The Battle of Kontum Banner Image


During the months of June, July and August 1972, Lt. Gary Swingle and others, conducted interviews with many of the MACV advisors who participated in the Battle of Kontum. He also interviewed the survivors of "Gladiator 715", the 57th UH-1H helicopter shot down near Dak To. I have a copy of some of those taped interviews. The tapes I have include: CPT Raymond Dobbins, CPT Charles Carden, SGT Walter H. Ward, CPT John P. Keller, SP4 Charles M. Lea, SP5 Rickey V. Vogel, CPT Siebs, COL John "Jack" Truby, LTC James W. "Bill" Bricker, MAJ Edgar Francis "Bear" Burch III, LTC Norbert J. Gannon, LTC John C. Grant, Major Wade Lovings and finally, an interview conducted by Neil Sheehan of CPT John G. "Jack" Heslin in October of 1972.

I had intended to eventually have these interviews transcribed to make them available on the website. After discussing the tapes with my web master, we decided to load them directly up on the website as audio tapes so that the information contained in them would be available to anyone interested. The quality of the tapes range from good to marginal. In the 1990s I had converted the original cassette audio tapes to an MP3 format and put them on CDs so they would be better preserved. My web master has worked with each file to improve, as much as possible, the listening quality.

I have provided a short introduction to each tape and in some cases, a copy of the obituary, if available, for anyone of the interviewees who have passed. The order of presentation is basically the chronological order of how the battle unfolded. The first tape is from Dennis Watson who was involved with the rescue of the survivors of Fire Base Charlie which was part of the battle for the fire bases on "Rocket Ridge" during April 1972.

One of the little remembered but incredibly hard fought battles during the Battle of Kontum was the 14 day battle that took place at Fire Base Charlie which was located west of Kontum City on a high ridgeline known as Rocket Ridge. Throughout the late 1960s many American soldiers had died fighting NVA units on Rocket Ridge. In April of 1972 the ARVN 11th Airborne Battalion fought and died on that same ridge. They were defending the approaches to the City of Kontum against the NVA. The story of that battle and the courage of the ARVN Airborne troops and their leader was made famous in a Vietnamese song and story published in 1972.

The next Audio is from CPT Ray Dobbins who was an advisor with the 22nd ARVN Division when it was overrun at Tan Canh in late April 1972. The final series of tapes are of the advisors with the 23rd ARVN Division during the battle for Kontum City. The last interview is of me when Neil Sheehan came to Pleiku in October 1972 looking for information on the death of John Paul Vann for a book he was writing on Mr. Vann.

Up to this point I have only shared these tapes with those whose voices are on the tapes. With the passage of time and a growing awareness that many of us who were in the battle are passing I decided to take this step of making them available. I hope they prove helpful to anyone interested in knowing more about the Battle of Kontum and the men who fought in it.

One of the most overlooked groups of warriors in the Vietnam War were the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Advisors who were "embedded" with the ARVN units. Many times they were small two or three man teams who endured all the hardships of fighting the enemy and little recognition for their bravery and courage. In the Battle of Kontum they were the backbone of the units they supported and their commitment to the ARVN soldier was legendary. I cannot say enough about the bravery and tenacity of the men who served as MACV Advisors.

Jack Heslin - The Scribe

WO Dennis Watson and H Troop, 7/17th Air Cav Commander Major Mike Gibbs - Fire Base Charlie

As a 21 year old H Troop, 7/17th Air Cav pilot during February, 1972, I had visited the Chaplain to discuss the rigors of flying in hostile territory. He "urged" me to communicate my feelings to my young wife; something I had refused to do. Shortly after his second "urging" I decided to do so. I purchased a cassette player, plugged the earphone into the microphone jack, then I draped the "microphone" inside the ear cup of my flight helmet for what was expected to be a routine flight.

On April 15, 1972, "microphone" in place, I flew as the co-pilot for our Troop Commander, Major Mike Gibbs, who would be the Command and Control authority for our daily Air Cav Hunter Killer mission. Enroute to our staging area at the Kontum airport we intercepted radio traffic on guard frequency between an Air Force Forward Air Controller circling overhead and Dusty Cyanide on the ground. Dusty was the only American on, and Advisor to, Fire Base Charlie which, after fourteen days of heavy fighting, had been overrun the previous evening. He and 35 Vietnamese soldiers (of 451 total) had survived the onslaught and evaded the enemy throughout the night, and, as the sun rose, found a potential LZ for a rescue attempt which the Forward Air Controller could not provide.

Major Gibbs sought and obtained a mission change from Hunter/Killer to an attempted rescue of 35 men who were surrounded, out-gunned and outnumbered. Mission change granted, we refueled and proceeded to the surrounded men. Because 35 men would require 4 helicopters, Major Gibbs agreed to transfer command and control duties to a gunship overhead which allowed our aircraft to become the number four , "Chalk Four", aircraft position. We would land one aircraft at a time.

