These are eyewitness accounts of the first mortar attack against Tan Son Nhut Airbase, just outside of Saigon, RVN, April 13, 1966.
Dedicated to the memory of
Cooper P Abrams, III I had arrived at Tan Son Nhut only a month before the April 13, 1966 attack. I was an Airman First E4 in my barracks located on the street the AF NCO club was on. I was stationed with 1964 Com. Group, 1967 Com. Sq. I worked in the teletype relay center that was in the last hanger just before you crossed the flight line that went to the MAC ACP. I heard the explosions and woke up and when I went outside I saw fire coming from the flight line about a half mile from where I was. There was a lot of small arms fire and numerous explosions and smoke. It was not long before the the POL dump was hit. One thing I do remember was the sound of quad 50's firing on (and) near the runway. Later, I worked in the MAC ACP about three yards from the tanks that were hit. I have copies of the Stars & Stripes that reported the attack. I remember seeing a large explosion with fire on the flight line when the VC hit a C47 "Puff the Magic Dragon" flare plane. I went into a sandbag bunker outside our barracks. None of us in the bunker had a weapon. I spent three years in the Army in a Combat Signal unit before joining the Air Force and I felt totally naked with no weapon or (any) way to defend myself. Fortunately, the 377 Military Police stopped them cold and the VC never got close to us. Those AP won my deepest respect that night. The next morning I saw I think four to six VC sappers laying in front of Nguyen Cao Ky's headquarters building. I was told they came though a large ditch at the end of the flight line. They said one the sappers that was killed was a barber that had cut my hair a week before. Our unit did not lose anyone in that attack. I was also there in the Dec. 4 attack and we did lose a number of men when they hit the 2200 barracks area. Again I was very fortunate and was not hit. I was the luckiest guy possible because my barracks was away from the flight line on the street that lead to the AF NCO Club. We had a shower, hot water, and a water cooler! The closest mortar to me was in a helicopter field behind the AF NCO Club about four hundred yards to the west. I do not remember how many were injured or were killed that night. It was the first attack on Tan Son Nhut and it really sobered us all up. I rotated out just before the Tet offensive. God was certainly looking out for me. I am now a Baptist pastor.
Ernest Auerbach I was there, or at least close by, at BOQ 1. We took cover when the mortars were incoming. Later we learned of the fatality of the soldier who was about to DEROS back to CONUS. I was assigned to the SJA, 1st Log Command and had the duty later that evening to go to the quarters where the sergeant was killed and handle his effects/claims etc. That was 41 years ago. I remember the incident clearly
Tino "Chui" Banuelos Prior to the April 66 mortar attack at TSN, all weapons and ammo in the 3rd RRU had been locked into CONEX boxes at Davis Station. When the mortars started falling, people were trying to break into the conex boxes to get weapons. The guy with the key for the locks had gone to Saigon for the evening. The 7th RRU, however, had weapons and ammo locked into our 3/4 ton "offices" in the motor pool. When the guys in the 3rd RRU got the conex box open, they found grenades. They had to break open the lock on the second conex box to get to the weapons and ammo. I was doing a NUG thing and was just standing outside of the hootch watching guys run around in circles. Actually my left leg was running but my right leg was standing still. I saw the flash of the mortar that landed inside Davis Station killing Sgt Daugherty and heard the cries of "Medic!". John Giles got me moving by slamming me in the shoulder and yelling in my face, "Get in the bunker!", The next day "Westy" came by to downplay the damage for the media. (See photo above)
Henry C. Becker Jr. I was at Tan Son Nhut Airbase in April 1966. A new group of recruits numbering 1500 or so had arrived that day. In the night, the North Vietnamese started the first ever shelling of the airbase. All of the recruits were out on the tarmac in a panic. I and other officers ordered them to get off the tarmac into the berm at the edge of the tarmac. I followed them in a diving jump, but my left leg was evidently still in the air when a rocket went off - pieces of shrapnel hit my leg. I was treated, the shrapnel removed, but the leg suffered a secondary infection - cellulitis and phlebitis. I was evacuated to Japan and then to Walter Reed Army Hospital in DC via Travis AFB in California. One day I realized that there were three or four doctors looking at my left leg and talking about amputation and where. I asked if I had a vote and they agreed I did. My message was "leave my leg alone and do what you can with what I have," so they did. I still have the leg though it is weak. (Special note: I am Josephine M.Becker, widow of Henry C. "Chuck" Becker, USA Retired. In researching information on my computer, I found a file of stories my husband related to his daughter several days before his death. He was career Army, serving in the CBI in WWII, Korea and two tours in Vietnam plus a variety of skirmishes and other assignments including Chief of Army MARS. He retired in October 1966 after his release from Walter Reed. He was Signal Corps for nearly all of his career.)
MSG. C. Caldwell There were 242 rounds of mortars and rockets fired from off base. About 12 of the mortar rounds fell short due to the packets on fins being damp. They were suppose to have gone another 400 yards. Only one of the mortars that fell short went off. 1/C Airman Poole was on his K-9 post. One of the mortars fell between his legs and fins took flesh off his arms. It was given to him in the hospital. He received a purple heart due to his loss of hearing and transferred to CE. His dog had to be put to sleep.
