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Jack Heslin  

Memories of Kontum and FB Charlie

The Battle of Kontum in the spring of 1972 was epic in scope. During that period most of the Vietnamese ARVN soldiers fought with courage, discipline and skill. They fought as well as any soldiers in history fighting to preserve their freedom. Not many Americans are aware of the many proud Vietnamese military, from all services, who are war veterans and now living productive lives in the wonderful freedom we all enjoy. Many events since the Vietnam War have eclipsed the sacrifices made by both Americans and Vietnamese in the name of preserving freedom for the people of South Vietnam.

One of the little remembered but incredibly hard fought battles during the Battle of Kontum was the 14 day battle that took place at Firebase Charlie which was located west of Kontum City on a high ridgeline known as Rocket Ridge. Throughout the late 1960s many American soldiers died fighting NVA units on Rocket Ridge. In April of 1972 the ARVN 11th Airborne Battalion fought and died on that ridge. They were defending the approaches to the City of Kontum. 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.

Those of us who have lived through combat must learn to deal with our memories over the years - some struggle with their ghost for the rest of their lives. Some write books, some build web sites and some write poetry. John Duffy, the only American to fight with the 11th Airborne Battalion in that battle, has written some powerful poetry as a way to share the memories of the battle for Firebase Charlie. It was a time when men were being consumed in the white hot fire of combat. Of the 451 men committed, John came out after two weeks of intense battle with 36 survivors and most of them had been wounded.

With his permission, I have reprinted a portion of his work that tells about the battle of Firebase Charlie and the men who fought and died there. Please visit Johnís web site to read more of his work.

Battle Call

Know the soldier's call,
Hear the order clear,
Into combat now!
Kill or find an end.

Call forth the courage.
Be prepared to die.
Remember life's gifts-
Then you can survive.


Shells are exploding,
Always digging deeper.
It's a direct hit,
The Commander looks bad.

KIA: Killed in Action.
Wrapped in a poncho,
He'll lie in that hole
That was dug for him.


The Doc has been shot at.
Oh, Lord! He has his gun out,
Sighting, Aiming, and Shooting
At a cannon with a forty-five.

He is hit and down,
But not for long,
Back up again,
Sighting, Aiming, Shooting.

Trying to knock out a cannon
With his forty-five.
God, isn't ridiculous?
But he has courage.

Ungiven Command

Why have they lingered?
I do not know.
They should have retreated;
Now they will die.

Do they not know better,
What is the reason?
They are caught between us
And certain death.

The dark would have hidden them,
Allowing them to escape,
Who didn't give the command
For them to withdraw?

Let them eat breakfast,
For it will be their last.
The bunkers they are in
Will soon be their tombs.

Direct Hit

The dust is choking.
The others are dead.
The radio still talks:
I must be alive.

The loud ringing noise,
Will it never stop?
I am half buried
In someone else's grave.

The Commander's Burial

We wrapped him in a poncho,
Even his dismembered legs.
He had known that he was dying,
And he spoke his last words.

"Tell my wife I loved her true.
Tell my children to remember me.
Tell my paratroopers to never surrender.
You, my officers, one final salute."

He lays in a shallow grave alone;
No bugles, no farewell rifle salute,
Only a few shovels of red earth.
His grave is marked with his helmet.

He fought bravely until the end.
He fought against heavy odds.
He has fought his last battle.
With his glory, we leave him.

Jack Heslin <>
Chester, Virginia USA - Sunday, April 05, 2009 at 11:19:17 (PDT)

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