July 1968 to July 1969, I was an A2C, assigned to the 3rd SPS Bien Hoa AB. Before I got there, I heard plenty of stories about
the place. I knew it had frequent rocket and mortar attacks and because
of that fact many referred Bien Hoa as 'Rocket Alley'. I also heard
of the bravery displayed by many 3rd SPS 'Skycops' during the infamous
1968 TET offensive. News of the SP's defending the base, particularly
at "Bunker Hill 10," spread through the Air Force Security
Police channels like a wildfire.
By the time my aircraft touched
down on Bien Hoa's runway, I knew of Bien Hoa's reputation. I had missed
the 1968 TET offensive but when the 1969 TET offensive (Feb. 1969) arrived,
the base was under siege by VC and NVA and proved to be challenge enough
for all of us.
During my one-year tour there,
our base suffered 30 rocket attacks, several sapper penetrations, and
fire-fights along the perimeter, along with a ground attack during TET.
Concentration of the enemy was so strong in and around the base that
our own F-4C Phantom jet fighter aircraft, dropped napalm right off of the fenceline.
"Listening Post" (LP)
was interesting duty. An "LP" tour of duty was usually for
a couple of weeks to a month. Prior to performing this duty, troops
needed about a week to train with claymore mines (assembling and disassembling
them blindfolded), "Totem-pole" familiarization and general
stealth. "Totem-poles," were two empty oil drums cut in half
and welded on top of each other. A "Spooky" flare canister
was placed inside the concave portion of the stacked Totem-pole. The
'Poles' were placed 4 or 5 meters behind the LP. If it was necessary
to fall back, retrograde or retreat due to your post being overrun by
the enemy, the retreating SP's could activate the Totem Poles--creating
a blinding flash, facing the oncoming enemy. This technique helped slow
the enemy down, while Security Police could fall back to a safer position.
According to the book, Air Base Defense in the Republic of Vietnam,
1961-1973, the 3rd SPS was the first to develop and use the Totem-Pole
Claymore mines would have to be
checked often throughout the night by low crawling to the mine and making
sure the 'face' of the mine was pointed in the right direction--toward
the enemy. Sometimes, if Charlie knew you were there, he would purposely
turn it toward the LP.
Off of Bravo Area, across from
Bunker Hill 17, there was a high hill top called "Buddha Hill'
over looking the base. 'Rumors' said it was a VC Command Post but we
could never prove it. During TET we saw rounds coming from it, at us.
Permission was finally granted from CSC to hit it. Finally, an air
strike took it out.
My first action was when Charlie hit the VNAF
ammo dump, two miles away and across the flightline from our bunker
which was on top of a huge sand hill. Sand bag crews would back their
trucks up to the base of the sand hill and fill sandbags during day
time. The huge sand hill made an excellent observation post; from this
vantage point we could see nearly half of the base. When the ammo dump
blew it looked like a huge fireball emerging from the ground and then
a mushroom cloud. We could even see the 'ripple effect' of the shock
wave that rolled over the ground and flightline, shaking everything
in its path like a rag doll.
We felt the wind blast from the
explosion up against our bunker. A2C Jessie was working tower duty in
the ammo dump at the time, and I thought for sure he perished in the
explosion, but minutes later I was relieved to hear his voice over the
radio. He was alive but he suffered a busted ear drum and singed hair,
eye brows and arms. During TET 1969 in front of Bunker Hill 17, VC sappers
tried to penetrate our fence line. General Patton's son, then Lt. Col.
George Patton III, commander of the U.S. Army's 11th Armored Cavalry
(Black Horse), positioned his tanks in between our big bunker hills
to give us more muscle for the punch. Each tank had one Security Police
NCO inside with the tank crew, as a liaison for fields of fire.
Smaller bunkers were equipped with
an outside tall chain link structure, covering the front portion of
the bunker, facing the enemy, to keep enemy B-40 rockets from directly
hitting the bunker. We had four fence lines on the base perimeter. The
base was ten miles in radius. The American fence line was the 'inside'
fence, closest to us. The other fence lines were constructed, when the
French and Japanese operated the base, years ago. In between the other
fence lines were still active land mine fields. Trip flares were only installed
on the American fence line, VC were not the only varmints attempting
to crawl under or over the wire, we also had gorillas, black panthers,
snakes and ocelots. When the varmints were 'in the wire', trip flares
would be going off all the time. It always took a keen eye, of a Security
Police troop, working tower duty, to distinguish the only varmints worth
worrying about--Victor Charlie."
We had a SAT (Security Alert Teams)
which was our only really armed backup response. Anything more than
that, for additional troop strength, our backups were usually several
Air Force Augmentees, from various job skills, supervised by Security
Police. Augmentees proved very useful because, at least they were trained
with the basic M16 rifle, and they could "Point and shoot."
SAT's drove the standard 4-wheel drive jeeps, with an M60 machine gun
resting over the top of the hood. Also used, was what was known as the
"Rubber Duck," (V-100) armored vehicle. This highly mobile
vehicle had ports for rifles, mounted M60's and the 90mm Recoilless
rifle (cannon). The 90mm fired a bee hive round; a round with
thousands of little darts, like finishing nails. At one time, I think
the idea of mounting a "mini-gun" on top was seriously considered.
During the 1969 TET
Offensive, I carried a cassette tape recorder in my field pack. I placed
my field pack on top of the bunker, next to our field radio. If anything
happened worth recording, I would turn it on. I never told my bunker
buddies because everyone would want to act like John Wayne. I taped
the actual battle sounds and communications with CSC. Someone had a
transistor radio tuned into 'Armed Forces Radio' who was reporting the
battle. I recorded that too. I sent a copy to the SP, museum years ago.
I still have the original.
The only other fellow Nam Vet SP that I keep
contact with, from 3rd SPS, at Bien Hoa, is SSgt. (Ret) Edward Crawford.
He lives in Parrish, Florida and suffers the effect of Agent Orange.
Like me, Ed Crawford is a proud member of both VSPA and AFSFA.
We keep in touch often, either by phone or by letter. I drew two sketches
of Bunker Hill 17. Ed has one framed and hanging in his house. The
other one belongs to Bob Nelson, the New England rep for AFSFA. According
to Bob, it's hanging over some bar, in a local tavern, in Mass. I figure
there will always be a part of me, still there, somewhere on that abandoned
American Air Force Air Field called Bien Hoa.