The Surrender of Camp Carroll
|As I find interesting information about the places we were at in Vietnam if I think
they merit space I'll post it.
I thought we all would find it informative with what happened to Camp Carroll
especial since we lost fellow Marines there.
Surrender at Camp Carroll
The North Vietnamese made no secret of the fact that they intended to take Camp
Carroll. An entire artillery regiment, along with supporting infantry, had made the initial
thrust from the west, easily overrunning Firebase Khe Gio and pressing ahead of the
units assigned to capture Nui Ba Ho and Sarge. Some of the earliest shots fired during
the opening hours of the Easter Offensive on 30 March were aimed at Camp Carroll.
For the South Vietnamese, the bombardment instilled fear and chaos. Disorganized
masses of troops from the 56th ARVN Regiment rushed for the relative safety of Camp
Carroll, making a mockery of the troop rotation begun around noon. An hour later, about
1,800 soldiers poured into the base, and the rest of the regiment fled to parts unknown.
In the midst of chaos, Lieutenant Colonel Pham Van Dinh, the regimental commander,
tried hard to contact his battalion commanders, but few answered over the radio.
Lieutenant Colonel Dinh had once been a hero in the South Vietnamese Army. During the
1968 TET Offensive he earned the sobriquet "Young Lion" when he personally placed
South Vietnam’s colors back atop the citadel in Hue after his unit helped wrest the
ancient city back from the North Vietnamese. But glowing praise and a hero’s reputation
seemed to have corroded Dinh’s leadership abilities. Once a trim fighter in an
immaculate uniform, by 1972 he had become a pudgy man, more politician than soldier,
putting his efforts into playing the intricate power games of the I Corps command system
rather than attending to the war. Military affairs were left to his executive officer, the
xenophobic Lieutenant Colonel Vinh Phong, a man known for his dislike of American
advisers.Lieutenant Colonel William Camper was the senior American (there were only
two) assigned to the 56th ARVN Regiment. Camper was not thrilled at being stuck in a
tough spot with a unit not known for its bravery and competence. But Camper was
probably the most experienced combat adviser on Advisory Team 155. He had first
served with the 2d ARVN Regiment in 1964 and 1965. Back in Vietnam again in 1972 he
was again assigned to his old unit, but the division senior adviser decided that the newly
formed 56th ARVN Regiment was more in need of an adviser than the veteran 2d ARVN
Regiment. So Camper found himself with a green unit caught flatfooted in the middle of
an artillery bombardment, sitting on the most crucial piece of real estate in western
Quang Tri Province.
For two days he had sweated it out, enduring a constant bombardment, which damaged
most of the radio equipment and all of the generators. Camper had a backpack radio
which allowed him to talk with his superiors at the Team 155 command bunker, but even
that was undependable because artillery rounds shredded his outside antenna on a
regular basis. A low curtain of dense clouds kept most of the fighter planes or helicopter
gun ships on the ground back in Danang. Air support was limited to B-52’s, but there
were not enough of the big bombers to go around. To make matters worse, since there
were no American advisers at the battalion level, Camper had no clear idea of the 56th
ARVN Regiment’s overall condition. Could the soldiers stand up to a concerted infantry
assault? Would they even try?From a defensive point of view Camp Carroll was a
formidable stronghold. Situated in the low foothills hugging the eastern slopes of the
Annamite Mountains, the firebase controlled the terrain for fifteen miles in all directions.
