The following narrative was written in March 1995 by Colonel Edward B. Benedit about his experiences as the Deputy Senior Advisor to the 5th ARVN Division in An Loc, South Vietnam. It was written in response to a request by Phil Clarke, a journalist with the Associated Press, and a long time friend. Phil Clarke wrote an article for The Reader’s Digest, published in March 1973, titled, “The Battle That Saved Saigon.” Col. Benedit served in An Loc for 47 days, leaving on May 20, 1972. His call sign was 62 Alpha.
Figure 1 – Ed Benedit at a firebase near An Loc
Today I pulled out my mementos of An Loc, together with all of your correspondence, and spent two hours re-living my last and most memorable combat tour. I have the dirty, acetate covered l: 50,000 operations map that Col. Bill Miller, Maj. Alan Borstaff and I huddled over, day and night, communicating with the outside, and fighting the battle within our ever diminishing perimeter. The map is signed BG Le Van Hung, CG 5th ARVN Division, 16/5/72. Still in grease pencil on the partial acetate covering are the words, SUNDOG, CHICO, RASH, call-signs for the Forward Air Controllers (FACs) who flew continuously over An Loc. They controlled sometimes hundreds of tactical air sorties including: Vietnamese, carrier-based U.S. Navy, Thailand-based U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Army gunships. Their performance was both heroic and remarkable. Also on the overlay were the words Spectre and Stinger, call signs used by the USAF AC-130 and USAF AC-119 Gunships that frequently orbited An Loc. On May 20, 1972, in addition to my few personal possessions, I carried out a 50 Cal. metal ammo box containing the remains of one of these brave warriors, shot down a month earlier.
Figure 2 – Operation map used during battle of An Loc. See figures 5 & 6 for larger map and overlay.
During my first tour of duty in South Vietnam, from July 1964 to June 1965, I had served as Senior Advisor to the 46th Regiment, 25th ARVN Division (operating south and west of Saigon), and had gained the necessary experience for my second tour in South Vietnam.
In October 1971, immediately prior to joining the 7th ARVN Regiment as Senior Advisor, I commanded a Mechanized Infantry Battalion in West Germany for 18 months. The command in Germany left me with much trepidation and anxiety about my second assignment to Vietnam. During that period in Germany, half of my unit was composed of, “Vietnam Veterans,” two year conscripts who had “served their time in Hell,” and were not about to do any more soldiering for the remaining six months before discharge. The battalion toed a line between mutiny and insurrection. My regard for the American fighting man and the readiness of U.S. fighting forces was at an all time low, upon my return to Vietnam. The battle of An Loc was to change that.
I joined Le Duc-Quan, Colonel, ARVN, in late October 1971. He was a big, well-schooled soldier of Chinese descent, a family man, and a relatively strong commander. Colonel Quan was an improvement over my former counterparts who were untrained “political appointees,” remnants from the early years of military coups, that is, “Big-Minh, Little Minh.” The 7th ARVN Regiment was a decently trained and equipped unit with approximately 1800 soldiers assigned. When leaving our home base at Phuoc Vinh to conduct field operations, they numbered 1200 to 1400 with battalion fighting strength at 300 to 400. Over Christmas 1971, we built a new fire base 6 kms. west of Loc Ninh, and in mid January 1972, we moved into Loc Ninh proper. From then until late February, the regiment conducted local operations using the remaining time for training and improving Loc Ninh fighting positions. It was here that Colonel Quan and I had several heated discussions, once about soldiers collecting orchids that grew wild in the trees, another concerning regiment trucks transporting hardwoods to the Saigon market, and still another when a one-time check on a gasoline re-supply convoy that left the depot with 10,000 gallons revealed only 6,500 gallons, 70 miles later. In many respects little had changed in the eight years between advisory tours of duty.
In late February 1972, we began to notice considerable changes during our operations to the west and north. Most troubling, we were not only encountering decidedly more enemy contacts, but they were not indigenous to the area. The NVA, known to depend heavily on wire for communications, were stringing lots of it across the Cambodian border areas, a sure sign that something was up. All this “intelligence” was dutifully reported to higher headquarters.
