Tan Rai Special Forces Camp
Tan Rai was located about 10 kilometers East of Bao Loc. It was located on the top of a cleared hill. It had a very short runway, which was connected to the camp. The runway was less than 1000 feet and was rutted. I don’t know if the runway was ever improved, or could be improved? If improved, it would have to be done by hand. I remember taking off sloshing through the mud. The mud would cover the airplane. One time the tean leader, a Captain, wanted to go to Bao Loc, so I agreed to take him. The plane was over grossed. The team leader was in the back seat, along with a small Monteyard on his lap. We also loaded in an M-60 machine gun along with much ammunition. They both had their personal weapons. I reached the end of the runway (not into the wind) and the airplane was at the stall speed. I had 60 degrees of flaps down. It is lucky that the end of the runway had a drop-off because it was built on the top of a hill. With that in mind, I had to pull the airplane off the ground at the stall speed. Luckily it was a Birddog that had a large engine for its size. I was so happy to become airborne.
The special forces guys told me that I would be a natural because I was an infantry Also, adjacent to the camp was a small Monteyard village. The Monteyard men were the soldiers for the special forces. They lived in the camp with their families, including children. The picture above is Lt. Jones drinking rice wine through a straw, in the Monteyard camp. This was a ritual of celebration with the Monteyard people. I have to admit, they convinced me that I should participate in the celebration. The wine was in a clay vile or container, filled to the very top. The procedure was to drink a coke bottle full of rice wine. As you drink through a straw, the level would go down, and as a result, they would refill the vile with a coke bottle full of the rice wine. Why did I do that? They give me a metal bracelet, as a souvenier of the ceremony. I still have the bracelet.
I remember he MACV commander in Bao Loc, telling me that he had intelligence that 2000 Viet Cong were in the Bao Loc area, with their mission to be, to overrun the MACV compound. Therefore he wanted me to go to Tan Rai overnight? He felt that if the MACV was under attack, our only hope would be for me to fly to Bao Loc to adjust artillery. In the night? Vietnam was so dark at night that there were no lights on the ground. As a result, we very seldom flet at night. Another reason was that the Bao Loc compound was over a mile to the runway. The road was unsecured at night. It would be lucky for me to find the MACV compound, or find my way back to the special forces camp. This area had no radar or navigation or runway lights. Staying overnight in the special forces camp was our only hope if the MACV were under attack. On one occasion during my overnight stay at Tan Rai, we did get attacked during the night. officer. I remember shooting back at the Viet Cong. I was shooting back at their muzzle flashes. If we could see muzzle flashes, that meant that they were shooting at us, in the Tan Rai compound. I couldn’t wait for the sun to come up so that I could fly out of Tan Rai!
The team leader was Captain ???. I cannot recall his name. He liked to fly, so I took him flying several times. He would show up with things to drop out of the back window of my airplane. The things included mortars and hand grenades. We noticed that the mortars did not explode. I found out later that mortar has to be cycled in the mortar tube so that it will arm itself. What happens if the hand grenade is dropped on the floor of the airplane after the pin is pulled? As soon as I realized what would happen, that practice was stopped. Some pilots would pull the pin on a hand grenade and insert the grenade, with the handle in place, into a glass drinking glass. Then drop the glass and hand grenade out the window of the airplane, over the target.
Sometime in July of 1966 is received a radio call indicating that the special forces Captain was wounded. I flew to the area and was told that the Captain was able to walk back to the special forces camp. The wound was a small penetrating wound just below his belly button. It was determined that the wound was caused by a BB from a claymore mine. The claymore had been captured from the Americans and was set into position so as to kill Americans.
One day I was covering one of the special forces operations when they called me for help? They were pinned down by the enemy fire and could not pinpoint the enemy firing location? I discovered that the enemy fire was coming from a clump of the jungle near the location of the special forces. I could see the muzzle flashes from the air. They could not pinpoint the enemy location, so I fired a rocket into the area of the muzzle flashes. They then determined the enemy location. It was only one Viet Cong. I was surprised to see that they brought the dead body back to the special forces camp! They wanted pictures.
The Monteyard village had more than one celebration each year. I don’t know why they had a celebration, but they drank rice wine through a straw. I drank the wine and they gave me brass bracelets to honor the event. I still have the bracelet. The celebration would also include the sacrifice of a water buffalo. I was in attendance only one time. The event was awful to view because they killed the water buffalo while he was still alive. They would start by cutting the water buffalo’s Achilles tendons with machetes. The animal would then fall down. They would finishing cutting up the animal and eventually eat the entire animal! I do remember seeing the animal lying in the blood and dirt. The villagers would then come and cut off what they wanted. I did view the event one time and did not want to see the event twice!
A special forces camp normally would be comprised of 12 team members. Tan Rai was always under-strength with only 3 or 4 team members. They always needed help, if under attack. This picture was that of their pets. They had a pet monkey, a dog, and a small pig called oonk (which lived in the cooking area). Quite often I would drop in for lunch. In the eating area, they had a couple of shelves that contained bottles about the size of mentholateum bottles. The bottles contained ears of the Viet Cong that they had killed! I note that the special forces hired two of the Monteyards to cook for the team members. Their names were mushy and peckerhead. About this timeframe, oonk the pig disappeared. I ask about his whereabouts and was told that they “ate him”. The bottles contained ears of the Viet that they had killed! Lt. Jones wanted to go to flight school. I wonder how that turned out?
This picture is that of Lt. Jones on the day that his year in Vietnam had ended. Note the champagne and flowers. Also pictured is Captain Mucelli.