boys in the summer of 1965,
following are extracts from letters written from
June-September, 1965, by SSGT Loyd Little.
During this period, I was a medic assigned to
B-16 in Danang , also known as I-Corps MSF.
In general, we went on long-range
search-and-destroy and combat recon patrols in I
We had from 100 to 500 Chinese
mercenaries (Nungs) on these patrols, which
to 3 weeks.
We often had 8-10 USSF, 2-5 Marines, and
We generally had jet and helicopter
To area operation – June 29 to
was a search and destroy/recon operation around
the A-team at Ba To, a new SF camp. On this
patrol were 290 Nungs, 11 Americans (8 SF and 3
Marines), and 5 Australians.
The goal was a valley near Ba To known to
be a VC battalion headquarters and a major food
It was also a suspected R&R center.
left Danang before dawn in about 30 choppers, a
beautiful formation that curved long and up into
a bleak, heavily overcast sky.
Every man was armed to the teeth,
expecting the worst.
We were dropped off on two small bare
patches on two hills overlooking the valley.
Each chopper hovered about five feet off
the ground, just long enough to leap out.
No resistance on landing.
the choppers lifted, we heard the screams of the
big F104 jets that were bombing and strafing the
four villages in the valley below us.
Here’s the irony:
Four days earlier, the Air Force dropped
leaflets giving details of the coming bombing
and advising civilians to leave and go to one of
the two nearby SF camps – Ba To and Gia Vuc.
We were about midway between the camps,
roughly 6-10 miles to each.
Later intelligence showed that most of
the VC got the word.
Most had pulled out of the valley at
And the first jets hit at
began slithering and hacking our way through the
elephant grass as the jets continued bombing.
They must have been using bombs as big as
the 750 pounders for the grass and vines around
us shook noticeably every time the bombs hit.
The jets used napalm, standard
, and 20mm rockets.
The air strikes continued without letup
for 90 minutes; another one of those times when
I said, there couldn’t possibly be anything
formed in two elements (I was in the security
element) and headed into the valley.
Leading our element was a wonderfully
crazy Australian warrant officer (a Mr. Jim
McFaggett—not sure of spelling).
He carried a pop-open black umbrella (!),
which he used to keep the sun off, point out
directions of travel, and to ward off mosquitoes
and bugs. He
marched along, waving the umbrella over his head
in tight, small circles, muttering to himself
about the bloody Americans and the bloody
had been told that this valley had once been the
home of about 6,500 Hre Montagnards and was
considered one of the richest valleys in
We saw beautifully built and maintained
rice paddies, bananas, pineapples and jackfruit
(a type of grapefruit) everywhere for the
hills offered lemons, limes, a type of cherry
and a type of fig. The Hre are one of the large
subgroups of the Montagnards with an estimated
Most do not have the epicanthal eye fold,
and most have a straight, short nose, not the
flatter nose of most Vietnamese.
Most adults (especially the older) have
had their front teeth either filed down or
broken off, a tribal custom. A few still speak
some French, and French genes are visible in
some who have white skin and some who have red
years ago, we had been told, the VC moved into
the area—typical techniques of kidnapping,
threats, fear—and began using it as a safe
center and for food supply.
At that time a SF A-team was sent in.
think this was an earlier Ba To team; the Army
SF book cites a team inserted into the Ba To
area in 1962 and a “new” Ba To camp
established in March, 1965.]
At any rate, the earlier SF team
recruited 300 Hre and within six months, the
valley was pacified.
The SF team built dispensaries, several
village meeting houses, latrines and two
months after that the A-team was withdrawn, the
Hre guerilla force was disbanded, and an ARVN
battalion moved in.
were so peaceful that the ARVN battalion was
withdrawn and security became a hundred or so
Hre PF (Popular Forces) in scattered outposts.
Our briefing officer said that over the
next nine months, the VC began their old tactics
again, and the valley being isolated and
peaceful received no outside help.
the end of 1964, the VC completely controlled
the valley, promising the Hre that no Americans
could harm them.