About this time, a seriously disabled Huey helicopter from the SVN/US Special Forces Operating Detachment in Quan Loi, landed at the Loc Ninh airstrip. I was among the first out to meet the aircraft. Inside were two American and five SVN Special Forces soldiers; the pilot was bleeding profusely, the others were dead. A week later I visited this same detachment to gather any information that would be helpful to my area of operations. The US Advisor there told me, in no uncertain terms, that the unit was involved in, “Special Operations reporting directly to Saigon.” He told me that I didn’t have “a need to know and intelligence should be obtained through normal channels.” That day I came as close to hitting a fellow officer as I have in 29 years of military service. I regained my composure and departed for Loc Ninh some 12 miles north knowing no more than when I arrived. To this day, I carry esteem for “intelligence people,” lower than a worm.
On March 11th, the 9th Regiment fatefully replaced the 7th Regiment at Loc Ninh. I turned over the advisor’s bunker to Ltc. Dick Schott, Major Carlson, and Capt. Mark Smith. In addition to food supplies, there was a five gallon water jug filled with fermenting peaches and sugar, my first attempt at a home brewed wine. I told Dick it still had three to four weeks to “cook” and maybe I would be back for a sip. Little did I know what was to come.
Loc Ninh and An Loc were surrounded by rubber plantations owned and operated by French “Robber Barons”–Frenchmen who “played both ends against the middle,” and perhaps properly so. These plantation owners were distinct in that they resided in two story palatial homes with swimming pools, adjacent to airstrips. I had the dubious pleasures of dining at the home of one at Loc Ninh, and personally targeting the villa of another at Quan Loi. Both mansions were reduced to the level of those in An Loc.
During the return to our home base at Phuoc Vinh (for a short respite), operations conducted north and northwest met with insignificant enemy contacts. One notable observation during the hours of darkness was the sound of armored vehicles crossing the Cambodian border little did we know.
Toward the latter part of March, the 7th Regiment was ordered to FSB #1, 7 kms NW of An Loc, for operations. Until early April, when the regiment was ordered into An Loc, contacts and small engagements were made daily. At this point, the regiment’s strength was slightly over 1200, morale was fair and operations effectiveness was marginal at best. Within the regiment there was a sense of uneasiness and a fair amount of speculation of what was to come, not only among the advisors, but among soldiers and officers alike.
As a Regular Army Lt. Colonel, with wife Diane and three children, I regularly kept my family informed of my whereabouts in Vietnam. However, somehow they were unaware that I had left Loc Ninh, so when news that Loc Ninh was being overrun by the NVA reached the US, Diane’s state of depression and anxiety only intensified- not unlike that of many other waiting wives.
After moving into An Loc, the 7th ARVN Regiment began establishing a portion of the defensive perimeter, from QL 13 south of town, east and north about 1600 meters. Bunkers were improved, replacements were flown in from Phuoc Vinh, artillery was consolidated in a large open area just north of the division headquarters, and all other necessary arrangements were made. During these frantic preparations for An Loc’s defense, I met with Colonel Bill Miller, 5th ARVN Division Senior Advisor, who informed me of General Hung’s orders to, “Hold An Loc at all costs.” Colonel Miller also said that CG III Corps, US Major General Hollingsworth was not ordering the advisors to remain in An Loc. There followed a long silence during which we glanced at one another; to this day I do not remember who spoke first, but neither of us had any doubt that the advisors were staying- the only question was, who and how many would remain. It was obvious that a successful defense would depend on US air power, and that meant US advisors were necessary. We also realized from experience that if the US advisors left, the ARVN would follow right behind us. Since the 7th Regiment Command Post was co-located with the Division Command Post, I opted to remain with Colonel Miller and Major Borstaff, the Division G-3 Advisor. We would operate as a consolidated team, Division and 7th Regiment, with three individuals – the minimum number necessary to get the job done.