Clayton A. Chittim I was stationed with Det. 5 of the 6922nd Security Wing (USAF). If memory serves me the attack came just past midnight. Up till that night, many people felt the VC wouldn't attack Tan Son Nhut for fear we would retaliate against Hanoi. It sounds dumb now but at the time this kind of thinking resulted in bunkers being dismantled and beautification projects started (like painting white rocks to decorate various places). I had a small piece of shrapnel cut across my right calf. When I went to get it treated they were swamped with wounded. A medic just cleaned it off, put some type of creme on it and a bandage and sent me on my way. He didn't even have time to take my name. At dawn we could see where some of the barracks had been hit and other damage. Needless to say, in the days following that attack, we were very busy with filling sand bags.
Mike Cieslar April 3, 1966. I was stationed in Germany and received classified priority orders for USARV. Upon arriving at Tan Son Nhut somewhere around noon on 13 April, 1966 the flight attendants opened the doors on the plane and left the aircraft, it was then I noticed the air had a strange odor to it. A thin, tan senior NCO came on board advising us to stay in our seats until we were told to get up. We were sitting on the tarmac for at least an hour or more, my thoughts were that we would be sitting ducks if the enemy chose to attack. It was getting hot sitting on that plane plus we were all wearing the "Tan Tropical Uniform." I remember stepping out of the door experiencing that blast of heat and humidity, by the time we walked with duffel bag, field gear bag and AWOL bag over to a covered staging area at the edge of the runway, I was soaking wet, couldn't breathe and thought I was going to die right there. We were loaded on to buses with the windows screened over and were told that prevented the VC from throwing grenades in to the buses. Some of us from the plane went to Camp Alpha which was South and West of the airport I do not know where the others were sent. We were assigned a hooch and told to change into our fatigues and report back to the formation area, all said and done names were called out for various unit assignments mine was "The Big Red One". I took out a set of my orders and gave them to the orderly room who in turn told me to pull my bags out of line and secure a bunk in the Hooch. There was a SSGT there who told us all prior service personnel are assigned to guard duty, my first thought was that I am not in country 12 hrs yet and already on guard duty this is going to suck. We were issued weapons and 4 magazines of ammo. That evening I learned that one of the "bennies" of the guards was being able to take a shower anytime you wanted, that was cool. Second watch I had the back fence facing the Plantation. the SSGT advised that we are on Yellow alert, I asked what does that mean? He stated "probable enemy in the area" giving us instructions on what to look for in signal flares if we went to "Red". The area ahead of me toward the Plantation was a free fire zone anything moving, "Dust it". 15 min. later he is bringing in re-enforcements to each guard post and 4 more magazines and a bandolier. Sometime later we saw 2 Red and 1 Green flare, Slicks were in the air, I heard a thump off in the distance behind us, then some small arms fire and automatic weapons opened up. Luminous flairs were popping in front of the camp (back side) other guards at the end of the dog leg were opening up at something out there. Then we saw "movement" in front of us everyone was engaged on this side of the camp at this time it seemed as if all Hell was breaking loose, I was scared shitless!! We started crawling over to the drainage ditch that ran through the camp because the mortars were getting closer. We just got to the edge of the ditch, then there was a blinding flash to the right of us, it was close enough to hear shrapnel whizzing through the air. There were some CP tents over there being used as hooch's I couldn't think of the possibilities I remember being really angry and screaming you mother fuckers over and over. I flipped the selector to auto. We continued to lay down some fire at the "movement" we stayed in position through the rest of a very long night. As predawn started one of the guys in the ditch said to me "hey man your hands are all bloody." I felt nothing at the time, later a Medic cleaned me up and picked out some shrapnel out of my forearms and backs of my hands. Never did get a PH for that. Total casualties were 12 KIA and 154 WIA in the entire Ton Son Nhut area that night. Later that day our guard team was moved to Camp Bravo where we were advised that we are to become a "Reactionary Force" to respond quickly to any incidents Charlie had in mind. I was on that team for four months it was good duty we were on constant alert and were called out many times mostly north of the airfield. However we were free to do whatever we wanted in camp, read, sleep or hang out at the club. I spent most of my evenings with some "ROCK" troops that befriended me, drinking OB and watching Korean movies what a kick that was.
John Crafton I remember that night! I was running to the barracks to grab my gear and in the pitch dark ran into a large stack of lumber. Instead of going around the stack I climbed right over it and jumbled off the other side. The next morning I looked at that stack of lumber and wondered how I managed to do that.
Ed Dammer I THINK I was an E4 when the attack happened but may have still been an E3. I would have had a year's service on April 19 so that may have been my date of rank. Not real important but I am trying to remember the details! I had been in-country since December 26, 1965 and not yet experienced being under fire. I was assigned to the USARV Aviation Section and living in 'Tent City B' on the Army Compound. I was asleep in my hooch when the mortar rounds started to drop. I recall that I could hear them in my sleep but didn't relate them to anything until someone shook me awake and told me that we were under attack. It was pitch black in the hooch as I tried to put my pants on but I did finally get into them and my flip-flops and went outside to get to a bunker. I do remember a large oil tank had been hit and was burning wildly (but, to be honest, I now don't remember if that was during this attack or another which happened the following December). Confusion reigned. Weapons were unavailable (but would have been useless anyway since there was no assault on us). I did notice that there was a light on in a latrine and went to shut it off. I was concerned that it was the only light in the area and might be used as a target point. As I switched off the light, I realized that I was being a damned fool because that could be just the time that a round landed. But, to my immense joy, nothing happened. I honestly don't remember how long the attack lasted. (This was almost 50 years ago after all!) The next day we were on lock down and no one was allowed to leave the base for a few days after that, as I recall but it wasn't long before things simmered down and we were back to normal until the next incident. I came home in January 1967 swearing that I'd never wear Army Green again! That turned out to be quite a joke since I later re-enlisted in the Army Reserve and retired after 29 years of service. But, happily, I never had to serve in a combat area again! Thank you for bringing this memory back!!
