The Nung are a Vietnamese minority group of ethnic Chinese descent, though there has been some debate among anthropologists as to their proper identification and classification. Some Nung groups were heavily influenced by the Vietnamese, though reports indicate their continued use of Chinese calligraphy and the continued influence of certain Chinese social, religious and agricultural practices. Also, the names of some of the subgroups of the Nung in Vietnam continued to reflect their places of origin in China (1).
Their history no doubt dates back further than the year 939, when the Vietnamese threw off the Chinese occupiers who had maintained a thousand years of direct control. A millenium of effort to absorb the Vietnamese into the culture of their Chinese conquerors resulted in various degrees of assimilation and the resultant anthropological confusion referred to above (2). Various sources report identifiable populations of Nung in Vietnam which ranged from 100,000 to just over 300,000 in the early 1960’s (1, 3).
The Nungs had a reputation as fierce fighters, and their presence was reassuring to those who fought with them. They served widely and in a variety of roles with the U.S. Army Special Forces once the American buildup began. A number of Special Forces detachments worked in widely scattered camps whose personnel often included unreliable strike forces. After the Special Forces camp at Hiep Hoa was overrun by the Viet Cong on the night of 23-24 November 1963, more precautions were taken to build up security in these far-flung ouposts. One of the measures frequently taken was to hire tough Nung camp guards (4).
The presence of a Nung guard force in itself could not always guarantee security from treachery, however. In the early morning darkness of 4 July 1964, a Viet Cong attack overran the camp at Polei Krong in Kontum Province. Two companies of the camp’s strike force were on overnight leave, and many of the remaining strikers simply refused to fight or were secretly VC themselves. Low on ammunition, the Nungs fought tenaciously but were forced to retreat from the camp along with other survivors (5).
Two nights later a similar attack was staged on the camp at Nam Dong in Thua Thien Province. The camp, commanded by CPT Roger Donlon, was scheduled to be closed and its defenses were not in the best condition. Though forced into the camp’s inner defensive perimiter by repeated attacks, the Special Forces soldiers, Nungs and other surviving defenders held out until daylight (6). CPT Donlon received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Nam Dong.
A Nung Security Platoon was established in 1964 to guard the headquarters of 5th Special Forces Group in Nha Trang, and soon grew to three full companies. It took on operational responsibilities as well, guarding approaches to the city itself. With the growth of the Mike Force (ready reaction force) concept in Special Forces, this group took on country- wide reaction missions to assist units which found themselves in trouble (7). Nungs were used in a number of other Mike Force units as well.
Whether responding to a call for help from a trapped six-man reconnaissance team or guarding the 5th Special Forces Group Headquarters, Nungs wound up accompanying their American Special Forces employers until the end of the war in Southeast Asia. They remained a tough, tenacious force, respected by their allies and feared by their adversaries.