This poem was received and posted August 1, 2015.
 
CW4 Daniel Jones renders a view from the cockpit of the scene as the rear guard attempts to disengage from an attacking two battalion (aproximately 1250 soldiers) assault by the North Vietnam Army (NVA) who were ordered to take FSB "Charlie" and to destroy all who opposed them.

Both Jones and his wingman, 
Colonel "Bill" Reeder (then Captain) volunteered to fly this "under the gun" (ten NVA .51 caliber machine guns were above their flight path on highground) mission.  The weather was closing and darkness was  approaching.  The battlefield was shrouded in haze, smoke and fire. Visibility was questionable.

Their Cobra gunships performed in "extreme danger close"  gunruns, vectored by the ground controller while the enemy assault advanced to within ten meters of his position.  In their gunruns, enemy fire from above and below was targeting their Cobras.  Accurate fire was essential.  Under the most extreme conditions, they performed with extraordinary valor and steadyness, killing the attacking enemy waves and saving the rear guard.

CW4 Daniel Jones and Colonel William (Bill) Reeder have been awarded the Silver Star Medal for valor for their bravery while under intense enemy fire.

 The following poem places you in the cockpit of a Cobra Gunship, it was written by CW4 Daniel Jones 


 
 
SAVING DUSTY CYANIDE
                        (14 April 1972)                     
 
Armed and ready now. No time for checklists.
Cleared by tower, ‘Good hunting, Panthers’.
And off we go, into the now setting sun.
We are Third Platoon, a heavy flight of three. 
 
Turning north along the Redball,
Torque power inched close to redline,
Gauges holding steady in the green.
Climbing now, radio checks complete.
 
Daylight nearly gone it seems,
And weather closing in,
But we hurry on towards Charlie,
Hoping to get there in time.
 
11th Battalion troopers in a desperate fight.
Dusty and friends in one helluva tight spot.
  And North Vietnamese Army Regulars,
Positioned to make it a rough night.
 
Inside our deadly cocoons - mostly silent,
Except for muffled, churning rotors spinning,
 And the piercing, steady scream 
Of our ever trusty Lycomings.
 
‘Dusty Cyanide, it's Panther one-three,
 Heavy team approaching your position.
We have rockets, 40 mike mike and minigun
 Heard you might need a little bit of help’.
 
‘Panther, Dusty Cyanide, welcome back, my friend.
We are now under heavy ground assault;
Taking many casualties, we must retreat or die.
Fire your rockets deadly close to our position’.
 
But darkness has surely fallen now,
And clouds block all heavenly glow.
Lord, there is just no way of knowing
 Friendly from enemy down below.
 
‘Just fire a pair, Panther, and I will adjust’.
‘Very well, here ya go Dusty’, as I squeeze off a shot, 
Launching rockets away with a fiery whoosh, 
And a silent prayer that they find the right spot.
 
‘Panther one three, Dusty Cyanide, that's perfect! 
Keep firing! Keep firing! Just keep it coming!’.
Whether unseen Godly hand or just plain luck,
 For now no matter - Major Duffy is happy.
 
‘Panther flight, Panther lead, shoot on me’.
And so our deadly flight of airborne armor,
Rain hellfire laced with brimstone,
Into the inky darkness below.
 
And Dusty with his comrades
Fade into the jungle night,
 Hurrying away from Firebase Charlie,
Given another chance to fight.
 
 

 
 
February 14, 2013
Dr. Sai (Ted) Schwarm
 
The Viet Cong killed my father and 8 of my Uncles; my Mom's cousins you can not even count.  Most of them were killed in 1972.  I read some stories about you and I  have goose bumps.
You are a true hero.
Thank you so much for your service.
 
Ted
 
 
 
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Sterling, VA

Today, it's a footnote in history.  In April of 1972 it was national news.  Today, it's remembered mostly by men who were there.  And when Firebase Charlie in the central highlands of the Republic of Vietnam fell forty years ago, I was there.

