PHAN THIET
STORY 1
PHAN RANG
STORY 2

GLOSSARY

Please visit the 41st Civil Affairs Company WEBSITE
Many thanks to Jimmie Gonzales and others:
3/506th INFANTRY 1
3/506th INFANTRY 2
First Bn 69th Armor
183d RAC
Air America
Pieces
vnrozier

Texas Tech has
MORE MAPS
in fact ALL of them
except for an index.
Ray Smith provides an excellent
MAP INDEX
so you can find them along with lots of annotated maps and other info.

2 Phan Rang and the Mobile Advisory Team

1. Phan Thiet and the Tet Offensive

I came into the country in September or October of 1967 ordered to the 11th Armored Cavalry as an AC Platoon Leader. Redundancy was rife in recon; I had an opportunity to request assignment to Civil Affairs and was fortunate to find myself assigned to CA Team 7 at Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan Province; one of the best places I have ever seen in a situation that allowed some degree of freedom. There seemed to be a bright prospect for constructive action.
The Tet Offensive brought home the brutal truth of war; It was a victory for our forces and a great sacrifice by the other side that contributed to the final outcome in their favor.

The effort to consolidate our gains accelerated the deployment of Mobile Advisory Teams (MATs) with the mission of improving the performance of Regional and Popular Forces and advising operations. I was tapped to join this program and after training at Saigon spent the rest of my tour in neighboring Ninh Thuan Province around Phan Rang, another truly beautiful deadly place .
This was one of the greatest years of my life. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've forgotten too much.

I joined the 41st in about October 1967. Like many others I stayed at Hotel La Fregate for too short a time in Nha Trang, got oriented and acquainted with HQ a little before my assignment to Team 7 at Phan Thiet, the capital of Binh Thuan Province. It was a pleasant little city, its center protected by an oxbow of the Ca Ty River as it widens and meanders into the sea. It had a plain of rice at its back with mountains full of hardwood in the distance and a sea full of fish in front. It had not been visibly affected by the war; a few bridges were down out in the Province was all. We lived at the MACV compound in the center of the city in a four storey hotel. I was in the intel slot and began going into the countryside with Sp Ashley conducting MEDCAPs, our traveling medicine show and intel operation. I also got into the air a few times with one of the FACs in an 0-1 and photographed most of the towns and villages in the area with the idea of supplementing our maps. I like to know where everything is. I was fascinated with the place right away. An autumn typhoon came and turned the dried out rice country into lakes and all the villages into islands. Everybody laughed and went fishing.

In November we lost the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team. From the EOD Warrior Foundation: "SP6 Paul Blount McKinley and SP5 Dean Moore were killed on 22 November 1967. They were assigned to 191st Ordnance Battalion (Ammunition), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Section. SP6 McKinley and SP5 Moore were in route to an incident near Phan Thiet, Binh Tuan Providence, Republic of Vietnam, when they were killed instantly by a command-detonated... mine. They were 5 miles north of Phan Thiet on Highway 8 and had just passed over a bridge onto a narrow stretch of gravel road when the explosion occurred. The mine was (improvised from) a U.S. 105mm projectile..."

Both were awarded the Silver Star. They were on their way to a village there that I remember was new or not named correctly on the map but that we (MEDCAP) went to all the time. The Montagnard camp was there or close and they thought it was us at first. After my first visit there I had to go back and apologize to the headman after I unwittingly walked all over the camp without seeing him first. MACV team chief told me it's like walking into someone's house without knocking. Headman was very cordial, agreed to spare me as long as it never happened again, I joined the club, got the bracelet and everything. This was a refugee camp, the people had been displaced from their home in the highlands and it wasn't good for them. Vietnamese North or South were not their friends. We were. They were our loyal allies and their struggle is not yet over.

