By Richard H Dick James
55 years ago, 20 March 1966, I was a Sergeant E-5 in the 5th Special Forces Group, assigned to Detachment A-412 in Camp Cai Cai, near the Cambodian border of the Mekong Delta, and on the Cai Cai River, as the Demolition Specialist on the team. I was also the acting FDC (Fire Direction Control) for our 4.2” mortar. “Laws are inoperative in war.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.): Pro Milone. During the month I had been at Cai Cai, the Cambodian outpost had bracketed our camp with their British 25-pounder artillery piece (so named because the artillery round weighed 25 pounds) every Sunday, for no particular reason except to show us they had our range. On 20 March one of their artillery rounds landed inside the camp, wounding two CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka “mercenaries”) soldiers. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Screw the “Rules of Engagement” (ROE). It was time to get even with the bastards. CPT Donker, with permission from the VN Special Forces commander, decided to send a raiding party into Cambodia, to raise a little hell.
Some team members, and a few Vietnamese CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) were assigned to the raiding party. I wanted to go in the worst way, but it wasn’t going to happen. I was told that I was needed in camp, to be the camp FDC, since we were also going to hit them with our 4.2” mortar. At least I was going to get to join in the fun. That night the small group saddled up, They were to pound the outpost and act as FO (Forward Observer), to radio back target acquisition information, so our 4.2” mortar could add some pain.
The raiding party took a 57mm recoilless rifle with them, and headed north, towards the Cambodian outpost. Policy in Vietnam at the time stated that we were not to fire upon Cambodian troops, nor were we EVER permitted to cross the border into Cambodia. The enemy and Cambodian soldiers had no such policy, knew our policy, and flaunted their freedom to the utmost. We abided by policy . . . up to a point. Policy or not, if they fired at us, by damn we were going to return fire. The recoilless rifle weighed 44 pounds. It could be fired from the shoulder. Fired from the shoulder (rather than from the weapon’s tripod, which weighed an additional 53 pounds) it had an effective range of about 1,000 yards, while it had a 1,900-yard effective range when fired from its mount. The small force snuck across the border, set up in a location that had a good field of fire at the Cambodian outpost, and cut loose with the 57mm. I was able to watch the fun from the north berm, until it was time for me to get to work in my FDC station (which was in my team house room). When the raiding party was done, we added 4.2” mortar fire in the direction of the outpost, with the men in the patrol reporting changes to be made on the four-deuce (4.2” mortar) to direct the fire into the outpost. We thumped them and thumped them hard! We celebrated after the patrol returned to camp. Of course, the After-Action Report (AAR) we submitted to the C-team read as if we were returning fire on a VC unit that had “opened fire on our camp” with mortar rounds, from inside our side of the border. No mention was made of the Cambodian outpost being any part of the action. Remembering the “ROE,” we could always apologize later, if some rounds “accidentally” hit their outpost, due to our faulty marksmanship, and possible “mis-calculation” of mortar round propellant charges. After all, the action began, and ended, in the dark. Our response would be, “Oops, sorry about that!” It was many years later that friendly forces were finally permitted to cross the border, in fact attacking across the border into Cambodia, in force. On the 21st, the first eleven U.S. Navy River Patrol Boats arrived in South Vietnam. By spring, there were about 75,000 Special Forces-advised Vietnamese civilian soldiers stationed throughout South Vietnam, resulting in most of South Vietnam containing an allied military forces presence. From Book #3, 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 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: Maps showing the relationship of the Cambodian outpost to our camp at Cai Cai (my images) / 57-mm recoilless rifle (Internet photo) / Our 4.2” mortar (my photo).SLURP SENDS!