My First Encounter with General Hieu
After taking over the command of 5th Infantry Division, General Hieu launched a road clearing operation on National Route 14 from Dong Xoai up to Phuoc Long. This National Route had been closed after the famous battle of 7th Regiment and the one conducted by an Airborne Battalion as described by Doan Phuong Hai (Class 17). At that time I was 3/7th Battalion Commander.
At the beginning of the operation, because the 3/7th Battalion Commander, Major Nguyen Trang, originated from Ranger units, was taken out of the operational area and I was appointed to replace him – as indicated in page 265, line 65 of your book. As mentioned by Major Thuong, I was appointed Battalion Commander based on my combat leadership and achievements since my graduation in 1965. As a platoon leader, with a group of 9 men, I set up ambushes along National Route 13, leaving behind the machine gun and PRC10 communication equipment at the rear camp of the Company, whose leader was of Class 19. With 7 remaining men, I was not scared. Afterwards, I advanced to 10th Company Leader. All medals, American and Vietnamese alike, were awarded to the unit based on combat merits. Then from Company Leader, I advanced to G3 and Battalion Executive Officer and 3/7th Battalion Commander.
The operation ended without the lost of a soldier. Although I was a Battalion Commander, I nevertheless did not yet have the opportunity to meet with General Hieu, since he recently came to the 5th Division. One day, while the Battalion was sweeping the two sides of National Route 14 near the junction leading to Quang Duc and Phuoc Long, my signal man let me know that 45, signal coded name of the Commander, intended to land down to visit the Battalion. That was the first time I encountered General Hieu. I was surprised because National Route 14, after so many years of neglect was covered with bamboos and trees on it entire stretch; and my Battalion was the Battalion which had just performed a recon in force operation in order to allow American bulldozers to clear the road. Therefore, although I had secured the landing zone, I was nevertheless apprehensive. However, everything happened without a glitch in this first encounter with my new Commander. The operation ended when I reached Phuoc Long, without a lost, except that my unit was weakened by malaria, including me; nowadays I had 3X in my blood. As soon as the operation ended, my unit was ordered to reinforce 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment of Colonel Ty to launch an operation back to Dong Xoai and followed the Battalion to return to Binh Duong, the rear camp of the Regiment.
General Hieu Groomed Me for the Command of 2/8th Battalion
Here, I was relieved from my Battalion Commander position because I refused to sell 300 tons of rice at Phuoc Binh camp (to whom if not to a VC liaison man) on behalf of the Regiment Commander, Colonel Vu Dang Chong (Class 5); despite the fact the Regiment Deputy Commander (Class 8) had come to see me in Colonel Ty’s tent. I told him I was an enlisted officer and could not follow that order. He was an upper-classman who knew me well and liked me because of my good manner and my operational skills since I was a Company Leader. After he left, Colonel Ty called G4 of Phuoc Long Sector for assistance in receiving that amount of rice and issued me a receipt to be submitted to G4 of the Regiment. I did not file a grievance when I was relieved of my function because I did not whom to address my grievance. Consequently, I became an officer without a function in the Regiment. Then less than a week later, General Hieu came down to the Regiment. The Regiment Command Post gathered for a briefing session to the Commanding General. I sat at the last row since I did not have a position. Lo and behold, when G3 finished its briefing on operations and the personnel bureau was about to present its report, General Hieu stood up as he did not wish to listen further and told Colonel Chong (Class 5), the Regiment Commander, who had a reputation as bad as General Toan, "If you is not using Captain Tin, return him back to the Division. "
I wondered how General Hieu learned about my situation. Maybe Major Quan (who later became 7th Regiment Commander told Colonel Sang (Class 3) through Nung’s chain of command or Colonel Ty, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment, reported it to the Division HQ.
Upon reporting to Division HQ, I was assigned to G3, then back to Phuoc Binh with US 1st Air Cavalry to attend training course on air support, organization of helicopter company, troop transport by helicopters, day and night recon patrol of the Air Cavalry. Afterwards, I went back and was assigned as head of the Division Operational Center. My daily duty was to monitor operations, then to make military briefing. Because I was present for a long time in 32nd Tactical Zone area and had conducted operations at platoon up to battalion levels, I knew well the majority of the locations and terrains of the Tactical Zone; when making presentation before the Division Commander or the General Staff, I did not need a draft, and only needed a summary with signs on the map. The G2 head was impressed and made a request to the Chief of General Staff, Colonel Minh, to have me assigned to G2, but Colonel Minh told him that the Commander had already made arrangement to place me somewhere else. And two months later, one day Colonel Minh told me to report to the Commander after the daily briefing session.
When I reported to the General, he told me, “Major Ly Si Coong was assigned to a new post and I want you to take over the command of 2/8th Battalion. You previously conducted yourself as a young officer who had graduated from Dalat Military Academy. I want you to maintain that same attitude at your new unit.” That was why in your book I was mentioned as 3/7th Battalion Commander.
