Book Cover Photo by Charlie Witmer
Book Cover Photo by Charlie Witmer
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The Viet Nam War's biggest battle took place in the 1972 "Easter Offensive". America was withdrawing it forces from the war zone.   The Americans that were left to do battle were Advisors and airmen: Army helicopters, Navy Air off the carriers and Air Force planes with their full armada of destructive firepower.

In the Spring of 1972, the North Vietnamese Army launched a major offensive with fourteen Infantry Divisions and twenty-six separate Regiments supported by long range Russian artillery and 1200 armored vehicles and tanks.  The enemy force was 150,000 strong.  In the Central Highlands, three Divisions plus separate regiments were in the attack.  I was the lone American Advisor to the  Vietnamese 11th Airborne Battalion.  The paratroopers were tasked to block the most critical mountain pass to the Central Highlands.

Of the 471 men committed, I came out after two weeks of intense battle with 36 survivors, most of them had  been wounded.

Note:  Translation and poetic license help tell the story of the battle for Fire Base (FB) "Charlie".


    
Battle Call

Know the soldier's call,
Hear the order clear,
Into combat now!
Kill or find an end. 

Call forth the courage.
Be prepared to die.
Remember life's gifts-
Then you can survive.

 



Battle Plan

(North Vietnamese Army (NVA) 
Central Highlands Commander,
General Dan Vu Hiep
briefing
Commanding General 320th  (NVA) Division)
Colonel The Tan Nguyen


We move southwest from Cambodia,
Down the old French Highway.
It has been rebuilt for heavy trucks.
It is camoflaged and not known about.

Cross-over the mountains at Hill 1015.
There is a pass, it will be blocked,
Most likely by a Paratrooper Battalion.
Smash through them, advance to Route 14.

Route 14 will take you to Kontum.
There should be little or no resistence.
They have commited their Reserves
Believing they could hold us in the mountains.

Once Kontum is taken, reorganize.
The next move will be toward the Coast.
Our Forces have already secured the Coast.
A link-up will divide South Viet Nam.

A simple plan, do not fail to execute.
This has taken four years to organize.
You have the previlege of leading our soldiers.
Execute rapidly, that is key to success.


NOTE: The 320th NVA Division had 10,400 men plus additional attached units assigned to fight the "Charlie" battle


 
 
 
Battle Deployment
(General Lich And Colonel Peter Kama
Brigade Commander and Senior Advisor)
 
 
 
"The NVA will attempt to break through.
The pass at Hill 1015 is their best choice.
We must place our best Commander there.
This battle will be decisive for Kontum."
 
 
"The NVA rebuilt the old French road last year,
It will allow them to reinforce and resupply.
They will attack on this high finger ridge,
It'll leads right into our best defensive zone."
 
 
"The 11th Battalion deploys here, Colonel Bao commands.
He is fearless and a very determined leader,
His paratroopers respect his judgement.
He has some of my best officers in the Brigade."
 
 
"The Advisor is experienced, on his third tour,
He is big and tough and very combat savvy.
The only problem, he has no back-up.
He told me: "not to worry," he'll handle it."
 
 
"O.K.  The best battalion for the toughest mission,
This will be a fight to the death for "Firebase Charlie".
What is the Advisor, Major Duffy's call sign?"
"Sir, he is designated "Dusty Cyanide".
 
 
"Really!  Perhaps a bad omen for the NVA.


Note: The 11th ARVN Airborne battallion deployed with 470 officers and men, plus one advisor.
 
 
 
 
Clarification notes:
 
NVA term refers to "North Vietnamese Army", the enemy.
 
Hill 1015 is the height in meters of mountain above the pass the NVA were ordered to secure for passage into the Kontum Province. During the battle: It is designated "Firebase Charlie".
 
Kontum was decisive to the defense of the Central Highlands in South Viet Nam.
 
Advisor Team normal compliment: Two Officers and Two Non-Commissioned Officers. Due to a shortage of personnel, Major Duffy became a one man Advisor Team.
 
Call Signs: Designate leaders on the battlefield. 
 
 
 
 
 
Combat Assault by Helicopter
Combat Assault by Helicopter

Combat Assault Briefing

It is a four ship Landing Zone.
Recon Platoon will go in first.
Have an Artillery Observer with them,
Just in case we need fire support.

Flight time is fifteen minutes.
Each platoon will require four ships.
Split headquarters personnel amongst them.
Commanders go in on the lead ship.

The LZ is expected to be cold, but be prepared.
The NVA are moving from Cambodia,
Hill 1015 is the best crossing point.
They must get through the mountains.

The insertion should require two hours.
Get in, off load and prepare defenses.
Expect an attack, be prepared.
I will follow Recon, second flight lead.

Are their any questions?  If not,
Check your men, check your commo.
Prepare your reverse loading order.
We will do battle, fight like a paratrooper!


 


The Commander's Order 

The NVA have us surrounded.
They hold the mountain tops.
They have positioned their guns
To shoot down the helicopters.

It is here we must do battle.
It is here we must bleed them.
Do not let them take our positions,
This battle is to the end.

Tell the paratroopers to fight bravely.
Tell them to aim all of their bullets,
For we will not have a resupply.
Dig in deep and prepare for combat.

Any trooper not ready to fight,
I want him off the mountain.
I'll not have him die with us.
I'll not have him share in our glory.


 
North Vietnamese Army (NVA) 105mm artillery in combat
North Vietnamese Army (NVA) 105mm artillery in combat

Courage
(Doctor To Pham Lieu,
Cross of Gallantry w/Palm)

The Doc has been shot at.
Oh, Lord!  He has his gun out,
Sighting, Aiming, and Shooting
At a cannon with a forty-five.

He is hit and down,
But not for long,
Back up again,
Sighting, Aiming, Shooting. 

Trying to knock out a cannon
 With his forty-five.
God, isn't he ridiculous?
But he has courage.


 

Soup

White chicken, red comb,
Running back and forth
In the midst of battle,
Knowing not where to go.

Soldiers, fighting and dying all around,
Damn chicken doesn't know where to go.
What the hell, does it matter?
Tonight it will be in someone's soup.



Explosion of ammunition caused by enemy fire
Explosion of ammunition caused by enemy fire

"Be Brave'

Too many incoming,
The battle has begun,
Explosions of steel flash.
This fight will kill many.

"Be brave, my comrades."
What else can we do?
"There is no escape:
Kill or die is our fate."

 

Ungiven Command

Why have they lingered?
I do not know.
They should have retreated;
Now they will die.

Do they not know better,
What is the reason?
They are caught between us 
And certain death.

The dark would have hidden them,
Allowing them to escape,
Who didn't give the command
For them to withdraw?
 
Let them eat breakfast,
For it will be their last.
The bunkers they are in
Will soon be their tombs.




A Tribute To Love
(Le Van Me letter to his wife)

This may be my last letter for awhile.
The situation is approaching critical.
The Colonel is doing all that is possible.
The NVA will push forward and we will battle.

I will soon fight in a ferocious battle.
The Commander and the paratroopers are ready.
Perhaps, all will not return from this battle.
That is the fate of soldiers serving their country.

My thoughts will always encompass you.
My heart will always belong to you.
My strength is a tribute to your love.
Our children are testament to our love.

Do not worry when you hear the reports of battle.
I am ready and I know how to survive in combat.
I will come back home to you my precious love.
I will battle the dragons and return to your arms.


 


Birds Eye Six
(NVA spotter team leader "call sign")
 
 
Overlooking the "Charlie" bunkers,
An NVA artillery spotter team observes all.
Their job is to destroy the bunkers
And to kill the Commander's of "Charlie".

"The Commander just went into his bunker.
The Advisor is already in his bunker.
It is time to execute our fire plan.
They will never know what hit them."

"Give me the radio and watch the bunkers."
"Red Fire, this is Birds Eye Six, over.
Birds Eye Six, this is Red Fire, over.
Fire mission, three bunkers on Charlie."

Twenty kilometers away, the gun rolled on tracks
To its firing point outside a mountain tunnel.
"From Charlie One Register, ninety meters south,
Fire one round, I'll adjust from impact.

The one hundred thirty millimeter shell impacted.
"From impact, adjust forty meters east.
Direct hit, fire three rounds for effect.
Bunker destroyed, shift target north sixty meters."

"Gunner, one round - on target, three for effect.
Gunner, next target, shift thirty meters west,
Fire one round - on target, three for effect.
Report:  three bunkers destroyed, Six out."


