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"Twenty Seven Feet"  By:  Charles E. Penley, USA (SFC, Retired) Tan Son Nhut, Saigon, Vietnam

Tan Son Nhut, Air Base

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. Mills.

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.

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