By Richard H Dick James
55 years ago, April 1966. I was a Sergeant E-5 assigned to Camp Cai Cai (Detachment A-412), 5th Special Forces Group, near the Cambodian border in the Mekong Delta, and on the Cai Cai River, as the Demolition Specialist on the team. On the 25th, my eye having recovered, and my short in-country R&R ended, I returned to Cai Cai, a two-hour flight on a “Caribou,” via Can Tho, with a load of food, and my eye patch removed. While I was gone SSG Anderson, our Intelligence Sergeant, departed for R&R in Hong Kong. We were authorized a two-week R&R during our one-year assignment in Nam. Several locations were options, including Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Australia, Hawaii, etc. Because of his departure, I was temporarily assigned to his duties (in addition to my own), which included intelligence and advisor to the CIDG Reconnaissance Platoon. The Recon Platoon was the best CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka our “mercenaries”) unit we had in camp, having had extra combat training. Lieutenant Doht (our XO) also told me that I had been put in for an Army Commendation Medal with “V” Device (for valor) for my part in the 3 April combat action. On the 24th, Lieutenant Holsapple had arrived to replace Lieutenant Doht as XO.
LT Doht was assigned to another team to serve out the remainder of his year in country. By that time, our team hadn’t received a movie in about a month. No big thing, but it didn’t help morale to know that the C-Team saw movies every night but wouldn’t send any to us. That seemed to be par for the course on getting anything from the C-Team. About that time, we learned we had at least two VC among our CIDG troops. The trouble was that we didn’t know who they were. We began a new guard system at this time also. Rather than having only one team member on guard at night, we began assigning two men at a time to guard duty 2030 hours (8:30 p.m.) – 0630 hours (6:30 a.m.), to lessen the chance of a team assassination. Cai Cai had aircraft flying in and out on a regular basis the day I returned.
It had to be obvious to the VC and Cambodian outpost that something was going on. I had never seen so many cargo aircraft in the air and on the ground at our little camp. What was going on was a planned large combat operation south of our camp, with the goal of easing our VC problem in that sector. The operation was a result of the intelligence gathered earlier. Military transport aircraft kept offloading supplies at our camp. I loaded what I would need for an overnight stay, into my small, lightweight, indigenous rucksack. I didn’t load much into it because I knew I’d have to hump the rucksack from where we would be dropped off for the assault the next day, back to Cai Cai. In the early afternoon of the 26th numerous UH-1D “Huey” helicopters approached camp. A couple helicopter gunships circled camp, looking for possible VC. While the gunships circled, the remainder of the Hueys came in and touched down on the dirt landing strip just outside the front gate at Cai Cai. Some of us (U.S. Special Forces and CIDG), laden with weapons, ammo, and hand grenades, ran through the swirling dust and dirt thrown up by the twirling rotor of our Huey, stepped onto the skid, and jumped into the aircraft, quickly finding a place to sit. I sat on the web seat against the firewall, with my back against the firewall.
The CIDG were crowded, squatting on the aluminum floor. As soon as all the aircraft were loaded, they lifted off, beginning their flight to A-430 (Don Phuoc), and then A-425 (Thuong Thoi). The purpose for this flight was for us to fly to nearby camps and remain overnight (RON) prior to the next day’s heliborne assault. The Huey was unlike any other helicopter I had ridden, a unique aircraft, to say the least. I found it difficult getting used to the method a Huey takes off. At first it always seemed the helicopter would dive into the ground upon taking off. The pilot increased power with the throttle and increased the cyclic to lift the Huey up a foot or so, blowing dust clouds off to each side, then pushed the stick forward a bit, tilting the nose downward (seemingly to fly into the ground). We then flew parallel to the ground until enough airspeed was attained to begin a climb, some more steep than others. The climb was exhilarating, almost like taking a very fast elevator “up.” The idea that we were so close to the ground, within range of any Viet Cong small arms didn’t help the pucker factor at all. When we did fly at higher altitudes, the flights always seemed so serene, as if on a tourist trip over a beautiful colorful tapestry of green and brown ground covering, forming farmlands and rice paddies. At the higher altitudes the air was also cool, and not muggy. The door gunners sat on jump seats on the left and right-side doorways, on alert behind their M-60 .30-caliber machine guns, their eyes scouring the terrain on either side of our chopper. When we arrived at A-430, the group of helicopters destined for Thuong Thoi (mine included) circled, while the Hueys with A-430-destined troops touched down there and disgorged their troops. After unloading their troops the Hueys climbed, and joined our formation.
The formation then flew to Thuong Thoi (a newly-constructed A-camp), where I and the troops aboard my aircraft offloaded. The following day we were scheduled to depart that camp, to be the heliborne attacking force in the south sector of an intended target south of Cai Cai. Troops in Cai Cai were to be a blocking force, as we drove the VC north toward Cai Cai. Camp Thuong Thoi (A-425) was still under construction, being in the process of moving from their campsite at An Long, about twelve miles downriver. The camp was a triangular shape, with one side completely bordering the Mekong River. Its role was to suppress overt VC activity and cut off VC infiltration and supply channels along the river. They were aided by U.S. Navy river patrol boats. Before our arrival one of their assault boats had been sent to Tan Chau to get some bulldozer parts. Shortly after we arrived, while returning from Tan Chau, the boat motor failed, leaving it dead in the water.
It was then ambushed by VC while it floated, defenseless. All three occupants (SGT Baumert, an interpreter, and the Filipino Technical Representative operating the boat) went into the water. The Filipino’s body was quickly recovered, but SGT Brent Baumert (A-425 Radio Operator) and the interpreter were listed as MIA, their bodies later found. Thinking that the attack was a setup for a larger ambush of relief forces the IV Corps Mike Force out of Don Phuc sent one company of KKK (Khmer Kampuchea Krom, mercenary CIDG from a Cambodian political faction) with USSF advisers on an inland route to the incident site, while another company of CIDG from A-425 with USSF advisers was sent on a scrounged LCM, which landed them at the site. We immediately volunteered to join the emergency rescue effort, to add firepower, but they wouldn’t let us accompany the relief patrol because of our impending operation and lack of familiarity with the area. The A-430 Mike Force unit out of Don Phuc was stopped by a minefield, which wounded one of the American SF and a KKK, who had part of a foot blown off, later dying. 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.PHOTO: My Recon Platoon identification scarf (my photos).SLURP SENDS!