 
Major John J. Duffy, Senior Advisor, 11th Airborne Battalion before 'The Battle for Charlie'
Major John J. Duffy, Senior Advisor, 11th Airborne Battalion before "The Battle for Charlie"

KIA

Shells are exploding,
Always digging deeper.
Three direct hits impact.
The Commander looks bad.

KIA: Killed in Action.
Wrapped in a poncho,
He'll lie in that hole
That was dug for him.

 

 
 
 
Direct Hit
 
The dust is choking.
The others are dead.
The radio still talks:
I must be alive.
 
The loud ringing noise,
Will it never stop?
I am half buried
In someone else's grave.
 
My bunker is destroyed.
I crawl over the bodies.
All are dead or dying.
I must kill that gun!
 
 
 
April 14th, 1972 FSB Charlie 11th Airborne Battalions toughest battle
April 14th, 1972 FSB Charlie 11th Airborne Battalions toughest battle

The Commander's Burial
(Colonel Nguyen Dinh Bao)

We wrapped him in a poncho,
Even his dismembered legs.
He had known that he was dying,
And he spoke his last words.

"Tell my wife I loved her true.
Tell my children to remember me.
Tell my paratroopers to never surrender.
You, my officers, one final salute."
 
He lays in a shallow grave alone;
No bugles, no farewell rifle salute,
Only a few shovels of red earth.
His grave is marked with his helmet.

He fought bravely until the end.
He fought against heavy odds.
He has fought his last battle.
With his glory, we leave him.

 



The New Commander
(Colonel Le Van Me)


He lost his friend and Commander.
The Executive Officer takes command.
His burden is great, his duties heavy,
But he is strong, fearless and experienced.

His staff and commanders receive orders:
"We will hold "Charlie", it is critical.
If the NVA break through, Kontum will fall.
There are no Reserves left, only us paratroopers.

"Duffy, can you take out the NVA guns?"
"If I have air support and someone covering me,
I will eliminate every gun that shoots.
That is what I can do. I will not fail you." 

"Major Hai, see that Duffy is covered.
Pick the best man we have, no failures."
All agreed that "Charlie" must be held.
This will be a battle to the last man.

 


Killing The Guns

"Major Duffy is on the perimeter.
He is being targeted by the NVA."
"He's in the open, he'll never last.
He is too big a target, they want him."

"He is changing location every few minutes.
He targets the guns, knocks one out
And then he is running to a new spot.
Everywhere he goes, the enemy targets."

"He has taken out the Spotter Team.
He has taken out four AA guns.
He is going after the 130 artillery."
"Them blowing his bunker up got his attention."




 


Destroying Guns

My radio on my back,
I move to the perimeter.
Getting closer to the enemy,
I target their guns first.

The Forward Air Controller
Stacks strike aircraft above.
I go after the anti-aircraft guns
And take out the Spotter Team.

Every few minutes, I change locations.

The enemy knowing, it is me killing them.
I take out the 105 artillery guns,
Then, I go after the 130 guns.

The bombers roll in to release.
Enemy fire is directed to destroy them.
The bombs drop off, killing gunsites.
All afternoon, I work the airstrikes.

Twice, I am blown off my feet,
Enemy fire nearly destroying me.
Ears ringing, I get up and run.
My radio still transmits, I keep killing guns.





 
B-52's, used tactically and decisively during the Easter Offensive - 1972
B-52's, used tactically and decisively during the Easter Offensive - 1972

Planes Above

It must be me
They're shooting at.
That's the third time 
I have been blown up.

It's the radio
They have spotted.
They know I'm talking
To the planes above.

I have to keep moving,
Hoping they don't see me.
Keep moving and talking 
To the planes above.

 They are in low and hot;
Dropping big bombs and nape,
Making the enemy shudder
And convulse, before his end.


CWO Dan Green and CPT Bill Reeder in front of bullit riddled cockpit post battle
CWO Dan Green and CPT Bill Reeder in front of bullit riddled cockpit post battle

Dance Of Death
(Panther 36 - Bill Reeder)
(Panther 13 - Dan Jones)
Silver Star

"Panther Lead, this is Dusty Cyanide."
"Dusty Cyanide, this is Panther Lead."
"I have multiple targets for you,
All fifty-one caliber machine guns."

Panther Lead was given locations,
Advised that the guns were all hot,
And that the gunners were eager.
He flew off into the sun, to set-up.

I watched him come out of the sun.
He was targeting the high gun first.
He flew straight into the gun,
Blazing away with his mini-gun.

From the hill top, the gun opened fire.
The green and red tracers crossing,
 Then the Cobra  fired his rockets,
The gunner and gun vanished in the explosion.


 Four times I watched this performance.
It was a dance of death between gunners.
The North Vietnamese lost this fight,
Four gun crews destroyed, four guns taken out.

"Dusty Cyanide, this is Panther Lead.
Be advised, running low on fuel,
And I'm bingo on ordnance.
Enjoyed the hunt, do call on us again."


 
 

Spectre on Target


The enemy guns go silent near dusk.
The setting sun is obscured by haze.
       The battlefield is burning and smoking.
All is quiet except for the wounded.
 
I lay down on some sandbags and sleep.
My radio still buzzes, as I listen for a voice.
From a deep slumber, I am awakened:
"Bravo Company needs help, NVA are attacking."

My head clears, it's a night attack on Bravo.
They are about to be overrun by the NVA. 
I contact the Forward Air Controller above:
"Covey, do you have "Spectre" on stand-by?"

"Dusty, this is Covey, that's affirmative,
But, be advised, your position is overcast.
"Spectre" needs to see his target before he fires."
"Covey: I see a hole above, fire into the hole."

The gunship spits out 40 millimeter rounds.
I adjust gunfire on to the attacking NVA.
I order, "Fire all guns for effect, kill them!"
The NVA attack is stopped.  "Dusty out."





 
Note:  "Spectre" is a C-123 flying gun platform configured to rapid fire 40mm rounds from a pair of twin mounted barrels firing from the side of the airplane.  In this case, it also had flare dispensers to allow for visibility during night hours.

"Covey" and "Spectre" were "on call" and on station since a "Prarie Fire"  emergency had been declared, i.e., a friendly force in emminent danger of being overrun.



 
Paratroopers in the attack
Paratroopers in the attack

Rocket Ridge


Blown up, wounded, deafened,
But never fearful,
The godless enemy came forward,
Knowing well how to die.

The battle raged back and forth.
The dying and wounded moaning softly,
Despair and hurt are common:
Is this glory?

Attack and counter-attack,
To and fro this battle rages.
Brave soldiers dying on both sides,
Only the righteous know why.

 



Delayed Fuze

I counted the moments by,
I knew I was to die.
The shell which landed close
Did not explode this time.

I had seen my end:
Knowing I was dead.
Time seemed to tick by, 
Each moment eternal.


 

The Machine Gunner

They are coming forward.
"Hold the trenches!'
"Set up that weapon!"
"Don't fall back!"

The bastard is still pulling back-
Shooting between his legs.
Fear and reality flash into his eyes,
He turns and faces his enemy.

Machine-gun down and bolt back:
Firing...Killing.
Rat-a-tat-tat...
Look at them die.

 

Hell's Moment

It's an inferno:
Smoke, dust and flame,
Shattering explosions-
Shred a moment's stillness.

Soldiers running fast,
Away from the flashes,
Trying to escape:
Afraid of death.

 The smell of battle,
Choking smoke and dust,
Life's last moments 
Caught in an explosion.

Night's darkness will come,
In but a short time.
Perhaps some will live,
Fleeing into the shadows.

 



Charlie Attack Order
(Colonel Khuat, Commander, 64th NVA Regiment)

Colonel Minh, your 7th Battalion will lead.
Attack in force, determine their strong points.
If you can breach the defences, do it.
Cao's 8th Battalion and Sinh's 9th Battalion will follow.

The 64th Regiment will take the "Charlie" position.
There are only a few hundred paratroopers there.
They are worn down, their commander is dead.
Only the American and his air force are a problem.

We have anti-aircraft guns on the mountain top.
They have a clear view of everything on "Charlie".
They will take out the American aircraft.
If they fly over your formations, shoot them down.

At 1730, 7th Battalion will commence the attack
Use the northwest finger terrain as the assault line.
That will allow ease of advance, no uphill attack.
Artillery preparation from 1645 until 1730 hours.

Cao and Sinh, your 8th and 9th battalions follow.
At 1800  hours, pass through the 7th, full attack.
Sweep "Charlie" carefully, don't leave anyone behind.
I want the American dead, that will stop air attacks.




