Sunday, April 30, 1972

Many Will Flee, Others Vow to Fight

Red Tanks, Troops Near Kontum

by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH
S&S Staff Correspondent

KONTUM, Vietnam
--This city is in danger of extinction. North Vietnamese tanks and troops are drawing closer from the north and south. Many of the city's 30,000 residents are packing to leave. Others will stand and fight.

John Paul Vann, the senior American adviser in II Military Region says allied forces have no intention of turning Kontum over to the enemy.

"I've been making predictions on the war for 10 years," says Vann, "and I haven't been wrong yet. One of the biggest battles of the war is shaping up. And we have no intention of giving Kontum up. The plan is to fight and hold Kontum.

Government forces were overwhelmed earlier this week at Tan Canh and Dak To, and those recently evacuated from "Rocket Ridge" northwest of Kontum, are quickly being regrouped and redeployed closer to the city to check the Communist push.

A fire base five miles north of Kontum is being manned by ARVN troops recently evacuated from fire base Delta when three Soviet-made tanks appeared on a nearby hill. The men did not have anti-tank weapons then. They do now.

"And they know how to use them," says a U.S. adviser. "There's no way we're going to let these guys drive tanks to Kontum. Our men are anxious to get a shot at those Red tanks. Some of them have knocked out tanks up north and they say they can do it down here too."

Inside the city, Col. Le Tung Ba, commander of the 23rd ARVN Div., has his headquarters. "He's the most able field commander we have in II Corps," Vann said. "I believe Kontum will be held because friendly forces and civilians in the city are willing to pay the price to do it."

Vann said he believed that 75 per cent of the 22nd Div., forces that were scattered near Tan Canh Monday, would be recovered and redeployed. "The loss of Tan Canh and Dak To was anticipated," Vann said. "But he will not take Kontum."

Meanwhile, in the city itself, there is tension in the air. Many are preparing to flee as soon as the highway to Pleiku is opened. Others say they will stay and fight.

Crowds of refugees from Tan Canh and Dak To gather in tent cities in schoolyards. Montagnard tribesmen, primitive beyond belief, stagger down the streets, supporting themselves with staffs and carrying a few items of clothing in wicker baskets.

"What will you do if the Communists attack Kontum," a Montagnard was asked.

"I don't know," the bearded old man said. "I guess I will die. I can't walk any further."

"Red Tanks, Troops Near Kontum", by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH S&S Staff Correspondent, KONTUM, Vietnam, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Sunday, April 30, 1972 and reprinted with permission from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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