We were told that no patrol from either
of the two nearby SF camps had been able to
penetrate into the valley in the last 9 months.
Air recon showed well-fortified trenches and
walls around the valley.
The population of the valley was
estimated at around 3,000 at the time of our
found the four villages heavily fortified with
fields of punji stakes and mortar pits
surrounded by rock walls, machine gun bunkers
and more. As
we began moving through, we estimated that about
800 people had decided to ride out the attack in
Mostly women, children and elderly.
Few young men, of course.
They would be VC by choice or force.
We knew everyone had gotten the
word—our leaflets still littered the ground.
We found about 10 civilians killed by the
easier to say that babies burned by napalm or
old men blown into pieces beyond recognition.
About 20 civilians wounded.
received occasional fire as we moved in but no
, we had six of the big
choppers on the ground lifting the wounded and
the feeble out.
The rest we sent packing.
We pointed them in the direction of Ba To
with promises of food and water there.
Ba To was 6-8 rocky, hard miles away,
especially so when you’re carrying what’s
left of a life on your back.
had a positive dozen VC killed and an estimated
30 more killed by helicopters hop-scotching
around the perimeters of the valley.
We found many tunnels, mostly empty.
The assault element found one tunnel with
perhaps six people in it. After an hour of
pleading with those inside to come out, grenades
were tossed in.
number of rice caches were found. My element
found a VC hospital, a VC dispensary, and a
medical supply warehouse in 9-room, sprawling
partially concrete villa.
I catalogued cases of medical supplies,
some of the very best that Uncle Sam makes as
well as some French.
By the way, when we went charging into
the villa, we found a young girl and an old
women calmly eating lunch at a table.
The young girl admitted to being a nurse.
We gave them a few minutes to collect
their belongings and aimed them at Ba To.
found tunnels containing mostly medical
inventoried the supplies and collected samples
of different kinds for proof. Then we set fire
to the entire complex.
Beds, farming tools, medical supplies,
food stuffs, Buddha and his altar -- all up in
smoke. As it burned, I thought about the irony
that Special Forces had originally helped supply
this hospital, trained this nurse, and given her
the knowledge and the medicine for her people.
late afternoon, all the villages were leveled.
Smoke mingled with fog rolling down the mountain
the day, we had continued to receive sniping
snots from hills, but nothing serious.
Nungs were now carrying plenty of live and dead
Over there is a Nung gunner, lean and
hard with grenades and ammo tied all over
himself, and peeking over his shoulder, looking
at us is a live, huge goose tied into his
rucksack. In one house, one of our Nungs found a
beautiful old yellow Singer foot-operated sewing
machine. He was carrying the upper part and
another solder was carrying the wooden base.
Someone else found a dozen new sets of
brightly colored underwear, one of the prize
finds of the day.
A few soldiers picked up Hre spears and
for Ba To
the shadows began to lengthen, we began marching
toward Ba To, eventually catching up to the
There were about 700 people and 30 water
buffalo on the trail.
Mostly women, children and elderly.
One woman carried a baby who she had
given birth to only three days earlier.
A few asked for water; we had plenty and
gave what was needed. The other SF camp reported
about 600 people arrived there over the next
We helilifted 400 or so to the two camps.
The rest of the people?
Into the hills, probably to come back to
the rubble later to cut up the dead buffalo and
salvage what they could.
in one day, we had created two new “New Life
Hamlets,” the current appellation for winning
the hearts and the minds.
It’s easy to be sarcastic.
But what were the options?
The Vietnamese government had had a
chance when the valley was pacified but had done
nothing during that time in the way of support
or supplies or helping build a future for these
Hre will live a more secure life in the shanty
rows of the refugee villages around Ba To, but
they will be considerably poorer, not only
having lost their homes and livestock but a
future as well.
Ba To now houses about 5,000 people
crowded into a small flat area near the SF camp.
Some travel the two to six miles every
day to work what’s left of their rice fields.
Most just sit and chew betel nut and
stare into the distance.
A-team at Ba To was freshly there, having
arrived less than four months ago.
