleiku province. The NVA’s regiment was sent by Molotova trucks to northeast of Kontum undetected.
Early in the morning of N-day, Maj. Muoi called the group directly.
- Phu Hung (22nd group)! This is 80 (95th commander, Maj. Muoi).
- Phu Hung is listening to 80.
- They Foxtro Kilo (Phao Kich / Bombarded) my 1st and 4th (companies). Need the grey hair old men (155mm) at Tu Tuong (named T coordinate) right 10, up 05. Quebec (named Q coordinate) left… down…- Will have the old men singing for 80. Out!
I plotted the points quickly then translated into 10 digits address then gave it to the artillery liaison officer, requesting fire supports for the 1st and the 4th companies of the 95th. As our 155m guns started firing, I grabbed the map run out of the TOC to report to the commander and the S-3 officer. The sounds of our big guns alerted everyone, in minutes the TOC was filled with officers, the commander, S-3, S-2, signals, artillery officers and me and two radio operators. The commander personally called the 95th and talked with Maj. Muoi.
- 80! This is 72 (group commander)! What’s going on with your family?
- They Foxtro Kilo and assault my sons 1st and 4th … They just started with the others and myself … 72 give us big shells at these places, Tu Tuong right…, down… Quebec left …, up…
- Will take care of that!… Anything else? Keep me inform! Out!
While the group commander and the S-3 officer discussed the situation, the artillery officer captain Phan and me were busy to coordinate the fire support for the 95th battalion. The NVA already made a full scale bombardment and attack on the rangers. After unsuccessful attacks on the two forward 1st and 4th companies, the pined them down with their deadly 130mm long range artillery and 82mm mortars then concentrated their ground assaults on the 2nd, 3rd companies which were defending the battalion headquarters. In the TOC, we made a request for aerial support to the TOC of the 22nd infantry division which the 22nd group was attached.
- 80! This is Phu Hung (group) calling.
- This is 80! We need support badly… specially for my 3rd son. They still dropped big shells on us and their ground troops are getting closer to my house… my 3rd son is in big trouble!
- Will have those for 80 and also the black bird (L-19 recon airplane) is in the air. It name is Bac Dau (Northern star) 60, 80 work directly with it on the ground-air channel. It will direct the O.K. (Oanh Kich / Bombardment) for you. We will stay on-line 24/24 with 80. Out!
I was too busy coordinating the artillery support and recorded everything in the S-3 operation diary note book. The enemy’s artillery started shelling on the 62nd rangers and the 155mm artillery positions. They attempted to keep everyone busy so they could isolated and killed the 95th. The NVA direct hit spear-headed to the lower hilltop where the 3rd company positioned the defense for the eastern flank of the battalion’s HQ. One of the 130mm shell fell right on target killed the company commander, seriously wounded the deputy, the CP bunker was collapsed and the communication with the battalion HQ was cut off. Major Muoi immediately directed the 1st company from the forward position to pull back, mending the broken line of the 3rd company. Meanwhile with air strikes, the 2nd company hang on in the western hill. The NVA kept coming and closed in.
After receiving the order, men of the 1st company placed their dead comrades in the trenches, hoping they would rest in peace then started moving down hill toward the battalion HQ. One rifle platoon led the way then the company PC with the wounded, the mortar platoon, and another rifle platoon protected the rear. The NVA probably knew in advance, they waited until the company PC with high antennas moved to middle of the slope then opened fires with 82mm mortars and 75mm recoilless guns. Another direct hit killed the company commander and several others, the company was considered out of action, the platoons fought independently to find way for themselves.
The NVA ground forces broke through the defensive line of the 3rd company, they swamped over the lower eastern hill of the battalion’s HQ. The commander of the battalion must made a tough decision… Two companies were gone (1st and 3rd), the 2nd was fighting for its life, the 4th was the farther most and was pinned down under enemy’s artillery… pulled them back? They might got into ambush just liked the 1st!. Meanwhile major Phan van Tranh the XO and captain Y Brua (montagnard) commander of the rear services company were directing the 81mm mortar guns and 75mm recoilless rifles fired directly on the position of the 3rd company which was filled with light green uniforms of the NVA troops. Major Muoi ordered all the men in the rear services company to take position including the wounded whoever still could get their backs off the ground. The battalion prepared for the final phase, and its destiny seemed doom.
