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Thread: Remember a battle in the Eastern Offensive 1972 : the battle of Charlie

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    Remember a battle in the Eastern Offensive 1972 : the battle of Charlie

    The Battle of Fire Support Base Charlie -
    The Epic of the Engels in Red Hats of the ARVN´s 11th Airborne Battalion :


    PART I :


    Ensign of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion


    Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Dinh Bao (right), commander of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion and his Ops Officer, Captain Doan Phuong Hai (left), two main figures in the famous Battle of Charlie


    Major Le Van Me, deputy battailion commander of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion in the Battle of Charlie. After the death of Lt. Colonel Nguyen Dinh Bao, Major Me took command the battalion. He was one of the best battalion commanders of the Airborne Division. He was promoted to Colonel and worked finally as Ops Officer for the ARVN´s Airborne Division before the war ended in 1975.


    Major John Joseph Duffy, senior advisor of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion, another main figure in the Battle of Charlie (1972), a hero and a true friend of vietnamese airborne soldiers. For his heroic contributions to the defense of the Fire Base Charlie he was honored with the award of the « Distinguished Service Cross », the second highest award for valor of his nation.


    Major John J. Duffy after the war


    Colonel Le Van Me and retired US-Army Major John J. Duffy reunited in California, USA (1978).

    C or CHARLIE was only the call sign used in military radio communication for a hill which was located west of Kontum city on a high ridgeline known as Rocket Ridge in the Central Highlands of the RVN´s Military Region II.
    But CHARLIE was also typical for one of the bloodiest fightings in the long history of the ARVN´s elite Airborne Division – the Engels in Red Hats.

    This was also the story of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion with his famous commander, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Dinh Bao. After KIA on the hill Charlie, he was posthumously promoted to Colonel.
    The 11th airborne battalion went in with 451 paratroopers and after two weeks of ferocious battle – they fought their way out with only 37 survivors – bloodied but unbroken.

    The story of this battle and the courage of the ARVN´s airborne troops and their leader became famous after captain Phan Nhat Nam, an ex-airborne officer, published a book called « Mua He Do Lua » or
    « The Red Flammes of Summer ».
    Captain Phan Nhat Nam had tape-recorded the eyewitness accounts as the 11th airborne battalion´s soldiers returning from Charlie were treated at the General Military Hospital Cong Hoa, Saigon.
    Based on these recordings he wrote this famous book to honor the sacrifice and the war death of the airborne soldiers on the hill Charlie. The book won the 1972 South Vietnam National Literature Award.
    In the aftermath of the Battle for Fire Base Charlie a classical Vietnamese song was also composed by musician Tran Thien Thanh : « Nguoi o lai Charlie » or « Those who stayed at Charlie » to lament the lost soldiers of this battle. This song is still often played in Vietnam and anywhere where the Vietnamese live.

    (In the website The Battle of Kontum - Home Bill Reeder, an ex-US-pilot flying gun for 361st « Pink Panthers » during the Easter Offensive 1972 in MR-2, told a very interesting story :
    he went back to Vietnam some years later and tells of sitting in the bar at a hotel in Pleiku city. Some of the locals were singing. He asked the bartender what they were singing about and was told :
    « They sing about the Heroic Battle of Fire Base Charlie ».
    Bill told the bartender : « Hey, I was at Fire Base Charlie ! ».
    After that, he reports, he didn't have to buy a drink for himself all night !).

    Charlie was also the story about a heroic american advisor, Major John J. Duffy of the famous US Advisory Team 162, and the heroic efforts of the US-helicopter crews who took the risk to come in for a rescue action in the last minute and had to pay with a too expensive price…
    Therefore, the story about The Battle Of Charlie or The Tragic Fate Of The Angels in Red Hats had to be told again here with more details.

    On 25th March 1972 the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion with 4 companies (111, 112, 113 and 114) was airlifted into the AO to build up the Fire Support Base Charlie belonging to the Airborne´s defending ring to protect the left side of the National Route 14 (QL-14).
    The US-senior advisor of the battalion was Major John Joseph Duffy, who came from Special Operation Units of the United Army specialized for actions behind enemy lines and served already three combat tours in Vietnam. This was his fourth combat tour and maybe the most dangerous mission for him.


    Actually Charlie consisted of three hills : C, C1 and C2 stretching from North to South with different
    altitudes :
    ● C1, located in the North of Charlie, was held by company 113 of captain Hung.
    ● C or Charlie with altitude of approximately 960 m was held by company 111 commanded by lieutenant Thinh, a young officer of class 25 of the Thu Duc Reserved Infantry Officer School.
    ● The rest of battalion and the command post held C2 with altitude of approximately 1062 m. Therefore, C2 was also called the height 1062 with a landing zone (LZ) for helicopters.

    Hill Charlie, where took place the bloodiest fightings between the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion and NVA´s elite division 320 (or Steel division or Dien Bien division) reinforced 66th regiment of NVA´s 3rd division (Gold Star division)

    The company 114 of captain Phan Canh Cho (now living in the Orange County, USA) was located in the South, took the heaviest responsibility because of the sloping terrain in this direction. Additionally there were also many high trees which were not far from the barbed wire fences around the Fire Base which may help easily concealing the approach of enemy forces.
    The Battle of Charlie began afterwards also from this direction.

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    PART II :

    From the beginning, lieutenant colonel Bao and his officers realized that their defensive mission on Charlie was really bad choice. They had the feeling like they should have been entering an invisible trap laid down awaiting them. Everybody knew, the Mountains Warfare was also the battle between the Heights. C, C1, C2 were high hills with altitudes of 960-1062 m. But they were no sense in comparison with the heights of 1274, 1513, 1773 m of the Big Mamma Mountains where the NVA´s heavy artillery guns located. They dared not think further. They had got a military mission to defend these hills and the Airborne discipline forced them to obey this stupid military order whether they wanted it or not.
    The STRENGTH of the Airborne units as general reserved force of the ARVN´s Joint General Staff was Mobility and Quick and Aggressive Attack. Now, used as a defensive force fixing to a place they had lost their space for Mobility and Flexibility and was completely exposed to artillery shelling of enemy forces.