Still eating off C-ration cases, living
in tents, bathing in Ba Mui Ba cans, etc.
The typical problems of A-teams seem
congealed here: no skilled labor, very bad
relations with district chief, arguments between
SF, ARVN, etc.
rested two days and then took off for a sweep
around three of the larger mountains around Ba
grass is a cute name for a nasty grass.
It’s 5 to 10 feet tall and the blades
are huge and knife sharp.
The first four feet are enmeshed in stuff
that creates the consistency of packed hay and
just as difficult to go through.
The grass seems about 20 degrees hotter
than eight feet above you.
No one can travel more than 10 minutes in
the stuff without stopping and trying to find
air somewhere. It’s suffocating.
Trampled down, it’s like walking on
third morning out, we ambushed ourselves.
We were on a narrow saddle between two
A trail so narrow that two feet from each
side were near sheer droops of 50-100.
We were almost to the top of other
mountain when an automatic opened up on us.
Bullets whapping by, slapping the
I was eighth man from the front, lying
down now and thinking that this was a good place
to ambush us.
round of automatic fire came by me. Much too
rolled over to the other side of the trail. Our
boys got a machine gun going at last.
We couldn’t see a damn thing.
Within minutes, the firing stopped and
Chinese words were shouted back and forth.
finally figured out what had happened.
Our four lead men had taken a wrong turn
about 600 feet back, later realized their error
and turned to try and find us again.
We had met at right angles near the top,
and they, hearing troops, had opened fire.
one of our Nungs almost shot his nose off.
We stopped for a break and suddenly there
was a shot and a scream.
We all dived our guns.
I went rushing through the jungle and
found a Nung holding his nose with blood
streaming through his fingers.
It turned out that when he stopped he had
shrugged off his backpack and set his gun down
against a tree a little too hard.
The gun went off while he was leaning
over; he had not put the safety on.
The bullet just grazed the side of his
gave him much grief about that.
the fourth day out, we entered a known VC
had been shot at from the village.
Found no one and burned it to the ground.
Later, we received fire from a small
village across a river and our Aussie leader
decided to call in artillery (105s, I think)
from camp. (I’m not sure which camp.)
The first round hit on our side of the
river, and we started backing up.
The second round was even shorter, and we
hit the ground. The third round – they were
white phosphorous – landed 50 feet in front of
it had been an air burst, an entire platoon
would have gone up in flames.
As it was, it landed in a rice paddy and
went off underwater, blasting straight upward.
The Aussie was calling “cease fire”
on the radio even as we moved out smartly in
case they had already fired the next 3 rounds.
that day as we were about two miles from camp,
we made contact again. It was in the exact same
area where eight men have been killed by snipers
over the past three months.
We were crossing rice paddies beside a
mountains close on each side on the river.
I was in the lead platoon, and we were
about to cross the river to sweep down that
a machine gun opened up on us from the jungle of
green about 150 yards up a hill across the river
from us. Our
Nungs were ready for this kind of shit. In less
than a minute, we had four 60 mm mortars
dropping shells on the hill, three of our
machine guns were raking the jungle, and a
couple hundred carbines opened up.
all this covering fire, our platoon didn’t
even hesitate but started across the river.
Within a few minutes, the VC broke off
(or maybe were killed).
We brought a second platoon across the
river and began to cut and crawl through the
punji stakes and vines as we looked for them.
The two other platoons remained on the
other side the river to cover us.
Then, the expert VC sniper struck once
again. A single shot from the other side of the
bullet caught a Nung in the head. Dead before he
hit the ground.
In front of the Nung was the other SF
medic and behind the Nung was one of the
Australians. Later, I discovered that a bullet
had gone through my rucksack at some point
during the fighting.
eventually returned to Ba To.
The C-team was strapped for Nungs, having
sent a company out to an A-Team having a spot of
trouble, so choppers came and picked up a
company of ours to reinforce the C-team.
We spent another week at Ba To, running
short patrols up and around the mountains around
the camp. Found
Returned to Danang.
