Twenty Seven Feet
Just past 0333 hours, January 31, 1968, a
passenger jet bearing the Seaboard World logo took off toward the west end of
Tan Son Nhut Air Base, located on the Northwest outskirts of Saigon. Upon
clearing the western most perimeter fence, the sky lit up like a Christmas
tree, with thousands of green tracer rounds. It was evident that the enemies
tracer rounds were trying to find their airborne target and cause the jet to
crash and kill all those aboard. You see, this was not just an ordinary jet,
but a Freedom Bird. It contained men and women of all the services, who had
completed serving their one year tour, in Vietnam and were currently on their
way to the States; to home and to loved ones. The enemy had not been
successful in their endeavors.
It was at that moment when I observed death approaching for the very
first time. The enemy had already made their presence known on the Eastern
perimeter and Northern perimeter of the base by attacking eight different
locations. Now, they were apparently coming for us. With a determination in
their minds that I have never experienced, they came. I am glad to say that
my pardner this night was A1C Alan D. Tucker, 377th Combat Security Police
Squadron. The Security Police had been placed in Security Condition Red at
1730 hours, on January 31, 1968, as a result of rocket and mortar attacks on
a number of other installations the night before. Almost none of the
Vietnamese civilians had come to work throughout the base. A few enemy
soldiers had been taken prisoner and interrogated earlier that same day.
Almost immediately A1C Tucker made the first of many radio calls.
With a seriousness in his voice he radioed, "Security Control, Tango-4 !!!
Go about 100 yards out directly in front of my post. there's about twenty
men out there. They're setting up mortars." Central Security control
immediately requested additional information from Tango-4. Once more Tucker
spoke into his hand-held radio, "They're directly in front of my post, a
hundred yards off the west perimeter. They're setting up 100 yards in front
of the west perimeter. They are directly in front of the West perimeter.
This area must be illuminated because they might try to attack the base."
A Vietnamese taxi-cab pulled up in front of the O-51 Gate, which was
approximately 100 yards from Tango-4. The VC in the taxi-cab, members of the
C-10 Sapper Battalion using bungalore type charges, blew a large hole in the
O-51 Gate and fence line. This allowed the enemy to by-pass the mine fields
on either side of the O-51 Gate. The O-51 Bunker, a concrete and steel
re-enforced structure adjacent to the immediate South of the O-51 Gate,
returned the enemies fire, but, within minutes was silenced by two direct hits
from RPG-2 or RPG-7 rockets. They killed four of the five 377th Security
Policemen inside (the only 377th Security Police Squadron KIAs during the
battle). The O-51 bunker was being manned by SGT Alonzo J. Coggins, SGT
William J. Cyr, SGT Louis H. Fischer, SGT Charles E. Hebron and SGT Roger B.
I am sad to inform you that within minutes of the initial attack that
SGT's Cyr, Fischer, Hebron and Mills lost their lives. I am proud to say that
I had served with each and every one of those brave men in recent days and
weeks, knowing them very well.
As A1C tucker was making his report, the NVA and their VC
counter-parts began firing their ordinance. Literally, all hell broke loose
with the enemy's firing of 122 mm rockets, RPG-2 rockets, RPG-7 rockets, 81
mm mortars, recoilless rifles, crew served .50 caliber machine guns, small
arms rounds, hand grenades, automatic weapons, small arms and other
miscellaneous weaponry impacted on the base.
It was then that A1C Tucker continued to make his situation reports
to Central Security Control. What was at first twenty men became swarms of
assault troops. They were coming on post under the enormous barrage being
laid down by their own comrades. There was no holding back the magnitude of
the enemy movement facing us. Their ultimate goal was to take over Tan Son
Nhut Air Base, Seventh Air Force Headquarters and Military Assistance Command
Vietnam (General Westmoreland's command post), and to have a popular uprising
of the local citizens. Some of the NVA in the first human wave were pilots.
They were to make their way to the flight line and commandeer planes or
helicopters and use those aircraft's to further attack Tan Son Nhut, Air Base
and the city of Saigon. TSgt Billy M. Palmer, Echo Sector NCOIC in his gun
jeep, was enroute to our location as a result of our calls for assistance.