At Snoul, whenever your brother’s C&C helicopter entered the air space of Snoul area, enemy anti-aircraft and artillery firepower were activated in order to interdict medevac. General Hieu was forced to order radio silence and suddenly scooped down swiftly before the bunker of 8th Task Force Command Post. I was there at that moment and he gave the order to destroy all heavy weaponry. In particular my 2/8th Battalion was ordered to abandon all backpacks and to carry as many reserved ammunitions as possible with the task to clear at all costs the south side of National Route 13 for 8th Task Force; the north side was assigned to 1/8th Battalion. As narrated by Major Thuong, after the entire Battlalion charged across the L19 airstrip, foes and friends bodies intertwined on the ground, even our weapons were abandoned, lest was there any desire to pick up booties. Instruction was given before the charge: those wounded would try to drag out to the middle of the road with the Armored Cavalry Regiment, the rest of the Battalion would keep on fighting toward the south, which meant to the Vietnamese border. My Battalion had dispatched a G3 Officer to be attached with the US Air Cavalry a couple of days ago. When we crossed the airstrip, we engaged in a valley bordered on the sides by two hills. The south side was next to the airstrip and could be covered by air; but the other side was a ravine, and we could not conquer it; however, with the help of 1st Lieutenant Chi of G3 covering over the Battalion with US Air Cavalry, enemy firepower was neutralized when we approached 3/9th Battalion position. At that moment in time, I asked General Hieu to allow me to make contact with 3/9th Battalion of Son (Class 20 like me) in order to request for ammunition. General Hieu gave his approval and I merged in with 3/9th Battalion.
The next day, Colonel Dzan let 3/1st Squadron of Minh (Class 22) to take the lead in the attempt to get to the south to link with 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the Rangers, because my Battalion was relatively more in form than the other Battalions of 8th Task Force. Riding on Minh’s Command Post armored vehicle were: Minh, sitting on the seat of Task Force Commander; I, sitting on the seat of the American Advisor; Thuong (Class 17), 1/8th Battalion Commander, Hung (Class 18) 4/9th Battalion Commander, Hai (Class 21) 2/8th Executive Officer, sitting inside the armored body of the vehicle. Less than 100 meters outside the camp of 3/9th Battalion, the enemy opened fire from its ambush location north of National Route 13. Minh had place a M79 and a case of M79 bullets in front of my seat, besides I also had a short barreled M18 ready to open fire when the enemy surged out onto the road. When the enemy opened fire, I let Minh manned the communication equipment, as I continued to fire the M79; I did not have to worry about my children who were accompanying Colonel Dzan’s Armored Vehicle right behind my vehicle. My Executive Officer’s vehicle was behind Colonel Dzan’s. I witnessed everything at this ambush location, while General Hieu was covering above our heads.
I was perplexed by what nonsense General Hieu had to be put through in this battle, as Thuong had said, in order to avoid a deathly encirclement and a mobil ambush set up by a much superior amount of enemies. I was not ashamed by the fact my Battalion suffered 26 missing in action, 28 killed in action and 62 wounded that we were able to carry home.
After this battle, General Hieu submitted a request that I be promoted to Major. When a wire came back from the Corps asking for additional information, General Hieu and Colonel Dzan, the 8th Task Force Commander, had already left the unit. As I had said, I had no intention of buying grades and I left 2/8th Battalion.
An Loc Battle and the Delta Gang
Not long after, General Hung forced me to take over 2/7th Battalion, the first organic Battalion to operate north west An Loc called by General Hung to defend the south of An Loc, from the south gate to the police station, including the Regional Force camp located at the other side of the river and facing the police station of An Loc.
Throughout the 3 months defending the south side, my Battalion lost 83 killed in action and 170 wounded in action. But no enemy was able to pierce through our position, except a T54 which was knocked down right on top of the Battalion Command Post’s bunker and it crashed on to the police station’s wall. One PT76 got the same fate.
The reason I wrote all these because I know all the Battalion Commanders who participated in the battle at Snoul are still alive and Colonel Dzan is living in the east region, and also all my fellow combatants who participated in the battle at An Loc, they all knew these facts, not like those coward underlings of General Minh, who had been brought up by him. After the battle of An Loc, you all got promoted, then packed your belongings and ran in haste down to Region 4; did you find Region 3 too heavy to cope with? Why is it that everybody got promoted one rank excep Colonel Nguyen Vy?
When the battle was going on at Loc Ninh, my Battalion, located at the south side fence of An Loc Sector, shot down 7 Viet Cong, captured 5 AK54 an 2 AK66 in one night. Among them, one enemy was shot at the leg and was brought in to see General Hung; and that evening, General Hung announced the order to stay put and defend An Loc. I gave the 5 AK54 as gifts to 7th Regiment Commander, General Hung, and Colonel Vy. Therefore, 7th Regiment was present at An Loc before the enemy attacked Loc Ninh, contrary to what the media and even Phan Nhat Nam had written. Furthermore, when the enemy came close to General Hung’s bunker, he personally called me to come to his rescue and I leaded 2 Companies, the 5th and the 6th, across An Loc playground in joining with 2 Airborne Companies who made their way through the hospital to come to the rescue of General Hung. It was also during that night, the Command Post of 5th Airbone Battalion was under direct fire of T54, when our two command posts were only separated by two collapsed houses. Finally, General Hung snatched the Major insignia from the Military Physician of 5th Airborne Battalion and pinned it on me.
As I have said, I did not buy nor ask for ranks and grade. I only regret that those who understood me, loved me like General Hieu, General Vy, Colonel Quan, had left too soon. Was it because you all were too honest, and cherished too much your subordinates?
I hope you understand why I respect and love General Hieu; it was not because I have heard or read the documents pertaining to your brother, then told you I respect and love my 45. I also regret I was forced to leave the army since 1973, for health reason of 2nd category. Nobody would take me in, even the Joint General Staff, District Sectors and the Veterans Department. The reason was I was too poor, did not know anybody, and consequently had to sign my discharge paper. It is also why, when I left the country, I was not stigmatized as a deserter.
Major Tran Luong Tin