I was also involved with the local schools administration, sitting in on development meetings, visiting schools, showing the flag mainly and began giving English classes for the local teachers which was fun- try explaining the words 'wood' 'would' 'word' and 'world' (this was a question) to people whose language never puts 'r' and 'l' together and have many meanings to for instance the word spelled 'ba'. Much hilarity. Also a great way to meet people. I was invited to more than one Tet party. I think I went to two or three. The weather was beautiful, nights perfect. Later we watched the ARVN fireworks show as they expended all their tracer into the sky at midnight.
The town had been filling up with people and there were remarks that it was not all for the celebration. I remember after midnight going to see for myself the bridge full of people carrying their possessions into town. That at least to me was a surprise. It made the events of the next morning less of one.


The Tet Offensive:

"... At 0315 on the 31st of January elements of the 482d Local Force Battalion and the 840th Main Force Battalion launched a major attack against Phan Thiet. Key targets included the MACV compound and water point, Binh Thuan Sector Headquarters, An ARVN Artillery Platoon, LZ Betty, the Province Prison, and points along the perimeter of the city.... At 0630 on the 31st the first reaction forces to contact the enemy were four PF platoons; an RF platoon and a Province Reconnaissance Platoon NW of the town at Xuan Phong. From that time, the 3d Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry reinforced by the 3d Battalion, 44th ARVN Infantry; two Mobile Strike Force Companies; three RF companies and 15 PF platoons drove the enemy out of most of the city and had secured the area by 9 February. On 18 February the enemy again attacked Phan Thiet and overran the prison, releasing 500 prisoners. By 23 February the enemy attack had been defeated and the city was under friendly control. The enemy losses were 1256 killed, 48 PW's captured, 253 SA and 88 C/S captured. The infrastructure suffered 60 killed or captured."

(excerpt IFFORCEV press report 17 April 1968.)


30-31 Jan: Tet fireworks become the battle of Phan Thiet as the enemy converges on the soccer field, surrounds the hospital where some of the staff are US civilians and threatens the water supply, Province HQ and the bridge approaches.
Most people not in the field are in the rooftop mess at the MACV hotel, looking out over the sandbags and listening intently to the radio traffic from the field. Sometime in the morning of that first day a lieutenant with an ARVN unit is wounded and calls for aid. He is picked up but later we hear he has died. 1lt Charles French Johnson. On 2 February SP4 Michael D. Stotler is killed in the field. For the next day or so we monitor events at the hotel, in daily suspense about the fate of the hospital staff; their reports of overhearing VC outside debating whether to take the hospital; the progress of reinforcements from up country; news from the rest of the country where nearly every other installation like ours has been directly attacked and many overrun, news is not good. Humor is dark.
Relief comes a few days later as an ARVN unit from further N. in the Province equipped with APC's armed with .50 cal machine guns arrives, and immediately attacks the soccer field and rescues the hospital. This is probably the 3d battalion, 44th Regiment from Tuy Phong which moves on 2 Feb. (IFFORCEV p.r. 041768). The heavy machine guns cut right through the light masonry walls at the field and allow their APC mounts to enter and lay waste the enemy massed inside. There are hundreds of enemy casualties. Stench of death for days.

Bombing of left bank, successive days: Though the enemy has suffered gravely and is repulsed from the bridge approaches and key installations he is able to go to ground in previously constructed tunnel systems to the N. of the city and other positions in the urban left bank. RVN and US forces form a perimeter around those key areas but are opposed by the enemy in possession of the built up area around them. Air Force F-4's from Phan Rang arrive about 0900 every day for a week or so and make rubble of the left bank. EOD are very busy during this time as the bombs are often released too close to the ground to arm. They are with me on the roof in the morning, note the duds and go out with a security force into VC territory in the afternoon and destroy them. The F-4's come in over the sea in a dive; afterburners come on with a bang and roar to increase speed and make the bombs penetrate as much as possible; a second before the ground the bombs release, fins flipping open; as the plane's nose comes up it continues to mush toward the ground before the attitude and all that power can pull it out (of the trees, sometimes) and away from the bursts.

