Doug Abernethy and His Special Forces Platoon Move into the
Vietnam Conflict 1961
Continuing the story of his military career with the U.S. Special Forces, in May of 1961 FFB resident, Doug Abernethy, with his Special Forces (SF) platoon, are setting up radio camps in the jungles of North Vietnam in an effort to interrupt the Communist insurgency moving down from North Vietnam.
The U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam chaos began a few years after the Vietnamese overthrow of its French colonial masters in 1954. A failure of the attempt at unification of all Vietnam in 1956 set in motion another “war of national liberation” led by the North Vietnam Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, fully sponsored, armed, and equipped by the Soviet Union and Red China. In May of 1961, when it became increasingly clear that South Vietnam was losing in its efforts to stave off the incursion by the North Vietnamese forces, President John Kennedy, with the approval of the U.S. Congress, responded by sending 400 men of the U.S. Special Forcees (SF) to assist the South Vietnam military. Doug Abernethy was one of these 400 men of the SF, and just one of the many thousands of U.S. troops sent to Vietnam during the years between 1961 and 1973. The high mark was reached in 1969 when over 550,000 personnel were stationed in Vietnam.
Doug’s SF unit was tasked to set up radio communications camps on hills north of the 17th Parallel, the border between the two Vietnam entitities. These high outposts allowed for visual monitoring of North Vietnam troop movement. This information was then radioed back to the SF home bases. To reach these designated hills, the SF had to fight their way through the jungled terrain, battling squads of insurgents, snakes, bamboo spike traps, and lethal civilians aligned with the insurgents.
Upon reaching a designated hill, the SF first dug out a cave deep into the side of the hill to house the radio equipment. A flag pole was raised on the top of the hill serving as an antenna for the radio. All of this activity was done in the midst of enemy squads who, by the second day, were surrounding the radio camp with snipers and hand grenades. The SF, always outmanned but extremely resourceful in these undertakings, would sneak out at nightfall and encircle the enemy from the rear, setting up trip wires with explosives to slow down the enemy’s attack of the camp. Often, however, by the third day, the enemy was able to zero in on the camp with mortars, making immediate abandonment an absolute necessity for survival.
When a camp became “too hot,” the SF moved on to another strategic hill and the process started all over again. In Doug’s twelve months (May, 1961 to April, 1962) in the jungles and hills of North Vietnam, he participated in setting up a total of 22 such camps, with only four attaining permanent status. Many U.S. lives were lost in this undertaking. Doug was only one of nine that survived out of the original sixty SF men he started with in May of 1961.
This is not to say that this work of the SF and other U.S. military personnel did not have an important value in this task, but at the same time, it clearly underscored the need for a much larger military involvement coming from the U.S. if this insurgency was to be defeated.
Much has been said and written about the Vietnam War: whether it was a war the U.S. should have engaged in at all; whether it was even winnable; whether it was waged in a winable fashion; and if the American public deceived about important information regarding the war. Hindsight can see things much clearer than current sight, but how can anyone truly evaluate the most complex period in our history as the world was engaged in a monumental and frightening episode of pure evil threatening the freedom of people everywhere?
One truth does arise from the Vietnam experience, however, and that was the shoddy and unfair way that much of the American public treated the men and women who served their country in this war. These people served well and bravely under orders that they too did not often agree with but “soldiered on,”with the belief that they were serving to protect the freedoms of their fellow citizens.
Next time: Doug Abernethy moves on to civilian life with more battles ahead.