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War Stories

The Bu Dop Mission (Nov 1967)

Bruce Powell

Comments from Tom Fleming, Troop Cdr

 

This was a supposedly dangerous mission that called for volunteers. It ended up being a cakewalk for the unsupported gun crews, while our buddies in Cu Chi got the crap shot out of them with heavy mortar and recoiless rifle attacks.

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On 13 November 1967 I was called to Operations for an emergency briefing. There had been very large scale battles in the Central Highlands in the areas of Loc Ninh and Song Be. The attack at Loc Ninh resulted in 900 VC killed. These large scale attacks were thought to be the start of conventional war tactics by the enemy. Many were hopeful that this was true.

Elements of the Wolfhounds from the 25th Division were being deployed to the Central Highlands to head off an expected full attack on the Special Forces Camp at Bu Dop. I had not heard of any of these places since they were way north of our area of operation. Close air support for this distant location, north of Loc Ninh and very close to the Cambodian border, was some distance away. Song Be, I believe.

Apparently the Wolfhounds requested support from the Centaurs. The Air Force cargo/troop aircraft that were supporting the operation also wanted gunship escort in and out of Bu Dop. It was decided that one light fire team (Guns) could be spared for the 3 day mission. Since there would be no other close back up or support for that gun team, all crew members would have to be volunteers. They needed to know that was is in the Highlands with triple canopy jungle. None of us had ever seen it. It had the ominous ring of "If things go well, you might make it back".

I wish I could remember my crew and tail number at that time, but I don't. Everyone in the gun platoon was "gung ho" and battle tested. I knew that if I asked for volunteers there might be fist fights over who would get to go on this scary sounding mission. I went with the crew that I was booked to fly with the next day. They were excited and immediately volunteered.

Warrant Officer Tom Meeks was my first choice for wingman. He had a lot of time in country, all guns, was a team leader, and first class pilot. I called him aside and told him of the mission. "Lets do it." Tom's aircraft was 444 with Bob Taylor as crew chief. I don't remember if Bob's favorite gunner Rice was still there or not.

Later that evening one of the crew members came barging into my hootch. I had taken him off the mission because he had only a few days left in country. He was furious. "I go with my ship" he says. Against my better judgement I let him go with us. What a group of dedicated men I had to work with.

We scrounged up some maps and flew to Song Be for refueling, then on to the small airstrip at Bu Dop to the Southwest close to the border. The Special forces camp was like a little fortress within the wider perimeter including the airfield. It never occurred to me that we would be staying outside that little fortress along the side of the small laterite airstrip. (Laterite is a clay that is formed in hot and wet tropical areas, and was used by the French and then by us to make runways.) Elevation was about 500 feet. There was a large rubber plantation on the East perimeter. Almost everywhere else was triple canopy jungle. The 200 foot trees were very spectacular.

BuDopIt looked like a little hole in the jungle from the air as I remember it. I was also curious as to what kind of Air Force aircraft were going to land on that short runway, C-123 I guess. I remember reading that the C-123 Cargo/Troop aircraft provided primary support for the Special Forces and small ARVN camps. They were known for their short field takeoff and landing capabilities. But this runway was extremely short. We saw an older wreckage of a C-123 off the South end of the runway that had also taken out a few hootch's of the Montagnard Village there. If you are not familiar with the 123 just picture a smaller version of the standard C-130 Transport aircraft, with only two prop engines.

We landed and went to a briefing in the operations shack of the Special Forces Unit. A PRC 25 radio would be our communications while we were standing by (24 hour standby) on the side of the runway.

It wasn't long before the first C-123 contacted us. We circled to the south of Bu Dop and awaited their arrival. I didn't have a clue how all this was going to work. We knew where we couldn't shoot, the base, the village and probably some other areas. The Special Forces guys said something like if you can see it, shoot it. Figuring that the Air Force pilots were not real happy about landing on this postage stamp anyway, I decided that my main mission was to just give them some confidence that the mighty Centaurs were there to protect them. So Tom and I decided that whatever we did would be done with gusto and a projected attitude that we had been doing this type mission for months.

C123KWe were very surprised when we saw the first aircraft. It was a C-123 with an additional jet engine under each wing. Looked like an aircraft built by committee. It was a "K" model, built specifically for these type missions. The jet engines didn't improve the payload or speed, but greatly increased the short field take off performance.

It was clear why they wanted escort. They approached the runway at very low level and slow speed. Well, that answered my first concern of how were we going to keep up with them in our fully loaded Hueys. In our initial recon of the area it appeared that there were more opportunities/areas to receive fire from the right side of their aircraft during their low southern approach. Tom took their right wing, up close where they could see him. Not the way we would cover a slick but we thought it might make them feel better. I flew back at normal cover range and on the left. Tom's mission was to show off and draw any fire that might be directed that way. I was covering them both and would put rockets and mini-gun down on Toms mark. We rotated roles as more aircraft arrived and departed. It sounded like a brilliant plan and was great fun. No enemy fire was received. We sort of knew that since we had been hovering around that area for sometime prior to their arrival. The Air Force guys seemed genuinely grateful to have those crazy gunships on their wing.