Scratch patrol: VC finally get across the river to the right bank in the night and take a police station maybe to the N or NW of MACV. Quietly? They attempt to hit the MACV bldg with rpg's but are short. I'm on the roof, see this and think that it's friendly fire at first because there is no other fire or disturbance. A quick check of our units shows that it's not us. There is a firefight in the morning or at least firing up the street west of the compound from ROK? troops attached to USAID or one of our neighbors just to the west of MACV. Assets are stretched, so a Captain Shelfhaupt with MACV organizes a scratch force of volunteers including myself (Yes, I know) to go see. I don't remember other officers; We are supported by a jeep mounted recoilless rifle from 3/506 Infantry. As I remember, apart from an Infantry captain, myself (Armor) everyone else is from supply, motor pool, etc. Since everyone is carrying an M-16 or grease gun I take a grenade launcher.
We go up the silent streets littered with debris and downed power lines, the only thing moving a badly wounded dog, toward the river. As we approach the station, the supply sergeant is on my right. We come under fire from a low wall in front of the building, the sergeant is shot through the body; training works, everyone takes cover and returns fire immediately. I get a number of rounds off by stepping into an arcade that just happens to be on my left to reload and appearing only long enough to fire. I aim for the building wall immediately behind and above the enemy's cover. The first one is out in the river. The rest make big splashes on that wall. There is plenty of time. The passage close by at about head level of a 106mm RR round (or two) gets everybody's attention and all is silent. We recover the wounded sergeant and withdraw. The station is reoccupied by our forces that day.
Later I heard that the sergeant recovered. He didn't look good the last time I saw him.
I think that was the only time the enemy made it onto that side of the river.
I remember Team 7 working with refugee food relief around this time.

18 Feb (ARVN outpost,) Prison, Provincial HQ attacked. (from official summary)
At some point there is an attempt by the enemy to cut off Phan Thiet from LZ Betty across the narrow neck between river and sea and it may be at this time Lt. Hill volunteers to act as advisor and is later awarded the Bronze Star.

24-25 Feb: Phan Thiet, Phu Long attacked; ammo dump at LZ Betty blows (all night) makes big holes in buildings, carpets airfield w/ shrapnel, ordnance, rattles china. Airfield in operation next day. Civil Affairs stores and Engineers area at LZ Betty are destroyed. I go to see the next day. There is an even carpet of shrapnel at about every foot or so as far as the eye can see in all directions.

(March or even April?) Naval bombardment of VC bunkers: I am surprised to put it mildly by the loud bang of a big shell passing overhead one morning while at breakfast. Out on the sea a few miles is the silhouette of a ship with big flashes coming out of it and pieces of landscape flying into the air just N. of the river opposite. We are the best aiming point and I don't mind the noise when I know what it is. This is the end of the tunnel complex there and the beginning of the end of the siege when large numbers of VC begin surrendering citing the 'big mortars'. I hear that the ship is the cruiser USS Providence (8" guns) (I remember that it looked like a cruiser but naval records show only destroyers with 6" guns providing support on that part of the coast then).

Around this time also a small armor (M-48 tanks) detachment arrived; I think it was a platoon of the 1st Bn 69th Armor; it was also effective against the VC earthworks. I don't remember any armor being hit by rpg's there during Tet and if that's true they were lucky. I later saw an APC that had been and thereafter attributed my choice of MOS to youthful folly.

The Tet Offensive was declared over by 19 Feb but Phan Thiet remained under siege for at least another month (it seems even longer). We were not in control (if we ever were) until the VC positions just N. of the city were taken.

There was a political visit about this time which resulted in orders to make pictures of the same places I had recorded before Tet to be forwarded to a Congressional Committee. I was provided with an Air America chopper and spent a couple of days doing this.

(Spring 68)

I was ordered to Saigon to train for the new Mobile Advisory Teams? (MATs) and later joined MACV Team 39 at Phan Rang.

2 Phan Rang and the Mobile Advisory Team

There is more to come as time and research permits. Please contact me with comments, info, criticism.