were you on the night of April 1?
Copyright 2002, Authors as stated below. All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)
Table of Contents.
On 010300 at BN2643, in SONG MAO City, the 2-1 Cav compound rec mortar and rkt fire. Results: Frd - 2 US KIA, 13 US WIA; En - 5 KIA, 1 SA CIA. On 011410, at BN614476, 7 km NNE of SONG MAO, 3/@/2-1 Cav was engaged v\by the enemy. 1 APC destroyed, 1x M48 tank light damage. Results: Frd - 11 US WIA; En - 17 KIA, 1 SA CIA.
Source: Operational Report-Lessons Learned Headquarters First Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 30 April 1970, RCS CSFOR-65 (R2), Confidential (Declassified), Page 25.
On 010040 at BN275545, vic SONG MAO, the 44 Regt\. HQ received 100 rds 82mm mortar. Ammo dump destroyed, fuel dump 50% destroyed. On 010030, at BN2643 in SONG MAO City, 2-1 Cav and 44 ARVN Regt (-) engaged the enemy. In the day long contact, the following casualties resulted: Frd - 8 KIA (2 IS, 2 ARVN, 4 Civ), 39 WIA (34 US, 5 ARVN); En - 151 KIA, 14 PW, 26 SA, 7 CS CIA.
Source: Operational Report-Lessons Learned Headquarters First Field Force Vietnam, Period Ending 30 April 1970, RCS CSFOR-65 (R2), Confidential (Declassified), Page 25.
1. Operations: Significant Activities a. Intelligence.
(5) Enemy Capabilities; vulnerabilities and probable courses of action.
(a) Enemy Capabilities:
Copyright 2002: Beau Bergeron. All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)
Tom is the best source. The context is that two days prior to that Troops B and C had caught an NVA force northwest of the Song Mao Airfield and ripped them up in a couple of big fights. Troop C reacted to a probe or at least movement on one of the nights and engaged, my estimate, about a dismounted infantry company and caused some significant casualties.
Enemy forces then withdrew both to the Le Hong Phong and primarily (according to intelligence) to the Mountain Range north of Song Mao--fundamentally due north of our last contact with them. The acting squadron commander then made what I consider to be a tactical error and turned Troop C into an airmobile infantry company and we air assaulted about 115 troopers to blocking positions in the mountains.
The terrain was really rugged and I found out, to my dismay, that we were outside of any artillery firing bands and our commo with squadron or anyone was really shaky. We had regular and scattered contact with enemy forces and killed and wounded several. We suffered a couple of WIA to mortar fire. I passed on the reports when commo was sufficient and strongly recommended we saddle up mounted and swing wide to the North and west and cut these guys off.
This left Fire Base Trooper covered by the Purple Gang--our headquarters platoon under the XO, Gil Scott and Tom as the first sergeant. On I April, a combine force of NVA sappers and local force VC (probably part of the bigger operation in the province) hit the MACV compound and Trooper. They found it because we sat virtually astride a railroad track and had done a bunch of ambush and react operations in a permanent AO west of Trooper called AO Creole. It was east of the Le Hong Phong by about 5 kilometers and included a number of small villages that had long standing reputations of providing support to the VC and NVA.
Trooper had towers, significant wire, mechanicals and the Purple Gang--about 22 soldiers--but out tanks, ACAVs , etc., were there and all operational and uploaded. The sappers cut the wire south of Trooper, tripped flares and the Purple Gang reacted with a huge volume of fire--50, tank main gun canister etc. One of the B-40 rockets from the enemy hit our mess hall and (I still rue this) took out the ice maker we had just gotten operational.
Tom and Gil took charge--killed a bunch of VC and NVA to include one guy on the troop TOC and repulsed the attack and ran them off. I saw the fire and illumination and the ammo dump go up and literally screamed on the radio to get us back. Noone answered and I saddled the troop and moved at night cross country to the point where I could contact the radio relay on Whiskey Mountain and got an Aussie who got me artillery, commo, gun ships because when we moved, we attracted the bad guys and we fundamentally moved parallel of each other.