Unknown to us at the time was the fact that Major John Duffy (Dusty Cyanide) would refuse to board the first three aircraft in order to assure the final three Vietnamese would be recovered because he knew we would never leave an American behind. The remaining Vietnamese would ride with him. We also did not know that the NVA knew Major John Duffy by name and would know he had not boarded either of the first three helicopters. They were determined that he would not escape. That explains why the first three aircraft landed and departed under very little fire while we took such heavy fire on our first approach.

I aborted the landing and requested the Cobra gunships to soften the area. I then transferred the controls to Major Gibbs in order to turn over my cassette tape. The second approach and remainder of the mission were flown by the well-seasoned Major Gibbs. Our second approach was successful. However, our Crew Chief/Door Gunner, Dallas Nihsen, was struck as we took hits while hovering in the LZ waiting for the final four to board. You will hear two rounds impact the metal into the cockpit just prior to Dallas' call that he had been hit. The right side gunner's M-60 had jammed on our first attempt so we were defenseless as the final four men climbed aboard. Dallas Nihsen was pronounced dead at the Kontum MACV field hospital.

When Dallas screamed "hit" I turned to look into his eyes as they closed in death so you can understand why I have been so hesitant about sharing this audio. This was never meant to be captured on audio. Therefore, I ask that you please listen and share reverently.

Note: The recording was made by WO Watson from the right seat, co-pilot's station. It has been minimally processed to improve audio quality. Also extended passages of silence or noise that contain no voice data have been removed. The text for this entry was written by Dennis Watson and Mike Gibbs in March, 2017.

WO Dennis Watson and Major Mike Gibbs
(WOWatson.mp3 ~ 9.4 MB ~ 41:06)

Transcript of this audio

Dallas Lee Nihsen
1950 -1972

Dallas Lee Nihsen
Specialist Five
Charter Oak, Iowa
March 16, 1950 - April 15, 1972

DALLAS L NIHSEN is on the Wall at Panel W2, Line 137
Nihsen, Dallas Lee, SP 5

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Captain Raymond Dobbins - Senior Advisor 42nd Regiment

During the months of January, February and March of 1972 I flew my OH-58 helicopter up to and around the 22nd ARVN Division Headquarters at Tan Canh many times. I also flew the area out to the west to Dak To, Ben Het and south into the valley on the west side of "Rocket Ridge" and along the fire support bases on "Rocket Ridge". Mostly I was alone but sometimes I had someone from the II Corps Headquarters staff, usually from the G-2 intelligence section with me. I remember landing at Tan Canh many times and thinking that it seemed very vulnerable sitting on a small rise. I was a captain then and the S-3 operations officer for the 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion.

Ray Dobbins was the last American advisor out of Tan Canh as it was being overrun. His deputy advisor was CPT Ken Yonan who was last heard from as he directed TAC Air strikes from a water tower inside the Tan Canh compound. He stayed in the water tower to be with his ARVN counterpart and was unable to come down to join Ray in the escape. There is a link on the Links Page to more information about Ken Yonan.

Ray's story of trying to escape along with his ARVN counterpart is a suspenseful story of courage and persistence. There is a Stars & Stripes article in the S & S section of the website that briefly describes his escape. The title of the article is: "3rd Time's a Charm as Captain Escapes."

Over the years I have had a number of e-mails and contact from men trying to contact Ray. I have been successful with some. Here is Ray's entry in the Guest Book: "As the last Advisor to leave Tan Canh, I enjoyed your web site. I was too busy in country to make many notes and cannot add too much to your site. I was the Senior Advisor to the Regt Commander of the 42nd Regt. We had only one Bn at Tan Canh and one at FSB 5 and one at FSB 6. Then 22nd Div Hq was in Quin Non and moved to our area only a couple of days prior to our battle. Enjoyed your site."

Interview with Captain Dobbins
(CPTDobbins.mp3 ~ 11.1 MB ~ 48:30)

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Captain Charles H. Carden - Deputy Senior Advisor 47th Regiment

CPT Carden's story of the last day with his ARVN unit and LTC Robert Brownlee is very poignant to me. I can only imagine the difficulty he and Brownlee faced as their ARVN unit left them at Dak To as enemy units were coming through the wire. CPT Carden's description of their escape from the compound and their efforts to avoid capture or death is breathtaking. The eventual loss of LTC Brownlee during the escape has been reported on in many places. His body was never found and the specifics of how he died is still not certain. I am sure the memory of that day was hard for anyone involved. None of us know why some are spared and others are lost.

