UNTOLD STORIES section - vnafmamn.com
Back to "UNTOLD STORIES" main section
THE DISGRACED SURRENDER AT CAMP CARROLL
In battle, there are heroes and cowards, but the following story seems to be unexpected and less known to many in Vietnam war. It is also a classic example of cowardice and bankrupt leadership. But not everyone at Camp Carroll surrendered. When the VC entered the gate to accept the surrender, an ARVN Marines artillery unit lowed their howitzers, shot directly to the enemies. Those unknown, heroic ARVN Marines fought to the last man.
The North Vietnamese made no secret of the fact that they intended to take Camp Carroll. An entire artillery regiment, along with supporting infantry, had made the initial thrust from the west, easily overrunning Firebase Khe Gio and pressing ahead of the units assigned to capture Nui Ba Ho and Sarge. Some of the earliest shots fired during the opening hours of the Easter Offensive on 30 March were aimed at Camp Carroll.
For the South Vietnamese, the bombardment instilled fear and chaos. Disorganized masses of troops from the 56th ARVN Regiment rushed for the relative safety of Camp Carroll, making a mockery of the troop rotation begun around noon. An hour later, about 1,800 soldiers poured into the base, and the rest of the regiment fled to parts unknown. In the midst of chaos, Lieutenant Colonel Pham Van Dinh, the regimental commander, tried hard to contact his battalion commanders, but few answered over the radio.
Lieutenant Colonel Dinh had once been a hero in the South Vietnamese Army. During the 1968 TET Offensive he earned the sobriquet "Young Lion" when he personally placed South Vietnam's colors back atop the citadel in Hue after his unit helped wrest the ancient city back from the North Vietnamese. But glowing praise and a hero's reputation seemed to have corroded Dinh's leadership abilities. Once a trim fighter in an immaculate uniform, by 1972 he had become a pudgy man, more politician than soldier, putting his efforts into playing the intricate power games of the I Corps command system rather than attending to the war. Military affairs were left to his executive officer, the xenophobic Lieutenant Colonel Vinh Phong, a man known for his dislike of American advisers.
Lieutenant Colonel William Camper was the senior American (there were only two) assigned to the 56th ARVN Regiment. Camper was not thrilled at being stuck in a tough spot with a unit not known for its bravery and competence. But Camper was probably the most experienced combat adviser on Advisory Team 155. He had first served with the 2d ARVN Regiment in 1964 and 1965. Back in Vietnam again in 1972 he was again assigned to his old unit, but the division senior adviser decided that the newly formed 56th ARVN Regiment was more in need of an adviser than the veteran 2d ARVN Regiment. So Camper found himself with a green unit caught flatfooted in the middle of an artillery bombardment, sitting on the most crucial piece of real estate in western Quang Tri Province.
For two days he had sweated it out, enduring a constant bombardment, which damaged most of the radio equipment and all of the generators. Camper had a backpack radio which allowed him to talk with his superiors at the Team 155 command bunker, but even that was undependable because artillery rounds shredded his outside antenna on a regular basis. A low curtain of dense clouds kept most of the fighter planes or helicopter gun ships on the ground back in Danang. Air support was limited to B-52's, but there were not enough of the big bombers to go around. To make matters worse, since there were no American advisers at the battalion level, Camper had no clear idea of the 56th ARVN Regiment's overall condition. Could the soldiers stand up to a concerted infantry assault? Would they even try?
From a defensive point of view Camp Carroll was a formidable stronghold. Situated in the low foothills hugging the eastern slopes of the Annamite Mountains, the firebase controlled the terrain for fifteen miles in all directions. Behind a ring of heavy timbers, sandbags, and rolls of razor wire squatted a network of reinforced bunkers and one of the most awesome arrays of artillery in all of I Corps. A battery of 175mm howitzers, one of the biggest field artillery pieces in the world, had been left by the last elements of the 101st Airborne Division when they departed in early March 1972. In all, Camp Carroll boasted twenty-two artillery pieces, including 155mm and 105mm batteries, plus scores of heavy machine guns and small arms positions. Camp Carroll was clearly the best hope for a strong stand on Quang Tri Province's northwestern front so it came as no surprise when General Giai ordered the 56th ARVN Regiment to hold at all costs.
