My name is Gary Cox. I arrived in Vinh Long the first part of April, 1967, and worked in the hangar for a couple of months. Some time in June I got a crew chief opening I had put in for with the Outlaws. I was crew chief on Outlaw 11 until April, 1968.
My memory isn't all that good, especially with names, but I will try and fill in some things for you and maybe someone else will write and fill in more.
Near the end of January, 1968, we heard some rumors of a big offensive around TET, but Intelligence reports said they could see no special movements to indicate an attack at our base. On the eve of TET, and in fact all that day, most of us enjoyed a rare day off as part of the TET holiday truce.
Needless to say that meant Party Time. I guess by 9 or 10 PM everyone was passed out or at least crapped out. Sometime within the next couple hours all Hell broke loose.
First came a mortar attack that seemed like usual with rounds hitting the flight line and helicopter pads. I can remember slowly dragging myself out of the rack and heading for the bunker out back. Suddenly rounds started hitting closer and a lot more than usual rounds were hitting all around the living quarters. This immediately sobered us and we rushed for the bunker. Just as we were all in the bunker ready to settle in we heard people outside telling us to get out of bunkers, to get our rifles and other fighting equipment, and that we were under ground attack. Seems the V. C. were coming onto the base under cover of their own mortars.
We grabbed our gear and in front of the Outlaw hootch our sergeant was gathering us to send us where we were needed. Three of us standing near our three-quarter ton truck were grabbed by the Platoon Sergeant take the truck to the Outlaw pads. Word was the Airfield Commander and the First Sergeant had been out there checking the perimeter and guard towers when the attack started and the last radio message from them indicated they were hit and wounded. We were to go get them and take them to the medical center.
As we drove to and crossed the main runway there were shots coming from all directions and mortar rounds were still hitting all over. We were hauling ass as fast as the truck would go. As we turned onto the Outlaw parking ramp we saw a burning vehicle down towards the far end of the line near the covered command bunker. About half way to this bunker a machine gun opened up on our truck and we jumped out of it and it rolled down the line and crashed. We got behind the protective wall around one of the choppers and tried to figure out what to do.
We decided to get two machine guns, and some hand grenades - we also wanted an M-79 grenade launcher but couldn't find one - and started working our way around each pad. Often, as we came around one, a wounded or dead V.C. would be lying there. One leaning up against the wall, I'm sure, was already dead but his eyes were open and he still had his rifle in his hands. He caught me by surprise so I killed him several more times until one of the guys said okay and stopped me. We found the V.C. were in the small open bunker at the west end of the pads.
We soon got to the jeep to find the Airfield Commander dead not far from it, but no sign of the First Sergeant yet.
We radioed this information into the platoon sergeant and he asked us who was out there with the three of us. We told him near as we could tell, no one. He said he would send help as soon as he could find some and for us to look for the First Sergeant and do what we could until the help arrived.
On around the next pad was the large command bunker and after carefully working our way to it we found the First Sergeant at the edge of the doorway to the bunker. He was wounded but still alive. We told him the bad news about the colonel and our situation. He said he could hang in there if we wanted to finish taking out the V. C. in the small bunker.
We worked our way to the final chopper pad and as I got ready to fire the M-60 into the bunker and the other two men prepared to throw hand grenades into it as well a couple of men came into sight from right out in front of us. As we realized they were our men the V. C. also made the identification and began to fire at them. I fired at the bunker trying to get the V. C. off the guys but it was too late as the men were out in the open and exposed to the enemy fire. We later found they were a couple of hangar rats and that the bunker holding the V. C. position was their assigned bunker in case of attack and that they were unaware the V. C. were there. This made us more determined to get the enemy in the bunker so I started firing again and the other two men were throwing grenades. They just missed with them so they got two more and as I fired at the bunker I saw both grenades fall into the bunker and do the job.
We went back to the command bunker to check on the First Sergeant and called to get the platoon sergeant to send vehicle for him.
Shortly, more men came to help us there on the perimeter and brought a truck to pick up the wounded and dead. The rest of the night erupted in occasional firing back and forth around the perimeter.
