(fotos copyright dan cameron rodill)
Christmas Day, 1969 at beseiged Special Forces Camp Bu Prang in the central highlands of South Vietnam(the 'Nam, as the 'grunts' of US Infantry called it,) With a lull in a month of intense Communist shelling, a Colonel and two Doughnut Dollies from the Red Cross arrived by helicopter to greet the soldiers. These 'Redlegs' of Charley Battery, 2/17th Artillery, First Field Forces had seen Montagnard children wounded in camp and their own XO (Executive Officer). Captain Coleman killed. The Captain had visited them one day with their pay (although he didn't have to) was hit and his Sergent's leg blown off. Before he could be medevaced, Captain Coleman died in the arms of Charley Battery's radio man. Over 1400 shells had landed inside Camp Bu Prang's barbed wire perimeter. During that period the young Redlegs never failed to come out of their bunkers, man the big guns and pour fire back into those surrounding hills. They were never overrun.
MIDDLE FOTO Charley Battery and the Donut Dollies
BOTTOM FOTO. Gunners at Camp Bu Prang, enjoying some liquid refreshment after their Christmas turkey dinner etc. They were proud, "We shell like hell," but not happy about the recognition they would or would not get. It was not just that the US media at this time was far more interested in a story of American disgrace, the My Lai Massacre, than in a hundred stories of American valor and honor (I covered this story for the Saigon Post, as US editors were not interested.) Charley Battery also claimed to me that the Army would pin individual citations on the Special Forces who remained inside their bunkers during the heavy North Vietnamese bombardments, while giving the 'Redlegs' who came out and manned the guns only a group citation. What I knew for sure, despite leaning to liberal politics at the time, was that the Communists were winning the Media War and Americans were losing it. But it wasn't until almost six years later, during the Fall of Saigon, covering for CBS News after its entire staff fled in the panic of a rumored bloodbath, that I got unforgettable insight into the rules of the game. And Walter Cronkite, "America's most trusted broadcaster," was never going to broadcast it.
BOTTOM FOTO. Charley Battery and the Red Cross Doughnut Dollies