|The camp had
originally been built for President Diem, who enjoyed hunting in the area. The 1st Special
Forces detachment (A-727B) arrived in September 1963 and found the outpost to be an ideal
border surveillance site with an existing airfield. The camp was located on a narrow
grassy plain surrounded by rugged, virtually uninhabited jungle. The only village in the
area, located across the airstrip, was occupied by post dependents, camp followers and
merchants. The camp and airstrip were bordered by the Ngok Peng Bum ridge to the west and
Ngok Pe Xar mountain, looming over Kham Duc to the east. Steep banked streams full of
rapids and waterfalls cut through the tropical wilderness. The Dak Mi River flowed past
the camp over a mile distant, under the shadow of the Ngok Pe Xar.
Five miles downriver was the small forward operating base of Ngok Tavak, defended by the
113-man 11th Mobile Strike Force Company with its 8 Special Forces and 3 Australian
advisors. Since Ngok Tavak was outside friendly artillery range, 33 Marine artillerymen of
Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, with two 105mm howitzers were located at the
Capt. Christopher J. Silva, commander of Detachment A-105 helicoptered into Ngok Tavak on
May 9, 1968 in response to growing signs of NVA presence in the area. Foul weather
prevented his scheduled evening departure. A Kham Duc CIDG platoon fleeing a local ambush
also arrived and was posted to the outer perimeter. It was later learned that the CIDG
force contained VC infiltrators.
Ngok Tavak was attacked by an NVA infantry battalion at 0315 hours on May 10. The base was
pounded by mortars and direct rocket fire. As the frontal assault began, the Kham Duc CIDG
soldiers moved toward the Marines in the fort yelling, "Don't shoot, don't shoot!
Friendly, friendly!" Suddenly they lobbed grenades into the Marine howitzer positions
and ran into the fort, where they shot several Marines with carbines and sliced claymore
mine and communication wires.
The defenders suffered heavy casualties but stopped the main assault and killed the
infiltrators. The NVA dug in along the hill slopes and grenaded the trenches where the
mobile strike force soldiers were pinned by machine gun and rocket fire. An NVA
flamethrower set the ammunition ablaze, banishing the murky flare-lighted darkness for the
rest of the night. SFC Harold M. Swicegood and the USMC platoon leader, Lt. Adams, were
badly wounded and moved to the command bunker. Medical Spec4 Blomgren reported that the
CIDG mortar crews had abandoned their weapons. Silva tried to operate the main 4.2 inch
mortar but was wounded. At about 0500 hours, Sgt. Glenn Miller, an A-105 communications
specialist, was shot through the head as he ran over to join the Marine howitzer crews.
The NVA advanced across the eastern side of Ngok Tavak and brought forward more automatic
weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In desperation, the defenders called on
USAF AC-47 "Spooky" gunships to strafe the perimeter and the howitzers, despite
the possible presence of friendly wounded in the gun pits. The NVA countered with tear
gas, but the wind kept drifting the gas over their own lines. After three attempts, they
stopped. A grenade fight between the two forces lasted until dawn.
At daybreak Australian Warrant Officers Cameron and Lucas, joined by Blomgren, led a CIDG
counterattack. The North Vietnamese pulled back under covering fire, and the howitzers
were retaken. The Marines fired the last nine shells and spiked the tubes. Later that
morning medical evacuation helicopters supported by covering airstrikes took out the
seriously wounded, including Silva and Swicegood. Two CH46's were able to land 45
replacements from the 12th Mobile Strike Force Company, accompanied by Capt. Euge E.
Makowski (who related much of this account to Shelby Stanton, author of "Green Berets
at War"), but one helicopter was hit in the fuel line and forced down. Another
helicopter was hit by a rocket and burst into flames, wrecking the small helipad. The
remaining wounded were placed aboard a hovering helicopter. As it lifted off, two Mike
Force soldiers and 1Lt. Horace Fleming, one of the stranded aviation crewmen, grabbed the
helicopter skids. All three fell to their deaths after the helicopter had reached an
altitude of over one hundred feet.
