All veterans have a story to tell – whether they choose to write a book, tell their story to others either individually or in front of large groups, one thing for certain is that words alone may not paint enough of a picture for others to fully comprehend the experience. So what if the author compliments his story with photos? ‘Oh yeah, now I know what you’re trying to say!’ Seeing is believing! My guest, B.J. Khalifah, served in Vietnam as an Infantry First Lieutenant with Alpha Company “Redcatchers” 5-12th Infantry, 199th Infantry Brigade, 1969 – 1970. Lt. Khalifah was fortunate in that he was able to capture much of his experiences on film, and then using the photos in a presentation “showing” what it was like to hump the boonies. Although every tour of duty is different, this presentation of 250 + pictures offers readers the opportunity to witness a life that a few of us lived…and as the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Enjoy!
Note: All the photos used in this story are copyrighted and can’t be duplicated or used without the explicit consent of the author.
Roster for Alpha Company, 5-12th Infantry, 199th Infantry Brigade
Bruce Osborn (California)
Pete Cossack (Burbank, California)
Steven Steen (California)
Curtis McClendon (Irving, TX)
Herman Herndon (TX)
Richard Phillips (Atlanta, GA)
Hector Perez (Puerto Rico)
Felix Felix-Gonzales (or Garcia…not sure)
Herbert LeMoine (LA)
Tony Sonnier (LA)
Gerry Duplichan (LA)
Perry Flynn (Chattanooga, TN)
Jim Pelletier (CA)
Angelo Barbagello (NJ/PA)
Carl Treece (CA)
Charles (Butch) Stephens (Morganton, NC)
Michael Horst (MD)
Ronald Decker (Louisville, KY)
David (Tex) Welch (TX)…guy you couldn’t identify in the group shot of the rain soaked bunch of us including Richey, You, Kelly, Szymczyk, and me)..this man saved my life and several others by spotting the claymore and allowing us to hit the ground before they fired it.
Chester F. Szymczyk (Windsor Locks, CN…now in Feeding Hills, MA)
Joe Vanaman (NJ)
Larry (Dusty) Fowler (Columbia, SC)
Steve McDonald (Charlotte, NC…now Clover, SC)
BJ Khalifah (TX now Gross Pointe Park, MI)
Robert “Wilky” Wilkinson (Mississippi)
Leonard Kobliska (big machine gunner)
Bedford F. (Freddy) White (buried in Knoxville, TN…home of record
during service was Detroit, MI)
Kenneth A. Richey (Marion, IN)
James J. (Jay) Nealey (CA)
Earl McPeters (Burnsville, NC)
Charles Mussman (CA)
Richard Lindholm (Minneapolis, MN) nickname of “Sue” as in the popular Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue.”
Vance Loeffler (FL)
**For the following A/5-12 pages, a few of the men in the pictures are unknown and I have a “?” beside them. If you happen to know who these Redcatchers are, please contact the TOC at email@example.com and let me know!**
A hilarious situation. The barber was frustrated that the policeman (with a 38 revolver) was hogging the mirror. The barber was a little irritated but did not say anything.
Saigon – Notre Dame Cathedral. I went to mass there 1969. It looked exactly the same in 2005 when my wife and I went back.
Sp4 Richard Phillips (Atlanta, GA) crossing booby trapped creek.
2Lt Freeman Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969
Approaching fire fight, west of Saigon, Pineapple region, Mekong Delta. We were secondary troops called in for support, Feb(?) 1969. Co. A, 5/12/ 199th LIB.
Photo of B-52 bomb craters. Each hole is about 50 feet across, 12-15 feet deep and big enough to hold a deuce and a half.
Near Tan Ngut village. Co A, 5/12/199. Part of our job was providing security and protection to the medical corps on “Med-Caps.” The medics would provide basic medical services to local villages, 1969.
UH-1D “Huey,” Fireball Aviation of 199th , location was Fire Base Chris, S.W. of Saigon 1969.
Insertion into hot LZ via UH-1D, Co. A /5/45/199.
Mid-air on way to hot LZ, Mekong Delta, 1969.
Sp4 Ruffin and his mortar, Firebase Libby, Xuan Loc, 1969.
Sp4 Koblitska (foreground) and Sp4 Felix Gonzales, of Puerto Rico, partially hidden by foliage in triple canopy jungle north of Fire Base Libby, Xuan Loc, 1969
On patrol, Long Khan Province, Xuan Loc, 1969. (I do not have the name of this trooper)
On patrol, near Xuan Loc in Long Khanh province, 1969. Robert Wilkinson in the foreground.
Pineapple-Cambodia January 1969, Co. A, 5/12/199. This was west of Saigon in the “pineapples” region. Very thick vegetation under foot, the wood rips your pants to shreds. Looking for NVA who were infiltrating from the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Cambodia
Door Gunner, UH-1C , 1969, 199th Fireball Aviation.