    They had no other choice than had to accept the fate to prepare their glorious death.
    At the first night, the engine noise of the NVA´s military convoys moving along West and Southwest of the Truong Son range could be heard from Charlie. The headlights of these Molotova convoys could be realized from far away. Harassing fires were called but ineffective because of out of artillery range.

    The next day, 26th March 1972, Major Le Van Me, deputy battailion commander lead two companies
    112 and 114 in an effort to relieve a unit of 2nd airborne battalion being sieged in the South. The airborne attack was fiercely with artillery and air support. Although enemy stood and resisted, they were finally pushed out of position. Not long after that, enemy elements belonging to the division F-320 counterattacked using human waves supported directly by 75mm assault artillery firing from the next hill. To avoid unnecessary casualties, Me ordered the withdrawal of two companies and then using air and artillery to push back the attacks in of enemy in human waves.
    The commander of 11th airborne battalion frowned. He felt that the invisible trap of enemy was gradually tightened.

    The following days were relatively calm. The calm before the storm.
    The companies launched daily their recon teams to search the traces of enemy fighting units.
    Most of the time, the NVA´s fighting forces were well hidden deeply in prepared positions of the mountains of the Truong Son range. How could they be forced to leave their hideouts ?
    Bombs were dropped everyday. But they were only fragmentation bombs and had therefore no effects on the NVA´s U-shaped tunnels or bunkers.

    On 27th March 1972, NVA´s heavy artillery guns (105 mm, 122 mm, 130 mm) began to pour down Charlie as a prelude to the most fierce battle in the Central Highlands of Military Region II.
    Since then Charlie had not got a moment of peace.
    Firstly, the artillery rounds of enemy exploded somewhere outside of the Fire Base Charlie.
    The forward artillery observers (FAOs) of airborne companies called executing counterfire efforts at once. Enemy shelling ceased for a moment and fired back again onto airborne positions once ARVN´s artillery counter-batteries in other Fire Support Bases stopped firing. Such artillery duels took place daily many times. Gradually, enemy artillery spotters approached the airborne Fire Base nearer and nearer. They could then adjust the coordinates and gave more and more precise fire direction.
    The NVA´s artillery shells began falling then inside of Charlie. The casualties of paratroopers increased.
    Clearly, NVA wanted firstly to test the ability of airborne counterfire, then took their big field guns 130 mm nearer to targets. With a firing range of approximately 30 km these 130 mm towed artillery field guns outranged all ARVN´s artillery guns (11 km for 105 mm and 15 km for 155 mm) !

    Early morning of 01st April 1972, after heavy artillery preparation fire lasted for four hours, the NVA´s troops of the 64th regiment (Steel Fist regiment) of the elite division 320 – the famous Steel or Dien Bien division - began to assault in human waves the Fire Base Charlie from the South. This direction was defended by paratroopers of company 114 of captain Cho. Simultaneously the NVA´s artillery made also harrasing fire on all ARVN´s artillery positions to prevent their counterfires or fire support for Charlie. The paratroopers of company 114 returned fire bravely.

    The company 112 of captain Hung (no relation to captain Hung of company 113 !) gave directly fire support for comrades in arms of 114. The battle was fiercely.


    North Vietnamese artillery pounded ARVN positions during the Easter Offensive 1972. These 130mm towed field guns had a range of 30 km and played a major role during
    this offensive campaign. They outgunned ARVN´s 155mm, 105mm artilleries.

    Human waves in human waves the NVA-soldiers came forward. They shouted frantically :
    « Surrender, you´ll survive ! Fight back, you´ll die ! »
    But paratroopers fighted back vigorously.
    Sighting, Aiming, Shooting.
    « Hold the trenches ! ».
    « Don´t fall back ! ».
    « Fire ! Shoot the guys over there ! »
    That was total chaotic on the front. It was an inferno with smoke, dust, flame and noise of gunshots.
    The dying and wounded moaned. The artillery shells landed on trenches and exploded in deafening noise. Brave soldiers died on both sides.
    « 415, 416, 417, this is 314. Adjust fire, over.
    Direction…. Distance….Left….Infantry company in the open, over.
    One round. Target yxz, out. »
    « All stations, this is 314. Fire for effect. 10 volleys, over ».
    And then after the artillery fire support from friendly Fire Bases (FSB 5, FSB 6, FSB Yankee, FSB Hotel,…) finished, the air cavalry finally came to help : the gunships and the Skyraiders of the USAF and the VNAF.
    After many hours of fierce fighting the NVA´s ground assaults were successfully repulsed with enemy forces suffering heavy losses from the concentrated fire of paratroopers on the ground, gunships, TACAIR and artillery. The NVA´s fighting units of F-320 were finally forced to retreat.
    Charlie stayed further under control of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion.

    - « Lieutenant Colonel, I have called the Brigade Headquarters in Vo Dinh to report that NVA
    has been shelling us with 130 mm heavy artillety guns, but they do not believe it ! »,
    captain Hai said with a fatigue voice to his commander.

    - « What !? They told you so !? », lieutenant colonel Bao asked with an angry voice.
    - « They said, we have got to send them the 13o mm-shrapnels, then they should believe it ! »,
    captain Hai answered with a bitterly ironic voice.
    - « When they want it, then come here to search themselves ! », the commander kicked a rock
    away angrily, « NVA used 130mm-ammunition with delay fuzes which caused deep holes with
    catastrophic devastation like this !!! Tell Headquarters in Vo Dinh, that it is really 130 mm artillery
    and I said it !!! ». The commander replied in an angry voice mixed with a little despair.

    One day more was over on C, C1 and C2. The paratroopers hastily revised again the trenches damaged by enemy artillery shelling, dug bunkers and tunnels as deep as possible. As the survival rate should
    depend on the depth of these senseless rocks. Hundreds of airborne soldiers stayed overnight with opening eyes piercing through the darkness. And wait. Sleeping was in that moment a luxury item for them.
    When did the next enemy incoming artillery come ?
    Where would they explode ?
    Such silent questions echoed in heads of hundred airborne soldiers on C, C1, C2 of the Fire Base Charlie.

