The attack at My An
I don’t remember the month but it was during the summer of 1967. A fellow team member, SP/4 Patrick Sullivan (Sully), and I were sent to help defend a Special Forces camp which was being built in the Mekong Delta, of South Viet Nam, along a canal that ran to the west of our camp. We were assigned to Special Forces Operational Detachment “A”- 411 (SFODA-411) at My Phuoc Tay.
We loaded into helicopters, along with a company of Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) and flew to camp My An at My Da. (It may have been My Da at My An, I can’t remember which, so I will refer to it as camp My An.)
Upon arrival, we were assigned to a location along the canal to the east of the camp. We moved our troops there and began setting up. Just as we had completed this task, someone came to our location and told us that we would have to move because the Army of Viet Nam (ARVN) Rangers would arrive soon and they were to occupy that location. So we packed all our gear and moved to a new location on the canal, about 1,000 meters to the north of the camp.
Best laid plans
Later that day a C-123 aircraft arrived with a load of 55-gallon drums of gasoline (mogas). The aircrew was using a new method of delivery, which consisted of the aircraft flying about 100 feet above and directly over the canal. The pilot would abruptly lift the nose of the aircraft and the drums rolled off the tail platform and landed in the canal.
Since the drums were not completely full, as was the standard, they didn’t freefall as originally planned and fell in several different places, including where the Rangers had set up. I don’t remember if the falling drums killed any Rangers, but as they landed the drums burst open and spewed gasoline. The Rangers had started fires for cooking and the gasoline ignited, inflicting severe burns on many Rangers. I recall that several medevac helicopters flew in and out of the area that afternoon, but I don’t remember if any Rangers died as a result of the fires.
After getting set up in our new location, I went into the camp to meet the commanders (American and Vietnamese) and the Special Forces team. There was an engineer officer, Major Oliver, who was overseeing the building of the camp; a communications sergeant, Ron Fike, and a medic, John Dryden. Major Oliver, Sergeant Fike and I were to become fighting partners a couple of nights later. I also met the American Special Forces “A” Team Commander; however, he didn’t appear to think much of me and I certainly didn’t like him.
An agreement was made between my detachment commander and the commander that he would feed and supply Sully and me. The commander and I had some words about that, but Sully and I decided we would go into the camp during feeding times and eat, whether he liked it or not.
On the second or third night that we were at this location, there was small arms fire coming from southwest of the camp. Sgt. Fike called me and asked for an azimuth from my location to the firing; he also took an azimuth from his location and triangulated the location. After checking for friendly units in the area, it was determined that the enemy was moving to attack the camp. Obviously, they were surprised by other elements and fired on one another. Sgt. Fike and Maj. Oliver supported them with four-point deuce mortar fire from the camp. The enemy had warned us not to build a camp in this area so we knew an at-tack was imminent. I met with my counterpart Vietnamese Special Forces, the Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB), at our location and advised them to have their troops on extra alert for an attack during the night.
All was quiet until approximately 2300 hours, when we were attacked from the north by a superior force. Later we determined that we were greatly outnumbered so I radioed the camp that we were under attack and needed immediate mortar support. The A Team Commander had a message radioed back to me stating that the American and Vietnamese Special Forces Teams were having a party and were not to be disturbed.
While I was trying to get fire support from the camp, my counterpart was able to get 105mm howitzer support from district. That was very scary since the fire support landed and exploded very near our location. One round landed so close that I thought I was wounded and Sully was killed. We were okay.
Sgt. Fike and Maj. Oliver decided to ignore the American commander and give us our mortar fire. They knew that a much superior force was attacking us so Sgt. Fike arranged for “Puff, the Magic Dragon” to give us fire support from above. In the meantime, 105mm rounds as well as four-point deuce rounds were landing very close to our location. Sully and I later won-dered why we were still alive.
When the C-47 finally arrived on location, the howitzer and four-point deuce fire was lifted and he was able to give us superior fire support. While he circled overhead with machine guns firing, I was directing him from my location on the ground. I was doing what I thought was right and correct, but I had no way of knowing for sure at the time because I had never directed aircraft in combat before, nor did I have much training in doing so.
As well as I can remember, Puff stayed on site for approximately 30 to 45 minutes until the firing ceased, after which time the aircraft commander asked if we were receiving any ground fire. I answered in the negative, so he decided to leave the location, but as he turned his running lights on to leave, a burst of fire hit his aircraft. He said that the fire had come between the pilot and copilot seats and took out everything that was located there. He asked if I saw where the fire had come from and I gave him approximate coordinates. He stayed on location for another 15 to 20 minutes and when he left the second time, there was no more firing and the rest of the night was quiet.
When daylight came, I walked around the area so I could give a report to my commander of any damage. I saw a lot of bloody places and some body parts, plus an area that looked like it had been plowed. The enemy had policed the battlefield and removed all of their dead.
I told Sully that I was going to the camp to settle the score with the American commander. When I arrived at the intersection on the north-south and east-west canals, where the camp was located, a U.S. Navy river patrol boat stopped and asked if I wanted a ride to the other side.
I gladly accepted because I didn’t want to swim across that filthy canal. I was so moved at seeing our American flag flying on the boat that I actually cried. I hadn’t seen our flag for quite some time and we couldn’t fly it at our camps because they were Vietnamese installations.
When I got off the boat, Major Oliver and Sgt. Fike were waiting for me. They knew I would confront the American Captain and though I wasn’t sure what I would do, I did consider shooting him with my M-16. My two friends calmed me and assured me that they would testify in my favor for any action taken against him. I agreed to that.
I had gritted my teeth so much during the previous night’s firefight, that I had actually broken a tooth. I asked Sgt. Fike to call my camp and ask that either my commander come to see me or send a helicopter for me. Sgt. Fike explained to him what had happened, as well as telling him that I needed a dentist. A helicopter, with my replacement, arrived that afternoon and I returned to my camp at My Phuoc Tay.
One of my team medics checked my tooth and informed the CO of its condition. I met with the CO, XO and my team ser-geant and explained the situation that had happened at the outset of the battle. The CO called for a helicopter to transport us to the “C” Detachment to report this to the Company Commander and I went on to the Fifth Special Forces Group Headquarters in Nha Trang to get my tooth repaired.
Years later I met medic John Dryden at a Chapter XXXIII, Special Forces Association meeting and we had a long talk about that attack. I had not been aware until then that John also was helping with the mortar fire that night. He said that the CO, Company “D” 5th SFG (Abn) arrived late that afternoon at his camp and relieved the American CO of his command and had him reassigned out of Special Forces.
I don’t know what happened to that man, and I can’t find it in my heart to care. That night was almost 50 years ago and I still get tears in my eyes when I think about it. John also told me that my friend Sgt. Ron Fike was KIA in a subsequent battle.
When I think of how close Sully and I came to dying that night, and about those at that camp who did, as well as the over 58,000 names on The Wall in Washington, DC, I get so angry at the politicians for giving our victory away. If our politicians aren’t going to send us in to win the war, don’t send us at all.