Interview with Captain Carden
(CPTCarden.mp3 ~ 2.2 MB ~ 09:26)

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Sergeant Walter H. Ward - Advisor 22nd ARVN Division

Sergeant Ward was one of the survivors from the 57th Huey shot down at Dak To. His brief interview tape tells of his escape from Tan Canh and the events around the aircraft being shot down and the condition of the survivors. Some of the reports of SGT Ward's escape from Tan Canh with the other advisors, pointed out that it was SGT Ward who had been watching as ARVN soldiers were running out of the compound through a minefield just on the other side of the perimeter wire. SGT Ward could see those who stepped on mines and were blown up and he could also see the route others followed which brought them safely through the minefield. He was the one who pointed the way for the group of advisors to make their way safely through the minefield.

Interview with Sergeant Ward
(SGTWard.mp3 ~ 4.6 MB ~ 20:16)

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Captain John P. Keller - Advisor 22nd ARVN Division

Captain John Keller was an advisor with the 22nd ARVN Division at Tan Canh when it was overrun in April 1972. He was in the 57th UH-1 that was shot down at Dak To. He gives a detail report in his interview of the actions taken by SPC Charlie Lea to help the survivors and how he and Lea left the crash site to find help. In his interview it is clear he is trying to make the case for Lea to be awarded a Silver Star for his actions. I don't remember if Lea was awarded the Silver Star but he absolutely deserved one. The journey of Keller and Lea to seek help and how they finally were able to get a radio from a Montagnard village is amazing. If it were not for their efforts and persistence, none of the survivors would have been rescued.

Interview with Captain Keller
(CPTKeller.mp3 ~ 6.9 MB ~ 29:56)

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Specialist 4 Charles M. Lea - Door Gunner 57th Assault Helicopter Company

Without a doubt, Charlie Lea was the informal leader who saved the survivors of the 57th UH-1 shot down at Dak To. Lea was the least injured of those who survived the crash. The story of his heroic efforts to assist the wounded and the dying, is a story that reflects the best of human nature and the very core of what it is to be a warrior. Over the years I have heard and read, various accounts of that event from well-meaning people who simply did not know the facts. Like most things that happen, with time, the story of the objective facts often gets lost and reinterpreted usually to favor someone.s perceptions of the reality. Charlie Lea wrote a detailed account of that event and it was published in the "Vietnam Magazine." I was able to read his account and it matches exactly the description told in the taped interviews by the survivors.

One of the most interesting things he talked about in his article was the arrival in their camp of an unarmed ARVN soldier. The soldier showed up a couple of days after the crash. According to Lea that soldier played an important role in showing them how to find food and survive off what they could find around them. The day before the survivors were finally rescued, the ARVN soldier just walked off into the jungle and disappeared. In his article, Charlie says he believed that ARVN soldier was an angel. I can believe that.

Interview with Specialist 4 Charles M. Lea
(SP4Lea.mp3 ~ 5.7 MB ~ 24:45)

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Specialist 5 Rickey V. Vogel - Crew Chief 57th Assault Helicopter Company

Rickey Vogel is probably the best known of the survivors from the 57th UH-1 that was shot down at Dak To. Rickey and I have had a long relationship of e-mails and an occasional phone call. He called himself "Shaky" as a nick name. When he returned to the States and got out of the Army he became rather famous in his town as a survivor who was MIA for 14 days. Apparently he wrote a number of articles about the event and was interviewed a number of times by local newspapers. It seemed to me, as I knew him, he was obsessed with that event in his life which was traumatic and it stayed with him until he died.

Rickey was totally dedicated to recovering the remains of the men in that aircraft. He used a considerable sum of his own money to sponsor and push for a recovery mission to the crash site. There was some success from his efforts but there was also some controversy. I think Rickey was a tortured soul trying to do his best with what he had and I admire him for what he tried to do. I did not always agree with him on the details of the story but then again, I was not there. Rickey was the first person to receive a copy of his taped interview from me.

There is a link here to a page on Lt. Johnny Mack Jones who died in the Huey shot down at Dak To. On that page, near the bottom of the page, there is a hand drawn map Rickey Vogel did to help identify the location of the remains of those lost at the crash site. Johnny Mack Jones

Interview with Specialist 5 Rickey V. Vogel
(SP5Vogel.mp3 ~ 5.9 MB ~ 25:43)

Rickey Von Vogel
1952 -2010

Rickey Von Vogel, 58, Grain Valley, Missouri, died Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at the Centerpoint Hospital. Rickey was a proud Vietnam Veteran, and was a true veteran's friend. During his service to his country he served as a Crew Chief, Door Gunner, and was MIA for 14 days. He was preceded in death by his parents, Lou and Martha Vogel; step daughter, Alesia Payne. Survivors include, his wife, Rena; Son, Louis; Step Daughters, Tanya Johnson, Brandy Bailes. Eight Grandchildren; Samantha & Mason Morris, Chandler Johnson, Jessica Bailes, Jose Guevara, Jr., Miklos Guevara, Kaylei & Payton Vogel.