    When the NVA fired their artillery, you could hear the guns go off. The sound was a very faint pop sound, so faint that if you were not tuned into it, you might wonder if you really heard it at all. Depending upon the weather which would affect the speed of sound, the pops were followed four to ten seconds later by exploding shells. The whistling sound that was made by incoming artillery shells was only heard when the round went over your head. The whistle sounds that last two or three seconds, like the ones on old war movies are artillery shells you don't worry about too much, those shells would land hundreds of feet from you.
    The shells that would get you were the ones that whistled only for a fraction of a second before hitting the ground, but in that fraction of a second your mind would hear the whistle very clearly, measure the length of the sound, calculate how close to you it would land, and give you time to think about it.
    When the incoming shells didn't go over you, the sound of the explosion was quite different, if the explosion was close, it sounded like a loud « WHAM » like someone hitting a sheet of corrugated steel with something heavy. The sound became less « wham like » and more sharp, like a heavy « CRACK » the further the explosion was from you. If the shells landed close to you, you heard a « THUD » as the shell impacted the ground. This was closely followed by the sudden outward movement of air and the sound wave of the explosion which followed it. Immediately following the sound wave you would hear strange little noises overhead as the pieces of shrapnel tumbled and flew through the air. These are sounds that you never forget.


    After more than a week of continuous attacks on the position of airborne company 114 of captain Cho, the elements of NVA´s 320th division could not take Charlie, although they had to pay a heavy price for that with hundreds of killed NVA´s soldiers laid scattered outside of the defensive barbed wire fences.
    The commander of the FSB Charlie, lieutenant colonel Bao, was however concerned about the actual situation of ammunition, food and drinking water. Additionally the number of paratroopers died and wounded after each NVA´s attack and artillery shelling increased. The supply sorties by helicopters were more and more difficult because of NVA´s heavy anti-aircraft guns established around the Fire Base Charlie.
    Numerous NVA´s anti-aircraft weapons were now positioned around the FSB Charlie in order to prevent aerial re-supply or fire support.

    In the command bunker, dug deeper than 1 m under the ground, lieutenant colonel Bao showed on the map the points which estimated the NVA´s artillery positions. He said :
    - « I am sure that they positioned their guns here. All are heights with altitudes of over 1500 m.
    From there they could see us clearly on C2 as we see our soldiers downwards on C or Charlie.
    Yesterday they fired us with an unimaginable precision ! So, take care of yourselves, guys !
    Doc and Me, don´t congregate in one place ! In case of something bad happened, there should be still someone leading the battalion ! »
    Captain To Pham Lieu, the battalion´s Doc, and Major Me, the deputy battalion commander, stood up.
    - « Yes, Sir. »
    Lietenant Colonel Bao nodded and smiled slightly. An inexplicable sadness appeared on his face.
    What was he perhaps feeling something ominously ? No one knew in that moment.
    Captain Hai, Ops Officer of the battalion, stood up.
    - « I go now, Sir. If something happens, I will come to you and Duffy. »
    The Commander stood up, too. He walked up slowly and heavily and back to his command bunker. His back curved down. He went on soil excavated by enemy artillery shelling with the shadow of an injured tiger on the way back to the ruined ancient forest.

    For the next several days NVA´s artillery forces poured down constantly the FSB Charlie.
    The airborne positions (C, C1, C2) of the FSB Charlie had been almost completely surrounded by NVA-troops of 64th regiment, the Shock-regiment or the Steel Fist of North Vietnamese elite 320th division, reinforced by fighting units of NVA´s 66th regiment. This time the enemy moved troops even during the day. The sound of iron chains of enemy tanks and Molotova troop transport vehicles could be heard clearly after each artillery shelling. It was a very clear indication for everyone that the NVA now wanted to pull the thorn Charlie at any cost.
    FACs (Forward Air Controllers) of USAF and VNAF discovered already 9 new positions of NVA´s anti-aircraft guns which ringed Charlie in order to suppress air support.
    Two AA-positions armed with 12,7 mm and 37 mm anti-aircraft guns were detected in East of Charlie, the planned evacuation direction of the airborne troops. Normally the air support for Charlie must be flown from North or South, over the West for bomb diving, then went out eastbound in direction of the National Route 14 (QL-14). Now this direction was blocked by NVA´s air-defense force.
    The airborne troops on C, C1, C2 of the FSB Charlie could observe, that explosions of anti-aircraft ammunitions filled the sky each time when the fighters or helicopter gunships of USAF and VNAF come into the AO over Charlie.
    The NVA also increased the harassing fire on other ARVN´s Fire Support Bases on Rocket Ridge to block the capacity of counter-fire of South Vietnamese artillery batteries on these FSBs.
    From that moment, the artillery support for Charlie was strongly reduced to a marginal level.

    Colonel Tran Quoc Lich, commander of the ARVN´s 2nd airborne brigade with the command post located in Vo Dinh, requested the headquarters of the II Corps in Kontum to allow the 11th airborne battalion
    giving up their task of defending the FSB in order to operate mobile outside of the base.
    But lieutenant general Ngo Dzu, commander of ARVN´s II Corps, refused to answer.
    And the american senior advisor of II Corps, John Paul Vann, demanded that 11th airborne troops
    had got to stay and fight to death.
    Request of 11th airborne battalion for B-52 Arc Light sorties to relieve enemy pressure was inexplicably also rejected ! The Corps provided only B-52-support for Charlie, wenn airborne soldiers could prove with shrapnels that NVA had really used 130 mm heavy artillery for shelling Charlie !
    These decisions from the High Command in Kontum had marked the fate of the paratroopers of the 11th battalion.
    Only after Major Duffy, senior advisor of the 11th airborne battalion, requested through advisory system, there was then only one B-52 strike at midnight in the South of Charlie. Bombs were drop within 500 m from the friendly defensive lines ! The paratroopers in the trenches were recommended to open their mouth to balance the pressure caused by the schock waves when the bombs exploded.
    But the enemy artillery positions in the West and Northwest were completely not hit !


    A flying fortress B-52 D of the USAF´s 306th Bomb Wing in a carpet bombing by dropping many unguided bombs on the enemy targets in the Central Highlands of Military Region II during the Easter Offensive in 1972.

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    PART III :

    On 12th April 1972, NVA´s incoming artillery began pouring down Charlie.
    This time, C2 was suffering heavier than C and C1. In just 30 minutes, approximately 400 rounds of 130 mm fell down onto C2. The NVA´s fire for effect lasted for 4 hours ! The paratroopers were completely exposed to the NVA´s fierce artillery shelling raining down on their bunkers and trenches.


