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Camp Vinh Gia

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)


From Schofield Steven

The first photo is of the Austin Healy Sprite that my good friend in the 1SFG loaned to me while he was TDY to Vietnam. I drove it for those six months and really liked that little car. Jerry M. Weaver returned to Okinawa and reclaimed his car. I was discharged and went on to Laos with USAID. Jerry reenlisted and then went to a full tour with the 5SFG in Vietnam. He was KIA on July 16, 1970. He was killed by a CIDG he startled while making rounds of the night time security of his “A” camp. The second photo is of jerry while still on Okinawa (baseball cap). RIP Jerry.

General Edward Porter Alexander (Part 6)

The Army of Northern Virginia was really feeling the pain from the federal blockade so Lee decided to invade the giant storehouse to the north in Pennsylvania. General Meade was the new commander of the federal army and the Gettysburg battle was the result related in part one. Meade was a good officer so he was left in charge. Lincoln decided that to end the war was General Grant would be the man to take over as supreme commander. With nearly 250,000 men and 582 guns, Grant attacked Lee.

The desperate battle took place over the same ground where Hooker had met with disaster, the Wilderness. The result was nearly the same only Grant didn’t retreat back across the river. Longstreet was shot though the neck with a serious would that cut the nerve and left his right arm useless for the rest of his life. A union battery “dropped a beautiful 3 shot group” and Alexander’s horse Dixie caught a 2 inch piece of shrapnel in her neck about a foot behind her ear. She let out a scream as she reared on her hind legs. Alexander tried to dismount as it appeared she might fall on him, but his spyglass strap hung on the cantle of the saddle. He managed to break the strap and jump clear.

Poor old dixie was running here and there with flying blood everywhere when one of his mounted officers asked he should put her out of her misery. It appeared that an artery was cut, but the officers couldn’t get close enough for a decent brain shot with his pistol. The faithful horse’s life was saved when they decided to herd her close to the supply wagons so they wouldn’t have to carry the saddle and gear so far. It turned out to be only a flesh wound and she recovered in 6 weeks. After the war she was retired to a farm in Georgia.

When Grant hit the brick wall of Lee’s army in the Wilderness, the feds couldn’t believe they were actually continuing the fight by making a quick march to Spotsylvania Courthouse. On May 7, 1864 it turned into a footrace with Lee coming in first. The butternut scarecrows dug in with bayonets and tin cups. In contrast, the federal troops had plenty of picks and shovels. Sharpshooting and artillery fire was hot and one of Alexander’s 24 pound brass howitzers caught a 12 pound solid shot nearly straight down the bore. The muzzle was slightly elongated, but otherwise unharmed. Colonel Frank Huger ordered a crew to remove the shot. He loaded it into a 12 pr. Napoleon and fired it back. He said ” it apparently knew the road”.

The fighting at the Bloody Angle was some of the most horrific of the war. Hand to hand was the normal of the day with bayonets stabbed into the faces between log parapets and point blank musket fire doing brutal damage. A 2ft oak tree was cut down from musket fire alone.

Alexanders’s boys were loading a double charge canister as fast as they could ram it down the bore at 2 to 3 shots per minute. A carpet of blue covered the field while the ditches were filled with the dead and dying. The 15 days of combat at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania resulted in 11 generals killed and 36,000 casualties from both armies. Grant was just getting warmed up.

Operation Ivory Coast

Today is the 50 th anniversary of the raid in North Vietnam on the Son Tay prison to rescue US POWs. The plan and execution are straight out of some movie plot. 65 Army Green Berets were flown into the very dangerous air space of North Vietnam, proabbly the most heavily defended air spaces in the world at that time, and purposefully crash-landed a helicopter for off the Green Berets right in the middle of the prison camp to start off the raid.

Sad to say they didn’t rescue any POWS since they had all been moved. But the raid was a success with only two wounded and two choppers lost. One of which was lost on purpose as said above. An estimated 40 dead PAVN soldiers was killed in the raid though and the raid scared the hell out of the North Vietnamese, having a strategic effect in the long run.

The operation is an early version of the things that would go on to define Delta Force. Even the gear used was a hint to things to come. You can see in pictures the use of the early “red dot” optic mounted to CAR-15s in photos from the mission.

The result from the effort did cause Hanoi to consolidate the POWS from sevreal smaller camps together. Being among each other was a huge boost in morale for the POWS and helped with survival.

Recon Team Pick

RT Pick just after coming back from a POW snatch mission in Cambodia. Story of this mission is in Plaster’s book SOG. Left to Right is RJ Graham (1-0), Mike Crimmings (1-1) and straphangers, Mike Ash and Frank Opel. Thank you Mike Ash for the i.d – I recently asked Mike Ash what was so funny – his response was basically did you see their eyes when Rob starting firing at them with his bow !! The story i was told by both Mike Crimmings son and Mike Ash is one mission they jumped into a bomb crator whilst being tracked by the NVA – a fire fight started ammo began to run low and at this point rob grabbed his trusty bow and unleased a storm of arrows on the very surprised NVA. It must have worked they all survived the war