Vietnamese-Cambodian-Laotian Cross Border Operation

At dawn, the sky still veiled by fogs hanging over the mountain tops, Pleiku Province-II Corps was stirred up by the rattling sounds of helicopters landing on the airfield of II Corps headquarters. The high ranking officers involved in the operation all gathered in the operation center, G3/II Corps to receive the operational orders. They also listened to military instructions reserved to officers of all levels assigned to various tasks in the operation. They all willingly assumed the responsibility and honor the country laid onto them... The decision taken by the field commander was the ultimate authority granted by the country. And thus he must possess the military leadership competence and battlefield experience, in order to assess and to make tactical decisions that would protect the lives of his troops along with their family members. The consequence for a wrong decision would be the death sentence of the entire troops under his command in the clique of the second hand clock... And instantaneous death … without any respite !... Because “Bullets are innocent …but man must be humanitarian …” General Hieu stopped talking, everyone hastened back to his position. For his part, he walked swiftly and majestically to the airfield where the C&C helicopter was roaring in the ready to take off. He jumped on board with a well executed training move, which was to lay his hands onto the helicopter bed and jerked his body onto the seat next to the gunner. He was rather small in height, but extremely quick, gaining admiration and respect from the American pilots for and ARVN general officer. The image of General Hieu always inspires admiration in me and it etches forever in my military career.

The troops were assembled at Catecka plantation comprised the 47th, 40th Regiments of the 22nd Infantry Division, and two regiments of the 23rd Infantry Division, reinforced with three Rangers battalion, and supported by Pleiku artillery set up at Ham Rong firebase – where I stationed – as the operational center. Because of the location on the 1,680 meter mountain top, it facilitated radio communication that reached all the way to 125 kilometers deep into the Cambodian territories between individual PRC 25 for effective troop maneuvering. And the Duc Co avenue was chosen as staging area for the movement into the Cambodian territories.

The objective of this operation was to interdict the North Vietnamese Communist troops to infiltrate to South Vietnam through the Ho Chi Minh trail to reinforce the embedded Viet Cong of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, located at the boundaries of Tay Ninh Province, extending into Cambodia and Laos, along the junction of Viet Nam-Cambodia-Laos. The North Vietnamese Communist force comprise 5 regular infantry divisions, equipped with modern military apparatus comprising tanks, artillery, rockets and anti-aircraft guns. They went down southward to supply, equip this materiel to the Viet Cong and Red Khmer sympathizers of Red China and the Pathet-Laos guerillas … This battlefront did not benefit the support of US Air Force and Marines as it was forbidden by the American Congress to expand the war into Cambodia and Laos. And thus the ARVN was left only without the support of B-52’s to face an outnumbered North Vietnamese Communist force, equipped with modern weapons provided by China and Russia.

ARVN tanks were no match to Chinese and Russian T-54 and PT-76 tanks. However, General Hieu had anticipated the demand of the battlefield and equipped the ARVN combatants with the modern M-72 individual rocket launchers which can knocked out tanks and bunkers. However, one rocket shoot succeeded only a PT-72 to spin briefly around … and needed two successive rockets in order to immobilize it and caught fire … These weapons as main firepower allowed the ARVN to counter the enemy firepower of heavy artillery, antiaircraft guns.

Our combatants destroyed the enemy artillery tubes and antiaircraft guns. They encountered dead Viet Cong still chained to machine guns, dressed in Ho’s uniform, but turned out to be Chinese Communist in disguise, identified by the Chinese enlisted soldiers from Cho Lon as their compatriots (obviously corpses could not speak up and identified themselves). They forced to die and chose not to be captured and be interrogated as prisoners. In this battle, our troops dismantle the enemy forces into pieces, destroyed their supply routes in aid for the Red Khmer, and liberated Lon Nol government from the encirclement of Red China. War booties included counterfeit Cambodian paper monies printed in Red China aiming at sapping the Cambodian economy, still in immaculate condition and contained in cartoon boxes stamped Made in China that were burst open by our artillery strikes, and they flew all over the places, on tree tops, spring streams, lakes and rivers. Our combatants did not want to have them waste, tucked them into their combat vests and distributed them to the impoverished Khmer ladies and children along the way of their withdrawal back in country after the cross border operation.

In this cross border operation, the Republic of Viet Nam had thwarted the evil intention of the International Chino-Russia Communists in transforming the Viet Nam-Cambodia-Laos into an Indochina Communist entity. And its due to the military intervention of General Hieu, a Vietnamese military genius in the Vietnamese history annals who came to rescue of an allied. Not only was he competent in military strategy, he was also astute in the political and economical domain in preventing the downfall of the Lon Nol government which would lead to the collapse of Viet Nam by April 1975.

General Nguyen Van Hieu as a military genius was a rare phenomenon among the ARVN general officers, because of his unique trait of straightforthwardness and patriotism. But then God did not grant favor to the Vietnamese nation and wrapped its destiny in the following painful verses of Nguyen Du:

Heaven appoints each human to a place.
If doomed to roll in dust, we'll roll in dust;
we'll sit on high when destined for high seats.
In talent take no overweening pride,
for talent and disaster form a pair.
Our karma we must carry as our lot--
let's stop decrying Heaven's whims and quirks.

Huỳnh Mai St.8872
Bh. Dạ lệ Huỳnh
Officer at the Operational Center
15 January 2012

Note: The operation described by the author was conducted by II Corps under the leadership of Genera Ngo Dzu, in support of the cross border operation conducted by III Corps in a series of Total Victory operations under the command of General Do Cao Tri in 1970-1971. At that time, General Hieu participated in the cross border operation as 5th Division Commander. The image of General Hieu athletically boarded the helicopter was witnessed by the author perhaps in another circumstance.