Loc Ninh November 1967
Death Among the Rubber Trees -- Printout -- TIME
Back to Article Click to Print Friday, Nov. 10, 1967
Death Among the Rubber Trees
The district town of Loc Ninh, some 70 miles north of Saigon, was a company town and, until last week, a tranquil and prosperous one. Most of its 10,000 inhabitants worked for a giant French rubber plantation, the Societe desCaoutchoucs d'Extreme-Orient, whose trees marched away row upon row, mile after mile, across the low hills toward the Cambodian border.
Overlooking the town stood the red-roofed villas of the French plantation managers. Tropical flowers climbed their villa walls from green lawns, and their country club boasted a large swimming pool and a red-clay tennis court óthe remnants of a prewar colonial past. The wartime present in Loc Ninh was embodied in four understrength Vietnamese irregular force companies and an American Special Forces unit, both of which were assigned to guard the town's airstrip and the district sub-sector headquarters, a rambling set of old French buildings and bunkers ringed by concertina wire and crowned by an improbable, rickety observation tower. Down the airstrip from the headquarters (see map) was an only slightly more substantial, diamond-shaped Special Forces camp, its walls made of logs and earthworks like something out of the old American West. To the Viet Cong's main-force 272nd and 273rd Regiments, assigned the task of spoiling South Viet Nam's inaugural week with a major victory, Loc Ninh must have seemed an ideal target: a district headquarters defended by underforce irregulars and a handful of Americans, close both to the Viet Cong's source of supplies and to the sanctuary of the Cambodian border only nine miles away. They were wrong: in a week of fighting, the Viet Cong suffered their biggest defeat since the twelve-day battle around Khe Sanh last May, when they lost 1,200 men. The Viet Cong struck just after midnight one night last week, pouring a rain of rocket and mortar rounds on the Special Forces camp and on the sub-sector compound. Part of their 273rd Regiment roared into the undefended town itself,took it over and used its dispensary to treat Viet Cong wounded. At the same time, other elements of the 273rd attacked the subsector compound from the north and west, filtering through the gloom of the rubber trees and throwing themselves against the guns of the 105 men inside. Despite bombing and strafing by U.S. jets and helicopters zooming in to aid the defenders, the headquarters soon appeared doomed. Punching through the wire, the Viet Cong raced from building to building, setting each afire. They silenced the bunkers one by one, dropping grenades through their slits. Soon only the command bunker and one other were still firing back, and in the command bunker CaptainTran Minh Cong and his twelve men were running out of ammunition. So CaptainCong radioed for Vietnamese army artillery to zero right in on his bunker. The artillerymen were reluctant to do so at first, but Cong, as he explained later, was unworried: "This is the best bunker in Viet Nam, even if you hit it with a B-52." Thereafter, every time the Viet Cong swarmed over the bunker, fused shells set to go off in the air blasted them. By dawn, a South Vietnamese relief company, helilifted to the rescue from Phu Loi, 60 miles away, was able to launch a counterattack out of the Special Forces camp. They drove the Viet Cong back into the rubber trees, forcing them to leave behind more than 100 of their dead.
Bleeding White Sap.
Meanwhile, the U.S. 1st Division's reaction force was moving in reinforcements. The first to arrive were two helilifted batteries of 105-mm howitzers and two rifle companies, the vanguard of two battalions. A third battalion later followed and began sweeping the rubber groves east of Loc Ninh. It proved an eerie enterprise. Moving down the corridors between the evenly spaced, parallel rows of trees, the troops were frequently brought up short by jungle birds whose screeches mimicked the whine of bullets. The almost purple earth underfoot teemed with a fierce breed of red ant whose bite meant torment. But the battalion soon did some tormenting of its own. Running into a company of Viet Cong, it killed 83 in a four-hour firefight that left the bullet-punctured rubber trees bleeding white sap. Despite their heavy losses, the Viet Cong tried again next day, this time attempting a two-pronged attack from the east across the airstrip runway. It was a disastrous tactic; a howitzer at the south end of the field was in a position to fire right down the runwayó"like shooting down a bowling alley," as one of the gunners put it. As the Viet Cong, 30 and 40 at a time, tried to sprint across the strip, the big howitzer shells exploded in their midst. The gunners fired off 575 rounds during the battle, blistering the paint on the lone gun's barrel. Helicopter gunships laced the Viet Cong from above with their mini-guns, and Air Force jets made one screaming run after another, dropping anti-personnel bombs. The few Viet Cong who survived the lethal gauntlet to reach the strip'swest side were caught in a murderous crossfire between the Special Forces camp and the subsector compound. Again, more than 100 Viet Cong died.
Douse That Light!