Howard A. Daniel III There was not only a mortar attack on TSN in April 1966, but about ten VC were also on the base. I remember seeing about six or seven of their bodies lined up on the street a couple of hours after the all clear was given. I was located behind one of the flight line fire stations closest to Davis Station. My crew and I were in our two intel vans with some ADP equipment in them and when some of the mortar rounds exploded on the tin roof over the top of the vans, I moved my men from the vans into the CICV building. The mortars came in every once in awhile and they were close (a chunk was taken out of one of the vans), but one or more VC put a charge on one wall of our building and blew it in on us. All of us were lucky to just have scratches and bruises. Later, when I took off my boots in my quarters, I found both of my boots had a thick layer of blood in the bottom and many pieces of small glass from the many overhead light bulbs that burst over us. I was told to go to a clinic and get my feet cleaned up and the glass pulled out of them but I did it myself and did not acquire a Purple Heart. How could I explain getting one to some of my friends with real combat wounds, so I never reported my bloody feet until today.
Duncan L. Daughtry I was there that night. I had been in-country about 3 days. We landed on Easter Sunday, just in time to be hustled over to Sun Rise Services. I flew over on Tiger Airlines. There was a guy by the name of Bryan Eskell who came over with me. We were joking about what to expect when we got in-country. Bryan, jokingly, told me that we would be in-country three days and we would be hit. The 3rd round would have my name on it. I was asleep when the first rounds began to drop. Someone came around and asked if we had any ammunition. I said, "Ammunition hell, I don't even have a gun!" He told us to go to the armory and get a weapon which we did. But we still didn't have any ammunition. The next morning, I found out that Sgt. Donald Daugherty (his name was erty while mine was try) was killed by an incoming round. His jugular vain had been cut. I was one of those assigned to clean up the blood that was all over the side walk and also all over the barracks floor where he had been pulled in. I gave Bryan hell the next day, and told him I didn't want to hear any more of his predictions or the VC wouldn't have to kill him, I would. That is one night I will never forget
Carl DeBacco. I was a 21 year old E-3 drafted in Sept 65, went thru training and sent to RVN as a replacement. We flew out of Oakland and caught sight of land at 10K feet when the stewardess reported landing in 5 minutes. I told my buddy, Ryan, “can’t be…we’re too high”. One of the guys in front said were going to dive for the runway so we won’t be shot down. With that Ryan started to white-knuckle. I told him, “don’t worry…nothing will happen on the first day”. The guy was right, we were down in less than 5 and sitting on the runway out in nowhere waiting for buses. This was about 7PM. On all four points were 2 ½ tons with 2 men on M60s down into the sandbags as low as they could get. We were standing in the hot sun like we were waiting for the party bus to arrive to take us to our hotel. The guys on the 60’s made Ryan nervous. We got onto the buses and noticed no glass but wire-covered windows and we found out real quick why which made Ryan more antsy. It was dark by the time we got to the reception area, and like true soldiers, lined up at the back of the formation just near the barbed wire. Ryan looked over and saw the locals and commented, “they’re laughing at us” and he checked them all out and was sure something was going on. I gave him the 'first day' speech again and we collected our bags and marched off. At no time were we told that there were unfriendlies around or that there was an alert on. As we marched off into the dark the sergeant pointed out a tent in passing that had sandbags waist high around the perimeter stating that if we were attacked, head for this bunker. He took us another 40 yards further into the dark and told us that this was here we were going to sleep. He pointed out tents with new bunks, extension poles, mattresses, sheets, and pillows. As we made our beds under the stars, Ryan looked over the top bunk where he was going to sleep and saw Huey’s lined up a short distance away. He was totally paranoid and was afraid they were going to come for the choppers and I told him nothing’s going to happen the first day and that I’d take the top bunk…famous last words. We went to sleep in our shorts. I was in a deep sleep and heard a muffled thud that stirred me. A short time later I heard a second louder boom and immediately thought to myself, “who the fuck is shooting off fireworks in a war zone” and before I finished the thought I was starting to roll off the top bunk and was knocked back by a blast of heat to my face and body singeing my hair. I was over enough to see Ryan still on his mattress below. The heat and concussion knocked the wind out of me and I laid back to catch my breath, tasted blood and then started spitting out blood. Blood was gurgling out of my right side from the shrapnel wound. I crumpled my sheet and stuffed it under my arm and clamped down and again rolled off the top bunk, landed on Ryan who pulled the mattress over him, and headed for the bunker… 30+ yards in bare feet on ¾ crushed stone. I instantly knew I wasn’t going to die and was mad at the Army for leaving me defenseless and not able to fire back. At the bunker I threw a guy out of his bunk and replaced my blood soaked sheet with his and told him to get me a medic. I think he was more afraid of me than Charlie. Several minutes went by and the small arms firing quieted a little and they started to try to get the wounded out. I walked out to the same type bus we came in on and they loaded us up. I laid across the back seat and the other guys that could sit up filled in the rest. We didn’t go about 50 yards when we drew auto fire peppering the bus antd hitting the already wounded. The bus driver bailed and was chased down by a wounded sergeant who brought him back and forced him to drive and get us out of there. We were brought to the hospital where triage decided that I could wait. I stayed outside the hospital on the stretcher with my head on a ‘rat bait box’ for a pillow. It was daylight when they stitched the hole in my side with ‘a rope’ and stuck a tube down my chest cavity that was hooked to a vacuum pump. I stayed there a couple days and got bounced from place-to-place until I would up to Camp Zama outside Tokyo where I stayed for 2 months (the best part of my tour). When they discharged me I was sent back to RVN and wound up in Qui Nhon to finish my tour.
