Interview with Capt. Daniel Waldo Jr., et al.
70th Engineer Battalion
Interviewer: Maj. Paul B. Webber
Q: I'd like to begin by first asking you to provide me with some biographical data on yourself just for the record, if you can just generally give me some background information.
Waldo: My name is Daniel Waldo, Jr., Captain, serial number OF XXXXXX. I graduated from
Q: Would you keep in mind here, what we're trying to do is just get basically a commander's viewpoint of the operation, to include some of the problems that you had, some of the
frustrations you had, and also the way you just went about accomplishing your mission of upgrading this airfield and providing for the facilities that eventually you hope to put in
there. You might begin by first telling me how you first received the mission and generally what went on when you were told you were going to have to move out with your company.
Waldo: It was about January when I was XO to the Company, Capt. Hall; Capt. Philip Hall had the Company at the time. We had gotten word of the mission up there to upgrade the runway, to put in a GCA and a TACAN pad for the Air Force to move their equipment in on, and to make another parking apron to be able to park three additional C-130s. There already was an existing parking apron. We went up a couple times up to Kham Duc to look at it around January and February, and our original completion date was 1 April, but then the mission was postponed. For a period of time we were all ready to move out. We had loaded up the equipment that we were taking with us, had it all prepared, had the CONEXs all loaded, people ready to go, and then they cancelled the mission and we didn't hear any more about it and we were touch-and-go on whether we'd be going up there or not up until early April, about the 1st of April. And the 1st of April we got the word that USARV was planning on giving it a go again and wanted to know how long it would take us to be prepared to go. Based on our prior schedule, we told them we could be ready in a week to 10 days. About the 6th or 7th of April, they said it looked like it was a definite go. On the night of 8 April is when they told us to be ready to leave on the 9th. So the first planeload left on the 9th. As far as preparing, each platoon had a CONEX to put all their tools, or two CONEXS to put their tools, platoon equipment, ammunition, whatever they needed to take care of their platoon, and then we had additional CONEXS for the motor pools to put all their equipment in, supply, commo, the CP to put their equipment in. The equipment had to be stripped down so it would fit in C-130s, which didn't make much modification of any equipment except for the 5-tons taking the headache boards off. We loaded up eight 5-tons that we were taking up with culvert material that we would need, some timbers, and some other items, building material that we thought we'd need.† Moving up there, there's a camp up there,
and then another platoon, and then another day or two of equipment, and then another platoon, and we had planned on taking seven days to get the whole company and everything up there. We would have made it in six, except one day the weather was so bad they didn't even leave Pleiku Air Base. They told us in advance that they wouldn't be able to get up there.
Q: When you got to the construction material, did you have to haul that up there from here, or how did it get there?
Waldo: Yes, sir. Now, that was due to follow. The first seven days was to move the company and equipment up, and then there was to be about four or five days of hauling up material, and then there was a set schedule within the next week; so many beds, cement, M-881 matting, and RC-3--were supposed to come up in another week, so that you would pretty well space out the materials, much that were needed. The only materials that had to be shipped up were the RC-3, the M-881 matting, and cement.
Q: Do you have any idea about how many sorties this took to move you up?
Waldo: There were between three and four sorties a day for seven days to get the equipment up, and we had... Up to the last count that we had, there was somewhere around 50 or 60 sorties that had come in, all totaled, to move the equipment.
Q: To keep you re-supplied after you were up there, too. All right, what was your initial efforts after you arrived up there, say, when you had your company close in after the first week?
Waldo: Well, as soon as the first platoon got in there, they started working around the perimeter, getting it squared away, getting the hooches that we were going to live in squared away.
The second platoon, when they arrived, they joined the effort.† The third platoon, when they arrived, they did too. The third platoon closed in on a Saturday morning, and the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday was nothing but everybody working to get the perimeter squared away and the hooches squared away; and then that Monday morning is when we began going out on the different projects and actually starting work.
Q: Did you have all the material you needed to start your work that day?
Waldo: Pretty much so. One platoon had to open a road to a sand pit, recon and open a road to a sand pit that we needed to get the sand from. That took a day or two to just recon. There were two possible routes to get sand from, and it was a matter of finding which one had the best source of sand and which one was the most accessible. And on one recon, we lost a jeep due to the failure in the road. The foliage was so thick along the road that there was a hole in the road that was covered up by foliage and the jeep hit it and the road slid from under and it rolled down, and we immediately crossed that leg off our list of which way we were going to get the sand. So after a couple days reconning, they went out, they had the tools, the equipment; just the platoon tools and equipment is all they needed to go out. Two bridges had to be reinforced, one had to be completely rebuilt, and then there was a fallen tree, a rather large tree, that was on the way, a couple of washouts that had to be taken care of, and some
earth slides, though there was no problem there. Another platoon had started patching the runway. They had everything they needed--the air compressors up there to start chipping out the failures, digging it out so that we could put the patches in. And the other platoon was working on putting in the M-881 matting for the TACAN and GCA pads, and they had... We would like to have had our dozers there, which was another problem that came up, but we got a grader on it and the grader was able to handle it.
What happened on the dozers was, they were supposed to get two C-124 sorties to get the dozers up there, and they kept hemming and hawing about it and they said, "No, you can't have it, they can't do it, they can't land there, they can't do this, they can't do that," and it looked like we were not going to get the dozers up there at all, which would have been impossible to complete the mission. Then they were thinking of bringing up 6s, but one day some major flew in, Air Force major, to look the runway, and he said he came up to see what the winds were like, the runway was like, the conditions were like, and all this sort of stuff, and he went back and figured it out on paper and figured he could land an EPF the next morning for the C-124, but he said it didn't look good at all; he didn't like it, because both ends of the runway have big hills and it was a matter of you have to drop in and get up.
Q: How about describing that just a bit. I've had somebody else say something to that effect. What is that strip like in relation to the terrain around it?
Waldo: The strip was built by the French in the early '60s. It was a real good strip.
Q: Early '60s?