I sent Major Hank Ruiz, Captain Davis, one NCO, and my interpreter/jeep driver back to Lai Khe that afternoon on the last fixed-wing aircraft (a C-7 Caribou), to depart An Loc. Until now, my constant companion had been a small brown and white terrier dog named, “Combat,” who was now packed in my duffel bag, his head sticking out one end. Handing the bag to Major Ruiz, I watched them take off. The airstrip was on the extreme north end of town, and as I watched the plane rise into the air, it was raked with 50 caliber gunfire. I was advised later that all arrived safely in Lai Khe. Forty days later, after being re-united with my duffel bag and, “Combat,” in Lai Khe, I found one 50 caliber bullet had entered and exited the middle part of the duffel bag.
With the squeeze on Loc Ninh taking shape, preparations in An Loc took on a new sense of urgency. As additional units and replacements entered, lines and sectors were adjusted. Patrols were dispatched outside the perimeter, though not nearly as distant as we advisors would have liked. Operating procedures between provinces were established, unit and division advisors were determined, free and no fire lines drawn, control of TAC Air, logistics requirements, and a myriad of other details were addressed. From the beginning, it became obvious the Province Chief resented “playing second fiddle” to the 5th ARVN Division Commander; he felt that An Loc was his town and in his province, therefore under his command. Though there were apparent differences from the start, these differences did not materially reduce the effectiveness of the defensive struggle to come, nor did they have any bearing on the outcome of the battle. There were plenty of things for all to do.
The beginning of intermittent shelling of An Loc changed the character of this once bustling, rural metropolitan area, to that of a cemetery. Nothing moved- where did the dogs, chickens, bikes, and yes, people go? The answer was, underground. Every living creature, person or animal, had his own crawl space and would remain there for what would seem an eternity.
We, in the 5th Division Command Post, monitored the combat action of Loc Ninh continually, day and night. Sometimes we were able to communicate directly, other times through Forward Air Controllers. We shared their ups and downs while relaying messages and doing what we could. When word came of the disintegration of the 1st Armored CAVTF, it was apparent the end was near. My last contact with Loc Ninh was on early April 7th; Captain Mark Smith said his senior advisor and one other were gone and he and some others were “fighting their way to the district bunker for a last stand.” We all took this information pretty hard, like losing someone in the family. There is an unspoken closeness between infantry advisors and Colonel Bill Miller, crusty veteran though he was, took the news hard, almost personally. Lt Colonel Dick Schott had been under his command.
The firebase at Hung Tam, manned by the 52d Regiment and Artillery and capable of supporting Loc Ninh, was ordered to withdraw to An Loc. The details of that- yet another disaster are available in other reports. From the onset of darkness and throughout the night, I talked with Senior Advisor, Lt. Colonel Ginger, who was wounded and requesting help. I have never experienced such a helpless feeling in my entire military career. I radioed his location, condition, and request for assistance to Corps, and then mostly tried to reassure him help would come. That pitiful, muffled voice haunts me to this day. A helicopter rescue attempt at first light on April 8th was beaten back by extremely heavy ground fire. A later attempt employing TAC Air and Cobra gunships was successful. Though I never saw or heard from Lt. Colonel Ginger again, the closeness we shared that night was because we were both American advisors, and he was in danger.
On or about April 8th, two Platoons of the 7th Regiment were sent to reinforce the garrison and Special Forces unit at Quan Loi. You will recall my earlier episode with the Special Forces operating out of Quan Loi and their less than cooperative attitude. Well, here they did it again! Under somewhat heavy attack, a fleet of helicopters came in, picked up the Special Force units, and fled the scene without informing the 7th Regiment. Where I don’t know. The horror is they left the 7th Regiment alone to fight their way into An Loc as best they could. The 7th Regiment reportedly destroyed the tons of ammo stockpiled at Quan Loi, however, it is doubtful that all of it was destroyed. Later on, we at An Loc were the recipients of 2.75-rocket fire from homemade launchers; these rockets are normally fired from pods mounted on helicopters. That was one of the “ugly” episodes.