    South Vietnamese soldiers watch as a B-52 air strike hits a North Vietnamese tank column west of Dong Ha city, just south of the DMZ.


    The most dangerous of all were the special artillery projectiles of 130 mm field guns made in UdSSR with special hardened-delay or concrete-piercing fuzes which allow the shell to penetrate the ground before exploding. No bunker at the Fire Base Charlie could be protected against this type of artillery ammunition !


    A NVA´s heavy artillery shelling on the Fire Base Charlie.

    And what to happen, had finally happened.
    Lieutenant colonel Nguyen Dinh Bao, commander of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion, was killed in action by a 130 mm projectile landed directly right on his command bunker.
    Major Duffy, the american senior advisor of the battalion and major Me, deputy battalion commander,were only wounded.
    The death of the beloved commander was a big schock for the whole officers of battalion.
    But they had no time to mourn for the loss of their commander. Their soldiers needed them more than ever.
    Number 2, major Le van Me, took command the battalion.
    Number 3, captain Doan Phuong Hai, becam deputy commanding officer.

    Although the airborne soldiers did well defending their positions against the ground assaults of North Vietnamese troops afterwards, repulsed successfully the enemy attacks in human waves and caused heavy losses on the attack forces, but major Me did not feel good. He didn´t even want to look the pile of captured enemy weapons on the ground. The death of his beloved commander, his mentor and also his dear friend made him so sadly. And the responsibility of a battalion commander weighed now heavily on his shoulders.

    Night was coming. Night with the trap which was gradually tightened. Me, Hai and Lieu, the battalion´s doc, looked at each other. Lieu gave orders to his medical soldiers to bring the dead commander to light. Aside from the injury at heart, the sun glasses which protected his weakened eyes were broken.
    The eyes closed. His mouth slightly opened to reveal the front teeths. His body was bruised in many places. There was nothing to do for him. His bunker was hit by three 130 mm artillery rounds with delay fuzes.
    Hai sit down touching the still warming body of the dead commander to dust on his camouflage battle dress.
    - « Let me wash him. », Lieu said to Me and Hai.
    Lieu sit down and used cotton and alcohol to wash the dead body of one of the most famous battalion commanders of the ARVN´s airborne division. The twelve years of a military service from battlefield to battlefield, from North to South, from East to West of the Republic of Vietnam ended here on the height 1062 (C2). The evil Truong Son range received more one soul.

    The NVA´s ground force began to assault C from the West and Southwest direction to avenge their defeat of the previous day.
    From the height 1062 of C2 the officers of the command post of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion could observe downward waves after waves of the NVA´s infantry soldiers attacking the defending lines of the company 111 of lieutenant Thinh. The north Vietnamese soldiers amazingly kept moving forward slow ! Man after man fiel in front of the barbed wire fences under deadly fire of M-16s, M-60s, M-79s, M-72s, XM-202s (4-shot-incendiary rocket launcher / a Flame Assault Shoulder Weapon = FLASH) and grenades,…but they kept moving, as they did not know what death was !
    - « Are they crazy, Sir ? », the NCO of the command post asked captain Hai, the battalion´s ops officer, unbelievably.

    (After the Easter Offensive was over, the investigation of POWs belonged to the NVA´s division 320 confirmed that North Vietnamese infantry soldiers took a chinese stimulating drug, called « Hung Binh », before they began attacking the ARVN´s positions in human waves. This drug made users fearless. But afterwards, when the drug effect was strongly reduced or disappeared, then the users got opposite effect. That means, they became more nervous and totally scared of everything ! )

    The paratroopers of 111th company stood up in the trenches fighted back fiercely. They had no time to aim because the fighting took place within a short distance of grenade range.


    The paratroopers of the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion fighted back courageously.

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    PART IV :

    North Vietnamese soldiers of the 64th regiment assaulted Charlie in 5 human waves.
    This attacking wave was repulsed, the another kept pushing forward like flies hanging around the
    honeypot. The paratroopers of the 111th company fighted back with an unbelievable courage.
    The battle lasted until nearly dark, then major Me decided to pull 111th company of lieutenant Thinh back to C2 because of the critically low level of ammunition of this company.
    Captain Hai called Thinh by using military codes :
    - « 401 (Thinh), here is 06 (Hai). Preparing suitcases to back home to your parents…Don´t forget to bring back the guys with torn clothing (wounded soldiers), over…»,
    - « 06 (Hai), here is 401 (Thinh). I hear you clearly. I also intend to do that because of nearly out of candies (ammunition). But I am afraid that 008 (lt. colonel Bao, died) and 007 (major Me) misunderstood…», lieutenant Thinh replied Hai by radio.
    He didn´t know that 008, lietenant colonel Bao was already killed in action, yet.
    He also didn´t know that tomorrow should be his turn…!!!

    The 111th airborne company could retreat to C2 with an relatively average loss.
    Charlie or C or the height 960 was now taken by elements of NVA´s 64th regiment.
    From C2 the paratroopers could see the silhouette of North Vietnamese infantry soldiers on the top of Charlie. Major Me shouted at Hai :
    - « Call in for TACAIR, Hai !...Bomb ! Bomb ! Burn them all !!!…»
    - « We had 530 Jupiters on station, major !.We get them now…».
    Captain Hai replied Me and gave coordinates to the three Skyraiders-sorties of the VNAF´s 530th Fighter Squadron (Jupiters FS) who made immediately a dive bombing in an angle attack from West to East.
    They dropped the Napalm bombs which exploded exactly with giant fireballs right on the top of the height 960 Charlie.


    An A-1E Skyraider of the VNAF´s 41st tactical wing dropped a napalm bomb on the target.


    A twoship formation of Skyraider AD-6 of the VNAF´s 530th Jupiters Fighter Squadron on the way to their AO.


    A Diamond-formation of 4 Douglas A-1 Skyraiders of the VNAF´s 530th Fighter Squadron.

    On next day, 13th April 1972, major Me gave orders for the 112th airborne company of capitain
    Hung to retake the hill Charlie. But the efforts of airborne troops were unsuccessful. The NVA´s soldiers used powerfully mortars 60 mm, 82 mm and DKZ 75 mm to repulse the airborne assaults.

