Yesterday, veteran Larry Burbank interviewed me as part of the Veteran Oral History Collection Day at the Community Media Center, Carroll County, Maryland. Larry was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam while I was on the ground collecting intelligence against the North Vietnamese regulars as well as local forces and guerrillas—what we Americans called the Viet Cong or VC.
Larry asked me questions that led to the telling of the story of the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and my escape under fire. As so often happens, my emotions got the better of me at several points in the story, but Larry was patient and understanding. He asked me about the most exciting time during my nearly thirteen years in Vietnam, and I told of the battle of Dak To in 1967 and how I warned the commander of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division that the North Vietnamese had a multi-division force hiding in the hills, ready to ambush and attack the division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade which was operating with it. The commander didn’t believe me and did nothing to prepare. When a B-52 strike brought large secondary explosions near the Dak To Special Forces camp, he sent a single battalion to investigate. That battalion was all but destroyed. That led to the battle of Dak To, one of the largest and bloodiest in the war.
I was up to my hocks in the battle. When it was over, I moved south to the Bien Hoa area. Once there, I detected the same signal patterns I’d seen in the highlands near Dak To. U.S. signals intelligence units operating in the far north of the country, just south of the DMZ, reported that the North Vietnamese in that region were exhibiting identical behaviour. At my behest, the National Security Agency (NSA), my parent organization, reported North Vietnamese preparations for a country-wide offensive. U.S. military forces on the ground ignored the warning. The Tet Offensive of January 1968 took them by surprise despite our warnings.
The interview with Larry was videotaped and will be shown on channel 19, the public access channel for Carroll County, operated by the county’s Community Media Center. When I find out the date and time the interview will be telecast, I’ll alert readers here. If the interview will be available online, I’ll let you know.