Joseph Francis Cook
Remains Identified - 2005
|SYNOPSIS: Kham Duc Special Forces camp (A-105), was located on the western fringes
of Quang Tin ("Great Faith") Province, South Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, it was the
only remaining border camp in Military Region I. Backup responsibility for the camp fell
on the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal), based at Chu Lai on the far side of the province.
The camp had originally been built for President Diem, who enjoyed hunting in the area.
Five miles downriver was the small forward operating base of Ngok Tavak, defended
Capt. Christopher J. Silva, commander of Detachment A-105 helicoptered into Ngok Tavak on May 9, 1968 in response to growing signs of NVA presence in the area. Foul weather prevented his scheduled evening departure. A Kham Duc CIDG platoon fleeing a local ambush also arrived and was posted to the outer perimeter. It was later learned that the CIDG force contained VC infiltrators.
Ngok Tavak was attacked by an NVA infantry battalion at 0315 hours on May 10. The base was pounded by mortars and direct rocket fire. As the frontal assault began, the Kham Duc CIDG soldiers moved toward the Marines in the fort yelling, "Don't shoot, don't shoot! Friendly, friendly!" Suddenly they lobbed grenades into the Marine howitzer positions and ran into the fort, where they shot several Marines with carbines and sliced claymore mine and communication wires.
The defenders suffered heavy casualties but stopped the main assault and killed the
infiltrators. The NVA dug in along the hill slopes and grenaded the trenches where
The NVA advanced across the eastern side of Ngok Tavak and brought forward more automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In desperation, the defenders called on USAF AC-47 "Spooky" gunships to strafe the perimeter and the howitzers, despite the possible presence of friendly wounded in the gun pits. The NVA countered with tear gas, but the wind kept drifting the gas over their own lines. After three attempts, they stopped. A grenade fight between the two forces lasted until dawn.
At daybreak Australian Warrant Officers Cameron and Lucas, joined by Blomgren,
The mobile strike force soldiers were exhausted and nervous. Ammunition and water
were nearly exhausted, and Ngok Tavak was still being pounded by sporadic mortar
Thomas Perry, a medic from C Company, arrived at the camp at 0530 hours the morning
of the 10th. He cared for the wounded and was assisting in an attempt to establish a
defensive perimeter when the decision was made to evacuate the camp. As survivors
All the weapons, equipment and munitions that could not be carried were hastily piled into the command bunker and set afire. The helicopter that had been grounded by a ruptured fuel line was destroyed with a LAW. Sgt. Miller's body was abandoned.
After survivors had gone about 1 kilometer, it was discovered that Perry was missing.
In concert with the Ngok Tavak assault, the Kham Duc was blasted by a heavy mortar
and recoilless rifle attack at 0245 hours that same morning. Periodic mortar barrages
ripped into Kham Duc throughout the rest of the day, while the Americal Division
airmobiled a reinforced battalion of the 196th Infantry Brigade into the compound. A
Special Forces command party also landed, but the situation deteriorated too rapidly
The mortar attack on fog-shrouded Kham Duc resumed on the morning of May 11. The bombardment caused heavy losses among the frightened CIDG soldiers, who fled from their trenches across open ground, seeking shelter in the bunkers. The LLDB commander remained hidden. CIDG soldiers refused orders to check the rear of the camp for possible North Vietnamese intruders. That evening the 11th and 12th Mobile Strike Force companies were airlifted to Da Nang, and half of the 137th CIDG Company from Camp Ha Thanh was airlanded in exchange.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Intense antiaircraft fire from the captured outposts caused grave problems. Control
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)
Capt. Orr was not positively identified by U.S. personnel as being aboard the aircraft.
At the time the order was given to escape and evade, SP4 Julius Long was with Coen
During the night, the airfield was strafed and bombed by U.S. aircraft. SP4 Long was
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 north-
Two search and recovery operations were conducted in the vicinity of OP1 and OP2
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
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.