Waldo: Right. This is what I've been told. I'm not sure; I've never looked into it any further than that. It was supposed to be a hunting lodge for DM at the time, ???? Go up and hunt
elephants and tigers. It was a 6,200-foot strip, but 1,200 feet of it on the south end was not usable due to they had a plane crash there at one time and it burnt and made some bad spots on the runway. But at both the north end and the south end there were two large hills, and instead of getting a straight approach... Well, you could get a straight approach from the
north end, but you have to come over the hill and then drop real quickly onto the runway On the southern end, instead of making a direct approach, it was too hard to make a direct approach, you had to make sort of a curved-in pass to come in.
Q: Come in front of the hill.
Waldo: Right, just to get by it, and it was real thick foliage all around the runway. In fact, when you fly into the place, fly into Kham Duc, it's just nothing but real thick jungle and then all of a sudden there is it, the Special Forces camp and the strip. The only thing that's up there are the Special Forces camp and there was a village there, the village of Kham Duc, and all it had in it was about six or seven non-dependents and the rest were dependents of the CIDG people there.
Q: That's what the village consisted of?
Waldo: That's all it consisted of, maybe 100, 200 people.
Q: How did you get along with the Special Forces people, and how did you...
Waldo: Real good, no problem at all. They went out of their way. They had been waiting for January for us to show up. They liked the idea of having more Americans around the area, people that could carry a weapon. They had had some scares earlier reference... They had worries after Long Vay fell of tanks coming in. It was close enough to the Laotian border and there had been enough activity between Dak Pec and Kham Duc as far as the NVA working on the roads and that they had some tear that there was a possibility that they may go after Kham Duc and try and overrun it or possibly bring tanks in. There were only eight, well it
varied between eight and 15 or 16 Americans that were there, so they were very happy to see us and happy to see what we were going to be doing on the runway, plus having the equipment and people there to help them with little things they needed.
Q: I'm going to ask you, now, how persuasive were they in saying, "Well, we need a new bunker over here," or...
Waldo: Well, we had a real good working arrangement. We told them that anything that they needed done, we would do if we had a piece of equipment that was not being used or the time to do it. Our mission there came first, but if we had equipment standing by, we'd definitely do whatever they wanted. So Capt. Hendrickson, who was the American advisor, and they had a 1st lieutenant Vietnamese camp commander, got together and they gave us a list of about 10 to 12 different things that they wanted done to include building a tank ditch at one part of the camp to putting up a tank berm around the front of their camp so that if they did get attacked by tanks, you'd have to raise up and show your belly. They wanted an ammo pit dug. The town itself was planning on expanding and having more people, so they wanted a
certain area in the town that had a lot woods and undergrowth cleared away for them. Their parking lot/basketball court needed to be graded off, so we went and did that. There were a lot of little things that we could do for them.
Q: Did you have any DEFCON between you and the Special Force people in the event you got an attack, say, a night ambush or something like that?
Waldo: That was... Our only connection with the Special Forces up there the whole time we were up there were under our own chain-of-command's control basically. III MAF, being up in their area, did have some say on some things, but as far as us and the Special Forces there, the only connection we had was with the defense of the camp. We had everything organized between them and us what would happen if something happened. We had radio
communication, special radios just to communicate between their camp and our camp. We would fire some H&I fire; they would fire some on other nights. They'd let us know. We did some night work and we informed them that we'd be out on the runway out in the area, and they informed the Vietnamese on their gates and around the area that we'd be out there, don't worry about it. Then when we came in at night, we'd tell them we were all closed in. It was all squared away in case anything happened. The basic plan there was they would stay at their camp and defend it, we would stay at ours. If either one of them got overrun, they'd try and make it to build up the other one. But if they were close enough that if they tried to overrun one, they'd go after both of us.
Q: How far apart were your camps?
Waldo: Just across the runway. It was...
Q: Four hundred yards?
Waldo: No, not even that. Maybe 200 yards at the most. And then the only other plan was that if it got overrun and we couldn't get out, then we had an escape route to take out that
only my people and the Americans and the Special Forces team knew about.
Q: What would you be trying to do? Escape to where?
Waldo: E&E away from the camp to a pre-located pick-up point where we would go and make radio contact and let them know that we had to get out.
Q: The dozers you need basically to clear the area for your new apron? Was that it?
Waldo: Yes, sir, that's it. Had to get the rough earthwork done down there. And, as I was saying, this major came up and he said he didn't think he'd make it in, and the next morning, all of a sudden he had one of the nicest days we had up there. The sky was just beautiful, and the C-124 came in He landed and he brought our one dozer in and took off and was supposed to come back and pick up our other one here at Pleiku and fly it up. He picked it up, flew up, and he flew around the area, and all of a sudden he disappeared, and we found out later he radioed in and said that he was being shot at, which nobody believes because he was saying he was being shot at from two locations where there had been no activity at all He did not like the idea of having to fly in there at all and could hardly wait to get the plane unloaded and get out. Later on, we think we know what happened.† He said he saw a flak, and they didn't have anything up there at the time shooting at planes. We had C-130s all the time and none of them got shot at. Well, what happened is the group pilots, when they flew up one day in the Beaver, another plane was flying somewhere near them that was dropping propaganda leaflets, and it looks like something flashing right by; and we think that's what happened to him. He had a plane dropping propaganda leaflets near him and all he could see are these things flashing right near you. We think that's what scared him. I'm sure and the Special Forces people are sure that he didn't get shot at. But eventually, a couple of weeks or so later, he showed up again with the other dozer. He said he didn't want to come, but he had too many people telling him he had to come. So we finally got both dozers up there working.
Q: Do you have any recollections of any particular headaches that you got trying to get your work done as far as the engineer project went, things that didn't go as planned, or things that you were supposed to do that you couldn't do or something like that?