The blockade of Route 13 south of An Loc by the NVA was the single most decisive enemy action resulting in the siege of An Loc. For the first time, everyone realized they were in this for the long haul; gone was the escape route for deserters, the surface route for re-supply and reinforcements, a route to evacuate civilians and casualties, and however remote, any thought of fighting a delaying action to the south. We were there to stay, win or lose.
Day by day, the enemy artillery pounded incessantly! ARVN helicopters would swoop in to one of the two available LZ’s, hover, kick out bundles, pick up what they could and depart. The enemy had both of these LZ’s under constant observation. As soon as the helicopters appeared, artillery fire began and many casualties were sustained. Should a helicopter land, it was mobbed by both soldiers and civilians attempting to leave An Loc. I witnessed some cases where individuals were physically beaten off of the aircraft, both on the ground and as high up as 50 feet in the air. It was pandemonium! Only much later, were the ARVN able to regain control of the landing zones.
Early rumors from Saigon were rampant; one was that American advisors had left An Loc. In fact, a team of South Vietnamese reporters actually entered An Loc and photographed Colonel Miller and I huddled around our operations map- we made the front page of the Saigon News. It seems funny to me now, but I guess they just had to see for themselves.
Getting mail out to my wife and kids was always a problem. We never knew when an advisor might “pop” in and when he would depart, however, we would make the most of it. I usually grabbed a piece of paper, any kind clean or dirty, write a short note, fold it in half, staple it shut, scribble the address and magic words “free” and off it went, sometimes twice in one day or once a week. To the best of my knowledge, they all got through. My family stayed with about 70 to 80 other “waiting wives” in a little town called Green Cove Springs, Florida, about 15 miles south of Jacksonville. It was a real close community; whenever a letter from me came in, it was delivered “special,” day or night. God bless the US Post Office and the people back home. For a very few, very special people there, the battle for An Loc was their battle as much as it was mine.
The movement of the 21st ARVN Division and Airborne Brigade to break through to An Loc raised advisor morale immeasurably and why not, they were reputed to be the best the ARVN had and with Colonel Ross Franklin as advisor, their exploits were always making the news. In the critical days and weeks ahead, the advisory team’s morale rose and fell to new heights and depths as news of these unit’s successes and failures reached us; it seemed our lives depended on them. Combined with the daily bombardment and ground action, the daily ups and downs had an intense mental wearing effect on all team members.
In upgrading their defense, the ARVN seemed to have a particular fascination with Claymore mines, which would have covered the countryside, had they been able to get enough of them. Only the soldier immediately adjacent to them knew safe passage through the minefield; I never saw a minefield plan at the company level. If a soldier was killed in the shelling, that knowledge was also lost, an important consideration in escape and evasion should the defense buckle.
With the first major attack, the Advisors, FACs and TAC Air worked out most of the ground-air control details. Successful coordination of ordinance and loiter time in the battle area enabled Army Cobras, screaming fighters (sometimes stacked up three deep), plodding Spectres, and circling FACs, to work together without running into each other. The FAA at JFK or La Guardia would have been proud.
The attacks usually began at first light. It was routine to have our FACs on station with a couple of fighter sorties orbiting. We were not disappointed, just like clockwork they came. The enemy tanks were particularly stressful to us since our only defense was TAC Air and the M-72 LAW. Yet, the NVA in almost all cases sent them in alone. Lord help us if they had sent in a TK-INF team. The ARVN rapidly gained confidence in their ability to kill tanks, and kill them they did. The ARVN soldiers fought valiantly against the massive attacks, which were always preceded by intense artillery barrages. That initial period of assault, though costly to the enemy, robbed us of almost half of what we couldn’t afford—terrain. The perimeter was cut in half, from 1 X 2 km’s to one square km. From our central location, the front-line was four city blocks east, west, and south, and six city blocks north. Entrenched here were the remaining 5,000 soldiers and approximately 10,000 civilians- not a pretty picture.
