Air America and the “Bug” in the VC Typewriter

 The NVA/VC command elements and political hierarchy proved to be elusive targets in
the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry area of operations in 1971.  In order to determine their location, radio
intercepts and other intelligence collection methods were used.  In this particular operation, a
transmitter device that had been placed in a typewriter sold to the VC.  Transmissions from the
device had been traced throughout the western area of the “Regulars” tactical area of operations,
and the suspected location of an important NVA/VC headquarters element was pinpointed in
early 1971 grid square BS 5390.  Consequently, at the request of the Deputy Province Advisor
and U.S. Embassy personnel, the Regulars of the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry undertook a combined
operation on 10 April 1971 with the mission of capturing or killing enemy headquarters personnel.

 The soldiers from the unit were to be augmented by the Quang Ngai Provincial Reconnaissance
Unit (PRU).  This specialized unit, reportedly funded and advised by the CIA was part of the
Phung Hoang (PHOENIX) program to “neutralize” the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI).  The
PRUs were an excellent light infantry force that operated as the combat forces that enforced
PHOENIX operations.

 For this operation, the PRUs were to cross the Song Tra Bong river and move into
positon after darkness.  The next morning, they would search the suspected location, while the
“Regulars” from B Co. 1st Bn 6th Inf were airlifed into blocking positions: B Bo headquarters (B6)
into BS 470 871; B Co. 1st platoon (B16) into BS 487 880; B Co. 2nd platoon (B26) into BS 504
887; B Co. 3rd Platoon (B36) into BS 513 888.  At 110831 hours, the soldiers were airlifed into
position.  After sweeping the area, the VC proved as elusive as ever–nothing found.

 Over the next few weeks, the NVA/VC headquarters element remained on the loose and
moved northward, where their location was tracked via the “bug” in the typewriter.  This time, a
much larger operation was planned, with A, B, and D Companies from 1st Bn 6t Inf, the PRUs,
and a company of Vietnamese NDFF to participate.  Because of the magnitude of the operation
and the short time frame for planning and coordination, the easiest method to coordinate the
simultaneous insertions was to combat assault the troops into separate landing zones (LZs)
approached from a circular flight pattern over three miles across.  Over twenty lift helicopters and
a dozen gunships were to participate.  On 9 June 1971, “Operation Little Big Horn” was
approved.  Unlike the famous battle in which Lieutenant Colonel Custer and his horse cavalry
were surrounded, this time the “Regulars” were to encircle the NVA/VC.

 On 10 June 1971, all the troops lined up in the dark on the Chu Lai East airstrip and
loaded the aircraft at 0558 hours.  The first wave involved simultaneous combat assaults into LZs
at:  BS 520 924 (A Co Hq+); BS 527 925 (D Co. 1st Platoon); BS 533 928 (D Co Hq); BS 553
934 (D Co 3rd Platoon-); BS 533 940 (D Co 3rd Platoon-); and BS 529 942 (B Co Hq+).  The
second was assaulted into BS 518 933 (A Co 2nd Platoon) and BS 519 948 (PRU), while the third
wave landed at BS 531 924 (D Co 4th Platoon) and BS 520 949 (NDFF).  Other platoons from B
Company, who had been conducting ground patrols in the vicinity, moved into their blocking
force positions on the ground.

 During the combat air assault insertions, the Battalion Commander (LTC James W.
Sawey) had been orbiting the area in a silver-colored OH-6A Light Observation Helicopter
(LOH) provided by Air America (presumably CIA).  At 0915 hours, LTC Sawey told the pilot to
drop him off so he could coordinate troop movements with the A Co commander.  Just as the
aircraft touched down at BS 520 924, an enemy sniper at BS 524 926 opened fire. One bullet
crashed through the bubble windshield of the LOH and smashed into LTC Sawey’s flight helmet.
The round cut a shallow groove across his scalp leaving a trail of blood and came out the other
side of the flight helmet.  Although a fraction of an inch lower would have meant certain death, he
escaped with only a headache!

  The sniper fire continued sporadically at 0930 and 0945.  Two other soldiers, identified in
the TOC S2/S3/S5 journal as SP4 Setty and Line Number #803, were wounded.  The Command
& Control aircraft which had been coordinating the air assault efforts completed the dustoff at
1050 hours.

 At 1145 hours, the NDFF forces at Binh Yen 2 (BS 523 928) reported they had 22
detainees, including twelve females ages 20-35, nine children ages six to 14, and one male classed
as probable VCI.  They were extracted to the Binh Son District Headquarters for questioning.

 At 1230 hours, soldiers from A Co. 1st Bn 6th Inf, found a large 6' x 5' x 60' tunnel running
straight back into the hillside at BS 523 928.  The tunnel showed signs of recent activity and fresh
digging.  They requested assistance of a combat engineer team and cratering charges to destroy
the tunnel.  The also found a pistol holster at BS 524 923.  The enemy continued to move in their
area.  When a  trip flare went off at 2020 hours, they blew several directional claymore mines.

 At 1630 hours, B Co. 1st Bn 6th Inf soldiers captured one Chu Hoi.  The Hoi Chan
surrendered with his M16 rifle, 120 rounds of ammunition, and one chicom grenade.  He was
dressed in a bush hat, and the light blue shirt and pants worn by the VC for camouflaged
movement at night.  He claimed to be only 14 years old, but spoke excellent English..
Interestingly enough, he was the brother of the former Kit Carson Scout for B Co., 1st Bn 6th Inf.

 By 1900 hours, the people detained at Bihn Yen had been interrogated at Binh Son
District Headquarters.  One of the female detainees turned out to be a VC sympathizer.  She had
learned of the impending operation the day before from a PF platoon leader.  She walked all night
from Binh Son to Bin Yen village to warn the VC of the operation to be held in the area.  The PF
soldier who had been the source of the information was taken into custody by “MSS” and flown
to Quang Ngai for interrogation.

 Because of the treachery or extreme carelessness of the PF platoon leader in Binh Son,
the entire operation had been compromised.  Once again, the VCI had evaded capture.
A later report (not yet documented) indicated, however, that the operation had unintended
consequences.  When the combat engineers blew up the tunnel complex discovered by Co A, 1st
Bn 6th Inf, the VC hiding in adjacent tunnels that had not been discovered at the time were
suffocated by the collapsing dirt.  Several dozen enemy died.      [Copyright 2000 ]

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