In the TOC at the group headquarters, Capt. Phan reported that the 155mm company’s position was bombardment, but the enemy’s forward observer was still making adjustment. The artillery company commander requested for a rangers platoon attached for cutting trees to make a secondary position for their 155mm guns and also protecting them. The 62nd battalion was ordered to send a platoon to work with artillery. 1st lieutenant Diep, deputy of the recon “Jaguars” company also reported that one squad eleven men of the company defended a slope northeastern of the group HQ suffered heavy casualty three of them were killed and the rest were wounded. Lt. Diep requested to pull his men back. The commander agreed but the recon company must had another squad to replace them, we could not let the enemy occupied that slope. In desperation major Muoi called his 2nd company. All the companies calling signs had two digits number which had the sum of 8. The 1st was 71, 2nd was 62, 3rd was 53 and 4th was 44
- 62 (2nd). This is 80. Tell me this situation there!
- They’re still coming. Half of my children (men) lay or sit (Dead or wounded) on the ground! We still need helps… with O.K (aerial strikes) and Old men (155mm).
- They already stabbed the 1st and the 3rd and coming to us… I need to use the O.K. Be prepared for yourself and take care of your children. Out!
The black bird (19) was instructed to redirect the air strike on the western in support for the headquarters of the battalion. The last two batter companies were given orders to fend for themselves. The situation of the 95th rangers became critical, they could have been gone at any time. Everyone in the TOC at the group headquarters listened to the activities from the radios PRC-25s. It was late in the afternoon… and the final moment came.
- 72 (group commander)! This is 80.
- 72 is listening! I am stay on-line with you.
- 72 orders artillery to drop on my head… right on my head!
- 80! You calm down and tell me what’s going on and what do you need?
- 72! I need artillery shells on my head… quickly! Their ground troops are coming to my place!
In a desperate reaction, major Do van Muoi spoke in a simple Vietnamese sentence without cover, he called the black bird. - Bac Dau! Tell the Jets to drop all the remaining bombs on my position… They keep those bombs for what? Do it quickly! Then the sound of fires from small arms came out from the PRC-25. Everyone in the TOC were frozen, held their breaths then the sounds from the radio was completely cut off. The group commander called major Muoi.
- 80! This is 72… 80! This is 72…!
He turned to the radio man sitting by another PRC-25 and gave order to that man to ask the L-19 to make contact with the 95th battalion.
- Bac Dau! This is Phu Hung (22nd rangers group).
- Bac Dau is listening! What can I do for you?
- We lost contact with the 95th. Could you call it for us?
- Let me try! Then the L-19 started calling the 95th rangers.
- 80! This is Bac Dau… 80! This is Bac Dau… 80! This is Bac Dau calling… Then the L-19 called us
- Phu Hung! I tried several times but can’t make contact with it… What else can I do?
- Bac Dau! Could you look down on its roof .
- Yes! All I see are several fires down there on its roof.. If nothing else I can do… I return to my home.
- Thanks! Bac Dau.
- Section 4
In the TOC, no-one spoke a word… The atmosphere was heavy and tense. The officers started walked out of the TOC, only the commander, the S-3, artillery liaison officer, me and the radio operator remained. I was directed to report to the higher command (TOC of the 22nd infantry division)… That was it! I did not feel hungry even I haven’t had anything to eat since the early morning. I probably was hurt more than anyone here… The 95th was my unit, where I began my military life… I just left my battalion only two weeks ago… My heart and my soul were still there… What happened to my friends, the men in my platoon!
Sitting quietly for a while, the commander held a map in his hands and called Capt. Phan and me to get close to him. He circled some suspected areas where he believed the enemy would assembly for the night and directed the artillery liaison officer.
- Tonight at 2:00am, I want 300 rounds in these areas. Get the addresses and give it to the artillery company.
- Yes Colonel! After firing, the artillery company needs a rangers platoon to protect them on the move to the secondary location.
- Hieu! You take care of that.
- Yes! Colonel.
- I want TOT (Time Over Target) at two o’clock in the morning. Report to me early tomorrow.
The commander put the map back on the table then walked out of the TOC. After he left, captain Phan and me worked out the detail for the targets. The battle was calm down as the sun light slowly disappeared, I felt hungry but could not ate much. During that time, I was the only watch officer of the group therefore I had to sleep in the TOC under ground bunker every night. Suddenly I was waken up because of the artillery bombardment… It was 2:00am, I called the 62nd battalion and requested 1st Lt. Lai the S-3 officer for a platoon ready. When I hang up the phone, it rang again and Capt. Phan was at the other end.
- Artillery just finished firing. The rangers platoon is ready yet?
- Yes Captain! Tell the artillery company be prepare. The platoon should be there soon.