However, TSgt Palmer and his quick reaction force personnel were quickly
surrounded and were pinned down for the next several hours. No friendly
forces were able to approach the O-51 bunker or Tango-4 tower, due to the
intense enemy fire.
I took a quick look in a 360 degree direction and observed that the
enemy was all around Tucker and Myself. The military terminology is not they
are close, but that they are close-in. It's unbelievable how many there are
of them. We can see them so very clear, with the popping of slap flares and
the C-130 aircraft's dropping even larger flares. These flares make the
night-time look like daylight. Surely, they have spotted us. A1C Tucker and
I will remain on our security post for the duration of the attack. Not
because we want to, but the current situation demands it. Movement and
talking must be kept to an absolute minimum. Then I heard Tucker, with an
agitated voice, make his next report, "Tango-4 to Security Control !!!
Tango-4 to Security Control !!! There are thousands of them coming on base
directly in front of this post !!! They are directly in front of this post
!!! Tell them they are coming from the house in front of this post !!!
They're forming up more people !!! VC are over-running the base !!!"
A1C tucker continued, "They've covered the O-51 Bunker, but there's
nobody out there firing !!! We need someone to cut them off out there !!!
Tango-4 to Security Control !!! Right in front of my post, we are being
assaulted !!! We need help down here !!! Tango-4 !!! The VC are directly
below my post !!! The Vietnamese bunker below my tower is where they're at
Hit that and wipe them out !!! The VC are also in the O-51 Bunker
!!! Tango-4, Security Control !!! If you blasted those houses in front of me
and the bunker to the left of me. They've been coming out of there for twenty
minutes. They're still coming from there !!!"
We heard on the radio that fire support was requested from the U.S.
Army helicopter light fire teams (LFT's), but, clearance was delayed for
approximately 45 minutes because LFT's were unable to distinguish between
friendly and enemy positions. All kinds of rounds were coming at us from the
North, East, South and West. At that time, it did not matter to Tucker and me
if it was friendly fire or enemy fire. Mortal or bodily damage can be
inflicted on our location by either side. Tucker and I were caught in the
damn cross-fire. As the hours went by, I did not worry about myself but, I
was determined to save my pardner that night. It's unbelievable. Around 0600
hours, another wave of the enemy was approaching the Western perimeter of the
base. The fire from the Viet Cong positions became extremely intense. About
0630 hours, I observed "C" Troop of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment
(3/4 Cav) of the 25th Division fighting their way down Highway 1, from the
North. They had been fighting for several hours to reach our Western
perimeter. At 0730 hours, "B" Troop of the 3/4 Cav entered the Northwest
corner of the base and sped down the outer perimeter road to fight the Viet
Cong from the North. The fine soldiers of the 25th Division suffered heavy
casualties of men and their armored vehicles.
You see, I am Tango-4 !!! Made of steel and wood, and I have
sandbags stacked only four bags high around the base of the tower. But, you
already know that my pardner that night is real. Earlier in the night he had
climbed the twenty-seven feet to enable him to enter the tower and begin his
tour of duty, thereby saving his life. A1C Tucker, having made it through the
night, had not been wounded. Those 100 yards away in the O-51 Bunker gave
the ultimate sacriface. Without a doubt, A1C Tucker's radio messages to
Central Security Control was right on the button, telling them where the
enemy's location is and the various movements being conducted by the enemy,
thereby saving unknown numbers of lives.
In fact, the O-51 bunker and Tango-4 was at the very center of the
battle. A1C Tucker was the closest living being to see the enemy's carnage of
the O-51 Bunker and those brave men within. Then later on, the American
Forces and South Vietnamese Forces utilized three South Vietnamese tanks, Tan
Son Nhut base artillery and mortars, Spook the Magic Dragon and the
razor-back helicopters. They brought tremendous firepower onto the enemy on
the perimeter. In particular on more than one occasion the O-51 bunker itself
was targeted. A job well done to all those involved. TSgt Palmer, A1C
Tucker, Sgt Cyr, Sgt Fischer, Sgt Hebron and Sgt Mills received Silver Stars
for their heroism.