Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ngo Le Tinh remembers the fall of Saigon

Ngo Le Tinh. Engineers.

In 1973 the US had a policy of neutrality, I believe. And most people believed that there would be a partition on the 13th parallel with the NLF getting the 13th to the 17th parallel and we would get south of the 13th parallel. I was in the Delta at that time. I was in the engineer corps at that time.
But from 13 to 17 parallel, I felt there was a secret agreement with the NLF to give them that area some time. I spoke with many high officials in the government and I don't know where the rumors came from.
We were confident in the Army at that time.
Then came the attack on Ban Me Thout. I was in Pleiku at that time at General Phu's headquarters. And at the time I was c. General Phu tried to solve the problem at first of the attack on Ban Me Thuot.
I was surprised when it fell so quickly. In the TOC, technical operations center for MR II, they followed and studied the enemy situation, and at that time, and I heard the briefing, giving the situation there and the location of the VC. They had some supply problem at Ban Me Thout. they didn't think they would take over at Ban Me Thuot. We expected them in Pleiku or Kontum. I think they left almost 4 or 6 ranger regiments, up in Kontum. The VC they thought was around there and they would strike there. They thought Ban Me Thuot was not the real attack.
The VC had tanks, we thought, around Pleiku.
I heard the briefing at the TOC, with the G2, they had the good information, but they didn't know exactly the point of attack.
About that time General Phu changed his mind about things and the 43rd regiment up in Pleiku he sent them to Ban Me Thout to try to retake it. So he used helicopters for transportation.
They had good air support at Ban Me Thout, but the counter attack on the VC failed. They dropped the troops too far outside the area where they were supposed to fight.
On the 13th of March, on that evening. General Pham Van Phu came in that evening, he came in and said, OK let me know the situation of the bridges from Pleiku to Qui Nhon. Are the bridges good or not, can takes and equipment go over them or not. And he called me and said, OK, see me right away.
That as on the 13th about 8 at night. And after discussing with him, he aid, "Do you still have enough pontoon bridges?" I need for the tanks to go through.
I said right now here I have enough for floating bridges for the bridges. He wanted then to study the situation. And he said, "how long. Why 48 hours?"
And I said I can do it no other way. I'll build good standard bridges and bring the floating bridges over there with one company, and it must take 48 bridges. That is just one bridge was needed on the Song Ba River near Phu Bon. The other bridgeswere very good, but the tanks needed special bridges. The bridges would take only 15 tons, but a tank weighed 55 tons.
So he said to me, OK, I give you 48 hours. But this is secret. Don't tell anybody. We will withdraw the whole corps after you finish the bridge. And he said, "But keep this secret and don't tell anybody. And you must finish in 48 hours.
So I had to bring the bridges and build them in 48 hours, 48 hours!
So Iwent back and didn't tell anything to anybody. It was a secret. He said, you have all the big equipment and you must take it all with you.
I brought the map and discussed with him. He talked with the Phu Bon province chief about the bridges. and he said the self defense and province forces would have to protect the engineers building the bridge.
I cam back and I gave the orders to the batalion and also the company to go there. On the 14th, I had to go from Pleiku to the site of the bridge, on highway 7B to Phu Bon.
It was 50 km from Pleiku to Phu Bon and from Phu Bon to the bridge site almost 5 or 6 km to the bridge site. And I spoke with my battalion commander, one, and one officer of my experienced officers to look at the site. And I told them we had only 48 hours. Then I pushed the work and went back to Pleiku to the rest of the unit. And I told every unit that we had to move everything. Unbelievable to them. Unbelievable.
So we abandoned Pleiku for the enemy. And at that time it was very very quiet. There were some units around there that shot mortars at us. At the corps headquarters, but not too much.
The rangers were still holding a line at Kontum and around Pleiku.
I thought we would then have a new headquarters at Nha Trang. Most of the officers asked me why why why. And I said, secret, just get ready with equipment, soldiers and families. All the equipment and don't ask me anything. So then I went up to corps headquarters. And I saw the chief of staff, and General Pham Van Phu had received orders from President Thieu to report to Cam Ranh.
General Ngo Quang Truong was ordered to report but he could not come to Cam Ranh, and I don't know why.
General Phu went to Cam Ranh then to meet with President Thieu. After he came back he called ma and gave me the orders for the building of the bridges.
When he gave me the order on the 13th, the chief of G3 and the chief of TOC, didn't know the order to move the units from the headquarters. They didn't know anything until the 14th. Then the whole staff knew.
On the 14 of March the MRII staff prepared to move, to leave Pleiku for Nha Trang. And I heard that they both US advisers were moved by helicopter to go to Nha Trang. There were four of five US advisers up there at that time. And they went to Nha Trang. And I said, Well, it's for sure we're going away, now, when I saw that.
On the 14th, that night, I heard on the BBC, they didn't say anything, but on VOA I heard, All the staff from MRII have moved Nha Trang. On the 14th. They moved by plane, C130, C133. There they set up office in Nha Trang.
On the 16th I reported all ready, all set. On the 15th I stayed in Phu Bon outside the province with the one tank regiment. Commanding by the Col. Dam. And I said right now we can start to move every vehicle. At that time all the civilians knew already knew and they brought their trucks and came out and lined up at Phu Bon. They saw the military preparing to leave and they came with them. And they filled the road with their vehicles.
