Small Wars Journal

One Team. One Fight

Thu, 02/01/2024 - 4:44am

One Team. One Fight

By Keith Nightingale


56 years ago, I was sitting behind a newly ploughed berm at the Xuan Loc Airfield literally repelling hordes of VC as they attempted to storm the city.  I was the senior advisor to the 52d Vietnamese Ranger Bn and had just been introduced to the Tet Offensive.

This morning, half the battalion was sent to relieve the province capital of Baria to our South.  The move was suddenly halted as a very excited 18th Div CG directed us to cease movement and dig in at the airfield to hold the vital edge of the town defense. For this event, both elements fought at half strength more than thirty kilometers apart.

By 1300, we were fully engaged.  It was one of the very few times, as an advisor, that I actively used my weapon.  It would not be the last.

The saga of the 52d in Tet is exemplary by the ferocity of the activity as well as its myriad travels in a truly historic event that changed our history.  Unlike the US units, the Rangers were shifted throughout the country as a fire brigade to assist/resolve high priority issues. My tale recounts that journey for one unit but is indicative of what the other Ranger battalions did also.

It was the only event during this tour where absolutely no attempt was made to identify whether or not a unit was US or ARVN when it came to ammo resupply, artillery requests or medevac. It was truly One Team. One Fight. Anybody I called for ammo, arty or resupply did what they could without question.

I can say, in reflection, that this experience with these people was one of the most meaningful events of my life.  These troops were truly ordinary people who did extraordinary things.


 The window was empty save for the concrete wall that it penetrated.  It was about four feet tall and three feet wide.  It was designed to provide a wide view from the second floor of an as yet unconstructed hotel in Xuan Loc, Vietnam, the capital of Long Khanh Province.   Laying in the middle of the unfinished transom was a VC that had managed to scale the scaffolding from the ground floor.  As he charged through the open cement frame, he was hit by M16’s from both myself and the battalion commander’s bodyguard.  His momentum carried him halfway across the transom to where he fell.  His 12 gauge US-acquired MP shotgun lay underneath him and he bled out along the wall and to the floor where his remaining fluid pooled in a large dark ocher puddle.  Other than the moment of engagement, his presence was lost in the distraction of other issues.  It was about 0200 1 Feb 1968.  The town and the 52d Ranger Battalion had been under siege for two days as had most of South Vietnam.

The overall hotel structure was poured concrete walls and ceilings and nothing else.  The building was surrounded by the scaffolding of construction-not the neat symmetrical beams and stanchions of the Western world-but curled limbs and cut trunks of local trees augmented by the occasional thick sawn board.  The roof was rough and ringed about with protruding rebar, cement bags and the normal detritus of construction.  The interior had a cement second floor and internal room walls but nothing else of a finished nature including electricity or water.  This was Fortress Xuan Loc for the 52d Biet Dong Quan at the southeastern side of the overall hastily assembled perimeter.

 Earlier, on 30 January, the battalion commander, Nguyen Hiep, had received a directive that Tet was cancelled for the Rangers, Airborne and Marine elements in III Corps.  The battalion was to conduct an airlift into Baria to reinforce the province capital and to act as reinforcements with the Australians.  That afternoon, the unit moved to the Xuan Loc Airfield and began a shuttle movement south.

 Around 1600, awaiting another departure lift, we could hear shots from the area of the Ranger camp east of town.  Then Hiep received a radio call from the rear detachment NCO, Sgt Phu, that the hill was under attack by numerous VC but that the Ranger wives and stay behinds were holding their own.  Almost simultaneously, Hiep was visited by Col Giai, the 18th Div Commander, and told to stop the lift and deploy to assist in the defense of Xuan Loc.  At this point, half the battalion was already in Baria with the deputy, D/U Tot and the senior NCO of the advisory team and would remain there.  Hiep immediately deployed his half battalion to secure the airfield itself and the southeastern portion of town with the new hotel as the base.  It was facing a large rubber plantation and clear fields of fire were possible along the stately surveyed mature tree rows that reached almost 100 feet in height.  He placed mortars behind the berm protecting the airfield and next to the hotel.  He placed several .50 cal machine guns we had previously scrounged on the hotel corners aiming into the rubber growth.

 Almost immediate, refugees began streaming in from the southeast through the Michelin Rubber plantation.  They told the Rangers that a major VC force had occupied the French plantation complex south and east of Xuan Loc and were moving toward the city.  Hiep immediately deployed his 1st company and some heavy weapons to the eastern side and placed the 2d company and more heavy weapons to the south defending the main road between Xuan Loc and Blackhorse-the 11th ACR base camp.  He established a CP on the second floor of the unfinished hotel and an alternate CP behind a tall berm at the airfield.  It was 1800 and we had no contact with the Baria force and would not until we physically joined them several days later.