Camper was more concerned about the fate of his deputy adviser than about General Giai's orders. Major Joseph Brown, the only other American assigned to the regiment, had been with the supply column during the opening salvo on 30 March and he had not been seen since. Late at night on 1 April Camper got good news: Major Brown and part of the supply train had managed to evade North Vietnamese units and enter Camp Carroll from the east. The tattered remnants of a battalion, which had been overrun at Khe Gio Firebase earlier in the day, also wandered in. Khe Gio was one of the first defensive positions to fall in the gathering storm of North Vietnamese divisions to the west. Though there was little to celebrate, the two advisers settled down in their dank bunker lit only by a sputtering candle, opened a pair of warm Cokes, one of the few luxuries left in the camp, and pondered the future.
At dawn the next day, Easter Sunday, the pressure increased. Infantry probes from the north and west suddenly merged into three all-out.
Assaults as the 24th NVA Regiment hurled itself at Camp Carroll. But the enemy found that the base was not as easy to crack as the tiny firebases they had so easily trampled in the preceding two days and by noon the attacks had died down.
"Happy Easter," said Major Brown dryly during a lull in the fighting. Over cups of warm C-ration coffee the two officers toasted the holy day as three 130 mm artillery rounds crashed into the compound. In between artillery rounds, the advisers decided to check the perimeter. Camper and Brown shrugged into their flak jackets and stepped outside. A light drizzle cloaked the base, shrouding the silent South Vietnamese artillery positions in a ghostly gray pall. Nothing moved; whatever South Vietnamese soldiers were manning the perimeter had dug in as deep as they could, hoping to escape the artillery and the rain. The advisers scurried from bunker to bunker, pausing to talk with the frightened soldiers and doing what they could to help out.
PHOTOS OF CAMP CARROLL IN 1968
As they toured the perimeter a FAC came up on the radio saying he had two Air Force fighters overhead; did Camp Carroll need them? Camper pondered the offer a moment. The low clouds made tactical air support a rarity, but since the enemy had battered firebases to the southwest which were barely clinging to life. Camper thumbed his radio receiver: "Send them to someone who needs them more."
"Roger," replied the FAC, then the radio sputtered and went dead. The silence after a conversation with a FAC was always a little depressing, thought Camper. The disembodied voice on the radio seemed like a long lost friend calling at a time of dire need. Without a doubt FAC's were a vital lifeline between the vulnerable advisers on the ground and the awesome cudgel of American aerial firepower.
The advisers turned back to the South Vietnamese, many of whom were wounded, though none seriously. Brown knelt down to dress a dirty shoulder wound on one man as Camper attended to some shrapnel in the leg of another. Looking around, the two advisers noticed that there were no officers to be seen anywhere. "Have you seen any ARVN officers lately?" questioned Lieutenant Colonel Camper.
"Not since the last attack began. I wonder what they're up to. They haven't asked us for any help, which is sort of strange," replied Brown.
Turning to the wounded soldier Camper asked, "Where is your dai uy, your captain?" The man only shrugged, and then grimaced in pain as Camper tightened the dressing. He replied that he hadn't seen any of the company officers in two or three hours, not since the last round of fighting began.
Back at their bunker a few hours later, Camper was still perplexed by the mysterious disappearance of the South Vietnamese officers. Whatever the answer, it probably lay with Colonel Dinh over at the regimental command post. With a habitual pause at the bunker entrance to listen for incoming rounds, they sprinted across the open ground to the command bunker.
Standing in the covered entrance of the big regimental bunker was Lieutenant Colonel Vinh Phoy, Dinh's executive officer. Camper and Brown saluted, but Phoy ignored them. It was no secret that Camper and Phoy hated each other; in fact Phoy despised all Americans. Camper characterized their relationship as being "like matches and gasoline."
"We're looking for Colonel Dinh. Is he around?" asked Camper.
Lieutenant Colonel Phoy did not answer for a second, letting his disdain for the foreigners show clearly. When he finally spoke. His words were short and crisp: "The colonel is in a staff meeting."
