Dak To Defenders
I want to personally thank Vietnam Magazine, and my friend author Ed Murphy, for his excellent account of the 299th Combat Engineers’ defense of Dak To (December 2007). During the course of the entire war, the Dak To area of the Central Highlands was a constant hotbed of NVA activity for all the units who served there.
Traverse City, Mich.
I want to thank Ed Murphy for the article about the 8-week siege at Dak To in 1969. Through his extensive interviews and fact-gathering, he very accurately told a story that has been unknown for too many years. I am very proud of each and every man I served with at Dak To during that very, very difficult time.
Because I was the jeep driver for the “D” company commander, I knew lots more about what was happening than the average soldier. Only by God’s grace did any of us survive.
I believe that the short two page article with pictures about the mine sweep ambush near Dak To by Larry Burrows in the September 19, 1969, issue of Life magazine showed the failure of the “Vietnamization” program and verified that we should get out of Vietnam. The American soldiers did not lose the war in Vietnam.
Our “Dak To Defender” reunions in the last few years have reunited many of us and opened a way of escape and healing that can only happen by sharing similar experiences.
I don’t believe that a day has passed since returning that I have not thought about Dak To, its events and many of the “brothers.” Only recently have I dug out the many letters that I wrote to my wonderful, wonderful wife and read those 632 pages of history that were written from Dak To. She gave me the strength to go on and God gave me the grace to survive.
The author replies: I’ve heard from a number of 299th veterans and they were extremely pleased that their story has been told. Others I know who get the maga zine have also contacted me and praised the story.
On the Giving Side of Dewey Canyon
I have just read your article on Operation Dewey Canyon (August 2007). I was one of the two-man tactical air control party attached to H 2/9 and third man down from the skipper when he triggered that ambush. The feeling of being on the giving side of a truck ambush for a change was something else.
Vietnam: Not a Jimi Hendrix Experience
In the December 2007 Letters column, someone mentioned the “death cards.” Yes, we did use them in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). But the writer said that Jimi Hendrix threw some cards around on his tour in the Nam. I’m sorry, sir—Jimi Hendrix was in the 101st, yes, but he did not go to Vietnam. I love Jimi’s guitar playing, but he never left the States.
I would like to set the record straight about the Marines never drafting. It was April 1968 and I was sitting at the Oakland Induction Center in Oakland, Calif, when an Army NCO announced that the Marines were looking for six volunteers. Well, no one budged or raised their hand, so the guy picked out six volunteers. I swear this happened, and had it been me I would have refused and left. So much for Marine volunteers!
Rebuilding the Khe Sanh Airstrip
In your October 2007 issue, there was a short letter regarding Khe Sanh airstrip. I do not have exact dates, but I do have info regarding when the old French airstrip was dug up and rebuilt and when it went through much-needed renovations.
In mid- to late 1966, a detachment from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 10 (Seabees) was sent to Khe Sanh to rebuild the old French airstrip with aluminum matting. This detachment replaced the 3,300-foot airstrip of pierced steel planking with a 60-foot wide by 3,900-foot long airstrip of AM-2 aluminum planking.
In late 1967 or very early ’68, a combined detachment from Construction Battalion, Maintenance Unit 301, NMCB-10, 11 and 53 (Seabees) was sent to Khe Sanh to repair and upgrade the existing airstrip. This occurred just before Tet ’68 started and lasted through the barrage at Khe Sanh. I believe Khe Sanh Combat Base was closed shortly after Khe Sanh was relieved. That would be roughly mid-’68. What occurred from there is military history which I’m not aware of.
President, Vietnam Era Seabees, Inc.
Flying With the Enemy
The caption of the picture displayed on pages 52-53 of the December 2007 issue (“Flying with the Enemy”) gets almost everything wrong. The photograph was taken on August 9, 1989, by U.S. Air Force MSgt Richard L. John, analyst of Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) Investigation Team 1, on a hilltop southeast of Rau But Hamlet, Thuong Trach Village, Quang Binh Province. This location is 8 km north of the Ban Karai Pass. I am the person shown standing near the helicopter door. To my right is U.S. Army MSG Randall J. Nash, a search and recovery specialist of what was then the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory–Hawaii.
The “curious residents” surrounding us were members of the Pacoh and Van Kieu ethnic minorities.
Our team was investigating loss incidents in the Ban Karai Pass area. That day we found two sites, both associated with unresolved loss incidents: an F-4 site in the morning and a T-28 site in the afternoon. The T-28 site was subsequently excavated and the remains of both crewmen recovered. The F-4 site is associated with an incident in which both crewmen ejected safely but died in proximity to Vietnamese forces. Their burial sites have not yet been located.
In the interest of accuracy, one other point should be noted. Formal investigation and recovery efforts in Vietnam began in September 1988 (not 1987, as stated on page 55). U.S. military and civilian personnel had conducted one excavation in 1985 (a B-52 site in Gia Lam District, near Hanoi) and had visited the reported burial site of an A-4 pilot later that same year. But it was not until September 1988 that JCRC began the first of what subsequently became known as Joint Field Activities. Readers may be interested to know that the 90th JFA ended on December 2, 2007. The work continues, but its continued success would not be possible without the support afforded by the government and people of Vietnam, as Colonel Jordan so effectively describes in his article.
James M. Coyle, Senior Researcher
Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii
Editor’s note: The Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) was replaced in 1992 by the Joint Task Force–Full Accounting (JTF-FA), which evolved into the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in 2003. More information about JPAC can be found at www.jpac.pacom.mil.
In the “MIAs Found” article (News, December 2007), it says that Sgt. 1st Class John T Gallagher was an aircrew member shot down on January 5, 1968. I believe this really was “John Theodore Gallagher, Staff Sergeant Reconnaissance patrol member, Command & Control North, MACVSOG….Missing in action since 5 Jan 68, when aboard the second helicopter transporting patrol 20 miles inside Laos south of Lao Bao, which was struck by 37 mm antiaircraft fire at an altitude of 2,000 ft; it went into an uncontrollable spin and exploded in flames upon impact with ground; heavy ground fire prevented search attempts.” The reference is to Green Berets at War, by Shelby L. Stanton, Presidio Press, 1985, page 322. I figure Gallagher has a family somewhere, and I wanted to get it right for their sake.
Editor’s note: The promotion to sergeant first class may have been posthumous, as happens in many instances.
The article “Birds v. Cong,” which appeared in the April 2007 issue of Vietnam Magazine, was a firsthand account of events from Brig. Gen. (ret.) Stanley Cherrie’s Vietnam experience written with Mr. John Falcon.
The sidebar on Page 33 of Edward Murphy’s Dak To article (December 2007) lists David Zabecki as the author. Edward Murphy wrote the sidebar.
In our October 2007 editorial, it was reported that Sergeant Billy Walkabout’s awards included five Silver Stars, and that he spent six months in a coma after being wounded near Hue on November 20, 1968. While there is no question that Sergeant Walkabout served with honor and distinction in Vietnam, our reporting unfortunately reflected some widely circulated exaggerations. According to U.S. Army personnel records, his Distinguished Service Cross replaced a single Silver Star, and there is no record of the coma.
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.