Walter DePietro I arrived in Viet Nam 29 March 1966 at Tan Son Nhut Air Field. Originally assigned to 716th MP.Co. they sent me to Pershing Field to a new assignment with 91st MP Det which was the stockade. While there on 12 April we were under alert as the mortar attack took place at the air field. I remember watching a JP4 fuel tank that was hit melt to the ground. We were moved from there to Long Binh Post and the outfit 91st was replaced under the 284th MP Co. We and 557th MP Co. ran the famous Long Binh Jail. “LBJ” It was later in 1967 that the 720th MP Co. took part in securing the stockade. My old First Sgt. from Ft Gordon Ga. was now a Sgt Major then with the 720th. I went to see him and advised him that I was getting short and going home in May 1968. Shortly after arriving home my MP magazine came in the mail and I found out that Sgt Major Kenneth Kidd was Killed in Action. The chopper he was in was shot down. My memories were great up until that news. He was my Top Sgt but a friend you could never forget
Herman T. French I had arrived at Ton Son Nhut a few days before and was assigned to the 90th Replacement Company and was waiting for transportation back to the states when Ton Son Nhut was attacked by mortars. I had gone to bed that night and was awakened by the sound of incoming mortars and the shouts of "red alert, red alert". There was mass confusion among the troops and soldiers were unable to get weapons or ammunition from the arms room because the person with the keys to the arms room was reportedly in Saigon and the keys had not been left with anyone else. The cry for medics seemed to be coming from everywhere. Seven men lost their life that night (early morning of April 13th)and I seem to recall that there were 154 casualties in all, including the seven who were killed. The airfield also sustained heavy damage and there was no passenger planes in or out for two or three days. I also remember that a fight had broken out at the 90th Replacement Company Club between blacks and whites that night when a Vietnamese Band that was playing there offered to let some G. I.'s play some of the music. The club was closed and all were made to leave. I had gone to bed and was asleep when the attack started.
Terry Galat I was assigned to the 377th Security Police Sq and arrived at TSN about 5 hours before the attack started. We were evacuated from the transit barracks, which was close to the fuel tank that was hit and downhill from it. My first night in country I slept on the flight line.
Donley K. Ingwaldson My name is Donley K. Ingwaldson US Army Spec E-5 and I was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, South Vietnam from June 1965 to June 1966. I was assigned to The United States Army, Republic of Vietnam for a 1-year tour of duty. Tan Son Nhut Airbase was attacked by enemy North Vietnamese or Viet Cong at approx 12:30 a.m. on April 13, 1966 while I was sleeping. An unknown number of North Vietnam forces had infiltrated the airbase and set up mortar base and started shelling the base. This shelling was heavy and created major damage throughout the Air Base to aircraft and personnel who were based at Tan Son Nhut at that time. Various buildings including my barracks were hit by the incoming shelling. The base was housing for combat pilots and airmen, combat and non-combatants airman and combat and non-combat soldiers alike. The number of Americans killed is officially unknown to me. I also do not know how many were wounded. Many purple hearts were awarded in this attack. I only had a month and half to stay in Country and thought I would get to go home early a way I did not want that night. I was awakened by the mortars exploding around my barracks and the yelling of officers/nco's to get up and take cover. I got dressed as fast as I could and grabbed some non government issued weapons and ran outside to seek cover. I was not on any duty assignment and was only told to seek cover as fast as possible. I did not know if we were being overrun or what was happening it was just my job to hide. The mortars were landing all over my location but I was not wounded and I found the best cover I could locate in such a quick time. It was against an inverted corner of a cement building that housed the NCO club and kept the stores cool. I hid behind the air conditioning unit and pulled my legs up into the fetal position and stayed that way for several hours. The mortaring continued until others found the enemy gooks and killed them. It was not till sunlight around 6 am that the all clear was given.
Michael Jordan I was an E3 at the time assigned to the 1967 Comm Sq (Tech Control). I had just gotten off work and was laying in my bunk when all hell broke loose. I made a quick trip from the top bunk to under the bottom one. My bunk mate was standing beside his and I told him to get his butt under some cover. He asked if there was enough room for both of us and I said I'd make room. When things quieted down a bit, I headed back to work and spent the rest of the night peering into the darkness from the CP roof. Ah, youth. USAF (Ret), Sterling, Virginia.
Ron Laflamme I was there and we ran to the bunkers but they were so bad we got up and ran to the back of the barracks and got into a ditch which seemed a lot safer. I was only a few doors down from where Sgt. Dougherty was hit. We could hear all the shrapnel hidding the wooden sides of the barracks. It was a scary few minutes that seemed like it lasted longer than it did. There was a second attack (Dec 66), do you remember when that happened? I know after the first attack we had to fix all the bunkers and get them into better shape. We had sand bag duty for a while.