Waldo: The biggest problem we had at one time... Well, there were a lot of little problems. First of all, they decided that we'd put in a solid cement patch as opposed to concrete
patches due to the difference in the flexibilities in the pavement that was already there, and we were playing around and we'd start digging out holes and were ready to start patching, and we were waiting for Group soils lab to send us the formula for the soil- cement ratio formula for what we should use up there. None of us had ever worked with it before and we got held up a couple days there because of that. We were waiting for it to show up and it didnít come and it didn't come. Finally it did come After looking back on it, I was speaking with Mr. Forest, the civilian advisor up here at Group, who gave us all the advice and everything we needed on soil-cement, because he's an authority on it, and he convinced us on it, it's a good way to do it. However, that air strip was so well built that its base course and the cobblestone that they had set down on top of the macadam was so good that we should never have ripped it up in order to put the soil-cement patches in.
Q: They had a cobblestone ??? surface?
Waldo: Underneath the asphalt, and it was just thick and well-laid. You could tell they took a lot of time and effort. But we had ripped it up and now, if anybody ever goes back, that stuff is probably the way not to do it. Don't use a soil cement. Just go in with RC-3 and just put down layers and build up the penetration asphalt that's there. But that was one problem,
waiting to get the soil-cement formula. The rains didn't bother us too much. Occasionally, we'd get bogged down because of it, but they were basically out of their monsoon season, so we were in the dry-weather season. The dozers or lack of the dozers held us up.
Q: I recall the Group actually requested that the mission be postponed because they thought the thing was going to be in the middle of the monsoon season. That's looking at air weather data.
Waldo: I don't know where they got their information, because they kept saying the same thing to us. When we went up in January and February, when we first thought we were going up there, there was an American on the Special Forces team that was serving his second tour at that Special Forces camp, and he said that that's when they were going through their monsoons that they ended about the first of April. And even when we went up, planning on going up again, he told us the same thing.
Q: In fact, you did not have much rain.
Waldo: We didn't have that much rain at all. We had light showers every now and then, but it was just due to the fact that it's up there in the mountains and the clouds come in. It was not the monsoon season and the rains didn't bother us at all.
Q: Did you get shut down at all for lack of supplies?
Waldo: Right. We went about seven or eight days with no planes being able to make it in. It was right near the end of April and planes just couldn't get in. It was so cloudy and so
overcast. We could hear them, they'd be flying over, but the strip is such that it's got all these ???? Around that they won't come in unless they can see the strip, so they have to have a break in order to get in. We were being re-supplied with C-130s. Some Caribous did make it in, but not as many as usually did to re-supply the Special Forces. We went about two days on using Special Forces diesel. They gave us diesel in order to run the equipment. We had about two days that we ran on their diesel and about a day and a half that we were down due to lack of fuel. That was the only thing; just the fuel is what held us up. So actually, if it wasn't for the Special Forces, we would have had about three and a half or four days of no equipment running.
Q: As it was, a day and a half is all you...
Waldo: Right, a day and a half is about all we were out. In fact I came running back here. I got a flight out of there. I went to Cam Ranh and from Cam Ranh came up to Pleiku, because I
couldn't understand why we weren't getting anything. I thought somebody was goofing off back here on us. And when I got back here I found out that everybody in battalion was pushing like crazy, but the planes just couldn't get in. They were leaving
Pleiku, but they couldn't...
Q: What about a chopper lifting up a bladder and something like that.
Waldo: The only thing is, it's too ???? for them. The only thing they could have done was possibly go on into Dak To and then they would have had to drop the bladder, sit down, fuel up, pick up the bladder, and come on up, and choppers just weren't that accessible to fly that distance. But that was probably the biggest problem we had there. If you didn't have the fuel, you couldn't work.
Chow was getting low. We lived on C's the whole time we were up there.
Q: C-rations the whole time?
Waldo: The whole time we were up there we were eating C- rations, just because we didn't have the facilities and couldn't count on the re-supply of any fresh food.
Q: How did you like that?
Q: You didn't.
Waldo: It wasn't bad.
Q: At any time?
Waldo: We did have some soups. Occasionally the mess sergeant would make ?????? meal out of something that one of the re-supply planes did bring up, but still like something along those lines.
Q: But you had no refrigerator.
Waldo: We got fresh eggs on one re-supply run, so we had eggs and pancakes one morning. But it was basically C's the whole time. In fact, when I came back due to lack of during that
period when we didn't have any supplies, one of the things that I came back to do was to try and get us switched to B's or something else just as a variety. And, in fact, just before we had... The last plane that came in to re-supply us before we had to evacuate did bring in B's, and we never used them.
Q: I guess that pretty well covers... I know your task assignments and basically what you had to accomplish up there, so I don't think we need to go into that. Did you have any problems with visitors up there trying to tell you what to do or bypassing the chain of command or anything like that?
Waldo: Not at all. The only visitors that we had that came up that said anything about the project was either the Battalion S-3, the Battalion Commander, or the Group Commander, so there was nobody out of the chain of command that...
Q: Anyone from III MAF?
Waldo: The only people... Special Forces came up, but the only thing they were interested in was our connection with Special Forces. In other words, they'd come over, look at our perimeter, look at our defensive ???? We had a couple of Special Forces light colonels from
Q: What is this GCA and this TACAN?
Waldo: The GCA pad, I can't explain both of them myself. The GCA pad is a Ground Control Air, and a TACAN is another sophisticated pad.
Q: What for, landing?
Waldo: For being able to instrument land and being able to guide the planes in.
Q: I assumed as much; I just wanted to be sure.
Waldo: That's why... The Air Force was due to fly in all this elaborate radar and electrical equipment, and that's why we got a big kick out of all the newspaper reports about the fact
that the camp was not important and that it had no strategic or military value, but yet we knew that they were getting ready to bring in multimillion dollar...
Q: They were building up for something special.
Waldo: something was going to be up, although they never told us what it was either.
Q: Describe how things started to get a little warm up there as a result of ???? Now during this time, prior to the NVA push on the camp, contact was very light.