Visitation will be 7:00 pm until 9:00 pm, Monday, December 6, 2010 at White Chapel Funeral Home, Gladstone. Graveside full military honors will be held on Thursday, December 9, at 11:00 am at White Chapel Memorial Gardens.

Published in Kansas City Star on December 5, 2010

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Captain Siebs - Deputy Senior Advisor to 2nd Ranger Group

I do not know much about Captain Siebs. During the battle of Kontum there were two Ranger Groups the 6th and the 2nd. Captain Siebs was with the 2nd. The Ranger Groups like the Airborne Brigade, were not organic to the 22nd or 23rd ARVN Divisions but rather independent organizations controlled out of Saigon. This command and control relationship created problems during the battle because neither of the units responded to the Division commanders which was a real problem for General Ba and the 23rd ARVN Division. After the 22nd ARVN was overrun at Tan Canh, the only viable units left between the NVA and the city of Kontum were the Airborne and Ranger units. It appears they did well when faced with attacks from the large NVA units but at some point in early May the decision was made, in Saigon, to pull them back as part of the strategic reserve. There did not appear to be much coordination or notification with the II Corps Headquarters when the 2nd Ranger Group was pulled out. It was obvious to all of us aware of the events unfolding on the battlefield, that had the NVA commanders decided to drive south into Kontum and even as far south as Pleiku, there was very little to stop them until the 23rd ARVN Division arrived about the 14th of May. Fortunately, for whatever reasons, the NVA did not exploit their initial success against the 22nd ARVN Division.

Interview with Captain Siebs
(CPTSiebs.mp3 ~ 4.6 MB ~ 19:56)

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Colonel John "Jack" Truby - Senior Advisor 23rd ARVN Division

I chose to start the process of putting the taped interviews from 1972 on my website so they would be available to all. I am starting with Col. John "Jack" Truby because his interview as the Senior Advisor to the 23rd ARVN DIV and its commander, Gen Ly Tong Ba provides a comprehensive overview of the battle in the early and mid-May period. I was thankful I had an opportunity to be with Col. Truby during a reunion of members of TEAM 33, who were the MACV advisors for the 23rd ARVN DIV. The reunion was held in Denver CO on the weekend of April 18-21, 2008. I was thankful that Col Truby had an opportunity to listen to his 1972 interview on my computer. I have a picture of him listening and I can only imagine what was going through his mind as he listened to his own voice from so long ago. His reunion with Gen. Ly Tong Ba was quite moving - two old warriors remembering one of the largest battles of the Vietnam War. Jack Truby passed away in October of 2011. I have included his Obituary below.

Interview with Colonel Truby
(ColonelTruby.mp3 ~ 11.1 MB ~ 48:31)

John Truby
1924 - 2011

Truby, John "Jack", 87, died October 25, 2011. He graduated from West Point and earned a PhD in International Relations. A decorated Army Colonel, Jack served two tours in Vietnam. Jack taught at the U.S. Army War College and at OLLI at DU. Jack worked in disaster preparedness for the State of Colorado, helping communities devastated by the Big Thompson flood and by tornadoes on the plains. He loved swimming and set world speed records into his 80s. His good nature will be missed by his wife of 62 years, Amy, sons Tim and John, daughter Beth, son-in-law Rick Armstrong and his loving grandchildren Katherine and John Armstrong. A memorial service will be held Wednesday, November 16 at 1:00 p.m. at the Central Christian Church at 3690 Cherry Creek South Drive (at Garfield).

Published in Denver Post on November 3, 2011

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Colonel James W. "Bill" Bricker - Deputy Senior Advisor 23rd ARVN Division

Bill Bricker was the Deputy Senior Advisor of the 23rd ARVN DIV during the Battle of Kontum. He has had a long and very successful military career. As the Deputy Senior Advisor he was a key man in helping General Ba's staff stay steady and on task as the battle raged. Bill has been described by those who knew him as a "rock" who was able to add steadiness, broad knowledge, experience and professionalism when it was needed most.

As an interesting note, Bill Bricker as a young Captain in 1962, was part of the New Equipment Team that brought the M-113 armored personnel carriers into Vietnam and he knew Captain Ly Tong Ba at that time.

I am pleased that Bill and I have been friends for many years now and I am thankful that he and his wife Lou were able to have dinner with us when General Ba was visiting in our home here in North Carolina.

Interview with Colonel Bricker
(LTCBricker.mp3 ~ 6.1 MB ~ 26:45)

James William "Bill" Bricker
1931 - 2017

LTC James William "Bill" Bricker (U.S. Army Ret.) entered into rest peacefully Tuesday, December 19, 2017.

Mr. Bricker, born and raised in Radford, VA, was a distinguished military graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Following a proud Army career of 25 years including two tours of duty in Vietnam, he entered civilian life and made Augusta his home.

An avid gardener and organic pioneer, he embarked on a second career by founding Bricko Farms in 1977. Bill was a member of Augusta Yacht Club, Rotary Club of Martinez-Evans, Beech Island Agriculture Club, and Garden Writers Association.

