Vietnam Visit, 1-11 June 2001 Initial Report

August 06, 2014 at 5:00 PM

From MG Ben L. Harrison, US Army, Retired, (CO, 3rd Bde, 101st Division, Jun 70-Dec 70)

The visit to Vietnam in search of the North Vietnamese side of the battle for Ripcord in 1970, has been completed. We returned late on 11 June. Encouraged and assisted by Lt Gen (Ret) Teddy Allen and advised and coached by Courtney Frobenius, owner and operator of Vietnam-Indochina Tours, it was first scheduled for 29 November 2000. Postponed because of Carolyn's TIA, I rescheduled it for March 2001. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked me to reschedule for late April. Ten days before my planned 11 April departure, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, please reschedule for a later time, so 1 June became the new date.

Fortunately for me, at that timing of the trip, Fred Spaulding [LTC (Ret), B/2-506th, 1970-1971, 3rd Bde S-3 Air] was able to go with me. We are home, healthy and grateful. (Fred lost 14 pounds and I lost 5.)

GOOD NEWS:

The trip clearly was a success as we learned significant information about the North Vietnamese forces and their strategy and tactics in the battle for Ripcord in 1970.

The first of our six interviews with North Vietnamese officers was with Colonel (Ret) Nguyen Van Ba, now living in Cu Chi. Teddy Allen located Col Ba for us. Col Ba was a sergeant serving near Khe Sanh at the time of Ripcord, later Deputy Commander and Political Officer of the 9th Division of the Peoples Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and retired from the position of Political Officer of the Cu Chi District.

Ambassador Peterson was gracious and generous with his time. He made some interesting observations. The Defense Attache, LTC Frank Miller, offered to assist us.

Mr. Nguyen The Cuong of the Foreign Press Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, arranged for us to interview BG Bui Pham Ky, People's Army of Vietnam, Retired. Ky had been the Deputy Commander and Political Officer of the 324 Division in Thua Tien Province.

With Courtney Frobenius's help and his wife's timely trip to Vietnam, we were able employ the assistance of Colonel (Ret) Pham Van Dinh, living in Hue, whom I had known in the 1st Infantry Division, Army of Vietnam. (Colonel Dinh had been the Commander of the 56th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division of the Army of Vietnam and Camp Carroll on the DMZ, when he surrendered his forces to the North Vietnamese during the Easter Offensive of the North Vietnamese in 1972. He was flown to Hanoi and made a colonel in the People's Army of Vietnam ). Col Dinh took us to the Army Museum in Hanoi where we interviewed the Director, Col Le Ma Luong. He had been an infantry company commander in Thua Tien Province in 1970.

Col Dinh located and arranged for us to interview the following People's Army of Vietnam officers in Hue:

Major (Ret) Ho Van Thuoc, who, in 1970, was the Operations Officer of the Regional forces in Quang Tri Province.

Brig Gen (Ret) Zuonz Ba Nuoi, who, in 1970 was the Deputy Commander and Political Officer Of Zone 4, which included Thua Tien, Quang Tri, Quang Binh, and Ha Tinh Provinces.

Senior Colonel Nguyen Quoc Khanh, who, in 1970 was the Operations Officer of the 324 Division.

With the help of LTC Miller and Col (Ret) Dinh, we will follow up our search with the People's Army Publishing House for books/reports relating to the battle for Ripcord in 1970.

Our next step is to use our notes, recordings, references and memories to develop a narrative of the North Vietnamese side of the battle for Ripcord. We will offer this to Presidio Press (should they choose to make a second edition of the Ripcord book) to try and recoup the expense of trip to Vietnam. Should they not buy it, we will publish a report (with pictures) and offer it for sale through our Ripcord Association with any money beyond our expenses going to the Association.

General Observations:

In spite of the official propaganda, virtually all of the people are friendly, courteous and quick with a smile; happy to learn that you are an American. Many will tell you that they have relatives in the United States. The children laugh, giggle, romp and play like children all over the world.

Many people speak English. Most signs and menus are also in English. The adventurous person can travel without a guide or interpreter. I, however, would recommend Courtney Frobenius's Vietnam-Indochina Tours.

Many people refer to Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon and Saigon is seen on many signs and in print.

The food is good and quite cheap. The taxis are also very cheap.

The three, four and five star hotels we used were excellent and averaged about $70 per night.

Vietnam Airlines use Airbus 320's and have some western pilots.

The landscape is absolutely beautiful!

BAD NEWS:

Japan Airlines does not stock rum!

Senior General Tien Vien Dung, age 81, the overall commander of the PAVN who replaced Giap, was still in the hospital and I could not see him. Lt Gen Din Vang Quang, former commander of the 304 Division, was traveling away from Hanoi and I could not interview him. Ambassador Peterson said that was unfortunate because Quang is the head of the war veterans organization and loves to talk. I will try and communicate with him by letter.

The People's Army Publishing House sales office in Hanoi was a 10 foot by 20 foot hole in the wall with no list or index of published books/papers available.

The Quang Tri War Records Center had limited information on Quang Tri Regional Forces and apparently nothing on the Ripcord battle. (A visit there was deemed a waste of our limited time.)

Past and present military and government bureaucrats are quite careful to talk the communist party line and extremely parsimonious with information.

Most of the history of the Ripcord battle apparently has not been written or published even though communist military units are known to be careful record keepers.

We could not visit Ripcord because there still is no road through that area. There used to be a government helicopter available in the Hue-Phu Bai area, but there is none now. Our Vietnam Airline A320 jet transport landed there and not another single aircraft of any kind was in sight.

General Observations:

Poverty and a very, very low standard of living is all too readily apparent; especially in the countryside. Rice is still planted and harvested by hand. You sometimes will see a water buffalo used for plowing in the muddy rice paddies.

There are hundreds of thousands of motor bikes in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The traffic is terrible in the cities and Highway 1 is frequently rough. The motor bike riders and bicycle riders never look as they pull into the traffic and they ignore the incessant horn blowing.

Vietnam Airlines still use several Soviet built AN-24 turboprop transports.

It is still a very, very, very long trip! We had a 24 layover in Tokyo enroute to Saigon and the return was 36 hours from baggage turn-in to pickup. It was 57 hours from bed in Saigon to bed at home!!


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