UH-1C pilots, 1969.
1LT B.J. Khalifah with Vietnamese scouts Boa and Tau Da
ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) assigned to us. Photo at Fire Base Chris, 1969
ARVN soldiers attached to Co. A, 5/12/199 at Fire Base Chris, 1969.
Kinh San canal, south west of Saigon, near Bien Dien, 1969
Mid-air flying out to the pineapples, 1969.
Installation of Radar Tower at Fire Base Chris, (April or May??), 1969
Fireball aviation coming to pick us up at Fire Base Chris, 1969.
Huey Cobra gun ship, Fire Base Libby 1969. North of Xuan Loc.
Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969. Richard Phillips, Patrick Rafferty (a Puerto Rican with an Irish name from Spanish Harlem, New York City, Curtis McClendon (Irving, TX) coming back from ambush patrol, Kinh San canal, west of Fire Base Chris, Mekong Delta.
Co. A, 5/12/199, Mekong Delta dust-off of injured after fire fight. PFC Andrews at far right.
Co. A, 5/12/199. Sgt Steve McDonald, center, on air boat with cache of ammunition found buried under rice paddy in the mud. PFC Decker (?) at right.
Co. A, 5/12/199, Feb 1969. Unknown RTO near Cambodian border during search and destroy ops.
RTO Mike Horst, Co. A, 5/12/199, talking to HQ’s after fire fight Mekong Delta
Left to right: scout Boa, McClendon, 1Lt. Khalifah, scout Da. Co. A, 5/12/199 with RPG (rocket propelled grenade) capture from Viet Cong, 1969
Left to right: Sgt. Dan Kelly (then from Detroit MI now from Chicago IL), Sgt. Steve McDonald (then from Charlotte NC now from Clover SC), 1LT B.J. Khalifah (from Dallas TX now Detroit MI), Sp4 James Jay Nealy (CA), Sp4 Kossack. All from Co. A, 5/12/199 , at Fire Base Chris. Far right without shirt, Pete Cossack (Burbank, CA).
Co. A, 5/12/199. Late Feb or March 1969, Pineapple region near Cambodia. Lt. John Greene (New York City) at far right yelling.
Photo of little children at village near Bien Dien bridge, southwest of Saigon, 1969
Kenneth A. Richey, Co. A, 5/12/199 , crossing stream, Mekong Delta, 1969. (Richey -later promoted to SGT – was KIA in Dec. 1969, by a road side bomb outside Brigade Main Base, Long Binh. It was a terrible loss for us all. He was well respected, well liked, competent, and was most assuredly a good person).
Troops exiting airboat, shallow mud only a foot deep. Usually the mud was knee deep and made walking slow and difficult.
Air boat returns to Firebase Chris. Steve McDonald, center, had found a cache of enemy ammunition.
This is what it looked like during a fire fight. You couldn’t see much for the smoke, but the VC had infiltrated from the west from Cambodia on the Ho Chi Min Trail – into Viet Nam and were headed for Saigon. Pineapple region.
Remains of house, location of VC hiding in a village along the Kinh San canal, Mekong Delta.
Mop of operations after fire fight, Mekong Delta, west of Saigon, in the pineapple region near Cambodia. Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969.
Part of a cache of ammo (to be destroyed) found by Sgt Steve McDonald, Co. A, 5/12/199 1969. The steps of the building is part of what is left of a house that Cpt. Pete Kozak used as his HQ at Fire Base Chris.
Destruction of captured ammo and rockets. Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969, outside of fire Base Chris, looking west toward Cambodia, along Kinh San canal.
Running for cover after insertion into a hot LZ, Mekong Delta. Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969.
2LT Freeman and his RTO.
left to right: Sp4 (Curtis ?) McClendon, Lt B.J. Khalifah, Sp4 RTO Mike Horst, Pineapple region, near Cambodia, west of Saigon, Mekong Delta Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969.
Search and destroy mission out in Pineapple Region, near Cambodia. Co. A, 5/12/199, 1969, west of Fire Base Chris, Mekong Delta.
VC dead and wounded after a firefight.
This area of the delta had numerous booby traps along the trails on the rice paddy dykes, etc.
A well-hidden booby trap. Chinese hand grenade.
Two B-40 RPG rockets to be destroyed with a Claymore mine.
This was out in the Pineapple region, very close to Cambodia. Search and Destroy mission, west of Saigon and west of Fire Base Chris, Mekong Delta
After months of fighting and patrolling in the vast expanse of endless nipa-palm groves and sweltering rice fields in the Pineapple Region south and southwest of Saigon, the Brigade was ordered northward into the triple canopy jungles of Long Khanh Province in late 1969. The 199th would stay there until October, 1970. 1LT BJ Khakifah records this movement for A/5-12.
