Wednesday, May 31, 1972

Viets Take Most of Kontum As Reds Appear in Retreat


(UPI) --We felt a lot more secure walking around Kontum Sunday, even though we were pinned down for about 20 minutes by machine gun fire.

Last week half the town was in North Vietnamese hands. Now most of those areas are secure. The South Vietnamese soldiers and a U.S. senior province adviser said the NVA appear to be pulling out of Kontum to the northeast.

A group of South Vietnamese soldiers, some of them Regional-Forces militiamen, others ARVN regulars from the 23rd Div.'s 44th Regt., told UPI photographer Jeff Taylor and me:

"As we move up, we see NVA running away. NVA afraid of us. We come, they run away."

Taylor and I flew to Kontum aboard a U.S. Army CH47 Chinook helicopter airlifting supplies into the city. As we approached, we saw fires burning in the former 22nd ARVN Div., headquarters compound.

We landed at the soccer field in the center of town, where 60 South Vietnamese soldiers with minor wounds were awaiting helicopter evacuation.

We walked down to the La San School which was held by the NVA last week. It was clear now, but an orphanage 500 yards to the south was still in Communist hands.

South Vietnamese M41 tanks were firing cannon and machine guns into the NVA positions. The Communists were firing back with AK47 rifles and light machine guns.

The NVA opened up with rifles and a light machine gun at us, and we dived into a ditch. They kept us pinned down for 20 minutes. Finally we made a break for it and ran for shelter behind a stone wall a few yards away.

The ARVN soldiers said they think there is an NVA battalion headquarters in a house in a bamboo grove just east of the La San School. The soldiers said they had it surrounded on three sides.

In the center of town civilians were milling about, selling or buying food and soft drinks. A few girls were selling cans of rations. There didn't seem to be any food shortage.

Despite the fighting, 95 per cent of the business district seems to be intact.

The NVA still are still holding an area just north of the airfield but Taylor and I made it to within 150 yards of the runway and 300 yards from the Air Vietnam terminal.

We watched South Vietnamese A1 Skyraiders making strikes but we couldn't tell whether they were hitting the Communist targets. The airfield remained closed.

"Viets Take Most of Kontum As Reds Appear in Retreat ", by MATT FRANJOLA, KONTUM (UPI) published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Wednesday, May 31, 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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