He and his wife, Lou, enjoyed traveling around the world together. His passion for golf began during a tour in Thailand, after which he was seldom seen without a seven iron. Bill was an award-winning photographer, and many of his photos line the walls of his Savannah River home.

Bill was predeceased by his loving wife of 64 years: Lou Ellen Taylor Bricker; his parents: George Daniel Bricker and Lora Mae Simpkins Bricker. He is survived by his sons: George Edward Bricker, James William Bricker, II (Lorrie), John Barbour Bricker (Caren); five grandchildren: Joseph William Bricker (Katie), Christopher John Bricker (Amy), Katherine Bricker Tessaro (Jordan), Danielle Christine Bricker and Miranda Taylor Bricker; and one great-grandson: Wyatt Joseph Bricker.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Disabled American Veterans at

The family will receive friends on Monday, January 8, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. followed by a memorial service at 11:00 a.m. at Thomas Poteet and Son Funeral Home, 214 Davis Road, Augusta, GA 30907.

Published in The Augusta Chronicle on December 24, 2017

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Major Edgar Francis "Bear" Burch III - G-3 Advisor

I don't remember ever meeting Major Burch but I may have back in 1972. I asked my friend Jack Finch who worked for Major Burch during the battle as the G-3 air advisor. Jack was a young Captain at the time and in his role he was the person who actually plotted the B-52 strike boxes. Because of his role, it was reported that the NVA had a substantial bounty on his head. Over the years Jack and I have become good friends and I was glad to spend time with him at the TEAM 33 reunion in Denver. I asked Jack, who retired after a long career as an Army LTC, to share some thoughts about Major "Bear" Burch. What follows are some of his memories.

"As to Bear and myself... During the Battle of Kontum we would receive NVA 130mm artillery fire from the Soviet designed M-46 long range gun. That artillery round was particularly destructive and could penetrate our stand-off layers of 55 gallon drums, timber and sandbags used to construct various bunkers, including the 23rd ARVN Infantry Division DTOC, which naturally was a primary target. One day, such a round detonated close by and shattered the windows in a building I was in; and some of the resulting flying shards of glass sliced through my left arm leaving some considerable blood then and scars today.

As I later entered the DTOC Bear saw I was bleeding through the gauze bandage an ARVN medic had applied and asked what happened. I explained and he gave me his "Bear's rules for being awarded the Purple Heart Medal" of which he had one or more... as I had seen the wicked abdominal scar he carried from an SKS rifle bullet wound from an earlier tour. I listened with some interest, thinking, well maybe I'm eligible?

Bear proceeded thusly: "Spook, one of three things gotta cause the wound. One, ya get shot by the enemy, two, you get stabbed by the enemy or three you get cut up by enemy fragments from an explosion, like a hand grenade or booby trap or other explosion like your 130mm round. BUT, since you got sliced up by friendly flying glass, I don't think you qualify."

As a young captain approaching just his third year in the military, I sorta remember us both laughing at the "friendly glass" depiction. Fortunately no more of my blood was shed at Kontum and I never did earn a Purple Heart and that's OK with me...

BTW, it was MAJ "Bear" Burch who gave me my nickname of Spook which stuck with me throughout the remainder of my 22 year army career and as an Intelligence Officer I appreciated it."

Interview with Major Burch
(MajorBurch.mp3 ~ 6.6 MB ~ 29:01)

Edgar Francis Burch III
1924 - 2000

Ed Burch died Dec. 27, 2000. The plane in which he was passenger, out of Juneau, Alaska, was lost in Young Bay. He died in a country he loved and doing what he loved. Bear had been a resident of Juneau for a year and a half. He was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Juneau Amateur Radio Club and the Juneau Yacht Club. He was born in Richmond, Va. March 2, 1937. He graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School in 1955 and from Colorado State University in 1960. Bear was proud to have served his country in the United States Army. His career included U.S. Army Airborne (Jumpmaster), Ranger Qualified, Special Forces, assistant professor of military science at the University of Colorado, and advisor to the National Guard. He served three tours in Vietnam and had commanded a 101th Airborne Rifle Company. For his service, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with three valor devices, Purple Heart and other medals and recommendations.

After his military career in 1980, he went into law enforcement. He was patrol officer for the city of Steamboat Springs, Undersheriff of Routt County, Sheriff of Routt County and Undersheriff of El Paso County. He retired in 1996. His other activities included Rotary Club in Steamboat Springs, American Hopkido Association Board of Directors-fourth degree, Association of Colorado Under sheriffs, Optimist Club, CSU Alumni Association, National Rifle Association, Phi Delta Theta Alumni, Colorado Mountaineers instructor and trainer in defensive tactics and weapons (climbed Mt. McKinley), pilot (private, commercial, multi-engine, sea plane, rotor craft and certified flight instructor), avid sailor (participated in ARC 2000), fishing and learning to play the banjo.

