"Rat Pack 16"  10/66-3/67
Miami, FL

  Red Bar Line  

"Published in September/October 2000 edition of the VHPA Newsletter."

Nha Trang, RVN Early 1967.  

The small sapper unit beached their dugout between the two Special Forces (S.F.) compounds one moonless night just west of the Nha Trang airstrip, along the riverbank. There was about a 2-3 yard gap between the two camps’ fences which was clear of obstacles and led directly to the tarmac of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, which supported the 5th S.F. Group’s countrywide operations. The northernmost compound held the headquarters and Mike Force of the 5th. The south compound contained the equivalent South Viet S.F. camp.

At least two, or more, of the sappers prepared to provide covering fire to a lone sapper, who crossed the perimeter road, worked his way through the wire protecting our parking apron, then, ran in a crouch toward our unit’s parked ‘Hueys’.

The lone sapper carried a woven reed basket of explosives. He began placing explosive packages on the asphalt directly under each helicopter’s cockpit.

Internal night security of the 281st tie-down area consisted of two unit roving guards carrying their personal, loaded weapons. One of our sentries, during the rounds required of his post, spotted the bad guy with the explosives, took a firing position behind some barrels and began firing at the intruder.

The lone sapper, who had been placing the explosives, ran toward his sapper team once the firing began. Covering fire from the rest of the hidden sapper team joined the melee.

Initial explosions of the charges the lone sapper had set beneath the Hueys began, adding to the confusion of our barracks personnel who were grabbing weapons and rounds to join the battle.

A huge explosion, that erupted just several feet above their heads in the eave of the roof, met the junior officers, stacked up at the 2nd story doorway of their barracks as they tried to exit through the outside stairwell.

Investigation would later reveal that one of the sappers in the covering team had indeed fired a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) apparently aiming directly into the mass of junior officers streaming from their 2nd floor home. But, because of the near total darkness where he lay in waiting, the sapper with the RPG, failed to note a wooden fence post which ricocheted the round away from the officers exiting through the doorway, which is why it ended up in the eave.

Both Special Forces’compounds’ towers were guard-mounted on a 24-hour basis? Neither towers’ guards, equipped with searchlights and weapons, were effective in cutting down the sappers although there was a blood trail, found later, which indicated at least one enemy was wounded.

Explosives under the Huey’s continued going off intermittently as the sappers made their escape, reverse of the way they had arrived, between the fences of the two S.F. compounds back to their dugout.

The U.S. Air Force happened to have a “Puff the Magic Dragon” C-123 aloft over the town of Nha Trang, with loaded Gatling Guns and a cannon, which quickly got into the action through communications with Corps staff also located at Nha Trang. The staff was unable to obtain the local Vietnamese commander’s approval to allow “Puff” to fire its weapons even though “Puff” had the dugout and sapper crew in the beam of her searchlight. We never learned why the local VN commander refused to give the order to “fire”.

In reviewing the damage with Major Bill Griffin, our outgoing commander, and Al Junko and other company officers, in the aftermath, the total tally of our Huey losses was twelve. Four were complete losses, four required major repairs and four could be repaired locally. Had the sapper known to place the charges beneath the gas tanks of all the ‘choppers we would likely have had twelve totals. Fortunately, and luckily, we had no KIA or WIA’s.

The irony for Major Griffin was that it was his next-to-last day of duty before rotating. Our new incoming C.O., Al Junko, let us know of his relief that the sapper attack hadn’t happened on his watch.