FLAG DAY/SHORT MISSION
by Sgt Nguyne Cu’van LLDB
Republic of South Vietnam
After writing up the first two or three stories from Cu’ van’s Special Forces career, I asked him if he could tell me about a operation in which everyone got out alive. I said, “Cu’, people will be beginning to think that you are the only one who ever escapes.”
Cu’ van: Reflection for a moment, laughed, then said, “There were many easy ones, so many, that it’s hard for me to remember. The `jobs’ that went smooth stick for only a short time, it’s the `ruff’ one’s that I never forget!”
Con Cop: “I can understand that. Can you think of one where all the team was extracted safely.”
Cu’ van: “I can tell this one, this is a short one for sure, and everything that happened in between I never know myself, somebody have to tell me. This is how it all started.”
You know the time in 1972-73 in Vietnam, there supposed to be nobody shooting at each other and there are men from other countries are flying around in American helicopters to look at who got what.
Con Cop: “Explanation”: Sometime during late 1972 and early 1973, the Paris Peace talks produced a truce between the Republic of South Viet Nam government and the Communist forces, both VC and the NVA.
The UN had selected observer team members from four countries, two non-communist and two communist, to investigate and establish claims. The ICCS. This group was made up of Canadian, Indonesian, Polish, and Hungarian military men.
So in the winter of 1972 saw mainly each side, the South Vietnamese and the Communist forces trying to grab as much land for themselves before 8:00 AM on January 28th. It was then that the members of the International Commission of Control and Supervision would certify each side’s holdings under the terms of the Paris agreements. But as usual with these truces, the fighting never really stops. Both sides were constantly jockeying for position to claim the control for the greatest amount of countryside.
Cu’ van: “We know where the line really at, but our Commanders want to play a game with the communists. The Saigon government had created a program of “Flagging” the countryside.”
Con Cop: In Dec 1972, I had seen VN flags flying from trees every 500 meters along a highway on the way from Saigon to Da Lat, miles from any city.
Cu’ van: They give us orders to sneek in and put South Vietnamese flags inside NVA camps.
Con Cop: This spin-off plan may have the part of the Psyops (Psychological Operations) program. It was something that Leaders hoped would upset the sanity of the Communist forces. It drove them crazy, because they knew that someone had infiltrated their space without them knowing about it.
This really pissed the NVA off. It amounted to a serious loss of `face’ for the enemy.
This was one of the few operations that he said he was never been proud of. Because we are friends, he told me the story that he has never told anyone else. He has expressed real concern about revealing this action to anyone outside.
There was something about this plan that Sat Cong did not like. Was it falsely marking territory being some kind of a `crook’thing? Not honorable. I thought at the time, this is an Asian cultural feeling and was Sat’s way of looking at things.
I explained to him that to your average American or any other western soldier, they would have felt that it would have been a good joke on the NVA.
Then it occurred to me that this is what the problem really was. The entire operation was nothing more than an Academy fraternity prank, only this time the eggheads who had never been in the field were using the lives of real people to carry out their little joke.
Risking the lives of men that it took two years to train for something like this.
Given the same effort to infiltrate, plant explosives, leave and blow the whole base camp away, now that would have meant something to men like Sat Cong could understand… and played hell with the NVA’s physic at the same time.
It could have been a U.S. planned operation anyway. (At that late date, there were still American Green Beret officer advisers in the field in Vietnam.)
South Vietnamese Special Forces were given orders to jump into the jungle near NVA camps, work their way into the camp and then using a rope line with a hook, fly South Vietnamese flags from the tops of trees all over the camp.
This symbolic marking of territory supposedly belonging to the Saigon government. When the ICCS marked Air America choppers carrying the observer teams flew over these areas, they were supposedly credited to the South.
Cu’ van: Sometimes we climb a tree, but most the time I roll up the flag with the line with a hook and throw it as high as I can up into the tree or I swing the hook round and round beside me, then let the bundle go up into the tree. After it hook good, later, it will unroll and the flag opens up. I do this before, today is my second mission like that.
