True Faith and Allegiance: An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc is an intimate and compelling account of the most brutal infantry warfare and is also a critique of the mishandling of America’s departure from Indochina. An unintended consequence of Washington’s stampede to get out of Indochina was an upsurge in combat on a scale not seen before in Vietnam, peaking with the Easter Offensive of 1972.
The battle for An Loc, a key component in the North Vietnamese attempt to overwhelm the South, swept Mike McDermott, then the senior advisor to an elite South Vietnamese paratrooper battalion, into some of the most horrific close-quarters fighting of the war. His in-the-trenches account is augmented by detailed descriptions of a user’s perspective on the parachute resupply, tactical airpower, and B-52 strikes that allowed the An Loc garrison to survive.
True Faith and Allegiance is a riveting recounting of the prism through which a Vietnam veteran views the war as he continues to live with the aftereffects of life-altering experiences in the service of his country.
|Publisher:||University of Alabama Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Mike McDermottis a retired infantry colonel and one of the most highly decorated soldiers of the Vietnam Wartwo Distinguished Service Crosses, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars for Valor, the Purple Heart, and some thirty other awards and decorationsand served four years in combat with U.S. and Vietnamese paratrooper units. He and his wife, Chulan, live in Wyoming.
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True Faith and AllegianceAn American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc
By Mike McDermott
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 2012 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn Introduction to the Past
Raised in a small town in rural South Dakota, the eldest of five kids who grew up in a secure and supportive family nest, I was ready to spread my wings when the time came. My mother and father were very decent and honorable people, devout and sincere. They loved each other and lived out their dream of how they thought being married and creating a family should be. They valued education and recognized achievement. They set limits and enforced the rules. They also understood slackers and gave whiney behavior short shrift.
Good friends to their neighbors, my folks had a sense of humor and enjoyed life despite the daily stresses and strains of keeping it all on track. Most of the big issues, the world-class perplexities, were presented as reassuringly straightforward and clear-cut. The answers tended toward black or white with little need for ambiguity. One of the many truths my brothers and sisters and I absorbed held that America's virtues were an inspiration to human kind everywhere. We knew deep in our bones that being an American was something special. We Americans held ourselves to a higher standard. Although our leaders might occasionally reveal a human foible, they were committed to correct directions, wonderfully selfless and true. The ideals I absorbed at my parents' dinner table reflected the confidence of a triumphant post-WWII America and my patriotism developed early. It took years for cracks to appear in the worldview of my youth.
I first arrived in South Vietnam in June 1967 and joined the 1st Brigade of the famous 101st Airborne Division. My appearance was something of a homecoming; I'd previously served in the division at Ft. Campbell as an enlisted paratrooper before finishing college. Returning to the 101st reunited me with old comrades who insisted on seeking me out. They thought it hilarious to salute a former sergeant who had reappeared wearing a new lieutenant's shiny gold bars. An infantry platoon leader's job and later a rifle company commander's responsibilities were something I understood and loved doing. Serving as a company grade infantry officer in combat was a terrific adventure, providing the most soul-testing challenges and deeply fulfilling satisfactions imaginable.
When the events described in this book took place I'd just completed three years in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. Those tours entailed a lot of slogging through rice paddies and living in mountainous jungles for months at a time. I'd participated in a number of major battles to include Tet 1968 when my unit initially fought in the outskirts of Saigon before joining the battle to recapture Hue. That bloody affair was followed by a bruising campaign to clear the major road west from Hue to the A Shau Valley on the Laotian border. I was involved in other campaigns out on the Cambodian border as well as in the far northern parts of the country. In 1971 I was at Khe Sanh when the firebase and runway were reactivated for the South Vietnamese army's disastrous incursion into Laos.
During those years the harsh realities of combat were repeatedly reinforced by deadly encounters with the enemy that were always sobering and occasionally horrendous. Over time my sense of personal adventure matured and developed into a professionalism rooted in my service to the army and the nation.
I felt that my commitment, as well as the sacrifices made by many of my comrades, was validated by Washington's support for Indochina in general and South Vietnam in particular. The size and duration of this country's effort reinforced the political rhetoric; the assistance the United States provided over a series of administrations influenced my decision to commit to the long haul. As a result I found myself living out one of my mother's favorite dictums, which held that actions speak louder than words. But by late 1971, with my third tour completed, it had become crystal clear the Nixon administration was pulling the plug on Indochina. In fact America's departure had become a stampede for the exit, leaving mountains and oceans of materials for our erstwhile allies to absorb whether they were ready or able or not.
