The 377th SPS and the
Viet Cong (VC) were not strangers. Between December 2nd and
the 5th, 1966, members of the 377th clashed with Communist forces
more than once. Security Police suffered three killed*(1), but killed 28 and captured four of the enemy force. However, for the
Communists, Tet 1968 would be their most ambitious assault against
U.S. Forces at Tan Son Nhut Air Base--and the most deadly for both
the morning of January 31, 1968, Bunker O51 (Oh-Five-One) was
manned by five Security Police NCOs: Sgt. Louis Fischer led the fire-team
of Sgt. William J. Cyr, Sgt. Charles E. Hebron, Sgt. Roger B. Mills,
and Sgt Alonzo J. Coggins. Heavily armed, they manned the old French
bunker at the west end of the main runway at Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
At about 0320 hours, Bunker O51 was struck by an
intensive barrage of mortar, artillery, and rocket fire in preparation
for a massive ground assault by 1,500 North Vietnamese regulars and
Viet Cong guerrillas against the giant Air Base.
Photo: Perimeter Tower, Tango-4, in the distance,
fired on NVA soldiers attacking O51 Bunker, and recognized Sgt. Coggins
as an American, as U.S. Airmen fought to retake the bunker. Tango-4's
last radio transmission: "There are 300 VC directly under my
"Three battalions of
VC attack the western side of Tan San Nhut Air Base, which housed
Seventh Air Force headquarters. They attack from positions they have
occupied since midnight at the Vinatexco Mill, just across Highway
#1 from Gate #51. The consolidated VC attack takes place by the 269th
VC Battalion attacking from the northwest, the 267th VC Battalion attacking from the southwest and one battalion attacking from the
east. They manage to overwhelm the ARVN defensive force and enter
the airfield. MACV headquarters guards and members of the US Air Force
377th SPS stall their advance until reinforcements
arrive from the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi, at 6: 00 a.m. The
final enemy soldiers are not driven out until approximately noon." (Staff Duty Log of the 716th MP Battalion)
Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army Regulars swept
down Highway One, blew a hole in the Tan Son Nhut fence and swarmed
toward Bunker O51. The main thrust of the attack had begun at the
western perimeter, with 600 enemy dedicated to the defeat and overrunning
of Bunker O51.
The NVA knew Bunker O51 was primary to Security
Police defensive strategy at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Therefore, Bunker
O51 was a major objective in the path of victory: neutralizing air
power over Saigon, and an all-out attempt to destroy U.S. Forces and
establish a Communist government in South Vietnam. Attacking NVA forces
were to capture the U.S. Forces Headquarters located at the base,
and assist with the capture of Saigon.
Photo: Perimeter Towers on both sides fire
on NVA soldiers attacking O51 Bunker.
The North Vietnamese attacked the bunker in full force. Records of
taped radio transmissions recorded the twenty-four minutes Bunker
O51's defenders fought against such overwhelming odds. Communist forces
closed with and enveloped Bunker O51. Machine gun fire from Bunker
O51, flanking positions from SP Towers, and repeated strafing runs
by AC-47 and Cobra helicopter gunships failed to blunt the enemy's
The number of enemy dead around Bunker O51 gave
evidence to the violent struggle taking place. Enemy
soldiers had advanced over the bodies of more than a hundred of their
comrades, killed in the first wave assault against Bunker O51. Although
mortally wounded, Sgt. Fischer continued to fight after all of his
team members were apparently either dead or dying. He knew the importance
of giving time to the blocking force to halt the advance of the North
Vietnamese forces. After running out of ammunition, Sgt. Fischer still
communicated to the end, indicating enemy positions and losses, which
eventually allowed the blocking forces to push the enemy off the base.
NVA soldiers reached the walls of the bunker, sprayed the inside with
AK-47 automatic fire. One by one the Security Policemen's guns fell
silent... and with a final radio transmission... they were gone.
The Security Policemen in O51 Bunker fought to their death --to the
last man-- after taking 20 direct rocket hits from the main attack
thrust. [Four were KIA, a fifth was WIA and so badly wounded he was left for dead during the battle by the NVA]
The NVA's first objective was achieved by finally taking over O51
Bunker. But Air Force Security Police were responding and laying down
ever increasing heavy fire.
