|335th Radio Research Company
Courtesy of Ron Palfrey
|Subject: 9th Infantry Division
From: RGPalfrey at aol.com
To: dunlap at umbi.umd.edu
Paul - we must know each other..
Yes, as far as I know you are entitled to wear these citations since you were assigned to the 335th when they were in direct support of the 9th Infantry Division.
I'm glad you asked about Cambodia. It's as clear to me as if it happened yesterday. You're the first and only one to ever ask about this ultra-secret mission. It goes something like this...
There was no word of an invasion. I was real short, and due to DEROS in June. My bunkmate, Ron Horn, heard that command wanted two volunteers for a top-secret mission inside Cambodia. So, he told me about it, since it concerned the elements that I had been copying since first I got to the 335th. I was the senior and most knowledgeable person concerning the M0078's (1st, 7th and 23rd NVA Regulars and 9th VC Division) for their movement and location. We went to Major Holbert and asked him about the mission. He told us that we would be at great risk. Ron and I said, "What the hell!" and we volunteered for the mission.
Our gear was to be at the chopper pad in Can Tho at 0430 on April 28. On the morning of the 28th at a few minutes after 2400 hours, our unit, along with others, took some incoming rounds for about an hour. As a precaution, members of our unit stayed in a concrete bunker for the remainder of the night, as Can Tho was an unusual set-up. (We were billeted in the Bien Xemoi (bar district) of Can Tho, approximately 10 miles from the Can Tho Army Airfield.) At 0400 hours a CQ runner came into the bunker looking for me. Finding me leaning against the bunker wall puffing on a cigarette, he said it was time to go to the Airfield. I met Ron at the airfield. The CQ went to our quarters, extracted our gear, so it was waiting for us when we arrived at the airfield.
At 0430 hours, a string of Hueys arrived with returning night patrols back from the field. It is now our turn. We on-load everything from the Hueys, and we start off on the mission. We fly for approximately an hour and 45 minutes up the Mekong River, to an unknown destination. I sat in the machine gunners seat - without a safety strap - looking straight into space, nothing between me and the wild blue yonder inches away. I was white knuckled and the collar on my shirt gave my face the worst case of windburn caused from flapping in the wind.
Finally, we arrive at our destination. The largest gunboat armada ever assembled in history! For as far as you could see, looking up and down the Mekong - there were gunboats! Finding our gunboat wasn't easy. As we moved from gunboat to gunboat, the pilot was trying to make radio contact. He would bank left, then bank to the right. I would almost fall out of the helicopter every time he banked right! The gunner sitting next to me slept the entire way to our destination, however now he was now very awake. He had his 60 trained on the shoreline as we searched for our debarkation. The chopper pilot eventually got frustrated with all the Gooks and off-loaded us onto the USS Pellelieu. The USS Pellelieu, was converted by the US Navy into a troop ship for this specific invasion. Later, on the first day, we met the remainder of our four-man team, one CIA agent, and one NSA agent. Together, the four of us set up shop on the USS Pellelieu and quickly went to work as the armada moved slowly up the Mekong River -- ultimate destination, Phenom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia.
The Gooks got word that we were coming, so they ran. We went deeper and deeper up the Mekong River into the Cambodian jungle. My job was to find the intended targets. Two days went by and nothing. Finally our team moved onto a gunboat for more maneuverability.
Our first contact was made on the third day with a rear guard of the 7th NVA. We sent in the Vietnamese Marines. In a skirmish that lasted approximately 20 minutes, the marines took 25 KIA and 12 WIA. The enemy body count was five.
Our next enemy contact came a day later when we sent in the Air Force. They blew the shit out of a pagoda and only found one antenna. By now we are approximately 17 miles inside Cambodia, since moving from our staging area just inside the Vietnamese border.
Silence ensues for us, as many elements of our armada engage elements of the enemy all up and down the Mekong River. Rolling thunder is used on two occasions that feels like it will jar your teeth right out of your head. Constant enemy rounds are landing into the water around us. We have orders to shoot anything floating down river, since it might be an explosive device - sometimes there was. The most disheartening thing was that the Cambodians, in retaliation, killed any Vietnamese they could get their hands on. Bodies were filling up this huge river. Decapitated bodies, bound bodies, and body parts. They are riddled with blasts to ensure they are not packing explosives.
On the eighth day, a unit of the 9th/MRF captures a VC prisoner. He is put on display before he disappears for a week, except for interrogation, inside a sweatbox, otherwise known as a Connex. This is placed in the baking sun where the inside must exceed at least 150 degrees. When the interrogators are through interrogating him, they kill him by throwing him overboard and unloading their weapons on him. He is just another body in the river.
Many things were appalling. For instance, the invasion uncovered vast stores of rice. These were airlifted to the Can Tho Army Airfield and lined the runway from one end to the other, and were approximately 15 to 20 feet high! They sat there and rotted under the hot sun without any of the rice being given to the people who may have needed it!
The arms that were captured in Cambodia was just staggering! One of our units was sweeping hooch's about 18 clicks in when they came upon a hill that was hollowed out and camouflaged. The hill was uncovered, and inside were TWO 350 millimeter cannons! It was Chinese made with wooden-spoke wheels about 15 high!
While in Cambodia, we took on early members of the Khmer Rouge and also the Chinese Regulars.
On the 12th day, we were ashore setting up when we came under fire from another rear guard unit that was waiting for us. I sustained wounds from an RPG round but the Navy successfully extracted us after a brief fire-fight in which six of the enemy was killed. We lost 2 grunts that were with us.
We were brought out after getting 19 clicks inside the Cambodian border on May 20th (I believe). The USS Pelleleiu was on 24 hours General Quarters. During Nixon's admission of the Cambodian invasion from three (3) major points ( Parrots Beak, Crow's Nest and the Mekong River) on May 2nd, 1970 (we went in sooner), he also stated that the invasion would not go beyond Phenom Penh (20.2 clicks), the capitol, and that our troops would only be in Cambodia for 45 days. All troops were removed by June 30, 1970. The mission on the surface was to flush the enemy and capture as much of it reserves as possible in that time period. Any resistance would be dealt with catastophically. In 30 days it made Vietnam look like a conventional war compared to Cambodia. The chaos was unimagineable! And the gore. But, we DEFINITELY messed them up!!!
I'll stop here, because this is making me queasy. There are things that happened to me that I have not mentioned or won't talk about in detail. John Trask remembers me telling him about how I hid in a metal locker on gunboat as I was being moved because no one was supposed to know our team was there. There are other things, which looking back, were quite perilous.
It was a good reunion for John and I when we got back to base camp. He was my best buddy, my stargazer buddy. He still is. He begged me not to go, thinking I wouldn't come back. But, he was visibly relieved when I did. I was put in for a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for being stupid. During my stateside tour at Fort Hood, I received both medals in a ceremony at the 202nd ASA Co. headquarters in November 1970.
Anybody who REALLY did work with the Mobile Riverine Force while with the 335th, I would love to hear from them. I have one roll of pictures taken during the invasion and have tried to preserve them over the years. They are kinda faded now but you still get the idea.
Well Paul, thanks for being an eye for this. Hope it helps. I know it helps me...