continued By noon Frank and I had enough pix for a good little feature, so we went back to the Special Forces (SF) compound. Then I got a call from Sy Wohlen, the CBS bureau chief in Saigon. He wanted us to take a crew down there. I sent a man to pick them up at the air base, and we went back to the fray. The correspondent, Don Webster, later told me it was some of the best footage to come out of Tet, but they got it out too late for the Cronkite show.
A number of other SF guys had showed up, and Captain Scott Gantt had taken command. All the people who lived in that neighborhood to the north were still there, "human shields" for the Viet Cong. We didn't want to kill them, but we had to get the VC out.
Scotty speaks Vietnamese, so he got a huge loudspeaker set up from the Vietnamese signal detachment and announced for the people to leave. The VC realized that the people's presence was keeping heavy fire from being brought to bear on them and refused to let them go. A few sneaked out, but they were shot at by the VC. Then Scotty had a helicopter gunship fire one rocket into the neighborhood. He made the same announcement again, and people poured out into the streets, running toward our position, their "liberators," the VC, shooting them as fast as they could.
One Mike Force guy, Sammy Coutts of Cupertino, CA, ran into the line of fire to pull a little Vietnamese girl to safety.
More things happened that day and the night that followed than I have space for here. Frank Orians had been an enlisted SF medic before OCS (officer candidate school), so he treated the wounded, mostly Vietnamese civilians shot by the VC. We were running low on ammo, and he had a truckload of patients to take to the province hospital. We asked him to get more ammo on the way back. The ammo-dump NCO wouldn't give it to him without a signed requisition, so Frank just drew down on him with his M16. "Load her up," he said.
The VC set fire to a fuel dump, and it looked like the burning of Atlanta all night long.
After the Mike Force left for another hot spot, there were never more than 40 of us there that night. We were not a unit -- just a bunch of clerks and jerks that showed up to help. We weren't trained for urban combat, although we were well armed and motivated. We were attacked all night long by over 600 well-armed and trained enemy. They didn't have any more luck than a cat trying to scratch its way into a bowling ball.
There were 200 enemy dead in the neighborhood when we moved through it the next day, one-third of their original force. We didn't lose a man from our ad hoc defense force.
If it was me, and I had the choice, rather than fight house-to-house in a city, I'd build a fence around it and call it prison, then let anybody out who was willing to leave unarmed. Let them rot in there if they want to.