Camper and Brown glanced at each other. Advisers were supposed to be present at staff meetings. They moved for the door, but Phoy blocked the way. "The colonel does not wish to be disturbed," he said.
The Americans knew further argument was futile so they turned to go back to their bunker. In an attempt to remain polite, Camper looked back over his shoulder as the left and told the arrogant executive officer, "I'll check back later."
At about noon the desultory bombardment ceased altogether leaving the South Vietnamese to wonder what was next. At 2:00 PM Colonel Dinh emerged from the command bunker and strolled over to see Camper and Brown. The advisors saw him coming and went out to greet him; Camper could see that Dinh looked grave so the news had to be bad. Just how bad, he could never have guessed.
The two Americans saluted smartly. Dinh wasted no time getting what was on his mind out in the open. "Everyone refuses to fight, " he said softly, gazing down at his feet. "I tried to bolster their spirit, but they want to surrender.
Camper was shocked. Even in his wildest nightmares he never imagined anything like this. It was a disaster. He tried to reason with the demoralized commander, to tell him that together they could talk the officers into fighting, but Dinh just shook his head.
"No one will fight. I shot one man to persuade the others to fight, but they will not. I have been in touch with the National Liberation Front Forces and they have promised to treat my men well. This is the only way to prevent more death." Almost as an afterthought Dinh said, "Do you want to surrender with us?"
"NO," was all Lieutenant Colonel Camper could say. This explained the sudden halt in the enemy artillery bombardment, thought camper. He wanted to kill this coward standing before him. Although Dinh insisted that he had tried to get his men to fight, Camper doubted it. Hell, it was probably his idea to surrender, thought Camper.
Dinh offered the Americans another option. "You and Major Brown can hide among our troops as they go outside the gate you can fall into the tall grass and crawl away." Dinh was trying to show his counterpart that he was not panicking, that the decision to surrender had been reached rationally. After all, thought Dinh, General Giai had left him no choice but surrender. He had ordered the decimated regiment to hold at all costs, even though there was no possibility of reinforcement.
Camper shook his head. No, that was not acceptable. He and Brown would find some way out of the camp on their own. Then Colonel Dinh made an even more ridiculous offer. "If it will save face, we can commit suicide tighter," he offered.
Camper was repelled by the thought. "Americans don't do that," he replied. Quickly changing the subject, Camper pointed out there were still a few operational light tanks in the camp; two of them mounted with 40mm cannons, called Dusters, that could be used to spearhead a breakout. Perhaps they could link up with the defenders at Mai Loc just to the south. An element of South Vietnamese Marines and their American advisors were still there, at this time relatively untouched by the North Vietnamese.
Dinh shook his head. "It will not work," he muttered.
Camper was furious, but he could not show it now. Rage contributed nothing to the situation; all that mattered was getting out of Camp Carroll. He and Major Brown were on their own. "Colonel, we wish you luck," Camper said as he prepared to leave. "Major Brown and I will take care of ourselves from this moment on. We can no longer advise you, and you no longer have any responsibility to us. You must do what you thing is best and we will do the same."
Dinh nodded in understanding. He had one request, however. "Please do not tell General Giai that I am surrendering," he implored.
What an infuriating group of people, thought Camper. They were so fatalistic that they would rather surrender than fight, but they still regarded saving face as paramount. He felt the anger welling up again, and had to consciously stop himself from bringing his rifle in line with the coward's chest and pulling the trigger. But even if the other South Vietnamese officers did not kill him for such a rash act, he would still have accomplished nothing, as Lieutenant Colonel Vinh would carry through with the surrender anyway.
"I'm not concerned about General Giai. All I care about is us." Camper gestured toward Major Brown as he spoke. "I will call my senior officer and notify him of what is happening."
Dinh nodded, then turned on his heel and walked back to the command bunker. The other officers followed. For a moment Camper and Brown watched them, with the gray mist an appropriately somber backdrop for the incredible events unfolding at Camp Carroll. The Americans returned to their bunker to come up with a plan of their own.
