Do you think “Charlie” knew which bunkers on the firebase perimeter were manned by undependable soldiers that could help make it easier for them to breach the wire? On one night, Sappers did so and were running through the perimeter with satchel charges and blowing things up. One radio operator had to remain inside of the TOC and monitor the radios during the fight…his back was to the door and he expected his life to end at any moment. Here’s his recollection of what happened that night.
It was May 1970. I remember while in Vietnam, anytime I returned to our rear base from the field or from my job at a lonely Detached Tactical Operations Center (DETOC) in Thien Giao (northeast of Phan Thiet), I had to pull guard at a perimeter bunker. Our rear base was LZ Betty near the coastal town of Phan Thiet (see map below).
I would always have to perform guard duty on the perimeter (buck sergeants and below). It sucked. I was either on the radio or pulling guard seven days a week in the Rear. I hated going to the Rear as I always got nailed with guard duty. I didn’t have to at Thien Giao (NW of Phan Thiet city and almost due North of LZ Betty), because I pulled ‘12 on 12 off’ seven days a week as a radio operator. I was just relief in the Rear.
The nights on guard duty were long, hot and b-o-o-o-r-r-ring. Occasionally a critter would trip a trip flare and light up the perimeter but boring.
The Security NCOIC and OIC would make their rounds in the jeep to make sure we all were vigilant and awake. Normally, our assigned bunker and towers were on the north side facing the South China Sea. But periodically we would be asked to cover a few of the other bunkers on the south-side if they had their units deployed and short personnel.
One night at Bunker #2, one of the stoners or potheads was out (snoozing) when we were on heightened alert (supposed to be two awake and on watch). I will leave his name anonymous because the names of the dead are on the website for LZ Betty. We will call him Raleigh. The other guy and I took turns pulling Raleigh’s guard time which I think was about 3-hour stints. We covered for him as he would have fallen asleep on duty anyway.
One night, in late April 1970, The NCOIC suddenly popped up out of nowhere at 3AM climbing the ladder to the bunker. Scared the crap out of me to suddenly see someone appear behind me. As the senior enlisted there, he asked me why there was no second on duty with me (the stoner had crashed down below in the bunker). I tried making some excuses, and he asked me who was ‘sandbagging.’ I told him the guy’s name. He shook his head and said a curse word or two. He was aware of Raleigh’s ‘reliability’ and reputation.
He asked me, “I bet you think this is a waste to come out here every night and pull guard duty. I mean, we haven’t had our perimeter probed in months. It seems like a paranoid overkill to have two of you up at the same time—right? I mean, when was the last time Charlie tried coming through that barbed wire? But has it occurred to you our presence discourages them from trying? I mean it will only take one night…just one. This compound has been hit hard before. Now get his ass up here and if this happens again, I promise an Article 15 for everyone on this duty shift. One of these days you guys could save the rest of our asses.”
A few weeks later May 3rd, the Viet Cong launched a major hit on LZ Betty early in the morning, coming through the very perimeter I had been guarding. They blew up helicopters and several bunkers and overran part of the compound.
The VC came through the perimeter toward the bottom of the picture heading northward over the airstrip. Seven VC sappers got through the southern perimeter, planted satchel charges on the helicopters and several of the bunkers. Number 2 bunker is on the bottom toward the left. My normally assigned bunker was Number 2 (we used to say it was Number 2; ca-ca—the crap).
I didn’t have guard duty that night because I was now pulling full-time duty at my radio at the 1/50th Infantry Battalion TOC (Tactical Operations Center) as a battalion radio operator. Previously, I had manned a radio for the DETOC near Thien Giao after a stretch in the boonies as RTO. I had been there for months before it was closed down as difficult to defend and our AOs had shifted. Getting the fulltime position at the TOC was great as I was just filling in as relief before returning from Thien Giao. I had just been notified a few days before that I would be full-time at the TOC.
I had just completed the last of my Sitreps (Situation Reports) check calls to every position (towers, bunkers, etc.). It was a lot of “Negative Sit Rep” that evening and then into the early morn.
It was quiet and boring in the TOC. At almost 2 AM, I told the staff sergeant, who was the NCOIC that night, that I was going to go to my hooch and grab some C-Rations, as I was hungry. He told me to go as it was extremely quiet.
I stepped out of the TOC bunker into the early morning air and heard an explosion followed by another. My first thoughts was it was outgoing rounds.
I didn’t need to as the NCOIC was busy with the radios and they were chattering with yells and beaucoup traffic from the entire south-side of our compound. Every radio was blaring, “Tango Three, taking incoming.” or “Tango Three this is Whiskey Kilo-Five. We have Chuck in the wire. Repeat…we have Chuck in the wire.” Chuck or Charlie was a nickname for the VC. Then an explosion and no more from Whiskey Kilo-Five. Tango Three would have been our call sign that month as the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) for HQ. I could hear explosions and gunfire over all the transmissions. It was chaotic.
The NCOIC told me to go wake the battalion commander and XO. I dropped my mike and ran for the door just as the battalion CO and XO came running through yelling “What’s going down?” The battalion sergeant major was shortly behind them, all of them suiting up with flak jackets and gear. The sergeant-major was in his OD green underwear, looking odd with full combat gear on over his skivvies and sandals.
I was back on the radio trying to get air support because we had none. I was also calling in Medevacs or medics for the wounded. It was hectic and chaotic. Again, no choppers at our base were functional. The nearest ones were at Phan Rang. about 130 klicks away.
The Commo NCOIC, I can’t recall his name, leans over and whispers to me, “Ingalls, if you hear a clip-clop sound, it is a grenade rolling across the wood floor—dive and cover your head. Don’t try to look—just dive.”
