Dan Kellum 3

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Dan Kellum - Episode 3

Burns and Novick seem to dwell on the South Vietnamese and American units losses in Nam in Episode 3 which seems to be a common thread in this documentary. Also, a second president, LBJ, expresses misgivings on tape about the escalating war in Vietnam and wishes he could extricate us from it as it was dominating his term of office and it, too, conflicted with a request for more troops as an election loomed on the horizon. Again, politics somewhat affected the thinking of a sitting President. Now that's two presidents who wanted to bail on the RVN....always nice to know our leaders back home were looking for a way to put Vietnam in their rearview mirror while we're fighting for our lives and our buddies' lives in Nam. I found the story of Lt.Col. Hal Moore and war correspondent Joe Galloway well told and corresponded with Mel Gibson's portrayal of the pair in the fictional war movie citing that battle. I take exception with CBS's Morley Safer's account of the Cam Ne Incident August 3, 1965. Background leading up to this operation showed that Marines’ two companies from 1/9 swept through the Cam Ne villes losing 3 KIA and 4 WIA. 3rd Recon "Super Marines" as some folks called them sustained 8 Marines KIA from sniper fire July 12, 1965. The VC owned the area around the Cam Ne villes and had organized the villagers to construct bunkers, foxholes, punji traps and set boobytraps. A 40-man VC unit operated out of that area. So there was a history there before the Marines exited their landing vehicle tractors, LVTs August 3, 1965. Delta 1/9 consisting of three platoons got on line over a 1,000-foot front as the LVTs began to move forward through hedge rows detonating booby-traps there. The whole operation ground to a crawl as an enemy sniper downed one of their Marines and 267 punji pits were uncovered. VC were popping up in the hooches accessed by tunnels and trenches and taking potshots at them. The Marines burned the hooches down that they received sniper fire from. (NOTE: The British and later the Israelis also employed that tactic in Israel when snipers opened fire from homes on their troops....they either bulldozed the home or burned it to the ground....discouraging sniper fire.)

A television crew from WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts ran a 13-part documentary of their own in 1976 titled Vietnam: A Television History covering 1965-1967. Surely a seasoned documentary producer like Ken Burns would’ve been aware of that series on the Cam Ne Incident. The WGBH crew quoted Tran Nhat Bang, a VC cadre, as fighting there and the villagers helped them to shelter as they ran along communications trenches. Several villagers were quoted by the WGBH TV crew as losing other villagers to gunfire as the Marines returned fire from the VC cadre, according to the documentary. One woman claimed her whole family of 9 was wiped out. The WGBH interviews were not verified as far as I know. So there was an active VC presence in the Cam Ne villes and the documentary had the VC cadre taking the Marines under fire and was not long gone as Morley Safer reported. Safer reported 3 Marines were wounded due to "friendly fire."  Safer somehow came up with the number of hooches burned to the ground at 150. The Marines claimed they burned either 30 or 57 hooches while New York Times war correspondent Charlie Mohr flew over the battlefield and somehow quickly counted 300 huts burned to the ground!!!!! The Cam Ne Incident was flashed all over the TVs back home casting the Marines as the bad guys burning those poor villagers' homes as they wept. Odd how that number of hooches burned varied so wildly 30 to 57 to 150 to 300!!!!! I hope these reporters got their numbers from the Marines on the ground and didn't count the burned hooches themselves on an active battlefield full of punji pits and other dismembering boobytraps. I can't see that being the case they counted the burned hooches themselves. The Cam Ne Incident as reported by Safer peaked my interest as my first assignment in the bush was to the Cam Ne villes area with Echo 2, 2/1 so I was very familiar with the area and its paltry number of hooches standing when I arrived there in March 1970. Even then we lost some of our Marines to the ever present boobytraps the VC cadre was still planting on the trails to ruin our days on patrol.

I was disappointed in the first mention of the Vietnamese Marine Brigade citing the VC cadre annihilation of the 4th Battalion, VNMC in a well-planned ambush. I think the VNMC kicked some serious butt in later encounters with the VC/NVA and their officers were topnotch, according to my former 2/1 CO in 1970 Lt.Col. Bill Leftwich, Jr. who was a senior advisor to the VNMC in 1965. Seems like the RVN troops lost every battle they fought so far in the Novick/Burns' documentary. Even U.S. Army Lt.Col. Harold Moore's battalion seemed to fight the VC to a bloody draw in the Ia Drang Valley. (I guess 1965 is kaput for Episode 4 and the Duc Co Battle involving a newly promoted Army Maj. "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf as advisor to the Vietnamese Rangers and Marine Maj. Leftwich with the VNMC as they battled large numbers of enemy troops to save the Green Beret camp.)   I hope Novick and Burns show the RVN troops and/or the American military coming out on top in at least one battle.  The anti-war crowd circa 1960s looks very familiar to the loud marching demonstrators of today. The more things change the more they seem to remain the same. It's like there's a Demonstrations Bible for Dummies and assorted catchy sayings and rhyming words to chant while marching. Key to all this is shouting down the opposing view and never listening to reason of divergent view. Just saying......

Semper Fi, Dan Kellum

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