WarfareCenter.com is honored to have Billy Waugh agree to post some anecdotes of his experiences throughout 50 years of service to this nation. William “Billy” Waugh (born December 1, 1929), is a retired American Special Forces Sergeant Major and Central Intelligence Agency Paramilitary Operations Officer who served more than 50 years between the U.S. Army’s Green Berets and the CIA’s Special Activities Division. He was awarded 8 purple hearts for operations in Vietnam along with a Silver Star and 4 Bronze Stars. Billy is credited with finding and pulling close target reconnaissance on Carlos the Jackal in the Sudan that directly led to his capture. In his 70s, Billy infiltrated into Afghanistan with a Special Forces “A” team to conduct operations soon after 9/11. Billy is a member of the SOCOM Commando Hall of Fame. Billy Waugh is an American Hero and true icon.
In his first post, he describes Unconventional Warfare operations he conducted from Cambodia in 1970. This little known operation was based out of Ba Kev airstrip and utilized disgruntled Cambodian military to conduct operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trail from the West. At the conclusion of operations, Billy led the evacuation of 4000 people, mostly on foot safely back into Vietnam. An amazing operation. His musings and supporting attachments are below.
Ba Kev, Cambodian Operation – 1970
This particular mission (Mar-Jun 1970), was performed by Recon Company, CCS (Command and Control South) of SOG Operations, and will be a part of a 3-part book to be published around Xmas of this very year.
This Unconventional Warfare action in Cambodia was initiated by simply landing with a five-man team right in the middle of an airstrip at Ba Kev, Cambodia, as ordered by Chief SOG. Of course, this mission was a first of its kind, and I was happy to be involved.
Cambodia’s ruler, Norodom Sihanouk who was cozy with the North Vietnamese, was in China in early March 1970,. when a coup-d ‘etat occurred in Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia.
A military post in Ba Kev, which was unfriendly to the US at the time, was left without resupply aircraft from Phnom Penh, thus, SOG knew the 200+ Cambodian Military Personnel along the airstrip and in a run-down camp at Ba Kev, were hurting for food and military resupply.
Our Boss of CCS was called to MACVSOG where he was ordered to send a Team from Recon Company CCS into this target area. I will send you the write up on this from my boss CCS Boss, LTC Lindsey, along with a Power Point presentation discussing this action.
Hell of an action that lasted 62 days, 32 KM west of the South Vietnamese border inside Cambodia near Route 19.
Our small make-shift, Team Measure of CCS performed not less than 30 Recon-Team missions during these targets dates, launching by foot, and at times via SOG Helicopters to the east against the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex.
When our team was ordered to evacuate Ba Kev, then straggled the 32 KM from Ba Kev Cambodia, to the US Army Special Forces Camp of Du Co (5 KM inside South Vietnam along Hwy. 19), with about 4,000 personnel, civilians, soldiers, dogs, cows, goats, pigs, Russian Trucks – 25 of these trucks, Quad-51 Russian Half’Tracks, 72mm Artillery Pieces on wheels, and half the Cambodians from the east side of Cambodia, it took 24 hours to move these people (mostly by foot) into the area from Ba Kev to Du Co. Our weapons haul was 2,000 AK-47s, around 1,500 SKS, 100 RPG 2′s and RPG’7s, and tons of ammunition., grenades, 82mm Mortars and rounds. What a Haul.
I recall two of us from Recon Company CCS, were hidden in a group, and came upon by General Abrams himself at Du Co. I recall that COL Savuuth met General Abrams, who greeting the Cambodian with enthusiasm as *** Lu Lon SVN II Corps Commander, looked on. General Abrams nor any of the reporters suspected that our team had been with these men on this mission. What a wonderful accomplishment it had been as far as I (Billy Waugh) was concerned.*
* Not one of our US Army Special Forces men, nor anyone else who was involved, received one award of any type for these actions. Rather thoughtless of those on top, but times were busy, busy, and missions were so very classified – with little thought of awards and medals considered.
CSM (ret.) William (Billy) Waugh
PowerPoint Presentation: AWOC3rdHour
SOG & CCS Leads The Cambodian Offensive
Then just before the time of the conventional forces invasion, CCS got the “green light” to conduct a mission to contact and assist the Cambodian Army. I was quickly called down to Saigon to get my mission briefing. We were going on the offensive and morale went sky high! We quickly formed a real solid team led by US Sergeant Major Billy Waugh. We had no idea what kind of a reception they would get from the Cambodian unit, as we were forbidden to contact them by radio beforehand. It was possible that the “request for help” was a ruse to entrap our team. We were only given a spot and a time to insert them at BaKev, and then hope for the best.