Next day was the only quiet one in Loc Ninh's bloody week. The Vietnamese irregulars dug huge pits for the Viet Cong dead, washed their clothes in the French Club's swimming pool and helped themselves to the wine cellar.Because the Viet Cong had returned each night to occupy the town itself for a few hours, the villagers were evacuating it by the thousands. To try to build up their morale, the 1st Division sent in medics and armored personnel carriers, and the division band went oompahing through the streets in full battle dress, brass horns gleaming in the sun. The effort was unsuccessful. Understandably frightened by the ferocity of the battle, the villagers continued to stream southward, their possessions on their backs. By week's end Loc Ninh was virtually a ghost town. To the surprise of U.S. commanders, the Viet Cong stayed around despite their losses. Next night the fighting resumed, in perhaps as weird a contact as either side has made in the war. About 8 p.m. a group of men walked through a U.S. company's command post, one of them with a flashlight in his hand. "Douse that light," snarled a U.S. sergeant major, at the same time noticing that the offender was wearing black pajamas and carrying a Chinese AK-47 gun. But the group kept right on walking, and it was several startled seconds before everybody started firing. Four of the Viet Cong were captured, one by a young lieutenant who hit him with a football body block and a right to the jaw. Later that same night, the Viet Cong massed among the trees for another attack across the runway but were driven off by U.S. jets. Still another large force of Viet Cong tried to overrun a U.S. battalion positioned west of Loc Ninh; they were forced back in bloody combat, suffering 200 dead.
By the fifth day of the battle for Loc Ninh, the enemy had lost more than 900 men in their frantic, futile efforts to seize it. Allied losses were fewer than 50 dead.
Tropic Lightning News
212TH INF KILLS 94
Tropic Lightning News
Wanted To Bust Him, But Heís In Wrong Army
DAU TIENG - When an Army sergeant major sees any of his troops in the field violating noise or light discipline he usually lets them know it - and fast. This is exactly what SGM Yukio Suenishi of the 2nd Bn, 12th Inf "White Warriors," did recently - but the man with the flashlight wasnít a member of his battalion. The 3rd Bde, 25th Div, battalion had set up their command post for the night in a small clearing northeast of Loc Ninh. At about 9:30 p.m., Suenishi saw a group of men heading toward him through the rubber trees. The lead man was carrying a flashlight. "When they got to my position, I grabbed the lead man by the shoulder and asked him what they were doing with the light on, and walking in the dark," related the Hawaiian veteran. "He just shrugged my shirt grabbing tactics and the eight men quickly moved on."
When the wandering group reached Delta Coís position, a few feet from Suenishi, they were recognized as Viet Cong and the lead man was tackled by 2Lt John R. Oosterhuis of Ogilvie, Minn. The aggressive young officer wrenched the AK-47 assault rifle from the Viet Congís hands, as the other Charlies scattered within the battalionís defensive perimeter. One by one, the White Warriors hunted down the remaining VC in the dark, until two hours later, four Viet Cong were killed and four suspects were detained. There were no US casualties.
These memories will be updated as more are received. They are presented without editing.
Dewight Oilar 1st Plt Co D
My memories of Loc Ninh are not very detailed. I have some pictures that I took there. I will bring them to the reunion. Most of them are taken the day after. One of them shows Larry, Jones and Thompson finishing up a foxhole the next morning.I show the hole was less than waist deep with no overhead cover.
If I remember correctly we didn't get there until late in
the afternoon. That is one of the reasons our fighting positions were not as
well prepared as they should have been.
It was late in the evening, almost dark. There was some
adjustment made to the lines. Whoever was the right of our company had been
given an LP position. It was decided that they were needed on the line, so it
came down that our platoon had to man that LP. Myself and 2 or 3 others were
selected for that duty. I seems like they pull one man out of each of a fighting
position for that detail. I don't remember who the others were. I think Joe
Bastidas may have been one of them.
As I remember it, was in the edge of a rubber plantation,
there was a mild upslope to the west. In between every other or every third row
of trees there was a 3 or 4 foot high burm following the contour of the hill. The
LP we relieved had dug a shallow fox hole, less than a foot deep of the east
slope of the burm, facing our lines. The hole was not wide enough for all
of us to lay next to each other.
It seems like it was an hour or two after we got into
position, we started hearing noises. We had a Starlight scope with us, but under
the canopy of the rubber trees it wasn't effective and we couldn't see anything.
We called it in and were told to stay in position. After a short time the noises
became more distinct and we were hearing the clinking metal hitting metal. We
called in again to report and request to come back into our lines. Were told to
stay in position. We had just signed off when the unmistakable sound of mortars
firing in the distant. A few second later they were impacting our LZ. We got
into the shallow foxhole there. As I said earlier it wasn't big enough for all
of us. I ended up laying on top of some one, mostly exposed. The mortar barrage
ended, we called on the radio that LP1 was coming in, before we received a reply
all Hell broke loose.
