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Battle of Kham Duc

The Vietnam War

May 12, 1968
Battle of Kham Duc

All told, eight C-130s and C-123s flew into Kham Duc. Though two were destroyed (including Bucher’s with 200 civilians and crew), more than 600 civilians and military personnel were airlifted out, and the evacuation was thought to be complete. The command-control C-130 was in prepared to return to Da Nang, but then they learned that communications had become confused in the complex operation and the Combat Control Team who had been extracted by Cole’s C-130 were mistakenly reinserted at Kham Duc to direct airstrikes against anti-aircraft guns.


Stranded and surrounded by the enemy, the controllers—Tech Sergeant Mort Freedman and Sergeant Jim Lundie—took cover in a ditch alongside the runway where, armed with M-16s, they exchanged fire with an NVA machine gun nest that had them pinned down. Lundie later described the situation:


“[A transport landed, but] the pilot didn’t see anyone left on the ground, so he took off. We figured no one would come back and we had two choices: either be taken prisoner or fight it out. There was no doubt about it. We had 11 magazines among us and were going to take as many of them as we could.”


A C-123 piloted by Lt. Col. Alfred Jeanotte Jr. was called in to try to extract the combat controllers again. He descended steeply at high speed using a sideslip maneuver. By positioning his aircraft at an angle almost perpendicular to the ground while diving in, he minimized the breadth of the target for enemy gunners.


The plane landed amid intense groundfire. Thick smoke was billowing across the runway from a blown ammo dump, making it difficult to spot the controllers, and Jeanotte was forced to take off without them. When the crew looked back, they caught a glimpse of the men rising out of the ditch and waving frantically as they tried to catch up to the plane. Jeanotte realized he was too low on fuel to go back, but he reported where the CCT was last seen.


Another C-123 went in to get them out, and the pilot, Lt. Col. Joe Jackson, fell back on the skills that had earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross in the Korean War, when he was a fighter pilot. At 9,000 feet and rapidly approaching the airstrip, Jackson pointed the nose in a steep dive, and he too sideslipped in. Co-pilot Major Jesse Campbell reported that the plane creaked and groaned and rattled and shook as it dove. Jackson pulled back on the control column and broke the descent, leveling the plane at 100 feet, a quarter-mile from the runway. A burning helicopter blocked the runway just beyond the touch-down point. Jackson stood on the brakes and skidded to a stop just before reaching the chopper wreckage, maneuvering through the debris amid a blistering crossfire of bullets and mortars.


When Jackson finally stopped, he saw the controllers coming out of the ditch, M-16s blazing as they dashed to the plane and climbed in.


“As we were beginning to take off, a 122mm rocket came straight at us,” co-pilot Campbell later recalled. “But its trajectory was low, and it glanced off the tarmac and spun several times like a bottle before stopping just a few feet from the nose of our plane. Luckily it didn’t explode.


Jackson went around the dud rocket, slammed the throttle forward, hit the jets and took off in a steep climb. While banking hard to the left to avoid groundfire, he looked back at the airstrip and saw mortars detonating on the exact spot the plane had occupied minutes earlier. He leveled off at about 10,000 feet and headed to Da Nang. Over the command plane’s radio, one of the Air Force combat controllers was heard to say simply, “We thought we were dead and then we were alive.”


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CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF THE SILVER STAR


THE VIETNAM WAR - SOUTHEAST ASIA - THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM


SERGEANT JAMES G. LUNDIE


Sergeant James G. Lundie distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force at Kham Duc, Republic of Vietnam on 12 May 1968.


On that date, Sergeant Lundie aided the wounded, destroyed a machine gun position of the opposing force, and performed essential communications functions while under a heavy barrage of mortar, recoilless rifle, rocket, machine gun and small arms fire.


Sergeant Lundie provided these communications services from an exposed position with complete disregard for his own life. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Lundie has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF THE SILVER STAR


THE VIETNAM WAR - SOUTHEAST ASIA - THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM


TSGT. MORTON J. FREEDMAN


Technical Sergeant Morton J. Freedman distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force at the Kham Duc, Republic of Vietnam on 12 May 1968.


On that date, Sergeant Freedman aided the wounded, destroyed a machine gun position of the opposing force, and performed essential communications functions while under a heavy barrage of mortar, recoilless rifle, rocket, machine gun and small arms fire.


Sergeant Freedman provided these communications services from an exposed position with complete disregard for his own life.


By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Freedman has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.*

Operation Photos
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