Waldo: Contact at Kham Duc had been light all the time, and we had made several joking comments to the Special Forces there that now that we were there with all our equipment, whatever VC or NVA were around the area would see all the equipment and they'd start figuring something was coming too, and we told them that we were going to bring increased activity for them, and it was a big joke between them and us. About two or three weeks after we were there, they made some contact around the area, and it got so they were making more and more contact in and around the area. Then one day they had a patrol going out that made contact and got rather involved just two to three miles east of the camp and right on a mountain that overlooks the camp, and they ran and overtook, after a couple-hour firefight, they took the top of the hill, and when they got there the NVA had been well dug-in and they had a sand table of the whole camp laid out.
Q: When was this?
Waldo: This was about three weeks before the big activity started. Then we got word from the Special Forces chain of command that they thought the 2d NVA Division was moving out of
Laos, coming somewhere near Kham Duc, moving into the Da Nang AO, because Da Nang was at a point that if they could get this division in there, it would upset the balance of power in Da Nang. And the Special Forces then went on a mission of sending out patrols, trying to spot and locate this 2d NVA Division so that they could get some indications of when they moved, what they were moving, what direction they were moving in, and everything like this. And they had increased contacts then and a detachment from there is down at the Camp Ngok Tavak, which is about 5-10 miles south of Kham Duc, and they had increased activity. In fact, about two weeks before the activity started, they brought in a platoon of Marines, or I guess a battery because they had two l05s with them, and their mission was to go down to Ngok Tavak and
defend Ngok Tavak.
Q: Is there a road between the two that you go over?
Waldo: There is a road, but you can't drive it. In fact, they were putting in a request through channels at the time for us to go from, after we finished that mission to build the road, from Kham Duc to Ngok Tavak because they had, I forget how many rounds a day had to be gotten in to Ngok Tavak ???? and they didn't have the air availability to do it. So, they moved in down to Ngok Tavak. And everything, the activity increased and then about the 5th, 4th or 5th of May, they said they thought that the NVA Division had passed Kham Duc. All along, we figured that they would not touch Kham Duc because if you are engaged in any large scale because it would pinpoint them and they'd have a source of getting after them. We thought there'd be a possibility that we'd be harassed and mortars and that, just to pin the Special Forces down at Kham Duc while the Division passed by. So about five days prior to when everything exploded, we figured that they had long been gone. †Everything started on about 0200 hours on 10, and at that time we came under mortar attack at Kham Duc. Now, when I say we, Kham Duc came under mortar attack. The Special Forces camp took all the rounds. On our side of the runway, we didn't take any rounds at all. And at the same time, we got word that Ngok Tavak was under heavy attack This went on... The mortar attack itself lasted, I guess, about an hour at Kham Duc. We all went on alert and everybody stayed in the bunkers till daylight, and at daylight we got word that they were going to reinforce Ngok Tavak because they were still engaged down there.
Q: Was this the first mortar attack?
Waldo: This was the very first one. There was no activity against the camp itself the whole time. Then they were moving a might force that was at Kham Duc. They brought Chinooks in to move them to reinforce Kham Duc.
Q: From where? Do you have any idea?
Waldo: From Kham Duc. Kham Duc to Ngok Tavak, rather.
Q: Oh, to Ngok Tavak. Okay.
Waldo: They were taking the might-force people out of Kham Duc and flying them down to Ngok Tavak.
Q: In Chinooks.
Waldo: In Chinooks. And they had moved some down when one of the Chinooks got shot down at Ngok Tavak and another one got hit while it was on the ground. It got worse and worse, and then it finally got to the point that they had to evacuate Ngok Tavak. They got some of them out by chopper and the rest had to E&E back to Kham Duc, and they were picked up en route back to Kham Duc. †They did find ......
Q: Did some of them actually get back to Kham Duc after the...
Waldo: Yes, sir. They started walking back, and somewhere between Ngok Tavak and Kham Duc they were spotted by choppers and choppers picked them up and brought them in.
Waldo: But the Marines at Ngok Tavak got torn up real badly. They had something like 13 KIAS and 20-plus WIAs. They had gotten in the perimeter right where the Marines were and they were just flying all the medevac choppers right into Kham Duc and they were just piling them up right there. The doctors, the Special Forces doctor and two medics I had with me were over there just patching everybody up, and then they brought in a whole bunch of medevac choppers and then a Chinook or a C7A Caribou flew a whole bunch out.
Q: You were right there watching all this.
Waldo: Right. And then, this was all during the morning.
Q: of the 10th or the 11th?
Waldo: The morning of the 10th. It happened at 0200 on the 10th, that night. And then about in the morning, mortars started coming in again. We went back to work the morning of the 10th, went back to the projects we were working on our different. parts of the project because we figured, well, okay, it was just a night attack, nothing to worry about, and we went back to work. †And I had people at the northern end of the runway working on the new parking apron, at the southern end working on the patching, and on the southern end on the western side working on our sand screen, and mortars kept coming in.
REPORT2 OF 3
Had you been in contact with, personal verbal contact with the flexible forces
team chief at any time that morning?
Q: He still thought it was just a case of a mortar attack?
Waldo: No. They knew something was up because of the fact that they were going after Ngok Tavak and trying to overrun Ngok Tavak, but we figured until conditions were such that we couldn't, we'd just keep working on the project. In fact, what happened
about a week and a half, maybe two weeks before this all happened, Capt. Henderson, who was the advisor, went back to
another job, and they flew in Capt. Silva, the commander. But the night of the 9th, when the Marines were getting well moved in and ammunition was going down to Ngok Tavak, Capt. Silva flew down
there on a resupply flight and couldn't get back to Kham Duc. And when Ngok Tavak got hit then, he got wounded down there and he was medevac'd. So the morning of the 10th, Capt. Henderson was flown back in to take over the camp, and I had spoken with him that
morning and he said they weren't sure exactly what was happening, that there was rumors in the wind that some American infantry
element may be flown in to help secure Kham Duc. And in fact,
before the mortar attack came in the morning of the 10th, as I
said, we had people out along the runway working, and they told us
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 22
we had known by then that they were going to send in somebody from the Americal Division to help reinforce it. And then about that morning of the 10th, mortar started coming in again, and
again it was concentrated all around the Special Forces camp. Due to that, they pinned my people down right on the strip and we got word out to them to just take cover wherever you are and keep your head low. That's what they did, until I got word from my third
Platoon that was down at the southern end of the air strip that
they had movement in the woods and that they were engaged in a
firefight. That's when the firefight started down there. It
lasted for about an hour and a half, maybe two hours.