Behind a ring of heavy timbers, sandbags, and rolls of razor wire squatted a network of
reinforced bunkers and one of the most awesome arrays of artillery in all of I Corps. A
battery of 175mm howitzers, one of the biggest field artillery pieces in the world, had
been left by the last elements of the 101st Airborne Division when they departed in early
March 1972. In all, Camp Carroll boasted twenty-two artillery pieces, including 155mm and
105mm batteries, plus scores of heavy machine guns and small arms positions. Camp
Carroll was clearly the best hope for a strong stand on Quang Tri Province’s
northwestern front so it came as no surprise when General Giai ordered the 56th ARVN
Regiment to hold at all costs.Camper was more concerned about the fate of his deputy
adviser than about General Giai’s orders. Major Joseph Brown, the only other American
assigned to the regiment, had been with the supply column during the opening salvo on
30 March and he had not been seen since. Late at night on 1 April Camper got good
news: Major Brown and part of the supply train had managed to evade North Vietnamese
units and enter Camp Carroll from the east. The tattered remnants of a battalion, which
had been overrun at Khe Gio Firebase earlier in the day, also wandered in. Khe Gio was
one of the first defensive positions to fall in the gathering storm of North Vietnamese
divisions to the west. Though there was little to celebrate, the two advisers settled down
in their dank bunker lit only by a sputtering candle, opened a pair of warm Cokes, one of
the few luxuries left in the camp, and pondered the future.At dawn the next day, Easter
Sunday, the pressure increased. Infantry probes from the north and west suddenly
merged into three all-out
Assaults as the 24th NVA Regiment hurled itself at Camp Carroll. But the enemy found
that the base was not as easy to crack as the tiny firebases they had so easily trampled in
the preceding two days and by noon the attacks had died down.
"Happy Easter," said Major Brown dryly during a lull in the fighting. Over cups of warm C-
ration coffee the two officers toasted the holy day as three 130 mm artillery rounds
crashed into the compound. In between artillery rounds, the advisers decided to check
the perimeter. Camper and Brown shrugged into their flak jackets and stepped outside.
A light drizzle cloaked the base, shrouding the silent South Vietnamese artillery
positions in a ghostly gray pall. Nothing moved; whatever South Vietnamese soldiers
were manning the perimeter had dug in as deep as they could, hoping to escape the
artillery and the rain. The advisers scurried from bunker to bunker, pausing to talk with
the frightened soldiers and doing what they could to help out.
As they toured the perimeter a FAC came up on the radio saying he had two Air Force
fighters overhead; did Camp Carroll need them? Camper pondered the offer a moment.
The low clouds made tactical air support a rarity, but since the enemy had battered
firebases to the southwest which were barely clinging to life. Camper thumbed his radio
receiver: "Send them to someone who needs them more."
"Roger," replied the FAC, then the radio sputtered and went dead. The silence after a
conversation with a FAC was always a little depressing, thought Camper. The
disembodied voice on the radio seemed like a long lost friend calling at a time of dire
need. Without a doubt FAC’s were a vital lifeline between the vulnerable advisers on the
ground and the awesome cudgel of American aerial firepower.The advisers turned back
to the South Vietnamese, many of whom were wounded, though none seriously. Brown
knelt down to dress a dirty shoulder wound on one man as Camper attended to some
shrapnel in the leg of another. Looking around, the two advisers noticed that there were
no officers to be seen anywhere. "Have you seen any ARVN officers lately?" questioned
Lieutenant Colonel Camper.
"Not since the last attack began. I wonder what they’re up to. They haven’t asked us for
any help, which is sort of strange," replied Brown.Turning to the wounded soldier
Camper asked, "Where is your dai uy, your captain?" The man only shrugged, and then
grimaced in pain as Camper tightened the dressing. He replied that he hadn’t seen any
of the company officers in two or three hours, not since the last round of fighting began.
Back at their bunker a few hours later, Camper was still perplexed by the mysterious
disappearance of the South Vietnamese officers. Whatever the answer, it probably lay
with Colonel Dinh over at the regimental command post. With a habitual pause at the
bunker entrance to listen for incoming rounds, they sprinted across the open ground to
the command bunker.
Standing in the covered entrance of the big regimental bunker was Lieutenant Colonel
Vinh Phoy, Dinh’s executive officer. Camper and Brown saluted, but Phoy ignored them.
It was no secret that Camper and Phoy hated each other; in fact Phoy despised all
Americans. Camper characterized their relationship as being "like matches and
gasoline.""We’re looking for Colonel Dinh. Is he around?" asked CamperLieutenant
Colonel Phoy did not answer for a second, letting his disdain for the foreigners show
clearly. When he finally spoke. His words were short and crisp: "The colonel is in a staff
Camper and Brown glanced at each other. Advisers were supposed to be present at staff
meetings. They moved for the door, but Phoy blocked the way. "The colonel does not
wish to be disturbed," he said.
