Kontum:
Tet 1968
Info from SSgt Tom Heckman, RTO on FAC Team
 


During TET 68, we were "surrounded" and cut off in every direction, except from the air of course. There were no aircraft flying out of Kontum. Our FACs were redeployed to fly in and out of Pleiku and only our ALO and Sector FAC remained with us at Kontum. TET was "more than a little hot" at Kontum and a hell of a lot more than was described in the few newsclips we got to read about "our battle" after the fact.

On the first morning of TET, 1-29-68, both our Sector FAC and I were almost killed by a sniper who was located in the tower of a church located in the tea plantation across Hwy 14. Thank God Major Legg recognized we were being shot at as I was busy setting up our radios in our MRC-108. The sniper got to fire 2 shots at us before we realized he was there. That sniper position was taken out by a jeep mounted recoilless rifle, but not until the second day of TET as we had no recoilless rifles assigned to the MACV team. MACV did manage to get hold of one and I was right there to see the second round pulverize that tower into dust. Very satisfying.

In the early morning of 2-1-68, the B-24 compound was penetrated from the EAST and all MACV personnel, as well as all Air Force troops were directed to back up B-24 in the event that they would be over run.

That was a circus! Here we were, MACV paperpushers, various command personnel, including the MACV CO and Exec., and Air Force aircraft mechanics, radio operators, etc., all lined up behind this PSP wall that separate B-24 from the MACV compound. For one who had never been in combat, me, I had visions, both real and imagined, of that movie, The Green Berets, where they were being over run, at night, flares lighting up the sky, our mortars popping rounds regularly, and those 155's stationed out by our airfield firing anti-personnel rounds within a 100 yards of us.

The first night of TET when things got a little hairy, the MACV Commander herded up all of us Air Force personnel and directed that we stay inside the MACV TOC, then about an hour or two later when there was concern about B-24 being overrun, he directed all of us to take up positions behind a PSP wall separating B-24 and the MACV compound, so A1C Wayne Cook and I, when we were settled in behind the PSP wall, were immediately outside our hootch's back window.

I've got to throw this in as now it is what happened next was hilarious, but by then we were too damn scared to appreciate the humor of the moment. When Cook and I and the rest of us took up our positions, Cook took time to duck inside our hootch and drag out a box of frag grenades he kept under his bed. So he starts to pass out the frags to our guys. Major "Rock" (name changed), to my right on the wall, when given one of the grenades, became very aggravated. I thought he was going to have a coronary. He then proceeds to chew out Cook's ass for having hand grenades in his possession but I noticed he held on to the grenade I had already given him. Next we were told that Charley had penetrated B-24's Eastern perimeter and was heading toward us. Then more MACV personnel took positions behind the wall. Flares lighted the sky and the sound of small arms, automatic weapons, mortar and anti personnel artillery rounds created a tremendous noise. Then there was a momentary lull in the deafening noise. From out of the dark and quiet behind that wall comes a voice, "hey, Cook, do you have any more of those grenades?" Who, you got it, "Major Rock!

It was a hairy scene to put it mildly. Then Puff showed up and started to paint the sky with their cannons. That took the steam out of the NVA's initial charge, and then gunships supported us when Puff had to go and reload.

The skies were bright with flares, the constant small arms, automatic weapons, mortar fire, and artillery antipersonnel rounds being added to the din, plus Spooky in and out, and I for one was scared as hell that our stuff had hit the fan!

During all that, here comes LTC Cole, B-24 CO, calmly walking toward us through the opening in the wall, with two of his strikers, to "confer" with the MACV CO." I mean nobody was above a low crouch or"laying down" position, and here he comes like he's out on an evening stroll, with these 2 little strikers walking right behind him! Either he knew something we didn't or he had "Big Brass Ones!" His example of "coolness" if you will, and his apparent disdain for NVA/VC marksmanship definitely instilled a significant calmness in we Air Force troops behind that wall. Hell, by his appearance, he didn't need any help, he had it all in hand, and although he may never have been aware of what he did, just by coming toward us, he provided the example of leadership we needed that night!

That was the first night and the initial phase of their attack. All this time we are taking heavy fire from the North and West and we had local VC overrunning Kontum city and trying to get through our Southern defenses. This was continuous through all three days of the battle.

It abated occasionally, in the morning and through the afternoon, but never stopped entirely. If you look at the map I am attaching, [Kontum with Legend By Gene Putnal] and look at the "field" adjacent to the blue marker identifying the ARNV 24th STZ Hq, to the north of the MACV compound, that's the area where the main NVA attack was sustained. They had tunneled into the 43rd Sig. compound and tunneled under the Provincial Interrogation Center, (PIC) and pretty much over ran all of their compound. So now all that's separating them and us was the Sig Bat's southern perimete defenses and the MACV helipad. So, MACV had been told that "reinforcements" were on the way, on the morning of the second day, but they eventually showed up in force on the morning of the 4th day.

We were pretty much exhausted. Hadn't eaten or slept except for cat naps and a can of C's for those three days. We were all laying on the ground as you can see in that photo I sent you that pointed out where our jeep was located during the battle. I don't know if you know what a MRC-108 is but, it is nothing but a jeep mounted radio station. We were exposed to direct fire from the North and we seemed to attract it all.

They shot off our HF, UHF, and VHF antennas, and fired numerous rounds through all of our radios. We directed and controlled some 50 gunship missions along our Northern and Western perimeter with only our PRC-25 as that's all we had left. That little FM radio was a God send, and we relied on it solely over the second and third day when there were no FACs in our area to provide close air support.

On the morning of the 4th day when the sun was just coming up we could hear tanks approaching from our south. We all were thinking the NVA now had tanks coming at us when the gun crew in an elevated tower called down that they were American tanks and needless to say it was an emotional scene when they came up Hwy 14, armor, artillery and ground troops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade heading toward Dak To after of course, mopping up the NVA/VC in our immediate area. Cook (my radio operator partner) and I were stretched out on the ground beside our jeep watching those troops go by, taking it all in, when our ALO, LTC McCrea walked toward us carrying two small cans of ice cold orange juice. Nothing tasted better!

Tom Heckman

 

 

 

 



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