We assembled at BMB before dawn. The convoy left BMB when we had enough light. 5/12/199, June , 1969. Moving up to Fire Base Libby, Long Kahn Province.
PFC Hector Perez (Puerto Rico) had his M-60 machine gun at the ready the entire trip. He was always alert.
On QL 1 on the way to FSB Libby.
Arriving at FSB Libby.
Left to right on top of truck: Mussman, Peltier, and Sgt Chet Sczymczk. Sitting shotgun is Sgt Steve McDonald (reading newspaper from home).
Here we are arriving at Fire Base Libby, we had just turned off QL 20 near a prominent hill N.E, of Xuan Loc. (I went back to VN in 2005. Fire Base Libby is totally gone. There are no markings what so ever. It is now a rubber tree plantation. One of the caretakers came out to inspect what we were doing there. He was from a near by village and he did remember the fire base (Mot chin chin -199).
I made this photo because it was the first time we had ever seen rubber trees. Looking down the rows it was very dark. We found out later how nasty it was under the trees. The VC used the rows as highways. If we damaged any tree in a fire fight the US army had to pay cash to the plantation owners as compensation. We damaged several trees.
Signal Mountain north of Long Binh.
Sp4 Ken A. Richey, Marion, IN (Killed in Action, December 1969) with a booby trap he found and an PRG rigged as a land mine. It took a sharp eye and cool nerves to defuse them. Taken north and east of fire base Libby, Long Khanh Province.
This is us leaving Fire Base Libby, early morning, going south west out on patrol. We would be gone for 7-14 days at a time. The men are carrying rucksack, each weing 35 to 50 pounds or more, with food, water and ammo. My RTO Mike Horst also had a 25 pound PRC 25 (prick 25) radio. He never complained. When we were on patrol sometimes we would get resupplied; sometimes not. It always depended on the weather, our location, or if there were supplies. HQ always tried to resupply us but everything was conditional. Running out of water was always a serious problem.
Richard Phillips at far left. Huey bringing in more troops.
This was a morning base camp near large hill called Nui Soc Liu. This was a particularly dangerous area, infiltrated with NVA because the location was just north of Long Binh US main bases.
I do not know who this is. Mortar-man laying in his tube just before sending out air mail to VC. Taken at FSB Libby.
This was an early morning walk around. Each morning we would sweep the area we had over-nighted in just to make sure everything was safe.
Man being extracted to chopper using the hook and cable. Picture is slightly out of focus because of severe vibrations, hard to hold camera still and not fall out of chopper. I had to be extremely careful so as to not shift my weight and change the balance of the chopper for the pilot.
Huey extraction in triple canopy vegetation. Medic lowering a hook and cable. When we had to send sick men back to the rear, a Huey dust off would hover over us and drop a cable and hook to lift men into the helicopter. It was a very dangerous procedure because; 1) the chopper was a sitting duck to VC target practice 2) very difficult to hold the chopper steady 3) dangerous to man being extracted because if you hit a tree 4) it could snag the hook on a tree limb.
We could sleep most anywhere and anytime since we were at night, rotating guard watch. Waiting for choppers to pick us up and go to another firefight. Just another day at work.
On patrol, Sp4 Robert Lewis.
Lava rocks, on hill Nui Soc Liu, rough terrain, moving up hill to the top. This area was heavily infiltrated with VC and NVA, lots of trouble. The rocks did provide good cover when the shooting started.
Early morning, near fire base Libby, area of Nui Soc Liu, left to right ; (gentleman at far left David Tex Welch, TX, Sp4 Ken Richey, Lt. Khalifah, Sgt Dan Kelly, Sgt. Chet Szymczyk, Windsor Locks, CT, now Feeding Hills, MA, and Sgt. Steve McDonald
We sometimes used B-52 bomb craters to our advantage. We did not have to dig a trench if we needed to hide or get low.
South and east of FSB Libby, Long Khanh Province.
My boss, CPT Peter Kozak. Photo was taken several weeks before he was shot. WIA, severe injuries from gun shot wounds. He survived, luckily. CPT Kozak, now Lt.Col. retired, originally from Cleveland, OH now from Bel Air, MD.
Typical wet conditions during the rainy season. My tent in the morning. We were cold that day, temp had dropped, because of the rain, from about 100’F to about 70. Everything is relative
Down time. Steve McDonald catching up on home town paper.
Sp4 Bruce Osborn, CA, trying to keep his feet dry. A lost cause; we were always wet.
Wait-a-minute thorns, guaranteed to ruin your day.
While the rest of the platoon was on guard, we took some time to clean our weapons and read the mail, if there was any.
1. McDonald 2. Lewis 3. Rafferty 4. Stevens
South and east of FSB Libby, Long Khanh Province.