Q: What were they doing down on that end?
Waldo: Well, right next to the Special Forces camp, on the south of the Special Forces camp, there's a little training camp just on the knoll of the hill where, when some CIDG come in,
that's where they stay during training. And what it appeared was that they were trying to get up and take that camp. There was
really nobody in it or just a few people, and it looked like they were trying to sneak in and take that camp. And if they could get in that camp with the bunkers that were there and the trench line, they could really raise same hell in the area, and it appeared
that that's what they were trying to do, get up into that camp.
And they didn't expect my people to be down there and spotted
them, so they got in a relatively goad size firefight. We sent a couple of 5-tons down to resupply them with ammo.
Q: You had radio communications with them?
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 23
Waldo: Right. We had radio communications with them.
Q: Who was the OIC of that ammo?
Waldo: Both Lt. Schrope and Lt. Morris were down there. I don't recall whether they were there at the time it started, but it was Lt. Schrope's platoon. Shortly after it started, he got
down there and then Lt. Morris went down with some more
resupplies and I was getting ready to go down with more ammo just as they said that they were starting to break contact and the
mortars had lightened up. So rather than keep them down there in that exposed position, then I told them to pull back out.
Q: Was that platoon working on the strip down there?
Waldo: Right. They were working down at that end of the strip, but they had taken cover on the side of the strip during
the mortars coming in.
Q: Oh I see, yeah.
Waldo: And so, when the mortars ceased and it looked like the NVA were breaking contact, that's when I pulled them all back into our perimeter, and then that was when we stopped working on the project. The rest of that day, then, the Americal Division
flew in a battalion from the 196th. Actually, a company from the 198th came in first and then the battalion from the 196th came in.
Q: During this time, did you have any communications with the battalion back here?
Waldo: No. The funny thing was, we went up until about two days, three days before this, we had no communications whatsoever with 42, nothing at all. We would send couriers back on different
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 24
flights. We had had radio trouole. We had a 74 that wouldn't
work and we couldn't get it to work, and we sent parts back, and the battalion commo sergeant came up just a few days before this and finally got our radio in operation. So, during the bad time when we really needed it, we did have communications back here,
real good communications. So, we informed them, we called back to battalion. Well, we called them in the morning and told them that we had had the mortar attack, that we had no casualties, no
damage, and we were going back on the project. And then we kept calling them continually then once the activity started.
About, right around noontime, between 1200 and 1300 hours, I was in my TOC. We were trying to get some things squared away for the perimeter and general planning for what was going on when...
Q: Well, had your mission changed?
Waldo: No, our mission was still the same.
Q: When ??? started coming in?
Waldo: Our mission was still the same. Here's where our mission changed. I was in the TOC and Gen. Stillwell, Maj. Gen. Stillwell, came into my TOC.
Q: Is he from, what, the 196th or...
Waldo: No. He was the Deputy Army Commander or the Army Commander under III MAF. He was the number one man as far as the Army goes I believe, under III MAF, or the deputy to the number one man. He came in and asked me how things were, if we had any casualties, any damage, and one thing or another. And then he
informed me that there was going to be a battalion from the 196th
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 25
Light Infantry moving in to help defend Kham Duc. And he informed me then that my orders from III MAF were that I would be OPCON to this Infantry Battalion and that I'd take all my orders from a Lt. Col. Nelson, who was the Battalion Commander. He also said that all Americans would take their orders from the Battalion
Commander, which would include, then, the Special Forces and then it would just be up to Capt. Henderson to try and get the
Vietnamese to go along with the orders that he was receiving from Col. Nelson. So that's when our mission changed. We were
strictly OPCON to this battalion.
Q: Did you contact Col. Nelson then?
Waldo: He hadn't, he wasn't there at the time.
Q: Oh, I see.
Waldo: Shortly after Gen. Stillwell walked out, Gen. Koster walked in, Maj. Gen. Koster, who was the Americal Division
Commander; the two of them flew up together. And we went over the whole thing all over again and we got everything squared away, and he told me as soon as Col. Nelson came in, which would be shortly, to see him and make whatever arrangements we needed with him to
get squared away. .....
Q: Did he mention anything there about the possibility of an evacuation?
Waldo: No, none whatsoever. No.
Waldo: Then, later that afternoon, well, all during that day, then, at different intervals, mortars would come in.
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 26
Q: Ground attacks?
Waldo: No ground attacks at all. It was all mortar. As the Americal Division people would be arriving--they came in in
C-130s--they started going after the planes, trying to hit the
planes. And then the parking apron was right next to our camp on the other side of the runway from the Special Forces, and this was the first time that the mortars started hitting on our side of the runway. It didn't hit our camp. They went after the parking
apron as the planes came in.
Q: They must have observed fire, then, from some high spots around there.
Waldo: Right. I don't know where the NVA had them, but they had a good FO, because he was definitely putting them where he should put them. This went on all through the day as the Americal arrived. When Col. Nelson arrived, I went over and reported to him and told him what my orders were. Of course, he already knew that we would be, and he was rather elated over the fact that he had a whole Engineer Company under him now. He took both our dozers and our bucket loaders and they went right to work digging in a battalion headquarters for him. An officer that was going to be bringing in the artillery came and saw me, and we squared out an area that he wanted cleared so that he could clear out the area to bring the tubes in on Saturday.
Q: What day was this now? Friday?
Waldo: This was still all day Friday, Friday afternoon. And as his people, as Col. Nelson's people moved out into different...
