BigWindow BackArrow
War Stories

 NVA Surrender - 1969

Thomas "Sam" Dooling


Like many stories written about first hand experiences in war, it is difficult to tell a story that in some facets can be thought of as amusing, but in reality, it is just another small part of the overall tragedy of war. Dating back to the times of Aristotle, philosophers have acknowledged the link between comedy and tragedy.  Certainly, the participants’ experiences in the Vietnam War saw evidence of this connection many times.  One thing I certainly took from my experiences in the war was that you found both brave and honorable warriors on both sides of the conflict, as well as those imbued with the not so admirable traits of cowardice and cruelty.  

I believe it was late Summer or early Fall of 1969.  I was flying cover (Cobra) for an LOH Scout (I believe it was Eric Brethen) out of Tay Ninh ­– looking for activity in an area between Nui Ba Den and Dau Tieng.  The area we were scouting was a well-known route coming off of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – with the NVA bringing materials and replacements down parallel to the Saigon River to the tunnels of Cu Chi VC/NVA base camp and points south.  The terrain was flat, mostly low scrub brush to medium sized forest (trees in the 30-50 foot range).  It was interspersed with long tracts of abandoned farmland that were essentially clear of all vegetation.

It was late in the day and we were coming to the end of our fuel loads when Eric indicated they had spotted a uniformed individual hiding in some scrub near an open field.  It looked like he may have had an AK 47, but he was not sure.  I was calling back to the TOC to ensure that we didn’t have any friendlies in the area; and to get permission to engage this individual while Eric came around for another look.  I was doing my normal race track around the Loach at about 1,500 feet. 

Eric went back past the area where he saw the uniformed individual, and, as he went past, the NVA started shooting at him.  Receiving Eric’s call of “Taking Fire” I started my roll-in to a fairly steep dive to deliver some rockets to cover Eric.  As I was lining up for the run, I saw an individual run out of the scrub into an open area to get a better angle for shooting at Eric as he fled the area of contact.  I put two to three pairs of rockets right on top of the individual and when Eric came back around to have another look, all he could find were the rocket craters (17 lb. warheads make very distinct craters) and evidence of scraps of uniform and parts of a blown-up AK.  We hung around the area for a few more minutes to see if there were any other NVA in the area, but we were low of fuel and needed to head back to Tay Ninh.  We reported the activity and engagement to theTOC on our return.
  At that time, D Troop was providing two Scout Teams (Cobra and Loach) to cover Tay Ninh, and when the day was over, the two Loaches would return to our home base at Cu Chi and the Cobras would pull night Fire Team duty for Tay Ninh, and return to Cu Chi the next morning.  Because we only had two night qualified Fire Team Leaders during that time (myself and CPT Malinovsky [the Cobra Platoon Leader]), I was at Tay Ninh pretty much every other day. 

Two days later, I was back at Tay Ninh and getting our morning briefing at the TOC when the Major running the show came over to tell me a (as he put it) “funny story.”  One of the fire bases south of the area Eric and I had worked two days before had a squad (8 – 10 soldiers) of NVA uniformed soldiers walk up to the perimeter and surrender.  Upon questioning the soldiers, they were fairly young conscripts who had just arrived from the North, and they told a tale of their sergeant shooting at a small helicopter a couple of days earlier and then magically disappearing in a cloud of smoke.We all had a pretty good chuckle over that story.  But going back to the comedy/tragedy perspective, here was a group of soldiers who had been drafted by their country, gone through basic training and then had a sergeant lead them down a journey fraught with hardship that likely lasted five to six months to find the realities of war at the end of their journey were horrible (may sound familiar to many of the conscripts on either side of the war). 

It sort of gives credence to the information we were given about the two things that scared the NVA and VC most were (1) the B-52 Arc Lights (having several tons of high explosive ordnance fall silently from the sky with no warning) – which these soldiers probably had at least second-hand witness to, and (2) the little egg-shaped helicopters (LOH) that seemed to appear as if by magic, and often bring death.