Besieged Dak Seang: 'Scar' That Fights Back
by Spec. 4 Jack Fuller
S & S Vietnam Bureau
TAN CANH, Vietnam -- "They're crazy. You come in there in a gunship and they fire at you, knowing that they'll get a world of fire back, but they fire anyway."
That's how Spec. 4 Robert Barber, 24, who has been flying as a gunship crew chief into the valley where the Dak Seang Special Forces camp lies embattled, describes the North Vietnamese army troops circling the camp.
The Dak Seang camp, under attack was described by pilots as a scar -- charred and flattened by shelling, littered with the green-camouflage canopies of parachutes that eased resupply loads to earth. A landing strip -- unused since March -- stretches just outside the thick perimeter.
Nearby is a burnt-out village that was once the home of relatives of Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) fighters who help man the camp.
The CIDG dependents are now underground in fortified bunkers. And there are others, including 11 members of a Vietnamese band and drama group who played an engagement there March 31 and never got a chance to leave.
Military sources say the band, an extension of the Saigon government's political warfare campaign, now works as a first-aid unit. "They're working in their secondary MOS (military occupational specialty)," one American said.
Along the wooded ridges and in the tree-specked valley, Vietnamese forces are pressuring the NVA to take the pressure off the camp.
The NVA is fighting back. "You take fire from some trees and slam them with rockets," one chopper pilot said, "then you make another pass and they fire again. They’re dug in. That's all you can say."
Though it was learned [that] U.S. and Vietnamese intelligence sources showed some increased activity in the Dak Seang area before the beginning of the month, the April 1 eruption came as a surprise to some helicopter pilots.
"We got a call to go into the camp as support for a medevac," said 1st Lt. Pat Cooper, 25, who broke in as a gunship pilot over Dak Seang. "We just expected to go in, pelt the positions and never hear about it again. It didn't work out that way."
"When we got there the camp was taking heavy indirect fire and the medevac had to wait to go it. Finally, there was a lull in the shelling and the chopper set down. All hell broke loose. On the radio they were yelling, 'We're taking ground fire. We're taking automatic fire.' That's how it started."
Pilots say it's easier working near Dak Seang now. But as one crewman put it, "it is definitely not 'no sweat'."
PACIFIC STARS & STRIPES
Sunday, April 12, 1970
Battle in 11th Day
Viets Bolster Dak Seang Force
by Spec. 4 Jack Fuller
S & S Staff Correspondent
TAN CANH, Vietnam -- Fresh Vietnamese infantry troops slammed into the bitter fighting around Dak Seang Special Forces Camp Saturday as the battle for Dak Seang valley bled into its eleventh day.
A battalion of ARVN infantrymen were air assaulted outside the camp's perimeter to help Vietnamese mobile advisory (MIKE) Forces dig out an estimated 1,500 enemy soldiers who continued to harass the camp, according to II Corps commander Gen. Lu Lan.
Meanwhile, the first group of survivors of the savage bombardments and brutal ground attacks were lifted from the camp and brought to the forward command post here, 13 miles to the southeast.
One Green Beret who had been in the camp since fighting erupted April 1 said 560 Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) troops and their 700 dependents within the camp were out of direct radio contact with Tan Canh command post for three days after a rocket destroyed part of the radio gear. An emergency radio beamed messages to planes flying above the camp during those three days, he said.
Sgt. Daniel Noonan, 22, a medic in the camp, said people left the camp's bunkers only on medevac, forward observation and resupply missions during the heavy fighting. "The Mike forces," he said, "sat out there for days drawing fire away from us, giving us a little rest."
Even as he left the camp, Noonan again faced enemy fire. "I was on the outside waiting for the chopper, "Noonan said, "when a mortar hit on our east perimeter. The chopper dropped in, I dove on board, and a mortar round hit right under our tail." The chopper returned here safely with no casualties.
Noonan was helping rocket shrapnel victims on a medevac helicopter the first day when the enemy opened up the massive attacks. "That chopper pilot (W.O.1 Danny Floyd) had guts. He was taking hits all over -- mortars, AK-47 rounds, everything." Noonan said. "But he waited there until we got everyone in. If I see that guy again, I'll buy him a beer."
Noonan said that the situation in and around the camp "looked good now."
"I have a feeling that the enemy has exhausted all the potential of his first wave and is preparing a new attack with replacements from across the border," Lan said.
Though fighting continued around the camp Saturday, the pace of activity diminished, according to Lan.
He said he expected the second wave to come within a week.
Lan said the siege of Dak Seang was a typical seasonal move against an isolated Green Beret camp. But he added that this year the siege came sooner than usual.
"Often the enemy seems to want only to get a headline," Lan said. "In this one I think he really wanted to overrun Dak Seang."
Lan said 104 Vietnamese and Mike force troops lost their lives in the battle, 35 of them within the camp's perimeter, while another 430 were wounded.
Lan put enemy casualties at 896 killed in ground actions and 472 killed by air strikes.
The U.S. command said that one American and one Australian adviser were killed in action and 11 Air Force personnel were killed on re-supply runs into the camp.