 

Retreat!

They keep coming forward.
Twice we have stopped them
With a murderous fire.
They still keep coming.

The troopers are pulling back,
Out of ammunitions and frightened.
It is just the deadly planes-
Holding the enemy wave back.

 Only a few more minutes,
And darkness will be here.
They will attack before then.
That will be the end.

Retreat and escape,
Before it's too late.
The orders are given:
 We prepare to break-out.




The Rear Guard
(Me Van Le and John Duffy)


The paratroopers are pulling back,
Major Hai Doan is leading them.
They are spent, out of ammunition,
Many wounded, all hungry and thirsty.

"I'll cover the withdrawal with air.
The Cobra gunships are flying above us.
I'll use them to disrupt the enemy.
I'll work them close to cover the break-out."

The men have fought and died in the trenches.
They have stopped the NVA for two weeks.
No one could've expected more from them.
Nothing more can be done, except to save them.

"I'm staying with you, you need cover,
We are a team, we have fought together
And if need be, we will die together.
That may be the cost of saving our troopers."


 

Death's Breath

Death's moment is near,
I can feel its flame.
Soon it will be here,
It seems strange no more.


 



Attacking Charlie

The artillery fires crescendo has increased.
They are targeting our forward trench line.
It's a good thing Hai got the paratoopers out.
This barrage is preparation for the assault.

The NVA advance.  I contact Cougar Lead:
"NVA battalion in attack, western perimeter.
Do your best to stop them, we're out of ammunition."
Cougar flight tears into the enemy, blasting and killing.

"Me Le, I think they unloaded everything on them."
Their formation is shattered, dead and dying.
Only a handful made it to our defensive line.
"Cougar, good shooting, you stopped them". 



 


Follow-up Assault

The NVA assault is stopped by Cougar.
The bulk of the attack force is destroyed,
Only a few hunker down in our trenches.
There will be another follow-up attack.

The NVA will not give up the attack.
They must take Charlie or their plans will fail.
We wait for the next attack to commence.
Dusk is coming, they will attack before dark.

Out of the tree line, I see them moving rapidly,
It is more than a thousand, it must be two battalions.
  My air-support is rearming and refueling,
They better get here quick or we are finished.

Two battalions move into our previous trenches.
They see that we have abandoned our positions.
They consolidate and appear to be searching,
The NVA are looking for any paratroopers still alive.


 


Charlie Sweep Order
(LTC Sinh, Commander, 9th NVA Battalion)

Captain Hoa, only the 7th battalion was hit hard.
We now hold "Charlie" but they're still here.
You take your company and sweep to the east.
I don't want anyone left behind your sweep.

Hoa led his company in a broad advance.
The sweep covered the outer trench line.
They needed to find the American Advisor,
The air force above was still attacking them.

As they closed in on the eastern perimeter,
They saw movement in a trench, it was two men.
They were paratroopers, the big one was the American.
They picked up their pace, closing carefully.


 
 

Panther One Three
(Panther 13, Dan Jones)
(Panther 36. Bill Reeder)
Silver Star Medal



"Dusty Cyanide, this is Panther one three, Over."
"Panther, say your arrival time over Charlie?"
Panther advises that he is five minutes out:
I pass my situation up-date to him, advising "Hurry!"

"Me Le. they've seen us, stop them if you can!"
"I'm talking to the gunships, they're coming in."
Me Le aims and begins firing at the NVA,
Empty, he changes his magazine.

   Rat ta tat tat, Bang, Bang, Bang, Me Le is hit.
He is down, but not for long, he is back up again.
He is emptying another one of his magazines,
"Get down!  Get Down!  The Cobras are coming in."
 

Panther flight comes in right over our heads.
Their 40 millimeter and guns shatter the NVA formation.

Hot shell casings rain down on us from the Cobra's guns.
The attack falters and is destroyed in the go around.

 
"Panther one three, Dusty Cyanide, that was close.
You stopped the NVA, estimate one hundred killed.
We're leaving Charlie, keep the NVA from following us."
Both Me Le and I get up and run for our lives. 




 
Note: The Cobra can unleash a devastating volumn of  fire: 40mm grenade firing rate, 400 rounds per minute, 7.62 mini gun, 2,000-6,000 rounds per minute (adjustable), 2.75 rockets, 52 per Cobra, squeezed off single, or in series of multiples. 
Archlight
(B-52 cell, three aircraft)

"Covey Nine Nine, this is Dusty Cyanide, over."
"Dusty Cyanide, this is Covey nine nine, over."
"Covey, Dusty, we are moving off "Charlie".
I have a target request for you, over."

"Dusty, go ahead, pass your request."
"Covey, request B-52 Archlight strike on "Charlie".
Target, two battalions of NVA troops in the open.
Request strike be executed as soon as possible."

"Roger Dusty, Covey, stand by one!"
I wait: "Dusty, that is an affirmative.
An Archlight is being diverted to "Charlie".
You need five hundred meters distance, over."

"Covey, this is Dusty moving northeast,
Give me fifteen minutes to get distance, over."
"Dusty, Bingo plus twenty minutes till drop. 
I'll advise pre release of the bombs, out."


 
Deaths Hammer


" Dusty, this is Covey, one minute warning."
"Roger Covey, we are in defilade, over."
"Dusty, bombs released, impact ninety seconds,
Hang on to your steel pots and open your mouths!"  

The five hundred pound bombs cascade down.
The bomb bay empty, the wing loads are released.
Seven hundred pound bombs follow in trail.
Three B-52's drop their loads of destruction.

The whistling death is heard by all.
We hug the earth as close as possible.
Explosions shake the earth, leaves rain down.
We are rattled by the after shock. 

A dark cloud of smoke arises from "Charlie".
The NVA could not possibly have survived.
Death and destruction end this fierce battle.
The dead NVA on "Charlie", are victorious.




Note:  Each B-52 carries 108 five hundred (internal) and seven hundred pound (external) bombs, 70,000 pounds of destruction.
All 324 bombs are dropped simultaneously for concerted impact effect.


 
Air Force B-52 bomb drop  90 seconds before impact
Air Force B-52 bomb drop 90 seconds before impact


Command Change

Colonel Le Me is coughing up blood.
The Doctor is trying to patch his chest wound.
"Duffy, You must take command of the battalion.
You must save the remaining paratroopers."

"I'll get us off the mountain, you'll be O.K.
We'll be back in Saigon in a few days.
The NVA are dead, they cannot follow us.
We'll be drinking cognac at the Paradise Lounge."

Major Duffy, the Advisor and senior officer
Assumes command of the 11th Airborne.
He will lead the night march thru the jungle.
He gives the orders, everyone falls in behind him.


Note: Of the 471 paratroopers in the battalion, 151 are in this night withdrawal.


 

Check Fire
(Night Withdrawal)

"Incoming.  Everyone, get down!"
"That is 105 fire from our own batteries.
Who the hell gave the clearance to fire?
They are killing our own paratroopers."

"Brigade, Dusty Cyanide calling, over."
"Dusty Cyanide, this is Brigade Three."
"Brigade 105 artillery is hitting us.
Do you have a fire mission working?"

"Dusty, that is 113 Company fire mission."
"Brigade, impact is killing my paratroopers.
Check Fire!  Check Fire!  Immediately!"
"Dusty, Check Fire in place, confirmed."

"Brigade, this is Dusty Cyanide,
I have three KIA and five WIA.
Who authorized this fire mission?"
"Dusty, 113 Company requested this mission."

"Brigade, did you clear this fire mission?"
"Dusty, affirmative, I'll plot you on my map."
"Brigade, do not authorize fire missions.
Check with me before you approve, over"

"Dusty,  Roger that, I will clear all fire missions.
We'll post your progress on the map board.
Is there anything else we can do for you?"
"Aside from blowing your brains out, no." 

"Dusty Cyanide out!"
 


 

New Dawn

My eyes have been blinded.
I am stumbling in the dark.
I cannot see anything,
Slipping down a jungle path.

I am in water now.
Damn!  It's over my head.
Let me drink deep,
While I have the chance.

I'll tread my way out of here,
Up onto a jungle path,
And walk myself
Away from here.

I've been moving many hours,
Guided by a young trooper's hand.
Once buried by the panicked herd,
When friendlies bombarded us.

That hill was straight up:
Made it on my hands and knees.
But coming down now,
Sliding fast on my ass.