Area of Nui Soc Liu, a particularly violent area; full of lava rock, banana groves…
Ken Richey resting. It was very hot and sweaty in the jungle. Any break was a huge relief!
Sorting the mail after a fly by. Clockwise McDonald, Neally, Rafferty, Osborn.
In the rubber plantations south and east of FSB Libby. Once we had cleared an area and set up a protective perimeter we would relax a bit before setting up a night ambush. The VC and NVA used the rubber as a highway south. The long rows provided good cover and high speed for a convoy heading south toward their objective of destroying the US base at Long Binh and city of Saigon.
Hot chow (an absolutely rare luxury) had been delivered to us on only on a few occasions.
Decker and Ron LeMoine (medic).
Mussman (front) Rafferty (rear)
L to R: Carl Treece, Butch Stevens, Rafferty, Peltier, Richey.
Breaking camp after night ambush set up.
People as numbered:
1- Nguyen Boa
We occasionally provided security for Med-Caps that went to villages. This village was affluent judging by the buildings, the brick work, tile roofs, and church.
Popped smoke, waiting for pick up by choppers, area had been secured after a fire fight. The area had been denuded by a B 52 arc light before we got there. Area surrounding Fire Base Libby was constant trouble. Photo of Ken Richey.
(My job as platoon leader didn’t give me a lot of free time. When I had a few free seconds I would set the camera to automatic and take a few snaps, then back to work).
In the field in Long Khanh Province with Alpha 5-12, 69 – 70. Things like this happened all the time during rainy season, in a jeep or on foot. There was a lot of mud to contend with. Photo 663, man with hands on hip at right is 1LT Joseph Cathy, 5-12th Artillery forward observer/spotter.
Breaking camp, early morning. I do not know who the men in the photo are.
My camera was soaking wet, the shutter and focus was way off. I ended up getting rid of the camera. I did not know it was broken. 1. Rafferty 2. Flynn 3 .Perez 4. Medic Don Lemoine 5. Boa
Breaking camp early morning; wet and rainy. 1. Ken Richey 2 .Neally 3. Peltier 4. Duplachon 5. Lewis 6. ??Flynn?? 7. Sgt. Steven McDonald 8 Stevens?
Typical day on patrol.
B.J.Khalifah cooking spaghetti and meatballs.I was using a piece of c-4 explosive to cook my meals. C-4 cost about $50.00 a stick, but it sure worked. Careful not to stomp it out !!!
This was an area immediately adjacent to a B-52 bomb crater. Notice the vegetation is starting to grow back after a 500 lb. bomb blew the leaves and bark of surrounding trees.
This was something we almost never did – used a bridge – because they were always booby trapped. My point man had already cleared and crossed it before I saw it, but I was very mad because it made us sitting ducks for an ambush. The area was clear so I took a picture. Later I ass-chewed everyone for not being careful. We were lucky that time. Several days later we were not so lucky.
Left to Right: Boa, Lewis, RTO Mike Horst. Interesting note: Mike Horst was my RTO. He weighed 110 pounds soaking wet, yet he carried the PRC 25 radio, his full gear, food and water, and extra ammo for the M60 machine gun; he never once complained about the load or his duties. The young kid always was at the ready.
This was a 9mm Chic-Com officers pistol I took off an unlucky local VC regional leader I shot during a fire fight. I also retrieved a map and an NVA flag. None of our people were hurt or harmed. I got a permit and carried it home to USA on the airplane; no problem.
Coming into an LZ with dense vegetation surrounding was always tense and nerve racking. All hell could break out without warning. The pilots who dropped us in had iron balls and steady hands. The pilot here never landed. He was 6 ft off the ground. We had to jump into mud.Jumping down 6 ft wearing a 35 pound ruck sack made for sore backs and hurting feet. When we hit the ground we were running to get out from under the chopper, in case it was hit.This LZ, we thought was hot ,ended up being a quiet day at the office.
Waiting for extraction after a fire fight. As usual , hot, wet, sticky, and smelly, area was near Nui Soc Liu, a very violent area
Insertion into an LZ.
On extraction me and and RTO Horst and Sgt Larry Fowler and several riflemen were usually the last out. Being the last team to be pulled out was always interesting. On chopper operations, I as LT was usually in the second chopper in (first was point man riflemen and M60.
Something we did without fail, every day, sometimes twice a day, was clean our weapons (and ammo). Not everybody did this at once but in shifts, in case something happened. Here, we were in an area that had been cleared and we had perimeter guards out. L to R: MCDonald, Lemoine, Khalifah, Lewis, Decker, Rafferty.
Breaking camp early morning; always raining.
- Mike Horst 2 .Decker 3. Ken Richey 4. Flynn 5. Boa 6. Perez
The Construction of Fire Support Base Libby, 1969. James Pelletier, CA.