Robert Maxwell I was TDY to the USAF MORTUARY on base. I was in Tent City B next to the gun tower and golf course, ROKs in next tent to ours. I have pics of base fuel tanks and a Constellation's tail blown off that was Radio/TV VN flying broadcast (Blue Eagle II, Project Jenny). The base commander's office was next door to the mortuary. His desk had a round penetrate and it got stuck in the PSP... didn't go off. I was Army, from Cam Rahn Bay. My buddy and I had volunteered to go to Ban Me Thuot to do search and recovery for pilots that bailed out on the way home all shot up. Needless to say, they sucked us into TSN. We had to learn by going to RVN cemetery to learn how to ID the KIA's at TSN. I got hijacked one night coming back to base. l had a Colt 22 double bbl. in my boot that saved my ass. Couldn't turn his ass in because of my carry gun so I broke his nose. I put out an alert about hijacking solo riders in Renault taxis. We were getting GIs with head and hands missing recovered from delta rivers. Lucky we survived all the shit going down. Our wonderful Govt ends up putting Agent Orange all over the country, now my heart is failing. I always had my blood checked for AO, and just found out from my male nurse that served in country that the shit settles in your organs, doesn't show up in blood tests. I'm 75 now, never expected to get this far. Oh well, Cheers!
John McGregor I was there for the April 66 (1st time attack at TSN), dislocated my shoulder diving into a bunker and hitting the support 4X4.
Lloyd Moler Don (Daugherty) and I had been friends in Chitose before we came to Davis Station in 1965. We along with several more guys were sitting on the sandbag bunkers between the back of Davis Station and the Landing Pad for the Helicopter Unit right behind us. We were out there watching the Phantoms take off and enjoying a few beers. When the incoming rounds started, we weren't sure exactly what was happening. The rounds were hitting mostly around the flight line down towards Operations. Once it dawned on us what was going on, Don took off towards the Orderly Rooms and the Arms Room. I took off a couple of guys behind him. We ran down the sidewalk from the back gate alongside a barracks building. As soon as Don made the turn at the end of the barracks, a mortar round hit about 6 foot from him. He was only hit by one piece of shrapnel that I saw. That was all that was needed. I have never seen so much blood in such a short time in my life. Somebody herded us out of there and they were trying to take care of Don. I ran to the Arms Room to try and get my weapon. Mass confusion. I finally got a weapon and some ammo and was put out on the trench line behind the Motor Pool. The next morning, we had a formation in the Motor Pool to count heads. One guy asked his Sergeant if he could go to the Medics. The Sergeant kinda went off on the guy until the guy told him that he had been hit in the back with shrapnel. Apparently he was laying in bed just inside the barracks that Don had been killed in front of and he had been splattered with all kinds of shrapnel. They rushed him to the Medics. Sorry I can't remember his name. By the way, the attack came right after the U.S. started air strikes on Hanoi.
Dennis Mullane Newport, TN. I was there on April 13th, 1966. I arrived in VN sometime in march and was told not to worry, that Tan Son Nhut was the safest place in country. I was a PFC attached to the 98th Trans. Det which was a support group for the 120th AHC. I remember waking up to the noise and commotion and then the mortars hitting close by. At that time we had no bunkers (they built some later after the attack), I scrambled half naked and bare footed out of the hootch and into a ditch right next to us. Just then a mortar went off just on the other side of the ditch hitting me in the foot and wounding another guy from my outfit. I remember trying to scramble to the flight line to try and get the choppers airborne. It's been a long time but it's something I'll never forget. Later on I asked for a transfer to the 120th AHC and became a crew chief and door gunner. Great bunch of guys. PFC Dennis Mullane, 120th AHC, Tan Son Nhut.
Peter Ostapow I arrived at Tan Son Nut AB I believe on April 7, 1966. I was assigned to the 19th Air Commando Squadron and was crew chief on the C123 Provider tail # 363 if I recall correctly. I remember an attack at about 2am when we were overrun with VC (April 13). The sky was lit up like it was daylight and I sat the attack out in a sand bag bunker that was next to my plane.
Ed Ottney I was with the 98th trans detachment motor pool in Ellis compound right next to the flight line. A few of us were just leaving the NCO club known as the Play Boy Lounge. It must have been near midnight. About half way to my hooch we heard a few whoops and in a short time we found out we had "in-coming" mail. We didn't have a bunker close by so we grabbed some mattresses from the closest bunks and got under them. After it was over, which seemed like an eternity, I went to my locker. I had two clips of ammo but no rifle. I ran to the arms room to get my rifle but there was a waiting line as usual in the Army. There was a guy standing in line with a rifle but no ammo. I talked him out of it because I had the two full clips. We lost a soldier that night too. He got hit while laying in a ditch next to the motor pool and the main gate to our compound. I never heard of his name I think he was a new guy I don't know. Now I wish I knew his name. We used to keep our rifles in our lockers with ammo. I think we turned them in about a month or two before that night. Ed Ottney with the 98th from Sept 65 to Sept 66.