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 27
The way they set up the perimeter was, as you look at the runway, we are on the west side of the northern end, and then the Special Forces camp was directly east of us on the other side of the
strip. So he moved one of his elements north of the Special
Forces camp and they would cover that sector. We covered the
northwestern sector. Then he tied in the rest of his people all the way around and tied in, then, around the back of the strip
into the Special Forces camp.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
Q: From the east? North to west, or east south to west?
Waldo: The strip runs like this. Here's north.
detector teams, minesweep teams, and attach them to each one of
his companies and elements to sweep the area that they were
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 28
setting up in and out in front of it. This lasted a couple hours, checking everything out. And then, as I say, our equipment was
digging them in, clearing areas away.
Q: Was most of their perimeter in the cleared area or was it in the jungle area?
Waldo: It was just in the clear area before you get into the jungle area Part of it was mixed, actually, and they had no
barriers or anything. It was just a matter of digging in. Our
trucks hauled stuff around for them. At this point, we had a
whole, all our M-881 matting was there, and at this point we said the heck with it, we didn't care what anybody said, and we started breaking open the M-881 matting and gave it to them as overhead
cover and bunkers. The C-130 pilots that were there, we started moving them around. We had the only operational forklift at the time, and he unloaded all their equipment that had to be unloaded by plane, plus he moved around all the equipment for him. There was still a lot of ammunition that had to be moved around, and the forklift did this. So the remainder of the day we did nothing but support. We supported them for the remainder of Friday. And
about 1900 hours that night was the last mortar attack came in,
and that whole Friday night, early Saturday morning, there wasn't a thing. It was just peaceful and quiet the whole night; nothing happened.
And bright and early, , 0600 on the 11th of May, they came in again.
Q: Again with mortars.
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 29
Waldo: Again with mortars. And then that was, the whole day was just on and off. They'd come in and mortar for about 10, 15 minutes and then nothing for an hour or two, and then they'd
mortar again. All during this time, they still hadn't hit our
Q: What about the other posts? Do you know if they had any probes?
Waldo: No, they had nothing big on any of the outposts. The outposts normally were manned by CIDG from the Special Forces, but they moved... On three of the outposts, they put jeeps up there with 106 recoilless and the Americal reinforced it with American troops on the outposts, and they didn't have any large activity at all. That morning about or so, well, the air traffic was unbelievable. Fixed-wings were coming in with resupplies, Chinooks, Hueys; it was amazing they didn't have a mid-air collision--all the resupplies and VIPs and everybody coming in to try and get things squared away. But nothing happened. About 9:00 or 10:00, though, one of the Hueys just over here on the west side of our camp--there's a mountain right here--right in between this area, he got shot and he said he got shot with 50s, but I had people out there at the time and they said the holes were a lot bigger. And he went down. A little bit before that time, we were getting no water into our camp. The water supply from Kham Duc came from a reservoir up in this mountain, and we were getting no water. And I had spoken to Col. Nelson about it and we thought, it appeared at this time that they were definitely interested in
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 30
Kham Duc. The NVA were interested in either keeping everybody
pinned down in there or actually trying something there. And when the water was cut off, we figured he was starting to play around with the water supply, knowing that was our only water supply. So I had sent out a patrol along with the Americal to check out the pipeline. That was when the Huey got shot down, and they were
right near the area. Lt. Lainer and these other people were right near the area, so they went right over to the chopper, and my
people, along with the Americal, secured the chopper and the area around the chopper and also went out and tried to find his rocket pellets which he dropped. He ought to rotate it in, so he landed without ruining the plane, but he was out there in the boonies.
And my people and the Americal, they went out and secured the
chopper until they could get the crew out. And one of the
Chinooks that was actually bringing in supplies and was going to go back to get supplies, he set down and picked the Chinook up, or picked the Huey up and took him out, and nobody got hurt from
that. But then they knew that they were also in the mountains
setting up 50s, firing at the planes. The remainder of that day there was nothing much until about 1400-1500. I got a call that Special Forces wanted to see me because they wanted me to talk to their Lieutenant Colonel back in
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 31
pulling us out of the area. So I told him what we needed and then informed him that before I could leave the area, it would have to be cleared by Col. Nelson, that I was completely under him now.
So they said, "okay, don't worry about it." I came back, called Battalion, told them that somebody was trying to extract us, and that...
Q: Called here.
Waldo: Called back here to Pleiku, told them that I was... They knew I was OPCON at that time, then, to this Infantry
Battalion, although I couldn't tell them who put us that way
because I didn't have any SOI that covered the Americal and they didn't have it back here, but through finagling around they got
the idea that a couple of Generals had visited us, and that's what happened. So, they knew what the situation was, but they
didn't... They knew my OPCCN situation, but they didn't know the situation about the evacuation or anything. In fact, Battalion
was completely lost. The only thing they knew about it was
whatever I'd radio back to them. So I told them that the Special Forces was trying to evac us, but that I told them that we
couldn't leave unless the Americal told us or if I got word from here, yes or no. It was at that stage of the game.
The Air Force had sent in a tailpipe element, one of these jeeps with all the big radio equipment in the back of it that
controls the air, and there was a Major attached to that Later on in the afternoon, he came up to me and wanted to know what we needed, and I told him that I just told Da Nang. And he said,
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 32
"Well, Tan Son Nhut wants to know." He said, "USARV is the one
that's going to pull you out," so I gave him all the facts and I told him that I couldn't leave until the Americal Battalion
Commander told me to go or unless I got word from my own chain of command. I went and spoke to Col. Nelson and he said, "No." He said, "I don't know anything about it," and he said, "You stay
here until I tell you otherwise." So I said, "Well, that's the
way I'm playing it right now." So we played this game all day
long between the Special Forces, the Air Force, and the Americal and calling the people back here about whether we were going or
wouldn't go or would go, and finally about 7:00 or 8:00 that
night, I finally got word from back here in my Battalion that we would be extracted, that arrangements were being made to send up C-130 sorties, they hoped Sunday but they couldn't be sure, that we should start getting the equipment ready and be prepared to
They told me what equipment, if I had to leave, to leave, and what equipment, if I had to leave, what to bring back. What I mean here is, we had a lot of problem getting this forklift up
there because the Air Force claimed it was overweight. They'd
flown it up there twice, but I'd been told that if we had any
trouble, leave the forklift, abandon the forklift, and I had been given detailed instructions what to do with my D7Es, because no
C-124 was coming to get them, and to bring out what I could on the C-130s.