 The hotel dominated the open ground but was almost flush with the rubber plantation. There were less than 50 meters of open grassland between the hotel and the rubber plantation.  Using very extended spacing, the Rangers were placed inside the hotel and at the last open ground before the jungle and rubber met the hotel front.  Almost immediately, sporadic fire was received from the east as refugees streamed into town.

By dark, serious probes were initiated along the road to Blackhorse, then at the corner where the rubber plantation met the main north-south road and then against the hotel front.  It was a test and sensing of defenses more than an all-out assault.

Meanwhile, the heavy battery stationed next to the airfield, ran a landline to our position so we had direct contact with their FDC.  This was a Heavy Battery composed of two 175mm and 2 SP 8 inch guns.  Prior, we had used them often as they were usually the only artillery that could support Ranger operations as far as we operated outside the 105mm arc’s and into what the artillery called Zone 3 charges-the maximum distance the guns could carry.  Though slow in responding and repeating fire, their guns made very big holes and were very welcome.

Almost immediately at sunset on the 1st, the hotel front and the southern highway junction began to take heavy fire.  If either portion of the perimeter failed, the VC would have a direct shot to the airfield and the main advisory compound.  Hiep had placed a small reserve at the airfield berm and established an alternate CP.  This would be our Alamo position facing across the airfield and tied in with the heavy battery.

Soon an ARVN M41 tank arrived in our center and overwatched.  Quickly, distinct sounds of bullets ricocheting   off the armor could be heard.  The turret gunner charged his .50 and the tank slowly retreated to the MACV gate less than 50 meters to our rear.

Around 2300, two Chinooks emerged from the darkness and without any ground assist, roared in and dropped sling loads of ammo between the heavy battery and ourselves.  Some Rangers grabbed wooden boxes of small arms ammo while the artillery personnel gathered their bigger bullets.  A gift, gratefully received from an unknown benefactor.

Soon after, a platoon of APC’s and ACAV’s roared in from US 5th Mech.  They initially established a link with us but were called off to divert to the Xuan Loc market which was under heavy pressure.  When they left, they ground off the wire line between the Rangers and the heavy battery-forcing us to use the crowded Command FM for adjustments.

Soon after midnight, very heavy pressure was put against the hotel front.  Several machine guns were noted and a quickly superior rate of fire was achieved by the attackers.  Hiep asked for all the help he could get and I got on the artillery FDC net.  11th ACR, firing 155MM artillery from Blackhorse, would put in a Time On Target (TOT) by the road intersection which was about to be overrun.

  Simultaneously, the heavy battery would conduct a direct lay fire using primer bags only to fire to both sides of the hotel.  Within five minutes, all four artillery pieces had laid their barrels at almost parallel to the ground across the berm and just over our head.  All four guns fired simultaneously.  For a moment, everything was sensory overload with a huge blinding flash and cloud of bright yellow cordite rolling over our position.  I could distinctly see one wheeled machine gun and several bodies flung in the air and silhouetted against the light.  For a while, the attacks ceased as we regrouped.

During this time, our 81mm mortars continuously fired both illumination and HE.  We had “acquired” several trailer loads of ammo from the Aussies and SFC Ponce, our Puerto Rican E7 and mortar expert, had moved to each position and assisted the engagement.  These guns had no sights and no aiming stakes.  Like the VC, he taught the Rangers to simply aim the barrel with a standard infantry lensatic compass, the charge card in the ammo boxes and a basic map.  There seemed to be a preternatural gene for this and the crews became extremely proficient gauging the range and using miniscule adjustments on the traverse and elevation gears.  We could use the mortars Danger Close with a high degree of confidence.  On this note, several of the LLDB’s (the deserters/POW’s assigned to us for labor) crewed part of the guns and performed superbly.

As the sun rose, an L19 from Xuan Loc, took off and immediately began spotting VC on the outskirts.  The pilot called in on the MACV Command frequency and was shifted to my internal Ranger FM net.  SFC Ponce took the handset and sat next to the airfield mortar position talking to the gun crews.  They quickly began to engage with the pilot making 20 meter adjustments.  With minimal lag time, following rounds were on their way exactly where the pilot ordered.  He was astounded at both the rapid response and the accuracy.  By mid-morning, 5th Cav sent an ACAV and two deuce and a half trucks to our positions off-loading mortar and small arms ammo.  All received that night from Long Binh/Bien Hoa and intended for US elements but this was an indiscriminating war and no one asked for receipts.