The Division Command Post bunker we operated from was of cement and about 15 feet wide by 40 feet long and 8 feet high. The bunker jutted two feet above ground, and was piled four feet high with rock breakers and sand bags. Several apertures above ground let in daylight, and I might add- bomb fragments. One particularly accurate artillery round caused fifteen casualties inside the bunker, with no advisors scratched. Perhaps the good Lord knew we could not afford to lose any advisors. We were going full tilt on catnaps, 24 hours a day, day after day. However, when your life is at stake the adrenaline keeps on pumping and you do manage.
Figure 3 – Command bunker in An Loc
Food and water was not a problem for the advisors. There was always enough to eat and what amounted to a cup of water in which to drink, shave, and bathe. We had some emergency rations—other than rice—that we sometimes ate. We quickly realized that the more we ate and drank, the more trips we would have to make to the “bathroom,” a two-holer surrounded with corrugated metal, about 30 yards outside the bunker. At first, “sitting on the throne,” I felt reasonably secure, however later I began to count the shrapnel holes in the corrugated steel- 100, 200, 600, etc. I made future trips only as needed, though my kidneys may never be the same.
After the initial attack I took periodic “strolls” around the perimeter. It was disheartening- wounded wearing dirty, makeshift bandages; teams burying the dead, and a terrible stench, with flies everywhere. Yet, the soldiers I contacted always had a ready smile. Once, I was even offered a marijuana cigarette; who knows where that came from!
One particular occasion during my tour outside the bunker, I sat down on the side of a dirt road to enjoy the sunshine. I heard the “boom—boom—boom—boom” of enemy artillery being fired, the whistle as it approached, and the explosions when it hit. The closest round struck some 30 feet away in the ditch on the other side of the road. Realizing I had not moved, my steel pot still by my side, it scared me to think how insensitive I had become to something that could kill me. Like someone living next to an airport with the sound of airplanes, I had become accustomed to the constant noise of incoming artillery. Well, I jacked myself up then and there and never let that happen again.
Aerial re-supply problems and the non-existent ARVN food distribution system for any supplies that did reach the perimeter are well documented. Although some military supplies managed to get through, hoarding of food was rampant and usually went to the strongest. Sometimes I positioned myself outside the bunker in view of the “drop zone,” to report how effective an aerial re-supply mission was. On one such occasion a C-130 approaching its release point, though totally obscured by enemy anti-aircraft fire, continued on course, released its load, and then departed. As an observer, I was impressed with what seemed to me a miracle, and with the courage and dedication of the air crew. During another re-supply mission I stood in the Province Chief’s courtyard, not 100 yards from our bunker, while around me were several destroyed trucks and ARVN soldiers moving freely. As I observed pallets being released, I noticed several parachutes malfunctioning and a 1,000-pound load came screaming earthward—right toward me. With nine years Airborne experience, I quickly realized that when a heavy drop-load doesn’t appear from the ground to move north, south, east, or west, it’s aimed dead on you. Diving under a bombed-out truck, I yelled to the ARVN to look up. One soldier about 20 feet away heard and saw me, but never moved or looked up. While he never knew what hit him, he was dead before he hit the ground when the falling pallet cleaved him, from the left shoulder to the waist.
After the initial major assault was beaten back at the expense of about half our perimeter, we advisors did a lot of speculation about the enemy we were fighting and our prognosis for the final outcome. Our enemy was becoming more sophisticated by the day. From small arms and 50 calibers, to TKs, arty and mortars, to 23 mm & 37 mm AA weapons, to surface-to-air missiles; this did not have the character of a “low intensity” conflict as preached in the service schools back in the States. Mid-intensity was more descriptive of our current action and yet we were not supposed to find it here in Vietnam. For the first time, doubt began to creep into our discussions about our ability to defend what we had left. When would the enemy put it all together? These concerns coupled with the futile efforts of the Airborne Bde. and 21st Division lowered our morale to near rock-bottom. Each of us talked more frequently about escape and evasion should we be overrun, how and where to exit our own wire, and which routes to take south. We planned single departures, each on his own. Fortunately we did not have to execute these plans, fraught with unknowns as they were; however, any plan is better than no plan.