Stepped on the Doc then.
I still can't see worth a damn,
But wait: I see trees and the sky,
A new dawn is here.

Ambush

The swosh of the mortar,
The rat-a-tat-tat of the machine gun,
Fear dominates the green soldiers.
Panic herds them into the killing zone.

Lord, how easily they die,
Their lips silently moving.
Appeals of the young to mother and God:
Blood bubbles from between their lips.

Escape 

The young green troopers panic;
Running away from the sound of fire.
Down toward the stream and death,
 Where the killing guns draw blood.

Break away!  The path of least resistance.
Move fast!  Don't get caught in the panic.
Move quick!  Go, go, keep moving!
The veterans are still with you.

I takes time to kill the bunched herd;
Time needed to break-out,
Shooting when necessary,
But always moving quickly.

Snipers on the hilltops,
Trying  to channelize movement.
Disregard!  Disregard!
Their aim is high.

Far enough now.
Stop!  Everyone quiet!
Security move out!
Radio operating:...contact.

"Covey, this is Dusty,  I require a lift package,
Thirty seven with some wounded.  Over."
"Roger Dusty, 4 ships for thirty seven.
Stand-by Dusty, I'll try to rustle them up. Out."

 

Pursuit Force

We secure the LZ and redistribute the ammunition.
Me Le repositions the paratroopers for defense.
We hunker down, awaiting the rescue ships.
We watch for the NVA, they know we got away. 

Me Le points toward an NVA force moving toward us,
About fifty NVA are advancing, searching slowly.
They are in a stream bed and they'll see us soon.
"Hold fire, wait until I get us some air support."

 I contact Covey, advise of the NVA approaching
And I request Cobras or A-1E bombers.
A pair of A-1E's were vectored to our position.
 Briefed, they made a gun run on the NVA troops.

Two more pairs of A-1Es show up and assist.
Bombs and napalm are dropped on the enemy.
They are killed and the pursuit force is destroyed.
We await word on the arrival of our lift package.
  
Hot Extraction

"Dusty, this is Covey, lift package , five minutes out.
There are four lift ships and a pair of Cobras.

I'm low on fuel and I must return to base. Over."
"Roger, four lift ships and guns, Thanks Covey. "

I advised Me Le, five minutes out, get ready,
Seriously wounded out first, four lifts.
Our band of thirty seven is divided up,
Four sticks, ready for lift off and rescue.

The Cobra gunships come in on the radio first.
I brief them on the situation, they circle us.
Huey lead comes up on the radio and is  briefed:
"Dusty, we're directed to have you on the first lift out."

"Huey Lead, be advised I will be the last man out."
"Dusty Cyanide, Huey Lead acknowledge, last man out."
I pop a red smoke when I have him in view.
He spots the red smoke, I confirm red is a go.

I vector Huey Leads approach.  Touch Down!
The wounded loaded and the rest scramble aboard.
 F
irst Load heads out: NVA machine-gun fire erupts.
The enemy gunner is to the south, forty meters.

The Cobras roll in, each in turn fire on the gun,
Their mini guns and rockets blast the enemy.
Lift Two in, touch-down, troopers load and gone.
Lift Three is right behind, load and out.

Me Le, Hai, two troopers and myself as tail gunner.
On final approach, Lift Four comes in under heavy fire.
He aborts his approach and does a fly-around.
The Cobras roll in, expending on the gunners.

Lift Four comes in from a different direction.
Touch down!  We scrambled aboard his aircraft.
I am  the last on and I ride the strut, signaling go!
The pilot lifts off, enemy fire riddles the ship.

PING! PING! PING!, Hai is hit and falling. 
On the strut, I reach out, grabbing his web gear.
I throw him back into the aircraft, Me Le helps.
I crawl into the helicopter, Me Le is treating Hai.

The Crew Chief, tettered, is twisting in the wind, 
 I haul him in and patch the chest entry wound. 
The exit wound is much bigger and is bubbling.
I am quick patching the wound; the bubbles stop. 

We are clear, we are out, but one man dead,
And Hai, his foot shattered by enemy gunfire.
We touch down at the Kontum medical station
And drop off the wounded Hai and the dead Crew Chief. 


Note: The Crew Chief and the door-gunner wear a tetter rope to keep them from getting totally shot out of the aircraft when they take a hit.




 

NOTE: 
This poem is focused on Dallas Nihsen's death, not only as part of the story, but as a tribute to him and all the herioc door-gunners who served in the war.


Crew Chiefs End
(Crew Chief Dallas Nihsen, KIA)
(Major Hai Doan, WIA)
(Pilots, Major "Mike" Gibbs (Silver Star)
 & WO Dennis Watson (Distinguished Flying Cross))

Three lifts loaded and off.
It is our bird coming in fast.
The gunfire is picking up.
The enemy knows we are escaping.

On approach the pilot takes heavy gunfire,
He circles, and is coming back in.
Touchdown, enemy fire riddles the ship.
We're running fast and scramble aboard.

We are lifting off and flying,
Flying away from a jungle battle.
Major Hai's foot is shattered,
By a fifty-one caliber bullet.

The Crew Chief is hit and hanging,
Held in the aircraft by his tetter.
He's unconcious and needs help.
I climb to his side of the aircraft.

I drag him back into  the helicopter.
He's hit just above his chicken plate,
A clean wound that needs patching.
I apply my bandage to his wound.

I turn him over and find the exit wound.
It is big and it is still bubbling.
I'll quick patch and stop the bleeding.
The bubbles stop before I am finished.


 



The Operations Officer
(Major Hai Doan, WIA)
(Cross of Gallantry w/Palm and
Bronze Star w/Valor device)

It had been the fiercest of battles.
The Battalion Commander had been killed,
Company Commanders lost leading their men,
The Executive Officer and the Advisor wounded.

Two weeks holding the enemy waves back.
Incoming artillery a routine happening.
Surrounded and attacked by the 320th NVA Division.
Heavy machine-guns above us on the high ground.

Finally, the break-out into a pitch black jungle.
Friendly fire inadvertently killing paratroopers.
The check-fire and the morning ambush,
Breaking through the "kill zone" to escape.
 
The Advisor leads us to an opening,
Enought room for a helicopteer pick-up.
He forms a perimeter and redistributes ammo.
On his radio, he calls for an extraction.
 
The NVA have pursued us to our location.
We engage in battle for more than an hour.
The lift ships arrive and begin the extraction.
Three lifts out, only the command group remains.
 
We await the last lift ships arrival.
The enemy wants to capture our group.
The enemy shouts our names to surrender.
We answer with gunfire and Cobra attacks.

I'm the last to board except for the Advisor.
He jumps on the strut.  I'm hit and falling.
I'm falling to my death, I know I am dead.

Hands grab me and haul me back into the aircraft.
 
My leg is shattered by an enemy bullet.
It hurts, I hear myself screaming.
I know with so much hurt and pain,
I must be alive, life is still mine. 


 
Bronze Star "Valor"
Captain Hai Doan, Battalion Operations Officer 12-15 April 1972, exceptional bravery in the face of enemy gunners targeting him. Exposed himself numerous times in order to direct artillery and air support fires.  Totally reliable in the face of a determined NVA and instrumental in the survival of the battalion.
 
Warrior's Gun
(CAR-15, Serial # 906557)

The helicopter flew north to Brigade.
It had been a desperate battle.
We had held the enemy back.
We had stopped them for two weeks.

The battalion had fought well.
The new commander Colonel Le Me
Was a determined fearless leader.
I was proud to have been his advisor.

My CAR 15 had been given me
By another fierce warrior.
I had promised to pass it on
To a warrior worthy of the gun.

At the time, this gun had status.
I handed it to Le Van Me and said:
"Only a warrior has rights to this gun."
His eyes teared up just a bit.

He held the gun as a new friend.
"I will honor this gun as a warrior.
I will fight for my beloved country
With courage and the gun of a hero."
 


Note:  Captain James Butler, a decorated "Green Beret" hero presented this gun to Major Duffy.

Footnote:  Decorations awarded Colonel Le Van Me
before he escaped Viet Nam with his family.