So I can't stop that. And I said to Col. Dam you must say you are commander now and you must tell the province chief to let the military vehicles go first and keep the civilian vehicles off the road. I said I must go ahead with equipment and prepare the road and the bridges ahead. One ranger regiment was to take care of security for the engineers, and so I went with that regiment.
And by that time there was panic I couldn't believe. Every vehicle tried to pass the military vehicles. And I called General Cam and said I cannot arrange anything here if you let people come like this, we can't cross any bridges and we will be stuck. He called and gave orders to MP to come and to guard the bridges.
And far from the Phu Bon we arrived in a district, between the Cuong Son and Phu Bon. And I stopped there on the 16th and we slept there and made camp. To fix a bridge there and to use our equipment, and to make a by pass, we didn't have enough material to put the bridge in good condition. So I left the equipment with the ranger battalion and I said you keep security my unit will go ahead. But you must keep the traffic here and the security.
So we left and I followed my men. But sometime I want to go ahead and see what is happening. But now the road was filled with soldiers. And we kept trying to stop the traffic. And I called General Cam again and he ordered the district chief to not let the civilians cars or trucks go on the road, only the military vehicles.
But the people didn't care. We put wire on the roads and they took the wire off and came through. Civilians and soldiers they weren't listening to any commands. They were just running. And the enemy wasn't anywhere in sight at that time.
And on the 17th we had a problem. No command any more. But the convoy still keep going. It had to keep going. But nobody could command it or tell it to stop or go. I arrived and one chopper wanted to pick me up and take me out.
A chopper came to pick me up to Song Ba to make another bridge, a very important bridge. If it not fixed no vehicle can get across the river, near Cung Son district. We had to cross that bridge and go on route 7.
And when the soldiers got there
After that I called the ranger commander and said you must solve this problem for me, I must go up ahead and see the bridge situation but I cannot pass any more because the convoy is stopped here.
And they couldn't control the traffic to let me go through and go ahead to the bridges.
The rangers finally had to threaten to shoot people if they wouldn't stop their cars and let me through. I finally got on the chopper to go ahead to see the bridges situation. And the rangers and the MPs got in a fight and shot each other at the road block. It was unbelievable at that time.
Then we had wounded people to bring out. I then had to walk, I could not drive any more and I left my jeep and walked to the bridge and went to the other side of the bridge. And I arrived at Cung Son and there were still many many problems. Nobody cared about anybody else. There was still no command. I had to walk some more. And Iwent to Cung Son. I reached my battalion and that night I went to the Song BA river and looked at the site and had to determine what type of bridge could best go across the river. That night I slept there with my man. The next morning, General Nguyen Van Chuc was chief of the engineers at the time, and we discussed and asked how many bridges and what sizes and I discussed it with him. And we decided we would make a pontoon bridge of 130 meters, he decided this. And after this I walked over and talked about it with my company and battalion commanders.
They brought the supplies to us from Thuy Hoa. And they brought materials to us by Chinook and we started to build the bridge as fast as we could.
While we were putting up the bridge, I used a bulldozer and towed all we could across the river, trucks, GMCs, jeeps, everything. The river was low at the time because the tide was down, low tide.
We used a cable and a bulldozer to tow things across the river. About 400 vehicles. Then we put in the bridge. On the 17th, I tried to finish the bridge. Then I called General Cam. On the next day the water was high and the current was very fast.
The next day I asked for materials that the use for airport landing strips BSB they call it, black steel box, they put it together and make it into an airfield landing.
Then we finished the bridge and we were ready to go. At that time, the 5th column, the rangers and the MPs were on the other side and everybody wanted to cross the bridge first. The rangers said they would go first, this car would go and this truck would go, and the mps just stood aside. I had one squad of MPs and sent them to the other side to take care of security and to direct the traffic across the river. And they said, "Please, don't send me over there, they will kill me right away."
And there were fifth columnists with the people and the convoy now. And they had a LOD7, a truck with a big frame and they put a cable on it and they can lift up another truck with it, and the civilians used that truck, and they used that truck. and they asked the soldiers to let them go, and when they got on the bridge, they slid sideways and stopped and nobody else could cross on the bridge. When I saw that, nobody anymore could use the bridge.
And then the VC saw the bridge and started shelling it, they fired about 15 rounds and that round then hit the bridge, then they stopped firing because they had the range. It was a mortar round, and then they waited for the next truck to try to cross the river.
The next truck came out and pushed the first truck off the bridge. Then the VC shoot the mortar at the truck and hit it.
There were thousands of vehicles on the other side of the river at that time.
And I asked General Cam over there, all right, my mission is finished, now pick me up. The bridge is built and they can cross, now I have no more duty and so pick me up. And he said, OK, you stay over there and tomorrow I will send a truck to pick you up. General Cam was in Thuy Hoa at the time.
But I was supposed to stay with the trucks at the bridge.
I was very very tired by this time.

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