Kontum Province 1968
It is probably strange to those who were never there - just the name,Kontum, can evoke haunting memories of the past.
I first remember the name as a young 2nd LT, a training officer at Ft Bliss,Texas, eating Thanksgiving dinner with all the other officers of the training battalion and listening to the CO talk of the battle at Dak To, and that we had learned a lesson to never charge up a hill. Little did any of us realize that there would be many more bloody battles in those hills for years to come. You who were there for the battle of Kontum City(referred to as Kansas City over the radio by us in 1968) in 1972 can assuredly attest to that.
Though an armor officer, I was assigned the slot as Order of Battle Officer for Kontum Province just as the siege at Khe Sanh was being lifted to the north in I Corps. The AO had been relatively quiet since the battle for Hill 875 that prior November. After the siege was lifted, we began seeing several NVA divisions moving south from Khe Sanh and staging in Base Area 609, the area across the fence, west of the SF camp at Ben Het. Our SOG friends and radio intercepts confirmed three new NVA divisions infiltrating across the border.
We then unleashed the heaviest use of Arc Light missions, greater than those at Khe Sanh, of the war, and opconned the 173rd Airborne and a brigade from the 101st to aid in the fighting. Though the NVA attempted to overrun several FSB's, notably Mile High, Virgin,Baldy, and FSB 29, and though they succeeded in breaking through the wire and occupying several bunkers at FSB 26, we were able to push them back across the border. At the same time, we discovered a road being built through the Plei Trap Valley. Although we employed almost all known types of ordinance and latest sensing equipment, the road somehow continued to expand in length. To this day I am amazed at how they did it and must tip my hat to their bravery and tenacity. I have, on one occasion a number of years ago, even had an opportunity to discuss the road with Gen Westmoreland, who himself was bewildered at the enemy's ability to accomplish this.
With the arrival of the monsoons in early summer, the AO quieted until a company of the 3rd/12th, 4th ID, was almost destroyed by elements of the 40th NVA Arty near FSB29, southeast of Ben Het, on 14 August.
There continued to be minor contacts through the fall, and then in January, 1969, tank tracks were spotted along the infamous Plei Trap Valley road. I sent a LRRP team in with cameras to confirm or deny the existence of tracked vehicles, and I shall always remember my debrief of the team. Asking the team for an after action report, a private so young that he had just a little soft stubble for whiskers, responded that in fact they had seen the tracks, and that as they began to take pictures,the LRRPS heard a number of dinks approaching, and quickly jumped into some elephant grass near the road. I jokingly stated that he should have taken their picture. With the eyes of a man much older, he quipped, "They would have heard the shutter click". Six weeks later, just after my DEROS date, the Ben Het SF Camp, supported by the 1st Bn, 69th Armor, attached to the 4th ID, was attacked by Russian made PT 76 tanks and BTR 50 fighting vehicles, the first tank to tank battle of the war. Several of the tanks were destroyed by the M48's, and the enemy retreated across the border. I read of this action on my return to the world, just as I did of your action in 1972 with the ARVN, successfully denying the NVA access through the Highlands and therefore their ability to cut the country in half.
There is something mystical about that area, those mountains. We, who were there, will never forget.
Edwin Hines <email@example.com>
Atlanta, GA Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 09:56:38 (PST)