This book; True Faith and Allegiance: An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc by Mike McDermott, appears to be another classic account...moreThis book; True Faith and Allegiance: An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc by Mike McDermott, appears to be another classic account to come out of the Vietnam War. I was just under 16 years of age when South Vietnam finally fell and I joined the Army soon after. I read as many books as I could on the Vietnam War but cannot recall ever reading one when the ARVN were presented in a positive light. This book changes the perception that South Vietnamese soldiers were not combat effective on the battlefield.
In the Preface to the book the author states; “My Story of service with the Vietnamese Airborne is presented as a series of reminiscences, memories of happenings long ago that I offer on behalf of all who wore the tiger-striped uniform and the maroon beret. We who served with Advisory Team 162 will never forget our Vietnamese paratrooper brothers. They demonstrated a special kind of dedication and courage throughout the long years of a war that, for them, started in 1946 and ended in 1975. They were consistently tough and resilient no matter the odds they faced, the support they received, of their battlefield prospects.”
The point in the book that brought this forcibly home to me was this incident where the author described how after fighting in a position outside An Loc in a rubber plantation the North Vietnamese forces were too strong so the battalion had to retreat to another position but had to leave a ‘Detachment-Left-In-Contact’, the author states:
“I have a very clear mental picture of several paratroopers moving back from the forward positions. For a second I thought they were drifting to the rear, looking for a way out, but then my eye caught a flash of color – their headgear. They had thrown away their helmets and pulled on their maroon paratrooper berets, and they were backing into recently vacated foxholes. Committed to a fight they could not possibly win, those men understood the ramifications of their orders and had decided to face their enemies wearing the symbol that best described who they were. I realized with a jolt they were actually getting ready to die right then and there, in that patch of torn-up rubber plantation.”
To me that is a story of dedication and the ultimate sacrifice for one’s comrades-in-arms. These men sounded like the best that any army could produce and I was saddened to read of their demise in combat that day.
The author also has many funny tales to tell about his time fighting in and around An Loc, like this account:
Later that evening I was listening to an American advisor with the 8th Airborne Battalion farther up the road as he was talking to a FAC. The sun had dropped below the horizon and they were coordinating an air strike. And then the FAC’s low-key, professional demeanor seemed to slip. He could see a big area of muzzle flashes right along the highway, and he’d suddenly realized a large group of people were shooting at him. That’s when his voice went up a couple of octaves as he shouted there must be at least a regiment shooting right at him, trying to knock him out of the sky. The FAC seemed to take it personally and repeated his discovery several times with greater and greater conviction. He insisted there were thousands of them, all shooting at him with malicious intent. As the advisor on the ground paused to consider the implications of that sobering message, I joined the conversation. I said it sounded like he had a good target and it was time to hit it with everything he could get his hands on before the shooters could get away. He did.”
In this series of accounts the South Vietnamese Airborne units are pulling back from their highway 13 positions to get ready for a helicopter assault into An Loc:
“We began to put in air strikes on the north and east sides of the position. I adjusted the strikes in closer until the FAC requested approval to hit targets he described as danger close. I wasn’t sure what danger close meant to him, but at that point everything seemed dangerous and close as far as I was concerned….”
The author has stayed behind to the very last moment to call in strikes on the abandoned position, his jeep has now got two flat tyres and a number of wounded ARVN soldiers have scrambled into the back of the jeep:
“The driver was extremely upset about being at the tail end of the battalion, a development he considered a white-knuckle exercise best ameliorated by shoving the gas peddle through the floorboards, clenching his teeth, and muttering a variety of curses. The fact that we were bounding down the ditch on flat tires with people bleeding in the back seat helped focus his aggravation, and he didn’t get a grip on his composure until we rejoined the battalion and found the command group a mile south of the now-deserted village of Chon Thanh.”
This incident occurred after the author’s unit was air lifted into the area near An Loc:
“I had climbed onto the hood of my jeep to better view the target areas where the air strikes were going in and hadn’t noticed any enemy small-arms fire until a bullet smacked into the radiator and bounced around the engine compartment under my boots. Having the jeep shot caused my driver to leap out from behind his steering wheel with another demonstration of unseemly pique. His arm-waving histrionics were incentive enough for me to join the battalion command group out in the pickup area.”
The book is full of these accounts along with tales of combat with North Vietnamese T-54 tanks and the role of American airpower including B-52 ‘Arc Light’ missions to support the South Vietnamese fighting to hold An Loc. I was not aware that during the fighting around An Loc it was estimated that over 78,000 rounds were fired into the town. This is a well-told account of a terrible battle and brave soldiers that has not received the coverage it seems to be due. (less)