Other 1st MFS medics and
myself held sick call for our Nungs every
also ran medic courses for the Nung medics.
Aug. 10-12, VC probed the Danang airfield.
The first night, a suicide VC squad of
about 10 with satchel bombs got onto the
airfield that is about 300 yards just south of
3rd Marine squadron opened fire, and
unfortunately across the airfield the 10th
Marine infantry returned the fire.
Then Air Force security began firing at
VC KIA. One plane slightly damaged by a bomb.
We never heard about US casualties from
friendly or enemy fire.
near Laos – July 27-Aug. 5
was a combat recon patrol at the Laotian border.
On this mission were 100 Nungs, two
Marines, four American and one Australian, who
was in charge. The Aussie was the same Mr.
McFaggett who commanded our element on the
longer Ba To operation.
Our mission was to enter an area only two
miles from the Laotian border and sweep back
through several valleys that no one, not even
Vietnamese, had been in for about three years.
It was believed to be one of the entry
from the Ho Chi Minh trail
dropped us off just after dawn in a potato
choppers circled clockwise and followed each
other down in single file to shove 8-10 men out
as the young Marines on the choppers’ machine
guns looked a bit antsy.
The ninth chopper took the only hits of
the day after it had unloaded, but limped back
to safety to Danang.
Overhead, four 104 jets raked the area
around us with 40-mm machine guns.
The jets weren’t bombing because, so we
had been briefed, it was too close to the
Take your eyes off the compass for two
seconds and you’re over another country.
We also had armed Hueys hedge-hopping
while we landed.
soon as we hit the ground, we began to get
The jets raced in and out firing at the
hill from which the snipping had come.
After unloading us, the Hueys fired their
machine guns practically in all directions and
loosed their paired rockets at anything
Above all these aircraft were two
prop-driven spotter planes.
The planes reported considerable enemy
movement out of trenches moving away from us
about a half mile away.
moved us quickly off the LZ.
Our first real action came two hours
later when we crossing the
Our lead squad crossed the river and just
as they reached the other bank, they walked up
on two VC. Our
boys got the drop on them and bullets hit one in
the chest and leg and nicked the other. The one
carried the other off into the brush.
Our Nungs followed blood for several
hundred yards, but it was in the opposite
direction, and we called them back.
We recovered a 1960 Russian carbine,
ammunition, and hat.
this patrol, the VC fired an occasional shot at
We knew these were merely spotting
rounds, letting other VC know where we were.
We paid no attention to them. However,
one of the Marines was a young corporal fresh to
from the states.
Every time a spotting round was fired, he
hit the ground and began crawling on elbows and
stood and watched him as the Nungs pointed at
him in amazement.
After a couple days, he relaxed and got
into the swing of things.
spend the night on the top of a sharp hill -- so
steep that I tied one end of my hammock (created
with parachute cord and my SF jungle blanket) at
the ground level of one tree and the other end
about six feet up a tree, in order to keep the
Leeches were bad in the area.
At every stop, I squired mosquito
repellent on them, which caused them to curl up
and drop off.
Even so, blood continued to flow from
where they had attached themselves.
one point, one of our American lieutenants
called for me.
He was in a near panic.
A large leach had attached itself to his
balls and his shorts were dripping with blood.
I got the leech off and poured a bit of
hydrogen peroxide on his balls.
That got him hopping around,
much to the delight of the Nungs.
Then, I wrapped a handful of gauze
carefully around his balls.
He walked funny the rest of the patrol.
were high enough that the next morning we could
see clearly down into the valley.
We spotted a handful of VC in the valley,
too far away to shoot and moving away from us.
Three hours later, we were skirting the
edge of a cleared field.
Evidence showed that these valleys were
once heavily cultivated with corn, potatoes,
grapefruit, and bananas.
We also found old animal traps.
But little farming in the last four
a fifth of the land was being used now and it
was used covertly.
were making a turn around a fallow field when a
submachine gun opened on our lead element.
