Province FAC Support of Bu Dop SF Camp

submitted by: Alva Leon Matheson

I was the SF A Team Leader at the Bu Dop SF Camp in 1969. My callsign was A-341. The Bu Dop Camp was located about four kilometers south of the Cambodian border and not really close to any friendlies. We counted on the province FACs for a variety of things. When they were in the area they would contact us and let us know if there appeared to be any activity around the Camp. If we had operations out they would check in on them, and when one needed help they were there to bring in an airstrike or to help adjust artillery. They helped us any way they could, often landing to take a Team member to Song Be (Phouc Binh), and once we even used an O-1 to resupply an operation in the field with rations.
In May, the US 1st Infantry Division, which had over-watch responsibility for the area, asked us to run a reconnaissance-in-force patrol along the Cambodian border between Bu Dop Camp and the Loc Ninh SF Camp in Bihn Long Province. Neither camp normally operated in this area because it was out of our artillery fans and on the extreme edge of our communications range. Also the two Camps were in different Provinces and reported to different B Teams. However, the 1st Division said that they would provide us with airborne communications relay and would have gunships and a US rifle company on standby if we needed help.
In the late afternoon of 14 May, we took off from Bu Dop by helicopter and conducted a combat assault on a dry rice paddy about 15 kilometers southwest of the Camp. The operation forces consisted of a CIDG Company of Cambodians, a Company of Stieng Tribe Montagnards, and 15 Chinese Nungs from the Camp’s Reconnaissance Platoon. Altogether there were about 115 indigenous soldiers. These different ethnic groups were not always on the best speaking terms, partially because they didn’t necessarily all speak the same languages, partially for ethnic reasons. The Command Section included myself and Sergeant First Class Esse Renteria, the acting Team Sergeant, and two Vietnamese LLDB sergeants. We had no weapons heavier than an M-79.
As soon as we left the DZ, communications with our Base Camp and the 1st Division became sporadic. The 1st Division’s airborne communications relay was a no show. We struck out towards the Song Be River and shortly hit a high-speed trail. While we were moving into ambush positions some NVA came up the trail on bicycles. A firefight started and the NVA bugged out. We found 14 bikes on the trail. We got water at the river and began moving northwest along the river, which was also the boundary between the two Provinces. That night we took up defensive positions in some bamboo on top of a small hill. Throughout the night we tried to establish communications with the Camp and on the frequency which we had been given by the 1st Division for the airborne relay. No dice with either one.
The next morning we moved up the river toward the Cambodian border. We began to cross numerous heavily used trails. At this point we began to hear signal shots and NVA soldiers calling out that they were friendly and trying to link up. We took up positions along a heavily used trail running north and south. There was a lot of talking among our CIDG troops and I told the LLDB Sergeant that we needed to be quiet and he whispered back, “That is the NVA.”
Then all hell broke out. We had ambushed an NVA Company. They broke contact and withdrew. We picked up a few weapons and began to move back toward the east, hoping to establish some kind of communications with someone – anyone. We crossed another trail and began to receive machine gun and B-40 RPG fire. We were actually caught between two NVA columns. We pushed on northeastward until we came to a large dry paddy and there we took up defensive positions. Still no communications with anyone. At that point we began to receive 120 mm mortar fire. With that, I knew we had a battalion out there.
The NVA were beginning an assault on our position. I was still working the radio when an NVA soldier stood up and fired a B-40 right at me. I was knocked unconscious and my Radio Operator was killed. Sergeant Renteria got my rucksack off of me and got me up onto my feet. Our CIDG had taken off across the rice paddy and we took off after them.
My radio had been destroyed but Renteria found his Radio Operator. We were both calling in the blind for “any FAC” on all known frequencies. I was back on the Camp frequency when I finally got an answer. It was a Province FAC patrolling the area. I was so rattled I was hyperventilating, but he said in a calming voice, “Take it easy, I’ll get some help.” The FAC called for air support and advised the Bu Dop Camp and the 1st Division of our situation.
The NVA were on both sides of us now so we needed help quick. The FAC began making passes at the NVA and firing his WP rockets. He got their attention and began to receive heavy fire. Then he got an airstrike diverted, and they hit the NVA positions to the north of us. When the fighters had expended their ordnance he brought in Cobra gunships which worked over the other side of the paddy. All this time the FAC was receiving heavy machine gun fire. Eventually the NVA began to pull back.
The FAC was running out of fuel and with apologies he headed for Bu Dop. He ran out of fuel on the way and had to make a dead stick landing at Bu Dop. He refueled at the SOG Command and Control South refueling point and took off again. By the time he returned the NVA had broken contact and two more CIDG companies had been flown in to reinforce us. We only had four CIDG companies at Bu Dop, so we now had almost my entire force from the Camp in the field. For reasons unmentionable in this piece, the 1st Infantry Division declined to reinforce us as they had promised. Eventually, all of the CIDG returned to Bu Dop, some by helicopter and some on foot.
I was medevaced shortly after being wounded but returned to Bu Dop. I don’t know which meant the most to me at the time, the air support or the calm words of encouragement in my radio handset. I do know I wouldn’t be here enjoying my old age if it weren’t for that Province FAC. He probably took more fire than any of us.
Things really began to heat up at Bu Dop after that and I never had the chance to find out who the FAC was. He should have been put in for an award and I still feel guilty about that. Few of us would have gotten out if he hadn’t been on the job. All I can say is thanks to all the Phuoc Long Province FACs.