Sunday, May 5, 1972

Kontum: They Say Get Out

by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH
S&S Staff Correspondent

KONTUM, Vietnam
--"I'm not going to tell you again, young man, I want you out of here," said the American colonel. It was the third time I had been told to leave Kontum City.

"Get your gear and get on that chopper," he said.

But by the time I shuffled to the chopper pad with flak jacket, helmet, camera and suitcase, Monday's last chopper had lifted off. Time bought. Two more days in Kontum to drink in the sights and sounds. Maybe for the last time.

Kontum is a city in crisis. Refugees streamed through the MACV Team 41 compound and were evacuated on choppers to Pleiku in almost continuous sorties for the last week.

In the compound Montagnard special forces troops played volleyball and listened to American cassette tapes and radios between guard shifts on the perimeter. Their American advisors, most of them former Green Berets, drank pineapple juice and vodka, ate C-rations and joked about old times.

Along the road civilian trucks passed crammed with refugees making a desperate attempt to flee the city. The same trucks would return later in the day, their grim faced drivers moaning about "Beaucoup VC….No can do Pleiku."

A mile up the road is the chopper pad from which B Troop, 7th Sq., 17th Cav., flies its daily missions.

Cobra gunships belly in with a whoosh, are quickly rearmed and refueled and leap off again.

Some Americans relaxed on the skids of their Hueys drinking cold water from Coke cans and listening to transmissions from the field.

In the shade of one chopper, some ARVN infantrymen played cards for stakes of 100 piasters and sucked water from their canteens and chewed on fruit.

Inside the city the black market hootches were deserted. No trinkets for sale in Kontum City. Some cafes stayed open, but business was slow. Very slow.

An American advisor wheeled a truck into town to evacuate the family of a Montagnard soldier. The whole village wanted to go. Many already had their meager possessions packed.

"No," the sergeant explained, "only the immediate family of the soldier can be evacuated."

Some small, crying boys were helped down from the truck.

"Tell them I'd like to take them all out," the American told his interpreters. "But I can't. Tell them! Oh Jesus, I wish I could take them all out! Come on, let's get out of here! I feel sick."

Sleep Monday and Tuesday at Kontum was interrupted by the rumble of B52 strikes around the city, the thunder of artillery and the pop-whistle of illuminations. There were no contacts…. No enemy in the wire.

"This is the calm before the storm. You'd better believe the enemy is coming in strength," a U.S. advisor warned. "You'd better get the hell out of here."

On Wednesday afternoon I swam in a pool at Pleiku. Kontum City seemed a million miles away.

"Kontum: They Say Get Out", by Spec. 4 JIM SMITH S&S Staff Correspondent, KONTUM, Vietnam, published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Sunday, May 5, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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