We left camp when the streetlights of Da Nang city had been lit up for quite sometime. Inside the unmarked silver bird, C-47, there was silence. We watched the exit door tensely as various thoughts rushed through our minds.

I looked at my watch. It is 23:30 hour. Da Nang had probably fallen into a deep sleep. The plane is flying over Da River, approaching Son Tra Mountain where there is a communication center belonging to the First Corp. The plane made a sharp turn to the left heading to Hai Van passage between Da Nang and Hue. We entered the hostile zone for the mission.

There were twelve of us. I was a team leader. Nguyen Hoang was my assistant. I knew Hoang since high school; he was a very smart student and very stubborn. He used to tease everyone in class, but he always respected the headmaster. He and I both answered the call to duty in defending the South against the expansion of the Communists. We both joined the Special Forces, the unit that we always admired.

The plane flew over the sky of Quang Tri, heading toward the Laos and Vietnam border. The red light suddenly lit up indicating that we were over the drop-zone. We stood up and hooked our parachute rigged cords to the railing cable. I made a final check and got the team ready. When the green signal lit up at the altitude of 600 feet, we jumped off the plane one by one. At this altitude, our feet will touch the ground just an instant after the parachute opens. Some of us got caught in the sharp branches of the trees, and we had to cut them down safely. We marched for three hours in the dark to the rendezvous point.

On Laos territory, about half the distance from where the plane dropped us off to Tha Mo there is a small village. We take position in the dense woods to avoid being spotted by the enemy. We went over the mission plan one final time before approaching the target. Chepone is a hideout base of Pathet Laos and their North Vietnam couterpart. The enemy dispatch from this camp to infiltrate into South Vietnam along Highway 9. Our mission is to locate, observe and launch an airstrike to destroy this camp.

We moved along Tha Mo stream at night and rested during the day until we got within 400 meters of the target. I lead half the team to the South of Chepone. Hoang, my team assistant, led another half around to the West of the target. After observing them intensely for some time, we confirmed the target, mapped out the coordinates for the attack plan, and quietly retreated to the final rendezvous point between Chepone and Muong- Phin. At this location, we re-evaluated the information gathered and sent a report to the Operations Center. About two hours later, a squadron of AD 6 from the 41st Airwings of the Vietnamese Air Forces destroyed the enemy target camp. The mission was accomplished. Now we had to find our way back to the Vietnam-Laos border.

We split the team and moved east heading to the Special Forces Camp in Khe Sanh. At about 10 kilometers to the border, we ran into two companies of the NVA unit. A large, brutal fight ensued between our group and the surprised enemy. We were fighting as we retreated when I heard a loud explosion to my left. Hoang's team had retreated into a minefield. One unlucky soldier was killed instantly. Blood gushed from a huge long gap in Hoang's left leg. I crawled to him to apply some aid and to drag him along, but he stopped me. next page