In July of 1969, during Nixon’s first draw down of troops on his way to “ending the war,” the first and second Brigades of the 82nd Airborne and the 9th Infantry Division were to be sent home to show the American public that he was keeping his “promise” to end the conflict (Congress never officially called it a war.)
Base camps of these units in Phu Loi (82nd Airborne) and Dong Tam (9th Infantry Division) were to be turned over to the ARVN. Once the enemy found out we were leaving, we started taking incoming regularly. The 191st Assault Helicopter Company billeted next to our compound one evening took zeroed incoming rockets that walked up the chopper pad, taking out 7 choppers and killing 11 when two of the rockets went through their headquarters and one of their barracks.
We saddled up and fled Dong Tam base camp in our own convoy two days before instead of waiting for the big convoy leaving Dong Tam as we were sure the big column moving slow up Ambush Alley (the end of Highway 1), would come under attack (which did happen).
The 335th was split into 3 units. One was sent as permanent party to Tan An, which now would become base camp for the remains of the 9th Infantry Division, the 3rd Brigade. as their continued intel supporter for 9th ops. The second unit (mine) was sent to Di An, base camp of the 1st Infantry Division, as a temporary assignment (TDY) in support of theirs and MACV ops. We occupied a temporary housing area from an engineer unit of the 1st which had moved into the field. The third unit was an advance party sent to Can Tho to prepare everything for our unit to regroup there in 2-3 months.
This advance party installed our “working” ops (4 3/4 ton trucks backed up into a small circle) at the end of a runway on Can Tho Army Airfield, literally next to the wire and the jungle canopy beyond. We were literally sitting ducks. The “housing” acquired for us was not on the airfield but instead 5 miles away in the Bien Xemoi (bar district) of Can Tho in an old deserted French hotel called “The Melton.”
The second unit of the 335th assembled (minus our third unit at Tan An) on an airstrip in Di An, where a C130 flew the unit deep into the Mekong to Can Tho. I should mention here that our first attempt at taking off was aborted midway down the runway because we were overloaded. After returning to our take off position, the back door was lowered and we just started throwing things out the back until we were light enough to get off the ground. Everybody had to give up something.
Can Tho ops officially began the second week of November of 1969 from those 4 3/4 ton trucks in continued support of the 9th – and now – MACV and ARVN Ranger ops in MR4.
I should also mention that we were big suppliers of intel in Can Tho for the “Pheonix Program,” a top secret op by MACV.
When redeploying to Can Tho after the 335th got split into 3 small units, we continued to provide intel for the 3rd Brigade of the 9th after the 1st and 2nd Brigades went back home during Nixon’s official first draw down of troops in August of 1969. By July of 1970 we were also in support of MACV ops in the Delta and eventually attached to them.
One last thing, for me personally…when we were in Di An, I was ‘loaned” (TDY) out to the 7th ARVN Rangers who requested real time intel of their clearing of four villages east of the Michelin plantation. I was fitted for an ARVN uniform and deployed with them, along with 3 others from our unit to a place called Elkins Ranch. We were housed for 18 days in a barn next to a French villa (house where the ARVN officers stayed), surrounded by a half wall, literally in the middle of nowhere. The jungle literally hung over this compound.
I also volunteered to deploy, again as part of a 4 man team, to Task Force 117, Squadron 7, of the Mobile Riverine Force, during the incursion (invasion) of Cambodia in May of 1970. These were indeed scary times, making Nam look like a video game. It was a complete free-for-all killing field during the incursion. Gut wrenching, to say the least, at the inhumanity. Of course, at the time, we had no idea, we were clearing the path for the real killing fields to follow with the Khmer Rouge. A movie about this would be made four years later in 1974, called the “Killing Fields.”