Ken Delfino is a new contributing writeron our Website. Ken was in the United States Navy and served in Viet Nam fromJanuary 1966 to July 1968.On July 26,1968 his Navy career ended when an accident eventually led to the amputation ofhis left leg.
After retiring from the U.S. Navy Ken worked for United Airlinesfor 32½ years and retired in February 2002.Ken is currently serving as Mayor of Colfax, CA.Please join me to welcome Ken Delfino.Thank you.
As If It Were Yesterday!
WHUMP!WHUMP! WHUMP! Thesound of distant explosions interrupted the reverie of my dreams…BLANG!Boy, that one was closer! WHUMP! BOOOM!!!
“Delfino,wake up! Delfino, get the hell up!” Who is thisyelling at me I wondered as I groggily tried to wake…it’s just another mortarattack and…WHUMP! BOOM! BOOM! B-r-a-a-a-a-a-k! B-r-a-a-a-a-k! Now thestaccato of semi and fully automatic weapon fire shook the cobwebs out of mybrain as I realized this was not our normal monthly visit by “Five-RoundCharlie”
It was around 0430 on January 31st,1968 in My (me taw), the capital of Tuong Province about 45miles south of Saigon. My was also theheadquarters of the United States Navy’s River Squadron 53 comprised of patrolboats (PBRs) of River Divisions 531, 532 and 533 and a SEAL team. It alsoserved as headquarter for the Viet Namese Army’s 32ndRanger Battalion and 7th Army Division.
Of the three river patrol divisions,two were stationed in town and rotated with the third off an LST at the mouthof the Ham Luong or Co ChienRivers. I was a crewmember on PBR 152, River Division 533 and we were on our“in-town” rotation this morning. Each crew of four was housed in arequisitioned hotel renamed Carter Billet and we were a block east of some ofthe 7th ARVN HDQ buildings. Around the cornerand across the street on Avenue Le was the Khach-San Victory (Victory Hotel) in which was housed oursquadron headquarters and officer country. From there, it was five blocks southon Le to the piers where our boats were. Whenmortars start falling, the off-duty crews are scrambled to the docks todisperse the boats until the attack is over.
On the evening of January 30thI and some fellow sailors were at the villa of the Philippine Civic ActionGroup (PHILCAG). This was a medical detachment assigned to the provincehospital in My . I had met them earlier in theyear we had received occasional invitations to come over for some‘home-cooking’ of tasty Filipino dishes.
When mortar attacks would start,the Filipinos had their own procedure and that was the duty half of the teamgot dressed and rushed down to the hospital to await civilian casualties. Theirvilla was about half a mile from our headquarters at an intersection we called“The Y”. It was the entrance to My on the mainhighway from Saigon.
With January 30th beingthe evening of the Lunar () New Year in South VietNam, there were several Viets among the guests thatevening. The party went on until several of us were reminded we had patrols andother assignments the next morning. We wished each other “ may man” (Happy New Year) and returned to ourbases. I had several San Miguel beers and had forgotten that since I had cutback on my drinking while in-country, it didn’t take as many to put me under!
Now as my boat captain, BM1 Jim Hicken and fellow crewmates tried to raise me from my stupor, they gave up and placed the other three mattressesagainst my bunk between the street and me. WHUMP!
WHUMP ah, it’llstop I thought…. KABAAAAM!!!!!!…the building shook…crap was flying all over theplace and that, along with the close sounds of automatic weapons immediatelywoke me!
I dressed quickly, flak jacket…helmetor beret??? I chose beret for quicker recognition by others and grabbed mysawed-off M-1 carbine, extra magazines and bolted outside. It was still dark…Iyelled up at the sentry on the roof of our building to call over to the Victoryto let him know I was coming. There was no response…it wasn’t until later thatday that I heard that the water tank on top of our building had taken a directhit and the sentry was not up there. GMG2 Glen Slay’srecollection of that morning was the water cascading down in front of hisglassless window along with chunks of debris. He went up to see what was goingon and found a shaken sentry. He grabbed hisgear, went down to the docks to get his boat underway and cleared the docksjust as a mortar hit the dock itself!
I ran to the corner of our alleyand Le and took two steps into the street beforeI heard the unmistakable sound of a .50 caliber machine gun being loaded!I ducked back and yelled, “Delfino coming over”…the response was “Who won the World Series?”to which I responded “St. Louis!” and I was cleared to cross the street andenter the Victory grounds. I went to the galley, got a cup of coffee and filledmy pockets with stuff and tried to find out what the heck was happening.
The TOC was a beehive of activityas report after report came in about attacks on all province capitals, Saigonas well as nearby towns of Ben and anothersquadron base at Long. After looking at themarkings of activity on the map around the city, the first thing I needed toget was more ammo!We had a shuttle thatwent between the TOC and the base and after finding the driver, I jumped in andwe took off. While passing the second intersection, we took fire from the westand I wondered, nervous Viets or VC? It was still toodark to tell foes from nervous friendlies. We made itto the base and I stocked up on more ammo and wondered what I was going to do.All the boats had been deployed and extra base personnel jumped at the chanceto fill in a spot…and someone filled in mine on 152.