Firebase Charlie was situated athwart a North Vietnamese infiltration route in a mountain pass northwest of Kontum City.  It was manned by the 470 officers and men of the 11th Airborne Battalion, Army of the Republic of Vietnam and one American advisor.

From almost the moment it was occupied on 2 April 1972, Charlie was under continuing vicious attack.  Over those two weeks, the ground defense was bolstered by air strikes and Army Cobra helicopter gunships controlled by the American advisor, call sign Dusty Cyanide.  By the afternoon of 14 April, conditions on Charlie were desparate.  Defenders, out of ammunition, held their positions using hand grenades, knives, clubbed rifles, Air Force tactical air and Army attack heicopter support.

I flew in support of Charlie twice on April 14th.  After a mission early in the afternoon, we were replaced by another team from my company, the Pink Panthers, who, when they expended, were replaced by a team of Cobras from the 57th Assault Helicopter Cougars.  The Cougars were relieved by another team of Panthers and we were launched on a second mission at dusk.  We followed battle by radio as we flew northward.

We checked in with Dusty Cyanide in time to hear "You broke the attack!" and "Shoot 50 meters north of the big fire."  The problem is, we could see no less than three big fires and three or four smaller ones.  Otherwise, the mountains were pitch black.

We settled things by putting a pair of rockets 50 meters north of the largest fire in the middle and were told "That's it Panther - put it right there!" and, "We're  abandoning  position" and I think a direction of egress.  We put the rest of our load between the big fire and the assumed position of the friendlies.  The next thing we heard from an out-of-breath voice below us was "You broke the attack.  We're clear, heading down the mountain," and then nothing.

When the survivors had been recovered, Dusty Cyanide, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  He deserved more.

The 1972 South Vietnamese Literature Award went to a book titled "The Red Flames of Summer" by Phan Nhat Nam.  The book was based on survivor accounts of the actions at Charlie.  A popular song called "The Men Stayed at Charlie" is still sung around the world where Vietnamese live to mourn the dead of the war.

Forrest B Snyder, Jr.
Cobra Gunship Pilot
Panther 19 - Firebase Charlie


July 2011
Dallas Nihsen and Firebase Charlie

One of five Firebases on Rocket Ridge, Charlie was the last to fall.  About 400 Vietnamese and one American,  had given their best, but were out numbered and out gunned.  After two weeks of heavy fighting, the survivors abandoned  the base.
 
They fought and evaded the NVA overnight.  On the morning of April 15, 1972, the remnants of the Battalion were ambushed and scattered except for a group of seasoned veterans who broke out.

John Duffy, the American advisor led the break-out and after securing a position near an LZ came up on guard with a FAC.  The Fac provided all the fighter/bomber support he could, but no way could get them out.

I was flying with Major Gibbs as we monitored the conversation.  He dispatched two Cobras to the area and we got a mission change from HQ.

We were led into th LZ by Covey 555.  Our four Huey's went in one-by-one.  #1 took fire as I recall, but OK.  #2 and #3 were pretty much uneventful.  We were #4.  As we crossed the tree line, we began taking heavy fire and aborted.  Fortunately, John Duffy remained until the last bird to assure the Vietnamese would be recovered.  Things went well at first, taking sporadic fire.  As we touched down the troops remaining broke from the tree line running for their lives, under fire.  As they neared the aircraft, we began taking hits.  Dallas Nihsen was struck by a round and passed out afterward.  The last Vietnamese on was shot in the foot as he climbed in.  John Duffy  dragged him in as he boarded and the aircraft was lifting off, under fire all the way out.  I counted 9 obvious hits, relatively few, except two into the cockpit, one of which struck Dallas, at least one into the engine compartment and one within an inch of the tail rotor drive shaft.  Dallas was pronounced dead at the Kontum field hospital.