From this point on, the text will vary to show the perspective of myself and Sgt. Major Billy Waugh on the chronological review of the operation. I don’t remember if Waugh was then still back at CCS or if he was on TDY with SOG Ops 35 in Saigon . It was our practice to rotate some of the senior NCOs from the various detachments into the intel and ops sections at SOG Hqs. At any rate, Waugh describes his introduction to the operation as follows (Pg 65) : “I was ordered by the CO of SOG’s Op 35 to report immediately to his office in the Saigon area and was given specific instructions to report to the Chief SOG’s office with combat gear in hand. At the Chief’s office I was met by LTC John Lindsey who immediately outlined a situation he had witnessed from the air in a place called Ba Kev, 35 kilos inside Cambodia, due west of Duc Co SF camp. He had “seen old people and children, their emaciated and malarial bodies lying along the fringes of a dirt airstrip. He saw a ragged collection of Cambodian soldiers and their families waving toward his plane, as if offering themselves up to it.” ”Lindsey told me the camp had been used by the NVA as a way station along the Ho Chi MinhTrail before the coup that removed Prince Norodon Sihanouk from power in Cambodia. The change of leadership had kept the NVA from using the outpost, but it also ended re-supply air drops to the people living in BaKev. These people were political orphans and Lindsey saw an opportunity for us to take advantage of the situation. He offered me a remarkable mission: take a group of three interpreters and two other SOG men into Ba Kev and turn the outpost into a functioning camp that could be used to launch offensive strikes against the NVA across thirty-two kilometers of dense jungle to the Ho Chi Minh trail. This top-secret mission would take Americans troops farther into enemy territory than ever before, and it would call for us to establish contact with a large group of armed people who were sick, hungry, and possibly unfriendly to our cause. Would I do it, Lindsey asked? I quickly answered “ … Are you kidding me Colonel? I’d kill to lead such an operation,..”
The Lindsey perspective of this beginning was that our mission orders were as result of the request of the new Cambodian government and as directed by our highest levels of DOD and OK’d by the president. This would have been after the Cambodian populace rioted against the NVA on 11 March. We were directed to go make contact with the battalion, and if they were friendly we were to immediately try to reinforce, equip and train them to be an effective fighting force. The rest we would play by ear. What Billy describes as me seeing the pitiful sight of the ragged collection of soldiers and civilians from a VR (visual reconnaissance) sounds like what we would have used for our “cover story” we gave the team in case they got captured. Besides we were forbidden to do any VR or make any contact whatever with the Cambodians until we inserted Waugh’s team. Waugh was very accurate in the description of the Cambodian soldiers and civilians he would meet at Ba Kev. Our Cambodian operation actually included linkup actions with Cambodian Military in two different areas. First was the Battalion was located at Ba Kev (which Waugh notes) and their Brigade Hqs in LaBan Siek which was further west. I don’t believe that Waugh was informed about that Hqs location as we had another team go into there, after his successful link-up. Again, we only told our teams what they needed to know to accomplish their own mission – in case of capture.
Lastly, Billy and I differ on the dates of the operation. He cites the entry in February and I know it was either the last of April or early May. I did keep a daily flight log, since I spent so much time in the air trying to cover this vast AO. I also related my activities in my frequent letters home. Luckily my wife kept all of those and they have been invaluable helping to refresh my dull old memory. I never like to differ with such a distinguished Sgt. Major, so we’ll clear that up ASAP. Hereafter, I’ll just revise the text to talk in terms of days after the initial insert, that I believe was on about 25 April. My memory is that we had the team on the ground within 48 hours of the order.
Waugh chose Commo. Specialist SSG Dennis Motley and Demolitionist /Engineer SFC Charles Smith, plus three interpreters for his initial CCS Team. And he picked all of the initial supplies to take in on the insert. We used RVN AF H-34 helicopters for all our movements into Cambodia. At the on-set, we were still forbidden to use USAF planes or our Army choppers, since we were not officially supposed to have US troops in Cambodia. That did not change until Pres. Nixon announced our invasion of Cambodia by our conventional units. We did, in the meantime had the 24-hour C&C C-130 Hillsboro out of NKP to direct US jet fighters or the Specter C-130 gunship for air support. They were on standby support when we made the insert and if Waugh had run into trouble we were cocked and ready with our normal Green Hornet USAF gunships and lift squadrons for any extraction necessary.
We launched Waugh’s team from our Duc Co launch site that had been used previously for many team insertions on strictly intelligence gathering missions. We were not sure if they were going to welcome us with open arms or start shooting at us, so we had all kinds of rescue teams cocked and ready to go in case we had to pull Waugh and his team out under fire. Fortunately it was ‘open arms’ by a raggedy and desperate bunch of Cambodians. Waugh introduced himself to the Cambodian Bn. Commander.
