By Richard H. Dick James
55 years ago, July 1966. I was a Sergeant E-5 assigned to Camp Cai Cai (Team A-412), 5th Special Forces Group, near the Cambodian border in the Mekong Delta, and on the Cai Cai River, as the Assistant Intelligence Sergeant on the team.
I was finally released from the hospital on 5 July, after 14 long days in a hospital bed in Saigon (due to a blood clot and an unrelated bad infection in my leg), and immediately proceeded to the C-team at Can Tho on a one hour UH-1B “Huey” helicopter flight. Because the infection hadn’t fully healed at that time I was held at the C-team for further evaluation. The C-4 doctor said that I was released too soon (I guess I pushed them too hard for release at the hospital) and wanted to return me to the hospital. Saigon was the last place I wanted to be. He felt my leg wouldn’t be healed for at least a month.
In the meantime, C-4 decided to reassign me to another A-team, Detachment A-422 at Vinh Gia, since my six months at Cai Cai was almost done. No amount of pleading would change their decision. I tried volunteering for the IV Corps Mike Force but was told that the C-team wanted me to take a long rest from hazardous assignments. That really sucked!
The IV Corps Mike Force had been formed in February 1966, as Detachment A-430, in nearby Don Phuc, as a mobile reaction force for the IV Corps area. They had three missions; reinforcement of camps being constructed or under attack, raiding and patrolling, and conducting small-scale conventional operations.
As their importance grew, so did their size over the years. The Special Forces cadre had been selected from teams in the IV Corps area. Each Corps Mike Force was a company manned by 184 CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka our hired indigenous “mercenaries”), of which 34 were assigned to the reconnaissance platoon. These units were designed to be deployed in minimum time. Mike Force soldiers were usually better than average CIDG, because they were trained better, and paid more.
On the 9th I took a two-hour flight to Cai Cai, via Cao Lanh, on a UH-1D “Huey,” to pick up my belongings and brief the team members taking over my duties. I found out I had missed a lot while in the hospital. Several team members had been transferred to other teams in IV Corps. SSG Anderson (our former Assistant Intelligence Sergeant) was at another camp when their Demo man was detonating a 4.2” mortar white phosphorus (WP) round. He made a mistake that resulted in he and Anderson being slightly burned and their team sergeant being badly burned in his leg.
On the 5th, SSG Thompson (Heavy Weapons Leader) had been on a patrol with CPT Cincotti (CO). They had just walked by an unseen buried VC mine when the CIDG soldier behind them stepped on it. The CIDG was killed and SSG Thompson slightly wounded. The following day a CIDG patrol was in a firefight with the VC. The CIDG suffered 1 KIA, 2 MIA and 1 WIA. I knew the wounded CIDG and one of the CIDG MIAs.
That evening I was complimented by a visiting high-ranking officer on what he called an outstanding and “ingenious” homemade Fire Direction Control setup. During that stay at Cai Cai I also received a letter from a friend, Stewart Stephenson, in Texas. He had been a medic in the 6th SFG with me at Ft. Bragg. We became good friends. In the letter was a birth announcement card. He and his wife had named their first son, born on 1 July, “Richard James” Stephenson. Wow! What an honor. I was floored, but overwhelmingly happy. Sometime in July, the 5th Special Forces Group established Detachment B-50, Project Omega, headquartered in Nha Trang, later moved to Ban Me Thout. It was created for the purpose of operating long-range patrols and gathering intelligence in the remote Central Highlands areas of the I Field Force Area of Operations (AO). It also worked occasionally with the U.S. Navy, patrolling the central Vietnamese coast. The unit’s fighting force consisted of three Mike Force companies, called commando companies, used as a reaction/exploitation force. B-50 was originally composed of four “Road Runner” teams, used to conduct long-range reconnaissance. Four more teams were added later, and sixteen at an even later date. Each team was manned by four indigenous troops, posing as VC, to observe enemy activity. The indigenous troops consisted of Jah, Sedang, and Rhade Montagnards, as well as Cham and ethnic Chinese. The Road Runner teams were transferred to Detachment B-57, Project Gamma, in 1968.
I departed Cai Cai on the 11th, on a two hour UH-1D “Huey” flight to Can Tho, via Muc Hoa. Much to my dismay the C-team ordered me to report to the hospital in Saigon again, because of my leg. I immediately boarded a CV-2 “Caribou” out of Can Tho and headed to Saigon; a two hour-flight via Vinh Long and My Tho.
Upon reaching Saigon I went to the 17th Field Hospital and was re-admitted. Two days later I was re-released and told to spend a week in Saigon on convalescence leave. I was fit to be tied. I stayed at Camp Goodman (an SF camp) in Saigon. Most of my time was spent in the camp bar, since I didn’t have anything else to do. Bored wasn’t the word to describe how I felt. I was going absolutely nuts.
While on convalescence I ran across sergeants Kope and Stipsky, old friends from the 6th Special Forces Group a couple years back. We had a night on the town together, and reminisced. I also saw SSG Durham, our team Radio Operator at Cai Cai. He was on his way home on Emergency Leave due to the death of his father.
I learned I had missed a team visit by none other than John Wayne. All the team members enjoyed visiting with him very much. He was trying to learn as much as possible about SF and A-teams before beginning his starring role in the movie “Green Berets,” based on the book of the same title by Robin Moore. Both Robin Moore and John Wayne were later made honorary “Green Berets.”
Durham told me that SFC Noakes (who had been with me on the patrol the day Captain Donker was killed) had received a direct commission to First Lieutenant after transferring to another team. He also said that Cai Cai had almost been wiped out. In the middle of the night somebody had set a fire in camp that burned down a barracks and set an ammo dump on fire, sending bullets and mortar rounds in all directions and creating havoc within the camp. The camp had to be evacuated until the fire was out.
He said some of the team members were injured trying to climb over the barbed wire entanglements to get away from the camp fire. MSG Allard (Operations Sergeant, recently promoted) had run through the barbed wire in his bare feet and was not able to walk on them for a few days. CPT Cincotti (Team CO) didn’t even have time to put his pants on and was cut up quite a bit also.
Durham said that a few days before the fire one of the CIDG companies (the same company that lived in the barracks in which the fire was begun) had surrounded the USSF team house with loaded weapons, ready to make a full-scale attack on the team. The situation was diffused after some peace talks. We had previous problems with that same company in earlier months. For some reason the LLDB Camp Commander was afraid to discipline that company.
I was surprised that Cai Cai hadn’t undergone a full-scale attack by the enemy during the time I had been there. We had been generating a lot of contacts with the VC. Usually, in fact almost always, when a Special Forces CIDG camp became a nuisance to enemy operations, it led to the enemy attacking said camp in great numbers, with the objective of overrunning and destroying the camp.
Such was not the case in Cai Cai, although we were certainly a nuisance to local VC activities, and what had been a main infiltration route into South Vietnam. Throughout the year, Cai Cai continued to be a thorn in the side of the enemy and continued to be engaged in bitter combat with the enemy.
MACV conducted a study of the worthiness of the Special Forces CIDG camps in South Vietnam, and the desirability of phasing out all SF CIDG camps, and converting them to Regional Force status. That was the result of the deployment of U.S. conventional units in South Vietnam, especially in II and III Corps, in mid-1965. The study determined that the CIDG camps provided significant intelligence, that was very useful to the U.S. conventional units, as well as being valuable staging areas for ARVN and Free World Military Assistance Forces (FWMAF) offensive operations.
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: Camp Cai Cai (my photo) / John Wayne at Cai Cai during my hospitalization (Robert Johnson [teammate & team medical specialist] photos)SLURP SENDS!