Colonel Le Van Me is one of his countries most decorated officers:

National Order Of Viet Nam, Knight
Army Distinguished Service Cross
7 Gallantry Crosses with Palm
6 Gallantry Crosses with Gold, Silver or Bronze Star
3 Wound Medals

American decorations

Bronze Star with Valor Device
Silver Star


Silver Star Citation
Major Me Van Le,  4-15 April 1972 as Executive Officer, led multiple counter-attacks against a determined enemy.
As Battalion Commander, led a heavily out numbered (10 to 1) and out gunned paratrooper battalion in a heroic defense of "Firebase Charlie", thereby disrupting the enemy attack time table and punishing two Regiments of NVA 320th Division by inflicting more than 1250 KIA (estimate) on those units.  This prevented NVA from pushing through Kontum and linking up with NVA coastal units which would have cut the country in two and been a severe demorilizing blow to South Vietnam's fight for freedom.    
His courage, leadership, and extroadinary bravery determined the survival of the 11th Airborne Battalion.
 
 
 
 
Letter Of Hope
 
 
Colonel Le Me's letter was delivered
By a Captain from Headquarters staff.
He gave Sen, Le Me's wife, the letter
And he awaited her instructions.
 
Sen opened and slowly read the letter,
Her young children playing in the garden.
Tears slowly ran down her cheeks.
She thanked the Captain for his courtesy.
 
Sen read and reread the letter again,
It was her reassurance while waiting.
She heard all the reports of battle:
Fierce fighting reported on "Firebase Charlie".
 
She trusted and believed her husband.
She so wanted him to come back to her,
To return to their three small children
And to be the father of his family.
 
The reports from the North Vietnamese
Claimed that they had killed or captured
All of the paratroopers that had fought
On "Firebase Charlie"; Colonel Le Me included.
 
She held his letter close at night.
Tear drops stained the pages of the letter.
He had promised to return to her.
The letter was her last hope.
 
She heard his knock on her door.
She gasped and ran to the door:
Her man had returned as he promised.
He laughed at her tears and kissed her.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

The Commanders Family 
(Colonel Nguyen Dinh Bao Memorial Service)

Can you picture the scene:
Incense burning, banners hung, casket draped.
 The moans and the weeping blend,
Sorrow hangs in the atmosphere.

The Commander's comrades gathered,
To offer their last salute.
The young widow strong at first,
But soon sorrow overcomes her.

It is not the smoke which tears my eyes,
Although I have lit seven joss sticks.
The words are spoken for all to hear.
Now, it is I who must say the last

I will say the truth, and how he died:
"He died leading the paratroopers he loved."
"He died fighting for the freedom he cherished."
"He died a hero of his country." 


 

Note: Colonel Bao was decorated and promoted after the battle for Charlie.
At his funeral, attended by his officers, to include this Advisor, his casket was empty, he remained on the battlefield, where he fell.



 

The Distinguished Service Cross
The Distinguished Service Cross

 

 

The author was honored with the award of the "Distinguished Service Cross" for actions with the 11th Airborne Battalion, the  citation:


AWARD OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam:  Major Duffy distinguished himself while serving as the Senior Advisor, 11th Airborne Battalion, Airborne Division, Army of the Republic of Vietnam at Fire Support Base Charlie, Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam during the period 14 and 15 April 1972.  Beginning with the morning of the 14th and continuing for a period of approximately twenty-four hours, Major Duffy repeatedly made heroic contributions to the defense of the fire base.  When attempts at resupplying the base were still being considered,
Major Duffy exposed himself to the effects of the continuous bombardment the base experienced as he targeted anti-aircraft weapons and adjusted airstrikes on them.  When the resupply attempts were abandoned Major Duffy moved about the base, continuing to expose himself to the enemy fire, treating and finding shelter for wounded Vietnamese defenders.  During the early evening initial ground assault, Major Duffy ignored the massive small arms fire as he adjusted gunships and artillery on the advancing enemy formations.  When the enemy finally gained control of a portion of the base and advanced to within ten meters of his position, Major Duffy was the last man off the base, remaining behind to adjust the covering gunships until the last possible moment.  After the Battalion Commander was wounded, Major Duffy assumed command and lead the formation through the night.  Finally, when the battalion was ambushed and the unwounded soldiers abandoned their wounded comrades, Major Duffy remained with the wounded and eventually was able to arrange for their extraction.  Major Duffy's conspicuous gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

 


 

 

In the aftermath of the battle for Firebase "Charlie", an award winning book was written about the battle, "The Red Flames of Summer" by Nam Nhat Phan, and a song was composed by Tran Thanh, "The Ones who stayed at Charlie".  This is a weak effort at interpretation of that song (Translation: Le Van Me & John J. Duffy).  The bodies of the fallen were left where they fell in battle.  This song is still sung by Vietnamese to lament their fallen warriors.

 

 


The Ones Who Stayed At "Charlie"
(Nguoi O lai Charlie)


Oh you!  The ones who stayed at "Charlie".
Oh you!  The ones who died in battle.
Yes, you are the nations newest heroes.
You were the bravest of the brave.
We mourn your passing with sorrow.

Yes you, the ones who stayed at "Charlie".
Oh yes, you are now with heaven's angels.
Oh yes, you are a warrior returning home.
Only now we cry our tears of sorrow.

The day you departed, you said "Goodbye".
You left your home one last time.
Your footfalls are no longer heard.
Your absence is felt by all of us.
We mourn you with white headbands.
Your lonely children cry in sadness.
Your widow dreams of you at night.

We know the names of Dak To, Krek, Snoul,
windy Khe Sanh, and the moonlite Laos.
"Charlie" is not a Vietnamese name place.
Oh you, you stayed at "Charlie",
Just stayed at "Charlie".
"Charlie", we didn't know that name before.

You, you, will you miss the monsoon rains?
You, you, will you remember the colors of the forest?  
Oh!  Have you arrived at your distination?

Forever!  We will love you forever!
My warrior who will not return,
I say one more time, one more time,
I say goodbye to you on "Charlie".
I say one more time, one more time,
I say goodbye to you on "Charlie".

I will remember you forever
As I talk to my warrior gone to heaven.

 

 

 

 

Excerps from "The Red Flames of Summer",
author: Nam Nhat Phan 


Translation excepts attached: 


Duffy, running amid smoke and dust with a radio on his back, was issuing short, clear and precise orders.  And from the sky, silvery jet fighters, with their fierce firepower were diving down on the enemy hidden in the dark, smoky woods.  At the jets cleared away, Cobra gunships came in.  The noise of bombs, anti-aircraft guns, rockets, heavy guns and mortars shook the broken red-clay hill.

Like in a Hollywood combat scene, wherever Duffy went, enemy fire followed him.  And he immediately moved to another position.  "Shit" Major Me Le shouted into Hai's ears. "Get someone to tell Duffy to lie down because his antenna is being targeted!"  It was a moment too late.  Duffy's tall body was lifted off the ground and thrown into a trench.
Like  a miracle, from  the mess of soil, rock, dust and smoke, the sturdy man stood up and ran to another position, the receiver of his radio still in his hand.  "Over!  Over!"  There was still no change in his voice. 
 
 
 
Requiem For Those On Charlie
(Killed in Action, April 2-15, 1972)
 
 
 
You can walk up the mountain to"Charlie".
You are required to take a guide with you.
"Charlie" has become a tourist attraction,
A battle site from a long ago war.
 
 
 
Two hundred meters from "Charlie's" top,
You see the signs that indicate danger.
There are unexploded bombs above you,
Too many to clear in a safe manner.
 
 
 
It is just as well that this is so
As the soldiers from both sides rest above.
Some were hastily buried in shallow graves,
Others, strewed about from the fallen bombs.
 
 
 
These men gave their lives in battle.
Both sides, the South Vietnamese paratroopers
And the North Vietnamese Army soldiers
Fought and died in the battle for "Charlie".
 
 
 
The stories of struggle, combat, heroes and death,
They were told in poetry, books and a famous song.
The song grieves for all who died in the war,
It is sung around the world, tear drops lament the fallen.
 
 
 
Salute the fallen Vietnamese of a war now long past.
Remember a husband, your father, or a brother.
They were men of courage who fought to  their death.
 Remember the face, whisper the name of a hero.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Ghosts of Charlie
(
"Charlie" is now a battlefield preserve)
(A guide is required to visit.)



On a cold wet monsoon season day,
I walk up to the mountain to "Charlie".
The mist holds the mountain heights;
It swirls between the crevices and the trees.

I see the men in helmets rising from below.
They are engaging in a battle for the high ground.
Yes, a swarm of men in pit helmets
Reach out and grab a soldier in a steel pot.

I'm frightened: "Did you see those soldiers?"
The guide responds: "This is thier land and home".
"But, they were fighting each other, it was real."
"That is all they know how to do, kill each other ."

