Night of the Silver Stars, by William R. Phillips, with foreword by General William C. Westmoreland, U.S. Army (ret.), Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., $29.95.
The battle to overrun the Lang Vei Special Forces camp on February 6-7, 1968, marked the first use of armor-supporting North Vietnamese infantry against American fighting men. Two dozen American Special Forces personnel led several hundred indigenous Civilian Irregular Defense Group strikers in a brave but bloody effort to hold off a vastly superior enemy force that was determined to knock out the Lang Vei camp and, if possible, the Marine bastion at nearby Khe Sanh.
Night of the Silver Stars is a gripping read. Author William R. Phillips skillfully puts the reader in the midst of the confusion of an intensive battle that brought out the very best fighting abilities of the outnumbered Special Forces defenders. Attempting to knock out the Soviet PT-76 amphibious tanks with light anti-tank weapons (LAWs) was a life-or-death struggle for the defenders. Many of their shoulder-fired missiles were duds, and some of those that did fire merely glanced off the tanks without stopping them. In return, the NVA tanks delivered lethal fire from nearly point-blank range.
The battle at Lang Vei produced one Medal of Honor, bestowed posthumously on Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Eugene Ashley, Jr., for his extraordinary heroic efforts in counterattacking an overwhelming enemy force. The force ultimately killed him on his fifth attempt to relieve comrades trapped inside a command bunker that was under continuous enemy assault. Company C Special Forces Lt. Cmdr. Daniel F. Schungel, who had come to the Lang Vei compound in order to deal with the Lao battalion commander, was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross. He valiantly fought off the NVA tanks despite the many worthless LAWs, was severely wounded during the fighting, survived entrapment in the command bunker under continuous attack from NVA tanks, AK-47 fire, grenades and tear gas, and finally managed to escape to friendly lines. Of 24 Special Forces personnel at Lang Vei on February 6, 1968, 10 were killed or missing, and 13 were wounded.
Author William Phillips was a combat Marine first lieutenant in Vietnam in 1965-66. The battle for Lang Vei has special meaning for him because one of those missing Special Forces soldiers was Phillips’ first cousin, Spc. 5 Daniel R. Phillips, who was declared dead from hostile fire and whose remains have not been recovered.
Duane E. Frederic