As Brown destroyed classified documents and gathered up gear and ammunition for the escape, Camper radioed his superiors at the Team 155 headquarters in Ai Tu, the 3d ARVN Division forward headquarters northwest of Quang Tri City. He was vague on the radio, not wanting to give anything away to the enemy who was certainly monitoring the airwaves. The fact that Colonel Dinh had managed to quietly negotiate surrender with the North Vietnamese was strong evidence that there was plenty of American radio equipment in enemy hands.
"The American advisers at Camp Carroll are no longer needed with the 56th Regiment. We are leaving the perimeter for Mai Loc at once," he said cryptically, then waited for the reply.
The call came in to Ai Tu just after 3:00 PM. The radioman at the division bunker asked for clarification. "What's the reason for your departure?" he asked.
"Can't say over the radio," was the reply.
Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley, the U.S. Marine officer suddenly left in command of the 3d ARVN Division forward advisory base at Ai Tu, heard the message and was furious. There was enough to worry about without a couple of damned Army officers trying to bug out when the situation got hot. He snatched the radio handset and barked his orders.
"Damn it, Colonel, stay at your post and do your job."
Camper was a bit taken aback but it was an order from a superior. "Roger. Out." He put down the radio and nodded knowingly to Brown.
Lieutenant Colonel Turley immediately realized he had violated the unwritten "adviser's code" by ordering Camper to remain at his post. Only the man on the ground could accurately judge the combat situation, and since there were so few Americans left in the chain of command, it was imperative that decisions be left to the adviser in the field. Turley was under great pressure in his unwanted position as acting senior adviser and he had made the wrong call.
Despite the direct order, neither man intended to stay in Camp Carroll. Major Brown continued to dump kerosene on everything that was to be left behind. Gathering up their weapons and gear and putting them just outside the bunker, Camper then ignited several thermite grenades and threw them inside. The white-hot explosion set off the kerosene and soon the bunker was burning brightly.
Two South Vietnamese radio operators asked to go along with the Americans. They had been assigned to Camper by Dinh, and the men had formed a good relationship. The more men the better reasoned Camper, especially if they would fight and he felt certain that these men would.
South Vietnamese officers were slowly moving from bunker to bunker, rousting out the frightened soldiers. They moved toward the center of the perimeter and milled around waiting for orders. What a tragedy, thought Camper. Camp Carroll was not in bad shape and could probably hold its own against the present North Vietnamese onslaught. Despite the mauling they had taken during the troop shuffle on 30 March, 1,800 soldiers inside the perimeter was a strong force. Then there was the artillery batteries which could easily batter the enemy, if only the South Vietnamese gunners would emerge from their holes and fire them. They seemed willing enough to come out in order to surrender.
The Americans and their two South Vietnamese compatriots were saddled up and ready to go. Each had shed all but the most essential equipment, keeping mostly ammunition and water. At 3:20 PM Camper radioed Ai Tu once more. His message was more specific this time, his voice more adamant. There was nothing left to hide. "We're leaving Camp Carroll," said Camper. It was a statement, not a request. "The Base commander wants to surrender. The white flag is going up in ten minutes."
Camper had a final word with the regimental operations officer, the only South Vietnamese in the camp who spoke good English. With nothing left to lose, and still insulted at being deceived by Colonel Dinh, Camper spoke his mind freely. "You don't know what you are doing," he explained. "You are a coward and should come with us and we will fight our way out." The man simply bowed his head and said he had to follow orders. They were the last words Camper spoke to any South Vietnamese officer from the disgraced regiment.
The four men walked down the low hill from their bunker toward the southeastern edge of the perimeter, moving through groups of soldiers stacking their weapons in piles as officers stood silently by. Camper tried not to look. Nothing was more repugnant to a professional military man than cowardice. And at Camp Carroll it was especially demoralizing because there was no reason to surrender. It reminded him of a movie he had seen as a youngster about the American surrender to the Japanese at Corrigedor in the early days of World War II. Poor leadership was the only explanation for what was happening. Camper tried to stop thinking about it as he and the other three began cutting a cap through the jagged coils of sharp razor wire.