The mobile strike force soldiers were exhausted and nervous. Ammunition and water were
nearly exhausted, and Ngok Tavak was still being pounded by sporadic mortar fire. They
asked permission to evacuate their positions, but were told to "hold on" as
"reinforcements were on the way". By noon the defenders decided that aerial
reinforcement or evacuation was increasingly unlikely, and night would bring certain
destruction. An hour later, they abandoned Ngok Tavak.
Thomas Perry, a medic from C Company, arrived at the camp at 0530 hours the morning of the
10th. He cared for the wounded and was assisting in an attempt to establish a defensive
perimeter when the decision was made to evacuate the camp. As survivors were leaving,
Perry was seen by Sgt. Cordell J. Matheney, Jr., standing 20 feet away, as Australian Army
Capt. John White formed the withdrawal column at the outer perimeter wire on the eastern
Ngok Tavak hillside. It was believed that Perry was going to join the end of the column.
All the weapons, equipment and munitions that could not be carried were hastily piled into
the command bunker and set afire. The helicopter that had been grounded by a ruptured fuel
line was destroyed with a LAW. Sgt. Miller's body was abandoned.
After survivors had gone about 1 kilometer, it was discovered that Perry was missing.
Efforts were conducted to locate both Perry and Miller, including a search by a group from
Battery D. They were searching along the perimeter when they were hit by enemy grenades
and arms fire. Neither the men on the team nor Perry was ever found. Included in this team
were PFC Thomas Blackman; LCpl. Joseph Cook; PFC Paul Czerwonka; LCpl. Thomas Fritsch; PFC
Barry Hempel; LCpl. Raymond Heyne; Cpl. Gerald King; PFC Robert Lopez; PFC William
McGonigle; LCpl. Donald Mitchell; and LCpl. James Sargent. The remaining survivors evaded
through dense jungle to a helicopter pickup point midway to Kham Duc. Their extraction was
completed shortly before 1900 hours on the evening of May 10.
In concert with the Ngok Tavak assault, the Kham Duc was blasted by a heavy mortar and
recoilless rifle attack at 0245 hours that same morning. Periodic mortar barrages ripped
into Kham Duc throughout the rest of the day, while the Americal Division airmobiled a
reinforced battalion of the 196th Infantry Brigade into the compound. A Special Forces
command party also landed, but the situation deteriorated too rapidly for their presence
to have positive effect.
The mortar attack on fog-shrouded Kham Duc resumed on the morning of May 11. The
bombardment caused heavy losses among the frightened CIDG soldiers, who fled from their
trenches across open ground, seeking shelter in the bunkers. The LLDB commander remained
hidden. CIDG soldiers refused orders to check the rear of the camp for possible North
Vietnamese intruders. That evening the 11th and 12th Mobile Strike Force companies were
airlifted to Da Nang, and half of the 137th CIDG Company from Camp Ha Thanh was airlanded
The 1st VC Regiment, 2nd NVA Division, began closing the ring around Kham Duc during the
early morning darkness of 12 May. At about 0415 to 0430 hours, the camp and outlying
positions came under heavy enemy attack. Outpost #7 was assaulted and fell within a few
minutes. Outposts #5, #1 and #3 had been reinforced by Americal troops but were in North
Vietnamese hands by 0930 hours.
OP1 was manned by PFC Harry Coen, PFC Andrew Craven, Sgt. Joseph Simpson, and SP4 Julius
Long from Company E, 2nd of the 1st Infantry. At about 0415 hours, when OP1 came under
heavy enemy attack, PFC Coen and SP4 Long were seen trying to man a 106 millimeter
recoilless rifle. Survivors reported that in the initial enemy fire, they were knocked off
their bunker. Both men again tried to man the gun, but were knocked down again by RPG
PFC Craven, along with two other men, departed the OP at 0830 hours on May 12. They moved
out 50 yards and could hear the enemy in their last position. At about 1100 hours, as they
were withdrawing to the battalion perimeter, they encountered an enemy position. PFC
Craven was the pointman and opened fire. The enemy returned fire, and PFC Craven was seen
to fall, with multiple chest wounds. The other two men were unable to recover him, and
hastily departed the area. PFC Craven was last seen lying on his back, wounded, near the
OP2 was being manned by 1Lt. Frederick Ransbottom, SP4 Maurice Moore, PFC Roy Williams,
PFC Danny Widner, PFC William Skivington, PFC Imlay Widdison, and SP5 John Stuller, from
the 2nd of the 3rd Infantry when it came under attack. Informal questioning of survivors
of this position indicated that PFC Widdison and SP5 Stuller may have been killed in
action. However, the questioning was not sufficiently thorough to produce enough evidence
to confirm their deaths.
