True Faith and Allegiance
An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc
Publication Year: 2012
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.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Title Page, Copyright
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List of Illustrations
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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This story chronicles a two- part journey that has been more of an arduous, multi-decade slog than I initially intended. The first phase of the trip took place in Vietnam a long time ago when I committed to an American promise, a national pledge that eventually turned sour. That first lap was also a great...
1. An Introduction to the Past
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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...
2. The Current State of Play
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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...
3. Welcome to Team 162 and the Vietnamese Airborne
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The Vietnamese Airborne Division’s headquarters was located inside the high perimeter fence on the military side of Tan Son Nhut Airport, a sprawling facility enmeshed in Saigon’s much more extensive sprawl. The city never even pretended to sleep. Its teeming and filthy streets were jammed with every...
4. Side Trips from the National Training Center
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The National Training Center was located in the sand dunes and salt marsh wastes about fifteen miles north of Vung Tau. Training areas spread along the beaches of the South China Sea and ran inland for miles. The headquarters area, at the end of a long gravel road, consisted of rows of decaying and sunbleached...
5. Work Call
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Life at the National Training Center was insular and self- absorbed. We had a full schedule and not much access to the outside world until the news of a sudden and dramatic North Vietnamese invasion was radioed to us on 1 April. Although details of the fighting were scanty, we were ordered to cancel the...
6. Off to War
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On 7 April we learned the 1st Airborne Brigade had been ordered to relieve the garrison defending the province capital of An Loc. The brigade would be built around the three infantry battalions that had been at the National Training Center. It would also include three artillery batteries equipped with...
7. Visiting Brass
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The paratroopers of the 8th Airborne Battalion began moving past our position at first light the following morning, well spread out on both sides of the high way as they started their search for the enemy’s next line of bunkers. They were very aware of the engagements we had fought the previous day...
8. A Media Event
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When a dusty Buick pulled off the high way and a pudgy and rumpled American in his mid- fifties hoisted himself out, I knew I was looking at another kind of veteran. The gentleman’s clothes looked like they’d been slept in and a battered straw hat was pushed back on his head. Once my visitor got his...
9. Hitting the Wall
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The day the 5th Airborne Battalion locked horns with the enemy’s first line of resistance marked the beginning of a series of battles that became more deadly as we pressed the attack. The 1st Airborne Brigade continued to spearhead the South Vietnamese army’s effort to open High way 13 by rotating one...
10. Shifting Gears
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With the armor unit’s debacle the enemy must have concluded they had a hammerlock on the 8th Airborne Battalion. The paratrooper’s were being pounded with mortar and rocket fire and enemy infantry was in the process of tightening a noose around their position. I’d been monitoring the radios...
11. From the Frying Pan into the Fire
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The several units of the 1st Airborne Brigade closed into a loose perimeter south of Chon Thanh by five o’clock that afternoon. The brigade headquarters had moved up from Lai Khe and was set up inside the newly established cluster. The artillerymen had already unhooked their guns from the trucks...
12. Rangers in Foxholes
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The delivery of the 5th and 8th Airborne Battalions, followed by the brigade command group and artillery battery, went off like clockwork on 15 April.1 The ride north gave me another good look at the whole area from the open doors of the helicopter. Just as I had observed the previous evening, the hills...
13. Trying to Not Get Overrun
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The lead rifle company was approaching the battalion’s designated defensive position later that afternoon when they surprised and killed a detachment of enemy soldiers already dug in along the railroad embankment. That unexpected delay took some time, but the battalion had organized a perimeter...
14. New Digs
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The 5th Airborne Battalion’s new defensive perimeter was quickly laid out and the soldiers started to dig in. The long- handled shovels, saws, and axes reappeared and were put to immediate use. Bunkers and fighting positions began to take shape while rubber trees were dropped and their trunks cut...
15. Airborne Rangers into the Breach
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The South Vietnamese army’s strategic reconnaissance unit was the 81st Airborne Ranger Group, a battalion- sized outfit. It was organized around teams of highly motivated and very experienced soldiers whose primary mission was to conduct long- range patrols and combat raids into the most inaccessible...
16. Tactical Arc Lights
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Arc Light was the code name for the massive attacks carried out by B- 52D Stratofortress bombers throughout the course of the Vietnam War. During the first three years I served in Vietnam I heard the thunder of Arc Light attacks being delivered many times, but they were always in the distance because...