Machineguns, Ak's and RPGs spitting out their green and
white tracers. Heard our Claymores being detonated. Our men firing back, their
red tracers streaming outward, to our left, to our right, over our heads.I think
that was the heaviest volume of fire I experienced during my tour didn't
know who was going to kill us, the VC or our own comrades, but I was sure we
were going to die that night. The opening fights of Tet and the April 17th
ambush, or our Mad Minutes couldn't match the intensity of fire.
I don't know about the others, but I couldn't will myself to
stop shaking with fear. I had pulled my rifle in close to my body. I got the
grenade out of my leg pocket, held it with my right hand with my left index
finger through the pin ring. After a period of time we started receiving some
fire support from artillery. Every time a salvo hit there would be a slight
pause in the firing from the VC. It seemed to be too far away,( a couple hundred
yards) I wanted it closer! We could call back to have it brought in closer
as there were VC right on the other side of the burm from us. They would have
surely heard us. I hated it when the flares started going off. It seemed like
they were spot lights shining right down on us.
At one point there was a VC standing on top of the burm
within three feet of us. I got the impression that he was a leader, because I
didn't see a weapon. My shaking stopped then, I was stiff with fear. I
don't know how he didn't see us. It seemed like he was there for an hour,
though in reality it was probably only three or four seconds.
Some time during the fight I saw one of our
machine gunners, I believe it was Barry Work dueling with one of their
machine gunners. The VC gunner was set up next to a rubber tree. I'd see a
burst of green tracers from his gun, then it would be answered by a burst of red
tracer from Barry's gun. Barry's fire was a couple of feet too high. They went
back and forth several times. Finally Barry lowered his fire and killed two of
them on that gun.
I remember jets coming in, hearing their 20mm's firing that
distinctive double roar. I heard them dropping bombs. I thought they were way
off target. Later found out they had spotted a concentration of VC at a
rallying/assembly point and really plastered them. Finally Puff the Magic
Dragon showed up and let go with his red fire hose of death.
As best as I can remember it wasn't too long after that the
fighting stopped. After it was quiet for a couple of minutes our RTO called in
that LP1 was coming in. We all jumped up running to the line shouting "LP ONE
COMING IN!! LP ONE COMING IN!!" I don't know how much longer after we
got back in they launched a second assault. It didn't last very long and didn't
seem as intense. I believe I was able to shoot to VC during that assault as I
knew where to look for them.
The next morning we did a sweep of the area. I know there
were several spots where we found "graves", dug them up and they
would be full of arms and legs. Not too far from where our LP was I found a
trench knife whose handle was repaired with trip wire. I still have it. I know
by the end of the day we had overhead cover on all of our foxholes. They still
weren't that deep. I recall every ones fatigues being stained red from the dirt
I don't recall us making any other contact after that night.
I know on one of our patrols we got into leeches and had to stop to pick them
off of each other. I also remember being attacked by the bees. Jones and Miles
were our flankers. I looked out and saw them dancing and thought "what a
couple of crazy MFers". About that time I got stung along with everyone
else. We all took off running. Finally some one got smart and started yelling to
"Pop Smoke"! Some dropped their machinegun and refused to go
back to get it. Several people had to be MedEvaced out. The FO's eyes were
swollen shut and he couldn't even see.
The very last part of the excitement of Loc Ninh was when we
came back to Dau Teing in the C130 on the first attempt to land the pilot had to
abort the landing. He gave it full power and made a steep climb. The G
forces made my helmet seems it weighed 40 pounds. When we did land the pilot
gave it full reverse throttle as soon as he touched down and we still use every
bit of the runway.
That is pretty much everything I remember of Loc Ninh. One
afternote, I remember Hanoi Hannah (not Jane Fonda) claiming that we were later
were wiped out as revenge for the unit that attacked us that night. I don't know
it the Big Red One's division commander thank us for our actions or if that was
just an article in the Tropic Lightening?
Please let me know of any false memories, additional
information, your Loc Ninh memories, etc.
Larry Bland 1st Plt Co D
I was there along with Jim, Kenneth,
the twins, Hardeman, Oilar, Miles, Jones,Thompson and others. I think Ron was
our Platoon leader. I was one of the guys sent out front to get the ammo
that was dropped out side of the perimeter. Jim Hardeman was another one, they
kept popping flares so we could see the cases, but it sure recked our night
vision. I think Dewight was one of the LP's out front in the rubber trees that
ended up stuck out there for awhile. My fox hole was about two or three to right
of 4th Platoon where the mortars hit. I think I was in it with Kenneth,
Hardeman and someone else, can't remember who, maybe Dewight? He got picked for
LP. I know it was not very deep because of the hard ground and we ran into
I think they found one of the gooks
laying beside a tree trunk about 10 yards behind our position, that had
been knocked down to create the LZ.
