Kien Base was built in the middle of the Iron Triangle secret zone about two kilometers from the small town of Ben Cat. The Iron Triangle was formed by part of the Thi Tinh River on the east and Saigon River on the west. The acute angle is the meeting point of two rivers at Ben Cat. On the north side, there was a dirt road from Ben Cat bridge that ran along the river to Dau Tieng and farther, to the Cambodian border. This had been for decades the supply route of the enemies to many famous secret zones such as the war zones D, Long Nguyen, Boi Loi, Ho Bo, Tam Giac Sat (Iron Triangle), to name a few!
In 1967, not far from the Ben Cat district compound, there occurred a fierce battle – Operation Cedar Falls – between Viet Cong and units of the ARVN 5th ID and US 1st ID amid the Iron Triangle. Two years later, we found the ruins of three armored vehicles: one M-41 tank and two M-113 APCs and various items of American soldiers at the spot where five narrow trails converged. We gave it the nickname “Ngả Năm Chuồng Chó” (five-way intersection at the dog kennels), after the name of the very famous red light district in the north suburb of Saigon.
The history of Vietnam is the history of a ceaseless struggle over four thousand years to survive harsh conditions and threats from foreign invasions. Vietnamese are peace-loving people but were pushed to a dangerous situation of extinction. They had to fight and became the finest and most experienced combatants in the South East Asia region in order to maintain their independence and conserve their distinguished culture.
Looking at the map of South Asia, anybody would realize that Vietnam – in the 20th century – is the most important location in terms of strategy and geopolitics. According to the old concepts of strategy, Vietnam is the door opened to the vast region of South East Asia that is rich in natural resources. Vietnam could provide any kind of economy with a big army of hardworking laborers and also a huge number of consumers. Vietnam was the target of dozens of invasions from many Chinese dynasties over four thousand years; then, the French in the late 19th Century and the Communists in the second half of the 20th century.
The helicopters were hovering about four feet above the ground to drop the 2nd platoon. Aspirant Chieu and the men of his 2nd Platoon quickly jumped out and spread thin in all directions to set up a security perimeter for the LZ. My CP and the 4th Platoon were in the 3rd round. Last was the 1st Platoon.
In this part of the war zone D. northwest of Lai Khe, our division base, there was no pocket of grassland that was large enough for an ideal landing zone. We landed right on the pathway cleared by the Rome Plows of the 169th US Engineer Battalion. The Americans used the large armored bulldozers (aka Rome Plows) to create crossed pathways in the dense forest and jungle. From above, the forest looked like a large chest table or a grid formed by squares of the size 100 by 100 meters each.
I have been with the 5thID, 4/8 Battalion for 10 months and had experienced only some minor contact with the enemies until this moment.
The National Route 13, starting from Saigon, went to Binh Duong, An Loc, and Loc Ninh then continued to the Snuol district of Cambodia. The alpha base was the last military post of ARVN on the south side of the border. At about five kilometers north of Binh Duong, the route split at Nga Tu So. From there, the 13-bis route ran to Phu Giao, Dong Xoai, Bunard, and Phuoc Binh, the capital city of Phuoc Long Province.
Dong Xoai, the major town of Don Luan District, was about 88 kilometers from Saigon. It was a very important location in term of military strategy.
Aspirant Lo Duc Tan grabbed my hand, and shouted as he pulled me down to the ground:
– Lie down. Dig in or run to that gravestone. They are shelling the mortars.
The company was approaching Ap Nha Viet. We walked in two columns past a local cemetery and were detected by the enemy’s reconnaissance.
A fresh new graduate from the military school, I was like an apprentice who could not detect the sound of the departing mortar shells from a far distance. I even could not distinguish the sound of the mortar from that of a cannon. In great confusion, what I could do was react to what Tan said.
My battalion had just finished the supplementary training at Huynh Van Luong Training Center and then was ordered to get ready for a sudden operation at Dau Tieng, Tri Tam District. We were attached to the Armored Cavalry Regiment of the US 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One). From the training center, we were transported to Ben Tranh village next to the famous Michelin rubber plantation. The American regiment had been at the gate of the training center with dozens of heavy tanks and APCs.
The conference room of Quang Tri Military Sector was crowded with about thirty men who were eager to receive their assignment orders. They were new officers who had recently graduated from Thu Duc Infantry School and six cadets from the Polwar College. They would soon depart to six sub-sectors to work closely with the RF and PF soldiers in the next three months. They were members of a political campaign that was vital to the destiny of the republic during the great turning point of its history.
There were more than two years since we entered Polwar College. Now that it was the end of our long journey of tough military training and an academic curriculum. We were very excited waiting for a beautiful day to earn the final reward as newly commissioned officers of the Vietnamese Armed Forces.
Dalat was famous for its beautiful hilly landscape and its mild climate all around the year. Dalat was also well-known because it was home to the three most important military schools of the ARVN: The National Military Academy, the Polwar College, and the Staff and Command College.
The Polwar College was located on a low hill north of the city. On the other side of the narrow street Vo Tanh, on the other hill, there was a school for girls – the Bui Thi Xuan High School.
The first class of Polwar cadets arrived at Dalat in May 1967 after four months of basic training at Thu Duc Infantry School. Every Monday morning, two hundred young men of the Polwar cadet battalion in their dress uniforms fell into formation in front of the headquarters building to perform the flag raising ceremony. At the same time, hundreds of young girls in purple Vietnamese dresses were standing at attention to observe the same ritual.
There were eleven infantry divisions in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd (I Corps/ 1st Military Region); the 22nd and the 23rd (II Corps/ 2nd MR); the 5th, the 18th, and the 25th (III Corps/ 3rd MR); and the 7th, the 9th, and the 21st (IV Corps/ 4th MG).
Initially, the 5th ID was founded in the far north of Vietnam. During the First Indochina War, the French army recruited its soldiers from the Nung ethnicity to form groups to patrol the Vietnamese-Chinese border. Nung people speak Guangdong Chinese with their special accent. Many of them had fled China after the Chinese Communists seized power in 1949. Their commanding officer was Colonel Vong A Sang who later became the first Commander of the 5th ID.