    The situation of paratroopers of the 11th battalion on height 1062 got more and more critical.
    They were gradually running out of food. The same was also for ammunition.They began to use the captured weapons of enemy to defend C2. . Especially the drinking water shortage became increasingly severe.
    It was clearly that the airborne troops defending the base could not get organized for a counterattack to drive back the enemy ground force surrounding C2. An evacuation out of the base became more and more inevitable.
    The number of wounded and dead soldiers increased after each of NVA´s artillery shelling.
    The moral was still high, but under this critical situation for how long ?
    The wounded and dead soldiers had got to be evacuated as soon as possible. For that they needed therefore a new, more safety LZ (landing zone).
    Me (battailion commanding officer) said to Thinh (company commander) :
    - « You try to come to this place (located approximately 100 m in the East from C2) and look for a LZ for an evacuation of all wounded and dead Do not let soldiers feel abandoned. They are simply mental and emotional.
    Moreover, we are nearly out of ammo and water. »
    - « Yes, Sir. I will do it. »
    Lieutenant Thinh lead only about 40 paratroopers of his company to leave C2. But the courageous efforts of Thinh and his soldiers to open a way out of the base for the battailion was broken like soap bubbles. They fell into enemy ambush. The NVA´s soldiers opened fire from four directions into the paratroopers fighting back desperately.
    - « Surrender, you´ll survive ! Fight back, you´ll die ! »
    Forward was not possible. And the way back was cut. The last bullet was fired. The last remaining
    grenade was thrown.There was only this way for young soldiers. Hit by numerous AK-47 bullets,
    Thinh fell deadly after being hit by numerous AK-47 bullets of enemy troops. Second lieutenant Ba rushed to embrace the still warming dead body of his company commander and got hit deadly, too.

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    PART V :

    In the trenches on C2, major Me got mad to hear the death of his officers. He called the 111th company
    through its radio frequency.
    - « Who is still staying alive there, over ? »
    - « Here is Khanh, the company´s FAO, sir. »
    Second lieutenant Khanh was the Forward Artillery Observer (FAO) of the 111th airborne company.
    - « Khanh, you take the company and try to lead him back to us. The 114 will give you fire support on the way back. Do you copy me clearly, over ? »
    - « I hear you clearly, sir. »
    The airborne artillery officer collected troops for an definite effort to break through the enemy line.
    Sergeant Lung, the most experienced NCO of the company, lead the troops attacking aggressively the NVA´s fighting units surrounding them. Their brave efforts finally opened a hole to escape from the enemy trap.
    Lung was the last man, but he remembered the bodies of two his commanders remaining behind the enemy line. He turned back to the place where two airborne officers fell deadly. But his desperate effort was useless. He was hit by a salvo of AK-47 bullets and fell also deadly on the bodies of his dead officers.

    In the early afternoon, the shock troops of two NVA´s 64th and 66thregiments launched new attacks aiming directly at C2, the main base of the FSB Charlie. After a long and fierce artillery bombardment the heavy ground attacks of the NVA´s infantry units into C2 began.
    Me shouted at his soldiers :
    - « Everybody including the wounded, who can stay and shoot, go all into the trenches ! Who cries or runs away, will be shot by me. We are Angels in Red Hats. We never surrender ! When you let us lost, I will let bombing directly right on our base ! Are you clearly ? »

    The North Vietnamese soldiers of the Dien Bien division (F-320) pushed forward in human wave after human wave to determine taking C2 at any price. The enemy soldiers penetrated the base perimeter in each of their fanatic assaults. Each time, the paratroopers on the ground and the helicopter gunships, fighters,… in the sky could drive back the enemy.

    Me looked at Hai :
    - « Call in Air for Napalms, Hai ! »
    - « You got it immediately, major ! »
    Hai looked up to observe the two A-1E Skyraiders of the VNAF´s 530th Jupiters Fighter Squadron making their bombing runs in front of his position. He knew that the pilots had a better view of the enemy than he had as to where they were coming from. The two Skyraiders pilots made several bombing runs and firing their machine guns at very low level – just above the tree top ! Bombs dropped at this very low level were surely right on the target. The Napalm bombs exploded in giant fireballs exactly on the approaching human wave of NVA´s troops. The North Vietnamese soldiers were burned, rolled screaming in flames not far from the defensive trenches of paratroopers. The most of NVA´s troops ran back. The enemy assault was broken once again.
    But one Skyraider was also hit by enemy fire. This plane was flown by lieutenant Duong Huynh Ky, a young pilot of the famous VNAF´s 530th Jupiters Fighter Squadron. And he went down with it.
    On that day he flew a CAS (Close Air Support) sortie for Charlie to stop the aggressive movement of NVA´s ground force. He was no higher than 200 to 300 m above the ground, when his aircraft got shot. The plane was too low, the right wing clipped the trees, flipped over and impacted in a huge fireball in the jungle perhaps 1 km distant from the friendly airborne position. No chute was seen.
    With his brave and daring bombing runs on enemy targets surrounding the FSB Charlie Lieutenant Duong Huynh Ky had bought the time needed for airborne soldiers for an possible escape.
    He will be honored and well remembered by survivors after the battle as a heroic pilot who gave everything he had – even sacrificed his life for the troops surrounded on the ground below.
    Farewell and rest in peace, the Knight in the Sky !


    4 Knights in the Sky of the VNAF´s 530th Jupiters Fighter Squadron (Thai Duong FS)
    From Left to Right : Pham Huu Loc, Tran Ngoc Ha, Vo Thanh Thong, Nguyen Van De

    Not only the bravery of the young pilots of the VNAF´s Skyraiders,… but also the heroic, high professional performances of the pilots of the USAF´s fighters and helicopter gunships made the enemy attacks staggering. Their daring efforts may save the 11th airborne battalion before a risk of an overrun.
    Only those, who were present during the battle and saw the terrible anti-aircraft fire of NVA around Charlie, could understand how courageous the USAF / VNAF crews were, who tried to penetrate the dangerous sky over Charlie to provide air support for friendly forces surrounded by enemy forces on the ground. These aggressive, sharpshooting pilots knocked out 5 of 9 heavy enemy AA-sites and kept a protective umbrella over the besieged base.