Even though the American army, to include the 101st Airborne Division, was pulling out, my fidelity to the mission remained as it had been. The purpose of the fight I'd embraced years before had not changed. A disinterested observer might have labeled me a romantic with an itch to stay in lock step with the last centurions, or just stubborn and brassbound, and perhaps there's a bit of truth to be found there. But in fact I gave my options a lot of serious thought, and after much soul searching decided that remaining involved was the right thing for me. So rather than quitting Vietnam and returning home with my unit, I volunteered to stay as an advisor with the Vietnamese Airborne Division.
Vietnamese paratroopers were justifiably recognized as elite professionals who had consistently fought the toughest battles since their creation during the earlier French Indochina War. American soldiers serving with the Vietnamese Airborne Division were members of Advisory Team 162, a small organization of dedicated professionals who fought alongside their tough and valiant Vietnamese comrades. I admired everything I knew about the Vietnamese Airborne as well as the American advisors serving with them, and I was honored to be counted among their number.
Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese enemy had been stalling the peace talks in Paris while they watched America slipping out the back door in Indochina, and they recognized a new and welcome opportunity when they saw one. In fact they were being presented with an opening hard to ignore. Having long predicted the United States didn't have the stomach to persevere, the enemy prepared a massive military invasion to be delivered on three fronts. They crafted a series of surprises intended to embarrass the weakened foreigners while possibly overwhelming the Saigon government, and their offensive arrived as a rude shock for both the Americans and the South Vietnamese.
But those battles were still to come. In January 1972 South Vietnam was enjoying a period of relative tranquility. The countryside was more secure and peaceful than it had been for years even though everyone there understood the war was not over. Unknown to me, North Vietnam was even then busily shifting large conventional forces to include artillery and armor units into their base areas along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South. They were working equally hard to move the same kinds of forces down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and into their sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, areas immediately adjacent to South Vietnam's western borders.
The lull in the war came to a sudden and dramatic end when the North Vietnamese launched their attacks during the last week of March 1972. They opened a spectacular new chapter in the war that proved to be a serious up-shift from previous levels of ground combat. Because of the timing, their campaign soon became known as the Easter Offensive and quickly developed into a series of full-blown and bloody slugging matches. The enemy managed to seize and hold some territory, but their larger strategic goal of ending the war by seizing Saigon was frustrated by a South Vietnamese army that defended the strategic approaches to the capital with tenacity. A critically important element in the defender's equation was a cadre of American advisors backed up by a massive volume of American air power; that extraordinarily effective team made all the difference for South Vietnam.
As the full scope of the Easter Offensive began to unfold, the soldiers of the Vietnamese Airborne Division and their American advisors were ordered into the very eye of the typhoon. The Vietnamese paratroopers I served with seemed to initially view the developing battles as just another chapter in a long and drawn-out war with no foreseeable end. For many of the American advisors, particularly those veterans who had served multiple combat tours, the opening rounds of the offensive looked a bit like what Yogi Berra once described as deja vu all over again. Very quickly, however, the size, intensity, and lethality of those new battlefields promised combat on a dramatically elevated level. As the war was beginning to fade from televisions in the United States, the last American soldiers to fight in Vietnam were engulfed in a series of high-intensity battles exceeding anything previously experienced in that war.
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, or their battlefield prospects.
I have included the names of several participants in these vignettes, men I became acquainted with during the battle for An Loc. Military ranks mentioned are as of the spring of 1972. While it was tempting to create conversations to dramatize and personalize some of the events described, I resisted the urge to put words in anyone's mouth. In fact I'm not at all sure what I might have said forty years ago either.
As I think back to those days of commitment and action it's hard to believe so much time has passed since I last saw Vietnam, the place where I pledged myself to a righteous cause and where I and so many others were betrayed by the American government. Over the years I've learned the ghosts may slumber, but they cannot die.
Chapter TwoThe Current State of Play
I can hear rain on the skylight. Not hard, but persistent, but that's not what woke me. I always come awake in our bedroom totally alert, every night, no fuzziness, no confusion. I know exactly where I am and what's around me even though it's dark. My wife, my delicately beautiful Chulan, is within easy reach under the covers. I can hear and feel her breathing. What a marvelous security I have found with her. A wondrous comfort, but it's 3:00 A.M. and it's time for me to move.