Although we were in elephant grass, we
were visible from five or six sharp little hills
around us. The
tall grass around me rippled with bullets as
though a breeze were cutting through it.
Finally, our M-79 (grenades) man began to
fire back, giving us enough cover to get
organized and get those beautiful gallons of
Nung bullets firing back.
I grabbed the Nung who was carrying my
main medical pack and ran to the front element.
We caught glimpses of VC hot-footing it
off into the distance.
were similarly ambushed three more times this
time just as ineffectual. The VC were using
small caliber machine guns at a great distance
and clearly needed some target practice.
They used cover beautifully, but seemed
untrained in the specifics of guerilla warfare.
camped that night again on a high hill.
, it began frighteningly
clear the VC had a good idea of where we were.
We heard a distant “whump, whump, whump.”
A mortar being fired.
I rolled out of the hammock, grabbing my
carbine off my ruckscack as I hit the ground.
The first three rounds landed far down
our hill. The
next three were further up the hill.
The VC steadily walked their mortar
(which sounded like a 60 mm), three at a time,
up the hill toward us.
There was nothing we could do.
I lay on my stomach and pulled my
rucksack over my head.
The shells walked right by, no more than
50 feet away.
But with the jungle as thick as it was,
we only heard the crashing explosions.
next morning was full of rain.
, we were in thick elephant
grass about half way up a small hill.
We stopped for a break.
I was pouring mosquito repellent on the
dozens of leeches crawling up my boots, when
suddenly a grenade exploded 30 feet away.
Before I could move, a submachine gun
opened up on us from a hill directly across from
bullets were a little high, whap whapping
that frustration of not seeing where the shots
were coming from.
We fired haphazardly at dark spots and
clumps and trees on the other side.
The VC broke off in about 10 minutes.
Our only wounded was a Nung who had
caught grenade fragments in one hand.
I checked him and bandaged his hand; it
was pretty torn up.
Gave him a shot of morphine.
crossed toward the hill where the shooting had
come from, and as we were about half way up it,
more serious gunfire began from the hill we had
just left. Our
Nungs calmly set up two .30 machine guns and
began raking the hill, giving us cover to reach
the top of this hill.
After about an hour, we had the entire
company on top of the hill although we were
still getting occasional fire.
It became clear that VC were on 3-4 hills
It was also clear that the VC were lousy
shots for the most part.
from the hill
McFaggett called for Hueys and by
, a half dozen flew in like
giant mosquitoes and began throwing rockets and
bullets on the hills around us.
We were higher than the VC, but as the
Hueys proved we were also surrounded.
The Hueys were taking fire from all
We could see, through binoculars, some
there a half dozen VC were running through the
trees just after a rocket attack.
A handful headed down that other hill.
One Huey dropped us two parachutes of food
supplies, although we really weren’t all that
was no need to conceal ourselves now, so our
boys cooked big lunches as the Hueys flew
side of our hill was especially thick with
jungle, so that afternoon we began hacking a
tunnel through the vines.
Later that day we snuck off
the mountain, having received only a few
sniping rounds as we crawled through our tunnel.
fourth day (we were about half way to the SF
camp) were fairly uneventful.
At one point Mr. McFaggett and the point
man suddenly walked up on a VC about 15 feet
all stood there, stunned, for about two seconds.
The VC fired twice just as both McFaggett
and the point man fired.
The VC was hit and flipped over the side
of the trail down a ravine.
We didn’t search to the bottom of the
last three days were quiet.
Occasional sniping, lots of punji stakes;
I treated several Nungs for punji injuries.
The closer we got to the SF camp, the
more evidence we found of regular North
several cases of Russian ammunition, a
case of American .30 ammo, spare rifle parts,
rice caches, and empty but new and clearly being
We were flown out of the camp by
Caribous. I don’t have a camp name in my
notes, but I think the SF camp was Kham Duc,
about the only SF camp that close to
in that area.
went on other 1st MFS missions and
they were similar to these, which I had the most
notes on. --30--
Thanks to SSGT
Loyd Little, B-16 and Senior Medic A-113 Gia Vuc