My back was toward the door. I would never see the end—only hear it—now that was scary. I kept waiting for that clip-clop sound of a rolling Chi Com grenade on the wooden floor or the sound of an AK 47 spraying the command center.
Fortunately, we were able to secure the compound and run the intruders off. There were some birds in the air returning to Phan Rang (which we found out later was being attacked at the same time) that night who responded to our call for help. We were also able to get a Marine CH-34 in the air from a returning mission from another base. Our 105mm artillery started firing ‘beehives’ anti-personnel rounds (metal flechettes) at low trajectory in the perimeter.
We lost 6 KIAs and 35+ WIAs U.S. causalities that night.
One of the dead was the stoner, Raleigh, who was in that same bunker where sappers slipped through and cut the throat of the guards on that bunker (#2) and took it over. One survived with serious injuries- the other two, including Raleigh, didn’t. I can only imagine how they overran that bunker.
As a battalion RTO at the TOC, I was the guy calling in support and Medevac and communicating with the remaining bunkers that had not been overrun along with a relief force of mechanics, cooks, clerks, and anyone we could rush in.
Look at this account (link below) to see what happened to my bunker(#2) and Raleigh that evening. Could have been me that night as Raleigh was probably asleep. I was shot in the leg at a different location which I handled fairly well but there is something spooky about having your throat slit while you are sleeping.
Destroyed Company orderly room
To read more about the battle of LZ Betty, please visit: Battle of LZ Betty, Phan Thiet
I was in top of the TOC. I was 19 years old, and to me it looked like a giant fireworks display. The next day I found out about my friends who were killed and severely wounded. It has haunted me all these years. Anyone who knows the story of our weapons being locked in the arms room surely has to wonder about the situation.
Today is May 3, 2023, and I mourn all of my friend’s deaths more than I usually do.
I was there that night 2-1 cav. They destroyed most of our choppers
Thanks Tim. I was trying to remember if this happened before or after 2/1 was part of the Cambodian intrusion. Do you remember? I think they got every huey and loach that were on the pads.
Left LZ Betty 9/69. Served with Task Force South. Remember pulling guard duty on one of the towers. Myself & three Viets . Long 12 hrs . Did not trust them. Read about 1970 attack – my replacement was there . Found out many years later. Regards John Doyle
LikeLiked by 1 person
My brother and I were there that night.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Where were you guys?
Several caucasians and African Americans got the medal of valor and said that there was a demilitarised zone in Vietnam. Is that true. I know there is a de-militerized zone in Korea.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, it separated north Vietnam from the south.
On Mon, Jul 6, 2020, 7:43 PM CherriesWriter – Vietnam War website wrote:
We Army guys all remember the many times in Basic and AIT pulling guard duty and trying to stay awake. That was something the Cadre always beat us to death on. I know the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Guard had similar routines, I just don’t know what all the training school names are. Maybe someone can tell us specifically. Now its clear, the Military knew the importance and possible results of our training, as seen right there at LZ Betty. Most of us took it to heart, sadly some didn’t.
LikeLiked by 1 person
A first class story for sure. Read it all; carefully. NO SLEEPING on WATCH(!) O hell yeah. And smokin’ fuckin DOPE too…….sigh. And he paid for that mistake in this story……… Appreciate reading these works. Glad you made it OUT of there. And too bad Raliegh did NOT…….. : (
Right hand salute to you.
PD Rhodes AO3 VA-196 Bon Homme Richard CVA 31 Nam cruises 1964 and 65. ________________________________
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for relating your story. Well written, I could visualize the location and the action very well. Thank you for your service.
Thanks to you, Richard Toops
Thanks–glad to share. Visit me on Quora, an online forum with over 300 million hits a month.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The month, got my attention. it’s the month, I arrived at the A.B. next to Saigon. I was at first Based in -on L.B. Post. Then we the 543rd TC joined with the 572nd TC, took all equipment to Port in Saigon. Then we all boarded C-147z and flew north, to an LZ near Quang Tri. Then we were carried to an opening near nowhere LoL. And Set-Up, placed bunkers all around us. Going there from LB Post, was like from City to Country.
That was my location, for my last 6 months, in that HELL HOLE.
Long Binh 1968/69. One of the guys in our USARV Special Troops section was a 4th ID vet who had reenlisted and was given his choice of assignment. He chose us. His wife had divorced him when he was on his last tour and he began to drink a lot. One day he fell asleep on daytime bunker guard and was caught. He was busted down to PFC, given a hefty fine and sent back to the 4th ID. This taught everyone a lesson. I recall being drowsy on bunker guard but never actually dozed off.
We all took our responsibility seriously.
I’ve already added a comment. Why ask for another. HUH ?
All written in here, I am sure is/are facts. We Americans had no Blankety Blank business, even going to that God forsaken Country.
Thanks John, another interesting story from our war.
I was at Camp Radcliff AnKhe in a guard tower the night the helicopter airfield ” the golf course” was attacked.
That was about April 6, 1970
The only time I saw green tracers, the problem being they were from inside the perimeter behind our tower going out.
A long and confused night, poor communication. Luckily we did not fire on a trio of men who were carrying one AK and two M16’s who were moving in the shadows of a field behind us.
They turned out to have been 4th Division infantry sent to sweep the area. We did not fire because of how they moved, and their body proportions and were almost physically sick about how close we came to firing upon them.
It was just that little back of mind voice, saying don’t, something is off about this.
Thank you for your account of your time., Ha, we are the same age, what happened?
Glad to share.
Well written article. Writer lets a person know of the involvement of the TOC and what the VC were doing.
I am glad you enjoyed the article.