Activity in Operation Cedar Falls

Okay let's start.
Okay Astor, tell us again about getting ready to come in to Ben Suc and the helicopter ride in and the riding over like that and then landing.
Okay. We um left our base camp early in the morning. I guess, it was about um... before daybreak. And we got in the heliport where there were 64 helicopters waiting, which was uh much bigger than we had ever experienced before. Uh, we got in the helicopters and started up and we did not know where we were going because it was, everything was in total secrecy. Uh, as we went up our direction apparently must have been, well we didn't know which way our direction it was, but we made circles.
And while we were up there... about 7:30 quarter to eight in the morning, we got a call on the radio stating that we were involved or we were gonna be involved in Operation Cedar Falls. At this point, as I recall, the helicopters started uh... towards, started going at maximum speed, at times very low to the ground and when it came upon a jungle area or some trees it would go right over the trees and back down to the ground as uh close as it could, I guess, and it was flying at maximum speed.
And eventually we were found ourselves heading into a village at which time the helicopters touched down long enough for us to get off the helicopter and it just took off. And we're landed in rice paddies, and when we got off the helicopters it was quite deep where water was above our waists and you looked around and there were a few bunkers with guns sticking out of them. And at the same time we heard artillery and air support. Everything seemed to happen at the same time. Then there were people runnin’ from all different directions.
We knew what we're goin into, that it was Operation Cedar Falls, but what we'd encounter was totally surprise. And, of course, when we saw those weapons it, y'know, it was quite scary to see those weapons sticking out, and had there been anyone in there... manning these weapons, it could have been really chaotic for the entire company landing in that, uh in that area.
We proceeded to uhm get in the er, in the village itself where we crossed the road and uh, get in position to set up uh, uhm a perimeter where we stayed that evening, securing the area or our area and putting out our listening posts and just waited until further notice or for other things to happen. And that's where we remained that evening.
Okay. Now tell us briefly about that encounter you saw with the three nurses...
Well, this was um... early the next morning, I would say about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, when the uhm the listening post not very far from our perimeter, well from, from our perimeter, started to um... make, to ask questions of somebody he saw out there. And he said, "Who is it?" He told the password and he got no response. He started moving around a little bit and then he... he threw out the password again and we whispered to find out what's happening.
He said, "There's somebody movin’ out there." So at this point we heard him uh cock the shotgun and a few seconds later he fired a couple of rounds uh from the shotgun. We heard some female type voice screaming, we weren't sure y'know, who they were. So finally, we got 'em in and it turned out to be, I think it were, three nurses one or two of them had received burns from the pellets from the shotgun.
And um... we tried to calm 'em down because we did not have an interpreter right then with us. We offered them some food, C Ration and they kept pointing to areas where hurt and um found out that um one of them had been hit. We gave them some Bacitracin ointment to rub on the area to sort of ease the pain somewhat. And after they sat down and started eating a little they seemed a little more... um, relaxed, and not, they were not as uh afraid as they were initially.
Okay. Cut.
Clapsticks. Magazine already? Wow.
Generally, when we um go on an operation there's always uh a great deal of, deal of apprehension at first because um you're uncertain as to what you're going to encounter. And after you're in the air flying into the area it's... you're a little bit more relaxed but the anxiety comes back again when you're about to land into this particular village or outside this village. And um, you don't know what you're going to encounter so there's a certain amount of fear, uh you get scared as to what's going to happen, how big it is what we were going to encounter.
And then we get in there. As soon as we set up and begin our approach to the village uh we will either get some type of uh small arms fire or we may find some, see somebody running away and, of course, it's an anticipated Viet Cong area, so you tend to hold everybody that you see uh as suspect of uh uh of Viet Congs. So you tend to capture or get everybody gathered up where you can get em to the point of perhaps interrogation.
And as you go through the village and... you find different things, everythings, everything becomes important, especially if it's written in Vietnamese, and you want to save these things. And at this point, when you're in the village, you're not as apprehensive, you're not as scared as you were when you initially started out moving towards the village.
And from that point on unless something happens you're a little bit more relaxed and more relaxed then, in my, from my personal standpoint I feel, I felt much more relaxed while in the field than I did in the base camp simply because in the field you are, you're not in a fixed area.
Subsequently, there is no way that the enemy can uh get a bead on you or uh drop mortars on you whereas back in the base camp, that's your base camp, they know exactly where you are and they can drop mortars in at any time. So personally, I and perhaps some of the other fellas, felt much safer when we went out in the field.
You said, when we were talking earlier, that everywhere was a potential VC area. How did you express that to me before? Do you remember? Cause that was good.
Well, uh everywhere that you go in Vietnam is uhm a potential Viet Cong um village simply because there's no way of distinguishing or differentiating between uh the Viet Cong and the Vietnamese. They all look alike. They dress alike and you know at times some of the Vietnamese themselves are working in the base camp with you either delivering supplies, or uh just milling around working, doing any type of work.
And in the evenings it probably would be a different situation there than Viet Congs. And there are occasions where we have found, after a particular battle, that some of those that were identified some of the dead Viet Cong turned out to be people who you may have seen in the village, in your base camp at one point or another, either doing some type of work, delivering something, or perhaps working around the uh the camp.
Let's go on to what you saw of the relocation in Ben Suc of the people being moved out.
Well, in the Ben Suc area during the course of the operation they were gathering up uh the people that were in the village. There were mostly old women and men, very few children that I could recall. I don't remember seeing very many children. There were uh a few young, young men, young women, there were predominantly older women and older men that were taken out of the village by truck.
Would you expand on that a little bit more. What did you see of their faces, or how did you imagine they felt?
Well, they, they had their expressions were solemn, they were, y'know very seldom see anyone there smiling, if ever. And um, I'm sure to leave their... home probably never to return is probably uh y'know a devastating feeling, I guess if you want to use that word. And... they were taking what little belongings they could carry, and it was uh, quite a, quite an exodus from the village.
The um...
The people in Ben Suc ah... I, and I'm sure everyone else would assume they were all Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers. For one, because uh it was an operation which was farther north than we had operated and everything we, everything north we always thought were Viet Cong. And um, it being the village that um we found, found out that no one that ever entered in the previous twenty-five years pretty much convinced us that the people in, in Ben Suc were Viet Cong.
And uh, it was strange I guess that there were so many old people and not very many young people in the village. And from that you would probably want to gather that they were fighting someplace with some Viet Cong unit someplace. So, the feeling was that the people there were, were either Viet Congs or Viet Cong sympathizers.