Dennis Watson

 
 
 
Fairhope, Alabama
4/21/2011
 
 
I finally mailed the CD recording of your mission this morning.  Also included is my written narrative of the events leading up to our involvement as well as all the radio traffic you could not hear on your FM.  The players are our slicks and guns as well as the Covey FAC who found you along with a couple of Air Force fighter/bombers he was working.  You will also hear an occasional transmission from an unrelated aircraft.
Keep in mind that you are hearing not only the radio traffic but also all the intercom traffic inside our aircraft, person-to-person.
Since I referred to Maj. Gibbs as "Sir", you should be able to detect my voice and then his.  After the first attempt and go-around, you will hear our right side gunner tell us that "My gun is jammed".  Just before our second attempt in you will hear him say again that "I ain't gonna be able to shoot this gun no more".  He was not excited about going in with one side unarmed.
Nonetheless, we did.  He was the one who helped your guys up onto the high skid and into the aircraft.  As far as I know, Dallas had nothing to shoot at.  As we come over the tree line a B40 whizzed vertically in front of our aircraft and you will hear me make some "expletive" comments about a B40.  As we touch the left skid against the slope you will heat me say, "hold it down, it's going to be real rough", at about the same time you hear one of two bullets come through the cockpit.  I believe Dallas was hit by the second.  We stayed our ground while you guys climbed on and  then the healthy gunner yelled for us to go.  I thought  he had told me one of your guys was hit in the head climbing in and left on the ground.  I also thought he told me a VC was preparinng to toss a grenade under the aircraft.  As you will hear, we also came out under fire. 
I don't know if you will hear it on the radio but the jammed gunner told Maj. Gibbs on climb out that "I ain't gonna do this no more, I have a wife and kids" or something to that effect.  The Major sternly asked him "What do these guys have?"

After we landed I took the cassette recording from my recorder and had my arm cocked to throw the tape ito the jungle but held back.  Now I am glad I did not.  I also counted the visible holes in the aircraft and counted 7.  One was within inches of the tail rotor drive shaft. We would have gone down if it had hit the shaft.
Another was extremelly close to the engine, which could also have taken us out.  Another came from the front right about a foot fron my head and I believe that is the one that struck Dallas.

My friend you have no idea how close you came to losing your life in order to save the others.  I don't know if you were decorated for that mission but you shoud have been.  Maj.
Gibbs rec'd the Silver Star and I rec'd the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor.  I believe Dallas rec'd the Air Medal.  He should have rec'd higher.

You have a right to this recording.  I can only tell you that I have given copies to those involved or similar to Jack Heslin.

Dennis Watson
Last Ship Co-pilot 
April 15th, 1972
 
 
 
Jack Heslin
thebattleofkontum.com
Helicopter Command Pilot
Chester, VA

 
The Battle of Kontum in the spring of 1972 was epic in scope.  During that period most Vietnamese ARVN soldiers fought with courage, discipline and skill. They fought as well as any soldiers in history fighting to preserve their freedom. Not many Americans are aware of the many proud Vietnamese military, from all services, who are war veterans and now living productive lives in the wonderful freedom we all enjoy.

One of the little remembered but incredibly hard fought battles during the Battle of Kontum was the 14 day battle that took place at Firebase Charlie which was located west of Kontum City on a high ridgeline known as Rocket Ridge. Throughout the late 1960's many American soldiers died fighting NVA units on Rocket Ridge.  In April of 1972 the ARVN 11th Airborne Battalion fought and died on that ridge. They were defending the approaches to the City of Kontum. The story of that battle and the courage of the ARVN Airborne troops and their leader was made famous in a Vietnamese song and  an award winning book published in 1972.

Those of us who have lived through combat must learn to deal with our memories over the years - some struggle with their ghost for the rest of their lives. Some write books, some build web sites and some write poetry. John Duffy, the only American to fight with the 11th Airborne Battalion in that battle, has written some powerful poetry as a way to share the memories of battle for Firebase Charlie. It was a time when men were being consumed in the white hot fire of combat. Of the 451 men commited, John came out after two weeks of intense battle with 36 survivors and most of them had been wounded.

