DUC PHO — Drafted at 13 and sent to South Vietnam at 14, a young
private’s career In the North Vietnamese Army came to a sudden and lucky
end recently when he surrendered to Company C, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry
in the hamlet of Chi Trung.
The tiny infiltrator was in a little, bare hut near the hamlet dressed
in black pajamas when Staff Sergeant Meredic Dube’s squad from the 2nd
platoon moved in and surrounded the structure. He came out of the door,
hands up, and yelled; "Chieu Hoi"
Staff Sergeant Dang, the battalion’s Vietnamese interpreter, asked
the youth a few preliminary questions for Captain John H Cavender, company
commander, and suddenly shook his head and looked puzzled.
"He is North Vietnamese. He speaks with their accent," SSG
Tells His Story
His story then came quickly and willingly.
lie was drafted at 13 years of age in June 1966. He took three months
of infantry training at the North Vietnamese training center at Hoa Binh —
with 100 other 13-year olds in his training unit.
"He said they were drafting youths his age a year ago and still
are," related SSG Pang.
The North Vietnamese boy was put into an infiltration unit and sent on
the long, arduous walk toward battle in the south, carrying only a rifle. He
said he was the only 14-year old in his unit but villagers in the area—being
won over by the "Cacti Green" battalion’s pacification programs
have reported many "very young" soldiers showing up in NVA units
which had been in the area.
On May 19 his battalion was walking toward a rendezvous with death at
the foot of a tunnel-laced mountain two kilometers south of chi Trung.
Eight-one of his comrades died when the "Cacti Green" caught the
NVA unit and mauled it in a 30-hour battle.
Sick With Malaria
The boy was lucky, he didn’t go to that fight. Sick with malaria, he
was left without his weapon, to the mercy of local Viet Cong. He as told
that when he was well, he would be picked up by his unit. They never came.
Villagers fed him and cared for him "… because I was just
14," the boy related. "They did not worry about me, they felt
sorry for me and said I was too young for fighting anyway." he added.
However, after recovering, the local Viet Cong made him pay for his
keep by working at planting rice. The thin, half-starved boy a showed hands
with the palms cut and festered from this work. He said that his clothing
was taken and that he had gotten a new set of pajamas to replace the ragged
He had to walk for two hours in another village and buy them with the
few plasters he had been paid.
Unit Didn’t Return
As the weeks went by his battalion failed to return. The U.S. troops
had harried it out of the area with a pursuit, which hit it hard again after
the fight on the mountain.
Patrols of the Ivy Division soldiers and aggressive sweeps in the
region kept it cut and pressured the local VC day and night so that the boy
could not rejoin his unit.
He was frightened when the big Americans approached the village, but
tired of a meager subsistence, he willingly rallied.
The boy was quite scared on his first helicopter ride to the 3rd
Brigade command post at LZ Montezuma for further questioning.
Makes A Friend
He got out tagging behind 1LT Jeffery C. Chandler, company C’s
executive officer, who towered more than two feet over the 85-pound boy
soldier. Shrinking from the blast of the Huey’s rotors as they walked
toward the headquarters, the boy reached up and took the big lieutenant’s
hand. He had found a new friend.
Trying American chow, he ate up a storm, He tested ice cream and cold
sodas. Volunteering to go back to Company C and show them trails used by the
VC, he was given a pair of Jungle boots — far too large, but worn proudly
— and clean clothes.
Attending a MEDCAP in he area where he rallied, he made a visible
impression on the villagers who looked at the face of this new version of
"the enemy" and puzzled over the men in the north who had sent a
boy like this to fight.
Company C hopes he can go through the Kit Carson scout training
program and come back to them as an adopted son. He had already decided that
the American Army treated him better than the Communists by his second day
with the Ivymen.