He is survived by his wife, Belinda Burch of Juneau, Alaska; a son, Andrew Burch of Denver; a step-daughter, Barbara DeBose of Kansas City, Kan.; a step-son, Ryan Slattery of Holliman Airforce Base in New Mexico; two sisters, Helen Bennitt of Fredricksburg, Tex. and Elise Winchester of Vero Beach, Fla.; one step-grandson, Douglas DeBose, and nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by one son, Barrett Burch; his parents, Edgar R. Burch and Helen Schulze Burch of Chicago.

Published in Steamboat Pilot on April 15, 2001

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Lieutenant Colonel Norbert J. Gannon - Senior Advisor to the 53rd Regiment

Over the years I have received many e-mails from family members asking about their loved ones. One such contact was a call I received from the son of LTC Norbert Gannon. He had not seen his father in years and he wondered if I would be willing to send him a copy of the tape I had of his father so that his son, Norbert.s grandson, could hear his grandfather.s voice. I told him I would send the tape and this is the e-mail response I received from him. I am thankful that in some small way I have been able to help with the healing process . the Vietnam War like all wars, has brought a great deal of pain for the warriors and their families.

"Jack, I appreciate all that you offered me, it is beyond expectation. Thank You!!

I thank you with all my heart for the work you are doing and the time you are taking to pass along this information to me. You have provided very valuable insight and an understanding I can pass along to my children about their grandfather. I will let you know when the information arrives.

I remember a noble sadness in my father's eyes. I keep him in my thoughts and prayers."

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Gannon
(LTCGannon.mp3 ~ 4.3 MB ~ 18:35)

Norbert J. Gannon
1928 - 2010

NORBERT J. GANNON LT. COL., USA (Ret.) Passed away on January 27, 2010 at the VA Medical Center, Perry Point, Maryland. He is survived by his sons, John, Karl, Paul, and Joseph Gannon, and his daughters, Gigi McClure and Ann-Marie Gannon. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Sean, Joanna, Melody, Dillon, Matthew, Liam, Jurgen and Eva Gannon, Colleen and Victoria McClure; former wives, Mary Ellen and Suzy. He was a highly decorated US Army veteran. He served three tours in Viet Nam where he was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts. He was a Ranger, Special Forces officer. A Funeral Mass will be held Monday, March 1, 8:45 a.m. at the Post Chapel, Fort Myer, Virginia, and burial with Full Military Honors immediately following at Arlington Cemetary.

Published in The Washington Post on February 26, 2010

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Lieutenant Colonel John C. Grant - Senior Advisor 45th Regiment

In late June of 1972 after the battle had pretty much ended, I flew a supply mission in a 57th AHC UH-1 to Kontum. When the supplies were unloaded from the aircraft several personnel jumped on the aircraft looking for a ride back to Pleiku. We were happy to take them back. As I looked at them climbing into the back I saw LTC Grant climb aboard. I had my flight helmet on with my visor down so he could not see my face. I recognized him right away and shouted to him trying to get his attention. He looked at me with a quizzical look, smiled and waved. Looking back I am sure he had no idea who I was. LTC Grant had been one of my ROTC instructors in the early 60s at Providence College in Rhode Island. I did know that he was in Kontum during the battle. When we landed at the Pleiku airfield to let them off I again tried to get his attention with out success. It looked like he was carrying his personal gear and may have been leaving. I tried to track him down several times without success. It always surprises me when a circle gets closed. I have good memories of John Grant.

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Grant
(LTCGrant.mp3 ~ 3.4 MB ~ 14:51)

John C. Grant
1932 - 1993

John C. Grant, 61, a retired Army colonel whose public affairs assignments included planning the 40th anniversary commemoration of D-Day, died of a heart attack Sept. 18 at his home in Alexandria. He had lived in the Washington area off and on since 1968.

Col. Grant retired in 1985 after 32 years in the Army. His last assignment was as Army chief of public affairs in New York. He was a primary planner of the 1984 D-Day ceremonies held in Normandy and attended by eight heads of state.

He served as an infantry officer during two tours in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. His other assignments included public affairs work at the Pentagon and Fort Meade.

Col. Grant was a native of Durham, N.H., and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire.

After he retired from the Army, he was a consultant for public relations firms in New York and Washington.

His military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, three Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars and the Meritorious Service Medal.

He was an officer of the Northern Virginia Senior Softball organization and a member of the American Legion, Association of the U.S. Army, Retired Officers Association and Lambda Chi Alpha social fraternity.

His marriage to the former Mary Elizabeth Morrison ended in divorce. Survivors include two children, William Mark Grant of Sturbridge, Mass., and Lynn Mary Seufert of Burke, and two grandchildren.