    On 14th April 1972, the North Vietnamese High Command of the B-3 Front decided to pour more fighting units into the battle of Fire Support Bases on Rocket Ridge to determine finally opening a path to attack Tan Canh, where the headquarters of the ARVN´s 22nd infantry division located.
    Therefore the thorn Charlie had got been pulled at any cost. The enemy forces attacked Charlie were now reinforced by elements of the NVA´s 203rd armor regiment, a North Vietnamese elite armor unit.


    Tanks T-34-85 of NVA´s 203rd armor regiment on the infiltration way into RVN´s Military Region II to prepare for the offensive campaign Nguyen Hue 1972.





    Tanks T-34-85 of NVA´s 203rd armor regiment with tank supporting infantry in the attack the FSB Charlie of ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion in MR-2.
    The NVA soldiers on T-34-85 maybe belonging to an elite sapper unit used as a shock component to open a hole in the defending line of opponent force.


    NVA´s infantry troops supported by a T-54 tank attacking on an ARVN´s position in MR-2.


    Two NVA´s soldiers, armed with B-40 and AK-47, fire on ARVN´s defensive lines.

    The big assault of enemy forces consisted of fighting elements of the NVA´s 320th division supported
    by tanks and shock-troops as sappers began with a daylong heavy artillery bombardment, interspersed with ground attacks from the Southwest, then the West, and finally the definite push from the Northwest.

    Major Me called the command post of the 2nd airborne brigade in Vo Dinh to report the extremely critical situation on FSB Charlie.
    - « They begin now with ground attacks, sir ! »
    Colonel Tran Quoc Lich, commanding officer of 2nd airborne brigade, talked personally direct with Me :
    - « From which direction ? »
    - « Heavy attacks from the West and Southwest, sir ! »
    Everyone – officers and soldiers - stood side by side in the trenches and fighted back. There was now no other difference between the commanding officers and the commanded troops. Only stand together in the same defensive line to fight and to die. They had no other choice but to accept their tragic fate.

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    PART VI :

    Captain Lieu, the Doc of 11th airborne battalion, was looking for weapons for himself.
    He joked with Me :
    - « I have no more medical equipment. The next time I will take a M-60 with me… »
    Duffy saw the Doc firing with his pistole colt 45 mm. He shouted at him :
    - « Hey, Doc. Why do you fire forty five ?… »
    - « I have only this, Duffy ! »
    After many assaulting waves, the NVA´s troops finally could penetrate the base perimeter and take the outer defensive line of paratroopers.
    Lieu aimed his pistole at a soldier who left his position and ran back into the central line and shouted loudly :
    - « Eh ! Where do you run ? Stay and fight, such a coward ! »
    Me shouted angrily :
    - « When the Doc don´t shoot you, I will shoot you ! So you can know what kind of feeling do you have when you die, coward ! »
    Me felt himself even funny with his words.
    « Death is the end of life. How can you kow about death, when you die ??! »

    In spite of a vigorous fight by the paratroopers, the enemy pressure did not relent.
    Captain Hai and Me looked at each other.
    - « We are nearly out of ammunition, major ! I suggest, we leave now…. »,
    Hai wisely proposed to his commander.
    Major Me quietly put down the steel helmet, looked at his american senior advisor, major Duffy.
    - « No hesitation, the best way, sir…. »,
    Duffy, major of American Special Forces, was wounded three times during the battle, but decided to
    stay with the battalion, understood the dilemma of his Vietnamese counterpart in this extremely critical situation. That was also the first time he called « sir » to a Vietnamese officer at the same rank.
    Me finally took a decision :
    - « OK. We leave. Hai,tell 112 to lead the way out, then the headquarters company follows. Back up will be 114. Don´t forget to call 113 to link up with us at the expected LZ…. ».
    This was the first time in his military career Me hat got to run.
    Tet 1968 at Hue, he dared to counterattack to retake the gate Thuong Tu with his company of only 30 airborne soldiers ! But this time, he had no other choice but to run in order to avoid a risk of an overrun
    for the whole battalion. For lack of ammunition they finally had to evacuate the FSB Charlie during the night after inflichting heavy losses on the enemy forces.

    6 p.m., B-52-strikes on the South and East of Fire Base and three sets of Cobras (helicopter gunships) were called to cover the withdrawal of the 11th airborne battalion.
    About 100 paratroopers were killed, wounded or lost in the daylong fight.
    The bodies of the fallen were left where they fell in battle.
    The seriously wounded airborne soldiers lay quietly in the bunkers, awaiting capture. The hope was the North Vietnamese troops would treat the wounded men well.


    South Vietnamese paratroopers on the FSB Metro (08. April 1972) after an attack of NVA in the Central Highlands.

    Major Duffy glanced over his shoulder as he crossed the wire and abandoned the FSB Charlie.
    The NVA´s troops were now within 5-10 meters of the base perimeter. Then the paratroopers had no time for thinking, just the hard, sweaty climb up and down jungled mountains to escape from the hell on Charlie. Tired and tired.
    - « I have just seen the LZ on my left, sir…. », captain Hung, commander of 112th airborne company, reported by radio to Me.
    Although Me was full of confidence, but he was also a very experienced officer.
    « If they ambush us here, then we are finished ! ». This thought worried him. He dared not to think further.
    - « Call Duffy for me, Hai...»
    The American advisor going behind Hai and Lieu stepped back. He overpassed smiling the battalion´s doc. Three times wounded. Four days of heavy fighting without eating and sleeping but he was still stabil, cool and hard like a block of steel. With a junle hat of Special Forces on his head and the M-18 as his personal weapon in hands, Duffy was so confident and unshakeable that man felt calmly again.
    Lieu put his thumb up when Duffy walked past him.
    - « You are Number One, Duffy ! Trčs dur !...»
    - « Hello, Doc !...», Duffy smiled.
    Me showed on the map :
    - « Duffy, we are here. 113 on the left. We move up from the right to link up with him. Then you call some slicks to get us out. OK ? »
    Duffy nodded.
    - « Good. Very good. You are the best commander....».
    - « Oh. You made me ashamed, Duffy....», Me laughed tired.