Q: ??? and bring it up ???.
.VNIT.214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 33
Waldo: So, we had started preparations that night to leave the next morning. People loaded up all their gear, we loaded up the CONEXs, we made rosters of who'd go on what flights, and
finally that night, before we went to sleep that night, we were
sguared away that starting Sunday morning we'd be getting five
flights in the morning and five flights in the afternoon. ???
that night was five planes, a total of 25 sorties, five planes in the morning and the afternoon for two and a half days till we got everything out.
Q: Did you have any problems, then, with Col. Nelson? Did he agree that this was...
Waldo: No, because I had told him earlier that I was going strictly by his rules unless I had gotten something from my chain of command to counteract it, that I wouldn't go by the Special
Forces or the Air Force Major; it would have to come either
through him to stay or go or from my Battalion to stay or go.
Q: So this was perfectly okay by him when you started telling him that your battalion was going to...
Waldo: At that time, he told me... Well, actually, it was late Saturday afternoon when I was talking to him about it,
telling him that I was in a bind because I had three or four light colonels telling me one thing and I didn't know which way to turn, and that's why I told him that this is the way I was going to play it. If he told me to stay and my Battalion told me to stay I'd stay; if my chain of command said to go, that as long as my chain of command was willing to back me, then I'd go no matter what he
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 34
said, and he pretty well understood the situation and agreed. And he informed me at that time, Saturday afternoon, he said that--all he referred to him was as a General; I imagine it was Gen. Koster, I'm not sure--had just left Kham Duc. He had been in and out the whole time and was flying back to make the decision on whether
everybody would be evac'd or not. But as I said, Saturday night it was squared away that we were going to be evac'd, agreed by my chain of command and the other one. ???? going back to make the decision. So the way we sat that night, then, and we were all
squared away; we were prepared to move. We had the equipment
Q: Was the dozer disassembled?
Waldo: We had started disassembling the dozers. The dozers we had planned to move out on the last day so that we'd have time to get the rest of the...
Q: You assumed it was going to take two and a half days.
Waldo: Right, two and a half days, and the dozers were
planned to go on the second and third day. So, as I said, it was real easy to move out because we had rolling stock. All our
CONEXs, the ammo we were going to leave with the Infantry, the C- rations that we had here we were going to leave with the Infantry, all expendable type items we were leaving, and we were going to
leave the CONEXS. So basically, everything I had to put on a
plane we would either be able to drive on or walk on. So that's the way it sat Saturday night, and everybody went to sleep.
As I said, the whole time we were sleeping on our perimeters
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 35
in our bunkers, and I was sleeping in the TOC, and about 3:00 in the morning one of the radio operators woke me up and said,
"Something's not going right." So I said, "What do you mean,
something's not going right?" And we were on the Americal
Battalion's push the whole time. And he said, "They're having
trouble someplace." And, sure enough, as it progressed on, all
the outpost was being attacked. During this time, then, I was
back in communications with the Battalion, and they kept saying, "Yeah, the planes are going to come up to get you, the planes are going to come up to get you." And I said, "okay." I said, "Just let them know that we'll be ready and it doesn't look good, so as soon as they land, I'll load them and we'll get the hell out, and what we can't get out, then all well and good." So he said,
"Okay. The planes will be out; no sweat."
By daybreak, in the morning, high ground was all the NVAs they had taken.
Q: How did you find this out?
Waldo: Through the radio reports coming back. Some of the... At one outpost, they had two or three men that were
wounded inside the bunker and a few more that had gotten out and that were just down the slope, and the NVA were all around the
bunker, but, miraculously, didn't bother them. The other outpost radioed back that they had to leave their position, that they had gotten overrun and...
Q: This radio traffic, then, from the outpost to the Battalion CP that you were...
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 36
Waldo: Right, that's how we found out.
Q: I see.
Waldo: That morning, the sky was relatively clear, but there was a lot of ground fog. The Special Forces camp came under a real heavy ground attack on this east side, and there was
Q: A real ground attack.
Waldo: The first real ground attack. And there was reported movement around the northern and southern end of the strip, enemy movement, and there was a real thick ground fog right up to our barrier and right around the Special Forces, and it was perfect for them. And we didn't get any activity in ours at all, any ground attack. Finally, it cleared up and the sky was clear and the jets and the Sky Raiders and everything came back in, and it was that morning that we had the first B-52 riddled on Hill 676. The hill that I told you before that they had assaulted a couple weeks ago and they found the sand table, well, this was
what they thought was one of the prime positions that one of their FOs were in, and they had a B-52 raid on that that morning.
Then, it was that morning somewhere around or 10:00...
Q: Excuse me. Were you having tac aircraft support in the area during that attack?
Waldo: Right, all the time. We had, Friday was a lot of choppers, gunships. Saturday was a mixture of gunships and Sky
Raiders, and all day Sunday it was nothing but fixed-wing. In
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 37
, about I guess, this Chinook was coming in on the
runway and he had been hit. The whole tail end was aflame and you could see it coming right in. The pilot tried to bring it in as easy as he could, but he was losing all his power. The crew were standing by the doors getting ready to jump, and it landed and
managed to get the tail end, which was aflame, pretty well set
down. But when he went to get the nose down, it went too hard and it hit hard and rolled, and you could see the crew falling out of it. It took a few minutes, and then all of a sudden it went up in
a ball of flames, and by some act of God, they all got out of it. All of them got out of it. In fact, when my 1st Sergeant, who was evac'd later on, was up in the hospital where some of them were, and they told him they all got out of the Chinook. And at the
same time he went down, right in the middle of the strip down here at the southeast end of the strip, a Sky Raider went down. He
just went diving right in on the side there and the pilot of it
jumped, parachuted out, and he made it in.
