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
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