Published in The Washington Post on September 21, 1993

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Major Wade Lovings - Deputy Senior Advisor 44th Regiment

The 44th Senior Advisor during the Battle of Kontum was LTC Thomas P. McKenna. Tom was wounded and in a hospital when the interviews took place in late June of 1972. Tom wrote an excellent book on the battle- "Kontum: The Battle To Save South Vietnam" which was published in 2011. It is available on AMAZON.

Major Wade Lovings was the acting Senior Advisor after Tom was evacuated. I met Wade at the TEAM 33 reunion in Denver. There is video on YouTube of Wade during the battle. I believe the footage was taken by a news reporter and it shows Wade running out of a bunker area under fire to pull some wounded Vietnamese soldiers back to safety. In this audio taped interview Wade talks about the intensity of the battle and how close the enemy units were to overwhelming the ARVN forces. His discussion of the NVA use of tanks is interesting as he points out that the NVA were not well trained on tank infantry combined tactics which helped the defenders of the city.

Interview with Major Lovings
(MAJLovings.mp3 ~ 7.1 MB ~ 31:13)

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Captain John G. "Jack" Heslin - Assistant S-3 17th Combat Aviation Group

Afghanistan update August 18, 2021 - When I look at the disaster of what is happening in Afghanistan now, I remember the lessons we learned during the Battle of Kontum in 1972. The interview I had with Neil Sheehan at that time, reflected what I thought of how the battle was fought and the likely outcome of a future battle without American advisors and especially American air support to provide effective fire.

The Afghan military had been holding their own against the Taliban for the past several years during the summer fighting seasons and they suffered serious losses. However, the relatively few remaining US soldiers on the ground were able to provide the all-important fire support from our bombers which was effective in holding the Taliban back. When the current administration made a precipitous withdrawal of our ground and air support, the result was the same as the result of 1975 in Vietnam. Will our politicians ever learn the lessons of the past or will they continue to squander the blood of our soldiers.


In October of 1972 Neil Sheehan came to Pleiku in the Highlands of Vietnam. He was interviewing people for a book he was going to write about John Paul Vann. Neil had known John Vann for years and was a friend of his.

I was notified by the 17th Combat Aviation Group Commander LTC McManus that Neil Sheehan was in the area and wanted to interview people who knew about how Vann died and about the Battle of Kontum. LTC McManus told me that I was the "stuckee" for the interview. It made sense, because I was the Group briefing officer for the battle and I also knew about the accident that caused Vann's death.

At that time, many of us were not too fond of members of the press so I was a bit apprehensive about the interview. He showed up in the early evening and sat in my little office at the Group Headquarters at Camp Holloway.

Neil had a briefcase with notebooks and a tape recorder with him. He was cordial in meeting me and he explained what he was doing and asked to interview me. I agreed and we spent about three hours that evening talking. He asked about Vann and the accident and wanted to know any details I knew, like who went to get his body that night and many other questions about the event. He made notes in a small spiral note pad he had and as the time went on we started talking about the broader picture of the Battle of Kontum. At some point he asked if he could audio tape me as we discussed the battle and my views about the battle.

After the interview that evening I never heard from Neil Sheehan again. His book "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam" was finally published in 1988 and Neil was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for the book. It was adapted as a film of the same name released by HBO in 1998, starring Bill Paxton and Amy Madigan.

In the Sources section of his book on page 820, near the bottom of the page, he made this entry- "Capt. John Heslin, an Army aviator with the helicopter group at Holloway who had a historical bent and was of considerable help, put me in touch with Capt. Bernard Ferguson, who volunteered to fly as Anderson's copilot that night."

Sometime in the late 90's I learned that Neil had donated his collection of interviews to the Library of Congress. I searched the Library of Congress holdings on-line and was able to locate Neil's collection and the taped interview that I did back in 1972. I requested a copy of the interview and after verifying who I was the Library of Congress sent me a copy of the interview on two CD's which I now have. I put the interview on my website for anyone who would like to listen to it.

After all these years, it is interesting for me to listen to my own voice and reflect on what was said that night. How the events of that time gave insight into what would happen in 1975 when the NVA would invade South Vietnam with multiple armored divisions against the ARVN forces, defeating the Government of South Vietnam and finally uniting the two Vietnams as one country under Communist rule.

In many ways, the 1975 invasion of South Vietnam reminded me of the June 25th 1950 invasion of South Korea by North Korean Communist forces supported by the Soviet Union and China. Of course, the United Nations Security Council labeled this North Korean act as an invasion and called for an immediate ceasefire. We all know the history that followed for Korea.

