By Richard H. Dick James
54 years ago, 1 August 1967, I was a SSG E-6, assigned as a radio operator on Detachment B-42 (Chau Doc), Company D (Detachment C-4), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam. I had just completed one month of the most boring work of my life.
The B-Team life just became too boring for me. I wasn’t cut out for a B-Team assignment. I begged, and pleaded, to go to an A-Team for my last month in country. My next tactic was going to be crying. 1LT Tomlinson (my former Vinh Gia XO, transferred to Ba Xoai as XO) asked if I could be assigned to Ba Xoai, the A-Team he was assigned to. CPT Morris (my former Vinh Gia CO, and present S-3 at the B-team) managed to talk the B-Team into assigning me there. Hooray! It was most likely due to my constant whining and sniveling, that I was transferred from Chau Doc to Ba Xoai. Hell, I was becoming tired of listening to me.
On 1 August, I was assigned to Ba Xoai, Detachment A-421. I managed to hop on a Bell UH-1 “Huey” to Ba Xoai. A Special Forces advised “fighting camp,” it was tasked with the missions of providing security for the area Cambodian and Vietnamese villages, as well as interdicting VC supply and infiltration routes in the Seven Mountain area.
The original team had been located at Ba Chuc on 15 January 1966, and had been numbered A-429. Just four months later, in May of that same year, the team was moved to Ba Xoai, the old Ba Chuc location kept open as a major outpost for the Ba Xoai camp.
The area was great for growing coconuts and rice, and the local farmers welcomed the protection of the “A” camp, as well as the relief from VC persecution and taxation. The main camp fortifications were mostly constructed with rocks (of plentiful supply locally, from the tall rocky Hill 58 [58 meters high] on the east side of the camp, as well as the neighboring mountains), and cement. The outer berm was constructed from earth and sandbags.
Like Vinh Gia, the camp had no runway, but it did have a helicopter landing pad and road access. Unlike Vinh Gia, there was a major road passing by Ba Xoai. Because of the entire camp being within range of enemy mortars and .51-caliber machine guns in the mountains near us, helicopters didn’t stick around for long, staying just long enough to unload and/or load quickly.
Although assigned as the Demolition Sergeant, because of a shortage of men I was asked to also act as Heavy Weapons Leader (since that was one of my secondary MOSs, aka Military Occupational Specialty), backup Radio Operator (another of my backup MOSs), Assistant Supply Sergeant, and gunner for both the 4.2” mortar and 106mm recoilless rifle. The team had received the M40 106mm recoilless rifle but had nobody (except me) who knew anything about operating the weapon.
The 106, besides being a great anti-armor weapon, was great for direct anti-personnel fire and long-range harassing fire. In later months, more teams would receive the weapon due to the increasing danger of NVA armor, especially in the northern portions of South Vietnam.
The only real high ground in the Mekong Delta, surrounded by flat terrain, was the Seven Mountains. Ba Xoai was in the Seven Mountains area, which was a known Viet Cong and NVA haven. Nui Cam, a mountain home to a large group of the enemy, was only about 1,000 meters southeast of us, and Nui Ta Bec was 2,500 meters north of our camp. Nui Giai, a VC controlled mountain with an array of tunnels throughout the mountain, was within two miles.
The A-camp site on the west side of Hill 58 was chosen because of its natural fortifications. A neighboring mountain, a 2,000-foot high pile of granite named Nui Coto and known by the locals as “Superstition Mountain,” was also a VC stronghold. The sides and inside of Nui Coto (the mountain was a large network of caves and tunnels) were “owned” by the VC. It was believed to be inhabited by ghosts and spirits. Some of the villages at the base of the mountains were inhabited by dependents of the VC who were up on the mountain, supporting their relatives on the mountains.
The VC atop Nui Giai looked down on us from within firing distance, but rarely fired on the camp for some reason, although our outpost at Ba Chuc was a constant target. There were rice paddy berms and marshlands in all directions from camp, affording good cover for enemy attackers. The village of Ba Xoai was directly north of the camp berm, offering another good enemy approach, with a lot of good cover and concealment.
Within the camp was a fifty-eight-meter high, steep hill. Although it seemed to have a 45° slope all around it, it had about a 45° slope only on the top half of the west side, and 30° on the other three sides. The last time the Ba Xoai camp had been fired on heavily had been on 19 May, when the radio operator lost his eye.
The hill was great for surveying the terrain and had an 81mm mortar on top of it, as well as the searchlight. The camp was manned by our SF A-Team, a Special Forces qualified Medical Research NCO (part of a Special Forces Medical Research Team doing mosquito research), and two “leg” searchlight crewmembers (for the camp’s sophisticated night security xenon Visible Light-Infrared Searchlight, on loan from the 9th Infantry Division).
I could have told the Medical Research NCO all he needed to know about mosquitoes in Nam. They were BIG, NOISY, and always VERY hungry.
The indigenous personnel included an LLDB (Luc Luong Dac Biet, aka SF Special Forces) A-Team, a reconnaissance platoon (manned by ethnic Cambodians) and three CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka indigenous mercenaries) companies of about 100 men each, mostly ethnic Cambodians and a smattering of Vietnamese. Approximately 100 more men were assigned to Ba Chuc. The ethnic distribution of Cambodes and Vietnamese did not work well at times. One example was the fact that the top of Hill 58 was a sacred Cambodian site, which required the Vietnamese (including the LLDB) receive permission before entering the area. Counting the men at the Ba Chuc FOB, Ba Xoai had about 470 CIDG.
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: My hand-drawn map of the Ba Xoai area / Camp Ba Xoai (John Alexander photo) / Hill in Camp Ba Xoai (Kulik photo) / Looking at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) from the 4.2” mortar pit / Nui Giai, as seen from the same mortar pit (my photos)SLURP SENDS!