Fire Support Base Mai Loc lay almost two miles due south of Camp Carroll, but it might as well have been `100 miles away. Just outside the perimeter lay a network of mines, and beyond that, the enemy. As the small group neared the outer ring of concertina wire the North Vietnamese spotted them. The enemy had refrained from firing on Camp Carroll as the surrender was proceeding, but escape was not to be permitted. Some of the North Vietnamese – Camper estimated about a company – moved to cut off the retreat. As they closed, Major Brown and the two South Vietnamese radiomen opened fire: Camper reached for the radio and called Ai Tu.
"We're pinned down just outside the perimeter," yelled Camper over the staccato bursts of his teammates' rifles. Major "Jimmy" Davis, the Team 155 operations officer answered the call. By the time, everybody at Ai Tu was aware of the touch-and-go situation up at Camp Carroll and safety of the American advisers was paramount.
Fortune smiled on the besieged quartet huddled like insects caught by a rising storm they could not possibly hope to stand against. A combination of lucky timing by a re-supply helicopter and quick thinking on the part of the radio operators at Ai Tu intervened against fate and snatched the advisers from certain death.
"There's a Chinook lifting ammunition to the Marines at Mai Loc in the air. I'll try to get him," said Captain Amery, one of the Team 155 operations watch team manning the radios.
The CH-47 cargo helicopter was approaching Mai Loc with a badly needed load of 105mm howitzer rounds for the desperate defenders, and it was pure chance the radiomen were able to find the correct frequency.
"We've got two Americans at Camp Carroll who need your help. The ARVN are surrendering and the bad guys are closing in."
"Roger," replied the pilot as he dropped into Mai Loc and released the ammunition pallets slung in a net beneath the helicopter's belly. However, instead of landing and disgorging the rest of its cargo, the Chinook climbed back into the sky, heeled over, and turned north toward Camp Carroll. The Marine advisers on the ground called frantically asking why the chopper was not landing, but the pilot had already switched frequencies and did not hear the call.
Lieutenant Colonel Camper had no idea what was happening. To him, Coachman 005 was just another desperate straw to grasp at. As instructed by the radioman in Ai Tu, he switched his radio frequency and called the big helicopter.
Coachman 005 came on the air immediately, "I read you loud and clear. We're inbound to your position. Give me instructions."
Camper had to think quickly. With the North Vietnamese closing in around them, the Chinook could not land outside the wire.
They had to go back the way they had come. "Look for the wind sock next to the helipad inside the perimeter," he radioed. "Land there. We're outside the wire, but will pull back through the wire.Camper motioned to the other three men, all of whom were still firing coolly and deliberately at the North Vietnamese. "Pull back. There's a chopper coming in to get us."
Without a pause the men stood and ran for the ragged perimeter wire. The North Vietnamese stopped firing at the fleeing men, thinking that they had driven them back into the pen with the others. The deep thump of the CH-47's twin rotors sounded over the treetops, but Camper could not see the helicopter.
The North Vietnamese saw it first. Sharp bursts of small arms fire tore skyward at the racing chopper, but the pilot was oblivious to it.
"Watch out. That's the enemy firing at you," radioed Camper. "Must be the same company that pinned us down."
As the Chinook came into view both Camper and the North Vietnamese got a surprise. Racing low behind the Chinook was a pair of Cobra gunships. It was their job to protect the big CH-47 against just this sort of threat. They slashed down on the surprised North Vietnamese, peppering them with rockets and scattering them like ants. The Cobras continued to circle, snarling back and forth as the cargo helicopter swooped in low.
The door gunner in the Chinook saw the wind sock first. Leaning out of the chopper's side door over the M60 machine gun he kept his eyes on the landing pad while calling out directions to the pilot. Then he reached for the D-grips of his machine gun and hammered away at the running shapes of North Vietnamese soldiers below.
The South Vietnamese inside Camp Carroll had watched the entire episode. Not one lifted a hand to help, not even to fire a rifle in support of the beleaguered advisers. Now, when they saw the helicopter coming in, they sprang to life. Dozens of soldiers raced for the hovering helicopter, and as the wheels touched down they were swarming all over it.