"But, they are dead, why would they fight?"
"All soldiers fight, that is their essence."
"Can they ever rest or will they never have peace?'
"On Charlie, they are mixed together, they will fight".





 

Departing

Flying away from 'Nam
On a Tri-Star jet.
Leaving behind me 
Part of my destiny.

Is it sadness or delight,
Or can it be both?
For there are memories,
Both bad and good.

Soldier Cycle

When I was a Private,
I liked to read a lot.
It was a pleasant way
To pass the time away.

Then I became a Sergeant,
And I studied my profession,
Taking pride in the ways
I knew to kill other men.

Soon I became a Lieutenant,
Becoming very serious
About my new responsibilities,
Trying to know all things.

When the war at last came,
I was wearing Captain's bars,
And fully confident
Of all I thought I knew.

I guess I did well:
Not having gone to Hell.
They promoted me Major,
Before the war was through.

I begin to wonder
Why I still soldier.
Since the war has stopped,
I like to read a lot.

The End Of The Viet Nam War:

 

 

Vietman, Spring of '75

Khe Sanh, Quang Tri,
 Kontom, Pleiku,
The provinces fall...
Where I have fought.

Four years fighting;
Watching friends die,
Awaiting my moment,
Learning not to smile.

Now it seems in vain,
As the provinces fall,
Only Tay Ninh remains
Of where I've fought.

The rest soon fall.
New flags wave high
 Over old citadels:
The new order marches.

 

Peasant Revolution

White flags are waving
In the streets of Phnom Penh.
The city has fallen
To the new red order.

Yesterday's rulers fled,
Taking their booty -
Escaping from the smoke
Of the burning city.

The peasants no longer
Laugh as in times gone by -
Now they carry guns:
Looking hard-eyed and grim.

The revolution has born
This new aristocrat:
An illiterate farmer
From Mekong paddy fields.

The Domino's Fall

Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos,
The last domino has fallen
Of the old French Indochina:
Red flags wave-in the revolution. 

The gunfire of decades has stopped.
In a few short weeks, all has changed;
Across borders, the old order has fled,
The revolutionists chant victory.

LTC Le Van Me, Commander Hero during 'The Battle for Charlie'
LTC Le Van Me, Commander Hero during "The Battle for Charlie"

Escape From Viet Nam:

 

 

Colonel Le Van Me
(Awarded:  Cross of Gallanty w/Palm,
7 times.
His Nations Highest Award for Valor)

Le Van Me became an officer.
Learning all that was needed
To survive and lead soldiers
In the war that ravaged Viet Nam.

He found his love and married.
Soon, he began a family.
He had a son and two daughters,
Hoping he would live to see them grow.

He fought in the battles,
 Surviving when others died.
In time, he commanded the best,
Paratroopers wearing the red beret.

His deeds became legend.
He was the commander who fought,
And never suffered defeat,
Always standing, while others fell.

But, the day Saigon fell,
He had to make his choice.
Flight and freedom he sought,
Risking all in the open sea's.

  

Escape From Viet Nam

The new masters know terror:
The terror of retribution,
 The terror of hopelessness,
The terror of life in fear.

Colonel Le Van Me must flee.
His family is his hope, 
For he no longer commands.
His Viet Nam is in defeat.

He commandeers a boat -
His family is loaded aboard,
Refugees on the high sea's,
Fleeing the storm of terror.

No water, no food, only hope,
Hope that they will escape,
Hope for freedom without chains,
 Hope for a new beginning.

The boat is open decked,
It soon runs out of fuel.  
The sea's swamp the bottom
With foul salty water.

Their plight is desperate.
The children are thirsty and tired,
The nights are cold and very wet.
All are full of hopeless despair. 

Six days without rescue -
Until off the Philippines,
A warship picks them up..
And hope's flame burns again.

The New Americans

It is time to begin anew.
It is time to begin the future.
"We will not linger here."
"We'll go anywhere you say."

With three young children 
And a very pregnant wife,
Colonel Le Van Me departs
On the "Freedom Bird" of hope.

Thousands have fled Viet Nam.
The camp is in Arkansas,
At an old Army base,
They receive a "Welcome Kit".

The baby is soon born.
Le Van Me looks at the mountains,
They are east, on the horizon:
They are the Ozark Mountains.

He says: "My son is American,
He will be named as such."
To honor my new country,
"We'll call him Ozark Le."

  


Journey of Love, Survival, Hope and Glory
(Nguyen Thi Sen and Le Van Me)
March 17, 2018

I received a birthday card today.
It was from Me Le and his wife Sen.
I'm turning eighty and I've known
The both of them for more than half my life.

They have been married for fifty years. 
My birthday is just before their anniversary.
They were young then and in love,
A beautiful accomplished woman and an officer.

He was a young lieutenant soon to be a paratrooper.
Viet Nam, his country was fighting a war.
Their future was precarious and uncertain,
But love wins over war and lovers are foolish.

Married  life was all of excitement, passion and fear.
Yes, A paratrooper officer fought in the vanguard.
To wear a red beret invoked courage and fearlessness,
And Sen, the woman of his heart was his strength.

She knew the war was just and the goal was peace.
Her first child Vu arrived, he brought great joy.
He was followed by Quyen, a beautiful smiling baby.
Phuong joined the family, a perky baby with great strength.

Me Le went to war and became a commander.
The battles were fought and his courage prevailed.
He would return to Sen and she would heal him.
His pride and joy were his children and Sen.

He would tell me when we were in battle together:
"My wife Sen is a flower in paradise, with passion.
She loves everything and her love is like a rock.
She never falters, she never complains, she is always there."

Me Le became a hero in Viet Nam, his legend is known:
He was the Commander the enemy could not break.
But the war failed, the North Vietnamese prevailed
And only one choice was left: flee and survive.

They escaped on a derelict boat commandeered at gunpoint.
The nights were cold the days with little food.
On the seventh day, with hope furlough,
They were rescued by a ship with rope netting to climb.

Me Le carried his daughters on his shoulders up the netting.
The boy Vu was strong enough to attempt the journey alone,
One slip and he would be crushed between the boats.
Sen, seven months with child, climbed one foot at a time fearfully.

In the Philippines: "I'm ready to go anywhere.
It is time for the family to begin a new life."
They arrived in America, the land of cowboys.
A new baby born, they named him Ozark, after the mountains.

A church  sponsored them and they went to Missouri.
Whatever work was needed, Me Le did without complaint,
But, he also attended night school to learn new skills.
In a year, they began their journey to California, the land of dreams.

They needed a house, Me Le signed his name, pay later.
"We'll earn our bread, study and educate our children."
Sen and Me Le worked, oftentimes at two jobs
And Me Le with a degree, became an engineer, earning more.

All the children completed college, Vu became an engineer.
Quyen, a Berkeley graduate, went on to law school.
Phuong, the spunky daughter, became a journalist,
And Ozark, the American born, is an educator.

Four grandchildren, all American to the core,
Struggle with the little Vietnamese they've learned.
The family laughs  and celebrates all that they have done.
I celebrate their triumphs, their love, their great friendship.

 
Thirteen Years Of Torture/Retribution:


The Reeducation Camps
(Post Viet Nam War, 1975 - 1990)

With defeat, my world vanished.
I was no longer a being in self.
I was an enemy of the new State.
I was to be reindoctrinated to obey.

I reported as ordered to the police.
 I was to be reeducated into society.
The education camp was in the jungle
Where I was transported without trial.

I must have been stupid or stubborn
 For I refused to bow to the communists.
I refused to worship Chairman Ho Chi Minh.
I refused my education on socialism.

After a year of stubborn refusal,
My captors determined I needed reform.
I was placed in wooden stocks.
I was isolated underground to rehabilitate.

For nine years I was allowed to reform,
Nine years alone in my wooden stocks,
 Nine years kept alive while underground,
I never changed my views, I never bent.

 Three more years of reeducation in the camp,
I worked as ordered by my captors.
In time, I must have seemed reformed.
One day, after thirteen years, I was released.

Thereafter, I escaped their jurisdiction.
I escaped their indoctrination of fear.
 I escaped to a life of being a free man.
I escaped Viet Nam, communists and subjugation.

I walk in freedom.  I earn my bread.
I believe in hope and aspiration.
I relish each day of my freedom,
I'm free from repression, torture and  communism.
 
          My name is Nam Nhat Phan 


Note: Nam is a celebrated author, lecturer and talk show host.  His heroic resistance while in captivity is acknowledged by all.