We had a couple of broken legs, and messed up ankles because we had to go hand over hand in a number of places but I got us to a place that could be used as a PZ and (probably because I sounded so pissed off on the radio) got helicopters in to extract us and get us back to Song Mao and Trooper to help--although the main fight was over by that time.
We literally fought our way to and off the PZ with maybe a platoon of bad guys and killed a couple of them and I took some shrapnel when a grenade I threw at a bad guy did not detonate and he threw it back at me and it did. We got back to Trooper at about noon--heard and saw the remnants of the fight and the Purple Gang win.
We saddled the next day and moved out to do some search and destroy in the Le Hong Phong and ran into a bunch of caches and destroyed weapons and found lots of blood trails. The heroes of the fight for Troop C and for Song Mao itself was the Purple Gang--they broke the back of the advance guard of a force that obviously intended to take them out, catch the hardball past Troop A and then destroy the squadron headquarters. After the earlier fights in the plain, I don't think they had sufficient strength to do that but were certainly pissed off enough at Troop C to execute that part of the battle plan. They lost!
That is what I know and remember. The world's best cavalry first sergeant Tom Casciaro can give you the vivid, on the ground details of the fight at Trooper. All the guys who fought like tigers with the Purple Gang were heroes and saved the day!!
On 1 April 70, my troop was air lifted into the jungle north of Song
Mao, to form a blocking postion. That meant all that I had was 20
troopers and the XO 1LT Scott. SFC Kofalvi Platoon was to come at
dark to reinforce the fire base, however one of his tanks broke a
sprocket off, and they laageredr around the down tank.
I later ran into SFC Kofalvi In Germany when I took over C Company 4/64 in Aschaffenberg, we had alot to talk about.
TOP (1SG Thomas Casciaro Jr.)
I was there that night and I will share with you what I remember. As a matter of context for you, at the time I was the Squadron support platoon leader -- in charge of the air strip, water supply point, fuel point at the air strip, ammo dump etc.
Sometime after dark, I would say between 9 to 11 PM, the Squadron took mortar fire and an attack began on our C Troop, which was the most remote of our troops in the Song Mao area. At about the same time, the squadron ammo dump blew -- please remember it contained mortar, tank and helicopter rounds plus grenades, smoke grenades and regular ammo for M-16, M-60 and 50 caliber. It made quite an explosion for several hours.
C Troop had done an airlift that same day -- send most of its platoons out to the mountains on a hump mission. There was the XO, first Sgt. and about 20 troopers left in the firebase. Long story short, the troopers of C Troop repulsed the attack, losing on one trooper in the process. Many NVA from the sapper team died in the wire.
The next day, the NVA retreated to the west and north and we caught them in the open. The Cobra gunships worked all day long firing at the retreating NVA. I never heard so much commotion. I remember being at the airstrip the day after and refueling and rearming the choppers and how busy it was. I don't ever remember hearing a body count from all that.
I do remember going into Song Mao a day or so after and seeing NVA bodies stacked like cordwood. I would say there was at least 25 of them there.
If you want a first hand account of what occurred in C Troop, I have the email addresses of the CO, XO and first Sgt.
In my opinion, this was one of our finer defensive moments. The NVA had great intell, but we reacted properly and effectively and were able to turn the tables on them.
PS - For those of us in the squadron, one of the questions that usually comes up is -"where were you on the night of April 1?"
PPS - I wrote a letter to the Editor of Army magazine
(which was published) on this attack and one other on our B Troop. If
I can find it, I will pass it along.
On April 1, 1970, I was a member of the “Purple Gang” at Firebase Trooper. We were not the regular combat guys; most of them stayed in the jungle, led by Captain Bergeron, a majority of the time. I certainly held them all in the highest regard; they were tough. First Sergeant Casciaro and Lt. Scott were tough as well. They had the responsibility of keeping the rest of us together. We were the headquarters platoon--clerks, medics, commo, truck drivers, supply, and weapons repair ( armorer--that was me ). Firebase Trooper was about one mile from Headquarters Firebase ( I think to our north ) and one mile from MACV and Song Mao ( to our east ). Small villages and jungle lay to our south.