The constant battering was taking its toll. How much bombardment, attacks, peaks and valleys can a person take? Patience was short; tempers would flare over little things. I never knew what “battle fatigue” was or what “fear” could do to a man’s psyche. Whatever the effect, it was gnawing at all of us. One of our numbers could no longer “manage” it and was replaced by Major Ingram on 1 May.
Upon his arrival, Major Ingram introduced certain “cultures” into the bunker, unseen in the previous 30 days, regarding white bed sheets and daily baths. I’ll let him tell you about that part of this story. I must say I excused him these “commissions” only because he was artillery, and they were always used to a better life than us infantry men. Ken was a breath of fresh air.
About this time my counterpart, CO 7th Regiment, Colonel Quan, usually a pillar of strength, was rendered ineffective by artillery. Although he always wore his flak-jacket (even when sleeping), on this day he raised his arm and a piece of artillery shrapnel entered his armpit lodging close to his heart and relieving him of action. He later recovered only to be killed when his helicopter was shot down over his home base at Phuoc Vinh. Normally his constant companion, I was not with him on that day.
The B-52 strikes were a wonder to behold! Unless you have been there, you cannot appreciate the effect the rapid staccato of exploding 500—750 pound bombs have. What a morale buster it must have been to an enemy force nearby. During a strike, you could not hear the airplanes- only the first burst; if you were too close you were killed or had your eardrums blown out from the pressure. Each day, we very deliberately planned the next days strike based on the best available intelligence and our best guess of enemy intentions. The “four corner boxes” were coded and sent to higher headquarters by 1800 hours for execution after midnight. We were then notified of the approved boxes and TOT’s, and made sure no friendly patrols were in the vicinity. If a strike was TOT’d for 0413, you could set your watch by it. In addition to the havoc raised in the enemy ranks, the bomb strikes were a godsend and great morale boosters for the defenders.
The second major assault speaks of a western salient into the city. So it will go down in history, however, it will always be a bit more personal with me. You see, the salient was defended by the 1st BN 7th Regiment headquartered in the local jail, two city blocks west of our command post. The fight was ferocious hand-to-hand combat over a period of two days. We threw everything we had in support of the battalion. Spectres and Cobras sealed off any possible re-enforcements while blocking forces were positioned to limit penetration. When the salient was finally restored, the dead were everywhere including the acting Battalion Commander and half of his battalion. The commander had been a young officer full of vitality and energy, no more than 25 years old and looking about 16 years old. He had been the XO but assumed command at An Loc when the Battalion Commander, Capt. A__, could not re-join his battalion in An Loc. I have forgotten his name, but I will never forget his face and the heroic battle his unit fought over a lousy jailhouse on one square block within spitting distance of my own location (strong east wind).
Just about every morning General Hollingsworth would come up on the net in his ABN CP and ask for a situation report, which we promptly gave him. Most times, the exploding incoming artillery provided an added emphasis to what we had to say. The Information we received about action south of us along QL 13 was sketchy, to say the least. Our best source was the Saigon News which arrived through any one of a hundred methods of delivery. When reading the paper, it seemed like the whole war was being fought along QL 13. I guess it was understandable; all the newsmen were down south with access to only Colonel Ross Franklin and the 21st ARVN Division, not to us. This reminds me, my wife Diane in sunny Florida, listening to the evening news heard “my voice” controlling an air strike with a FAC. She immediately received four or five phone calls from friends who had heard it also. How is that for rapid information passage that I was still alive? I later queried some FACs about who was riding in their right seat. They said from time to time they invited the press to come along with their tape recorders. Even there in the heat of battle our rights of privacy were unknowingly invaded.