    Carefully the two airborne companies 112th and 113th of two captains with the same name Hung move up from the both sides of the LZ (landing zone) to link up.
    - « Good… Duffy, for how long from now will there be slicks for us ?...», Me asked.
    - « Ten minutes, sir...», Duffy replied.
    But there were no ten minutes more for the 11th airborne battalion !
    A shower of NVA´s artillery fell on the LZ. Afterwards, the infantry soldiers of the North Vietnamese elite division 320 – the Steel division or Dien Bien division – assaulted the defensive ring of 2 airborne companies around the landing zone from four directions.
    - « Surrender, you´ll survive ! Fight back, you´ll die ! »
    The paratroopers struggled desperately. They had given their best under the circumstances, but they were outnumbered and outgunned. They were even down to hand-to-hand combat. They could not do any more. And finally the ARVN´s 11th airborne battalion went down on this fateful landing zone.
    Game over for The Angels in Red Hats.


    Sea of fire on the battlefield.

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    PART VII :

    An unforgettable air rescue in the last minute :

    The remnants of the 11th airborne battalion scattered ino the jungle around.
    But a small group of 35 included the battailion headquarters and the american senior advisor stayed together. They fought and could evade the hot pursuit of NVA overnight. With the powerful air support of USAF´s helicopter gunships they could be picked up in turn of 5 groups.
    The evacuation of the last group consisting of major Me (battalion commander), major Duffy (senior advisor), captain Hai (battalion´s deputy commanding officer) and lieutenant Long (an officer of battalion´s HQ) was a dramatic story with a paintful and tragic outcome.

    Early the next morning, 15th April 1972, major Duffy made an « on-guard » radio contact with a FAC who circled overhead and provided all the fighter, bomber support he could. But there was no way to get them out. At about that time, Dennis Watson, a pilot with H Troop, 7/17th Air Cavalry (Air CAV), was flying with major Gibbs (chief pilot and also commander of H Troop) and Dallas Nihsen (door gunner), as they monitored the dramatic conversation between Duffy (on the ground) and FAC (in the air).
    Their mission was afterwards changed by HQ. Together with three other Hueys, escorted by two Cobras, they were led to the emergency landing zone of friendly force to pick them out.





    Ensign of the 20th TASS Covey FACs, who flew OV-10 Broncos from their Base in Pleiku, Military Region II of the RVN.


    A light attack and observation aircraft OV-10 Bronco of the company North American Rockwell, which first flew in mid 1965 and entered service with US-Army in late 1969 in Vietnam.

    Covey 555 of the 20th TASS (Tactical Air Support Squadron) Tigerhounds, the FAC on station, led them to the Picking Zone (PZ) of ARVN´s 11th Airborne. The four Hueys went in one-by-one under the covering fire of two gunships. Things went well at first, taking only sporadic fire.
    Number 1 took fire, but OK. Number 2 and 3 were pretty much uneventful. But when Number 4, their aircraft, crossed the tree line, they began taking fire so heavy, that they had to aborted their landing.

    One thing needed to be recounted here, that in the last evacuation flights, the US air crews wanted that
    the only American advisor on the ground, major Duffy, was firstly evacuated. But Duffy looked at his vietnamese combat friends, who ate, slept and fighted with him together in the last two weeks on FSB Charlie :
    - « I cannot leave you all behind. You are my brothers-in-arms in the most correct meaning of these words. I know very clearly, if I go in the first flight, there will not be helis coming back to pick you out...», Duffy said and remained voluntarily with his vietnamese comrades until the last bird to assure his vietnamese friends would be recovered.
    How courageous this man under intensily difficult circumstance !
    From that moment major John Joseph Duffy went into the military history of the ARVN´s Airborne Division as a heroic, legendary american advisor. Such men made the famous MACV´s 162nd Advisory Team immortal in memory of the South Vietnamese Airborne soldiers.

    The last four officers (Me, Duffy, Hai, Long) ran and tried to evade the aggressive pursuit of enemy force. From far away they could hear the NVA´s soldiers calling the name of major Me and captain Hai for surrender. Duffy informed that two new Cobras were now on station. They should have to be picked up NOW or NEVER !
    They looked up when the Huey of Dennis Watson approached to landing under the fire support of two gunships. Captain Hai climbed in the heli as the last man….But…
    Choc…Choc…Choc…Choc…Choc
    The NVA´s pursuit force opened fire when the Huey lifted off.
    Hai was shot in the foot and fell out of the helicopter ! Almost at once, Duffy jumped down while the aircraft was still hovering over the gound !
    What did he think at that moment ? Crazy but very courageous this man !
    I took my hat off to you, Major !
    (After the battle, lieutenant Long remembered :
    From the inside of the helicopter, he look down and saw Duffy stand alone with his M-18 aside from
    Hai lying wounded on the ground. This picture impressed him so much, that he thought himself, when the heli left, he would spring down to fight and die together with this heroic american officer !
    35 years later, the South Vietnamese old airborne officer still recounted this story at each Veteran Reunion of the ARVN´s Airborne Division in USA).


    The helicopter landed once again under intensive fire of enemy soldiers.
    Duffy dragged physically Hai into the aircraft and the heli lifted off again - under fire all the way out. The Huey was hit 9 times. Two rounds into the cokpit. One into the engine compartment and at least one within an inch (25,4 mm) of the tail rotor drive shaft. It was relatively few, but one hit was deadly.
    The door gunner, Dallas Lee Nihsen, was struck by an AK-47 round ! Perhaps the round hit the main blood vessel of Dallas and caused a severe bleeding : his blood poured down on Duffy and Hai. Duffy tried to stop the bleeding of Dallas but no success. Dallas passed out shortly afterward. He was pronounced dead at the Kontum Field Hospital.

    The tragic drama of the Dallas´death was only known after the landing of Huey at the Field Hospital :
    Dallas Lee Nihsen had actually ended his Vietnam tour on that day, 15th April 1972. He was fatefully on the helicopter of Dennis Watson and major Gibbs on the way back to the Base to prepare going home
    in the United States on the day after, when the mission of the heli was changed !

    It was very painful and sadly for everyone to be involved in this drama.

    Many years after ending of the war, major Doan Phuong Hai and colonel Le Van Me, the ex-commanding officers of the ARVN´s 11th Airborne Battalion in the Red Flammes of Sommer 1972 visited The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.to mourn the loss of their courageous US friends during the Vietnam War. At such occasion, they stopped always at Panel 02W – Line 137 to salut the name of an american soldier, who had sacrificed his young life to rescue them out of the hell named Charlie, Vietnam, 1972. The name of this american soldier was DALLAS LEE NIEHSEN.