Rice and medical supplies from the US in Vietnam

Okay, two things. What's the evidence you saw, talking about the rice, and the uniforms, and medicine, and the tunnels. If you saw any of those things?
As far as uh, there was a lot of rice, lots of rice in Vietnam. Just about every big operation that you went on there were lots of rice. Sometimes you'd walk for kilometers and there would be rice scattered all along the road. And this rice, of course, was y'know, contaminated by the, by the military simply because they didn't want it to be reused. An interesting theory regarding the rice was that most of the bags that the rice was in were from Texas, (laughing) which we thought was kind of strange. You know, here's Texas supplying Viet Cong with rice. But, (laughing) maybe that rice was for South Vietnam and the Viet Cong got a hold of it. We don't know, but it was interesting that most of the bags containing rice were from Texas.
American supplies. Did you see any of them?
We saw uh medical supplies... In Ben Suc we saw supplies, a small amount, from the nurses we had brought in that night, uh, morning. They were all instruments, some uh syringes, but no um, nothing real substantial.
I think that's it. Okay.

Tragedy at Ben Suc

The day we, the second day that we were in the Ben Suc area we started an operation of searching uh and destroying through the what was called then the "Iron Triangle." Ah, the first platoon, if I recall correctly, was the lead platoon going in a sweep. Ah, it wasn't long after that they started, they had gone into the jungle area a few feet, say a few feet in, maybe 25 feet around, and uhm, we then first heard explosions, no gunshot per se, but just explosion.
And came to find out that they had entered a mine field not a mine field, but a booby trapped area where there were a lot of anti personal mines, there were grenades hanging in trees, there were claymores and um... the first platoon that entered there took pretty much y'know, the entire platoon were casualties, including the medic. At that point, being the senior medic with the command group, I went in to try to assist with the wounded. Um, it was a bad scene, to say the least especially when some of these people were friends.
It was very difficult to uh to do for them when really what you could do was limited. Ah, one in particular, the assistant machine gunner, he apparently had stepped on an anti personal mine which pretty much, he was to say the least, almost dead at that point. I tried the most I could to help him. I started a few I.V.'s but each time it collapsed. Nothing would- the vein collapsed. We tried to... do something, but it was, it was frustrating because there were wounds all over his body. He could hardly talk, there was blood in his mouth, and he was barely moving and, y'know, you want to do something but there's nothing that you could do for it. And we (clearing his throat)...
The most frustrating part of uh... that little incident there where the first platoon had lost their medic plus most of the people in there were trying to help the people or the injured. Namely, one who was a very good friend of mine, the assistant machine gunner. He was, he apparently stepped on an anti personal mine and... he had been... he had been wounded in so many different areas that it was almost impossible to uh to help him in any way with my uh limited knowledge.
I tried to start an IV on him about two or three times. Each time it failed because the vein had collapsed and um... we tried to get him evacuated after everything had subsided, but it was very difficult because of the thickness of the, the brush, the, the jungle area. So we was finally able to clear out a little space for him. And the helicopters lowered uh a basket in which we had put him in, but his condition at that point was, was to the point, I think, of uh dying, or dead. And uh... I tried to forget a little bit about that and help some of the other fellas that were wounded.
And there were some who, who you could easily take care of and and who perhaps could help themselves, but... there were those who were helpless and the conditions in which we were working made it very difficult to do anything. And, it, it was just a frustrating uh period of time during that little skirmish there that we had in Ben Suc. going into the Iron Triangle. This, this operation was pretty much like another operation, another big operation that we went on.
With the exception of uh later after it was all over that we were reading in the Stars and Stripes that uh this was the Iron Triangle that no one had ever entered if in the previous twenty-five years. And that the accomplishments here, the success of that operation could be the turning point in the Vietnam conflict. Ah, of course, (chuckling) it may have been one of the turning points... uh, I don't know, I don't know which point it was.