Phil Panuco I was there too! I was sent TDY from the 104th ASA Det, Torri Station, in Mar 66 for 90 days. On the night of the attack, I didn't want to run in the dirt from the hootch to the 7th RRU compound in my bare feet, so I put my socks and boots on. By that time I was the last person going through to the compound. The main entrance to the NSA compound was guarded by some RRU personnel manning an M-60 machinegun and some M-14 riles. They didn't know who I was (because I didn't work with them) and they told me to freeze and identify myself. I almost shit in my pants thinking I was going to get killed by my own people. I didn't look white because of my brown Hispanic skin. After convincing them who I was I then reported to the 7th RRU Opns Hut. Because I was TDY there I had no specific guard assignment. So I was directed to a "fox" hole in front of the Admin Hut that already had one person in it. We couldn't see too much while crouching in the fox hole, so we would take turns standing up to get a better view of the action. It was at that time when we heard a "bee" fly over our heads but we didn't know it was actually a bullet that flew by. Based on the noise it made it must have hit the Admin Hut. Sure enough it did and the XO (??) was trying to locate the slug inside the hut as a war souvenir. For the next week (?) the CO had volunteered us to rebuild the main 7th RRU compound bunker. He didn't like the Conex container facing the "wrong" direction. So we tore down the bunker's old sand bags, turned it around, and re-sand bagged the Conex container.
"Bub" Parrish I was assigned to the 69th Signal Bn in 1966-67. We were located just inside of the main gate. The night of the morter attack we loaded into trucks and were taken to the airfield. Mortars were still falling as we were driven to a ditch to take up a position. We had to break into our own arms room to get weapons. The armorer was off drunk somewhere ( as most of us were). Believe it or not most of the information pertaining to the attack is still classified by the AF.
Robert Quillinan Assigned to HQ-HQ Co. 18th Engineer Brigade located in TENT CITY B.......Our unit formed at Ft. Bragg, NC arriving Vietnam via troop ship USNS General Patch in Fall 1965.......we had been there almost 7-8 months already when this mortar attack occurred.....a rather secure area where our company members performed guard duty every three nights on the periphery of Tent City B. I remember the sirens going off and hearing the mortars shells exploding in the distance....We were on our bellies lying low all night.....After daybreak I remember seeing a staff car traveling through the compound carrying Ambassador Lodge and General Westmoreland.......No other incidents before my rotation back to CONUS and my discharge in September 1966
Donald J. Robinson I arrived in-country on 01 April 1966. The significance of arriving on April Fool's Day didn't register for a couple months. I stayed at Camp Alpha for two days and two nights and went to my unit on Sunday, 03 APR 1966. I was a 20 year old draftee who had, less than a year before graduated from a two year college. The Army sent me to school and taught me how to type and made me a company clerk. In the ten days prior to the attack, I was busy learning my job and the people in the unit. I was assigned to the 79th Ordnance Detachment (GMGS)(HAWK). Our unit made up a segment of the perimeter of TSN. We were at the end of the main runway opposite of the USAF units. Just outside the perimeter fence was an RVN bunker with several soldiers and family members. We were billeted in GP medium tents on wooden platforms. My military experience was five weeks of basic training, Basic Army Administration Course AIT and one day of "Vietnam training" at Fort Jackson before heading to Vietnam. I had no idea what was happening when the mortars starting hitting. The rest of the guys in the tent got up, got dressed, and grabbed their weapons and headed out to various locations on the compound. First Sergeant Robert O. Grimes came looking for me. By then I was dressed in my green underwear, boots and steel pot. Top told me to stay in a ditch and to report to the Orderly Room tent, dressed, when the mortars stopped. I didn't know that I was supposed to take over for the CQ in the event of an attack. I think I was too young and too ignorant to be scared. We survived the night with no casualties. I remember the fuel storage tank, near Tent City B burning for days. The next day, a Major who was assigned to our next higher headquarters in Saigon came for a visit. I overheard him tell our CO, that it was good for young Soldiers to have a baptism of fire. My thought was, "Major, you should have been here for the service". I left the Army when my two years was up thinking I would never again wear a uniform. In 1982 I enlisted in the Army Reserve and stayed until I had to retire at age 60, as a CSM. I served part of my reserve time with MSG Ed Dammer who also has a post on this page. My year in Vietnam was important to me. It changed me from a boy to a young man and I am grateful to have survived. I am very proud to be a draftee Vietnam Veteran.Allan Rubin I was stationed at Tan Son Nhut from Mar 66 to mar 67. I was an 05H20 and was the midnight E-5 in charge of the ops building just outside the base. The night we were mortared I was sitting at the back gate opening to the airfield in my shorts with some buddies drinking beer when all hell broke loose. We jumped into the ditch, and watched some of Ky's Skyraiders get hit and a couple jets. I remember crawling to a bunker next to the barracks and we were all saying prayer's. If you remember, guys were crawling out of the NCO club cause our MP's were shooting down the road at anything that moved. They even shot at the ambulance trying to get in the compound. If you remember when the armorer finally made it to the arms room, some time later, he was handing out rifles and belts of ammo, there were no loaded clips. Also we set up a machine gun position at the opening at the rear of the compound that led to the airfield and when it was light in the morning they realized they had put the ammo belt in the machine gun backwards. So much for ditty boppers. By the way, Ssgt Daugherty was in my bunker when the mortars began to fall. We were in the last bunker west, which was near the west wall at the end of the compound and the nearest to the airfield wall, where the opening was to the airfield, and I remember that when the lull in the shelling began, Ssgt Daugherty thought it was over and said he was going to go to the arms room for a weapon. I remember telling him, along with others with me, to stay put and wait awhile, but he was adamant. He exited the bunker and began running down the sidewalk when the shelling started again and he was killed instantly when a shell struck the sidewalk where he was running. I further remember that all I could think of was I needed a cigarette and I stupidly crawled out of the bunker and into my barracks to retrieve them, then crawled back to the bunker. I probably should have been a statistic also, but we did do some dumb things when we were younger. The rest of the guys sure appreciated having the cigarettes though. Do you remember after the shelling, as we all left the bunkers, someone stupidly lit off a string of firecrackers and we all dove for the bunker again. Talk about stupid!
