Capt. Harold Moffett, Jr., Adviser to the ARVN 3rd Ranger Group
7 April 1972 to 31 May 1972
I spent 53 days in An Loc as an advisor to the 3rd Ranger group. Capt. Evergram and I were inserted into An Loc on the 7th of April 72. On 11 May 72 during the second attack, Capt. Evergram was wounded and medivac’d out of An loc. I remained at An Loc until 31 May 72, after being ordered to leave by Colonel Ulmer.
During Spring 1972, like most Americans in Vietnam, we were in the process of closing bases. On the night of 6 April 1972, I was having a beer with the fellows when we realized that the 3rd Vietnamese Ranger Group at An Loc had no advisors with them. My friend Captain Michael Evergram and I decided those Rangers might need a little help. The next morning we were inserted into the city, not knowing the people we were to help, where they were, what their mission was, or the sector of the perimeter they had to control.
We found the Ranger Group and established our CP. There were a few rounds coming in. Everybody seemed ready for the fight, but we had no idea what we were getting ready to face in the next two months.
That day and night we were mentoring the battle up north at Loc Ninh. There was little doubt that those ARVN troops along with the advisors were putting on a good show. We knew it was coming our way, just a matter of time. We had to be ready.
One of the things I remember most was the way the NVA headed south. The FAC pilots described observing a continuous convoy coming down Hwy. 13 with lights on like they were driving down the interstate. That is when I realized that things might be a little different than anything I had encountered before.
I remember the ARVN going about their merry way knowing that the attack was coming. They would gather in groups to bathe, eat or just visit one another. There was a lot of arty and mortars coming in and it didn’t seem to bother them.
Every time I left the bunker the NVA would pop a round or several at me. It made me mad that I could not even relieve myself without those people trying to kill me. We were in a bunker that was maybe 15 ft. wide by a 100 ft. long. I would find a good spot on one end of the bunker then use the other end until he saw me– that was his mistake. I finally got a couple of F-4s without an urgent target. Well guess what– I pickled both of those on the little bastards with the 60 mortar. That day I spent all the time I wanted out of the bunker, but little did I know it would be my last for a while.
As we prepared for the initial attack, the Group Commander had one Ranger Battalion out trying to recon the area and get a better fix on the enemy positions and their possible plan of attack. While this was going on, the enemy continued to increase their incoming rounds, destroying all our arty and mortar pieces. The only defense we had was what we had in the air. We had no way to counter attack the incoming except with aircraft. I remember a slick pilot asking Col. Benedit about outgoing arty. The Col. told him all arty was incoming, we had no outgoing. There was a higher pitch in the pilot’s response.
I guess you can say things were bad, but not as bad as the early morning hours of the 12th of April. That was the morning of the first attack. I had been on the radio for several days with very little rest. That morning a Specter (C-130) spotted tanks to the east– we worked on them for a while killing several. The main attack came from the north. The only thing that saved us was the NVA’s stupidity. I’ll try to make sense of what happened that day.
The attack started on the morning of the 12th of April 72. As we expected, there was total confusion as the tanks rolled in from the north. I can still see the tanks driving south through our positions. On one of the tanks, a commander was sitting with the hatch open as if the fight was over. Thank the good Lord they reached the south end of the city before they realized they had no Infantry with them. They then turned back to the north preventing a total victory for the NVA. As a Grunt on the ground, I honestly believe that this had been the NVA’s best chance for victory.
Shortly after the initial attack on the 12th of April, senior American advisors were able to organize all aircraft in the Corps and began pounding the northern part of the city already taken, preventing any further penetration of the enemy forces. Again, it was just hang on, continue to encourage the Rangers to fight, and direct air sorties through the FAC’S to the next target. I will always believe that without the quick reaction of all air assets, An Loc would have been in NVA control by 1200 hrs, 12 April 1972.
After that initial surge, the NVA continued to attack, but not at the level as on the 12th. Most of the attacks were repelled with little or no advantage to either side. This type of contact lasted for about 3 weeks, with the incoming rounds increasing each day, and our air power answering our call without fail.
A couple of days after the main attack, a friend of mine entered An Loc through our sector. Lt. Huggins and SFC Yearta were the advisers to the 81st Airborne Ranger Battalion. This group of men accomplished more on the ground than any other unit I am aware of, although I am sure there were others. The 81st would re-take part of the city, then have the regular ARVN come through it. As soon as the 81st moved out, so would the regular ARVN.
The hard part was to re-supply the troops on the ground. There are not enough words to express, explain, praise or tell about the courage, sacrifice, and total commitment to the fight shown by the people in the air. Everybody did more than their share to save us. Without them the battle would have been over as soon as it began.
Between attacks the main problem we encountered on the ground was the arty, mortars, and probably rocks. Anything they could hit you with they used. You have never lived until you have had incoming 155mm arty coming at you with the shipping plug still in.