17. The SA- 7 Missile Arrives with a Bang
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Following a series of ferocious ground attacks during the last week of April, the enemy’s pressure against the paratroopers defending the southern outskirts of the town began to slacken. Although the intensity of the ground battle was tapering off, and mortar and artillery attacks had become more...
18. To Catch a FAC
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Throughout the course of the Easter Offensive the enemy remained focused on overwhelming and destroying the garrison’s defenders. Although their initial successes had been stalled, the North Vietnamese were able to orchestrate a series of follow- on attacks that reached a crescendo on 11 and 12 May...
19. The Helicopter Lifeline Is Cut
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During the latter part of April helicopter crews were able to occasionally fly missions into the city, but they were working against an ever more lethal level of enemy fire and they paid the price. American medevac helicopters found it impossible to get close to An Loc after a courageous pickup was accomplished...
20. The Oldest Lieutenant
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While all that was going on, the North Vietnamese persisted in probing our defenses. The battalion also continued to push patrols out into the rubber plantation to demonstrate a bit of aggressive fighting spirit while confirming the location of the enemy. Every patrol went out looking for trouble and...
21. Belt- Tightening Time
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The weather remained very hot with scattered clouds and occasional light rain. Both the volume and accuracy of the enemy’s antiaircraft fire had increased steadily during the month of April as aircrews learned to their dismay when two South Vietnamese C- 123s and three American C- 130s were...
22. Moving Uptown
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It was a half- strength battalion that set about girding its loins for the next task. I didn’t have time to meet with the 8th Airborne Battalion advisors across the road, but I did have a brief radio discussion with that battalion’s senior advisor, Lieutenant Winston Cover, to be sure he knew we were pulling...
23. Sick Call in the Basement
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The battalion command group relocated into the filthy basement of a two-story house fifty yards down the street from our cramped and beleaguered bunker. We got to our new abode by running down a back alley, and arrived in an adrenalin- pumping rush with rucksacks and weapons banging against...
24. A Shattered Image
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Enemy artillery impacting inside the An Loc perimeter remained at such a level of intensity that staying alive above ground was very chancy. The battalion’s defensive lines had been adjusted so the troops could move into buildings providing some degree of protection. Fighting positions were selected...
25. Tanks in Town
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The North Vietnamese ran armor into the city on a number of occasions following their first appearance on 13 April. They often appeared without the infantry support necessary for their protection, and when they were caught roaming unprotected in the confines of the city they were vulnerable.1 Occasionally...
26. The Enemy’s Worst Nightmare Was Named Spectre
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During the course of the war the U.S. Air Force introduced a series of large, fixed- wing, multiengine gunships that provided close and accurate fire support to troops on the ground.1 From the perspective of the soldier those big gunships were a life- saving weapon that could be depended on to deliver a...
27. Disjointed Events
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Unremitting day- and- night shelling plus filthy and debilitating living conditions, bad to begin with and progressively worse over time, became the most influential aspects of my existence. Those were the core realities setting the tone for life during the battle, and I slowly began to accept an extraordinarily...
28. The Ambivalence of Leaving
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On one level I was overjoyed with the prospect of escaping the An Loc cesspool. The place was a filthy death trap and given my station in life I couldn’t count on staying barricaded in a hole as deep and secure as a brigade or division bunker. I’d used up all the luck any one person could reasonably hope...
29. Off with the Old and on with the New
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On the first morning I woke up in Colonel Taylor’s bunker, which turned out to be 20 May, a soldier told me an American helicopter was en route and intended to slip into the city. I needed to get ready to go and it didn’t take long. I was happy to find that Major Jack Todd, who had first welcomed me...
30. In Retrospect
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I returned to America angry and discouraged, suspecting the South Vietnamese had entered a downward spiral that would eventually end in their destruction. I was also becoming painfully aware that I’d been led down the garden path and left hanging as this country’s leaders did their deal with the...
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North Vietnam’s 1972 Easter Offensive presented an immediate and extremely serious threat to South Vietnam; it was also a harbinger of things to come. While the North Vietnamese enemy did not accomplish their primary objectives in the spring of 1972, they did go to school on a number of lessons that...
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About the Author, Back Cover
Publication Year: 2012