Waugh gives a wonderful description of his meeting with Lt. Col. Um Savuth. “This man was in his mid-fifties, with a sharply lined, weathered face. He walked slowly, with the aid of a cane, and stood perhaps five feet, four inches tall. He had a deep scar near his hairline that looked suspiciously like it was caused by a gunshot wound. His skin was markedly yellowed, which told me the colonel was most likely suffering from jaundice caused by malaria. …He was armed with a Chinese pistol in a leather holster attached to a French pistol belt. His uniform, though worn, was clean. He held himself as tall as possible, and my first impression was that I had come across a furiously proud man.” ….”More than a thousand troops and their extended families lived in the vicinity of the compound. All contact with Phnom Penh ceased shortly after the “coup d’etat,” and his twice-weekly food supply drop ceased four weeks before our arrival.” (Pg. 67-68)
Waugh presented his credentials with a letter from Chief SOG and some gifts to include beer. They broke the ice with some warm Budweiser. Waugh recalls: “After we dispensed with the formalities, Colonel Savuth looked at me with his yellowed, tired eyes and asked a simple question: “What can you do to protect us?” I was ready for this. We knew our presence would spark the attention of the NVA, and the colonel did not wish the wrath of the NVA to descend on his unit. I had alerted the C-130 airborne CP, call sign Hillsboro, to our presence in the BaKevb region. We were prepared to answer the colonel’s question in an emphatic, spectacular way. I turned to Colonel Savuth and pointed to the surrounding mountains. “Pick a spot.” I told him. “Somewhere at least four hundred meters away, where you would like to see a display of U.S. might Savuth pointed to the east, approximately eight hundred meters from the airstrip, to a wooded knoll. “Do you see that? he asked me. I related an approximate eight-digit grid coordinate to the USAF pilot flying with Lieutenant Colonel Lindsey and requested a “Sky Spot” – two 250 kilo high-explosive bombs to be dropped on the coordinate of the knoll immediately. …Within five minutes, two fighter aircraft far above, neither seen nor heard by the Cambodians, dropped their ordnance directly on the target. The bombs were not visible to any of us during their descent, so the explosion was a riotous surprise that took the breath away from the Cambodians, including Colonel Savuth. As the mountain erupted in flame and smoke, a huge roar rose from the soldiers. They stood along the airstrip and clapped, laughing uproariously and reliving the moment with those around them. I felt a wave of giddy relief flood over me.”(Pg. 69) The USAF fighters which were used by the Hillsboro control flight to put on that bombing demonstration were a part of our air cover for the insertion.
On getting the “all clear” from Waugh, I flew in the next day and met the battalion commander, LTC Savuth and brought another chopper with an augmentation to the team and some basic supplies. Savuth had assembled his “motley crew” in parade formation. They had no standard uniform. Some wore boots, or tennis shoes or were barefoot. Very few wore helmets. Their weapons were generally obsolete and of all kinds. Their motor pool included old vehicles from five different nations. That must have caused a logistics nightmare when it came to getting spare parts.
The team had a great reception, but they were amazed at the lack of modern arms and equipment of the Cambodian troops, and the very poor security they had for their camp. However, the Cambodians were in the middle of their own country and for years had supposedly assumed that they did not have any enemy threats. It seemed that Prince Sihanouk directed his military to have some sort of an agreement with the NVA who traveled near their areas. They just pretended the NVA were not there and they stayed out of the areas where the NVA were moving through their country.
Savuth was desperate for food and weapons – everything. So the next night, as I watched from a C&C ship for two hours, we conducted a logistics air drop re-supply out of Pleiku to Ba Kev. In all, I made 9 flights into Ba Kev. Most of flights to Ba Kev were made from the MLS at Duc Co. Waugh had things well in hand and the Cambodians responded wonderfully. Meanwhile I had my hands full with a huge AO and lots to do in our new offensive mode.
Down south we had heavy demands for recon to assist the conventional forces, and at the same time had to keep a guard on what the enemy was doing near our Cambodian linkup area. Within two weeks we had to have help in our area and SOG brought in teams from both CCC and CCN to help in the south. One of those teams we got from CCC was RT California, led by the legendary Sgt. John Plaster, with his very experienced team of Jaco, Yancey, Musselman and five of their Yards. (Plaster #1, pg 235) . In his exc ellent book about his personal missions at CCN and CCC, Plaster described his two missions in our AO. I summarize, as follows:
The invasion was going so fast, everything was very fluid. The lst Cav found the huge “City” complex that had held an est. 10,000 NVA. To help find where they had retreated to, SOG scheduled several RTs to “sweep the jungle north and west of the City, well beyond the conventional forces, to intercept the fleeing NVA columns.” Plaster’s RT California team launched out of Quan Loi and they inserted NW of Snuol on the western edge of the notorious Fishhook. The second day they discovered a heavily used trail heading NW toward Kratie. The eight-man Team pursued for hours. Late that afternoon, they were extracted so that a B-52 strike could hit the suspected enemy column of 2,000. (Plaster #2, Pg 238) With no time for stand-down, two days later they were reinserted into Cambodia, this time a bit deeper- west of Memot to screen forward of the lst Cav Div. that had found “Rock Island East” with its 300 tons of ammunition. The team moved as fast as they could for 1 & 1/2 days. Plaster became so cramped and sick from blackwater fever, that he had to turn the team over to Jaco and had to be evacuated to a Saigon hospital. He returned after recovery to Kontum and continued missions in Laos. (Pg 239-240)
The next day after the supply drop at Ba Kev, I flew out west to the Cambodian Brigade Hqs. at Laban Siek with the ARVN SF Co-Commander of SOG, Col. Nghia, and we met with the Cambodian brigade commander, Brigadier General Neak Sam. (I believe I took Capt. Sporrey with me, but not sure.) We assessed their needs and got their requests. I believe we put another team in at Laban Siek but it probably was one of Nghia’s ARVN SF teams from CCS. Then at both sites we proceeded to flood in weapons – M16 rifles and Claymore mines, along with food, medicines, barbed wire, radios, etc.. The re-supply, as noted, was initially by air-drop and later after improving runways, by landing cargo aircraft. We embarked on an urgent training program. The Cambodians eagerly accepted and immediately implemented every hint on improving their defensive posture and operations. Our Ba Kev team did a magnificent job and our efforts were expanded to other Cambodian units of the Brigade .
