23 March 1969
Lieutenant X And The Road South
By Cpt David R. Fabian
Lieutenant X had been extensively trained as a recon specialist in North Vietnam prior to his infiltration south. After serving four months in South Vietnam with the 20th Regiment Recon Company, as a Master Sergeant, he received a battlefield commission and became the executive officer of the 19th Recon Company, 320th Regiment, 1st NVA Battalion (Division?). He participated In the battles of Chu Do, Chu Ben, and Hill 800 In Kontum Province in 1968. In late summer his unit was moved further south toward Ban Me Thout. While on a recon mission, he was found wounded by an alert 4th Division LRP team.
"I cannot give you specific examples of how a man is disciplined when he fails to carry out an order because I can honestly say that I have never seen this happen. The discipline is very good. While there were several fights between the soldiers, they were instigated because of petty frictions. Cadre merely separated soldiers in these cases.
"I must admit that in our Army the soldiers complain frequently about their hard times. Frequently I have overheard them talk back to cadre. Yet there is not much that the cadre can do except ignore such comments because most of the men have malaria and such comments are always attributed to their state of feverishness.
"I always make it a point to observe my own men closely and issue orders only to those men I am certain can and will comply. During an operation, If there was ever any doubt In my mind as to whether or not an order would be followed, I would not order anyone else to comply. I would do It myself.
"On February 6, 1968 we departed Hoa Binh Province, traveling via Route 12 by truck to Nghe An Province. From there we moved through Ha Tinh and Quang Binh Provinces in North Vietnam into Laos. I was able to learn very little about Laos since I never had much chance to meet the people. Mainly we moved on what was classified as a military road which wound through jungles and. forests.
"Nor did I come to know the Cambodian people. In theory and practice the country is neutral. I am not aware of why we use the country. I can only compare our movement there with the movement in a chess game. The NVA has made the right move and uses Cambodia. I suppose the South Vietnamese could also exploit the Cambodian countryside if they knew how to.
"My only acquaintances with the South Vietnamese were made as I talked with South Vietnamese laborers who were controlled by NVA forces. Otherwise, during my Infiltration I never passed through villages or hamlets.
"We arrived in Kontum Province on February 28, 1968. Dismounting from trucks northwest of the tri-border area, we moved on foot the remainder of the way. To get into the Kontum area we moved through Laos and we infiltrated in into Polie Kleng by moving parallel to Route 14, staying about seven kilometers from the highway.
Ď"During the first week of March we received the general plan of attack and were issued our specific mission. The ultimate mission was to liberate Kontum City. Elements of the B3 Front were to secure Highway 14 from the northeast of Kontum and the 320th Regiment was to secure Chu Do and Polie Kleng, thus securing Highway 14 from the west. When these units were positioned, armor and additional infantry units were to move from: the Cambodian-Laotian border south to Highway 14 and attack Kontum City. Chu Do was to be an Intermediate objective of my unit and Polie Kleng the ultimate objective.
"On March 8 my unit received the order to recon Polie Kleng. For this mission eighteen of my men were selected, together with the regimental commander, two battalion commanders, and all company commanders and platoon leaders. We moved by day and rested by night, arriving on March 18 at a position which was but a two hour distance from Polie Kleng. We established an observation post and prepared defensive positions to return to during the night.
The entire recon party was organized into three groups. One group had as its mission the recon of the Polie Kleng airstrip, the second was to determine the best northern approach to Polie Kleng.
The recon was to last ten days. My group was successful in penetrating the city, where we were able to measure the distances between fences, foxholes, and other fortified positions with string. We later withdrew using the same route, and all three groups reassembled at the observation point on April 11. The main body of the regiment was then ordered to move from the assembly area near the Laotian-Cambodian border to our location in preparation for the attack. The regiment arrived on April 17, 1968.
"On the same day we received information from division level that American forces had moved into Chu Do. My unit was to accomplish a hasty recon, so we departed immediately. The regimental commander and all officers temporarily remained behind, but designated another meeting place named Chu Barat, which was two hours from Chu Do where we were to report upon completion of the recon.
Following dry and shallow creek beds, it took us approximately seven hours to get to Chu Do. Along the way we were subjected to artillery fire. Since there was only one wire fence around Chu Do, we were able to move in close to locate and plot enemy positions. Upon determining that there was one under strength battalion located there we returned to Chu Barat.
"The attack was launched on the night of April 23. During the attack all recon personnel remained at Chu Barat. Although I canít be certain, I believe three battalions attacked. Two companies were kept in reserve. The Infantry battalions were discovered prematurely while moving Into Chu Do. American artillery was fired on our forces from Polie Kleng.
"Meanwhile our own artillery support was not accurate. We were unsuccessful in the attack, and we suffered many casualties. I heard that we had 260 men killed, 50 missing, and a large number of wounded. After the attack the regiment withdrew and took three days to bury the dead. It was then that we moved from Kontum Province into the Dak Dam area of Cambodia and prepared for operations against Ban Me Thout.
NEXT WEEK: LIFE IN THE NVA