Sept 25, 1965

Special Forces Officer Stops Reds

 

By CHARLES BLACK

Enquirer Military Writer

KY SON MOUNTAIN - Maj. Billy Cole, commander of the B team Qui Nhon Headquarters of the Binh Dinh province Special Forces operation, picked me up at the gate of the 92nd Aviation Company’s compound, a villa where the pilots resided. It was still dark.

The Nuong guard, a member of the Chinese tribe in Viet Nam which has sent its young men out as mercenary soldiers for decades, saluted and let in out of the bunkered and barbed-wire enclosure. S-Sgt. George Johnson helped toss my rucksack into the back of a three-quarter-ton truck.

The truck, as are all Special Forces vehicles, was heavily sandbagged as protection against land mines.

“Johnson was up at Ky Son until last month,” Cole said. “He was in a 2˝-ton truck and it hit a mine. He’s about ready to go back to field duty now, The truck was mined just down the road from Phung Con, the south end of the villages where we’ll go today.”

Talks With Cole

As we drove out to the airstrip where we would catch a Marine helicopter to go to the mountain fort of the A team at Ky Son, I talked with Cole about Capt. Paris Davis, commander of the team up at Bong Son north of here.

Davis, a Negro athlete who had been an All-American halfback, is one of the most famous Special Forces officers in Viet Nam.

Another man spoken of with great affection and awe was Capt. Jack Abraham, who ran the famous Special Forces Camp at Buhm Yanh pass out on Route 14 between Nha Trang and Ban Me Thuot.

Abraham has been in a hot spot of activity, working with the Rhade Montagnards, the major tribe of these mountain people. Davis had a task in northern Binh Dinh province which had almost as much to contend with, except that there wasn’t a revolutionary movement under way: at his camp as there was at Abraham’s area.

Rhade In Turmoil

The Rhade had been in turmoil in the Ban Me Thuot area for many months, demanding representation in the Saigon government and an autonomous province government of their own.

They had gone over into mutiny a few days after I had left Ban Me Thuot, and 800 had been disarmed. There had been fighting between Rhade tribesmen and Vietnamese soldiers in Pleiku as well.

“Capt. Davis didn’t have that kind of trouble,” Cole said. “What he had was Viet Cong and an area where nobody had ever made an inch of ground before.

“He went in there with his A team and turned that camp into a fantastic installation,” he said. “He trained up some of the best Montagnard companies you ever saw, just taking recruits away from the VC, and then fought them until he now controls 50 square kilometers like you do your own back yard.”

Recommended for Medal

Davis has been recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor because of a two-day battle last June which settled the Viet Cong’s defeat at Bong Son and established his record for heroism.

“I went in there in a medical evacuation chopper,” Cole said. “I can tell you what I saw and what I put into my endorsement for the Congressional for that man.

“He stood out in the open and directed his fight,” he continued. “He stood out under fire and got the choppers into a safe place, helped load three American casualties aboard, and refused to leave himself. He had two wounds and you couldn’t have told it the way he was operating.

I saw him, wounded twice already, mind you, go out into a rice paddy under heavy fire and pick up an American member of his team who had been hit on the head,” Cole said. “Everybody thought the boy was dead, but Capt. Davis said there wasn’t anything to do but to get him, and he went and got him. The boy was alive, although he is still in a coma in a hospital. He carried him back and put him on the chopper.

Clobbered Viet Cong

“They clobbered the Viet Cong,” Cole said.  We’re all proud of that man, not only because of the job he’s done and because of the kind of a man he is, but because of the fact that he has showed as much cold courage as any human I’ve ever heard of.”

The record of his A teams over the past five months showed that they had trained and led Montagnard troops who had killed 326 Viet Cong (U.S. body count, not estimates) and had lost 84 of their own.

They had only eight men listed as missing, while they had captured 126 prisoners.  One American was killed and several wounded, three when vehicles hit mines.  The teams had also trained 11 companies of Popular Force troops and had run the Viet Cong out of areas where the VC had long roamed at will.

Technical Point

Cole explained a technical point concerning his operation, one which it is necessary to understand to appreciate the progress made. All other Special Forces operations had been under a program called  Civilian Irregular Defense Group Training (CIDG), which depended for supplies and support on American channels.

This program had been under the Regional Force program, which depended on supplies, recruiting, etc., from the Republic of Viet Nam and. which operated under supervision of Military Assistance Command Viet Nam (MACV).

From sources outside the Special Forces men -- they were quite complimentary concerning everyone they had dealt with over the past months, let it be said here before any confusion arises -- I found that things just hadn’t worked. The Vietnamese officials weren’t able to solve their red tape in the manner the operation demanded.

A Vietnamese source told me that a request for 30 2˝-ton-trucks had been the subject of eight separate arguments from provincial officials, who finally agreed to provide eight trucks. Then, as the Special Forces and their trainees waited to load equipment to be sent to the camp involved, the officials canceled the trucks an hour before they were supposed to be sent.

Lack of Interest

The teams also put up with an infuriating lack of understanding in various offices at MACV, and this came from a junior officer who is an MACV adviser. This man said there was a lack of interest and a lack of appreciation for this project “right at the top in MACV.”

“The two men most concerned with the project you are going out to see with Maj. Cole have been out there once each in five months,” this man, a captain not in Special Forces, told me.  “One did not even leave the helipad at the camp.

“In some of the MACV offices they simply seem to disapprove of people who live out in the boondocks and try to solve problems in a practical manner,” he said.

The Special Forces men simply said they had “solved problems as they came up, did some scrounging and calling on friends,” and that they “believe everyone did their level best to help us from the top down.”

I couldn’t get any specific instances from them concerning help, except when they talked about helicopter pilots, Caribou pilots and a Marine battalion in the Qui Nhon area which helped them on some combat operations and which “loved a chance to get out on the offensive and fight.”

Praises Pilots

“The pilot guys and those Marines are people you hadn’t better knock around us,” Cole said.  “The Caribou people have done a job in this country which deserves the highest possible recognition from everybody.  I hope people at home realize how much these pilots have done to help win this thing over here.”

I got out of the truck (it was just getting light) and carried my gear over to a green Marine H34 helicopter with a pineapple and a big numera1 “1” painted inside the pineapple. This Marine company split up supply duties with the Caribous for the Special Forces at Ky Son Mountain. They took us there in about 10 minutes.

“I remember when you didn’t come in here without getting shot at, just last month. Keep your tails down,” the door gunner said cheerfully as Cole and I got out.

We loaded some rations, ammunition and radio parts (a man in a green beret ran up and helped), and I got a chance to look at the place as the chopper took off again.

ă Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

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