Although Sgt. Louis H. Fischer was killed in action
at the age of 19, and while leading the key defensive position at
Bunker O51, his fire-team of USAF Security Policemen had stopped the
enemy's advance cold for twenty-four precious minutes. Denying enemy
forces access to Tan Son Nhut Air Base for those crucial minutes would
later prove decisive to base defense. But at that moment, the NVA's
plan and timetable were not in jeopardy.
Photo: O51 Bunker, overrun by 600 attacking
NVA, was retaken by USAF Security Police after air-strikes and heave
artillery. Unknown then , badly wounded Sgt. Coggins was alive during
Sgt Coggins' four comrades were dead--killed in action defending the
Air Base.*(2) The badly wounded Sgt. Coggins lay among
their bodies, spent shells, scurrying enemy, concrete chip dust, heat,
shouting Vietnamese, and the continuing hell of battle. Severely wounded,
and often unconscious, Sgt Coggins did not present a threat to the
NVA and VC that had overrun the bunker. He was obviously critically
wounded and not worth shooting, as they continued desperately fighting
to hold the bunker and resume forward motion.
Tan Son Nhut Air Base was under
major attack from all sides by two regiments of North Vietnamese infantry.
However, forward attack at the crucial west perimeter was being checked
by arriving Security Police Quick Response Teams and troops, whose
numbers grew by the minute. Nevertheless, the NVA believed their forces
adequate to overrun the Security Police. They were surprised by
the ferocious base-defense encountered--and recognized that it
was essential to renew the advance.
Sgt Coggins continued to survive for the next eight hours while U.S.
and ARVN forces attempted to retake the bunker. Believing Coggins
and all Security Police defenders of the bunker were dead, U.S. Forces
approved heavy weapons use to retake O51 Bunker. Sgt Coggins endured
repeated 105 and 155 mm artillery barrages, air strikes, and another
ground assault by Security Police and U.S. Army main-battle tanks. At around 1100 hours, Sgt Coggins was either released, or escaped,
from the bunker, during the confusion of a partial enemy withdrawal.
He found his way back into friendly lines, when spotted by a Tower
Security Police (Tango-4) who had survived the attack.
Silver Star was awarded Sgt Coggins but not presented to him for
31 years after Bunker O51! Read the story of how the Vietnam Security
Police Association (USAF) arranged for an inspirational Silver Star
At 1300 hours, January 31, 1968, Tan Son Nhut
Air Base was once again secure. 962 enemy
soldiers lay dead.
For the next few days four enemy soldiers would be captured and placed
with NVA/VC POWs. Others would be killed fighting as they were discovered
as Security Police cleared the base and fields.
The 377th SPS, and five brave Security Policemen,
were etched in the history of the Security Police.
Photo: Mass grave of VC/NVA soldiers who attempted to overrun Tan
Son Nhut, Air Base during TET 1968.
The inscription reads: "This is the resting place of those
soldiers lost on the night of the first day of TET 1968. Their spirits
beg all countrymen to wholeheartedly work so that peace will come
quickly to our beloved Vietnam."
Photograph by ' Roger P. Fox
full story at NVA
/ Viet Cong Locator.)
Read the stories
of these Security Policemen:
Bevich, George Michael Jr. A2C Tan Son Nhut 377 APS 04DEC66
Combat: mortars; K-9; Silver Star
Oliver John A2C Tan Son Nhut 377 APS 04DEC66 Combat: mortars; Purple
John Matthew A2C Tan Son Nhut 377 APS 04DEC66 Combat: mortars; Purple
Cyr, William Joseph Sgt Tan Son Nhut 377 SPS 31JAN68 Combat: 051 Bunker;
Fischer, Louis Harold Sgt Tan Son Nhut 377 SPS 31JAN68 Combat: 051
Bunker; Silver Star
Hebron, Charles Edward Sgt Tan Son Nhut 377 SPS 31JAN68 Combat: 051
Bunker; Silver Star
Mills, Roger Bertha Sgt Tan Son Nhut 377 SPS 31JAN68 Combat: 051 Bunker;
Bunker Today: Read about one Airman's revisit to Vietnam, and
his discovery and photographs of the old bunker.