I walked over to the artillery position for coffee-they always had hot strong coffee.  Several of the senior gunners came up to me and asked about the night’s actions.  They had never fired those guns at this close a range and could find no reference in their manuals to such an engagement.  One NCO actually went out to the location I had spotted the VC machine gun explode and measured the distance, 800 meters from gun to crater-apparently a record.  Several troops mentioned that they had never seen the impact of their rounds until last night.  Hiep accompanied me and thanked the crews and told us all that the coming night would be worse than previous.

The battery commander, a somewhat more mature officer than his contemporaries, immediately got his Chief of Smoke (senior NCO) and talked about worst case scenarios.  The gun crews began to collect all the hooked-nose loading plugs from their projectiles as well as spare powder bags of which there now were plenty.  They put these in buckets and boxes next to each gun muzzle.  They then took the halved 55 gal barrels used for latrines, emptied them and filled them with diesel putting them next to each gun.  One of the NCO’s, a Korea vet, had seen this in a tight situation.  Later, this was a very good thing.

It was impossible to sleep though we had all been awake non-stop for more than 48 hours.  The sun blasted down on us and there were interminable visits and discussions at all levels as we tried to adjust our lines.  Hiep was positive that the coming night would be the final and greatest surge and he was right. 

We existed on endless c rat cans of coffee and Pall Mall cigarettes. Hiep had a couple of shots of Johnny Walker Black, his favored libation, to no effect.  I lay on my canvas cot behind the airfield berm and stared at the sky listening to the radio chatter and smoking.

We had tried to talk to our other half battalion at Ba Ria but were unsuccessful.  SFC Ponce had setup a 292 Antenna but it was about 40 air miles to Ba Ria and a PRC 25 just could not reach.  We knew that SFC Robinson was by himself but had no idea what sort of action the unit was in or if there were casualties.  We knew from second hand that Ba Ria had been under siege and the Aussies were fully engaged.  We had a lost half battalion which weighed on both Hiep and myself.

Hiep took stock of his dwindling Ranger elements and asked for some additional infantry or at least a couple of the ACAV’s.  Denied.  The 48th Regiment/palace guard was holding the north and west portions of town and the 5th Cav ACAV’s were the final Xuan Loc reserve.  Accordingly, Hiep made some adjustments to reinforce the hotel area which he determined the most likely point of attack.

Hiep took out my map and showed me the French housing complex inside the Michelin plantation.  He was certain this was the VC headquarters and they would funnel forces from there, along the railroad track and then into Xuan Loc.  Subsequent debriefs after the event proved him exactly correct.  We developed a series of artillery fires along the route and gave it to both the MACV, Heavy Battery and 11th ACR elements for servicing.

Darkness fell on 2 Feb without incident-initially.  About 0100, we were suddenly engaged on both our front lines.  Hiep had displaced our CP to the berm by the airfield and we lay behind the fresh red laterite earth under the swaying hissing greenish yellow light of constant illumination.  Almost immediately after the first engagement, we came under direct fire.  A VC element had worked its way into town and was in a building between the MACV compound and the 18th Division.  The position was pouring green tracers between them and directly at our rear.  To the front, other VC had penetrated to the open space between our front lines in the south and the airfield and were arrayed in strength to our immediate front just on the other side of the runway-less than 200 yards distance.

Hiep ran down along the few Rangers holding the berm and returned.  He said that there was a large force building just across the runway that had infiltrated through and they were probably going to direct assault us as the shortest route to the MACV and 18th ARVN HQ.  The VC machine gun to our rear was continuously hammering us forcing the conversation to be held in squatting positions just below the protective dirt as a constant stream of green tracers coursed overhead.

I called the Heavy Battery and said “Get Ready.  They are coming.”  Immediately I could see the gun crews raise the barrels and shovel nose plugs down them, pushing them down the barrel with a rammer.  The spare powder charges were dipped in the diesel and rammed into the breach.  The gun crews could see the VC opposite them began to run in a half trot directly toward us firing as they went.

Without my command, all four guns fired and sent a huge ball of flame across our front completely shutting down our vision in a brilliant white flash.  The noise was deafening and we could see dozens of silhouetted VC in the flame ball.  The noise quickly subsided and all we could hear was some of the firing on the city outskirts.  That was the end of the attack but not the war. I lit a cigarette and waited for daylight.  Hiep just smiled at me.