Colonel Miller departed An Loc on 10 May and was replaced by Colonel Ulmer. Colonel Miller had asked me what my departure desires were and I told him that it would be best if I hung around for a while to brief the new senior advisor. Walt’s (Col. Ulmer’s) arrival was somewhat startling; he was clean-shaven, and wearing a starched field uniform. To this day, I don’t know what he thought of us; I was dirty, needing a haircut, wearing a green T-shirt with dirty fatigues (I hadn’t washed any clothes since I arrived in An Loc). While we were de-briefing Col. Ulmer, an enemy tank entered the perimeter from the south and proceeded to a position some 1000 meters away from us, and blasting. Walt asked, “Isn’t anybody going to do anything about that tank”? We just looked at him and in the next instant, spying an M-72 LAW; he grabbed it and headed out of the bunker to personally take on the tank. I grabbed Walt, telling him to hang on for a bit, and as he settled down, a report came in that the ARVN had destroyed the tank. Walt may not have seen this in the same light, but it’s gospel. At this point the story is well told in after-action reports. Colonel Ulmer, Major Ingram, and others can fill in the details.
Finally 20 May arrived. There were times I never thought I would see that day. I made my way to the bunkers bordering the southern-most helipad, for pick-up around 1200 hours. Artillery pounded the route from Division Command Post to the bunker. An ARVN soldier was in the bunker wanting to be alone with his marijuana cigarette (2nd time I resisted). Coming in over the treetops, the helicopter hovered above the pad as Tran, and I carrying some personal gear including the metal ammo box, jumped aboard and zoomed away at treetop level back to Lai Khe. The chopper spent all of maybe six seconds at the LZ, and at lift-off we could see exploding artillery.
In my estimation, the enemy’s first and foremost mistake was in surrounding An Loc. His second mistake was in severely under-estimating the fighting capability of the ARVN when surrounded, and supported by the, “American War Machine.”
I could probably write for another week about such things as my visit to the hospital, the wounded and dying, the lack of medical supplies, the outstanding fighting ability of the RF/PF (Regional Forces/Popular Forces) who held the east and southeast sectors, the bodies decomposing in wells; it was not a pretty sight. War is never pretty, and now with so much of our military being female, I wonder how they would fit into a situation comparable to An Loc.
We had no “Rambos” in An Loc; the closest I saw was one of the sergeants advising an airborne battalion (ABN BN). This was his 5th tour and he had at least six Purple Hearts. Vietnam was where he wanted to be and he belonged there. I call him a renegade and suspect all armies have some of these men. The rest of us were just ordinary Americans doing a dirty job that had to be done and protecting each other. My time at An Loc was probably the only 47-day period of my life where politics was not discussed.
I came home on R & R weighing 164 pounds and I didn’t have a pair of pants that fit. I had entered An Loc at about 190 pounds. Even during my high school football playing days, I weighed 180 pounds.
On numerous occasions and even today, I have been confronted with comments about American soldiers, sailors, or airmen, depicting them as longhaired, pot-smoking, unruly drug addicts, who are totally undisciplined. My response to this is swift; I recite the instances of FACs dodging surface-to-air missiles; fighters diving into “steel walls” of anti-aircraft fire; C-130 aircraft disappearing into clouds of exploding hostile fire while dropping food, water, and ammunition; and helicopters braving intense ground fire to evacuate the wounded. On the battlefield there are no politics, diplomacy, riots, nor burning of draft cards and the American flag. There is “one great togetherness,” where one American will gladly give up his life for a nameless, faceless voice in trouble. I left Vietnam with great pride in the, “American fighting man.”
Figure 4 – Ed Benedit and Ken Ingram being met by Phil Clarke, a journalist doing a story on the battle of An Loc for Reader’s Digest at Lai Khe, after leaving An Loc
Figure 5 – 1:50,000 operations battle map from command bunker
Figure 6 – An Loc Map Overlay
Figure 7 – Stars & Stripes Article