What was abundantly clear to all of us in 1972 and what was stated over and over again, was the fact that while the ARVN forces fought bravely and with great courage, it would have been impossible for them to withstand the multiple division assaults in 1972 without the intense, effective, massive firepower provided by the US Airforce and the important role played by the American advisors on the ground to help coordinate that effective fire from the bombers. How can anyone, who knew anything about the 1972 battles, wonder why or how the ARVN forces were unable to stop the onslaught in 1975 of the NVA juggernaut. Does anyone ever wonder what would have happened if all American military forces were pulled out of South Korea in the 1950s or even the 1960s. We still have substantial forces present in South Korea to ensure their security.

There were two very influential voices from the American press in the 1960s and early 70s that shaped much of the public perception of the Vietnam War and American and South Vietnamese perceived failures. Those two voices were David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan. David Halberstam's book "The Best and the Brightest" first published in 1969 and Neil Sheehan's work on "The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War" in 1971.

When David Halberstam arrived in Vietnam in 1962, he, along with many other US journalists covering Vietnam, relied heavily for information on Pham Xuan An, who was not only a Vietnamese newspaper reporter but also a super spy for the North Vietnamese Communists and a Colonel in the NVA. Both Halberstam and Sheehan's work was met with wide acclaim as definitive works on the Vietnam War. It was interesting to me, that when Thomas Bass, author of "The Spy Who Loved Us: The double life of Time's Saigon correspondent during the Vietnam War'', was on his last visit with An in Vietnam, Bass noted that many of the books on An's book shelf were either signed by the authors or by the people who presented them to him. Bass said, "of An's two copies of Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie," one is inscribed by Sheehan, the other by CBS correspondent Morley Safere."

Where were many lessons learned from the Vietnam War. Most of those lessons were learned by the military. Sixteen years after the fall of Saigon the United State military along with its allies drove the Army of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in one of the most historic, intense, short wars in American history.

During the first Gulf War, more than 700,000 US military were committed and the US led coalition forces had 292 killed (147 killed by enemy action, 145 non-hostile deaths). US forces had 31 Tanks destroyed/disabled and 32 Bradley IFVs destroyed /damaged. Iraqi losses included 20,000-35,000 killed; 3,700 tanks destroyed, 2,400 APCs destroyed and a large number of other combat equipment destroyed.

The successes of the American forces were a direct result of the lessons learned in Vietnam. The ability to project and sustain the enormous combat power of the American military into a combat zone thousands of miles from America, was a direct result of logistical lessons learned in the ten years of the Vietnam War. Many of the top leaders of that effort had been junior officers in the Vietnam War.

The ability of American and allied forces to totally dominate the Iraqi Army, reported as the fourth largest Army in the world at that time, was in large measure because we had learned our lessons well after years of fighting in Vietnam. Yes this was a different war in the deserts of the middle-east with large armored formations, but the lessons of superior mobility both tactically and strategically as well as the incredible effective fire provided by advanced precision guided munitions came out of the War in Vietnam where the first airborne TOW system, a helicopter mounted, anti-tank system, proved deadly against enemy armor.

Maybe one of the most important lessons learned however, was the importance of controlling the narrative of the war by controlling the press. The decision by the American military leadership to control the press was crucial in maintaining control of the narrative.

The US policy regarding the media was much more restrictive than in the Vietnam War. The policy was spelled out in a Pentagon document entitled "Annex Foxtrot" a 1991, 10-page policy memo, which ensured that most of the press information came from briefings organized by the military. Few journalists were allowed to visit the front lines and any interviews that were allowed were always conducted in the presence of officers, and were subject to both prior approval by the military and censorship afterward.

We hope that we will never again be manipulated by a clever spy masquerading as a news professional dedicated to creating a narrative and an agenda designed to help our enemies. Hopefully, there will never be another war where battlefield victories are stolen by deceitful, manipulated news stories that would result in breaking the American will.

In September 2008 General Ly Tong Ba visited my home in NC. He made this entry in my Guest Book that pleased me greatly and spoke of my conviction that Gen Ba knew his troops best and conducted the defense of the City of Kontum the only way it could have been done with what was available to him at that time. It was a lesson learned in 1972 but not heeded by America's leadership in 1975.

To Jack Heslin, one of my dearest American friends from the Vietnam War mainly in the heroic battle of Kontum in 1972 where the 23rd ARVN Division alone supported by the US Air Forces, US Army helicopters and advisors destroyed 3 NVA Communists divisions. Thank you Jack for telling the story of the Battle of Kontum on your web site and for the true remarks about me in your book "Reflections From the Web". I remember some American advisors were critical of Gen. Ba during the Battle of Kontum for not being aggressive enough, for not going out to attack the enemy. I think Gen. Ba knew his troops better than the Americans did and he played to the strength of his soldiers in letting them fight from defensive positions. Gen Ly Tong Ba, 23rd ARVN Div Commander, Battle of Kontum 1972

Gen Ly Tong Ba
Las Vegas, NV USA - Saturday, September 20, 2008

Interview with Captain Heslin
(CPTHeslin.mp3 ~ 17.4 MB ~ 01:16:24)

Transcript of this audio

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