I need to patrol the perimeter. There was a time, not so long ago, when I would slip through the alley door and be out in the yard. I would find myself on the quiet nighttime sidewalks, standing beside a tree, scanning. But things have changed over the past couple of years, my patrols have narrowed. My Chulan has made me a gift of great value. She has introduced me to a new sense of wellness, slowly growing, becoming more solid, more complete. The rain has begun to pound and the yard is swimming, the patio and streets are alive with bouncing water. One of my current posts is at the side of the dining room window, another at the edge of the back door. Loaded with hollow points, my snub-nose pistol pulls at the pocket of my bathrobe, never needed but always ready. I'm standing right next to the rain, a foot from the downpour, dry and warm, not lying soaked and chilled in the jungle. I watch the shadows in the back yard, and although I wait, nothing moves.
Back up the stairs with the bedroom door relocked behind me. Finding the warmth of my wife in the center of our special private place, pulling the feather comforter over us both, stretching full length and grinning with the miracle of my deliverance, my good fortune. Chulan's small warm feet move and find me. She's deep in sleep, my loving and trusting woman, but still offering the reassurance we both seek.
We first met in the ancient city of Zibo, a historic center for ceramics on the Yellow River floodplain south of Beijing. Chulan had been a progeny in her father's work unit, the first girl selected to attend an engineering university since Liberation in 1949. I was floundering in the aftermath of a disastrously painful divorce, but had traveled to China as something of an act of faith and taken the train down from Beijing. It was during the Chinese New Year's Festival and the train was crowded. Chulan greeted me at the station and took me to her parish church. She wanted me to meet her community of Catholic friends, good people who were expecting us.
The taxi stopped on a side street under construction and we threaded our way between piles of dirt and sewer pipe to a narrow gate in a concrete wall. Once inside the churchyard we saw the priest holding court with a small circle of parishioners, sitting out of the wind on plastic chairs. Someone in the group pointed us out as we stepped through the gate and Father Goh came trotting, arms spread wide in greeting. Middle aged and chubby in a tattered cassock and worn-out shoes, he was a survivor of work camps, the abuses of the Cultural Revolution, and the years of repression before the churches were allowed to reopen. He embraced and blessed Chulan and welcomed me into his world of faith. We'd brought a fancy wicker basket of oranges that was quickly passed to a Sister for distribution. Holding my hands, Father Goh wanted to know if I'd ever visited Chicago. He asked that the next time I was there to please tell the priests, who had first established his parish, to remember and return. He needs them, and he prays for them daily.
And finally, after repeated trips to China, Chulan agreed to join me in America. We were married in the presence of my children with a Jesuit friend officiating, and much has happened since that memorable day. Although Chulan had studied English for years in China, she had only spoken with other Chinese and wanted to improve her language skills at a local community college. Those first academic efforts in a new society, struggling with an ever more complex level of vocabulary and usage, quickly expanded into mastering the prerequisites for a more ambitious goal. Her math and science professors were impressed by her abilities and encouraged her to consider an advanced degree. Chulan applied for admittance to two Doctor of Pharmacy programs. She was interviewed by both, and accepted by both, and that triumph introduced me to another level of my new wife's abilities. It also pointed the next step in our journey together.
Chulan is my perfect counter. She has brought a balanced insight, a steadiness of purpose, a reminder of life's riches, a renewal of spiritual joy, a reaffirmation of the timeless values I had abandoned. She has fostered and nurtured a process of healing in my life, something I despaired of ever accomplishing on my own. Chulan has convinced me that I am trusted. She loves and accepts me. She allows me to love and protect her in return. I can be a responsible husband without the drama of false competitions and silly accusations I'd come to associate with marriage. She finds pleasure and humor in daily events and relationships, and she looks to the future with great faith. I recognized her and wanted her in my life on the very first day we met, and now I am able to sleep after securing the perimeter.
I know my life should be easier at this point, my spirit less troubled and my emotions less conflicted. I should have found some of the serenity that age and experience is supposed to grant, but that's not the way it is. I'm on edge, waiting for the unexpected, the sudden problem I must be prepared to immediately jump on and fix. I'm ready for the intruder, the oncoming car wandering across the centerline, the hidden hole, ceaselessly alert to all the dangers my mind is forever creating. My overworked mind, constantly one jump ahead of the mundane reality that never produces the emergencies I'm primed to confront. But when the door slams or the phone jars me, I'm tensed for the fight, heart hammering, measuring and ready to nail the threat.
