Thursday, 29 March 2007

The French Fort: Tay Ninh: Vietnam memories

Tay Ninh was about sixty miles north west of Saigon, not far from the Cambodian border. It was a town that I would have liked to get look at more closely but I never really had the chance.
Decca was based in an old French fort.
It had the usual two Decca technicians plus about seven or eight US military from the 16th Signals company. We were operating the Mark 12 system. I had used it in the Bahamas, but that had been some time before and I had to get to know it again.
However when I arrived everybody was occupied with the more mundane task of filling up sandbags and building a defensive wall. Evidently the threat of an imminent attack was taken very seriously. Shortly before they had received two direct hits from mortar rounds on the roof of the ops room. Luckily, since the installation of the no doubt more valuable Mark 12 equipment the sand bagged protection had been re-inforced. I have a few photos of our old ops room in Van Kiep and the sandbags were in a pitiable state. Now they mixed them with cement, which evidently hardened with the rains and did not seep away. They had also been shaken up not too long previously when a store of captured Viet Cong ammunition blew up. This had been kept in a shed not far from the ops room and blew up one day for some reason or the other. Nobody hurt or injured luckily.
In the fort we had a troop of US 106mm recoiless rifles.We did not really mix with them. Security was provided by a force of Khmer Serei with their US advisers. These were free Cambodian merceneries. Free from what I don't know nor from which side of the frontier. However they did salute me whenever I drove in or out of the fort which was more than the Vietnamese soldiers had done at Van Kiep. There I had found them bordering on the insolent, but perhaps that had been to do with deeper undercurrents between the Vietnamese army and the Americans.


Andy Knowles said...

I was a 1st Lt. Forward Observer working with the Vietnamese Airborne in 1969. We had been on patrol in Tay Ninh Province near the Cambodian border then had a couple of days back in Tay Ninh City. We camped at the Province chiefs house which was directly across a narrow street from French Fort.

Someone threw a satchel charge in the ammo dump which was on the ground floor of French Fort. Refugees were in the upper stories. For a day ammo not blown in the initial blast cooked off then exploded raining more unexploded shells and debris on our bunkers. We had put the hood up to protect the windshield of a borrowed jeep and a mortar shell lodged in the motor. Another cracked, red hot artillery shell went through my mosquito net when I dared to run out of the bunker to find coffee in my back pack.

For the next several days heavy equipment worked on the massive rubble pile dislodging bodies.

Whenever an arm of leg appeared the villagers would rush to see if it was one of their relatives or friends.

I'm surprised someone can write of French Fort in that time period without mentioning these events?

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