It was time to bed down for the night. It had been a beautiful sunny but long day. It was hard to think of this mission as the death defying, might never return, one that was presented to us the day before. I wish I could say that as leader I had a well thought out loading plan, but I didn't. Guns, grenades, gas and go. Nothing to sleep on or in. No extra water to drink. No change of clothes. We did have C rations. We always had C rations. I was beat and relieved by how well things were going; and laid down under the shade of my aircrafts tail boom. Don't remember what time it started, but world war three began and we were right in the middle of it. I'm sure that I did damage to the underside of the tail boom as I bolted straight up from my dead sleep. As the panic ensued, and I attempted to work my head back into place, we were either told or figured out that the Wolfhounds were doing their nightly 4.2 inch mortar interdiction. That is a little random firing into the jungle to stir up the enemy. In this little clearing of a place, surrounded by hills and trees, everything echoed beyond the pale. It was deafening. I had been in country for some 10 months and thought I had heard it all; Arc Lights, mortar attacks, and 105 howitzers. But this was different. It was louder. It occurred while we were in a place that seemed undefendable and we were already nervous. I decided to start sleeping on the roof of the gunship. One of the other crew members fell off the roof and decided to start sleeping on the ground.

One of the days, when not much was going on, the Special Forces guys invited us to go into the Montagnard village with them. The term Montagnard means "mountain people" in French. It was a medical thing where the shots and health checks were being given. It was a short walk at the end of the airfield. What an unusual experience. The Hootch's were neatly arranged and up on stilts. The people were friendly and didn't seem to mind us being there. I looked around for National Geographic camera men. The kids of any tribe in the world know the American GI's are a soft touch for goodies and other hand outs. Don't remember what I had on me but it wasn't much. We gave what we had. I took one of my badges, wings or rank or something, and gave it to one little boy who was scared to death of the vaccination. The Montagnards hated the Vietnamese (both sides) and were friendly and hard workers for the Special Forces. The guys we talked to really liked working with them and depended heavily on them for their knowledge of the area. They were famous for their small but effective wooden crossbows. Don't remember if any of the crew managed to trade for one.

Every day there was beautiful. We did some reconnaissance for the ground units. Difficult to do in this amazing terrain. On the main road into Bu Dop we dropped down over the road with our rotor blades 20 feet below the treetops and us still well above the road. What a sight and experience. I half expected to see Tarzan. No, I think that was Africa. Mostly we looked for Tigers and Elephants. No Tigers but we did find and follow some elephant tracks. We were told the elephants were one of the main forms of transportation for heavy items on the Ho Chi Minh trail. If they have a load, take them out. Bob Taylor, says he remembers spotting one with a load and filling it full of M-60 rounds.

We were released and returned to Cu Chi expecting a warm reception for us, the gallant volunteers. We were tired, unshaven, filthy dirty, bones aching, hungry for a hot meal and a shower. We were greeted with this: "Well while you assholes were having R&R in Bu Dop, we got the shit shelled out of us here." Turns out that on the night of 15 November 1967 Cu Chi was pummeled with 128 mortar rounds. The Tropic Lightning News later published this article:

Camp Receives Seventh Attack

The 25th Inf Div's Cu Chi base camp underwent its seventh and heaviest enemy mortar and recoilless rifle attack on Nov. 15. Five soldiers were killed and 26 others wounded. More than 125 rounds landed within the camp's perimeter during the 20 minute barrage which began at 7:35 p.m. Viet Cong firing positions were situated southeast of the camp. The enemy used 57 mm and 75 mm recoilless rifles and 82 mm mortars in the sneak attack. Counter-mortar helicopters quickly called in heavy retaliatory fire, silencing the enemy positions. At 11:10 p.m. the same night three more mortar rounds were fired into the base camp.

There was no mention of the brave Bu Dop mission.

© 2011 Bruce Powell

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Comments from Tom Fleming, Troop Commander:

What I remember about why we sent gunship support to Bu Dop on an emergency mission in November 1967 was that III Corp received intelligence that the SF /Camp at Bu Dop was about to be overrun by elements of the 272 Rgt & VC Division. The 25th ID was tasked to immediately send forces to Bu Dop for a classified mission the 3/4th Cav was not given a reason. The elements of the 25th ID were released by III Corp and returned when the 1st ID reinforced the Loc Ninh area and the Bu Dop air strip (their AO included War Zone D). The real battle for Bu Dop came after the return of 25th ID assets. Below is an extract of the 5th SF Gp After Action report contained in the URL.


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