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War Stories

Mission at Dau Tieng - Jan 68

Tom Fleming

Trying to capture a prisoner; Lt Kelly on the hoist after papers; bomb damage assessment; near wipeout by friendly fire.


In mid January 1968 D Troop was given the mission of providing security for the 3d Brigade base at Dau Tieng. The 3d Brigade had received intelligence that an enemy force was moving into position east of Dau Tieng, south of the Michelin Rubber Plantation and that their intention was to attack the base while the majority of the Brigade assets were deployed in War Zone C to the North West of Dau Tieng

Maj. Brown the former S-3 of the 3/4th Cav had requested D Troop based on his previous experience working with the troop. Specifically the mission was to provide Rear Area Security in an Area of Operations designated to provide early warning of massing forces as well as intelligence. Elements of D Troop, with LRRP teams attached, deployed to Dau Tieng and set up operations at the airfield.

The concept of the operation was to provide continuous surveillance of the area by the Light Scouts backed up by fire teams and sweeps by the Aero Rifle Platoon. The attached LRRP team was inserted for a three day mission.

Early on in the operation the Brigade Commander asked that we capture a VC for interrogation if possible. Luck would have it that right after that a Heavy Scout Team caught a squad of VC in the open and killed several and wounded one. The Aero Rifles landed and brought the wounded VC (a female) to the Brigade Headquarters. The Bde Cdr. was delighted, however later in the day we learned that she was a nurse we had shot in the mouth so that she wasn’t much help to the brigade. They asked for another prisoner and we developed a plan to capture a prisoner.

As we were searching for a VC to snatch one of the Lt. Scts. observed a number of loose papers on the ground. Maj Wilde, the Flight Operations Officer volunteered to fly stable Boy, which had a rescue hoist. and lower down a volunteer to retrieve the papers. Lt Kelly the Forward Observer volunteered to ride the hoist down and recover the papers. With gun teams providing cover Maj. Wilde hovered high over the spot where the papers were visible through the trees and lowered Lt. Kelly down to the ground. Once on the ground Kelly saw more papers further into the brush and hand signaled for more slack to be let out from the hoist. The further he moved into the jungle the more papers he saw around a printing press so he proceeded to scoop up as many of the papers as he could carry.

While he was doing this the crew in Stable Boy had no idea what he was doing or where he had gone and we becoming apprehensive. They could not leave the high hover because the cable was attached to Kelly in the jungle. Finally he appeared with his arms full of papers and was safely hoisted up.

The papers were turned over to the Bde S-2 for intelligence analysis. Unfortunately all the papers were blank and provided no intelligence other than the fact that the VC had a printing press at that location and that, in of itself, indicated that a relatively large unit was in the vicinity.

Soon after the find of the printing press we inserted the Aero Rifles to sweep through the area, from the other side, to determine if there was a base camp in the area. The rifle platoon cautiously entered the area and discovered a base camp. The Platoon Leader, Lt Mosenthal, and Platoon Sergeant elected to sneak in to the base camp, covered by the rifle squads to determine if any enemy were using it. Upon entering the base camp it was obvious that it was active and they backed out to the covering force and were extracted safely.

The information and location of the base camp were provided to the Bde S-2 who now was even more anxious for us to capture a prisoner. The attached LRRP team was positioned on a trail in the vicinity of where movement of groups of 3 or 4 porters carrying supplies had been observed by the Lt Scouts to spring an ambush and capture a wounded VC. Instructions were given to them to set up claymores and when they sprung the ambush to aim to wound not kill all the VC. The LRRP team was provided with light scout cover overhead, less than one minute away from their location and the Aero Rifle Platoon was airborne ready to swoop in and extract the prisoner.

The LRRP team unfortunately was manned by all inexperienced people and extremely nervous about their mission. Soon after their insertion and set up along came a group of 4 or 5 VC right into the ambush. The LRRPs sprung the ambush firing claymores and all their rifles and grenade launchers; the Lt Scts immediately covered them and the rifle platoon landed in the ambush site. All for naught the LRRPS didn’t hit anything even though they were within 50 meters of the ambush site.

The LRRPs hopped on the first helicopter out leaving the Aero Rifles to search for blood trails. The rifles were extracted without contact. That night I was informed that the Brigade had laid on an ARC Light (B-52 strike) for the next day in our Area of Operations targeting the base camp we had discovered and that we would be conducting the BDA (bomb damage assessment) immediately following.

The Arc Light came off as scheduled and the troop waited the obligatory 15 minutes in case of delayed detonations. The Lt Scts led the way with four OH-23G covered by four gunships low level scouring the area for signs that the USAF had hit anything other than the earth.

As the aero rifles were RP (release point) inbound the ground around the low flying helicopter erupted with artillery explosions; helicopters twisted turned disappeared in dust and pilots screamed for their life. One battery of 105mm Howitzers commenced firing maybe 10 seconds before the entire 25th and 1st Division Artillery commenced a time on target barrage of all available artillery.

All the helicopters escaped with only minor damage to the air frames, but the crewmembers were badly shaken. None of them thought they would get out alive. It was on good luck that the Aero Riffle Platoon was 30 seconds from touchdown when the first round impacted or we probably would have lost a lot of people. A call went to the 3rd Bde Cdr informing him that he nearly wiped out D Troop. He asked if the troop could go back in after the artillery barrage was complete to conduct the BDA. The response was no, no helicopters flyable and no pilots in any condition to continue the mission. The response from the Bde S-3 was that the Artillery Fire Support Coordinator acted on his own and laid on the fire mission assuming that aviation units didn’t have assigned areas of operations where they controlled both the air space and ground operations.

Incidentally the ARC Light and the ensuing artillery Barrage were about 2 kilometers away from where the strike was to have been put in. The next day we returned to Chu Chi to continue our normal missions.


Powell comments: I was in the air covering that day and remember watching crazy Kelly on the hoist. What a day!