The only information available concerning 1Lt. Ransbottom, SP4 Moore, PFC Lloyd and PFC
Skivington that Lt. Ransbottom allegedly radioed PFC Widner and PFC Williams, who were in
the third bunker, and told them that he was shooting at the enemy as they entered his
SP4 Juan Jimenez, a rifleman assigned to Company A, 2nd of the 1st Infantry, was occupying
a defensive position when he was severely wounded in the back by enemy mortar fire. SP4
Jimenez was declared dead by the Battalion Surgeon in the early morning hours of May 12.
He was then carried to the helipad for evacuation. However, due to the situation, space
was available in the helicopter for only the wounded, and SP4 Jimenez'remains were left
At noon a massive NVA attack was launched against the main compound. The charge was
stopped by planes hurling napalm, cluster bomb units and 750 pound bombs into the final
wire barriers. The decision was made by the Americal Division officers to call for
The evacuation was disorderly, and at times, on the verge of complete panic. One of the
first extraction helicopters to land was exploded by enemy fire, blocking the airstrip.
Engineers of Company A, 70th Engineer Battalion, frantically reassembled one of their
dozers (previously torn apart to prevent capture) to clear the runway. Eight more aircraft
were blown out of the sky.
PFC Richard E. Sands was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Light
Infantry Brigade being extracted on a CH47 helicopter (serial #67-18475). The helicopter
was hit by 50 calliber machine gun fire at an altitude of 1500-1600 feet shortly after
Sands, who was sitting near the door gunner, was hit in the head by an incoming rounds.
The helicopter made a controlled landing and caught fire. During the evacuation from the
burning helicopter, four personnel and a medic checked PFC Sands and indicated that he had
been killed instantly. Because of the danger of incoming mortar rounds and the fire,
personnel attempting to remove PFC Sands from the helicopter were ordered to abandon their
attempt. The remaining personnel were evacuated from the area later by another helicopter.
Intense antiaircraft fire from the captured outposts caused grave problems. Control over
the indigenous forces was difficult. One group of CIDG soldiers had to be held in trenches
at gunpoint to prevent them from mobbing the runway.
As evacuation was in progress, members of Company A, 1/46, who insisted on boarding the
aircraft first, shoved Vietnamese dependents out of the way. As more Americal infantry
tried to clamber into the outbound planes, the outraged Special Forces staff convinced the
Air Force to start loading civilians onboard a C130, then watched as the civilians pushed
children and weaker adults aside.
The crew of the U.S. Air Force C130 aircraft (serial #60-0297) consisted of Maj. Bernard
Bucher, pilot; SSgt. Frank Hepler, flight engineer; Maj. John McElroy, navigator; 1Lt.
Steven Moreland, co-pilot; George Long, load master; Capt. Warren Orr, passenger, and an
undetermined number of Vietnamese civilians.
The aircraft reported receiving ground fire on takeoff. The Forward Air Control (FAC) in
the area reported that the aircraft exploded in mid-air and crashed in a fire ball about
one mile from camp. All crew and passengers were believed dead, as the plane burned
quickly and was completely destroyed except for the tail boom. No remains were recovered
from the aircraft.
Capt. Orr was not positively identified by U.S. personnel as being aboard the aircraft. He
was last seen near the aircraft helping the civilians to board. However, a Vietnamese
stated that he had seen Capt. Orr board the aircraft and later positively identified him
from a photograph. Rescue efforts were impossible because of the hostile threat in the
At the time the order was given to escape and evade, SP4 Julius Long was was with Coen and
Simpson. All three had been wounded, and were trying to make their way back to the
airfield about 350 yards away. As they reached the airfield, they saw the last C130
departing. PFC Coen, who was shot in the stomach, panicked and started running and
shooting his weapon at random. SP4 Long tried to catch him, but could not, and did not see
PFC Coen again. Long then carried Sgt. Simpson to a nearby hill, where they spent the
During the night, the airfield was strafed and bombed by U.S. aircraft. SP4 Long was hit
twice in the back by fragments, and Sgt. Simpson died during the night. SP4 Long left him
lying on the hill near the Cam Duc airfield and started his escape and evasion toward Chu
Lai, South Vietnam. SP4 Long was captured and was released in 1973 from North Vietnam.