Underlying and nurturing these symptoms is a deeper and in many ways a much more serious issue, one that has eaten away at me for years. When I was young I committed to a life-changing experience by acting on an invitation to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty. I accepted that call to action broadcast by a president to a receptive nation. By taking that fateful step I, along with tens of thousands of my generation, embraced an obligation of service, a career of duty that for me found its initial focus in America's war in Vietnam.
Excerpted from True Faith and Allegiance by Mike McDermott Copyright © 2012 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xi
1 An Introduction to the Past 1
2 The Current State of Play 5
3 Welcome to Team 162 and the Vietnamese Airborne 9
4 Side Trips from the National Training Center 15
5 Work Call 20
6 Off to War 25
7 Visiting Brass 32
8 A Media Event 38
9 Hitting the Wall 40
10 Shifting Gears 46
11 From the Frying Pan into the Fire 51
12 Rangers in Foxholes 55
13 Trying to Not Get Overrun 59
14 New Digs 68
15 Airborne Rangers into the Breach 74
16 Tactical Arc Lights 77
17 The SA-7 Missile Arrives with a Bang 81
18 To Catch a FAC 86
19 The Helicopter Lifeline is Cut 91
20 The Oldest Lieutenant 94
21 Belt-Tightening Time 97
22 Moving Uptown 106
23 Sick Call in the Basement 114
24 A Shattered Image 119
25 Tanks in Town 121
26 The Enemy's Worst Nightmare Was Named Spectre 129
27 Disjointed Events 134
28 The Ambivalence of Leaving 145
29 Off with the Old and on with the New 150
30 In Retrospect 157
Appendix 1 165
Appendix 2 168
Appendix 3 169
Appendix 4 171
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In full disclosure, I must admit I'm not an impartial reviewer. I served under Mike McDermott in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, served with the ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam), and was in Saigon during the Battle of An Loc. My review must be taken with a grain of salt. OVERVIEW: Ask an American to name a battle in the Vietnam War and you will probable hear Tet, Khe Sanh or maybe Hamburger Hill. None will recall An Loc. The Battle of An Loc has been forgotten because it was fought for the most part by Vietnamese since most Americans had departed the war torn country by 1972. Only a few US military personnel remained to support the ARVN in what became the dress rehearsal for the final battle of the Vietnam War three years later. Army Captain Mike McDermott was among the few. He served as an American adviser with a Vietnamese airborne battalion in the thick of the battle. Since the Vietnamese were battle hardened, there was little McDermott could offer in the way of advice. What he did provide was a rain of fire from above provided by US Air Force and Army aircraft. True Faith and Allegiance is his account of the battle from the ground-level point of view of an airborne infantryman. BEST: This 187 page book provides two services. First, McDermott provides a great combat narrative of the flow of battle including movement of the units to the forward battlefield, resupply of water and ammunition, construction of defensive positions, employment of close air support, and lastly burial of the dead. Details are not overlooked or glossed over. This is not a Hollywood version of the fight. You can feel the heat, sweat, and sacrifice as the soldiers face almost certain death. Second, Mike McDermott provides something missing from most American accounts of the Vietnam War. He describes the professionalism, dedication, and valor of the Vietnamese soldiers. They would readily move forward into high grass looking for an elusive enemy machine gun with no hesitation. WORST: This is the personal experiences of one American airborne infantryman. It doesn't cover the entire Easter Offensive as the larger battle across Vietnam was named. The enemy side of the story is only told in North Vietnam body found after the battle ended. This is a powerful book, but it could have been better if doubled in size and analysis. CONCLUSION: The most profound aspect of this book is found by reading between the lines. Of the Americans who served in Vietnam, some were drafted, some volunteered, some like me served for the money and adventure, some served to "punch a ticket" for the next rank promotion, but a few served because they were dedicated to the purpose of the Vietnam War. As John F. Kennedy said, "...we shall ...meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." Mike McDermott believed those words and dedicated his life to fulfilling the promise of liberty to the people South Vietnam.
This story has been perking with McDermott for a very long time and it was well worth the wait; take it from somebody who has known this guy for over 45 years. Don't miss it!