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Richard Alaniz   

Richard Alaniz Battle of Kontum

I'm offering the following as a testament to my experience with D. Company, 17th Infantry, while serving in Pleiku, Central Highlands, base camp was Camp Holloway early 1972. I'll start with my time in Cam Ranh which leads up to my Infantry company being sent to Pleiku, Central Highlands where we worked with Chinese mercenaries and Montagnard tribesmen.

D Co. 17th Infantry was security for Alpha Area ammo dump in Cham Ranh during September 1971. At that time communist Sappers were attempting to enter Alpha area to blow it up. As bunker line security I was involved in firefights when we would catch Sappers attempting to enter the compound. During early April 1972 communist Sappers managed to infiltrate Alpha Area as they preceded with a diversionary attack on our rear compound area in Cam Ranh. One of which was mine. Sappers and Viet Cong were throwing hand grenades into our barracks and were shooting Americans as they were evacuating their sleep areas. After the first explosion I secured my M-16 and ran outside to intense explosions and AK-47 small arms fire. I immediately reached a designated point where I could return fire along with other members of our company until we managed to kill the remaining enemy. All the while as we were under attack we heard the Ammo dump called Alpha Area explode which consist of a five mile perimeter full of high explosives. The sound of small arms and large 2,000-pound daisy cutters were exploding continuously for a few days afterwards. This act was the beginning of what we called the Easter Offensive of 1972.

On Christmas Day of 1971 I helped unload children from a 2-½ ton military truck that had transported Vietnamese orphans and Catholic nuns to our rear area in Cam Ranh Bay. We were to feed them a healthy Christmas dinner, and I happened to be on rest time at our company rear area at the time of their arrival. With every child that I helped off the truck I became angrier with God and the war due to witnessing what war does to the innocent. I saw Children that were missing legs, arms, and a boy with only one eye and another about the age of three who had his brains protruding slightly from his skull. That experience had a great effect on me at that time and mostly when I returned home to America.

Pleiku, Central Highlands Vietnam 1972

Immediately after the loss of Alpha Area in Cam Ranh, my unit was sent to Pleiku Province located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. We now were attached to the First Aviation as a security unit. We were placed out in the field on three man Observation Post (OP’s) and roving ambush patrols set out front and in between the OP’s as a first response to the encroaching enemy who were making their way to us. Small engagements were met; however, B52 runs directed by John Vann were pounding the majority of the enemy as they destroyed enemy tanks.

On the morning of April 23, 1972, the NVA launched a conventional attack on Tan Canh, which is twenty-five miles north of Kontum. Tan Canh fell in one day. Kontum was next and there was fierce fighting there with many losses of lives. Pleiku was the next step to overtaking American held Camp Holloway. Many people on both sides died at Kontum. April 30, 1972 US troop level dropped to 69,000. During our stay in Pleiku my friends Sergeant George Henson and Sergeant Corner Davis (my squad leader) were killed in 6/23/1972. The following day my best friend Sp4. Robert McLaren died from his wounds on 6/24/1972, this was a very traumatic event for me. I was very saddened about McLain’s death since we both had daughters who were born while we were overseas. He talked about her constantly and how much he wanted to see her. Years later I tried to find his daughter Tammy McLaren (born 1971) with no luck.

In June 1972 we were surrounded by Two NVA Division veteran soldiers with Russian T-54 tanks who had just over run Kontum the village north of Pleiku and we were one of only two American Infantry companies in the area assigned to stop their movement. Our rear rest area at Camp Holloway was stationed between two helicopter pads. On many nights enemy mortars fell close to our sleeping quarters meant for the helicopter pads. One such bombing affected my right ear as being a mortar man with constant fire missions already traumatized it. I began to develop some loss of hearing along with what we called “ringing in the ear” which I learned to live with. Due to the current situation, we were told we would receive our Combat Infantry Badges (CIB) and other awards later due to the fast encroachment of the enemy and many rear offices and installations were standing down and not operative. Anyway, surviving was on our minds at that time not our medals/citations.

We died many deaths in our minds as the NVA were making a strong advancement and we knew it was only time before we were over run. However, on one day we got word from our radio operator that John Paul Vann an ex-military man who was commanding ARVN forces, used BGM-71 TOW wire guided anti-tank missiles mounted on two Slicks, and along with directing 300 B-52 strikes was able to take out the Russian T-54 tanks and destroyed most of the two NVA divisions. By June 5, 1972 the advancement of the NVA forces was temporarily halted. On June 9, 1972 John Paul Vann was killed when his helicopter crashed while flying in darkness, he was 47 years old. He was our hero and many of us owe our lives to him, he will never be forgotten.

To my surprise I was taken out of the field and was told to pack my things…I was a short timer and I was going home. Within 24 hours I was standing in Travis Air Force Base in California. Some of my friends were afraid of going home so they went to Big Sur, located on the California coast, to camp out and decompress on their own. I sat in Los Angeles airport for sixteen hours contemplating what to do before I called my family to pick me up, they didn't know I was home.

One minute I am in a war zone, then within twenty-four hours I was in a place very foreign to me, and that has a big effect on one’s mindset.

I was attached to C. Company 2nd/7th First Cavalry Airmobile (Gary Owen, George Armstrong Custer's unit) stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. After a few months I ran into one of my friends who was stationed with me in Pleiku only to find out from him that our unit was over run a few weeks after I left. According to him more of my friends lost their lives there. I felt extremely guilty that I was sparred and they were not. Survivor’s Guilt is one of many psychological components of PTSD for many combat soldiers. To this day I refuse to see the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I don’t feel I could handle that experience.

Richard Alaniz
D. Company 17th Infantry

Richard Alaniz <>
Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 17:51:00 (EDT)

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