The bravery and suffering of many of South Vietnam’s best like Sat Cong, was squandered. The Communists took it ALL in 1975.
Con Cop: Cu’ van and his five team mates boarded their UH-1H with a load of `yellow and red striped’ South Vietnamese flags. It was a chilly winter morning even here in Vietnam.
Cu’ van: Today on this cool January morning the `Band’, the Group had their orders, and orders are always orders. Other than not liking the kind of mission, to us, this was going to be just another operation. The men felt much the same way that you feel when you hop a cab or bus to go to your day’s work.
Con Cop: When the `Band’ (Gunships, Slicks, CnC Huey, the F-5s, and the Leader’s L-19) arrived at their intended target area or Drop Zone, the six men were all set up, their static lines attached, ready to jump in an instant. Today’s selected DZ was about two squares fro the enemy camp. (Two squares on the Operational map equals 2 Kilometers). The VNAF helicopters overflew the DZ at normal airspeed so as not to be a tip off to anyone on the ground that there was a operation going down.
Cu’ van: I always liked to be the first one out. I felt that there was an advantage in being on the ground first. If the team was discovered during the jump, it would be the ones that were following who would take the heat.
Con Cop: (This time Sat Cong was wrong.) They jumped from just 200 feet above the trees. The trees were another 300 feet, give or take 50 feet or so. (Even jumping at 500 feet, wearing a reserve chute was policy.)
Cu’ van: I never know whether it was only one odd NVA soldier or a whole squad, but this time someone was waiting for us.
It doesn’t take long to make it to the ground even using a parachute. Luckily my drop path carried him into a clearing. Just as my feet were about to touch the ground, I felt a violent impact on my chest. There was a sting of pain and then everything went dark.
Cu’ van: When I woke up, I found myself in the hospital with a Bac-Si looking down at me.
Doctor: “Good morning! How do you feel?
Cu’ van: “Pretty good, not bad, but I’m really hungry.”
Doctor: “Well you ought to be, you haven’t eaten in four days.”
Cu’ van: “What? Four days, what happened to me?”
Doctor: “You were shot, you took a AK-47 bullet to your chest. The luck was that it hit your reserve chute pack first. It continued on at a angle, passing through a field dressing pack, part of your vest harness, and through the skin to your breast bone. The blow stopped your heart for a bit.”
Cu’ van: Then I asked the doctor about my other team members, did anybody else get hurt.
Bac-si (Doc): No, they all made out OK.
Cu’ van: I never did find out how I was pulled out. All of the teams have orders not to talk about any mission, even one that you had been on together. Later, when I asked my team what happened, all that they would say was that it was `Ruff.’
I know that the `Band’ had pulled off and out of the area the minute that we jumped. They would have had to have been called back for any kind of rescue extraction. It is likely that our RTO called our leader in the L-19 Bird Dog, and he called the Slick back.
Con Cop: Since the enemy had discovered you at the very beginning, there would have been nothing left for your team to do except to fight their way out and save themselves, right?
Cu’ van: Yes. What I think would have happened is that when the `Band’ returned, the Leader in the L-19 would mark the location of the team for the Gun-ships and then lay down some heavy suppressing fire to keep the enemy’s heads down while the team was extracted. They would have hooked me to the ladder with carabiner rings at each side of the shoulder harness, then they would have all hooked up to a cable.
This is my guess. I mean, this is what I would have done if it had been one of the others that had been wounded.
I never understand why I am out so long. It may have been that I hit my hard head on the ground during my unconscious and uncontrolled parachute landing. You know in the kind of job like we did, we didn’t wear paratrooper’s helmets or anything like that. All that we had on our head was or `doo-rag’, camouflage on one side and survival orange on the other.
I had to stay in the hospital for a few days, so that the doctor was sure that everything was alright, then it was back to my duty.