Our Headquarters Firebase usually showed a movie, when available, around dusk, then we would receive it and start showing it by ten p.m. As supply help, I was given the responsibility of running the movie projector. The films sometimes ran until midnight or after. Fortunately (really, God’s providence) HQ delivered the movie early on the night of April 1. By
ten p.m. or so, a few were in their bunks or on guard duty. Guard duty for me was to be around 2 a.m. I remember being ill all day and had over 100 degrees temperature when I bedded down. If memory serves me well, the first enemy rocket came in at midnight. It struck the southern end of our brand new mess hall; it hit squarely on the ice machine in the corner. Earlier that evening, I had been standing less than three feet from the ice machine, operating the movie projector.
When the rocket hit, I ran from my bunk in the supply building to the front door; the sky was lit as bright as day by blares. On the northwestern end of our firebase, our guys had built a shower--a 500 gallon tank up on stilts with water lines running to the shower house. I do not remember the young man’s name, but he was in the shower, lathered up, when
a second rocket struck a small tree right next to the shower. I have never seen a naked man, streaming soap bubbles run approximately 60 to 70 yards as fast as he did at that moment!
First Sergeant Casciaro and Lt. Scott were fearless. They and the mortar crews set the example for the rest of us. We all had a job to do; After the first few minutes of initial shock, adrenalin took over. We stayed vigilant, on red alert until daylight, after the fighting subsided around 3:30 a.m. On the next afternoon, in discussion with mortar crew members, I learned that they had fired untold hundreds of rounds. They had numerous burns from handling the tubes, eventually firing at zero elevation. At some point during the firefight,
one mortar crewman heard and felt a loud thump at his feet. He assumed a dud round had landed. He stayed at his post, expecting to be blown away at any moment. At daylight, he discovered a VC’s head instead of a live round!
Ironically, before April 1, nothing much had occurred directly around Firebase Trooper. The Purple Gang had settled into pretty much of a routine. Top would lead some of us on short recon patrols to break the monotony. On the morning of April 1, our unit ( C Troop) received two new men, a truck driver and commo man. When asked about action, we assured them that they had nothing to worry about! Not many hours later, they were fighting for their lives.
Along with strategic towers placed around the perimeter, we also had walking guards , who circled the entire firebase. When the firefight started, B.J. Ricker was the walking guard. He was near the south side ( the point of VC attack ) so he dug in where we had a machine gun nest. At some point during the fight, sappers were seen dragging a body back through the hole in the wire in the southwest corner. Word got out that it might be BJ! In my mind, I can still see Top, myself, and others, at daylight , lamenting his capture, when up behind us walked BJ! Top literally had tears in his eyes as he jumped up and hugged BJ, then started punching him for putting us through that!
During the course of the night, men would move from position to another. Early in the fight, as I ran back and forth from the supply room or ammo dump distributing supplies ( LSA oil, weapons, ammo, etc ) I passed by a bunker just outside the supply room.
A voice rang out: “Belcher, I’m barefoot, bring me some boots.” Outside, it was bright as day when the flares burst, but inside the supply room, it was pitch black. I grabbed a pair of boots off the top shelf. As I ran back by the bunker, I yelled out: “Sarge, here’s your boots,” then lightly tossed them in. Minutes later, as I dashed back by the bunker, the boots came flying through the air, striking me in the back. He yelled: “Belcher, you ___ __ _ ______, these are 12’s; I wear 7’s.”
Top had assigned me and another man to guard the front gates. At some point near the end of the fight, a tank and two APC’s from HQ never slowed down as they
crashed through multiple layers of wire and the gates to Trooper. They drove around to the southwest side, then moments later returned, exiting the firebase. We thought for a moment that the fight had been lost. “Should we go with them?” Minutes later, we learned that we had a KIA and wounded; the vehicles had come to rescue them.