As for aircraft lost, I never did get a count. I do know that after they checked gun ships over for grenades, boobie traps, and damages they were able to get several airborne. As we were checking the First Sergeant one of the Mavericks got cranked up and started to lift off but took a direct hit from mortar fire.
After daybreak we started checking over choppers and many of them were damaged but fixable. Many had Chinese grenades under them and possibly in the fuel cells that had not gone off. I am not certain but I think we had three Outlaw aircraft destroyed with the remainder of the damages being repairable. The Mavericks lost the ship that took the direct hit during take off and one additional helicopter. The 114th took similar losses but I never heard an exact accounting - but I think they were hit just as hard as us. I recall hearing we lost sixteen men killed, not certain of the number of injuries. The Viet Cong lost 98 killed a dozen or so were captured and some got away.
The bad part was many of the those V. C. were people from Vinh Long and this included some that worked on the base. This included the woman who ran the P.X. - she was serving as a V.C. Sergeant. My hootch maid momason and her 14 year old son were also among the enemy troops present that night. We no longer had anyone to work around the base as the town people were no longer allowed on base and town was placed off limits.
I do remember the Special Forces pushing the V.C. from town and placing the ARVN's in the city to hold it. The ARVN's were pushed out of town two or three times and the Mavericks had to keep taking the town back and turning it over to the ARVN;'s once again. The ARVN's were worthless anyway.
As I am bad with names I can't say I recall yours, but I had
to have known you. Two names I do have are the two I was with out
on the Outlaw line TET night - Specialist/5 Lewis Hartwell and Specialist/4
Richard Lundgren - both were crew chiefs on Outlaw aircraft, although I
cannot recall which ships. We all received the Army Commendation
for Valor. The First Sergeant had put us in for Silver and Bronze
Stars, but we received the Commendation Medal.
We were pretty much back to normal missions soon after the attack. It took sometime to get replacement aircraft for the ones we lost and I made several trips to Saigon to help bring these replacements to Vinh Long. As far as I know the 175th continued to operate out of Vinh Long for quite sometime.
This letter has turned into a book. I hope I was a little help in relating the events of that night but with all the confusion and stories after, I'm not sure of all the details and events. I do know about the Outline Flight Line during TET, so that's why most of this letter is about several of us and what went on. The rest of the base was experiencing more of the same as the V.C. were all over us. As I mentioned, we lost sixteen men killed but in the end we kicked their ass.
I joined the VHMCA about six months ago and my name and address appeared in the December '91 issue as a new member. I doubt if you remember me by name but if my address in New York doesn't seem right it's because I am originally from Pennsylvania.
I have been trying to remember my first gunner's name but he was short - only two months or so to go - when I started crewing Outlaw 11. He was a big strong guy and taught me real quick to get the ARVN's out of our chopper quickly in the LZ's. We usually gave the pilots the OK early and the last few were thrown out as we lifted off.
Well, I best quit or it won't fit in an envelope.
Write or call.
A Past Friend,
Gary E. Cox
February 28, 1992
NOTE: Mr. Marty Herrell was kind enough
to provide the following additional information
on the Outlaw Guest Book:
finished reading the letter from Mr. Cox . . . I remember that evening
I was the "Charge of Quarters" that evening for the Airfield Commanders Office. Part
of that job was to see to it that the AFC got to his chopper and got air borne as
quickly as possible. As I remember, the Outlaw Hootch was right across the street
from the office of the AFC, and I remember that there was a lot of confusion. As I
started out the door to get the AFC, I heard his jeep start and he yelled that he would
leave the jeep at the chopper and for me to come get it later . . . Those were the last
words I would hear him say . . . His name was Lt. Col. Bernard D. Thompson and he
took the rounds out there on the "Outlaw Pad" that I would have taken had he waited
for me to come get him. I live with this daily and am trying to do the best I can for my
world having been handed my life that morning in January of 1968.
grateful to God . . .
April 67 - May 68
Submitted February 22 1999
Vinh Long Army Airfield
The numeral 1. indicates the area where these events occurred.