George E. "Pete" Smith I arrived Davis Station March 7, 1966. I was awaiting final Top Secret clearance to work in the Commcenter. My first assignment was in the rear of the CRS compound in a tower bunker from 2200-0600 hrs. I was assigned to the front gate at Davis after about 3 weeks. I was on the mail porch posing as a Security Guard. I first heard what I thought was outgoing artillery then I finally realized that it was actually incoming 82mm. Scared the crap outa me and the first thing I did was run across the driveway to the motor pool and woke up the guy in the office. I realized that the front gate was wide open so I ran back to the gate and then hid on the north side of the mail porch. I then ran down to the arms bunker and everyone was standing around with the door locked. Finally someone broke open the lock and I wound up with a M-14, frag grenade, box of M-60 ammo on belts and 4 empty magazines. I ran back to the front gate and laid down across the driveway. Finally a 3/4 ton trunk came up and like a fool I challenged the driver. (Later) I heard about our KIA SSGT Daughtery.
Noel Smith I remember that night well. I had been in country only 5 weeks. I remember the hassle of pulling weapons from the armory - giving up on that due to the length of the line. People were flying around the compound. I had returned from downtown about an hour earlier and made my way to the bunker next to my hooch. In the bunker, I was buried under a couple of guys that did me a favor by keeping me there although i wanted to get up and look around. I remember staring at the spot where Sgt. Daugherty bought it the following morning. I also remember seeing an undetonated shell lodged into the top of someone's locker in our hooch.
George Szadis Was asleep in tent city B when attack occurred. We were far enough away not to attract any action. Bordering the Saigon golf course. We sat on trucks and watched the glowing sky from a safe distance. Sky was full of flares and helicopters circling the area. Few trigger happy guys fired a few rounds into the golf course thinking they saw something. Next day we went to airport area as I was generator operator for Army HQ bordering the airfield. Passed a burning oil tank on fire with a ladder against it and a GI holding a water hose over the edge hoping to put it out. One mortar round went through the wall of a small house near Army HQ and a piece of shrapnel landed in my generator building. Maybe had my name on it but wasn't there to take delivery. Saved the shrapnel for many years but lost it. About the size of my baby finger. It was so sharp and ragged that a wound would have been severe. Rotated home in June for discharge. Unit was the 507th Engineer detachment, Spec 5.
Richard N. Tarrant I was there during the mortar attack stationed with HHD 2nd Signal Group. I recall opening my eyes just as a mortar hit a large fuel tank about a half a mile away. I had been drinking before I went to sleep. But by the time my feet hit the floor I was cold sober - and I swear I jumped into my boots. When I left the hootch I looked toward the perimeter and saw a bunch of men in white t-shirts taking cover. Our rifles were locked away for safety reasons - but no one really knew whose safety. Because I worked in an S-2 / 3 office I had to go there and lock myself in a cage with several thousand classified documents. If we were overrun I was supposed to destroy them. And if we'd been overrun I wouldn't be writing this. It was the first time I really understood war. And it's something I don't forget or take lightly.
Lou Vitale I arrived in country October 65 two days after my 18th birthday. I was with the 377th Security Police. I was posted, I believe at the east end perimeter machine gun bunker that evening with three other SP’s. The night was actually very quiet until we heard explosions behind us. When we looked back it appeared the whole base was on fire! We had a walkie talkie which was turned off of course. All we heard was that the base was under attack by mortars and rockets. We where the farthest post. We realized there where flashes coming from the field in front of us a long distance from our position. The attack seemed to last forever but in fact it wasn’t long. We braced for a ground assault but it never materialized. We did fire towards the flashes but they probably were finished because we did not see anymore flashes. We learned through the walkie talkie that there were multiple mortar and rocket positions. I BELIEVE the Sgt’s name was Jennings (not sure, memory sucks since stroke at age 65) who came by about 30 minutes after the attack because we had shut off the walkie talkie in case there was a ground attack. It was one hellova long night for sure. There was sporadic gun fire for awhile but not from our location… we found out later that over 100 rounds where fired into the main base. For guys that had no combat training we held up pretty good!
Norman Walters C Co, 69th Signal Bn, Camp Gaylor (Tan Son Nhut AFB) Saigon Duty station: Westmoreland Compound Commo Section. I was there that night. It was a night and the next day that I will NEVER forget. It was somewhere around midnight or later that the first mortars started landing inside the compound. A voice came on over the loudspeaker system saying something to the effect, "We realize that you don't have any weapons to protect yourselves with so our only suggestion is that you take the mattress off your bunk, lie it on the concrete floor, get in between the mattress and the floor and pray to God that you don't take a direct hit. Good luck, gentlemen." Then the speaker went silent. But the night did not. The incoming began increasing more often and louder which meant that they were closing in on the barracks that we were in at the Replacement Unit. I know that it didn't last for long, but, it seemed like an eternity. I don't ever remember praying so hard and so loudly in my life prior to that night. I prayed to God that none of us took that "direct hit." But, unfortunately, that was not to be. There was a soldier from some unit "up North" that had arrived the afternoon before and was scheduled to leave on the MATS flight back to CONUS some time in the late afternoon of 12 April 1966. But, when he got to the reporting section at the Air Base for his flight, he was turned away because his "uniform did not meet standards for flight." Which meant that his uniform was wrinkled or dirty. But, my God, what do you expect when you are out in the field right up until the time you are scheduled to leave?? The next morning when all the attacks had subsided and my nerves allowed me to venture outside the quonset hut, I looked towards the GP Tent that had been set up for the over-flow out outbound personnel to sleep in temporarily. To my utter disgust, I saw the body of the young soldier that had been "bumped" the day before, lying on the ground with blood all over him. Apparently he either took a direct hit or damn close to it. When I actually had it confirmed that it was the guy from the day before, I was at that moment just as angry at the US Air Force as I was at the Viet Cong. For some stupid regulation, a good man lost his life in the most senseless way. I honestly stood there staring at his body and began crying. I seriously doubt that the Army or the Air Force ever told his family the truth about how he died. I pray that he is home with God for he deserves to be there. Along with about 50,000 other souls that were taken away way to soon. Rest, my brothers. You are now in the arms of the Lord. Peace be with you.