At first light, we swept the airfield and in the southeast corner, there was a stack of 32 bodies all melted together with rifles, ammo vests and flesh into a single lumpy crispy critter pile.  Xuan Loc held.  I went to the MACV Doc and had him give me a sleeping shot.  I passed out on his floor and woke 12 hours later.  Just in time for the Op order to re-join with the other half of the battalion.

It was now the afternoon of 4 February.  The remainder of the 52d Rangers were lined in four man intervals along the same runway we had so recently incinerated.  Soon, a flight of ten lift birds came into view, circled the field and did a long sloping turn amidst clouds of red laterite dust and rotated while the Rangers climbed aboard.

 Quickly, in a full power lift, we flew through the dust clouds and broke into clear cool air.  We crossed the rubber plantation, now showing numerous craters and blasted trees and swung over Ranger Hill following the road to Ba Ria.  The Ranger hootches were clearly discernible as were the many trailing scars created by the .50 calibers manned by the wounded and wives.  Hiep turned to me and gave me a thumbs up with a broad smile.

I sat back and watched the jungle below and the road that snaked through it-for the first time in a week, actually relaxing.  After about 20 minutes of mindless reverie, the birds began to drop power and descend toward a built-up area with multiple columns of smoke rising from many locations.  The province chief’s compound came into view and we could see the Aussie APC’s surrounding it and securing our LZ.  In less than a minute, we were quickly deposited on the field amidst gouts of burnt grass, dirt and papers.

The earlier-departed lead elements of the 52d had cleared the Province Chief’s compound with the support of the Australian elements.  Reunited for the first time in a week, we exchanged quick stories of our events and moved to the roof of the Province Chief’s house, the CP.  SFC Robinson had run out when he saw me and expressed great relief on our arrival.  He had been very concerned that as the only US in the unit, if he had been wounded, he wouldn’t get into the US evac channels.

On the roof awaiting our arrival, there was a group of mixed uniforms. Several Australians including their commanding general, Brigadier Hughes, the Province Chief, the commander of the Thai Cobra’s (an APC element just deployed from Saigon), our XO Captain Tot and several staff officers from the Australian elements.  Hiep and the Province Chief started a very intense but subdued conversation.

Hiep whispered to me that the Province Chief was in charge but that he had left the operations to BG Hughes.  Hughes, a strong and forceful man, quickly summarized the situation-most of Ba Ria was still in VC hands-turned to Hiep and I and said- “What should we do now?”  I responded that we would do whatever he wished but we needed a bit to re-organize ourselves.  He then said- “I am not going to take the lead here.  This is a Vietnamese issue.  I will do whatever you collectively wish but we will follow your lead.”  The Province Chief was clearly deferential to Hiep who then turned to Tot and had an extended conversation.  Everyone sat down, took out cigarettes and an Aussie batman passed around a large pot of boiled tea. Even on a hot day, that tea was welcome.

Hiep had a conference with the Thai commander and Tot.  He then took the map and suggested a plan based on simplicity.  The Aussies would cover both flanks of the town and the Thais would block the rear along the main Vung Tau-Saigon highway.  The Rangers, reinforced with a local force company that had been guarding the perimeter, would begin clearing Ba Ria North to South.  Begin in one hour.

The Aussies said they would provide artillery and a liaison to Hiep’s CP.  The liaison proved to be BG Hughes and a LTC as well as several batmen who immediately began setting up a primus stove to heat tea.  I began to arrange tactical air which was acknowledged by Bien Hoa Control directly down on my frequency-highly unusual and indicative of the gravity of the situation as Saigon saw it.  When the FAC announced that the first set of A1E Skyraiders were overhead, Hiep asked me to initiate the artillery and call in the close air support.  It worked like a Hollywood script.

The Aussie 105’s saturated the hilly section of the town where the VC had dug in.  The A1E’s came in at less than 100 feet, did a wing wave over us and loosed a ripple of napalm canisters.  They ignited and even in the CP we could feel the heat wave.  Without orders, the Rangers, patiently waiting in prone positions, rose up and moved forward.  Silent and with occasional shots and hurried movements as they discerned enemy positions, they began to coalesce toward the higher ground.  The Aussie tracks joined in with continuous .50 caliber fire to their front as if the action had been previously rehearsed.  Uncommon languages in common cause. 

