Vinh Loc district lies lazily on an island 24 kilometers long and four and one half kilometers wide, nestled openly against the South China Sea, southeast of Hue. Before the enemy Tet Offensive, more than 50,000 predominately catholic Vietnamese lived in this relatively rich district engaging in fishing, gardening, and tobacco farming. They were happy, contented people who supported their government.
After Tet, the Viet Cong moved in and took control of the district, using it as a recuperation area and continually terrorizing its residents. The VC forced the villagers to farm for them, feed them and perform numerous other duties against their will. The South Vietnamese government retained control of the eastern tip of the island, where reportedly more than 29,000 natives and 12,500 refugees lived; leaving approximately 8,500 unaccounted for, or under VC control.
Maj. Gen. Melvin Zais, commanding general of the Screaming Eagles, assigned the mission of rooting out the enemy insurgents to the 2nd Brigade as part of a combined force operation. The 2nd Brigade commander called upon his seasoned battalion commander to lead the mass combat assault. On September 11th, as the morning mist attempted to hold off the first rays of the sun, the swishing sound of helicopter blades could be heard faintly over the murmuring roar of the South China Sea. The VC were lounging content with their surroundings, for never before had they been seriously bothered in their self acclaimed haven. That day, it was to be different. The plan was to cordon the district without alerting the enemy. This was done. Maneuver forces landed on the ocean side of the island and drove straight into predesignated objectives. During the night, all blocking forces moved into position, thereby disrupting enemy communications and denying normal escape routes. Throughout the operation, preparatory fires were limited to barren ground around landing zones. Supporting fires were to be used only in the case of organized resistance, which never was encountered.
Early the next morning, 7th ARVN Cavalry armored personnel carriers drove into the western end of the island while 1st Bn., 54th ARVN Regt. troops simultaneously assaulted into three landing zones. Two Regional Forces companies force marched to an Oceanside position, and Screaming Eagles of the lst Bn., 501st Abn. lnf. air assaulted into three landing zones on the eastern end of the island. By 11 am all units were in position.
As the largest combined forces combat assault of the Vietnam war began, the enemy in the area were caught completely off guard and went scurrying in all directions. Some made a last ditch effort to bury their weapons and ran toward sampans in the South China Sea. However, Navy "Pistol Pete" patrol boats and paratroopers on air cushioned vehicles were there to stop them. Enterprising North Vietnamese Army soldiers attempted to change their clothes and blend in with the villagers, but special teams of allied soldiers quickly separated the natives from the imposters. Enemy elements that did make it to the coast found patrolling U.S. Naval vessels waiting for them. Besides picking up suspects and searching sampans attempting to slip out of the area, the patrol boats transported hoards of detainees to questioning points.
Paratroopers of A Co., 1st Bn., 501st Abn. Inf. swept the district for
two days with ARVN troops searching abandoned bunkers, huts and
underground tunnels, while uprooting insurgents. On the third day,
paratroopers took up positions along a deep rice paddy and began
systematically searching the dikes. During the search, two Viet Cong
soldiers were spotted, giving away their positions. Paratroopers
opened up with small arms, M-79 grenade, and machine gun fire and
attacked the positions, killing 23 insurgents. One group of 215
detainees proved especially cooperative. As their CH-47 helicopter
set down at a collection point, the suspects filed out, somewhat
bewildered by their first chopper ride. An imaginative national
policeman sensed their puzzlement and shouted, "All members of the
pects had fallen in as directed. An amazed group of paratroopers, their
interrogation chores shortened considerably, quickly confirmed the
suspects as members of those units.
As intelligence was gathered from Hoi Chanhs (ralliers to the government) and detainees, the nearest troops were lifted to enemy concentrations. All detainees were delivered to Vinh Loc district headquarters, where the combined forces, tactical operations center was located, The detainees where processed by combined intelligence teams on a 24-hour basis.
The results of the operation are self explanatory and mirror the success of the combined forces actions. One hundred and fifty four enemy were killed, 178 individual and crew served weapons captured and 370 suspects detained, of which 126 were identified as members of the local Viet Cong infrastructure. In addition, 32 Hoi Chanhs rallied to the South Vietnamese Government. Three paratroopers were wounded and Vietnamese casualties were reported light. No Screaming Eagles were killed.
Through mobility and careful planning, the Vinh Loc campaign illustrated
the conclusiveness and success of combined forces operations. Before the
operation began, smooth coordination was established among
101st Airborne, ARVN forces, national policemen, U.S. Navy swift boat
and river assault groups, and supporting psychological operations teams.
By carefully consolidating and analyzing, intelligence information, it was
learned that friendly forces never before had stayed for any length of time
in Vinh Loc. It was decided that this time, combined forces would maintain
blocking forces throughout the operation. This strategy surprised the
enemy, and as the days wore on, the VC became hungry and gave up their
more sophistocated hiding places and later surrendered in droves. By the
fifth day, armored personnel carriers were rolling through the district at will,
while blocking forces steadfastly remained in place, proving an insurmountable barrier to enemy escape plans. The enemy had been outsmarted, surprised and badly beaten.
As an epilogue to any successful operation in Vietnam, a program must be developed to insure that the enemy does not return to the area. Immediately after the victory, two revolutionary development teams moved into Vinh Loc district to help the people get resettled. Regional and Popular Forces were assigned to protect the district and its people. Self defense groups have been expanded to each village, and additional weapons are being carried by local police forces. ARVN and Airborne troops remain constantly in view and serve to convince the people of a lasting security. Markets are well stocked and fishing remains good, barbed wire, pickets and weapons for self defense are available. Vinh Loc district is being restored to its pristine past. The villagers no longer are afraid of VC reprisals.