By Richard H. Dick James
54 years ago, June 1967, I was a Staff Sergeant working as the team Demolition Sergeant, Heavy Weapons Leader and junior Radio Operator on Detachment A-422 (Vinh Gia), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border.
I was on my 6-month voluntary extension in Vietnam. In mid-June, after months of rumors, it became official that our team would be departing Vinh Gia on June 30th, turning the camp over to the LLDB (VN Special Forces). Since I was going to be going home in a couple months I began sending boxes of personal belongings home. Rather than opening a new camp (as had been the original rumor), higher headquarters decided to split the team up and send us to other teams as replacements/reinforcements.
I was tentatively scheduled to go to the A detachment at Moc Hoa in the Plain of Reeds, near Parrot’s Beak, as Demolition Sergeant. The other possibilities were to go to a new camp (My Phuc Tay) as Demolition Sergeant or the B-Team at Chau Doc as senior advisor to the camp at Vinh Gia. Knowing the way things worked in Vietnam, I figured I’d know where I was going when I went, and not before. It was a feather in our cap that we were going to turn the camp over to the Vietnamese. It meant that we had done our job well, basically pacifying the area well enough to allow the Vietnamese to provide security themselves. It also meant that we had done a good job training and advising the CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka our Vietnamese “mercenary” force) and LLDB, to the point where they could work without our supervision or guidance.
Amazingly I was told on the 20th that I would be assigned to the B-Team at Chau Doc as a Radio Operator. They were apparently impressed by my radio abilities at Vinh Gia and wanted me at the B-Team. I guess CPT Morris was pleased with my communications skills (as well as my intelligence work), at least enough so that I was recommended for awards of MOS’s in communications and intelligence (which was authorized and added to my personnel files). I had a third and fourth Special Forces MOS (Military Occupational Specialty, aka job description) assigned to me, that of 05B4S (The “05B” was Radio Operator, “4” was NCO rank, and the “S” designated Special Forces qualification), and 11F4S (Operations & Intelligence Specialist). I learned later that CPT Morris had also put me in for a Bronze Star Medal.
We found out that SSG Smith (our Radio Operator Supervisor) and CPT Morris (our CO) were going to be assigned to the B-Team also. Smitty was going to be the B-Team Radio Operator Supervisor. Since he and I would be the only radio operators at the B-Team we were going to have to work twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. As supervisor, Smitty would have to be on the job during the day, so that left the night shift for me. Oh, joy! On the 22nd I was sent to our C-team at Can Tho (on two-hour notice) by helicopter, to mail packages home from my teammates, and pick up some Piastres (Vietnamese money) for the team, as well as pick up some repaired radio equipment for the VN at Camp Vinh Gia. On the 23rd I was transported with the radio equipment on a truck convoy from Can Tho to Chau Doc. Now that was a trip I would rather not have made, especially with just 3 months remaining in country. In Can Tho, I found the deuce-and-a-half truck with the thickest sandbag floor on the truck bed and loaded onto the back of it, wanting the maximum protection from possible mines on the road. The 122-kilometer (76 mile) trip was full of potholes and mostly followed alongside the Bassac River.
The trip seemed like it took forever. In fact it was at least a four hour trip. Road conditions and traffic kept us at a slow crawl. We passed through numerous small villages, as well as a large city named Long Xuyen. I sat near the edge of the truck bed, so I could see ahead, and to the side and rear. I had my M-16 rifle resting on my leg, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. To me, every Vietnamese (and there were a ton of them) was a potential VC, ready to throw a grenade, or initiate an ambush. It’s a shame, but we couldn’t even trust the mama-sans pushing or pulling carts of materials, or the kids riding their bicycles. It was a monstrous relief when we finally pulled into Chau Doc, and I got off at the B-team compound, unloading my gear, as well as that destined for our soon-to-be-closed camp at Vinh Gia. The following day I rode a chopper to Vinh Gia. An hour after arriving, I was on a reaction force out of Vinh Gia to cut off a retreating VC force. You might know, the VC changed directions and got away. They were reported to have had two Caucasians with them, possibly American POWs. And our camp was supposedly pacified enough to turn over to the Vietnamese? During the past year, the CIDG program had grown substantially in South Vietnam, with the opening of twenty-two new camps, while closing nine camps in areas considered to be “pacified.” The new camps took on the designation of ‘fighting camps,” while a few in the IV Corps region were labeled “floating camps.” The “floating camps” (Cai Cai became one) were constructed so that operations could continue as the waters rose during the Monsoon season. Portions of the camps were constructed to float on the water. All the buildings in the camp were erected 1½ stories tall, with a floor that floated, rising as the water rose. Bunkers, fighting positions, and helipads were made to float upon the water as it rose. 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.PHOTO: Me (lower left) on an assault boat, leading our camp barge west on the Vinh Te Canal, attempting to cut off the Viet Cong unit (my photo) / Photo showing the buildings on stilts at Cai Cai (from Stanton’s book “Special Forces at War)SLURP SENDS!