I tried to sleep then the hot-line phone rang, Capt. Kha S-3 in the TOC of the 22nd infantry division called to check for any thing happened. It was their job, to make sure any units under the controlled of the division were all right during their shifts.
- Lt. Hieu of the 22nd rangers group is listening.
- This is Capt. Kha. Anything is O.K. Hieu?
- Yes captain! Nothing’s new.
- All right! Go back to sleep.
The next several days was relatively quiet, the enemy needed to regroup. We were reinforce with the 1/41 infantry battalion and an armor squadron, the infantry battalion already moved in to replace the 62nd rangers, the cavalry squadron was on the way. The 62nd was pulled back to guard the group headquarters. Before they moved back, one forward platoon reported of seeing the T-54 tanks. The L-19 was sent to the sky to search for their tanks, they reported that there were tracks but could not find the tanks. For prevention, army engineers were sent in to build an anti-tanks mine field. The place for the mine field was right at the small bridge where my platoon patrolled the area when I was the platoon leader. The 4th company of the 95th hang on for another three days then without ammunition, foods and water, the rangers buried their dead comrades in the trenches then dispersed into small teams filtered out of the hill. The rangers still fought in small groups independently. I was direct to keep maintain the old communication channel on one PRC-25 in order to find the survivors of the 95th battalion and guided them back to the headquarters. Unfortunate for the men, the NVA already captured maps and communication code. We lost contact with 71, 62, 53 and 44 (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th company) one by one, the enemy intercepted the line then destroyed the batter companies. One night when I was sitting sorrow in the TOC, a very small voice came out from the PRC-25.
- Phu Hung! 45 is calling… Phu Hung! 45 is calling…
The S-3 officer, major Phu was standing by said to me.
- Be careful of them (NVA).
- Who are you? I don’t know anyone named 45!
- 45 is the younger brother of 44… Then suddenly the man at the other end remember something, yelling
- Is that you Hong Ha? (My name starts with the letter H, on the PRC-25 Hong Ha was my calling name).
The voice came out loudly, expressing relief therefore I recognized it was Lt. Ngo cu Tung the deputy of the 4th company. I was so happy… out of control, yelled on the radio hand set.
- Yes! It’s me. Tu Tuong (Lt. Tung) tell me about yourself.
- My trouser got a hole (wounded on the leg). I’m getting weak! I have only 50 helmets (only 5 but he used bigger number to intimidate the enemy). I might not get through this time. Hong Ha helps me!
- I do! I am worrying for Tu Tuong. Did you hear the sound of the old men (155mm)? Take your children to where the sound came from. Tomorrow I’ll find a dragon fly (chopter) to bring you back…
- Thanks, Hong Ha. Out!
They’re my brothers, 4th company was where I’d served before. Only six men left… What happened to the other men? I was so happy to hear from them, leaned on the table with my hands covered my face. The radio operator was stunt from listening to the conversation, he did not say a world. Maj. Phu, patted on my shoulder, reminded me “Still have to be careful!” then walked out.
- Major! I knew Lt. Tung, I’d served in the 4th company before.
We were given a helicopter and the S-2 officer and a radio man got on board, searching the AO for the survivors. 45 called early in the morning.
- Phu Hung! 45 is calling… Let me speak to Hong Ha.
- This is Hong Ha. We got a dragon fly in the area. 45 called it on the ground-air channel. Bac Dau 60.
Then I call the chopter.
- Bac Dau 60! This is Phu Hung.
- Bac Dau 60 is listening.
- We got a missing family in there. Its name is 45, please contact them.
Then I listened to the two parties. They got in touch.
- 45! This is Bac Dau 60. Do you see me?
- Yes I do! You are on my 14 hour (direction).
- All right! There is a buffalo (bai dap/landing zone) on your west… about 1 square (kilometer. On the map). It might take you a couple hours. I’ll return later at that rendezvous. Good luck. Out!
Then the chopter flew away. That was the way, it should be done, it would be safer for the rangers and for the chopter, the NVA armed with SA-7 portable surface to air missile could shot down the chopter easily. Until the end of the war, the RVN never had any weapon which could match with that SA-7. On the way out, suddenly the pilot saw some light flashed out from the rim of the land-able LZ.
- Phu Hung! This is Bac Dau 60… someone on the ground send me a reflecting light! Are they friends?
- We have many scatter brothers there! If they wear woodland uniforms, Bac Dau please help them.
- Will check it out!… Here we go!
