DEFENDING BEN HET
circa March, 1969
Captain Bob Baird worked under S-3 Major Jerry Orr (dec)
and was assigned Air LNO duties. It was more than what it
was thought to be.
Fellow Redleg Steve Cox addresses some of our
team's adventures, but he missed this one!
When I joined the 2/9th FA in January, 1969, I was
working for Major Jerry Orr as the Asst S-3. On 2Mar69, Major Orr and BnCO LtCol
Red Forrester had me fill in as the Artillery LNO for the 1/69th
Armor Battalion while the officer took in-country R&R.
Major Orr said that the Armor BN HQ had not left LZ Oasis in 3 years, so
it was just to be simple task. NOT.
At the time, the 1/69th Armor Battalion (II Corp
unit) was operating southwest of LZ Oasis (West and a little south of Pleiku -
see Map inset) with the 4th Division. “B” Company was given the mission of
reaction force and route security between Đắk Tô and the besieged
Special Forces border camp of Ben Het. Bravo Company's 1st Platoon was detailed
to provide additional firepower to the SF camp. On 3Mar69, NVA Tanks attacked
Ben Het. They were obviously surprised by the presence of the U.S. tanks. The 1st
Platoon’s M48A3s 90mm guns firing HE destroyed 2 of the assaulting PT 76 tanks
and a BTR50 fighting vehicle; the NVA fled the field. That evening, Intel
reported that there were two NVA Divisions and a regiment of tanks west of Ben
When the tank attack was reported to the 4th
ID Headquarters, they ordered an emergency march order to the 1st of
the 69th Armor Battalion Headquarters at LZ Oasis. We contacted the
Ammo Dump near Artillery Hill to see if they had any 90mm antitank rounds; of
course, they had none. We discovered later there was one pallet load off Cam
Rahn Bay in a ship’s cargo hull. The
CH47’s in our area did not have the lift capability at the time.
Suddenly we heard over the radio a radio call from “Chicken Hook”
pilot telling them to add a second sling load of Artillery shells. We contacted
him and it turned out he was conducting a field test of the new CH47 C model.
The pilot told us they had the range and capacity to pick up the 90 mm gun ammo
from the ship. Later reports stated that “Chicken Hook” had lifted the
pallet load of shells directly from the cargo hold in heavy seas and returned it
to the Ammo Dump. We had the ammo we needed.
When the Armor Bn received the emergency March
Order to move to Kontum that night, I knew they would need Artillery support so
I had Steve Cox and Ron Watts dismount the radios while Eugene Lee and I
borrowed a jeep and trailer. We quickly loaded the Jeep and we were the last
vehicle out the LZ Oasis gate. The
convoy headed to Pleiku then north on Highway 14 to
Kontum. There were 17 M113s, 17 M48A3 tanks and two jeeps in the convoy. About
half way between Pleiku and Kontum the convoy tripped a 2 NVA Regimental Ambush.
Steven Cox, Ron Watts, Eugene Lee and I quickly exited the jeep as the AK47
tracers were passing over head. Steve
Cox (RTO) contacted Artillery Hill where the 175 Gun was located. We called for
a fire mission and the Fire Direction Center informed us that our coordinates
were at max range (one probable error in range was 2 KM and in deflection was
900 meters), we needed the artillery strike to be "Danger Close" so we
cancelled the fire mission. The Firefight lasted until dawn the next morning
when the 1/10th Air Cav overflew that battle.
The S-2 and our jeeps were very lucky we were on the outside edge of the
kill zone. According to comments from the APC drivers they were almost out of
ammo when contact was broken. (I
suspect that the ambush was intended for the weekly resupply convoy for Kontum;
why would anyone in their right mind attack an Armor Bn?) Two months later I was
the S-2 and received an intel report that the 1/69th Armor had killed
80% of the two regiments.
Our Adventure did not end with the Ambush.
That same morning the convoy pulled into Kontum to rearm and refill those
thirsty tanks and APCs. While that was going on the Bn Commander and the S-3
attended a briefing on the tactical situation at Ben Het Special Forces Camp.
Late on March 4 the convoy left Kontum and headed to Ben Het and the
night quickly engulfed us while enroute.
Steven Cox, Ron Watts, Eugene Lee and I had pulled
into Ben Het in our jeep on night of 4Mar69 with the 1st of the 69th
Armor across a pontoon bridge between two M48 A3 tanks when the tank in front
slowed down and the one behind us did not. The next thing we noticed was our
boots were getting wet. And the water kept getting higher but we got across.
As we approached the Ben Het camp, we started hearing 122mm rockets and 82mm and
240mm mortars hitting ahead of us. That set the tone for our stay at Ben
The next day, the 1/69th Armor was reinforced by a
Mech Infantry unit, a straight leg Infantry unit and a 155 M109 Battery.
Several days later the Infantry was Combat Assaulted into a mountain top north
and west of Ben Het. The LZ turned out to be a real mess. The NVA had multiple
51 Cal Machineguns RPGs covering the LZ. They
were being hit very hard pleading for all kinds of help.