The driver was GMG3 Jose Garza,another 533 sailor who was ordered to serve as the shuttle driver untilrelieved. Our adrenalin was pumping and here we weretwo sailors like ducks out of water! A call came in for the shuttle and Jose hadto return. I told him to wait and went back into the armory. I knew there wasan M-3 “Burp Gun” and if I was going to be Jose’s shotgun driver, I wanted aweapon that was easy to use in a vehicle and had knockdown power. I grabbed theM-3 and the five magazines. I also grabbed an M-79 grenade launcher and a beltof 25 grenades…just in case.
We sped back to the hotel to pickup the passengers and by now dawn was lighting the city. Gunfire was very heavyand too close for comfort. We knew the ARVN had set up a tank perimeter, but wedid not know how far from the base. I stayed with Jose and at around 1000 Iasked him to go over to the hospital so I could check on the PHILCAG team.
We arrived and I spotted MAJ Manason who was the senior officer. I asked how the teamwas doing and he told me that the off-duty team was still trapped in theirquarters! Jose and I raced back to the TOC and found CDR Sam Steed who was thesquadron commander and ranking officer. He had been to the villa on a couple ofoccasions and when I told him I wanted to get some volunteers to get the teamout, he said “DO IT WITH WHATEVER YOU NEED!” With his backing, we headed backto the base to round up a couple of more guys. Two sailors were available,fellow 533 sailor GMG2 Rich and base armourer GMG3 Dennis Keeffe. “Ihave a mission and we need some support” I started out. Halfway through myexplanation, Rich and Dennis turned around and picked out the weapons theywanted and started stuffing their pockets with ammo…Dennis took and M-16 andRich picked a Winchester Pump. We piled into the shuttle truck and headed backup Le . Just past Carter Billet we turned left andheaded west. Two blocks later we were in front of a large school that no longerhad a roof and whose façade was pockmarked by bullet holes punctuated byblack-rimmed holes from cannon fire. At the corner we had to make a right andgo two blocks to the team’s quarters.
The ARVN tanks were parked,engines running and I asked for the senior ARVN officer. I was able to tell himin Vietnamese about the Filipino medical team and asked him to move his tanksto give us cover fire if we got in trouble. “Khong !Khong !” which meant “NO!” He did not want tojeopardize his tanks for an impromptu mission! We were on our own!
Wanting a quick egress, Joseturned the truck around and backed it down the street toward the “Y” as Keeffe, and I hugged thebuildings. Bodies and debris were everywhere…in the streets, on the sidewalksand in the blasted buildings. The smell of burning flesh was thick in the heavyair…a smell I’ve never forgotten. We passed the first block and hoped the ARVNofficer had let the other roadblock know we would be crossing. We took no firefrom the street.
We proceed on…one more block tothe “Y” and the villa. was on point and Keeffe was covering the intersection ahead. We reached thewalls of the villa compound and I immediately went for the bomb shelter only tofind it full of Viet Namese civilians!!! Had the teamgotten out? The door was closed so maybe they were still inside.
I decided to tap on the frontwindow rather than take a chance that rounds would be fired through the door ifI knocked on the front door. I tapped and yelled out “Myrna! Myrna!”trying to get a response from LT. Myrna Milan. Three shots rang out andI ducked and turned only to see aiming atupstairs windows across the street…”Just keeping ‘honest and their heads down!” he yelled. “I got you covered”…I knocked at thewindow again and yelled Myrna’s name much louder and saw the curtain move andher face appear in the window.
“Let’s go! We’re getting you guysout of here now!” She disappeared and in less than a minute the front dooropened and she, CAPT Leonora Gumayagay and a sergeantappeared. We escorted them around the corner and we all loaded up into thetruck and took off for the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital,they were aghast to find that a sergeant was missing! Apparently he had goneback upstairs to destroy the radio so it couldn’t be used had there been asecond attack! We had to go back to get him! Garza, Keeffe, and I looked at each other…nothing was said andwe all piled back into the truck and headed back. Once again, the ARVN officerwould not move a tank, but this time he did have a fire team cover us to thenext intersection…but not all the way to the ”Y”. It was on this trip that Itook a closer look at some of the VC bodies and noticed a couple in particularthat were much larger stature and did not have the harsher VC features…Ideduced they may have been Chinese. They were all wearing black and had bluearmbands.
My memory’s a bit fuzzy here, butI think it was SGT Salvador who was the commo man andhe was very relieved and grateful for our coming back to get him. We got him outand back to the hospital and were happy that not one of the team members waslost.
After grabbing some chow andwater, we decided we needed to obtain another vehicle so we could patrol theinner perimeter in two vehicles. We found a blue jeep with USAID markings thatwas sitting unattended. It was hot-wired and we got it back to the base where acoat of OD green was applied and a mount for an M-60 was added. Navy markingswere added and we were set.
