Sp/4 William B. Page
U.S. Infantry Unit at Tan Canh
Jack, superb webs site. I have been looking for this information for 30 years.
Jack, In your web site INTRODUCTION section you state, "Although there were no U.S. ground combat troops directly involved..." However, there was a small number of us around Tan Canh and I have proof. I received a Bronze Star for actions during that time. For the record, I would ask that when you are updating this excellent web site, would you please rephrase that statement and include us. I am sure that some of the 82nd Airborne ground TOW Crew guys who were not allowed to wear their insignia may also appreciate it.
I know that the pilots, advisors and many of the ARVN/RF/PF did the greatest majority of the fighting during the battle and your web site is dedicated to that fact. However, portions/platoons of my infantry unit (1st. Cav. Div., 3rd. Bde. Sep., Delta Co. 1/12th Cav) was there around Tanh Canh/Dak To II airstrip and did actually fight off the NVA-VC sappers and helped retreating ARVN/RF/PF. All other companies of the 1/12th Cav were stationed at other parts of Vietnam such as Tay Ninh, etc. We may have been officially re-named to the "Gary Owen Task Force" by that time. I remember that much later when it was all over, a whole bunch of new guys came up and took over and told us that the unit name was changing.
During parts of the battle that I think was near Tan Canh or Dak To II, we initially did let into our compound many Civilian/ARVN/RF/PF personnel who were escaping and evading until the point that we were quickly overwhelmed with entries through the wire. Claymore mines and flares were popping everywhere. It got to the point that we could not tell the difference between friendly and enemy and had to pop CS gas to stop the invasion/infiltration of our small compound. That is the only time I had to use a gas mask in Vietnam. There was also a lot of friendly fire mixed with what we believe were sappers --I believe they were just trying to keep us pinned down.
None of us knew for sure who was who in all the confusion. We certainly did not want to fire on any advisors or friendly forces. We were told to organize a patrol to see if we could help rescue the advisor trapped in a water tower. However, that was called off with so much fire and tank assaults. To this day, I believe that we were put there with our big 1st. Cav patches freshly sewn on, to show the ARVN/RF/PF that the U.S. was not abandoning them. It sure seemed that everyone (ARVN/RF/PF/Civilian) knew that the NVA would probably not want to further rekindle the U. S.'s fury by slaughtering an American unit of infantry. That is probably why the NVA essentially bypassed us in the major assaults that I witnessed.
I did see waves of NVA overrunning a compound that was probably 2-5 kilometers from us. I also saw the helicopters rescuing advisors and what I believe to have been ARVN clinging to the skids. It appeared to me that some of the chopper crews were kicking, pushing or shooting them off the skids. I also witnessed several choppers being shot down. B-40 rockets, artillery, mortar, etc. was very prevalent.
After the fighting had died down, a flight of 2- 3 slicks came in after the attacks and picked us up and dropped us at either Holloway or the main Pleiku Civilian airfield. I remember the pandemonium at the airstrip and everyone trying to get out. The streams of refugees were trying to move toward Saigon. There were barefoot ARVN troops asking for my boots of which I certainly would not part with. I had no idea where we were going to end up.
Before the attacks, my recollection is that we hastily requisitioned/stole a bulldozer from the ARVNs and formed a small triangular defensive perimeter on a corner of a larger compound. I believe that it was pretty close to the ARVN Headquarters because I remember they had their tanks dug in right next to the main Headquarters building with only the large bore guns sticking out. For our part, we only had one 81mm mortar with a few HE rounds, a 2-1/2 ton truck that was turned into an armored vehicle by welding steel plates on the sides and adding sandbags, one large searchlight taken from a tank that was mounted on the berm-line and our M-60's and small arms. We attempted to get LAWs but could not acquire any.
Most all U.S. equipment had already been turned over to the ARVN and they were not relinquishing any to us. I do remember that a slick did stop and drop us a few old Bazookas and a few rounds. Where these came from I don't know. We had to quickly learn to use them, but never did fire them.
Some of this seems to run together because we were also briefly trained on the jeep mounted TOW missile systems that had been hastily shipped from the 82nd Airborne Div. in the U.S. Their crews actually manned the TOWs and we provided security in several key locations around the Pleiku/Kontum A.O. I personally never had to fire the TOW. We also patrolled Central Highland areas during this Easter Offensive. We never felt comfortable not having U.S. manned artillery. I guess the Aerial Rocket Artillery would have come should we have needed it. I wonder now, because no one even seems to know we were there.
By the way, afterwards we went on back down south to MR III and continued patrolling in many areas. We were finally stood down within a day of being in the bush. We bulldozed all the old 1/12th rear area (Bien Hoa) base files and burned them. I departed Vietnam on 26 Jun 72.
I would love to talk with General Hamlet of the 1st. Cav. I know he was very wrapped up with the fighting at An Loc. I have not been able to contact my Company Commander who I believe was Capt. John Wheeler. Officers were being changed so much I can't be positive of names.
There is a whole lot more to this story than I can possibly convey in such a brief note. I truly appreciate your work.
Sp/4 William B. Page
Sp/4 William B. Page <email@example.com>
USA - Thursday, December 05, 2002 at 16:46:25 (PST)