The courageous pilot lowered altitude and found out four rangers in woodland uniforms, they were excited ran out from their hiding and waved to the chopter. It landed quickly and scooped up the “Four Musketeers” then brought them to the forward headquarters of the 22nd group. I was my turn to get exciting, ran to the LZ and almost jumped into Lt. Cuu and other three soldiers from the 1st company.
- Do you have anything to eat? I am too hungry… and my men too!
- Don’t worry! I am too glad to see you guys back! Go with me to the club, they were ordered to take care of you guys. That order came from the group commander!
While the men were eating hot meals, I sat down and talked with LT. Cuu. I asked him about the battle and 45 (team of Lt. Tung). Cuu replied “This time, we got beat up badly… On the run, I saw our corpses scattered everywhere in the jungle… I don’t know anything about Lt. Tung! As you can see what’s the remain of my platoon… We lost the radio man, could not called anyone for help… luckily, I have the pocket mirror…”. I didn’t want to hear anymore… left my cigarettes on the table for Cuu “I have to go back to work! You need anything, look for me in the TOC bunker”. 45 called again.
- Hong Ha! This is 45… I am going out of my energy…
- Where have you been? Did you see the dragon fly (chopter)?
- I did see it, but could not walked fast enough with a clutch… Hong Ha tries to get another dragon fly for me… I have only 50 (actually 5) strong and I’m exhausted… Hong Ha tries to help me out!
I thought quickly “God! Lt. Tung was wounded, therefore they missed the rendezvous with the chopter”.
- Calm down 45! I’m on-line with you… Now, tell me where you are?
- I’m at … (coordinate). I marked a new point on the map then double checked. The new position was lying between the road (red line) and the Dak Bla river (green line).
- Are you between the red snake and the green snake?
- It’s correct five over five (5/5). Lt. Tung was still having his mind in using the map.
- O.K! Hang on 45, keep moving to the direction Non Nuoc (Nam / South) between the two snakes about two squares (kilometers), you would be safe… I’ll push Banh Beo (Bo Binh / Infantry) north to find you. Go now!I felt encourage for my comrades… clenched my teeth “Come on 45! Only two more squares… try to come back with us…”. I reported the situation of the 45 to my boss and get the approval to push the infantry north. I called the S-3 officer of the 1/41 infantry and requested them to send a platoon to the north to look for the fugitive rangers (45) also asked the infantry for help and be ware of the friendly fires. Two hours later…
- This is 45! I still don’t see anyone from the Banh Beo (Infantry) family! Hong Ha help me… I’m too tired and can’t walk anymore… I need a dragon fly (chopter).
- Hang on 45! Give me your new address?
- I am at… (coordinator). I don’t see anyone around here… I put a new point on the map.
- 45 wait! Let me call the other family and will be right back with you.
I called the infantry S-3 officer immediately and requested for the newest location of the infantry platoon. Two minutes later, I put another point on the map and found out the answer… The infantry platoon moved north on the road, meanwhile 45 travelled south between the road and the river, therefore they did not meet… but 45 was already in the area of friendly unit, and they are safe…
- 45! You are safe, already in the land of Banh Beo … Now you could walk on the red snake (road) with your children… You should see the other guys soon.. They are in the area.
A few minutes passed by… I heard happy voices crying from the PRC-25…
- I see them! Hong Ha! I already see them… Thank you Hong Ha!
In the TOC, I yelled, I screamed, I jumped up in the air expressing happiness. It was one of the most happiness moment in my life… “Yes! Thanks God! For many days and nights… It’s over, finally!”. I ran out of the TOC reported to my boss and the commander. Everyone was happy! He directed S-3 sent a jeep up there to bring Lt. Tung and his men back to the headquarters and the kitchen prepared meals for the returning men. He ordered me to bring Lt. Tung to see him in the under ground meeting room bunker. After the big meal and the meeting with Col. Bui van Huan the group commander, Lt. Tung walked with a clutch to the TOC bunker… We looked at each other but could not said a word… then I asked him “Where are the others?”, Lt. Tung said “They are waiting for you out side”. We walked out … One of the men called me.
- Lieutenant! Do you have a cigarette?
- All right! Go with me to the club… I can buy anything for you guys and pay them back later.
The battle of Kon So Lu cooled down, the 95th with new men and the group received a new order of battle. On the day we started moving to the new area of operation in Plei Lang Ba in Pleiku province. Lt. Tung was called back from the military hospital and was given to command company (At that time the battalion was very weak and did not have enough men and officers). He stopped by the headquarter to see me “Hong Ha! Don’t forget us!”. I replied firmly “I will”.
Dallas, Texas 03/17/97
Hieu D. Vu