    PART VIII :

    To write this article, I have used the following sources :

    ● Phan Nhat Nam / « Mua He Do Lua - The Red Flammes of Sommer » / Vietnamese in Dallas (2005)
    ● Bernard C. Nalty / « Air War over South Vietnam : 1968 - 1975 » / Washington D.C. : Air Force History and Museums Program (2000)
    ● ARVN´s General Ngo Quang Truong / « The Easter Offensive 1972 » / Washington D.C. : US-Army Center of Military History (1980)
    ● ARVN´s General Cao Van Vien / « The Final Collapse » / Washington D.C. : US-Army Center of Military History (1983)
    ● ARVN´s General Le Quang Luong / « Engels in Red Hats : who alive, who´s died » / Vietnamese in Dallas (2005)
    ● ARVN´s General Lam Quang Thi / « Autopsy : The Death of South Vietnam » / Sphinx Publishing (1986)
    ● ARVN´s Colonel Trinh Tieu, ex-Head of Intelligence (S-2) of II Corps 1972 / « Memoires : Front Tan Canh, Kontum, 1972 »
    ● NVA´s General Hoang Minh Thao / « Victory of Tay Nguyen Campaign » / Hanoi : People´s Army Publishing House (1979)
    ● NVA´s General Hoang Minh Thao / « Fighting on the Tay Nguyen Front » / Hanoi : People´s Army Publishing House (2004)
    ● NVA´s General Van Tien Dung / « Dai thang mua Xuan – Our Great Spring Victory » / Hanoi : People´s Army Publishing House (2003)
    ● USAF General William W. Momyer. / « The Vietnamese Air Force, 1951-1975, An Analysis Of its Role in Combat » / Washington D.C. : Office of Air Force History (1975)
    ● USAF Major A.J.C. Lavalle, ed. / « Air Power and the 1972 Spring Invasion » / Washington D.C. : Office of Air Force History (1985)
    The Battle of Kontum - Home of Lt. Col. John G. « Jack » Heslin (US-Army, retired)
    EPoetryWorld.com - exclusive poetry of John J Duffy (Website of John J. Duffy)
    Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Quân s

  8. #8
    Regular phoggy's Avatar
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    I want to correct the last not complete link in my last post :
    The pictures of NVA´s forces were taken from the following website :
    Quân s

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    phoggy Reply

    Thanks, phoggy. Great story of brave men fighting for their country. All honor to the troops of 11th Airborne Battalion and their brothers flying in support of their efforts.

    Present Arms!
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    Great stuff, Phoggy.

    I echo The Dude's comments.
    Last edited by Albany Rifles; 10 May 11, at 14:16. Reason: I put the wrong name in!!!
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    Quote Originally Posted by phoggy View Post
    PART V :

    NVA´s infantry troops supported by a T-54 tank attacking on an ARVN´s position in MR-2.


    Two NVA´s soldiers, armed with B-40 and AK-47, fire on ARVN´s defensive lines.
    Great story.
    I think the tank in the first photo is a captured (?) M41 Bulldog, not a T-54. Perhaps a destroyed one because the shape looks pretty bad.
    In the second photo there is a body of a soldier in ARVN uniform with a M18 (?) recoilless rifle and a burnt Huey in background. Had the position or landing zone or part of it been captured? It seems to me a posed photo.

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    [B]@ Hanswu25 :[/B]
    I have taken these both pictures from the website www.armchairgeneral.com only to illustrate the fighting viewing from the side of NVA. These pictures were often posted without or very short and unclear comments.
    In first picture :
    You are right, HS25. It was a captured ARVN´s M-41-Walker Bulldog used by NVA forces.
    In the second picture :
    This picture showed a defense line of ARVN, which was overrun by NVA forces. Aside from the body of an ARVN soldier was a 90mm anti-tank weapon (M-67 recoilles rifle). This picture maybe show a corner of Phung Duc airfield in Military Region II.
    Three years after the Easter Offensive 1972 (called as the operation Nguyen Hue by NVA) , in March 1973, a fierce battle took place in this airfield between 53rd regiment of the ARVN´s 23rd infantry division and 2 regiments of the NVA´s 316th division. Finally, this airfield was taken by NVA forces as a prelude to the collapse of the whole ARVN forces in MR-2.

    [B]@ S2, Albany Rifles :[/B]
    Thanks for your encouragingly comments on my article.
    By the way, I have just come back from USA. Although it was only a short business trip, but I also had the opportunity to visit Washington and of course the 250 foot long polished black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. I also stopped at Panel 02W-Line 137 and touched first time the black granite wall engraved with the name of an young American soldier, whose death was described in my above article. For me it was an emotional feeling to remember that this young man had died in the last minute of his Vietnam tour 39 years ago at 22 years old.
    In memory of him I would like to write his name here once again - DALLAS LEE NIEHSEN.
    Rest in Peace, Dallas. And many thanks for your sacrifice in fighting with us for our freedom in Vietnam. Unfortunately, your sacrifice finally became useless : you lost your life and we lost our beloved country….

    The ex-Doc of the ARVN´s 11th Airborne Battalion, Major To Pham Lieu, had also passed away in 1997 in USA. At the end of his long way he finally could return to Hill Charlie to reunite with Bao, Thinh, Khanh and his other beloved Angels in Red Hats of the 11th Airborne Battalion ….

    After Charlie, Duffy gave then Major Me his M-18 (CAR-15) before he left Vietnam. With this weapon of his american friend Me had continued fighting with his Airborne Battlion from Quang Tri to Thuong Duc till the end of the long war in 1975. Me and his family could escape out of Vietnam after the collapse of the RVN on a Navy ship. They finally reached Subic Bay in the Philippines. As other military men on the ship, Me turned over his weapon to the US authorities. They sang the last time the Vietnamese National Anthem with tears in their eyes. Farewell Vietnam…..

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    Phoggy,

    I haven't had time to read your magnificent article in full, but I just wanted to thank you for posting it. The stories of the ARVN are terribly under-represented. Worse, most of those that are told are the bad stories - units & officers who did a less than stellar job. I still get chils when I read about the raw courage shown at battles like Xuan Loc. Stories like this They need to be told. Good work.


    Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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