Fire Base Illingworth: An Epic True Story of Remarkable Courage Against Staggering Odds

Fire Base Illingworth: An Epic True Story of Remarkable Courage Against Staggering Odds

by Philip Keith


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250024954
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/29/2013
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

PHILIP KEITH became a naval aviator after graduating from Harvard. During three tours in Vietnam, he was awarded, among other decorations, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Air Medal for Gallantry, the Purple Heart, and the Navy Commendation Medal. Keith is also the author of Blackhorse Riders, which was awarded the USA Book Award for Military History. He lives in Southampton, Long Island.

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It was quiet, but it wouldn’t be for long. Lt. Col. Mike Conrad, commanding officer of the 2/8, and the senior officer commanding at FSB Illingworth, knew the NVA were out there. His ground surveillance radar had found them stacked up and swarming in the tree line, and they would come boiling out of the jungle and attempt to overrun his undermanned and vulnerable position as soon as they felt ready. That would be just about any moment. He knew he’d get a warning, though—maybe a few minutes—before the assault began. The NVA were experienced, tough, capable, and far from stupid. They’d begin by pounding the bejesus out of Conrad’s base with mortars, rockets, recoilless rifles, and whatever artillery they might have been able to drag through the woods and place behind their front lines. They would soften up the Americans before blowing their bugles and charging Conrad’s works.

It was 0217, April 1, 1970. Every man on the fire base, about 220 of them, had been woken up in anticipation of an attack. Conrad had demanded that every officer and every sergeant make sure that every man was awake and alert. The “Pipsy-5”1 antipersonnel radar that Conrad and his men had deployed to scour their perimeter had initially picked up strong movement right before midnight, especially in the jungle area facing the southwest corner of their pitifully small berm. Conrad did not hesitate. He ordered the Cobra gunships he had standing by to zoom in and rake the tree lines. They unloaded salvo after salvo of rockets and ripped the foliage with their miniguns. Artillery from nearby firebases like FSB Hannas, FSB St. Barbara, and Camp Hazard opened up on the preprogrammed coordinates they had carefully calculated, aiming points designed to support FSB Illingworth. Conrad also unleashed his own .50 cal machine guns and whatever M-60s were available, and all guns poured fire directly into the trees ahead.

No response came back toward Conrad’s lines, however, and after a few minutes, the firing of the defenders slowed to a stop. Rotor blades flicked away in the night sky, their sounds becoming faint as they sped away to refuel and resupply. The throaty cannons and mortars fell silent, too. Machine-gun barrels glowed, and the smell of warm gun oil wafted on the night air. The grunts put their personal weapons back on “safe.” It became eerily quiet. After a few minutes the night sounds returned. Crickets recommenced their chirping; a monkey screeched in the trees. Within the lines, the men nervously began the never-ending process of wiping down and reloading their weapons. They relaxed—as much as they could given the tension swirling around them. A number of them decided to catch a few z’s. Those who could sleep did so in place, boots on, heads resting on helmets or other equally uncomfortable, makeshift pillows.

Colonel Conrad cautiously stepped out from his TOC (tactical operations center) and peered into the blackness. With his RTO (radio telephone operator) at his side he decided to walk the perimeter—again. It would be one more sweep of the interior lines, just to be sure that he and his men had done everything humanly possible to be ready.

A thousand things were racing through Conrad’s brain. Uppermost in his thoughts was the fact that as bad as their situation had become, it was exactly what his bosses had wanted it to be. His men were being used as lures, very expensive and vulnerable lures, to draw out the NVA and get them to expose themselves. It had worked, that was for sure, and since it had, Conrad’s job had morphed into keeping the lures from being swallowed whole. It wasn’t going to be easy.

After his last stroll Conrad returned to the TOC. He decided to lie down and try to catch a few precious moments of sleep. He would not get very much rest. About an hour later, after tossing around miserably on his cot, he was wide awake. At 0217, somewhere out in the inky blackness, he heard them: faint whistles followed by the barking of artillery. Conrad leapt from his rack and tried to race outside. Bad move—he was forced to dive back into the TOC as sheets of steel rained down on his post. The explosions ripped the night sky apart and enveloped the entire compound in deadly shards of red-hot metal.


Copyright © 2013 by Philip Keith

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Author's Note xiii

Dramatis Personae xxiii

Map xxvii

1 The Trap Is Baited 1

2 The Firebase Strategy in Vietnam 5

3 "The Perfect Soldier" 17

4 From the Frying Pan into the Fire 25

5 "Build It and They Will Come" 37

6 "It's All Relative" 49

7 Fire Support Base Jay: Portent of Terror 55

8 Illingworth in the Crosshairs 67

9 "It Ain't No Laughin Matter" 77

10 "I Thought It Was the End of the World" 119

11 When Death Rained Down 143

12 Judgment Day 171

13 Repercussions and Reverberations 189

14 Epilogue 203

Acknowledgments 241

Appendices 245

Appendix 1 Letter of April 5, 1970, from Major General Elvy Roberts to General Creighton Abrams

Appendix 2 Letters That No Family Ever Wants to Receive: Some of the communications and letters that the Illingworth family received after the death of Corporal Jack Illingworth

Glossary 259

Select Bibliography 280

Index 281

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Fire Base Illingworth: An Epic True Story of Remarkable Courage Against Staggering Odds 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can i pretend being Nook Army and we can have fun wars. I had a RP like this once. Can u do tat? I can have pretend attacks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi, SkyDelta. It's been a while. Good to see you!!
jhmJM More than 1 year ago
As another reviewer has noted Mr. Keith has evidently exaggerated his military record and has a 1985 conviction for grand theft in California which was not included in his resume. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ncsam More than 1 year ago
Good read, but one should read "Black Horse Riders" first. It really sets up Keith's second book "Fire Base Illingworth" nicely.
Gburks More than 1 year ago
I was in this battle with elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. It is true and 99.9 factual. The reason I say that is ...yeah you may miss a small point. Some of the units that were there complained on Phil Keith's writing because they were not mentioned well enough. It happens! But the main issues of this battle was covered. Keith covered a lot of bases getting to the truth...including a phone con with the NVA sapper commander that launched this attack.
efm More than 1 year ago
Great writing, loved his other book also.
1-docent06 More than 1 year ago
very good read, been to some of the fire bases.
32retired More than 1 year ago
The book is a decent read, but contains factual errors.  The story is tarnished by the author's embellishment of his own military record.  Google the authors name and draw your own conclusions.