Since most of my time was spent on the north and eastern sides of Trooper, I was not directly involved in the majority of combat. However, I do remember at some point, being behind the supply room, on the eastern side of Trooper. I was feeding an M60 while
another fired. 5 Sappers, naked, covered in oil to help them slip through the wire, throwing explosives, were headed straight to us. Our weapon jammed. 20 yards from us, the sappers had run out of weapons. It seemed an eternity; we stared at one another, as if to say: “Well, what next?”. They turned and fled through the wire on the east. We got the last one when
our weapon finally unjammed.
Early, after daylight, we discovered one of our South Vietnamese scouts outside the CO’s office, still in his cot, unconscious and bloody. However, he was not shot. The explanation soon came. One of the men explained. When the fight started, he came by the cot. The scout lay there with his blanket over his head. “Get up and fight” he demanded. The scout replied: “You will think I am enemy, you will think I am enemy.” He hit the scout with his rifle butt, knocking him out!
Minutes into the fight, a sapper climbed on top of our outhouse in the southwest corner of Trooper. Before he could fire a round, one of his own rockets blew him and the outhouse away. When “all clear” sounded, some of us ran to the water trailer. The
first in line let out a few choice words as entrails poured from the spout. Someone had left the cover open on top of the water trailer!
I remember that fighting continued around the area of Song Mao for a total of about 3 days. The following week, I rode with a friend to MACV. We passed a pile of bodies in the town square. The Song Mao officials had piled them there as a message to
the enemy. I seem to remember that someone said that there were over 160 bodies. True or false, I do not know. I do know this: the stench was overwhelming, and seemed to reach all the way back to Trooper.
I celebrated my 21st birthday ( 8-25 ) and my first wedding anniversary ( 4-4 ) in 1970, now almost 33 years ago. I may have directions confused, and I cannot remember all of C Troop, but I will never forget Song Mao, April 1, 1970.
I was in A Troop 3rd Platoon (vehicle Alpha 3-1). I just happen to be inside the wire that particular night. Charlie started walking those mortars in on us in the middle of the night (can't recall the exact time). He was walking those SOBs right towards the ammo dump. You being a Mech Doggie, you can imagine what was in there.
At the same time he was sending the incoming, he had sapper teams breeching the parimeter. He was counting on us having our heads down during the initial attack, but we had seen him try to pull that trick before. We caught two in the wire and one at the dump. As a matter of fact our platoon dog, JP Fuck It, detected the sapper who made it to the dump. At first light, we found JP and the sapper both KIA in the same spot. Unfortunately, the dump was blown. That was why you could see the sky lit up from 40 klicks away. With the incoming, small arms fire, all those 90mm HE, Willy Peter, Flechete, and God knows what else rounds cooking off, I can say that was as close to Hell as I ever want to get.
Alpha Troop lost Red Stemper that night. Charlie Troop lost Otto Draken. Delta Troop lost, James Byrd, one of the Air Rifle Platoon guys. He fell out of one of the choppers the next day during an insertion.
Once the sun was high in the sky, the Troop mounted up and took out after Charlie. The next two days was some nasty stuff. We didn't loose anyone else, thank God, but we did have some WIAs. We lost one vehicle, that I can remember. Alpha 3-2 took a RPG broadside, almost killing Doc Good, Conway, and Mud Puppy. The TC, Sgt Terry, was not injured and managed to lay down some pretty damn good cover fire from his 50 CAL while Doc Good tended to the wounded, himeself being one of the wounded.
Speaking of Doc Good, I went to visit him about a year or so ago. He was still being treated for that same shrapnel he took that day. Doc also earned the Silver Star that day. Doc told me that he went back to Song Mao a couple of years back. He sat down and had lunch with the VC Col who was directing the motar fire that night. The Col made Doc a gift of the medal he was awarded for the battle, and Doc gave him an American Indian Talisman that he always carried with him. Talk about strange twists of fate !!!! You figure that one out.
I often think about those poor bastards getting caught out in the open like that. Between us and the Cobras, we chewed thier asses up pretty good. By the time all was said and done, we had 143 of thier KIA piled on the back of a couple of 5 ton dump trucks. We dumped them into a mass grave some where out there and continued to press on. I'll never forget the look on each of their blood and dirt covered faces as they slid into that man made hole in the Earth. Those faces still visit me in my dreams to this day.
