Caribous Bring Needed Supplies
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
Capt. Mills O’Nellion told me about a new method of dropping parachutes with cargo packs on them. The airplane is “stood on its tail” in a steep bank and the stuff kicked out the back door by the crew chief.
“We can put it onto a tennis court and you pick the side of the net,” O’Nellion said.
A big man in a green beret came over and vouched for it.
Talking About Drop
“Up on Ky Son Mountain, the boys are still talking about a drop Capt. Elmo Moberg and O’Nellion made. They put the parachutes onto a 50 foot wide helicopter pad and O’Nellion here got on the radio and apologized because one of them missed the center by 30 feet. You don’t know what a Caribou means until you’ve been out there with no mail, the chow running out, the ammunition situation looking blue and ‘Charlie’ (a term for VC here) seeing red,” the big man said.
He introduced himself as Capt. Tiny Caldwell. (I haven’t been able to get any-body, including him, to admit to any other first name for him. It must be one which just doesn’t fit 240 pounds.) Caldwell was with a competent-looking major who turned out to be Maj. Billy Cole, commander of the B team headquarters at Qui Nhon which was responsible for supporting and coordinating the effort of five A teams (12 officers and men) but in the Binh Dinh province areas. Caldwell is Cole’s operations and intelligence officer.
As I talked with Cole and Caldwell and the 92nd pilots, I realized that a team up on Ky Son Mountain at this moment was performing a miniature model of a task the 1st Cavalry Division will handle on a vast scale.
Hacking by hand
The 1st Cavalry Division from its huge base at An Khe – being hacked out of the brush by hand by the combined efforts of 3,500 Montagnards hired from refugee camps and the 1,000 man advance party under Brig. Gen. John M. Wright - will range out and destroy the Viet Cong threat over a large area.
In An Khe and the surrounding country, civil affairs teams, the U.S. Operations Missions and Vietnamese government programs will build up villages and help people start a new and better life.
As the process takes hold in one area, the attacks of the Sky Soldiers will be extended to ruin the VC threat in areas around it, and the rebuilding process will spread into the secure areas. The strategy is that of spreading an “oil slick” in the country. The inland base of An Khe, the first U.S. base here which has left the safety of the coast life, was deliberately chosen to break the back of the Viet Cong movement in the Central Highlands.
The operation at a twin hamlet complex at the foot of the Special Forces camp on Ky Son Mountain was a 1aboratory specimen of this technique.
The hamlets; Maj. Cole told me, are named Phung Son and Ky Son but it is impossible for anyone not from Phung Son or Ky Son to tell where the dividing lines are. They are built on a complex of canals, rice paddies, hedge rows, banana groves, etc., and were once rich farm villages. They were about 15 kilometers north of Qui Nhon and within sight of the notorious Song Am Phu River, a major supply receiving point for the Viet Cong stronghold north of Binh Khe in the mountains. That stronghold is probably going to be the first major target of the 1st Cavalry Division at An Khe.
Last August the people in the twin hamlets had been warned by leaflets, sound planes, etc., that they were living in an area which had to be considered VC-controlled. They were told to leave, to come to Qui Nhon and enter refugee camps set up there with schools, dispensaries, etc.
Free Strike Zone
The hamlets were then declared a “free strike” zone. This meant that anyone in them was considered a Viet Cong and our aircraft and artillery were free to hit. This harsh policy drove the people out and flattened the towns, but the Viet Cong still clung to the area. It was rich in rice and the supply line to the mountains demanded rice.
Ten days before I met Caldwell and Cole, the Special Forces camp had accomplished what it set out to do since it had been set up five months earlier. Young men from the area had been recruited and formed into “striker” companies. When they were fully trained and ready, additional regional forces, two companies of them, came up from Qui Nhon and the Viet Cong were driven from the village in a vicious battle which had killed more than 30 of them and cost the victors several dead and wounded.
Hit in Morning
“They put mortars and machine guns on us, but one company advised by Lt. John Hood, one of our Special Forces men, moved 4,000 meters through paddies at night and hit them at 3:30 a.m. It tore them up and we rolled on through. They moved back to the next village, a mile down the trail. We opened the road yesterday, filled in the cuts and put up some bridges, and we’re going to move right on with the operation in the morning,” Maj. Cole said.
Moving on meant getting 800 refugees to come back to the ruined houses and rebuilding them with aid of USOM (United States Operations Mission) and the Vietnamese government. It meant clearing rubble, reclaiming farm lands and setting up the refugees’ lives again in a town where they had been terrorized by Viet Cong, then forced to leave by the government.
“It isn’t quite that simple, of course. It is a really interesting project and a risky one. The Viet Cong hit these people in the refugee camp a few weeks ago and killed 45 women and children. We stopped that. We dropped leaflets showing pictures all over the region and the VC saw it was bad propaganda. They quit shooting recoilless rifles and mortars at the camps but they frightened the people very badly. It makes it a little tough to sell,” Maj. Cole said.
Singing About Viet Nam
We were sitting in the day room of the 92nd and it was about 11 p.m. The 92nd pilots who had been singing a collection of unpublished (and not likely to be published) songs about Viet Nam, the U.S. Air Force, and life in general, had been joined by all 240 pounds of Caldwell.
Somebody was trying to tell Tiny something over the sound of a chorus and Tiny couldn’t hear him. As I made a deal to go up to Ky Son Mountain with Cole the next morning at 6:30 a.m., I noticed that Tiny had rather absently reached over and picked up the low-voiced man’s chair and was holding him closer to his ear so he could hear what was being said.
“Tiny’s a little out of shape now. He used to do things like that with one hand,” Cole said.
I didn’t really believe him but the two-handed demonstration made me decide not to speak up when Caldwell was in the neighborhood.
© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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