When the jets came in they told us to get
in our holes and keep our heads down. It was a good thing since a couple of
pieces of shrapnel hit right next to our hole. I carried one around for
awhile, but lost it.
I know Terry and Jerry threw Miles and
Jones out of the fox hole they had cause they would not help dig it, since the
ground was so hard. They tried to say it was because they were prejudice, but
Jerry said if you don't dig you don't get in. They were digging their own pretty
quickly, while the fighting was going on.
Funny the things you remember sometimes.
Ron Hendricks 1st Plt Co D
Ron Hendricks 1st Plt Co D
I only remembered being in a big fight in the woods with a lot of action until I talked with Dick Newport just prior to the reunion in 2007. He reminded me that we were in a part of the Loc Ninh battle. Here is what I remember about the battle at Loc Ninh. We were on routine S&D near Dau Tieng on 2 Nov when we were brought back to Dau Tieng. We were picked up by C130s and flown into a small airstrip that I now remember to be Loc Ninh. It was now fairly late in the afternoon. We were picked up by helicopter (unit unknown) and lifted into a cold LZ. The 2/12th was now OPCON to 3d BDE 1st ID. The LZ was so small only three helicopters could land at a time. As I remember we, the first platoon, were either the first or second lift going in. By the time the battalion was totally inserted it was close to dark. The LZ was the North sector of the perimeter. First platoon D Company was assigned the clearing, 4th platoon under LT Tuggle was to the right and was in wooded area next to the rubber. To the right of 4th platoon was, I believe, 2d platoon under LT Oosterhuis (double O). I donít remember where 3d platoon was located. The company CP was to the right rear of 1st platoon. We tied into A Company on the left in the woods. We started digging in and found that it was like trying to dig thru concrete. With me were PSG Holland, Jim Hekker, a medic, I think Ed Gray, and another RTO whos name I donít recall (appears to have been Joe Bastidas). We were attempting to dig a hole large enough for all of us but because the ground was so hard I told every one to wait until daylight to finish digging in. BIG, BIG mistake on my part. We had a hole about 5 feet by 2 feet by about 1 foot deep. Just to the rear of our hole was a lopped off clump of bamboo about 2-3 feet tall. WE were fanned out around the stump. I remember a lot of shouting and scuffling in the 4th platoon area. A few Dinks had walked into the 4thís position. Lt Tuggle had one pinned down with the huge knife he carried. More noise and scuffle from the area to right of 4th platoon. Lt OO was digging in his hole and a dink came up and squatted at the edge watching him. OO took him out with an entrenching tool. Things quieted down and we settled in for the night. I had just dozed off, must have been around midnight when all hell broke loose. Mortar rounds were landing everywhere. I woke up in the bottom of our tiny hole with four guys on top of me. I didnít sleep again for over 72 hours. Not that I didnít have the opportunity, just couldnít sleep. We were under attack, later determined to be an VC regiment. The majority of the fighting took place to the right of 1st platoon in the rubber. We began to get supporting fire from gunships, artillery, and air force. Between the flares and tracers it was so light you could have read a newspaper. I remember a pair of jets working the right side (East?) of the perimeter. One would roll in then the other closely behind. Big green tracers would fly up toward the jets, just behind them. Finally they caught on and the first one came in but the second hung back. As the first one came in the green tracers went up again. The second jet then attacked the site where the tracers were coming from with CBUs. No more tracers. I donít remember how long we were in contact. It seems like it was getting light when the fight subsided. We (1st platoon) didnít have any frontal attack by the NVA that night. I do recall our machine guns engaging an enemy MG firing to our front. Shortly after dawn we were attacked again. The NVA were herding civilians in front of them for protection. It didnít work but unfortunately some civilians were casualties. We went out on a sweep later and found a lot of evidence that a lot of bodies had been drug away. We also found where the jet had dropped the CBUs. Everything was totally shredded, but amazingly there were some live chickens wandering around. A footnote, by the time the sun came up our hole was big enough that all 5 of us could stand up in it at the same time. We got mortared again the next morning, one landing directly in front of our hole. Jim Hekker and I both took shrapnel to the face and chest. Thatís when I quit wearing glasses as a piece of shrapnel hit me square between the eyes and snapped my glasses in two. After the battle, I think it was on the 5th or 6th of Nov MG Hay, the 1ID CG flew in and brought a footlocker of ice cream for the battalion. I believe we operated out of that position for nearly a week and got mortared a couple of times.
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