The only way it could hurt you would be to land on you, but it could still make you wonder where it would land. You would hear them fire, know it was a 155mm, and all you could do was wait. It made the most frightening sound I have ever heard.
As an Infantryman I am not much for talking about the war, and in particular An Loc. Most people that served in Vietnam don’t know or care about what happened in the Spring of 1972. The reason I write is to try and honor those soldiers/airman who risked everything, and some who lost their lives to save us on the ground.
After the attack on 12 April, all just seemed to never end. The main concern was re-supply, which was done through the 5th Division Advisers–Col. Miller and his staff. What a great job they did! The Air Force flew re-supply missions using big, slow, but dependable C-130s. If at any time you thought you were in the clear, you had only to listen to the small arms fire directed at the C-130s. The enemy tried to bring that bird down from the time it began its run, while over its target, and finally until well away from An Loc. In several fire fights I have heard that volume of fire, but never the length of time the enemy would continue to fire at the C-130s. This in itself was a reminder that we were not alone.
Information filtered down that another NVA division could take An Loc in a couple of days. I am sorry that I can’t remember which division. The enemy was still putting several rounds a day on us but nothing you could not live with– just harassing rounds to keep us in our holes. It worked for the most part, but I did get out a little, and made a couple of trips to headquarters. On the 9th of May at 1800 hrs, they started to put more arty, mortars, and rockets on us than you could believe. They were coming in so often that it sounded like a fire fight with small arms. I had no idea you could put that much arty in one place and still survive. Little did I know, it would get worse.
At 2400 hrs the preparations stopped. I don’t remember any rounds the rest of the night, but I am sure there were some– just nothing like earlier. The next day there was less arty than usual. I got some fresh air and walked around a little, checking out things– great day!
On the evening of the 10th of May at 1800 hrs the arty, mortars, and rockets began with the same intensity as the day before. We just found a hole, hoping again they would stop at 2400 hrs. Well 2400 hrs arrived but rounds did not stop, they increased. I could not believe the enemy could add more than they already had, but they did. I remember one of the FAC’s reporting that he could not see An Loc from the air because incoming rounds were making so much dust and smoke. We pretty well knew what was coming. We were right.
The second attack started sometime very early the morning of the 11 May. The planners at 3 Corps and within An Loc had made the right calls to quickly stop the advance of the tanks, and also to prevent any follow-up into the town. B-52 strikes were called in to surround the whole city and as soon as they left station, in came the Fighters who would take care of business until the next set of B-52s came on station. Those B-52 strikes were closer than any strike I can remember. This was great and you could just feel the defeat of the enemy. We were sure that this would be their last day of attack. About 0900 hrs the enemy shot down one of our Fighters, and that changed the whole battle.
You could feel the enemy regain the advantage, but we had been there before so we knew we could hold them off, with outside help. It took a couple of days to put a halt to their advance; once done we were back to square one. Of course, we had no ground to give.
After that attack, we were again trying to re-supply. There had been several improvements in re-supply techniques– much better than earlier methods, so it was a lot safer for the C-130s. The enemy was now using 57MM / 37MM anti-aircraft weapons. C-130s flew at what appeared to be a safe altitude. On the ground I could hear weapons being fired and then see the flak as they tried to hit the planes. It reminded me of the movie, Twelve O’clock High. I’m sure those people in the aircraft didn’t feel that way at all.
The senior person in my two man group, Mike Evergram, was wounded and got out on a “dust-off”, some time after the second attack. Thought I was the lone ranger for a couple of hours, but then my good friend SFC Charles Sherrill, walked into the bunker. I knew if anyone came it would be Charlie. We had served the entire year together and could depend on each other. I felt blessed. About two days later another person from the Ranger group came in. I am sorry I can’t remember his name. I gave them the radio and the bunker. I stayed on top, not in a hole. After so much time, you get to the point where it doesn’t matter anymore. A few days later I was called to the headquarters bunker and told by Col Ulmer I would be leaving An Loc. I was not ready to get on anything that went up in the air. I loved being a Grunt– I felt safer on the ground than up in the air.
On the 31st of May 1972, I was snatched out of An Loc along with Major Ken Ingram and SFC Yearta. What a ride! That was, and will be my last chopper ride! Afterward, I had the pleasure of meeting and briefing LTC William Nolte. I guess we talked for a couple of days. He was a super person and a great soldier. These are my memories and thoughts about my time in An Loc. It was a troubled time, but as an Infantry Soldier I would not have missed it for the world. There are other things I saw,and I think they are better left unsaid. I can only say it was a privilege to have served with the men that were there on the ground and particularly in the air. I can only say thank you. GOD BLESS AMERICA.
BG McGiffert presenting the Silver Star to Harold Moffett