submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

After flying 43 missions over North Vietnam I was assigned to the 19th TASS as Rod 13. I flew out of the Song Be (Phouc Binh) SF B Camp in Phouc Long Province for the last six month of my tour. I and the other Rod FACs lived with and became friends with the SF personnel we supported. When calls for help came, callsigns and voices were recognizable. A face and a first name went with each voice, and we “hung it out” not to let him or his men down. The following two stories are about our relationship with one of these men, Sergeant First Class Jack L. Williams.
Story 1
I took off from Song Be at 1245 on 14 January 1967 to support an SF/CIDG unit out of the Bu Dop A Camp. The unit consisted of two Americans and 70 CIDG. They were receiving heavy fire and were pinned down in the vicinity of YU 065335. Four NVA companies had them surrounded. I relieved Rod 7 and made radio contact with Sergeant Williams, the On-scene Commander. The first F-100 alert flight, Blade 03, arrived. The fighters were instructed to hold while I pinpointed the friendly positions and evaluated the situation. It was not good.
Sergeant Williams’ men were spread out over 150 meters around two marshy clearings. The NVA were firing from the surrounding heavy foliage. I observed mortar rounds exploding and muzzle flashes 360 degrees around the friendly forces. Sergeant Williams advised me that he had numerous casualties and the most intense fire was coming from a tree line to his north. When I was positive that Blade 03 knew the exact location of the friendlies I directed their napalm within 50 meters of the friendly positions. Sergeant Williams was concerned about the close delivery, but stated later that they received no more fire from the north.
Before I was through controlling Blade 03, Blade 07 and Blade 01 checked in. I directed each flight, drawing ground fire and marking NVA positions. Blade 01 completed ordnance delivery at 1410 and I was out of rockets. I returned to Song Be to refuel and rearm.
Rod 7, Charlie Pocock, replaced me on station and I replaced him again an hour later. The NVA attack had been repelled.
We now had to evacuate the wounded and insert fresh troops. Two more flights of fighters were scrambled for this operation – Tiger 01, and Boxer 05. The NVA were withdrawing but we received more ground fire as I saturated the area around the friendlies with ordnance. Sergeant Williams and his men were extracted just before dark.
Back at Song Be that evening Sergeant Williams came up to where Charlie Pocock and I were standing at the bar. Sergeant Williams said, “Where would I be right now without the Air Force. Charlie looked at his watch. He said, “Sergeant, if harp practice for the newbies in heaven started at 1800, you would have been a half-hour late.”
Story 2
On 24 March 1967 I took off from Song Be to relieve Rod 01, Lieutenant Colonel Mann. We were covering Operation 5/3 from Bu Dop SF A Camp. It was a combined Mike Force/CIDG operation to the east of the Camp. The situation was critical when I arrived. Sergeant Williams, Sergeant Sammons and a few CIDG were the only friendlies left in the vicinity of the LZ. I began to direct airstrikes to protect Sergeant Williams and his small force. Armed UH-1s suppressed the enemy fire between the airstrikes. The NVA continued their attack, even though they had suffered tremendous casualties.
Extraction was the only way to save the friendlies, but the LZ was not secure. In fact, the LZ could not have been hotter. I decided the friendlies were worth the risk, so I requested a chopper – any chopper – to follow me into the LZ. An UH-1 answered my call and I led him to the friendlie’s location. After the first chopper lifted out of the LZ I learned that there were more friendlies to be extracted. I asked for another chopper and immediately another UH-1 was inbound to follow me into the LZ. The second chopper picked up eight or nine CIDG and reported seeing two more as he departed the LZ. A third chopper was called in and I led him into the LZ. He landed and picked up the last two survivors. After these two were aboard, the pilot elected to sit in the LZ for a full minute hoping to save anyone else that might be in the area. All three of these rescues were performed under intense fire. Each aircraft commander displayed outstanding ability and courage as he risked his life and the lives of his crew to save a friendly unit from total annihilation.
Editor’s Note: Joe received a Silver Star Medal for his part in this battle. Supporting the recommendation for this award was the statement of Jack L. Williams, Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army SF, which is quoted here.
“On 24 March 67 I was in command of a 120 man CIDG unit from Bu Dop. I was on an operation with an 80 man Mike Force unit from Bien Hoa. We were infiltrated into a large clearing at YU100303 via helicopter. Rod 13, Captain Hughes, prepared the LZ with three flights of fighters and received light automatic weapons fire from the south end of the LZ. After the helicopter assault, both units began to move north. As we advanced, Rod 13 expended another flight in front of us. Immediately after this fourth flight finished we were hit hard from three sides. The NVA troops were dug in and were waiting for us. Rod 10, Captain Seidman, had relieved Rod 13 by this time and he relayed communications as he waited for more fighters to arrive. Mortars were exploding all around us and radio contact with the Mike Force was lost shortly after hearing the Commander say he was wounded. Rod 10 advised us to head back to the LZ, which turned out to be the best thing we could have done. The enemy attempted to get between my unit and the LZ but most of us made it through. I remained in radio contact with Rod 10 and kept him briefed on our situation, which was not good. It appeared that the Mike Force had been wiped out and many of my men were unaccounted for.
By this time we were surrounded and the situation was desperate. The NVA troops were intent on completely annihilating us. I told Rod 10 where most of the fire was coming from and he directed his fighters with pinpoint accuracy. Each time I thought the end was in sight the air-strikes would drive the enemy back. Rod 10 was relieved by Rod 01, Lieutenant Colonel Mann, and again, Rod 01 and his fighters was the only thing that kept us alive. The NVA were not directing all of their fire at me and my men. The most intense ground fire I have seen during my 24 months in Vietnam was being directed toward the aircraft. I have been in situations almost as bad as this before, and well directed airstrikes have always forced the enemy to retreat, but he would not pull back this time. It appeared that the enemy was attempting to kill every man, and they ignored the tremendous losses they were suffering in the airstrikes.
My unit now consisted of only a handful of men, and we were located in a bunker on the northwest edge of the LZ. Rod 13 arrived to relieve Rod 01 and only forty-five minutes to one hour of daylight remained. I continued to pass directions to the FAC, and Rod 13 kept the enemy off of my back as he directed his fighters while he himself was under heavy fire. It was approaching dark when I learned that we could not be reinforced because of the heavy fire around the LZ. Of the 200 men that had begun the operation I could account for only 14, the 14 of us in the small bunker. I was trying to decide between escape and evasion and a last stand when I heard Rod 13 volunteer to lead a chopper into the LZ to attempt an extraction of me, and my men. It was hard to believe, but Rod 13 guided the chopper in at treetop level and it picked me up, along with some of my men. It was almost completely dark now. The sky was full of tracer rounds and the ground was alive with muzzle flashes as Rod 13 led in two more choppers to pick up the remainder of my men. Rod had an AC-47 overhead and, after the last chopper lifted out of the area, he had the flare ship illuminate the LZ. The LZ was as bright as day when Rod 13 dropped as low as possible and flew back and forth across the LZ in a vain attempt to locate more survivors. Only after several minutes of visual reconnaissance at treetop altitude, that convinced him that there were no more friendlies in the vicinity, did Rod 13 call in his remaining fighters and work them under the flare ship. I consider this engagement the most outstanding example of close air support I have ever witnessed.”