Insert photos of CCS troops with:
ARVN LT. COL. NGHIA (23)
CAMBODIAN TROOPS (24)
TRAINING INSTRUCTION (25)
CLAYMORE MINE (26)
INADEQUATE SHELTER (27)
POOR MORTAR POSITION (28)
POOR GUN POSITION (29)
RESUPPLY AIRDROP PICKUP (30)
(Also see www.macvsog.cc/ photos where one is of Sgt Farr a medic who was with Waygh at BaKev.)(Also a second Ba Kev photo)
The Medical Evacuation of Cambodian Battalion Commander
Early in the operation we had medical teams in to help the Cambodians. As Billy Waugh pointed out, Savuth had malaria in a bad way. I got a call (on May 13th) to come in and medically evacuate LTC Savuth. He was almost delirious from malaria. He refused evacuation unless I came over personally to accompany him. Still forbidden to use US aircraft over Cambodia at the time, I flew into camp on an old South Vietnamese Air Force Beaver-type aircraft. (Billy remembered him being evacuated by H-34, but believe me, I will never forget that ride.) On arrival, Savuth again refused to be evacuated until they could put on a brief parade ground review and he presented me with a dual elephant tusk trophy. Once this was over, Savuth surprised me again by insisting that he be accompanied by his huge bodyguard (by Cambodian or RVN standards.) With the bodyguard and Savuth in the back seat, and me in the front co-pilot seat holding the elephant tusk gift, with the RVN bush pilot in an RVN old aircraft – on takeoff we just barely cleared the trees at the end of the short and bumpy dirt strip.
Meanwhile, Savuth subtly let it be known that my CCS men were considered “friendly hostages” to ensure his safe return. I remember Savuth being treated at Pleiku first, he may have been sent later to Nha Trang hospital. I do know I was advised that he was delirious from the malaria and we advised his headquarters that he probably would not be able to return to duty at BaKev and they should send in a replacement. He fooled us with his grit. As it turned out, Savuth became so delirious in the hospital that we had to notify the government in the capital of Phnom Penh about this condition and they sent replacement to Savuth’s command. Savuth turned out to be the first of many such medical evacuations due to malaria. Typical was the transcribed radio message from BaKev which read, “The Cambodian Sgt has 3 types of malaria. Vivax, malaria and Falciparum. A further complication set in when he developed Black Water Fever (Cerebral malaria). The patient needed the services of a trained physician and he was transported by med-evac to the US hospital at Nha Trang. One US SF Medic accompanied him to facilitate admission to the US hospital.”
(My letter’s home summary during this period – Check to confirm dates)
5 May – Spent the entire day yesterday flying. Had small attack on our base previous night – no damage. I’ve gotten only a few hours of sleep in last 3 days. Things are going very well but extremely fast. All our work over past few months is really paying off. God bless Nixon. Never thought he had the guts. Hope it wasn’t too late.
10 May – Have been in 3 rocket attacks lately (at the BMT base)- lousy shots. I’ve have been putting in long hours in some strange places. Things are going well. Can’t talk about my work.
13 May – I’ve aged 20 years fighting on a 200 miles front. I’m tired and irritable. Have one Capt AWOL, & one Sgt in jail for stealing meat & one Sgt being courts-martialed for marijuana possession. The Club went $6,000 in debt last month. So I am having to be ruthless there. The building program is going well. The war is going better. The things my guys are doing will have some far-reaching impact. I’ve had to take some risks. The people we are helping are surely grateful.
22 May – I went to Saigon a few days ago – was called down to brief Gen. Abrams. Had to wait 4 hours and then an Ambassador was in the room who was “not cleared for our program.” I spent most of my time fussing with my boss. If I get an important mission I want the support to go with it. I have to fly out and serve as contact between two generals. War is going well but we often fail to capitalize on so many opportunities. I was given a beautiful elephant tusk present by a Cambodian Colonel.
30 May – the next 30 days will be very busy but don’t know how it can be more than last 30 days. Col. Savuth gave me a gift of some silk cloth from Phnom Pehn yesterday. Yesterday I flew north. Flew to Saigon the other day. Captured a prisoner day before yesterday but he died before we got much info. It rains every day now – the Monsoon season is with us. Am so tired I could sleep for days.
Soon after we made the initial linkup with the Cambodians at BaKev & Laban Siek, we got alerted to prepare for another linkup in the southern area where there the RVN/Cambodian border bends sharply to the west. This was subsequently called off before we committed a team, because the area had become so hot with the NVA buildup. Every Recon Team that we earlier tried to put near their area, got shot up and had to immediately extract. In addition, with our success in the link-up with the Brigade in La Ban Siek and Ba Kev, all of CCS’s resources were needed in that area. SOG called on CCC & CCN to recon the southern area in anticipation of a planned invasion of the Fishhook area by our conventional forces.
In the midst of this frenetic time, my wife Elsie, also interrupted our planning with an emergency call to come home. She had some problems at home, to include a flooded basement and I was “out trying to drain the swamp and up to my ass in alligators.” It wasn’t funny to her but we agreed that she had the situation pretty well under control and I would be home soon.