His poetry places you in the action of battle like no one else can do, a must read at: epoetryworld.com   

NOTE;  My poem "Jaws of Death" in the War section relates a heroic and terrorfying action that Jack Heslin commanded, hearing the story and writing the poem gave me Post Debriefing Stress.  His families emotional comments after reading the poem are posted four entries below. 

John J.


 
May 10, 2009

John,

We have decided what will go on the FAC Memorial Pedestal between the two wings with the names of our fallen brothers- we want to put your Requiem that you so eloquently recited at the dedication on the center stone.
Review attached format and advise.

Jim Palmer
2008 Memorial Chairman


October 12, 2008

John,
 
Thank you for participating in the FAC Memorial Dedication on October 3rd, 2008.  Your Requiem was EXACTLY the touch and sentiment we wanted for this occasion.  I couldn't stop from crying when you read it but I was not alone.  This is a quote from one of the Honored Family members about what his son said: "He said it was really something sitting there with all of those old guys.  He thought the old guy next to him had a cold because he kept sniffling.  He said he looked over at him and he had a big tear running down his cheek as well.  So he looked around and all of those old guys were crying.  He went on to say it was the most impressive thing he had ever seen or been a part of."

You will be remembered by the Poem which you allowed us to put on the bench.  It is a poem about what FACs did written by someone other than a FAC.  We chose it because it was educational and part of the reason we built the Memorial was to let the public know something about Forward Air Controllers.  Your poem is the best form of compliment and it is all the more meaningful because it was written by someone who has been through the toughest of combat and has come out a Real American Hero!

Jim Palmer
Chairman, FAC Memorial Committee

10/16/09
Re:  Firebase Charlie

I've read many of the poems on your website, now.  I've read what it was like during the evacation.  Damm, just damn.

I've spent the last few days pondering the memories.  Charlie was the most terrifying and exciting thing that had happened in my life up to then.  I felt like we were doing something important.  I just wanted to attack, attack, attack, but we were constrained by our orders.  I volunteered to be a FAC at FB Yankee, but someone else was chosen.

I wasn't fond of the restrictions on blade time and ammo expenditures when there were men in the field who needed our help full time.  Escorting Chinooks to Dak Pek and Ben Het was necessary, but I hated flying past the shooting war on those days.

Soon after the Ridge fell, we couldn't land anywhere without taking artillery fire.  We were shot out of Tan Cann and Ben Het.  Eventually we were even getting shot out of Kontum.  I remember flying over Kontum during the siege at 2 AM, watching the city burn.  That is an unforgetable memory.  I sat in a captured T-54 in Kontum.

By June, we had lost enough advisors and aircrews that some pilots attitudes had changed.  We had to justify some of our decisions about shooting because we were much quicker on the trigger.  Some of us felt it was better to nip things in the bud.

Greg
Cobra Gubship Pilot

August 2007

John

I was at Firebase Charlie when they abandoned it after dark, part of a team of guns that covered the withdrawal.  As I recall, we relieved a heavy team of Cougar guns and another team of Panther guns when they had expended.  We had followed the battle on FM from Kontum northward and knew things were pretty hot on the ground.

We checked in and were told "You broke the attack!" and "Shoot 50 meters from the big fire!"  The problem is, we could see no less than three big fires and three or four small ones.  Otherwise, the mountaintop was pitch black.

We settled things by putting a pair 50 meters from the largest fire in the middle and were told.  "That's it Panther - put it right there!" and, a pass or two later:   "OK Panther,  we are leaving." and, I believe, a direction of egress.  We put the rest of our load between the big fire and the assumed position of the friendlies.The last thing we heard from the out-of-breath, pounding through the boonies voice on the other end of the radio was: "You broke the attack, we're clear and heading down the mountain."  Then, nothing

Three or four days later, when survivors had been recovered, the American sent us a thank-you  via Peter Arnett. The message was: "The first guns were good -- they broke the attack, but the last team was best.  They broke up things and covered our escape!"  I believe Arnett came by the "Stickitt Inn" and delivered his message personally.