 

 

Exodus Epilogue



Almost forty years have gone by
Since the fall of Saigon.
The images are of defeat,
Frozen in a photograph.

Desperate people gaining entry
To the Embassy grounds,
And flight from the rooftop -
One helicopter at a time.  

The pilots crashing their planes
Near the evacuation ships,
Hoping for rescue and freedom,
Against the fear of retribution.

The victorious enemy tanks
Crashing through the Palace gates,
Raising the flag of the North
Over the citizens of the South. 

The exodus never stopped,
The flight was always desperate.
The Vietnamese freedom lovers
Sought escape to other lands.

More than three million did flee,
In boats, over open sea's.
Some were set upon by pirates, 
Others, by the bureaucrats of freedom.

But, an escape, many achieved.
And as a foreigner, in a new land,
They worked as opportunity allowed.
These were the refugee's of Viet Nam.

Now, many years later,
Settled in their new countries,
Established, and many successful,
They look toward the future.

The future is their children,
Now educated and employed.
They are the new society,
Blending some old with the new.

 



The Land Of Opportunity

(Refugee children)

Our families escaped terror:
The terror of defeat in war,
The terror of torture and prison,
The terror of retribution forever.

The culture of America is ours.
The culture of Viet Nam is heritage.
We are a blend of past and future.
We are hungry for the opportunity.

We owe our parents our freedom.
They made the dangerous crossing.
We owe them obligations to do our best.
We need to study, work and achieve.

Only in America can we sing:"Freedom!":
Freedom to be part of the American culture,
Freedom to be part of the American dream,
Freedom to be in "The land of opportunity".



Chromosome 23 Book Cover
Chromosome 23 Book Cover
The Love Of An Artist
(Nguyen Cao Nguyen)

The woman is a mosaic of shells.
She is beautiful beyond compare,
Dressed in a Mandarin costume of old,
Painted by Nguyen Cao Nguyen.

The model is his lovely young wife.
Love shows in the work of the artist.
Nothing makes a masterpiece as viewed,
As full of beauty as a lover in love.

Soon the war would separate them.
Children replaced the man at home.
The love would encompass a family.
This egg shell mosaic would be forever.

 
 
 

 
Image
Jesus in Asia
(Nguyen Cao Nguyen)

Behold, Jesus is hanging on a cross.
Below him are the faithful grieving,
Christians depicted as Orientals
With slanted eyes and Asian beauty.

The artist tells the story of faith.
He believes in the Catholic religion,
In a land where Buddism is norm.
His faith is powerful as seen on canvas.

The strenght and beauty that he creates
Represents the love his faith holds forth.
Nguyen Cao Nguyen is a believer.
This painting expresses his passion for God.


 




The War Years
(Major Nguyen Cao Nguyen)

The temples are burning
In a land of milk and honey.
The women are beautiful
In a land without men.

The war years painted by an artist:
Nguyen Cao Nguyen is brilliant.
His strokes of paint tell a story,
A story of women and war.

This is a very large painting
Splashed with the beauty of the tropics
And the flames of a landscape afire.
All wars are terrible, we should remember.
Image








ORIGINALLY IN CHARLIE STORY
TO BETTER CHRONICLE THE ACTION
THEY WERE REWRITTEN WITH NEW TITLES AND EMPHASIS



"We Are A Team"
(Cobra pilots: Bill Reeder, Dan Jones, Forrest Synder, Dennis Trigg, Owen McFarland, Sam Scott,  Robert Gamber, David Messa, Ron Lewis(WIA), and Captain McDonald, also Coguar 38 plus others.)


The paratroopers are pulling back,
Major Hai Doan is leading them.
They are spent, out of ammunition,
Many wounded, all hungry and thirsty.

"I'll cover the withdrawal with air."
The Cobra gunships are flying above us.
I'll use them to disrupt the enemy.
I'll work them close to cover the break-out.

The new Commander, Colonel Le Van Me:
"I'm staying with you, you need cover,
We are a team, we have fought together
And if need be, we will die together."

"Panther Lead, this is Dusty Cyanide.
The enemy is closing on us from our west.
They are advancing in the trenches.
Hit them hard, break up their attack."

The Cobra's swoop down with guns blazing.
"Adjust fire!  Drop three meters!"
Blow them away.  Work it close.
The Cobra's work with deadly precision.

The explosions are hot and blinding.
The shrapnel shreds the enemy.
Colonel Le Van Me, hit in the chest - staggers.
I am peppered with hot fragments of steel.

The Cobra's stop them, that was close,
"Let's go Colonel, it is time to get away."
Bleeding from wounds, but joyful,
We get up and run away from death. 

Note: This poem and "Break-Out"
which follows cover the same
event in the battle with different emphasis.



 

Break-out

The NVA keep pushing forward.
The ammo situation is critical.
The paratroopers are pulling back.
Our time is fast running out.

The decisions are made quick:
Break-out to the northeast,
I'll use gunships to cover,
While we disengage and run.

Colonel Le Van Me is at my side.
He is my back-up and my cover.
We are as a team in battle,
And this may be our last battle.

I had been working the gunships.
Ever closer the enemy advanced.
They were sixty meters distance -
When "Cougar" lead blasted them away.

The "Panther" gunships were now in.
They broke the next enemy attack.
The NVA reform and push forward.
"Panther" flight blasts them away again.

"Panther Lead, this is Dusty Cyanide,
You have broken the enemy attack."
"We are leaving Fire Base Charlie, now."
"Stop them from following us!"

The "Panther" gunships did havoc.
We moved away from the battle,
Escaping from a certain death,
Bloodied, but not yet broken.


 

Monument dedicated to the fallen heroes resting eternal on 'Charlie'
Monument dedicated to the fallen heroes resting eternal on "Charlie"

Monument Dedication 
Historical Battlefield Site
Kontum Province, Viet Nam

(May 12, 2018) 

A monument has been built on "Charlie" battlefield.
Colonel Nguyen The Tan (NVA) dedicated it to the fallen.
We fought his men on "Charlie" forty six years ago.
His soldiers were young, dedicated and very brave.


As old soldiers age, mellow and gain wisdom.
They reflect on the men who died in battle.
A North Vietnames Colonel rests on Charlie,
Alongside his opponent, a South Vietnames Colonel.

What do these two Commanders say to each other? 
Do they question the others rightousness, even now?
Do they remember the horrific battles fire and fury,
Or do they they talk of the families they left behind?

They have been together for forty six years now.
They may now be friends as they were equals in command.
Many of their soldiers rest with them on the mountain.
They have been in command on Charlie a long time.

Now, they have a monument, a road has been built.
Their families can visit and sit with them in harmony.
They will remember the men who gave all in battle.
We should leave them books about thier heroism and glory.

Now, the war is a long ago memory to everyone.
But here on Charlie, they will have many visitors.
They will see and hear about all that they missed.
They will laugh and cry and decide peace is better than war.  
Road to 'Charlie' Battle Monument
Road to "Charlie" Battle Monument
 
High Point Charlie -- 46 Years Later

On 5/12/1972 at Ro Koi village, Sa Thay district (Kon Tum province), the Contact Group Delta Traditional, 320th Division held the inauguration of a shrine/memorial headstone at high point in 1015 (Charlie) and 1049 (Delta).  Charlie Hill - a high point in 1015 is located adjacent sites between 3 districts, Sa Thay Ngoc Hoi and Dak To, Kontum province. 
   Due to the high point of this strategy can be observed, controlled large areas fork Indochina, so right from the 1960s, the US military and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) has built one garrison to check regional control. 
  Colonel Nguyen The Tan, former Division Chief Division 320 of the 3rd Corps, said: Entering the campaign Spring - Summer 1972, the Liberation Army of Southern Vietnam decided to break the defense line west of river Po-Ko, line of defense perimeter of the grounds Dak To - Tan Canh, which has two strategic high point Charlie (1015) and Delta (1049).  From late March of 1972, at 2 high points took place the battles extremely fierce between infantry regiment 64, 52, 48 and Battalion 19 sapper under Division 320A and ARVN forces holding these two high points with the assistance from artillery, planes...