Major Brown and the two South Vietnamese radiomen were the first onboard. As Camper turned to climb in he was almost thrown aside by the rush of South Vietnamese soldiers. He stood defiantly on the ramp and allowed only those soldiers still carrying weapons on to the helicopter. The rest were cowards who did not deserve a ride out of the base. They had decided to surrender; let them live with the decision, Camper reasoned.
One unarmed soldier tried to slip past. Camper grabbed him by the shirt and angrily flung him from the helicopter. Two more skulked up the ramp, hoping they might slip by, but in frenzy Camper roughly pushed them back.
"Colonel, for God's sake, let's get out of here," yelled Brown from inside the Chinook's cavernous belly. The North Vietnamese had recovered from their initial surprise and were shooting at the helicopter from just outside the wire. The pilot revved the turbines in anticipation of a fast getaway and the Ch-47 bounced and jigged from side to side as the rotors pulled it slightly off the ground. With Camper finally aboard, the helicopter roared into the sky and veered hard to the southeast, clinging to the treetops toward Quang Tri City. In all, about thirty South Vietnamese soldiers rode out of Camp Carroll with the American advisers. All of them still had their rifles.
Lieutenant Colonel Camper looked down at the base as it shrunk from view. All was quiet down there as the remnants of the 56th ARVN Regiment prepared to surrender. The helicopter pilot reported over the radio that he saw while flags going up all over the place. What a tragedy, thought Camper. What a disgrace.
Yet not all the South Vietnamese inside Camp Carroll chose surrender. One Marine artillery battery, placed inside the firebase to augment support to the Marine units on the western perimeter, radioed Mai Loc saying they would not give up. As the victorious North Vietnamese marched through the front gates to accept the 56th ARVN Regiment's surrender, Bravo Battery lowered its guns and fired point blank. They fought to the last man.
Nor did all the infantry units go along with Colonel Pham Van Dinh's decision to give up. An entire battalion of 300 men rallied behind its commander and broke free of the perimeter. Over the next few days the unit exfiltrated east to Dong Ha "intact and under control." Although they were tired and shell-shocked, most of the soldiers still had their weapons.
In fact, by mid-April almost 1,000 soldiers from the ill-fated 56th ARVN Regiment had filtered through enemy lines to Dong Ha, Quang Tri, and Ai Tu. They were sent south to Danang for refitting and retraining before being sent back into combat in Quang Nam Province during the summer.
The ordeal of the American advisers was not yet over. Ground fire hit a hydraulic line running the Chinook's rear rotors and engine pressure began to fall. Instead of flying to Quang Tri City, the helicopter was forced to land at the first level spot the pilot could find, in this case right in the middle of Route 1 near the coast. Unfortunately, the enemy was already there and the chopper settled down in the midst of an enemy 122mm rocket barrage.
Camper and Brown dashed to the side of the road and flung themselves face first into a ditch. Bullets whined overhead punctuated by the occasional whoosh-bang of incoming rockets. Crawling cautiously along the side of the road, the Americans soon ran into a jeep carrying two advisers from a tank unit forging north to reinforce the 3d ARVN Division. Since Camper was the senior officer, they all agreed to set up a defensive perimeter and wait out the North Vietnamese attack. In the meantime, Camper radioed FRAC asking for a B-52 strike on Camp Carroll. He did not care if the surrendering regiment was still there, he wanted the base destroyed before the enemy took over the base artillery and turned it against the South Vietnamese still fighting. As it turned out, the enemy made no attempt to use the big guns captured at Camp Carroll. The North Vietnamese knew they would be bombed into oblivion if they remained in the base, so it was quickly abandoned, though not before a few of the artillery pieces were towed out. One 175mm gun was later placed on display in Hanoi as a symbol of the North Vietnamese Army's battle prowess.
When the short firefight died down, Camper called for another helicopter to take them to Ai Tu. The armor advisers continued their drive north while Camper and Brown flew up to the division headquarters in Quang Tri City. Colonel Metcalf, the senior adviser to the 3d ARVN Division and Camper's boss, asked what had happened. Although Camp Carroll was a crucial piece in northern I Corp's crumbling puzzle, there were other pressing problems keeping Colonel Metcalf busy. He wanted to know the whole story.