There was little rest during the time our teams were in Cambodia supporting the Brigade at Laban Siek and the Battalion at BaKev. We not only had liaison teams with the major units but made a number of recon team insertions throughout the area. (I wish I had a record of all of them but unfortunately do not.) I remember it only as a blur of activity of moving teams around, coordinating logistics flights in to the Cambodians, calling air strikes, recons of the southern target area, coordinating with other units & Hqs. in our RVN area.
About ten days after our team went into BaKev they got their first night mortar attack from the NVA. For the first time we had to call out the Spectre gunship. But I think that Billy had been alerted by one of his outposts hearing the mortar crew and he
put them out of commission by executing his own counter-mortar fire. Still the outpost has its first two Cambodians killed and three wounded. (Waugh Pg. ?)
On 17 May I flew C&C on an RT insert and then a low level VR and then on 18 May flew a C&C for a hot extraction of an RT. Soon after that, along with the authority to make contact with and reinforce the Cambodians, we were — for the first time, permitted to place USAF tactical airstrikes on the NVA coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail. (This may have been about the time that Pres. Nixon publicly announced our conventional invasion and that permitted the US presence to be seen and “felt.”
On 26 May I spotted one such big group when on aerial recon, probably enroute to or from Ba Kev or some other action. This was a along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Wasteland where we sighted a supply convoy with about 50 NVA and four elephants loaded with supplies, heading south. Thinking that we wouldn’t touch them as usual, they marched on down the trail often right out in the open. We had really started to bottle up their infiltration and they desperately needed re-supply down in the Fishhook area. Acting as a FAC, I called for a quick diversion of a Tac Air flight – getting a flight loaded with cluster bomblets, which were perfect for the target. I directed the jets to come in from the north -approaching the rear of the column, fast and low. By the time the enemy heard the jets roar over, the bomblets covered the entire group and they were wiped out. It was awful to see, but very effective – and long overdue. At last we no longer had to fight the war with one hand tied behind our backs. Thereafter, we really poured it on throughout the area.
Pretty soon we had a clue about things to come. Waugh tells the story (Pg 76-77): “Lindsey contact me and requested my presence — along with the French-speaking SOG Captain James Spoerry–in Pleiku to meet with Lieutenant General Lu Lon, the commander of South Vietnam’s military Region II. I was asked to bring along one of the outpost’s regimental officers, and together with Cambodian Lieutenant Um Ari and I boarded a SOG-assigned H-34 headed for II Corps Headquarters in Pleiku. General Lon informed us of reliable information indicating the NVAs intent to overrun the outpost within the next few weeks. He asked a simple question. “Would the Cambodian regiment prefer to remain in the Ba Kev outpost, or would the outpost battalion rather move to South Vietnam.”… General Lon said, “The South Vietnamese government has authorized me to offer sanctuary and refuge to the entire regiment, including dependents. This can happen if you agree to convoy into South Vietnam and turn over your arms and equipment to the South Vietnamese government.” An official offer was place in writing and addressed to Colonel Um Savuth, who was completing his medical treatment. Lindsey was his usual stoic self during the meeting, but when it was finished he pulled me aside and gave me direct orders from Chief SOG. We were to continue to prepare defenses. We were to continue to step up offensive operations, take prisoners when possible. We were to prepare and train the Cambodians in offensive helicopter raid and long-range patrol operations.”
A short time after that Col. Savuth was able to return from our hospital to Ba Kev. The tough ole bird really fooled us. I don’t remember if the Brigade had ever sent in a replacement or not, but Savuth was back in charge. He told Billy that our team had saved his life. He then gave Billy a gift of a twin set of Chinese pistols as an expression of his gratitude. The two old warriors had become close friends. Then he told Billy that they “would evacuate Ba Kev when you and Captain Spoerry tell me it is necessary.” (Waugh Pg 77)
On 10 June, we lost Platoon Ldr lst Lt Vyrl Leichlieter KIA. (No record of this action except in Noe’s data base.)
We were practically working around the clock with little time for sleep. According to my Flight Log, I made 29 flights on 11 days from 13 June to 28 June. Notable was a U17 aircraft C&C flight on 24 June to cover an RT insert; then a flight with Col. Schungle on 14 June BMT to Duc Co in a Beaver and on out to Ba Kev and back in UHID; included 3 more flights into Ba Kev, the last on 14 June. I did not keep any records from 16 June – 19 June – just too darn busy to make notes.
On June 19th, I received a message from Le Brigadier-General Neak-Sam, Commandant La 5 EME Region (Labansiek, Cambodia) to to me as Monsieur Le Lieutenant-Colonel, Commandant Colonel, Commandant Les Forces Speciales (BanMeThuot).” This urgent message requesting resupply of 25 tons of rice and is quoted verbatim. The letter, that I have still, read:
MESSAGE – PORTE EX. URGENT
ORIGINE: -COMMANDT 5TH REGION MILITARIRE
DESTINATAIRE: – LE LIEUTENANT-COLONEL, COMMANDANT LES FORCES SPECIALES (BAMITHOUT).