All of sudden on the Command frequency an Air Craft Commander (UH-1H
C&C) linked the intercom conversation. This
Senior Officer was ordering him to land on the LZ. Next, we hear the Senior
Office making threats. The AC was saying “Sir, it is too hot, they have
multiple machine guns and they have the LZ zeroed”. The Senior officer ordered
him to again land. As Huey
descended, we could hear the rounds hitting and then the AC declaring an
emergency and they thought they could make Ben Het.
All of sudden, the Senior Officer comes on the Artillery Frequency
stating they were taking fire from the village. The only village in the area was
the friendly village where the Yards (Montagnard) families that manned the
Special Forces camp lived; he ordered an artillery attack on the village.
Since I knew what had really happened, I refused to call for the Artillery.
After the Huey landed and we evacuated the dead and
wounded. I was ordered to the
Special Forces Camp; when I entered the Team House, a Full Colonel asked if I
was the one that refused to shoot the artillery on the village and I said
“Yes, Sir. He said they killed his Command Sergeant Major, the pilot and door
gunner and wounded the AC and Crew Chief. Then he pointed his 45 to my head. I
was about to try to take the .45 away from him, when the 4th ID Asst
Division Commander walked in and ordered the Col to put his weapon away. The
General said he heard the Col ordering the Air Craft Commander into the hot LZ
and his attempt to cover it up with the artillery attack on the village. He then
ordered the Col to get on his helicopter – NOW!
Steven Cox, Ron Watts, Eugene Lee, and Lt
Huffstutler (FO - KIA) continued to support the 1/69th Armor through this major
battle until they moved to An Khe. I was very honored to witness the
bravery and dedication of these fine men.
After Ben Het
I was on Duty one night late May in the TOC when I got a call from a unit, I did not recognize the call sign or voice. I checked the SOI and had the person authenticate. It turnout to be the Army Security Agency site on top of Dragon Mountain. They were being attacked by the large NVA unit and they were charging up the gullies. The M60 Machineguns were not positioned to bring effective fire on the gullies. The weather was so bad that nothing was flying and the only assistance was the Artillery. Alan Simpson (2/9th) spent the rest of the night until dawn the next morning shooting for them. Shooting all night for some LZ was not uncommon.
Late May 1969
Road Security Checks
It was well into the Monson season and it had been
raining heavy for days and I was tasked with flying as the observer on an OH-6A.
The Engineers with an attached squad of Infantry as their security were tasked
with checking Highway 19 for mines. Our task was to check Hwy 19 from the LZ
Oasis to Do Co for possible ambushes when we had a planned convoy going west to
any of the LZ’s. Normally other than the fun of flying low level it was
uneventful. I do recall the following events:
We were running road security check in an OH-6A Cayuse
early one morning, we were flying about 8 feet of the roadway when we
spotted an M88 armored recovery vehicle running west on highway 19.
Apparently, the crew heard our approach and tried to stop or turn. They
did two complete 360 degree turns and ended up pointing South.
As we over flew them the driver and TC waved and gave us thumbs-up we
slowed and passed them.
On another very rainy Monsoon morning, we
encountered an M48A3 running west on highway 19. We were about 400 meters from
them when they hit mine. The Tank
Commander (TC) was launched into the air and landed about 10 feet on the south
side of the tank. We landed about 50
meters on the south side of the tank and checked the TC and rest of the crew.
Other than some bruising and ringing in the ears they were okay.
The mine had broken the tack on the right side of the track, they called
their unit and told us they were ok and released us.
On yet another day we were again running road
security and we were about halfway to Do Co and Caterpillar M530 Goer was
running west on 19 when the right front tire hit a mine the wheel went about 50
feet into the air. We landed 50
meters to the south of the Goer and walked over to check on the crew and other
than ringing in their ears they were fine. We
asked if they need us to call their unit for a repair crew, they said no.
The driver said that it had happened before and all they had to do was
chain up the axle and put the wheel in back.
They thanked us for checking on them.
This last OH6A flight did not have such a happy
ending. On this trip the Monsoons
had not started yet and I was again flying west on highway 19. One of our
batteries was positioned just off highway 19 and south of the Jackson Hole LZ.
As we were flying west, they were attacked the NVA and we accelerated and by the
time we arrived the fire fight was over. They
had taken some lightly wounded, except for one person who was working in the FDC
CONEX container when and RPG hit it. The
RPG had taken the top of his skull off and as we watched the medic was using
plastic wrap to keep his brains from being exposed.
The Battery Commander was calling for a Medivac when a CH47 heard the
call and they were 2 minutes away and they landed. We quickly loaded him and
they headed to Pleiku AFB where the Evacuations Hospital was located.
50 years later I am walking past a 2nd floor office in a Data Center and I hear the same voice. I stopped and asked if he had called for Artillery in Vietnam. He said yes, I was on Dragon Mountain one terrible stormy night in 1969. That was the beginning of a 14-year friendship.
Cpt Bob Baird