On 1 January 1969, Spider left FOB 1 early for a commo check with RT Diamondback. He talked to the team’s radio operator and returned to Phu Bai. Later in the morning, however, the One-Two requested a tactical extraction from the AO because there had been a lot of enemy activity around them. While Spider was talking to the SF troop, he heard a burst of AK-47 fire and screams. Then silence. For a long time he was unable to raise anyone on the radio. He knew something was terribly wrong. He finally got an indigenous team member on the radio who said that the Americans were dead, but the indig had survived the attack.
Back at FOB 1, around 1200 hours, someone from the commo shack came into the club and said a Vietnamese team member from RT Diamondback was on the radio, talking to Spider. That was very bad news. Several of the recon team members in FOB 1 headed toward the commo shack. Before we got there, Tony Herrell, a veteran recon man, came around the corner with more bad news.
“They were hit by sappers. It doesn’t look good,” he said. As we tried to walk through S 3 to the commo shack, the S 3 major told the team members to stay outside so the SF commo troops could do their job. The major was universally despised by every recon team member in camp because he showed no sympathy toward any team member and acted as though he didn’t care whether a team lived or died in a target area. The fact that he still had a thick German accent didn’t help matters either. It never occurred to me that perhaps his gruffness was a buffer between having to send teams into targets where the probability of casualties was extremely high and keeping his own sanity.
As always, when a team was in trouble, several team members pulled out their PRC 25s, attached a long antennae, and monitored any radio traffic they could pick up. From FOB 1, SF troops usually would be able to hear the Covey rider talking to the team on the ground. The transmissions from the team on the ground, however, were too far away to be picked up in Phu Bai. The only news this first day of the New Year was bad. We could hear the Covey rider patiently talking to the Vietnamese team members on the ground. They were obviously shaken. At first, we assumed the Vietnamese team members were wounded. But as time passed, it was apparent that the three Vietnamese were alive and had suffered no combat wounds. In addition, there were no NVA casualties.
It appeared the Americans had been slow to react. In a matter of seconds, the sappers killed the three SF troops and chose to leave the South Vietnamese team members alive. The news about the sappers was a triple dose of bad news: First, we had three dead Green Berets. Second, reports One-Zeros had received for months about NVA sappers being a lethal force were now confirmed. Third, by killing only the Americans, the NVA pulled off a major psychological coup. By leaving the Vietnamese team members alive, their survival would plant seeds of doubt and dissension between SF troops and our little people.
That tactic worked momentarily at Phu Bai. Some of the U.S. personnel in camp who didn’t work daily with the little people were openly questioning the loyalty of the Vietnamese team members. I went over to the ST Idaho hootch and told Hiep and Sau to have the team be alert for any untoward comments from U.S. personnel in camp. I also asked them to learn as much as they could about the Vietnamese team members on RT Diamondback as quickly as possible.