Jack Starling

They came in and said they had a volunteer program for this mission but they didn’t tell us where it was until we were ready to go over there. I have no idea why I volunteered. I wouldn’t do it again. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t excited either. You know it was just part of my job.

It was kind of awesome. It was so high on one side, they had hardly any runway. They had a landing spot for Helicopters. And it’s five thousand feet coming in from other side. So when you fly into the mountain, they come up the side. It’s foggy up there. You can’t see anything. Usually they’d just have to climb until they hit the plateau there so they could land. Once you get there, it’s just kind of jungle. A lot of trees and everything. It was 200 yards from the runway up to the RADAR site. The RADAR site being the highest point on the mountain. It didn’t bother me too much at that point because they had told us how secure the site was. After you get up there you can see how easy it could be secured. Which it wasn’t. One side, it barely had one corner that was unsafe but that was supposed to be land mined. And on the other side they had the Laotian Army and some Thai army on guard.

I knew that the North Vietnamese Army was within five miles just about all the time. But we felt secure on our own where we were. Observers came by the day it happened and said there might be an attack or something like that. We were called to a meeting up in the RADAR about five or six in the afternoon. We were in the process of grilling steaks out side the RADAR unit. While we were in the meeting the first round came in and blew the living quarters away. That kind of broke up the meeting. There was no more discussion about who was going to leave. We took cover on the opposite side of the mountain from where the rounds were hitting. Most of them went right over us. They were lobbing them in from about twenty miles away. We were pretty secure with all the rounds going over us. They couldn’t actually get to us the way they were firing. We figured this would happen in the future, but we didn’t figure there would be a land assault that night.

About four or five in the morning the rockets stopped for what seemed like an hour. Then all of a sudden, we started hearing machine-gun fire and hollering from the Vietnamese. It looked to me like there were probably a couple hundred of them out there and no Thai Army. Now I’m scared. One other guy and I were lying behind this rock that was about six feet high. They started lobbing hand grenades at us and Fred would kick them over the cliff with his foot.

Then behind us the Vietnamese started shooting everybody with machinegun fire. One of the first guys hit was hit by a hand grenade in his right arm. It was completely off. He brought me his M-16 because mine was still down in the shelter. It wouldn’t work because it was damaged by shrapnel. It had a shell jammed in it and I couldn’t get it out. About this time plains came in and started strafing. Me and another guy were laying side by side and these two Vietnamese came down ton where we were and jumped over him and landed on my ankle. I had been hit earlier by sniper fire, in the leg. When they jumped over him, they turned around and just opened up on him. How they missed me I’ll never know. On the other side of the rock about three feet away a guy was calling for help. Because of his arm he was bleeding to death. They heard him and went over and just opened up on him. I didn’t see it but I could hear it. The guy next to me had his leg over mine to keep from kind of falling over the cliff. They got him pretty good And at that point I figured I was dead. What I was afraid of started, coming around and looting, taking watches, money and stuff like that. When the aircraft passed over, the Vietnamese came over this way and then when they saw a chance to escape they got out. When they were doing all the strafing, there were two Vietnamese, running back and forth trying to keep from being shot. A helicopter came in and picked up some guys. When the generator guy went by I said, because I couldn’t walk, I’m over here. The Vietnamese started shooting at the helicopter and it had to take off.

I was by myself. It seemed like twenty hours, but it was only five or six hours. I just stayed there and kept still because I didn’t have anything to protect myself with. And then when the helicopter came in all I had was a flashlight that had different lenses on the bottom. So I held the red lens over it and was pointing it towards the chopper. He couldn’t land and had to lift me up with a line.

I felt lucky to get out and glad they came back for me.