Official documents on Kham Duc
KHAM DUC Auther unknown
Kham Duc was a battered black asphalt airstrip, flanked by red dirt, sitting in the middle of vivid green mountains with peaks two to four thousand feet above its 1200©foot elevation. The Special Forces / CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) camp was 13 miles from the Laotian border. Kham Duc (about 60 miles west of Chu Lai) was more than 40 miles beyond any friendly supporting artillery.
As one crew member put it "Kham Duc was in a class by itself as the all time life threatening place to have to go to."
Following are the stories of Kham Duc from the air and ground leading up to and including the extraction on May 12, l968. The morning "No Sweat Operation ", to pick up the artillery battery the Boxcars had put in two days earlier, turned into an " At All Risk Operation" as the day progressed.
Kham Duc by Bob Means
Entering Kham Duc airspace in a flight of 4 Boxcars I heard from someone over the radio "Boxcars, this is a no sweat operation". I took this to be a command officer with a lot of altitude, in a huey, looking down at the airstrip. I want to emphasis I remember to this day©very clearly, though not the entire conversation, that officer's words "no sweat operation".
In we go to make this extraction. Very heavy fire being taken. I see our lead ship hit, smoking and going into the runway hard. #2 ship follows in with #3, #4 breaking off. Last I see is two m "Hooks" down, one I know is disable, #2 I figure is the same.
We return to Chu Lai knowing were going back (hopefully to get our guys) I'm looking for more firepower. Well Dick, you were idle that day (due to maintenance or ??) and without hesitation you signed on as ramp gunner. I also remember grabbing a "shit load" of extra 7.62 boxes for the M60's.
As you know, we headed back out to Kham Duc to save all those poor guys who were stuck. We knew they were catching hell from the NVA who had all the high ground. I also wanted to find our 178th guys safe and bring them out as I'm sure so did all others. I recall being cold due to the unusually high altitude we were flying to avoid enemy fire. I recall watching rotary wing gunships, A1E's, and A4's strafing and bombing more intense and concentrated than anything I had seen prior. I watched a C130 take off, bank left, never recover and fly directly into the mountain. Knowing it was loaded w/personnel, I remember feeling especially bad realizing the loss of life. Over the years I have questioned myself as to seeing an A1E shot down. Recently I've seen stats showing one was in fact lost that day, so I know I saw it!
It seems we were in a holding pattern for a long time prior to going in and become all too aware getting in and out safely was going to be a real luck situation. Of course during this time, amidst witnessing all this mayhem, I was continually looking at two of our ships already shot down and abandoned on the ground!
Well its time and in we go. We make it thru to this strip, set down, taxi a bit and wait. I asked our A/C "sir, where are they?" (our G.I. evacuees). Next, to our r/side, I see helmets pop from a ditch, standing outside with the ramp down, as the guys run toward us the mortar rounds start walking toward our ship. Do you remember me saying "help em on Dick"? The mortar rounds had us dead center as they closed and I just sort of accepted the fact we were going to be done.
Next thing I know, the mortar rounds stop (later I figured charlie must have run out and had to break out more rounds from ???) And all our packs are on board. Trying to sound calm I said "Ramps up,ready to go whenever you are sir". During our stay on the ground our pilots had some verbal discussion seems one wanted to go and one wanted to stay. Wanted to stay had the strongest arm wanted to go couldn't pull pitch!! 460 on the go with guns firing. I'm shooting a grenade launcher fast as I can out the r/ramp porthole. We gain altitude and were out of the hot zone as I look aft with a smile of relief I see Dick Janousek trying to pull himself up the ramp I never raised completely. Dick, without the "monkey strap" you were wearing I fear we might have lost you. Don't know if I ever apologized properly to you!
So we land at some base camp and are all happy we saved some grunts and ourselves. I bump into my friends Baker and Schwiezer (F/E & crew ch) who had gone down on #469. Baker had been crew ch. on my ship(s) prior and I was happier than shit he and Sam (Schwiezer) weren't dead. Baker said he had shot a "gook" coming at him as he got off his ship. We both agreed that was the right thing to do!
So much for reunions our crew is ordered back to Kham Duc to pick up the last of the G.I.'s. I'll never forget how hopeless I felt our situation had become. Knowing the intensity of enemy fire I was sure our chances of making it in and/or out twice in one day were about zero. During my 21 years as a fireman I often reflect on this particular event and say to myself "sometimes you gotta do shit you don't want to do". It's a good way to find out what you're really made of. Well, prior to our arrival at Kham Duc, another aircraft got our guys out we were returned to somewhere safe I know I breathed easier. Guess that was a real emotional roller coaster for most of us.
Anyway I know the 178th preformed well and I'm sure we all matured a bit. We lost 2 aircraft but brought all our guys and a bunch of others home.
Whenever I recall Kham Duc I can still feel the emotion, excitement and controlled fear of 25 years ago. Few people ever get to experience this kind of stuff. I know that I did. I know what we did. I've always been proud of that day.