The 1st VC Regiment, 2nd NVA Division, began closing the ring around Kham Duc during the early morning darkness of 12 May. At about 0415 to 0430 hours, the camp and outlying positions came under heavy enemy attack.
Outpost #7 was assaulted and fell within a few minutes. Outposts #5, #1 and #3 had been reinforced by Americal troops but were in North Vietnamese hands by 0930 hours.
OP1 was manned by PFC Harry Coen, PFC Andrew Craven, Sgt. Joseph Simpson, and SP4 Julius Long from Company E, 2nd of the 1st Infantry. At about 0415 hours, when OP1 came under heavy enemy attack, PFC Coen and SP4 Long were seen trying to man a 106 millimeter recoilless rifle. Survivors reported that in the initial enemy fire, they were knocked off their bunker. Both men
again tried to man the gun, but were knocked down again by RPG fire.
PFC Craven, along with two other men, departed the OP at 0830 hours on May 12. They moved out 50 yards and could hear the enemy in their last position. At about 1100 hours, as they were withdrawing to the battalion perimeter, they encountered an enemy position. PFC Craven was the pointman and opened
fire. The enemy returned fire, and PFC Craven was seen to fall, with multiple chest wounds. The other two men were unable to recover him, and hastily departed the area. PFC Craven was last seen lying on his back, wounded, near the camp.
OP2 was being manned by 1Lt. Frederick Ransbottom, SP4 Maurice Moore, PFC Roy Williams, PFC Danny Widner, PFC William Skivington, PFC Imlay Widdison, and SP5 John Stuller, from the 2nd of the 3rd Infantry when it came under attack. Informal questioning of survivors of this position indicated that
PFC Widdison and SP5 Stuller may have been killed in action. However, the questioning was not sufficiently thorough to produce enough evidence to confirm their deaths.
The only information available concerning 1Lt. Ransbottom, SP4 Moore, PFC Lloyd and PFC Skivington that Lt. Ransbottom allegedly radioed PFC Widner and PFC Williams, who were in the third bunker, and told them that he was shooting at the enemy as they entered his bunker.
SP4 Juan Jimenez, a rifleman assigned to Company A, 2nd of the 1st Infantry, was occupying a defensive position when he was severely wounded in the back by enemy mortar fire. SP4 Jimenez was declared dead by the Battalion Surgeon in the early morning hours of May 12. He was then carried to the helipad for
evacuation. However, due to the situation, space was available in the helicopter for only the wounded, and SP4 Jimenez'remains were left behind.
At noon a massive NVA attack was launched against the main compound. The charge was stopped by planes hurling napalm, cluster bomb units and 750 pound bombs into the final wire barriers. The decision was made by the Americal Division officers to call for immediate extraction.
The evacuation was disorderly, and at times, on the verge of complete panic. One of the first extraction helicopters to land was exploded by enemy fire, blocking the airstrip. Engineers of Company A, 70th Engineer Battalion, frantically reassembled one of their dozers (previously torn apart to prevent capture) to clear the runway. Eight more aircraft were blown out of
PFC Richard E. Sands was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade being extracted on a CH47 helicopter (serial #67-18475). The helicopter was hit by 50 calliber machine gun fire at an altitude of 1500-1600 feet shortly after takeoff.
Sands, who was sitting near the door gunner, was hit in the head by an incoming rounds. The helicopter made a controlled landing and caught fire. During the evacuation from the burning helicopter, four personnel and a medic checked PFC Sands and indicated that he had been killed instantly.
Because of the danger of incoming mortar rounds and the fire, personnel attempting to remove PFC Sands from the helicopter were ordered to abandon their attempt. The remaining personnel were evacuated from the area later by another helicopter.
Intense antiaircraft fire from the captured outposts caused grave problems. Control over the indigenous forces was difficult. One group of CIDG soldiers had to be held in trenches at gunpoint to prevent them from mobbing the runway.
As evacuation was in progress, members of Company A, 1/46, who insisted on boarding the aircraft first, shoved Vietnamese dependents out of the way. As more Americal infantry tried to clamber into the outbound planes, the outraged Special Forces staff convinced the Air Force to start loading civilians onboard a C130, then watched as the civilians pushed children and
weaker adults aside.
The crew of the U.S. Air Force C130 aircraft (serial #60-0297) consisted of Maj. Bernard Bucher, pilot; SSgt. Frank Hepler, flight engineer; Maj. John McElroy, navigator; 1Lt. Steven Moreland, co-pilot; George Long, load master; Capt. Warren Orr, passenger, and an undetermined number of Vietnamese civilians.
The aircraft reported receiving ground fire on takeoff. The Forward Air Control (FAC) in the area reported that the aircraft exploded in mid-air and crashed in a fire ball about one mile from camp. All crew and passengers were believed dead, as the plane burned quickly and was completely destroyed except for the tail boom. No remains were recovered from the aircraft.
Capt. Orr was not positively identified by U.S. personnel as being aboard the aircraft. He was last seen near the aircraft helping the civilians to board. However, a Vietnamese stated that he had seen Capt. Orr board the aircraft and later positively identified him from a photograph. Rescue efforts were impossible because of the hostile threat in the area.
At the time the order was given to escape and evade, SP4 Julius Long was was with Coen and Simpson. All three had been wounded, and were trying to make their way back to the airfield about 350 yards away. As they reached the airfield, they saw the last C130 departing. PFC Coen, who was shot in the stomach, panicked and started running and shooting his weapon at random. SP4 Long tried to catch him, but could not, and did not see PFC Coen again. Long then carried Sgt. Simpson to a nearby hill, where they spent the night.
During the night, the airfield was strafed and bombed by U.S. aircraft. SP4 Long was hit twice in the back by fragments, and Sgt. Simpson died during the night. SP4 Long left him lying on the hill near the Cam Duc airfield and started his escape and evasion toward Chu Lai, South Vietnam. SP4 Long was captured and was released in 1973 from North Vietnam.
The Special Forces command group was the last organized group out of the camp. As their helicopter soared into the clouds, Kham Duc was abandoned to advancing NVA infantry at 4:33 p.m. on May 12, 1968. The last Special Forces camp on the northwestern frontier of South Vietnam had been destroyed.
Two search and recovery operations were conducted in the vicinity of OP1 and OP2 and the Cam Duc airfield on July 18, 1970 and August 17, 1970. In these operations, remains of personnel previously reported missing from this incident were recovered and subsequently identified. (SP4 Bowers, PFC Lloyd,
Sgt. Sisk, PFC Guzman-Rios and SSgt. Carter). However, extensive search and excavation could not be completed at OP1 and OP2 because of the tactical situation.
It was assumed that all the missing at Kham Duc were killed in action until about 1983, when the father of one of the men missing discovered a Marine Corps document which indicated that four of the men had been taken prisoner. The document listed the four by name. Until then, the families had not been advised of the possibility there were any American prisoners taken other
than Julius Long. A Vietnamese rallier identified the photograph of Roy C. Williams as positively having been a POW.
Until proof is obtained that the rest of the men lost at Ngok Tavak and Kham Duc are dead, their families will always wonder if they are among those said to still be alive in Southeast Asia.