General Giai was also in the command bunker. When Camper recited the story about Dinh's cowardly surrender, Giai was furious. But his anger was directed at Camper, not Dinh. The "Young Lion of Hue' could not possibly have surrendered his regiment; in Giai's mind it was Camper who was the coward. He believed that the American advisers had run, leaving the South Vietnamese to their fate. But the advisers at Ai Tu knew what had happened and they had radioed Quang Tri City. It soon became obvious that Camp Carroll had surrendered when all communication with the 56th ARVN Regiment suddenly went off the air at about 3:30 PM.
Not until the next day, 3 April, did the ignominious fate of the 56th ARVN Regiment become clear to the doubting South Vietnamese general. In a communist radio broadcast picked up by American monitors, Colonel Pham Van Dinh helped the North Vietnamese exploit their victory. During the broadcast he was fully cooperative with his new masters, telling his former brothers in arms, "I think that your continued sacrifice at this time means nothing....Find out how to get in touch with the NLF (National Liberation Forces, the Viet Cong) in order for you to return to the people. Your action will effectively assist in ending the war quickly and also save your life." Dinh also confessed that "My personal feeling is that the NLF is going to win the war. The NLF is ready all the time to welcome you back. The NLF is expecting you to return very soon." An orderly retreat was also out of the question he maintained, because "Most of the troops of my unit in all ranks refused to fight anymore."
Major Ton That Man, an infantry battalion commander at Camp Carroll, also cooperated with his captors. In another radio broadcast he recalled that the base "shook and wavered at the very first shellings by PLAF (People's Liberation Armed Forces)....In such a situation, how could we continue to fight? Our regiment's commander then summoned a briefing...a meeting of particular significance for it decided on the fate of 600 officers and men in this base. Within only five minutes, all agreed to offer no more resistance and decided to go over to the Liberation forces' side."
Colonel Metcalf ordered the tired advisers back to FRAC headquarters in Danang for a change of clothes and reassignment. Later in the day General Giai called Camper and asked him to return to Quang Tri to talk. The general sounded more understanding this time. He had heard the radio broadcast and had spoken with some of the soldiers who had come out on the Chinook with Camper, so he knew the real story. Giai apologized for his curt comments of the day before. Colonel Metcalf then reassigned Camper as senior adviser to the 2d ARVN Regiment, his old unit. Major Brown was again his deputy.
To Lieutenant Colonel William Camper the surrender of Camp Carroll was a betrayal of the personal honor between soldiers. He had not been consulted by his counterpart. Colonel Dinh, and from a tactical viewpoint, there was no need to give up. They should have fought on. The I Corps leadership was also aghast at Camp Carroll's surrender. Brigadier General Thomas Bowen, the I Corps deputy senior adviser, later recalled that "until Camp Carroll was lost we didn't get too excited." Suddenly, the regiment was gone and the South Vietnamese command did not understand why. "General Lam was outraged. A whole regiment – gone just like that. He wanted to execute everybody who had anything to do with it."
With Camp Carroll in enemy hands the Ring of Steel was fatally punctured. The big 175mm guns had provided a security blanket for the network of other bases facing the Laotian border. As of nightfall on 2 April, however, only Mai Loc still stood. But not for long. The loss of Camp Carroll robbed Mai Loc of artillery support and made it vulnerable to ground attack. The North Vietnamese, smelling blood, quickly coiled to strike.
News of Camp Carroll's surrender came as a shock to the Marine advisers at Mai Loc, and they knew they were next. Without any friendly bases to the north and west, Mai Loc was in danger of being encircled by North Vietnamese forces. By 4:00 PM, what had been a sporadic enemy bombardment turned into a continuous and crushing pounding, which the Marines correctly identified as the prelude to an all-out infantry assault. The South Vietnamese Marines bravely fired back, though their howitzers were no match for the communist 130mm guns. An hour later the Marines fired their last round. Silent in the face of the continuing enemy shelling, Mai Loc was evacuated on the evening of 2 April.
Back to "UNTOLD STORIES" main section
Some art works, photos, and articles are properties of their owners, the rest by VNAF MA MN.© Copyright 2005 vnafmamn.com.