Bill Reeder, who was part of the first team of Panther guns on station, went back to Viet Nam some years later and tells of sitting in the bar in Pleiku.  Some of the locals were singing.  He asked the bartender what they were singing about and was told "They sing about the Heroic Battle of Firebase Charlie."  Bill told the bartender "Hey, I was at Firebase Charlie!"  After that, he reports, he didn't have to buy a drink for himself all night!

Forrest B. Snyder, Jr.
Panther 19 - Firebase Charlie

 



 
  Jack Heslin
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jack Heslin
August 2009

John,
You have given me such a great gift with your poem "Jaws of Death".  The experience is at many levels. 
I sent the poem to my immediate circle of love - my wife, my four children, and my hero, my 83 year old brother-in-law Owen. These are some of the responses:

"If you could see my face just now, you would know it all.  The tears are streaming down, my heart is racing - so much power in the words - so much to see."     T.

"Beautifully expressed---words almost bring me there.  This one battle has me praising God that you are still here."    Owen.

"Dad, this is  truly amazing.  I've heard you recount bits and pieces of this over the years, and it always made me feel so proud of my hero.
Reading it, in such vivid detail, is so powerful in a much more terrifying way.  Imagining you in this situation, and perhaps for the first time understanding, unmistakeably, how close you were to dying, brought tears to my eyes.
Thank God you came home.  What a difference that has made in soooo many lives."   Jim.
                                    
"What a gift!  I agree with Jim whole-heartedly.  That is an amazing story told with a wallop."    John.                

"As is age appropriate, the third son thirds the thought. This is a keeper."      3d  Son
                                         
"The poem is so intense and moving - it puts you in the moment.  I can't help but cry each time I read it and thank God that he brought you safely home to us." Joan.

 
 
  Bill Reeder
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
June 2009

John,
Read the Trilogy and the Requiem.
I am moved by both, and have no changes to suggest.  You certainly captured the essence of our dueling .51 caliber machine guns atop Rocket Ridge, the drama of my shoot down at Ben Het, and the agony of capture and forced march north.  Similarly, your Helicoper Pilot Requiem is perfect and so very moving.  I printed it, and will leave copies with my family; so that it might be read when my time is finally gone. 

John, thanks for all you did on Charlie during those terrible April days, and thanks for what you have done to honor what a bunch of guys flying helos out of Camp Holloway did in those waning days of the war.  I'm especially moved and honored to be the focus of some part of your body of work  You have given a very special gift to me and so many others.
 
 
  Jim Palmer
Friday, May 15, 2009

John, thank you for the Requiem and the OK to put it in bronze on the pedestal!!  It was outstanding having you read it at the Dedication.  I tried to read it today to my old Radio Operator when I took him to the Memorial, and I broke down and couldn’t get through it; The requiem is emotional for those of us who were there and it will add a lot to the whole Memorial having it between the two “walls” of names.
 

Sincerely,

Jim Palmer

2008 Memorial Chairman

 
 
  Bill
Friday, May 15, 2009
I would be very grateful if you have interest in seeing if any of my experience might lend itself to a poem.  I am myself on a trip to Hawaii for the remainder of this week, and will send you some information when I return with details of my experiences over Firebase Charlie, getting shot down later at Ben Het, surviving nearly a year as a POW, and my earlier shootdown over Laos in an OV-1 Mohawk.  I will be interested to see what you think when you get it.

 
 
  Xanh
Friday, May 15, 2009

Hi Bill,

Yes, I got shot over Charlie about noon. Few bullets on the wing, and one exploded on my windshiel. I knew it was some time in April, but I don't remember the date. Luckily my aircraft did not burn and I made it back to my base. About 2 PM on the same day, my classmate, LT Ky supported Charlie. He was shot down and never come back.

