Last Tuesday, I gave a presentation on the battle of Dak To at the main branch of the Howard County Library system. I’ve never told the full story here, so I will now.
The village of Dak To is in Vietnam’s Kontum Province, in the midst of the western highlands. It’s a barren mountainous area along the Laotian and Cambodian borders. I, an NSA civilian, was in the highlands beginning in September 1967 working with a small team of soldiers providing signals intelligence support to the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The Vietnamese Communist headquarters in the western highlands was the B3 Front, in effect a corps headquarters with the equivalent of several divisions operating under it. We knew, from intercepting and analyzing the communications of the front, that it was a direct subordinate of the North Vietnamese High Command in Hanoi. Its status was that of a military region headquarters.
In September and October of 1967, we watched from Engineer Hill in the province of Pleiku, just north of Kontum, as the front prepared for combat throughout the highlands. The North Vietnamese 1st Division and its three subordinate regiments, all having infiltrated from North Vietnam, moved toward the U.S. Special Forces Camp near Dak To.
In the midst of all this, one day we got an airborne radio direction finding fix on an unidentified North Vietnamese unit operating only twenty kilometers from us. It was using radio procedures reserved for combat. Other North Vietnamese units were nearby. One of my guys wrote up a quick spot report to alert the 4th infantry and the 173rd and gave to me for editing. I decided instead to poke it immediately into our comms equipment to get it to the division and brigade as soon as possible. While I was typing, we came under attack.