I asked the Rangers to mark their forward position with smoke which they did.  The A1E’s continued to pickle their ordnance in advance and then swept low and slow to engage with their guns.  Hiep and I now moved forward and took a center position.  The last several hundred yards were on a rocky hill mass.  The closeness of the combat was such that the artillery and air had to be suspended as the Rangers methodically rooted out the holdouts from their rocky shelters.  It was close, brutal work primarily done with grenades and point blank encounters.  By 1600, the ground was clear.  The Aussies and Thais formed a concentric ring around the area.  Gen Hughes offered us a healthy draft of his rum ration which Hiep and I both took with a reciprocal passage of Hiep’s precious Johnny Walker supply.  We had just received orders to form the unit on an LZ for a morning pickup to our next assignment-assist in the relief of Saigon by Fifth and Third Ranger Group’s.

With zero assistance through the Ranger system for the basics of life, I went to the Aussies and asked them for whatever spare ammo they had-primarily .50 caliber and mortar ammo.  This was promptly supplied and the brigadier sent me a case of their ration packs as a personal gift delivered by his batman.  I particularly relished the tea and sugar packets.  Canned Irish stew with biscuits and jam were greedily devoured assisted by a large tea glass of 33 and ice.

A 9th Div helicopter dropped in and deposited the ADC (O), BG Roseboro, a red-haired fireplug of energy.  He asked me what we needed and I said ammo and chow.  Without hesitation, he told his aide to call it in.  Within an hour we had two pallets of C rations as well as several pallets of mixed ammunition- especially prized were the LAW rockets and grenades as we knew we were in for close urban warfare and were glaringly unequipped for the situation.

During these events, Hiep had called back to Xuan Loc and arranged for all the unit vehicles to transit to us.  The road was now cleared by the 11th ACR and they joined us by late afternoon.  Hiep then ordered a major modification of the trucks.

The deuce and a half’s were double-sandbagged on the rear floor and our scrounged 81 mortars emplaced on top.  One truck was double floored with sand filled ammo crates, then double sandbagged and a 4.2 mortar emplaced.

The ¾ ton trucks were outfitted with a combination of .50 calibers mounted on pintles fabricated by the local downtown BaRia motocyclo repair garage and sandbagged hoods and dashboards now employing .50’s on tripods.  Once completed, he ordered the entire assemblage to move to Tan Son Nhut to meet us on arrival.

Promptly at first light, a seemingly endless string of US and ARVN Chinooks descended and loaded the Rangers on board, pulled pitch and headed for the short ride to Tan Son Nhut.  It was 8 February.  We had minimal to no guidance as to what to do when we landed.  A representative from the Ranger group would meet us with orders.

The birds deposited us amidst constantly landing and exiting fighter aircraft near the rear gate, away from the main terminal.  It was completely open with no shade and Hiep ordered us over local MP objection to the closest shaded area, troop billets and supply sheds.  Shortly, we were joined by the vehicles which had been denied entrance and had to laager outside the main gate-viewed as much as potential enemies as allies.

While we were assembling, the Ranger Group commander arrived.  He had a very sketchy sense of the situation and even less mission definition.  We were to move out of the back gate and head toward Cholon clearing as we went.  How far?  How wide? How fast? Who with?  Who is in front, rear, flank?  No input.  Just report as we progress.  There were US and ARVN elements fighting in the vicinity of the Y bridge and Phu Tho racetrack.  We would sort it out as we progressed.

Hiep called in the company commander’s and outlined a very simple plan.  He drew flank boundaries one block wide outside the main street exiting the gate.  We would form in two columns with each column moving at equal speed forward, clearing as we went.  The gun trucks would intersperse with each platoon.  As soon as a building was cleared, each element would put a platoon on the roofs with a .50 and cover every advance.  We would work as slowly as necessary.  There was no objective stated and no rush to go there.

As soon as we crossed the gate, we began to receive continuous sniper fire.  It was from both sides of the street and further down to distant intersections.  The fire was well-hidden and displayed a sense of positioning developed over time.  This area had been occupied for more than a week without opposition and the tenants were well entrenched.  By the time we swept the first block, fire became increasingly intense.  It was now a methodical clearing operation with half the units on the roofs and the other half of the two columns clearing the rooms.  Only the occasional soldier would expose himself on the street with usually poor results. Streets and blocks with a plethora of windows, alleys, heights, balconies and angles create a mortal geometry that mitigates against any random exposure.

Civilians were sparse and they were uniformly old people or women with small children. It was clear that the bulk of the population had fled.  By late in the afternoon, we had progressed for two blocks and the resistance was clearly stiffening.  We now began to receive B40 rounds fired from deep within houses through open windows.  Several machine guns were rooted out at ground level where they had been emplaced inside the doorwell and setback from the sill to sweep the street.