Remember in our POW group, Lt Hung, Lt Nho were platoon leaders at Charlie. When Charlie was over run, they scattered. In bamboo camp, Lt Hung was in the same cell with me, he told me that he did see LT Ky's body (without the head) laid on the ground. I could not understand what force that caused his head separated from his body? even today I could not figure it out.

The bailout system, Yankee seat, in the A1 aircraft is very safe. I have bailed out 2 times; and the system does save my live. The first time my aircraft was got shot over North West of Kontum. I tried to get to Kontum air field. I made to Kontum airfield, I saw the run way, but my aircraft was burning so bad. The rudder & aileron became inoperative. I was force to bail out close to the runway. 

There is only one A1 squadron in high land area. More or less, all A1 pilots in Pleiku at time time have involved with the battle of Charlie.

O.K. It is long story! the story about war will never end.

I will stop here. Talk to you later.

Xanh Nguyen

 
 
  Bill
Friday, May 15, 2009
Information from one of the VNAF A-1 pilots who provided support for you.  Later shot down same day as me, and ended up in POW camp with me and walked the Ho Chi Minh Trail in same group as well.  He reminds me that we had LT Hung and LT Nho with us as well.

Bill


 
 
  Bill Reeder
Friday, May 15, 2009
Comments: Dusty Cyanide, this is Panther 36.
Just found out about your web site from another Panther, Forrest Snyder.  I was piloting one of the 361st Cobras in the first Panther flight to cover you.  Dan Jones was piloting the other.  I remember the battle well.  You adjusted our fire until we heard the call that you were leaving the fire base.  We broke station, ordnance expended and low on fuel, in deteriorating weather.  Another team of Panthers took our place and covered your withdrawal.  I was later shot down at Ben Het on 9 May and became a POW.  Ended up with several of your soldiers from Charlie.  Hope I might hear from you.     Bill Reeder
 
 
  Rick Lowery
Friday, October 10, 2008
John and Mary
I really did enjoy spending time together last week at  thr reunion at Colorado Springs, the site you have here is wonderful,  Thanks again for the  closure of the story you shared with me!!  A real HERO in my eyes!!  and a wonderful American!!!
Rick 
Bien Hoa 1970
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  Dick Hall
Saturday, January 5, 2008
John,

I saw a reference to you in the USAFA quarterly in an article about FAC's by Col Butler.  I am amazed at your work and at our small world.  I saw the Boss in Vegas a couple of times lately (last year or so) and stay in tuch with  him  and Mike Taylor and Al Mosiello.  Again, Sierra Hotel on the poetry.

cheers,  Dick Hall, Nail 50, Prairie Fire FAC
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  John DuBois @ National Purple Heart Hall of Honor
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
THANK YOU FOR SHARING, MR. DUFFY.  I HAVE DOWNLOADED YOUR POEM ON "PURPLE HEART" AND WILL SHARE IT WITH THE STAFF HERE AT THE NATIONAL PURPLE HEART HALL OF HONOR.WE LOOK FORWARD TO HAVING YOU ENROLLED HERE.  JACK D.
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  Jimmie H. Butler, Col, USAF, Ret
Monday, October 22, 2007
Dear John, As a member of the 2008 FAC Memorial Committee in Colorado Springs, I was given your letter with examples of your excellent poetry. I spent quite a bit of time the next day reviewing your military related poetry. I found your poem, The Forward Air Controller, to be particularly fitting for use in our 2008 Memorial to more than 250 FACs/Crewmen who gave their lives in Southeast Asia. We are about to go forward with our proposed design to the Park & Rec Board. With your permission, we'd like to display your poem as part of the memorial. In my current draft, I'm crediting it to Major John J. Duffy, US Army Special Forces. If you agree and there is a more appropriate way to express the credit, please let me know. We hope you'll be able to join us at the FAC reunion and the memorial dedication tentatively set for the morning of 3 October 2008. Please pass on the information to any of your other comrades who have such an understanding of the role of the FAC in SEA. Jimmie H. Butler Nail 12, NKP 7 Feb 1967--5 Jan 1968
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