In May 1972, I was an artillery advisor to South Viet Nam units in I Corps. Originally, I was the senior advisor to an ARVN 175mm gun battalion. The unit was not yet combat ready when the Easter Offensive started with North Viet Nam's attack across the DMZ. The unit was ordered north to support the ARVN Third Division. A day later I was ordered to replace the Third Division's artillery advisor. I went to Quang Tri City. Just before it fell, I was rescued by a young WO1 flying an OH-6. He took me to Hue where I worked trying to get the ARVN's I Corps Artillery' Fire Support Center up and running.
Sometime later, as an economy of force measure, a decision was made to emplace a personnel radar to cover the approaches to Hue. The plan was to lift a squad of ARVN engineers with construction materiel to a mountain top where they would build a bunker for the US manned radar. After the bunker was completed but before the roof was completed, the radar would be lifted in place.
The support of a Chinook was obtained. I now know it was from the 62nd ASHC. I marshaled the ARVN engineers and materiel on a grassy field along the Perfume River in Hue. I had a US Army sergeant advisor named Brooks and a Viet Namese sergeant from the engineer unit with me. SFC Brooks had radio contact with the Chinook while the Viet Namese sergeant had contact with the engineer squad.
All was going according to plan as the Chinook made trip after trip delivering the engineers and the materiel. I decided to get the next trip out to the site but saw an old monument at the far end of the field. As a history buff, I wanted to look at it. So, I told SFC Brooks that I would take the following lift. I walked down to the monument and using my high school French was able to decipher that the monument had been erected in the 1880's by a Foreign Legion penal battalion.
As I was reading the monument's words, I saw SFC Brooks waving me back. I ran down the field and he told me that the Viet Namese sergeant had received a radio call from the mountain site telling that they were receiving sporadic mortar fire. Most disturbing was that the engineers reported the fire was over, short, left and right of their position. Being artillerymen, SFC Brooks and I instantly realized the enemy's plan. They were getting the range and would fire when the helicopter was on site.
I called the helicopter and told them not to go in. I explained I was an artillery officer and knew what would happen. The pilot told me that they would go in. I again told him not to go. He said something about going in and then going back to his base to refuel. It was the last I heard from him. Moments later, the ARVN engineers reported that the helicopter had been hit, crashed and the crew was dead.
I am sad and frustrated that I have no more memories of that day. I cannot remember how the bodies were recovered or if we later continued the mission at a later time. This incident has haunted me for the rest of my Army career and ever since.
Brian M. O'Neill
B Battery CO