NO. 4517/ STOP OBJET DEMANDE ACHAT RIZ STOP. VU DIFFICULTES RECONTREES PAR MANQUE MOYEN DE TRANSPORT AERIEN ENTRE PHNOM PEHN ET LABANSIEK STOP VOUS DEMANTE ENVISAGER POSSIBILITES FAIRE ACHETER AU SUD-VIETNAM 25 TONNES DE RIZ BLANC EN VUE NOURRIR NOS TROUPES POUR SEPT (7) JOURS EN ATTENDANT ARRIVEE RAVITAILLEMENTS DE PHNOM PEHN STOP DANS LE CAS POSITIF STOP. VOUS DEMANDE EGALEMENT ME FAIRE ACHEMINER CES 25 TONNES DE EIZ PAR MOYENS AMINS U.S/S.V.N. STOP VOUS PRECISE QUE CES 25 TONNES DE RIZ VOUS SERONT REMEOURSES EN ARGENT LIQUIDE STOP. A VOUS TOUTES MES CONSIDERATIONS TRES DISTINGUEES STOP ET FIN./
LABANSIEK, LE 19 JUIN 1970
LE BRIGADIER-GENERAL NEAK-SAM, COMMANDANT LA 5 EMEM REGION MILITAIRE.”
We immediately notified SOG for approval and then within at most two days executed a massive resupply effort of food, as well as other modern weapons and communications and medical supplies.
Amazingly, the frentic operation went well with few hitches. Our small team at Ba Kev had turned into a 1,000 man battalion with the training and equipping of Savuth’s people. Billy Waugh summed up his perspective as follows: “Pg 79 Waugh “It was a memorable stay in Ba Kev, the most fulfilling operation of my SOG career, and with it came many unforgettable moments.” One of those moments was at an earlier time, before the OK to use USAF aircraft openly, when Waugh needed to evacuate an injured American SOG trooper. Due to increased intel, it appeared the NVA were getting ready for an attack. So Waugh called in for an AF emergency evacuation and got hold of a C-123 “on a god damned milk run.” Billy talked him into the outpost airfield, with the pilot not knowing he was going into Cambodian air space, although he was authorized to land to med-evac any US personnel any time. As luck would have it the plane got seriously stuck in the soft poor airstrip. The distressed pilot found out he was not only in Cambodia but stuck in the mud. He must have been about to wet his pants, as he viewed a short career, if not a courts martial for losing a plane. Cool heads prevailed. They request Billy to call for delivery of some JATO bottles and they were delivered from the SF team in Pleiku – only in SOG would those logistics been possible. While that was enroute, the Cambodian soldiers all pitched in to dig for hours to get the plane out as best they could. By 4 p.m. a SOG H-34 landed at Ba Kev with the bottles of JATO. By the grace of God, a lot of hard work digging and SOG luck, the JATO bottles worked and the plane blasted out of there. And Waugh said the much relieved pilot told him, “Sergeant Major, please don’t every call me again.” Meanwhile the injured SOG man had been evacuated with the H-34.
Back at our Ban Me Thuot base camp, our construction improvements continued. Our construction efforts during this period (that M/Sgt Thatcher had played such a key role in supervising) had accelerated to include: a new ARVN barracks of concrete block, we got in 34 VN AF and 6 King Bee (H34) helicopters, so had to put up more revetments; we capped 5 more mortar bunkers, all ammo bunkers concrete capped, plus 3 new fixed wing revetments at airfield, new east wall berm complete with lights; all new guard towers moved into place, electronics maintenance building (all concrete block finished, new concrete block PX building finished, new supply building all stocked up.
Meanwhile, as a result of our CCS reinforcing the Cambodians and using airstrikes against the NVA infiltration, we literally stopped the North Vietnamese traffic in the CCS area with our May-June operation. We had the NVA bottled up until their Ho Chi Minh supply effort had to be changed to an assault effort. And at this stage of the war, the NVA reinforcements coming down the trail were teen-agers who had received relatively little training. From my notes, we had identified the following enemy concentrations of 24th Regiment, a Logistic Battalion, three known battalions and a new battalion and an Artillery Battalion. We poured in the re-supply of communications, arms, ammunition, food, medicine, defensive materials and fuel to the Cambodians. We brought in portable “fogging machines” to help eradicate the mosquitoes and hopefully cut down on the malaria problems. We used Tac Air to neutralize the Ta Veng airfield. We got the Blackbirds to improve the BaKev airfield for C7 or C123 cargo aircraft, so we did not have to do air drops there any more. We deployed Psychological warfare aircraft to support both Ba Kev & Laban Siek. Then we got the orders that we had to pull out our US teams and replace them with ARVN teams who took over the Cambodian mission in preparation for linking up with the ARVN Army units. In my last conversation with Brigadier General Neak, he said that they were planning to evacuate all military personnel and dependents from BaKev and Labansiek to Pleiku – possibly the next week.
Waugh reports (Pg 82): “During the final two weeks …, we began receiving harassing fire from the NVA more frequently. Two more NVA stumbled into the Ba Kev zone, sick as hell with malaria. During ambushes we captured a couple more NVA and sent them back to Duc Co. Our patrols killed twenty NVA soldiers. We were becoming more of a pain the ass to the enemy, and our Cambodians received information that indicated the end was near. The word was out: The NVA was set to march against Ba Kev and eliminate it from the earth, period.” So SOG pulled the plug to actuate the evacuation, to move everything and everybody east along Route 19 into Pleiku.
