Dennis Watson and William Page
FSB Charlie and Dallas Nihsen
NOTE: This is an e-mail exchange that was sent from Dennis Watson to William Page about FSB Charlie. The e-mails originated on July 4th 2007. It is reprinted here in the Memories Book with permission.
William, itís about time you had an update from me and I think Independence Day would be a great time to provide it.
From your email I checked out the article. From the article I contacted the author, Phoung Le, first by email then phone. Everything seemed to fit. From her article I did a search for John Duffy in Santa Cruz, CA, and got a match. I then called and John answered the phone. It was, indeed, a match. We spoke for quite a while and he was just as happy as I to learn the name of not only the crew, but especially the Door Gunner, Dallas Nihsen, who had given his life so that John and the others could live. As you know, I have worked diligently to keep Dallasí name and story alive. But, this was more than I had hoped for.
From John, I learned the story of Firebase Charlie. There were five Firebases on Rocket Ridge. After two weeks of heavy fighting Charlie was the last to fall. About 400 South Vietnamese and one American, John Duffy, had given their best but were outnumbered and outgunned, even down to hand-to-hand Combat. So, on April 14, 1972, the survivors abandoned the firebase. Most of the inexperienced South Vietnamese scattered but a group of about 35 stayed with John because he was highly seasoned with three combat tours there. They fought and evaded the NVA overnight. Early the next morning, April 15, John made an ďon-guardĒ radio contact with a FAC who circled overhead and provided all the fighter/bomber support he could, but no way to get them out. I was flying with Maj. Gibbs as we monitored the conversation. He dispatched two Cobras to the area and we got a mission change from HQ.
We were led to the LZ by Covey 555, whom I wish I could find. Our four Hueys went in one-by-one. #1 took fire as I recall but OK. #2 & 3 were pretty much uneventful. We were #4. As we crossed the tree line, we began taking heavy fire and aborted. Fortunately, John Duffy remained until the last bird to assure the Vietnamese would be recovered. Things went well at first, taking only sporadic fire. As we touched down the troops remaining broke from the tree line running for their lives, under fire. As they neared the aircraft, we began taking hits, some of which you can hear on the tape I have of the entire event. Dallas Nihsen was struck by a round and passed out shortly afterward. The last Vietnamese on was shot in the foot as he climbed in. John Duffy physically dragged him into the aircraft as we lifted off, under fire all the way out. I counted 9 obvious hits, relatively few, but two into the cockpit, one of which struck Dallas, at least one into the engine compartment and at least one within an inch of the tail rotor drive shaft. As you know, Dallas was pronounced dead at the Kontum field hospital.
During my phone conversation with John I learned that he had picked up Me Le, Firebase Charlie Commander, and Hai Doan, his Ops Officer. John had been wounded five times during the preceding battle. Me Le had a sucking chest wound which John had patched and Hai Doan was hit in the foot climbing into the aircraft. Me was one of the most decorated officers in the Vietnamese Army. Hai wrote a Vietnamese language book, The Red Flames of Summer, which was awarded the 1972 Vietnamese National Literature Award.
Now for the good part. John made it home in one piece and was highly decorated. When Vietnam fell, Me Le commandeered a boat and escaped with his pregnant wife and three small children. They were picked up much later at sea and eventually arrived in the U.S. where they settled in CA. Likewise, Hai Doan escaped and wound up in CA where he raised two children. Both became businessmen and put all their children through college. One of Meís daughters, Phuong Le, became a Journalist and was the author of the article you described and is also the one I spoke with. The article, as you may know, describes the events surround her familyís escape from Vietnam when she was 3-1/2 years old. She was named after a good friend of Meís, Hai Phuong Doan.
I got Meís and Haiís numbers from John and have since spoken with them. Likewise, they were as overwhelmed to hear Dallasí name as I was to share it. Hai called me back to let me know that he had saluted Dallas on Memorial Day. I hope to speak with all of them again soon.
John sent me a book of poetry he had written, an excerpt from Haiís book, and the after-action report from the Firebase Charlie battle. I believe he has now spoken with both Jack Heslin and Mike Gibbs.
I am grateful that you took the time to intervene and bring all this together. Late one night I dreamed about you and realized that I had never brought you into the loop. My apologies William. Hopefully, I will see you one day and offer a better handshake than you got when you returned home from Vietnam because I am indebted to you. I hope you have a great Independence Day.
Thank you William,
Indeed what a great Independence Day surprise. Thanks for filling me in. Your email has made my day ever more jubilant. All this could not have been possible were it not for Jack Heslin's diligent efforts to gather and preserve the story of those times. As you know, there are very few who know of all the heroic sacrifices made by both the U.S. and our allies. The www.thebattleofkontum.com website has not only helped in preserving this history, but helped link up so many that otherwise would never have been able to reconnect after all these years. As most grunts will attest, it was always extremely reassuring to us Legs that you pilots and crew would knowingly take the risk to come in for us. Today, I also salute Dallas Nihsen, along with so many who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our great country.
My very best to you all!