Saturday, May 13, 1972

They 'Have to Get Out' Of Imperiled Kontum

by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH
S&S Staff Correspondent

KONTUM, Vietnam
--Kontum, a city of grass huts and redtile-roofed French schoolhouses, is nearly deserted now. Flying over it in a chopper Tuesday, an observer spotted only military vehicles and soldiers on Hondas moving over the bumpy, paved streets. Refugees still jam the U.S. compound and are flown daily to Pleiku in big, twin-rotored helicopters.

The central highlands provincial capital waits tensely for an expected Communist assault from the north and west. Government troops are dug in at positions around the city.

Col. Le Tong Ba, commander of the 23rd ARVN Div., headquartered in Kontum said, "First we had to organize our defensive posture completely. Now, we will move out and try to strike the enemy. We want to counterattack, get the enemy to come into our artillery fan and strike him before he comes to Kontum."

Ba has moved several battalions of troops north and they are actively patrolling the jungle, looking for contact.

To the north, Ben Het Base Camp, near the tri-border area, has put up stubborn resistance and beaten off several attempts to overrun it. Eleven Red tanks have been reported destroyed in and around the beleaguered Montagnard Border Ranger camp this week. Communists shelled and attacked the camp once again Thursday morning, but were driven off, sources in Pleiku said.

"Sure we are tired," the commander of another ARVN base camp in Pleiku Province said, "but we can't worry about that now. We must fight with all we've got. Our country is at stake now. We must meet the enemy's attack and beat him right here in the highlands."

While most attention in the highlands centers around Kontum, civilians were also fleeing Pleiku City, a little over 25 miles south, and heading to Qui Nhon, Nha Trang or Saigon.

One Vietnamese girl who works for the Americans at Camp Holloway in Pleiku lamented this week that she had given an ARVN soldier 30,000 piasters (about $75) to buy her a ticket on an Air Vietnam flight to Saigon, but that he had disappeared.

"I've got to get more money," she said. "I have to get out of Pleiku. Everybody I know has left. I don't want to be here when VC come."

A Vietnamese Air Force officer was putting his parents aboard a giant U.S. Air Force C141 bound for Saigon late Wednesday afternoon. "They are scared," he said. "I don't know if the VC will come or not, but I don't want to take any chances with my parents' lives. They will be safe in Saigon. They have friends there who will take care of them."

In front of II Corps Headquarters in Pleiku, fighting positions are being constructed. A battery of 105mm howitzers has been installed. Several tanks are stationed near the perimeter.

Six 122mm rockets hit near Pleiku AB Tuesday, damaging an Air Vietnam plane, wounding the copilot and four passengers. VNAF fighters, on their way to Kontum, happened to see the lone Communist troop who fired the rockets and rained bombs on him. The explosions could be seen form II Corps Headquarters. A VNAF officer said, "We think we got him. But that's getting too close for comfort now.

"They 'Have to Get Out' Of Imperiled Kontum" by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH S&S Staff Correspondent, KONTUM, Vietnam, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Saturday, May 13, 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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