  Especially, from 4/12 - 15/1972, 64 infantry regiment lieutenant colonel by Khuat Duy Tien was the military commander and the local population fighting tenacity, sacrificed  to crush 11  ARVN airborne battalion, and controlled absolutely the high point Charlie Victory at Charlie and Delta have dealt fatal blow to the defensive line the perimeter of the army on the west bank of river Po-Ko, forced ARVN forces to spread out create conditions for the PARVN advancing forces took over the  Dak To - Tan Canh, South Vietnamese defense stronghold of 42nd Regiment, liberated a large area, which changed the battlefield North Highlands. Today, soldiers of the division 320A (now the 320th Division of the III corps) have returned to battlefield sites searching for their wartime memories and paid their respect to old comrades who died here 46 years ago.  Today highland has green rubber, pepper, timber ... but Charlie remains inert black bombs rain down, grass stained brown not grown due to dioxin concentrations sprayed from wartime. Blood stain was still printed on the rock, soils ...
Colonel Nguyen The Tan, Commanding General 320th NVA Division
Colonel Nguyen The Tan, Commanding General 320th NVA Division


Retrospective on Charlie Battle


I though I would escape staff officer duty in Saigon.
 I volunteer for advisor duty with the Vietnamese Airborne.

My associates describe me as foolish with the war winding down:
"Why get killed as we are pulling out, the Vietnamese can handle it."


I disregard all thier well intentioned advise as I am a soldier
And I have no desire to fight in a war zone from behind a desk.
I put on my camouflage fatigues and my cocky red beret,
Not too bad, if I say so myself, now I am outfitted to join my  paratroopers.


I fight on Nui Ba Dinh or translated "Black Virgin Mountain".
I fight in the Tay Ninh Forest, too many VC tunnels there.
Next, I fight on Rocket Ridge in a place called
"Charlie".

My team of four is short men, I am a team of one.


I air assault in with 470 paratroopers and come out with thirty-seven.
We are surrounded by a Division, anti-aircraft guns ring "Charlie".
The Landing Zone is untenable with ten AA-guns above us.
Helicopter resupply is precluded as the NVA control the air space.


NVA artillery fire blows up my bunker, with me still in it.
I crawl out over the the dead bodies, my head ringing from a concussion.
My counter-part, the battalion commander is killed.
The XO, Major Le Me, assumes command of the battalion.


With eight NVA battalions tasked to take Charlie base,
Most  on "Charlie" are wounded or killed in the battle.

Medical Evacuation is not possible for the wounded.
Our orders are: "Fight to the death on Charlie."


Two weeks, the paratroopers fight even without ammo, 

They fight with their bayonet or entrenching tool,
Until, it is, get out or get killed in the next attack.
Scedaddle we choose, Le Me and myself, becoming the rear guard.


One battalion of NVA attack on our western trench line.
I request the gunships: "stop them", as we are short on ammo.
Flying low, machine guns and grenades expending, rockets blasting,
The Cobras stop the NVA, leaving them dead and dying.


Ordinance expended and low on fuel, the Cobras depart.
Le Me and I hunker down, maintaining a low profile.
Two NVA battalions come out of the jungle in a  follow-up attack, 
We had withdrawn, they take our western trenchline.


They are befuddled, as thier first attack had failed.
They search for paratroopers, but none are there.
They organize search parties to sweep "Charlie".
They send a Company, to search east, moving toward us.


They spot us, Me Le fires at them, they take cover,
A little more cautious now, they know where we are.
The NVA open up on us, Me Le is hit and down,
He's back up again, firing at them, no way he can stop them.



I'm on the radio, the Cobras are back, coming in above us.
  "Get Down! Get Down!  The choppers are incoming with guns blazing."
The Cobras are firing - hot shell casing drop down upon us.
The NVA sweep force is bloodied, smashed, and broken.


Wounded, but alive, we get up and run away from death.
On the run, I contact a Forward Air Controller in the sky.
"Request  B-52 Archlight, target two NVA battalions in the open on Charlie".

We soon link up with our withdrawing paratroopers.


The FAC advises: "B-52 Archlight diverted, one minute until bomb release"
I roger the FAC and tell everyone to get in defilade.
"Bombs released, 90 seconds until impact, get down!"
We hold onto our steel pots, mouths open; we hug the earth   


The whistling bombs of death, are heard by all.
Charlie explodes in fiery flashes...blasting and killing.
The ground tremors; leaves and debris fall down.

No one can survive, black smoke bellows high into the sky.


The victorious NVA battalions on Charlie, are destroyed.
Two weeks of battle have ravaged thier formations. 
This final victory will be a difficult one to celebrate,
As black smoke arises, from this NVA funeral prye.  


We are recovering from the shock of the blast.
Me Le is coughing up blood, as "Doc" works on him.
He tells me;  "Take command of the battalion!
You save the men."   I am now the commander.


I order a night march through the pitch black jungle.
My paratroopers follow me, no one can see in the dark.
The night explodes in bright flashes, artillery impacting.
It is friendly fire, some fools error:  I "Check Fire!".


We lose three killed and seven wounded.  I am furious.
The night march continues until dawn arrives.
We stop, now out of the jungle, by the Po Ko river.
Me Le bandaged, is fit to command.  I brief him.


No helicopters are available, Brigade orders us to walk out.
The orders are given and we make ready to march.
"Incoming!" "Incoming!", the blast of rockets impacting.
Mortar rounds drop amonst us, the wounded cry out.


The NVA sprang an ambush,  troopers panic and scatter.
I reach for my radio, it is hit by a bullet and destroyed.
The command group is intact plus thirty men.
I grab my CAR-15 weapon,  I cock it:   "Follow me!"


Me Le gathers the command group and as many as he can.
Me Le covers me, I move rapidly away from the kill zone. 
One kilometer distance, I find a clearing and a landing zone.
Me Le sets up a perimeter and redistributes ammunition.


I'm on my small survival radio, trying to raise a FAC.
"Covey 555" comes in: I request a four ship lift package,
For our group of thirty seven, some wounded.
Covey will try to rustle up an extraction package.


The NVA follow our break-out trail through the jungle.
We see them approaching in a stream bed.
I request immediate A1-E or Cobra support.
We hunker down, with too little ammo to engage.


A pair of Sandy A1-E's come up on my radio.
I target the enemy unit that is tracking us.
I request that the Sandies destroy the NVA.
In two passes, guns and bombs eliminate the threat.


More NVA keep popping up in different locations.
I direct two more flights of A1-E's onto the enemy.
Waiting for our lift package, I engage with Cobras. 
The NVA are setting up on the jungle's edge... also waiting


Huey Lead comes up on my radio: "Dusty Cyanide:
We are directed to have you depart on the first ship."
I advise: "I will be the last man out, on number four ship."
" Er...Roger Dusty, you will be the last man out, Acknowledged".




Our thirty seven are formed into four sticks.
The first lift in: wounded loaded, troopers boarding,
Lifting off.  An NVA machine gunner opens up on them.
The Cobras with the lift package attack and destroy the gun.



Lift two comes in, the paratroopers scramble aboard.
He is out.  Lift three in and out without taking fire. 
We are the last five; lift four approaches, he is taking fire.
He aborts and  approaches from a new direction.


He comes in low... touchdown!  We scramble onto the aircraft.
I'm the tail gunner, I ride the strut and signal "Thumbs Up!"
Ping!  Ping!  Ping!    The chopper is riddled by gun fire.
Captain Hai, hit in the leg,  falls out of the helicopter.




On the strut, I grab his webbing and fling him back inside.
Me Le helps me pull him in and starts treating his wound.
The Crew Chief is shot-out, twisting in the wind,
His teether holding him in trail behind the aircraft. 


I pull him inside and find the entry wound in his chest.
I quick patch his wound and I  look for the exit wound.
It is big and it is bubbling, I start to treat it... the bubbles stop.
Mouth to mouth does not help to revive him... he is K.I.A.



The helicopter flies to the medical station, 
We touchdown, drop off our wounded and dead.
We fly back to brigade headquarters to report.
We land.  They are amazed, that we survive.


 



Victory or Death
(Nullus Victor)


The battle for Firebase "Charlie" was consuming.
It killed those who tried to take the base.
Battalions of NVA vanished in the malestorm.
The paratroopers holding "Charlie" suffered horrifically.

It was a brutal battle; no quarter asked, none given.
You killed the enemy, or the enemy killed you.
It was a simple formula and it cost lives.
Both sides, offered up valor and courage.

But in reality, it was a fight for survival.
We all wanted to live, to see our families again.
In war, there is only one winner and one loser.
No one won on "Charlie", each side managed to lose.

This is the delimma in a battle of "fight to the death".
When each side forges ahead, without reguard to losses,
The butchers bill is atrociously high and sobbering...
Each side weeps for its losses and mourns the fallen. 


Nullus Victor.