The primary weapons now used were the 57 recoilless, the Law rockets and the M79’s-just recently acquired and scrounged.  The .50’s did excellent service from the rooftops chewing up the masonry and clearing empty windows and door openings.  The mounted guns on the ¾’s would take an oblique to a street corner and reach around to sweep at ground level.   The truck-based 81’s were firing constantly against the roofs and streets less than 200 meters from the advancing elements.  It was slow, grinding, ponderous work that extracted a continuous price from both sides.

Hiep’s fortuitous planning on configuring our vehicles with mortars and machine guns came to the fore.  All my entreaties for air or artillery were consistently being denied.  Even though the houses were largely devoid of citizens and harbored dug in VC, we had to clear them on a face to face basis.

Our casualties began to mount.  Some dead, a lot more wounded.  In some cases, superficial.  In other cases, not so.  The VC dead we pulled out of their holes and corners and left them stacked on the street for follow-up clearance.  Hiep had a rigid system of triage where himself or the XO would gauge the severity of the wound and direct the soldier back to his position or approve vehicular evacuation back to Tan Son Nhut.

To supplement our dwindling forces. Hiep sent out screening troops to grab any military age males they could find in the rear or were trying to filter back to the airfield.  In some cases, these were officers and in others enlisted.  They were all in Saigon for the holiday and were now trying to avoid either combat or return to their units.  Hiep allowed neither option as he would assign these impressed troops to whichever element was most needy.  Not popular but effective.

By Day Four of this grinding, the gloves came off and artillery and close air was allowed in the city.  By now, we had closed to within a few blocks of Cholon and I could see the Y Bridge from my rooftop CP.  Abruptly, we were ordered to re-assemble and pull out.  We were ordered to move to Bien Hoa and assist the Ranger Group in clearing the III Corps HQ.

Just prior to our withdrawal, the 1st Company commander grabbed Hiep and I and took us down an alleyway they had just cleared.  This was a narrow opening between cramped structures and littered with expended cartridges, machine gun links and the other detritus of war.  Toward the end of the lane, we saw a stack of bodies.  They were women and children of all ages.  They had been freshly executed just moments before the company had cleared the area.

This was an area predominately populated by government middle class civil service workers and military.  The VC had rounded them up over the course of the week and held them until they had to depart and then wreaked a last moment revenge.  Hiep just bit his lip, turned around and ordered a continuation of the sweeps.

Once withdrawn, we were met with ARVN deuce and half’s, supplemented by our own, and moved swiftly to Bien Hoa.  Again, we received the same minimal set of orders-Get out.  Sweep through here.  More to follow.  Maybe.

By now, the battalion was inured to the environment and set about its task.  Now reinforced by additional Rangers from Xuan Loc and other battalions that were returning from the holidays, we continued the grind.  This time, no quarter and full available fire support assets.

I had at my call US 8”, 155’s from an 11th Cav element and 105’s from Long Binh and elsewhere.  This clearing operation was a face saving sweep by all available forces-US and Vietnamese.

I used artillery within a city block of our forces in a World War One Hueter rolling barrage.  Tac air was liberally applied to the buildings just across the street and cobra gunships kept the roofs in front cleared.

I obtained VS 17 panels from the Cav and had them with the lead companies as they cleared buildings and gained the roofs.  Several FAC’s overhead constantly controlled the myriad players with minimal friendly fire.  Destruction was the end result as the enemy had dug in over several weeks and refused to exit when pressed even though we were careful to allow an escape route.

The ugly, brutal, room by room, building by building, street by destroyed street progressed through the week.  By 18 February, Bien Hoa was cleared and we laagered with elements of the 11th Cav and 9th ID in a wooded area just west of the prison compound

The Vietnamese Rangers enjoyed an Allied chow line with pork steak, mashed potatoes and gravy.  I reveled in strong hot coffee.

There we took ample advantage of the US largesse and acquired all the ammo and grenades we could carry as well as additional M16’s and M60’s which were largely available just for the asking.  We knew when we returned to full ARVN control, the pickings would be slim.

We conducted Joint sweep and clear operations to the west near the VC POW compound until 25 Feb when we were detached and moved to a bend in the Dong Ngai River to the North.  A 18th Div location manned by its 48th Regiment.  Tet was over but not the war. There were thousands of windows left to clear. 

About the Author(s)

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.