Around 1400 we were in thevicinity of the soccer field, which was across the street from the previouslymentioned school. Adjacent to the field were two Army jeeps with one US WIA.They were waiting for a DUST-OFF to come pick him up. There was a pad on the west side of town, but units of the 9thInfantry Division had not cleaned out the VC that had taken over that area. Wedecided to take a break and wait to see the Medevac.As the was flaring out to land, the window inthe announcer’s booth across the field flung open. Not knowing if a VC was inthere with a B-40 rocket, we immediately took the booth under fire…the Armysergeant waved off the chopper and they took off.
We escorted the soldiers down tothe docks and called in a PBR to take him up to the Army hospital at Dong Tamjust five miles east of us. The road to Dong Tam was still cut off by VC.
I returned to the TOC and gave CDRSteed and my XO, LT Bob an update on theFilipinos. After hearing the report, CDR Steed told me to invite them to stayat the TOC so they’d at least have some military protection as opposed to thehospital where there was none. Officers doubled up in their quarters and bunkedin rooms whose crews were on patrol. The Filipinos were our guests for abouttwo weeks.
It wasn’t until around 1600 that Iwent back to my room and noticed a huge hole in the street in front of theCarter. This was the round that had hit and jarred me out of my stupor. We hada deuce-and-a-half stake truck parked across the street and the entire leftside was shrapneled…as well as the wall protectingthe first floor…MY FLOOR of the billet!
As darkness started to fall, welearned more of what had happened. It was a guess that up to three battalionsof Viet Cong had hit the town (later determined to be accurate), but wererepulsed by an immediate counterattack by the 7th ARVN on the northand west, 32nd Rangers on the east and our SEAL team was wanderingthrough town doing what they had to do to help stem the attack. The 9thInfantry counterattacked from the west toward the ARVN positions, but thatfive-mile area was to be contested for a few days. The immediate threat to theheart of the city (7th ARVN HDQ and our TOC) had been stopped, butwe all were anticipating a counterattack when darkness fell.
After picking up the Filipinos andgetting them settled at the TOC, we decided not to stay in the Carter, butrather picked a building across the street from the TOC that gave us a decentview of approaches to the TOC a block away. We supplied ourselves with water,food and plenty of ammo and grenades and settled in for the night.
Though night had fallen, thebattle raged on. Twinkling lights in the sky indicated either helicopters orfixed wing aircraft. Several times green tracers of the enemy would reach forthe lights only to receive a return of thousands of rounds from a Spookygunship. Artillery rounds from Dong Tam were landing only a couple of milesaway as they supported operations in progress. Gunfire could be heard in thestreets, but beyond the perimeters the Vietnamese had set up.
I started dozing off into thatmode known as ‘combat sleep’…your body is relaxed, but your mind can separatethe distinction between imminent and possible threats. You aren’t reallyasleep, but you are able to recharge.
When morning came, there still werebattles raging in close proximity, but the offense had been pushed to beyondmortar range of us.
Boat Captain, PBR 152
RiverDivision 533, RIVRON 5
The events of that morning…thatday…that week will live with me forever. I’ve always wondered whatever happenedto my Filipino friends as well as my “team”…those guys who did not hesitate tostep forward.
Since 2002, I have had theopportunity to meet up with Jose and Dennis. I’ve been in e-mail contact withRich and just 20 days ago, with a tremendous amount of help from the formerPHILCAG Chief of Staff, I received a letter of verification of the mission fromCOL Myrna Milan Delena, Philippine Army (RET).
Through her, I found out that COLLeonora Gumayagay is in Las Vegas and COL Estela Casuga is in Daly City…where I went to elementary schooland lived when I returned from Viet Nam and in the late ‘70s. I spoke with Nora(we called her Mom) and I will attempt to contact Estela.
People have told me I should writea book, but dang, that sure is a lot of work and I don’t know if I’d enjoywriting a book…let alone have it sell! I owe a great deal of thanks toPresident Fidel Ramos, GEN Jose Magno, Jr. and Ms.Stella Marie J. Braganza who helped me locate members of the Tuong team.
So this small segment of my lifeis dedicated to my brothers-in-arms with whom I patrolled the Long Tau, Rap, Co Chien and Ham Luong Rivers for 22 months…to my young friends at MillbrookHigh School in Raleigh, NC (Kim, Sara, Kevin, Chris, Courtney, John,Caitlin, Lauren and Gessica), who have been ableto pull forgotten memories out of the recesses of my mind…to Mrs. Lindy Polingwho created the Lessons of Vietnam class at Millbrook…to Ralph Christopher whotold our MyTho story in his book “Duty…Honor…Sacrifice”…to Rich, Jose, Dennis and the members of the Tuong PHILCAG Medical team for a bond that will never bebroken…and to my wife Melba who stood by my side and understood thefrustration, anger and need for revenge that came out after the September 11,2001 attacks by those murderers.
This story was written foryou…just as it was…. as if it were yesterday!
http://staging.vietamericanvets.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/logo.png00veteranshttp://staging.vietamericanvets.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/logo.pngveterans2010-07-28 17:55:512018-08-22 14:23:23As If It Were Yesterday