Sept 16, 1965
1st Cavalry Camped
in Old French Fort
By CHARLES BLACK
-- The advance party of the 1st Cava1ry Division for the past ten
has been residing on a tree-bare hill
overlooking the runway on one side and the village of Ankhe on the
campsite is named “French Fort Hill” and is a
historic memento of the last time foreign troops turned Ankhe into a
base for operations against guerrillas.
crown of the hill has a three-sided area enclosed by an old dirt wall.
is pierced by old log and dirt bunkers. One of them sti1l has the roof
Most of the others have caved in but the firing slits still command the
around the hill. Links from machine gun belts still lie deep in front
firing slits. The soldiers digging in for their own bunkers and
up fragments of mortar and artillery shells and ammunition clips are
over the area.
the runway, where C123s, Caribous, C130s and helicopters are busy all
large area is taped off and engineers run a remote-controlled bulldozer
and forth there. Severa1 times a day the thud of an exploding mine
the bulldozer disappears in a cloud of dust, then emerges and continues
minefield, put down by the French forces more than a decade ago, was
by accident when an American engineer was injured. The old fort in the
of the tents and shelters of the 1st Cavalry Division’s
party camp was maintained by Montagnard soldiers of the French Colonial
and was a key point in a defense of Ankhe which turned into a debacle.
Kai, the Vietnamese merchant, contractor and
general supply agent in Ankhe, told me about much of the history of the
He supplied the French combat team, Group Mobile 100, which was hit by
separate ambushes between here, Kon Tum, Pleiku and Ban Me Thuot.
happened just after Dien Bien Pheu and had an
enormous impact on events in South Viet Nam. I don’t think the Viet
have been so strong in the Central Highlands if it had not been for the
defeat,” Mr. Kai said.
Vietnamese merchant has lived here about 18 years, except for a period
French Mobile Group 100 left Ankhe for its ill-fated retreat and he
Pleiku by the last civilian aircraft to leave Ankhe until two years
over the Man
Yang pass toward Pleiku, they were running into the first ambush. We
the fire and smoke of battle. They 1ost 96 vehicles along Highway 19
group was disbanded at Ban Me Thout as being not fit for further
the last ambush was over," Mr. Kai said.
Kai is the man you see here for wash basins, reed matting, soft
drinks, ice, plumbing equipment, etc. He speaks Chinese,
Vietnamese, Cambodian, French and he and his son Tommy speak English so
is hard to remember that they are not Americans.
the street from Mr. Kai’s office - store -
warehouse in the two-block long “business center” of Ankhe, a tiny
room opens on to the sidewalk. There are -rough benches and tables so
that to get to the back of the room you have to walk on a bench.
day little Vietnamese children crowd in here
and chant lessons and sing songs. Rest-room facilities are through a
the back of the mud wall in an alley. The school is an elementary one
gives kindergarten and first grade classes. It is private, the teacher
about 150 piastres ($1.25 or so) a month for each of his pupils.
children, some wearing only shirts, others in black pajama outfits like
their elders, line up on the sidewalk and watch curiously.
are other schools in Ankhe which take the
children on up to an equivalent of high school, but education is given
primitive conditions in all of them. The fact that they are so crowded
indicative of the desire of the Vietnamese people to get an education.
is hungry to know more. Everybody wants
his son to have more and better than him,” Mr. Kai said. “Schools have
up all over Viet Nam but they have been the special, targets of Viet
Viet Cong and their Communist masters are very fearful of an educated
work of Operation Golf Course, as the land
clearing project here is known, has been continuing. Officers and men
French Fort Hill to the area the United States uses for a permanent
cut brush, lay out helipads and maintenance areas, etc., from early in
until evening. The work force of Montagnard refugees from the mountain
swelled to about 1,250 now. They walk or pedal bicycles from their
around Ankhe. Capt. Ron Summers, the civil affairs officer, arranged
to be recruited by the local priest and province officials. Each worker
have a security check and be approved by the province authorities after
been referred to them by the priest who attempts to give the jobs to
most need them.
Montagnards had their first payday and a
footlocker of piastre notes was brought to the area where they .are
The hill people crowded around and the interpreters called off names.
or woman had a record of the days they had worked. Foremen drew 100
each day, men drew 70 piastres, women drew 50 piastres for: each day
official rate of exchange for piastres at Army
finance offices now is 118 for each dollar of military scrip. Black
120 for each green dollar with the military scrip not in any demand,
official Vietnamese government rate is 72 piastres for each dollar. The
of the bill is that established for it on the black market. A dollar
as much as 120 piastres.).
the Montagnards were paid, a problem came up.
Some of the men have worked several days and were given some of their
200 piastre notes. The poverty of the. highlanders was never more
when they became perturbed at receiving this bill worth less than two
They had never handled a note this large before and did not know what
Capt. Summers and the interpreter had a very busy time explaining its
on the perimeter where the 101st Airborne
Division brigade is in outpost or pulling patrols, there is an
small fight going on. When the patrols move into villages, long under
patrol, they have firefights and give and take casualties. They have
dozen Viet Cong and captured at least 32 in two village raids, taking a
casualties of their own each time, but with a healthy edge in the
couple of nights ago we sat around the camp here
looking up a valley and watched a massive fight taking place about six
away in a little village. Later word was that a Viet Cong battalion had
stumbled onto a Special Forces trained Montagnard force defending the
and had been driven back out of the outpost. Helicopters whirled out of
strip below us and went up to the fight. Artillery and mortars here
up there, and a force of fighters went to help run the Viet Cong back
VC suffered several casualties but pulled all of
the wounded and dead back with them. There were only light casualties
defense force. The firing, the light from flares, and the helicopter
from the strip emphasized the fact that Viet Nam is a combat zone. Thus
there have been only a few sniping incidents around this area itself,
The hard work of the 101st Airborne Division has kept the Viet Cong
busy out in
the hill around here, giving them no time to infiltrate the area.
may not be proper journalism to say this, but
right now the situation so far as the troops at Ankhe is concerned --
advance party of the 1st Cavalry -- could be described as “dull”. They
clearing the area, they eat, they read letters (another mail run came
week) and they talk. At dark, they are prone to crawl under their
shelter half abodes and go to sleep. Electric lights have been strung
the area but there is a dearth of reading material. Letter writing is a
simply because it is hard to write anything sprawled on an air mattress
sitting on a sandbag.
tents where such operations can be conducted
more easily are in short supply. Anyone noting that the letter writing
one-sided with the troops here not being very prolific should be
are perfectly all right and in a secure area, eating well if
C or dehydrated rations, keeping dry by ingenuity and working hard
brush, unpacking, supplies, etc.
of the most talked about events yet to come is
the arrival of Maggie, the white mule which is the mascot of the First
Battalion, Ninth Cavalry, and who found herself aboard ship on her way
Nam. Maggie somehow has become known all over the country and she. has
famous character even before her arrival. I achieved a copy of a
showed up in Saigon, of all places, in an office there. A 1st Cavalry
officer “borrowed” it and brought it up here with him. It shows a
soldier on a swayback mule with two other soldiers looking on and one
Oh, he’s one of them modern Sky Troopers.”
is sort of like that all over Ankhe. You see a
lieutenant colonel with a brush hook, a PFC hanging out a damp sleeping
men filling sandbags, and the expression keeps coming to mind. Right
modern Sky Troopers are engaged in two age-old soldier projects: coming
theater of operations on a ship and policing up the area.