Camp Vinh Gia

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By Richard H Dick James

54 years ago, November 1966, I was a SGT E-5 Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-422 (Camp Vinh Gia), Company D (Detachment C-4), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border.

We got a new pet in November, to replace squeaky the otter, who died suddenly. Slim was a puppy who wasn’t the least bit slim. In fact, he was very overweight. I don’t know how he gained so much weight. Everything he ate seemed to go through his body and out his ass, onto our floor. He was full of life and loved to hide our shoes and thongs. He slept in SP4 Greene’s (Light Weapons Leader) bed every night.

Camp Muc Hoa (A-414) conducted a very productive operation, on 22 November. The terrain of the operation was flooded, with some high ground above the water level. Three U.S. Navy Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles (PACVs) and three Navy Bell UH-1B Sea Wolf gunship helicopters departed Moc Hoa at 0730 hours, while a Command & Control (C&C) ship departed five minutes later, and CIDG (VN Civilian Irregular Defense Group) troops departed in UH-1D helicopters, five minutes after that. Air boats departed at 0835.

Some difficulty was experienced enroute by the air boats, having to bypass several high ground locations. The helicopters initiated combat with an estimated 75 VC, in 25 sampans. The VC had been attempting to withdraw. Upon receiving the report, the airboats and PACVs sped to the location, engaging in combat with the VC.

In addition, CIDG troops were helilifted into a position east of the location. They advanced, but had to be extracted, due to the proximity of the Cambodian border. As usual the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and Cambodian border saved the VC from annihilation. VC losses were 56 KIA (verified by U.S. troops), while friendly losses were just one VN Mike Force (SF-led troops used for emergencies and support) soldier WIA. The operation ended before 1200 hours (noon).

Thursday, 24 November was like every other weekday at Vinh Gia. On Stateside television I had seen news broadcasts of troops being fed special Thanksgiving turkey dinners, with all the fixings. After returning home I also saw it on TV, big turkey dinners being fed to the troops in the field, in South Vietnam, on Thanksgiving Day. At Vinh Gia, we ate nothing special. It was just like every other day.

SFC Richard (Operations Sergeant) was getting antsy to get out of Vinh Gia and go home. He kept waiting for helicopter transportation, to no avail. He began to get nervous about it. He would even get on our radio and transmit in the blind (no intended target) on the ground-to-air frequency, basically begging any chopper pilot to pick him up at Vinh Gia. He was offering a bottle of Crown Royal (expensive liquor) for any pilot who picked him up.

He was beginning to get so hyper that we figured we could really put one over on him. One of the first things a “Green Beret” learns from experience, is that if you display any weakness or fear, those weaknesses and fears will be capitalized on by your friends, as well as your “questionable” friends.

Lieutenant deGyurky (XO) and I set out small explosive charges in various parts of the camp, with time fuse attached, and guards nearby, at a safe distance from the charges. We warned Camp Tinh Bien (the only SF camp within sight of ours) and the LLDB (Vietnamese Special Forces, our counterparts) about our intentions, and set things up with the CIDG, especially the men manning the machine guns that evening. Smitty, our Radio Operator Supervisor, had gone into the communications bunker to notify our closest SF camp of the upcoming show, and to unhook all the antennas leading to our radios, so no transmission could be sent by radio.

During our after-dark nightly poker game I excused myself to “go to the latrine.” I snuck out of the team house and set all the charges, lighting time fuses, while telling the machine gunners and other men on guard when to begin sporadic firing, followed by all-out firing. I then went back in and resumed the card game like nothing happened.

At a preset time, the first “incoming round” (explosive charge) exploded, followed by several more. This was immediately followed by a smattering of machine gun and rifle fire from the camp perimeter. In short order the machine gun and carbine firing grew in intensity, as it would during a camp attack. It sounded just like the camp was under attack.

SFC Richard jumped up immediately upon the first explosion, knocking over the table, and sending our poker chips all over the floor. He immediately ran to the radio bunker, which we knew would be his first destination. He keyed the microphone and immediately began broadcasting in the blind, telling “the world” that the camp was under attack, and pleading for support.

The Vietnamese 81-mm mortar gunners took their stations in camp and immediately began firing parachute illumination rounds (flares). I did the same with our 81mm mortar. Although training, and the field manual, called for a five-man mortar crew for the 81mm mortar, I was able to crew the weapon by myself, acting as squad leader, gunner, assistant gunner, and ammunition bearer. After all, I was only having to send out illumination rounds, towards nowhere in particular, and at no set distance. It was just “for show.” No aiming, nor precision, was involved in this “firefight.” It made for an eerie scene. What a show! It was a great demonstration of what is known as the “mad minute,” that short period of time that all defensive weapons are firing protective fire for the camp during an all-out attack.

Although expected, his reaction was hilarious, to us. We laughed sooooo hard. When he realized what we had done, he was irate. Truthfully, that’s a nice way of describing his reaction. After it was all over, and the antennas had been re-attached to the radios, Tinh Bien (the nearby SF camp) called to congratulate us on what they said was an “outstanding fireworks show.” We were oh-so-proud. SFC Richard never did see the humor in what we had done. In fact, his nerves were pretty shot.

From my book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”), and #4 are available on Amazon, or from me.

PHOTOS: “Slim” playing with “Henry,” our pet hawk / “Slim” sleeping with SGT Greene / Me sighting our 81mm mortar (my photos)

SLURP SENDS!

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