Insert following Letter diary: Ck to confirm above event dates:
3 June – Spent last 2 days sick in bed. Dr. has given me lots of pills. I’m a bit worn down. My boss ordered me to go on R&R that I had postponed three times earlier.
10 June – lst day in Taipai on R&R. Finally.
16 June – I got back from Taipai. They want me to double expand my ops. We did it in 2 days at a dizzy pace. One of my units is under attack tonight, but they are well covered by Spectre gunship and the incoming rounds have stopped.
21 June – Flew out to my remote outpost today. Almost got 4 prisoners but they stepped on our mines and the enemy drug their wounded away before we got to them. But got word tonight that my guys did later get another prisoner.
26 June – About to go on whirlwind trip to close things out. Fly to Tay Hoa where the AF is throwing a party. Then fly south to Quan Loi for party with Army pilots. Then back to pack & go to Nha Trang to clear and back to BMT for Change of Command ceremony on 4 July. We’ve had fabulous success. Got 4 prisoners & saved about 8,000 Cambodians. Both a tremendous & a traumatic year. I have to get a present for my ARVN counterpart’s wife, Mrs. Trang. Two parties to be given here – one by ARVN and one by US. Turn all missions over to ARVN on lst July.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
MACV-SOG, CCS MORTAR TEAM
SUPPORT MISSION – BA KEV, CAMBODIA
May – June, 1970
In 1970, I was the Mortar Platoon Sergeant for MACV SOG’s Command and Control South (CCS) located near the central highlands city of Ban Me Thuột Vietnam. The mortar platoon consisted of fifty Montagnards equipped with 4.2mm, 81mm, and 60mm mortars. Sometime during the latter half of the month of May 1970 (exact date unknown), CCS Command notified me to prepare a Montagnard team with an 81mm mortar for a classified mission deployment. I had recently returned from a thirty day deployment across the border into Cambodia where we had been supporting CCS recon teams near the border referred to as the “Fishhook” area. As a result of this previous mission, I had a well qualified team already prepared for re-deployment.
My mission would be to airlift by UH-1 (Huey) helicopters with a Montagnard mortar squad to Ba Kev Cambodia and provide mortar support for ongoing operations being conducted by Sergeant Major Billy Waugh and his Cambodian Forces. These operations were being conducted in an area controlled by the Army of North Vietnam (NVA) and the initial briefing advised that SGM Waugh’s operational headquarters element was receiving heavy mortar fire on a nightly basis. My primary mission would be to provide counter fire to suppress enemy mortar fire. Additional missions were to conduct H & I fire missions (Harassment and Interdiction) for protection of the Ba Kev air strip, and to provide general support to SGM Waugh’s operations.
NOTE: Initially we were alerted to insert with a 4.2 inch mortar. I advised the command element of my concerns that the 4.2 provided limited short range capability (difficult to get a shot within 500 meters of the weapon). Additionally, the weight of the mortar, ammunition, and team members were not conducive for a helicopter insertion. (A 4.2 mortar weighs over 600 pounds and each round of ammunition exceeds 25 pounds.) Without any argument, a decision was quickly made to switch to the 81mm.
On or about 20 May 1970, the Montagnard team and I were inserted into Ba Kev by Huey Helicopters with an 81mm mortar and a full load of ammunition. Upon arrival in Ba Kev, I was briefed by SGM Waugh. SGM Waugh arrived in Ba Kev with a five man team, on or about 10 April, and “took over” the Cambodian Unit stationed there. His team had been inserted in the middle of North Vietnam Army (NVA) controlled territory to disrupt the flow of materials down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After receiving about 25 night time airdrops they strengthened their positions a good deal, and began to irk the NVA. Previously, the NVA had been accommodated by the Cambodians and in the past had left their sick NVA troops to recover (Malaria mostly) in the Ba Kev Camp area. SGM Waugh’s team sort of messed that up for the NVA when they zoomed into the airstrip and took charge of the Cambodian forces and the Ba Kev area. When we arrived, his team had several 60mm mortars in their Camp on the Hill of Ba Kev, but did not have an 81mm mortar. They also had several Chinese-made 82mm Mortars, and fired them frequently. However, the NVA had become pretty good at spotting their 60 mm and 82mm Mortar Fire Teams, and would fire B-40 Rockets at these teams via the RPG-2 device. With the reach and accuracy capability of our 81 it would take a lot of burden off of their Cambodian mortar fire teams. Being split with our team on the strip and their teams on the hill would enhance the support capability of the mortar teams and relieve a lot of pressure on the HQ camp.
We were to set up our position adjacent to the air strip and provide support to SMG Waugh’s team and his local Cambodian forces. According to SGM Waugh, we had a free fire zone encompassing 360 degrees and an unlimited distance from our site. Everything, in every direction, with the exclusion of the hill site where SGM Waugh’s team and Cambodian forces were located, was fair game. SGM Waugh had ambush patrols out from the Camp, especially during the hours of darkness, and he would provide information on their locations for a ‘no-fire zone’ to ensure that we did not clobber them with our 81mm Mortar (likewise with their 60mm and 82mms). After the initial briefing, we quickly set up our position and prepared for the support activities. As expected, on the first night, SGM Waugh’s position came under multiple mortar attacks. Every night, just like clockwork, the NVA fired of a few rounds to get the camp mortars to counter fire. The NVA would spot the camp mortars counter fire positions and try to take them out with RPGs fired by their personnel who had worked their way close to the camp.