At this time we realized that things were in a bind, and I radioed back and said, well, they kept saying the planes were
going to come in. And I said, "Well, if they come in, you'd best tell somebody that they ought to have some fire escort or some
sort of escort, because they're not going to be able to just fly right in and pick us up and fly right out because they've already had two planes shot down today. And it was shortly thereafter
that the word came down that we would go out with just people.
Q: Okay. How did you get this?
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 38
Waldo: What happened was, the Americal Division called us, the Battalion called us, and said a C-130 was coming in and that I should load up all the people, that I load it up as full as I
could. So I said, "Okay. Are we still taking equipment?" He
said, "No." He said, "Right now, take your people." So I called back to Battalion and told them that it looked like we were going to get out, but it was just going to be people and what we could carry, and they said to me, "Okay, disable the equipment so it can be recovered at a later date."
Q: What time was this about?
Waldo: Oh, about , , or . In the
meantime, they had called and requested that we go out and do
whatever we could to get that Chinook off the runway so the planes could land, and that's when Lt. Lainer went out with my bucket-
loader operator and tried to move it out of the way. And they had moved part of it and then, as they moved this other part, as I was saying, Lt. Lainer was trying to tell the bucket operator to slow down, but he went into it too fast and flames shot up underneath it. Smoke engulfed them, so they had to get out. In the
meantime, we were frantically trying to get one of our dozers back together again, because it was disassembled, so that it could go down there.
Q: Did you have the blade off it?
Waldo: We had the blade off and the push arms. The tracks were still on. But basically the blade and the belly pan and
items like that. So all the mechanics were working like crazy to
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 39
try and get the dozer back together again.
Q: Were you still getting mortar around?
Waldo: All Sunday was continual. It was no more sporadic; they were doing it all the time. And so finally the bucket loader was gone. We couldn't use it. At the time, I had thought it was really gone, but, as I said, later on somebody was able to jump up on it and move it out. So they finally got the dozer squared away and the dozer went out and he started moving it as the C-130
appeared. So, this is when I had people ready to go to get out of the area and to get on to this C-130. The way that our camp was set up in this area here was, we had a front gate right here and this went down to the parking apron, then the runway ran right
here, and our perimeter went down and around like this, and we had trenches around the whole thing. And I had my first platoon...
Our defensive perimeter normally was just like this, first,
second, third, and Headquarters, so in order to get these people out, I had my 1st and Headquarters people prepare to get on this C-130. So the dozer operator went down and cleaned it all off.
In the meantime, they had called me and asked if the C-130 could land even if we couldn't get it cleared, and I had told them yes, if he would land it as close to this end as he could or else just fly over the Chinook and came in. But anyway, it was cleared
enough. He came in, he landed, and he went right up into the area where the Chinook was, turned around.
Q: The Chinook was not cleared off the runway at that time?
Waldo: It was pretty well cleared. It would have been more
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 40
cleared if the C-130 pilot wasn't so anxious to set down, but we had gotten all the big chunks out. There were little pieces lying around
Q: Well, then, he was able to taxi right by it, past it.
Waldo: Right. Well, he taxied right up to it and then
turned around. He had enough landing room without going deep into all the mess.
So I had people standing by to get on that plane, and they were all in this area here getting ready to go out. And as the
C-130 came in and landed, a whole bunch of the Infantry people on this side started running down the airstrip after them. As soon as he stopped, they were loaded up.
Q: From the Americal?
Waldo: Right. We had... What I had planned on doing was, as soon as he got down here and stopped taxiing, we'd run the
people out, because the mortars were coming in all around. They were coming in around
then just run them down and get them in. I guess due to prior
experience, the Americal people knew you had to run after the
plane as it was coming in, and that's just what they did.
Q: At that time, did you know that there was any plans to evacuate the Infantry as well?
Waldo: No, because they just told us that we were getting all our people out, and they never told me that they were going
too. It wasn't until later on, right around the C-130 time and
.VNIT 214, Capt- Daniel Waldo 41
after it came in, that they informed us that everybody was being evacuated and that this Major, in conjunction with... The Air
Force Major, in conjunction with the S-3 of this Battalion, we'd coordinate what people would go on what planes.
Q: You learned that at the time the C-130 came in. Okay.
Then who had the authority to evacuate the area?
Waldo: Well, actually they were going to move this other Infantry element out first. They were supposed to go out first
thing in the morning, and they were from the 198th. Some of the people that were left from the 198th were going out first, and
then we were going out second.
Q: On the second plane, the second element.
Waldo: Well, it would have been the second plane, but they decided, when things got bad, they decided to keep this 198th
company there and get us out first. The original plans were this other element was going to go first This was before things got
real bad. In fact, they were going to try and get them out
Saturday, so they were still planned on going out before we were. But then when it really got bad and they realized that something was going on, that they were going to try and overrun Kham Duc,
they decided to keep that Infantry element there and get us out
first, so that's why we were supposed to get on this first C-130.
Q: Well, then, what changed the plans?
Waldo: Them running and getting on the C-130 before we
Q: Yeah, but obviously they were told to go.
.VNIT 214, Capt. Daniel Waldo 42
Waldo: We don't know, because... This is the way it went.
Q: In other words, as far as you know, you were still
supposed to get on that plane.
Waldo: Right In fact, I called the Major and asked him what the story was and he said, "Well, you were supposed to load," and I said, "Well I can't load it with all these Infantry
people," and a lot of Vietnamese civilians, too, got on the plane. And I said, "Can't do it," so he said, "Well, okay, just stand by your radio. We'll get coordinated on the next one," and all, and so I said, "Okay, no problem." It served them right. Either
mortar started coming in around the plane too, and I don't know
whether it was mortars, debris from the Chinook or whatever it
was, but he got a flat tire and had to pull into the parking apron and they all unloaded. He couldn't get off. And then they
started sending in... Well, from here on it was a real confusing deal. They had Chinooks come in and take some people out.
REPORT 3 OF 3
US Army: Kham Duc -3 of 3
Last update: 2004-01-23