Sunday, April 30, 1972

To Flee or Not Flee Imperiled Kontum?

by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH
S&S Staff Correspondent

KONTUM, Vietnam
--La Ba Luc and Nguyen Khiet are neighbors.

Luc was born here and has lived in Kontum for most of his 51 years. Khiet, 44, was born in Qui Nhon, but has lived in Kontum since 1954.

Luc is leaving for Saigon as soon as possible. Khiet is staying, he says, whether or not North Vietnamese troops overrun this Montagnard provincial capital in the central highlands.

"Things are very bad here now," Luc said through an interpreter. "They've taken Tan Canh and Dak To easily and they're on their way south. If I was sure that ARVN troops could stop them, I would stay. But I don't know if they can."

Luc is a former city chief. He and his wife of 27 years live peacefully in a three-room concrete-walled house. They exist on rent they draw from three houses they own nearby.

Khiet spends up to 18 hours a day as a leader of Popular Force militiamen. He has been married 26 years and has 12 children, nine of whom still live at home.

"There is no way I will leave," Khiet said. "This is my home and I will stay here. The biggest battle anywhere in Vietnam is coming right here. I think the ARVN and the American Air Force can stop the Communists before they reach Kontum. If we lose Kontum, we lost the whole highlands. We can't let that happen."

"You can't blame Luc for leaving. He's retired, old, rich …he has relatives in Saigon … and he's an administrator, not a fighting man. He wouldn't be of much help to us."

Luc said he knew a lot of other people who were trying to leave Kontum, whose population of 30,000 is mostly Montagnards. He said many of them who had automobiles would have fled already but Highway 14, which connects Kontum with Pleiku 30 miles south, has been cut many places.

"I know what the VC would do to us if we stayed," Luc said. "When they were here before they destroyed houses, power plants….everything they could.

"I heard that this time they have tanks. I don't have a military mind, but I know we must leave. The NVA wants to make a town of NVA (provincial capital), either here or at An Loc or Quang Tri, so that they control all over."

But Khiet said he will stay here no matter what happens. "My son is fighting up north at Vo Din," he said. "Another of my sons is with the 14th Armored Cav. Sq. We wouldn't leave when they're still fighting here. My family could probably get out, but they want to stay here with me.

"I will stay here if the NVA come right into town. If you don't believe me, just come back after they attack us, and you'll see me fighting with my men, right here in the streets."

"To Flee or Not Flee Imperiled Kontum?", by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH S&S Staff Correspondent, KONTUM, Vietnam, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Sunday, April 30, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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