Note: SGM Waugh often wondered, why the NVA did not fire at my position in the airstrip area – I often had the same thoughts! Perhaps the lack of their initiative was due to the constant close support H & I fire missions we frequently conducted.
From that first night, at the sound of the first distant thump of a mortar leaving its tube, we quickly counter-fired, blanketing the areas where we calculated the attacks were originating. For the first few nights, this became an occurrence that was repeated throughout the night. Our success was gauged by Cambodian Forces patrol reports of finding blood trails leading from suspected enemy mortar sites. Operational success was also gauged by a rapid decline in mortar attacks experienced after our deployment. SGM Waugh firmly believes that my team’s deployment in May caused the NVA to shift their strategy and tactics. With our insertion into the situation, the NVA were receiving high-angled fire from two different positions while and we were able to coordinate counter-fire, view the NVA fire from separate positions, and pinpoint their base-plates and mortars more accurately. We were able to utilize map intersection data provided by our team and by the Cambodian mortar teams to determine fairly precise locations of the distant enemy mortar positions.
Throughout the operation, we maintained our position adjacent to the air strip, conducting nightly counter-fire at suspected enemy mortar positions and engaging in H & I missions. The team evacuated Ba Kev on or around the 22nd of June 1970 with the main elements of the operation.
The precise location of the main Ba Kev Base Camp was N 13° 42′ 06.2″ E107° 12′ 07.6″with an elevation of 1033′ or 315 meters (approx).
While detailed information is hard to recall after 40 years, some events stand the test of time. Even with the test of time, there is bound to be some long term memory embellishments of actual information. Notwithstanding the long term memory embellishments, following are some of the most memorable events that I can recall:
On one occasion, I wandered from the airstrip to the hilltop where SGM Waugh was located. He greeted me with a Cambodian (very sweet) coffee and seemed surprised to see me. As it turned out, he had been planning to ask me to come up the hill and provide some assistance. His team had what looked like an anti-tank gun on the site and was trying to figure out how it operated… God only knows where they found the thing! SGM Waugh indicated that it could be helpful and possibly necessary if my team came under attack and we needed support – not a pleasant thought… It was an old artillery piece with Chinese markings on both it and the ammunition. After figuring out how it functioned, we bore-sighted at the adjacent hill and fired off a round – clean miss – I asked SGM Waugh to do me a favor and point the thing in the other direction from my mortar position!!!
On another occasion, a flight of Vietnamese Air force H34 “King Bee” Helicopters arrived on the air strip. After a period of time the helicopters departed but due to mechanical problems they had to leave a King Bee on the strip. As luck would have it, the nonfunctional King Bee was located on a direct line of sight between my position and the jungle boundary. As such, I thought it may be sensible and prudent to pre-plan an H & I (Harassment & Interdiction) fire mission – just in case the bad guys started poking around the helicopter during the night. After careful calculation, we fired a round into the jungle. After observing the first round’s impact we made an adjustment to bring it in a little closer and fired another round – “Beautiful”! It hit right on the edge of the trees with a spectacular air-burst! It looked so good that we put another round into the air… This one dropped about 20-30 yards short, resulting in 27 small shrapnel holes in the King Bee. The next day when the Vietnamese pilot and his Crew Chief saw the holes they angrily complained to my team of Montagnards. After listening to their ranting and raving, my “Yards” told them; “They are very little holes – Sergeant Mac did this as a warning” they also told them that if it remained one more night, “Sergeant Mac will put a round directly into the cockpit – he is a very good shot!” Needless to say, after a couple of hours, one angry Vietnamese pilot and the King Bee shakily rose in the air and departed our location. This was one of those “Secret” events that stayed between me and my Montagnard Team… We did not want to “explain” to SGM Waugh why we shot up one of his support helicopters!
On last memory; One day, the Cambodian forces shot a dog that kept wandering into the camp’s trip wires and setting off the attached warning flares. My Montagnards became very excited when this happened. The next thing I knew, they had a huge fire going and were barbecuing some meat… I did not bother to ask where they “found” the meat. Needless to say, they were very happy that evening and stuffed so full of food that it was hard to keep them alert and functioning! This is exactly why there were not many dogs around; dogs were fair game in all Corps of Vietnam.
As indicated earlier, there are bound to be some long term memory embellishments of actual information and I cannot state with any degree of certainty that the above actions and activities are 100% correct. However, after forty years (June 1970 to June 2010), these are the best recollections that I have of the events related to the support of Sergeant Major Billy Waugh’s Ba Kev operations.
Other US Army Special Forces soldiers in Ba Kev with SGM Waugh included:
Staff Sergeant Rock Farr
Medic (91B). Farr is now a Colonel and is still on active duty, assigned to SOCCENT as the Surgeon. Rocky has 42 straight years of active duty, is a Surgeon and a Helicopter Pilot.
Killed in Action on a Combat HALO jump from CCN
Killed in Action on combat mission from CCN
MAC-SOG, CCS Mortar Platoon Sergeant
Staff Sergeant, US Army Special Forces
US Army First Sergeant (Retired)
Report Date: 28 June 2010