The Special Forces command group was the last organized group out of the camp. As their
helicopter soared into the clouds, Kham Duc was abandoned to advancing NVA infantry at
4:33 p.m. on May 12, 1968. The last Special Forces camp on the northwestern frontier of
South Vietnam had been destroyed.
Two search and recovery operations were conducted in the vicinity of OP1 and OP2 and the
Cam Duc airfield on July 18, 1970 and August 17, 1970. In these operations, remains of
personnel previously reported missing from this incident were recovered and subsequently
identified. (SP4 Bowers, PFC Lloyd, Sgt. Sisk, PFC Guzman-Rios and SSgt. Carter). However,
extensive search and excavation could not be completed at OP1 and OP2 because of the
It was assumed that all the missing at Kham Duc were killed in action until about 1983,
when the father of one of the men missing discovered a Marine Corps document which
indicated that four of the men had been taken prisoner. The document listed the four by
name. Until then, the families had not been advised of the possibility there were any
American prisoners taken other than Julius Long. A Vietnamese rallier identified the
photograph of Roy C. Williams as positively having been a POW.
Until proof is obtained that the rest of the men lost at Ngok Tavak and Kham Duc are dead,
their families will always wonder if they are among those said to still be alive in
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
Aug 10, 2005
Media Contact: (703)697-5131
Public/Industry Contact: (703)428-0711
Twelve MIAS from Vietnam War are Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced
today the identification of the remains of 12 U.S. servicemen missing in
action from the Vietnam War. Five of those identified are being returned to
their families for burial, and the remaining seven will be buried as a group
in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.
The men who were individually identified are: Cpl. Gerald E. King, of
Knoxville, Tenn.; Lance Cpls. Joseph F. Cook, of Foxboro, Mass.; Raymond T.
Heyne, of Mason, Wis.; Donald W. Mitchell, of Princeton, Ky.; and Thomas W.
Fritsch, of Cromwell, Conn., all of the U.S. Marine Corps. Additional group
remains are those of: Pfcs. Thomas J. Blackman, of Racine, Wis.; Paul S.
Czerwonka, of Stoughton, Mass.; Barry L. Hempel, of Garden Grove, Calif.;
Robert C. Lopez, of Albuquerque, N.M.; William D. McGonigle, of Wichita,
Kan.; and Lance Cpl. James R. Sargent, of Anawalt, W. Va., all of the U.S.
Marine Corps. Additionally, the remains of U.S. Army Sgt. Glenn E. Miller,
of Oakland, Calif. will be included in the group burial.
The Marines were part of an artillery platoon airlifted to provide support
to the 11th Mobile Strike Force, which was under threat of attack from North
Vietnamese forces near Kham Duc in South Vietnam. On May 9, 1968, the
Strike Force had been directed to reconnoiter an area known as Little Ngok
Tavak Hill near the Laos-Vietnam border, in the Kham Duc Province. Their
base came under attack by North Vietnamese Army troops, and after a 10-hour
battle, all of the survivors were able to withdraw from the area.
Six investigations beginning in 1993 and a series of interviews of villagers
and former Vietnamese soldiers led U.S. recovery teams in 1994, 1997 and
1998 to specific defensive positions within the large battle site.
Additionally, maps provided by American survivors helped to locate some key
areas on the battlefield. Three excavations by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting
Command (JPAC) in 1998 and 1999 yielded human remains, personal effects and
other material evidence.
JPAC scientists and Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory specialists
used mitochondrial DNA as one of the forensic tools to help identify the
Of the 88,000 Americans missing in action from all conflicts, 1,815 are from
the Vietnam War, with 1,381 of those within the country of Vietnam. Another
768 Americans have been accounted for in Southeast Asia since the end of the
war. Of those, 540 are from within Vietnam.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account
for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo
or call (703) 699-1169.