Ray, that's all I can say about that matter. All those young lives gone to dust. I just hope it was all worth it in the end. Let me know if any of this is of any help to you.
Tony Dodson, A Troop, 2/1 Cavalry, 6/32 Arty, 69-71
Dear Song Mao Warrior,
Your website made absolutely fascinating reading for me. I was there on April 1st on the other side of town in the MACV compound. Would you be interested in my accounting of the events of April 1st from the MACV advisor's point of view? I was the advisor to the 44th ARVN Regimental Recon Company at that time. I wrote a fairly detailed letter to my wife on April 3rd recounting the day's events, so I won't have to depend on a thirty-two year old memory! Let me know. I'm in contact with other MACV guys that were inside the wire that night and we could get their reports as well. Sincerely, Dick Ray.
Are you ready to hear about the Battle of Song Mao?
At 0030 on the 1st of April (30 minutes past midnight) Fred (Klare) and I were just starting to get to sleep when all hell broke loose. Mortar rounds were coming in hard and heavy and they sounded pretty close, but actually the closest one was probably 200 meters from the villa. We scrambled out of bed, grabbed our weapons and dashed into the bunker outside. Rounds kept coming in and we had a real war going on there for about an hour. I had my eyes glued on the wire with the detonator for two claymore mines in my hands. I prayed they would work if I needed them! During lulls I came out of the bunker and on the fourth time I went back into the bunker I cracked my head on a steel beam, because I forgot to duck my head. It opened a small cut on my head right up by my hairline. It bled a lot, but it's all scabbed over now.
One of the mortar rounds hit the Cav's ammo dump, and about 1,000
rounds blew up over there, making quite a noise. The GI gas station
is right over that way, and sure enough, pretty soon all the gas
went up in flames. Finally got to sleep about 2:30 am. At 5:00 I
was rudely awakened and told that Recon Company was going out to
sweep the VC withdrawl routes to see what we could find. SSG White,
my regular sidekick, was on night duty over at the office so he
couldn't go with me, so I woke up Bill Miller and we trudged out.
Actually we moved by jeep north toward the mountains until we got
to a certain point where Lam (44th ARVN Regiment Recon company commander)
set up his headquarters and dispatched two platoons to begin sweeping.
We stayed in the jeeps and kept in touch with our radios.
Well, it happened. We got the report that Recon co. had killed 8 VC's. Two guys from Recon got zapped and 5 were wounded, one of whom was Lam! When the dustoff (medivac) came, I went out and personally put Lam on the chopper. He was in fine spirits - he'd gotten some shrapnel in his shoulder and leg from a B-40 rocket that exploded right behind him. Guess where I normally walk when we're moving out in the field!! He should be fine in about 3 weeks.
Well, after Recon made contact, the ball started rolling. You see, originally the regiment had planned a big operation for the 1st of April. so 2 battalions were waiting out at the airfield to be airlifted way up in the mountains for a 15 day jobbie. We had gunships at the airfield standing by to prep the LZ's. That means they go in and shoot up the whole area where they are planning to land the troops. So when Recon Co. made contact just about 3 clicks north of town, they scrapped the operation and made a new one. They dropped one battalion behind the VC to cut them off from the north, moved one company out on armored personnel carriers with the Cav making a wide sweep from east to west. Recon had them blocked on the west, and they moved the other battalion from the airfield, which was south of the battle area, to the north. This put old Charlie in a box. Every time he moved one way he got hit, so he decided to cluster right up in the middle of the box.
At that point, the gunships went up and just blasted the living shit out of them. The VC then broke up into 2 and 3 man groups and tried to get out of the box, but most of them got picked off. The final score at the end of the day was 133 VC killed, 8 captured, 8 ARVN's killed, 17 wounded. We made the news on both radio and TV here in Vietnam and I don't know if it got back to the states. It's probably the biggest battle that ever happened in this province. They were still finding bodies and weapons out there today.
Well, that's it. I'll be interested to see if any other Song Mao
vets chime in with their memories of that day. Thanks for setting
up the website.
Permission is hereby granted to copy this
story to print or
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