By Richard H. Dick James
54 years ago, July 1966. I was a Sergeant E-5 newly assigned to Camp Vinh Gia (A-422), 5th Special Forces Group, on the Vinh Te Canal near the Cambodian border in the Mekong Delta, as the Demolition Sergeant on the team.
The team at Vinh Gia wasted no time at all sending me to Giang Thanh. A mere six days after arriving at Vinh Gia, 28 July, I was temporarily assigned to Giang Thanh, to join SP4 Stephens, our junior medic. I took a short ½ hour ride on a UH-1D “Huey” to the outpost. The poor guy I was replacing was mumbling to himself as he loaded onto the helicopter. He had been at the outpost for a few months.
Even though it was my first time in Giang Thanh, I was in charge of our two-man Giang Thanh “team.” Giang Thanh was where my buddy, Daryl Stannard, had been killed just two months prior. That weighed heavy on my mind. I learned to hate Giang Thanh, not just for that reason. There was absolutely nothing to do there. Being assigned to the boredom of Giang Thanh reminded me of what a person might feel like, if assigned to watch paint dry. It was that boring. Because there were only two of us team members at the outpost, we could not leave the outpost, even on combat patrols. That sucked!
The Giang Thanh outpost was at the confluence of the Vinh Te Canal and the Giang Thanh River, a mere 100 feet, directly across the water, from Cambodia. We could throw a stone (or hand grenade) into Cambodia from the outpost, and vice versa. This outpost was a worse assignment than Vinh Gia. The two assigned USSF (us) lived in a three-room building that had been the Giang Thanh River Custom House, a small building that could be best described as a cinder block, stucco-covered hell-hole. The building faced the Vinh Te Canal, and the Cambodian border, with the red-lettered, one-foot high, easy to make out from afar, USASF ADVISORY painted over the white-walled front “porch.”
The enemy sure didn’t need any damn intelligence, to know where we lived and worked. In addition, none of the building was strengthened by anything, not even sandbags. One well-placed mortar round (which the enemy was known to accomplish) would have flattened the entire building. Do you want a reason for sleepless nights? You’ve got it! The only perk we had was a Vietnamese cook/maid that came in daily.
There was bare minimum electricity at Giang Thanh. The outpost was manned by a company of Cambodian CIDG. Their families lived inside the compound. The outpost was basically surrounded by enemy supporters. The village of Giang Thanh was next to the camp perimeter on the south and west sides. The town and camp were separated only by a barbed wire fence. It was estimated that about 55% of the village was VC sympathetic. In addition, Cambodia was a Viet Cong haven, into which allied forces were not permitted to enter, or fly over. That didn’t make for a comfortable situation.
I always considered Giang Thanh to be a heartbeat away from annihilation by the VC. USSF personnel in the outpost pretty much realized that any serious Viet Cong attack on the outpost would be a sure victory for the VC. In fact, there was no safe direction for us to escape in event of an attack. According to the “Rules of Engagement” we had to adhere to, the Viet Cong or NVA (North Vietnamese) could have massed directly across the canal from us, and we could not have even fired upon them, until they crossed the canal. Any type of meaningful reinforcements would have taken at least an hour to reach our outpost.
The Giang Thanh outpost was one of the furthest from allied airfields, on the westernmost border of IV Corps and South Vietnam. Added to that, the fact that there would be no way to give us air support without either beginning or ending the bombing or strafing run over Cambodian soil (and either would be counter to the “Rules of Engagement” for allied forces), and we had a no-win situation.
To make matters worse, decisions about committing air or ground forces in a timely manner to a small outpost such as Giang Thanh would be made by commanders who weren’t anywhere close to our outpost, would never even have heard of it, and seemed to care more about following the rules, than about the lives of the endangered men on the ground. Apparently, the enemy considered the outpost to be no trouble to their operational plan.
Other than the above sickening thoughts, there was absolutely nothing to do in the outpost. I always figured that the only reason the outpost even existed was to protect the nearby village, and because the Giang Thanh River flowing out of Cambodia, and into the Vinh Te Canal, made for a perfect infiltration route for enemy troops. And, I guess the reasoning for having two USSF there as advisors, was because of the size of the unit assigned there, a CIDG company of about one hundred men.
Giang Thanh’s communications call sign was “Texas.” Because we had the feeling that our outpost, and thus us, was “out of sight, out of mind,” I always signed of at the end of radio communications with “Slurp, at Texas, out; remember the Alamo!” We couldn’t leave the outpost due to safety reasons, and there was no physical work to be done inside the facility.
Because of not having any trustworthy soldiers available to guard our team house, one of us had to be awake and alert 24/7. I again decided I wanted a new assignment, so I immediately busied myself typing a request for assignment to Delta Project. The request apparently never got further than the C-team.
From my soon to come out, book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”) & #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”) are already available on Amazon, and #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”) is also soon to come.
PHOTOS: Giang Thanh location (my diagram) / Giang Thanh on Google (Google maps)