My name is Jack Heslin. I spent two tours in Vietnam, 1967-68 and 1971-72, both of which were in the Central Highlands operating out of Camp Holloway in Pleiku. My experience as a helicopter pilot and operations officer during the Easter Offensive of 1972 in Kontum Province provided me with first-hand experience and many insights relating to the military operations of that period. While a student at the Naval War College in 1978, I used the battle of Kontum to illustrate the effective use of combat power and the strategic decisions and perceptions that affect military operations in the field. Almost all of the material used on this web site was gathered as a participant observer during the Battle of Kontum in the spring of 1972. My intent is to provide, as an Army aviator, a first hand account of an historical event that has been reported in many other places.
This site is dedicated to the Americans, especially the aviation crews, who fought in the Battle of Kontum. The role the aviation units played in this battle was decisive. The firepower of the helicopter gunships and the Air Force bombers was an essential element in the successful outcome of the battle. The availability and power of the guns was a direct result of the enormous efforts of maintenance crews who worked incredible hours under extremely adverse conditions. Those of us who flew the machines and depended on them should never forget what these dedicated soldiers gave us.
Although there were many heroes in this battle, one man stands out. John Paul Vann was an extraordinary man of uncommon courage who died a soldier's death fighting for a cause which he believed in. One cannot overstate the essential role he played in the successful outcome of this battle.
In war, as in life, one's perception is their reality. This holds true for both the individual and their society. If you ask most Americans today what was the biggest battle fought during the Vietnam War, most would reply that the Tet Offensive of 1968 was the major battle of the war. If you asked them who won that battle, most would say America lost the battle just as they would say we lost the war. This perception does not accurately reflect the battlefield results but does match the perception created at the time by the media reporting the event and the political leaders who were in a position to evaluate the event. This perception, held by most Americans at that time, supported the objectives of the Army of North Vietnam and eroded the moral support for the U.S. Army in the field.
By 1972, the largest battles fought in Vietnam were not well known, or understood, by the majority of the American population. Perhaps people just wanted the war to be over, or the negative emotions associated with our involvement in the war blocked us from hearing about the battles. Maybe, since almost all the U.S. ground troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam, our interest, and that of the media, had waned to the point of indifference. Among the most important lessons learned in the Vietnam War however, one must include the events of 1972. These events must be studied, and remembered, if we are to gain anything from that experience -- an experience many paid for.
For the first time in the Vietnam War, both U. S. and South Vietnamese forces depended completely on each other for victory as neither of the allies could win alone. The U. S. forces could support the Vietnamese; however, the responsibility for the ground combat rested squarely on the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Although there were very few U.S. ground combat troops directly involved, there were a number of Americans acting as advisors and flying U.S. aircraft in support of the South Vietnamese effort. The presence of U.S. advisors on the ground and the role of large scale U.S. air support were the key factors in the success of the defensive operations conducted by the South Vietnamese Army in the spring of 1972. In fact, in the spring of 1975, it was precisely the lack of this magnitude of U. S. support on the ground and in the air that, in my judgment, was the single major cause of the battlefield defeat inflicted on the South Vietnamese Army by the NVA.
I am presenting the "story" of the Battle of Kontum as accurately as memory and notes allow. I am solely responsible for sins of omission or commission, and I am truly sorry if anything I report here offends, or in any way hurts, another person. There have been some insightful documents, articles, books, and web sites produced which add to the knowledge of the events I am presenting. I have provided a "Sources and References Section" for interested readers. The map overlays are mine and, although I am not an artist, I have tried to make them as accurate and concise as possible. Most of the pictures and all of the maps are from my own collection gathered both during the battle and in December of 1972, just before I left Pleiku, as units were clearing out and disposing of a significant amount of material. Since this site was launched in March 2002, many people, both American and Vietnamese, have added their words and pictures to the "story." I am enormously appreciative for these contributions. My hope from the beginning was that this would become a "living" history and that all who were able to add to the "story" would do so.
There are specific acknowledgments of people who contributed to this effort whether they are aware of it or not. To that end, I have created an "Acknowledgment Section" for those who are interested. The web designer and I have tried to organize the material for both the curious and the more serious researcher. Some of the graphics files, such as the maps, are large. If you are concerned with your available bandwidth, you may want to pass on these files. We view this project as a work in progress and hope that it provides some of the missing pieces of a story not completely told. Thank you for your patience and understanding and, most of all, your interest in the "story."
"It is better that they do a thing imperfectly than for you to do it perfectly: for it is their country, their war, and your time is limited." - Lawrence of Arabia, 1919