Steve Whitmore 1876th Comm. Squad, Tan Son Nhut AFB 1965-66. When the base was hit on April 13-14, 1966 I was on duty in the airport control tower with one other EM. We first saw "sparkles" in the NNW quadrant on the north side of the run way. I don't recall seeing any trip flares at the time. Then we felt more than heard the first rounds hit - the control tower was pretty well insulated for sound. Shortly after the attack started, we heard and felt a huge concussion from the fuel dump (three of four storage tanks) about 50 meters behind the tower. We exited the tower via the outside wooden stair like the professional airmen we were: leaping ten steps at a time with flames and billowing black smoke nudging us along. Someone kept yelling, "oh shit, oh shit, we ain't gonna make it!" I think that may have been me. We made it to the flight line, surrounded by fire trucks and anything with a siren and red lights trying to run us down which ever way we ran. Standing still for the next few hours (that's what it felt like) we realized that there didn't seem to be any more incoming, just small arms fire from all over. We decided to make a quick walk back to our hootch near an army mess, not far from the mortuary.
Pete Whitworth Hello Brothers. I was there that night, an E-3 Airman Firefighter. I remember it pretty much the way Steve Whitmore (above) does. You never know how you're going to react to this type of thing until it happens. I remember those burning fuel tanks in close proximity to the control tower. Myself, crew and my crash fire truck spent the rest of the night pumping water on those tanks. These weren’t welded modern fuel storage tanks, they had rivets and seams. I will forever remember sitting in my truck staring directly at the fire leaking from between the seams and rivet holes just praying that one of them didn't let go. I was put in for the Bronze Star, got the Air Force Commendation instead I suppose for manning my post under combat conditions. Thanks, God Bless.
Roger Wightman I was in Xuan Loc taking rounds of our own later that month. John Giles was really upset after that attack because one of the unlucky guys got his carotid artery cut and died in John's arms. The medic showed him how to use a ball point pen to stop the bleeding for the next one. John Saltar was the first one to the arms room and had to bust off the lock to get in. Some lieutenant was yelling at him about destroying government property until the round landed near the water purification plant. John said the first weapon he passed out was a montnagard crossbow. The guy who got it asked what to do. John reported COL Swears said "Lock and load and shoot the first SOB through the fence." I wonder if it was the colonel. He was billeted off Davis Station, but you never know. I remember some of the confrontations between him and CPT Seaton. Testy! I also remember Fred Pruden in the NCO club threatening to punch someone with his right fist and knocking them off the bar stool with his left. Only worked with folks that thought he was right handed. BTW, I can still feel that barber in the club pulling hair with those things he called clippers. Getting a hair cut there was either real bravery or sheer stupidity. I strongly suspect the latter.
William R. (Bill) Wilson 3rd RRU, June 65 to May 66. I was a SP4 working rotating shifts at Whitebirch. The night of the attack, I was in skivvies about to go to the midnight movie when the first rounds hit. My hooch was on the opposite side of the compound, across the road from the EM Club, from where the round hit and killed Don. A few of us were standing around our hooch when we could hear the incoming rounds on the flight line. We headed for the bunkers then to draw our weapons. I was there when it was "discovered" that the keys were in town. After some work on the doors we got our arms and were assigned posts. A couple of us were at the head of a drainage ditch behind the motor pool area. After daybreak, we were formed up in the MP - many were in skivvies, steelpots, flip-flops with M-14's! I bet a truly awesome sight. I left the 3rd RRU on Friday, May 13, 1966 about 3pm on a 707 in fatigues. We were casual for only a few hours and our departure was very rushed. An unexpected flight had become available. We returned to San Francisco about 5 pm on Friday the 13th. Since then, Friday the 13th has been my lucky date. I ended my enlistment at Ft. Devens, May 31, 1968.
John A. Zotter 'Smitty', a friend and co-ditty bopper and I had been motorcycling (in an area we had been told to avoid) the day before the attack. We had chatted with some locals there and they seemed very friendly and insisted we return the following evening...glad we didn't, since the attack that night apparently originated from that area. When the shelling occurred I was alone in and upon hearing the "whoomp" of the first mortar I thought to myself that something didn't sound right. Then the first round hit our compound and I heard the whizzing of the shrapnel going through the shower and instead of hugging the concrete floor I reached up to shut off the shower spray, thus demonstrating that sometimes even a fool gets lucky. Later several of us manned a machine gun and all I remember is waking up just at dawn when an officer approached us and made the sign of the cross at our motley appearance.