The Americans knew further argument was futile so they turned to go back to their
bunker. In an attempt to remain polite, Camper looked back over his shoulder as the left
and told the arrogant executive officer, "I’ll check back later."At about noon the
desultory bombardment ceased altogether leaving the South Vietnamese to wonder
what was next. At 2:00 PM Colonel Dinh emerged from the command bunker and strolled
over to see Camper and Brown. The advisors saw him coming and went out to greet him;
Camper could see that Dinh looked grave so the news had to be bad. Just how bad, he
could never have guessed.
The two Americans saluted smartly. Dinh wasted no time getting what was on his mind
out in the open. "Everyone refuses to fight, " he said softly, gazing down at his feet. "I
tried to bolster their spirit, but they want to surrender.
Camper was shocked. Even in his wildest nightmares he never imagined anything like
this. It was a disaster. He tried to reason with the demoralized commander, to tell him
that together they could talk the officers into fighting, but Dinh just shook his head. "No
one will fight. I shot one man to persuade the others to fight, but they will not. I have
been in touch with the National Liberation Front Forces and they have promised to treat
my men well. This is the only way to prevent more death." Almost as an afterthought Dinh
said, "Do you want to surrender with us?"
"NO," was all Lieutenant Colonel Camper could say. This explained the sudden halt in the
enemy artillery bombardment, thought camper. He wanted to kill this coward standing
before him. Although Dinh insisted that he had tried to get his men to fight, Camper
doubted it. Hell, it was probably his idea to surrender, thought Camper.
Dinh offered the Americans another option. "You and Major Brown can hide among our
troops as they go outside the gate you can fall into the tall grass and crawl away." Dinh
was trying to show his counterpart that he was not panicking, that the decision to
surrender had been reached rationally. After all, thought Dinh, General Giai had left him
no choice but surrender. He had ordered the decimated regiment to hold at all costs,
even though there was no possibility of reinforcement.
Camper shook his head. No, that was not acceptable. He and Brown would find some way
out of the camp on their own. Then Colonel Dinh made an even more ridiculous offer. "If
it will save face, we can commit suicide tighter," he offered.
Camper was repelled by the thought. "Americans don’t do that," he replied. Quickly
changing the subject, Camper pointed out there were still a few operational light tanks in
the camp; two of them mounted with 40mm cannons, called Dusters, that could be used
to spearhead a breakout. Perhaps they could link up with the defenders at Mai Loc just
to the south. An element of South Vietnamese Marines and their American advisors were
still there, at this time relatively untouched by the North Vietnamese.Dinh shook his
head. "It will not work," he muttered.
Camper was furious, but he could not show it now. Rage contributed nothing to the
situation; all that mattered was getting out of Camp Carroll. He and Major Brown were on
their own. "Colonel, we wish you luck," Camper said as he prepared to leave. "Major
Brown and I will take care of ourselves from this moment on. We can no longer advise
you, and you no longer have any responsibility to us. You must do what you thing is best
and we will do the same."
Dinh nodded in understanding. He had one request, however. "Please do not tell
General Giai that I am surrendering," he implored.
What an infuriating group of people, thought Camper. They were so fatalistic that they
would rather surrender than fight, but they still regarded saving face as paramount. He
felt the anger welling up again, and had to consciously stop himself from bringing his
rifle in line with the coward’s chest and pulling the trigger. But even if the other South
Vietnamese officers did not kill him for such a rash act, he would still have accomplished
nothing, as Lieutenant Colonel Vinh would carry through with the surrender anyway."I’m
not concerned about General Giai. All I care about is us." Camper gestured toward Major
Brown as he spoke. "I will call my senior officer and notify him of what is happening."
Dinh nodded, then turned on his heel and walked back to the command bunker. The
other officers followed. For a moment Camper and Brown watched them, with the gray
mist an appropriately somber backdrop for the incredible events unfolding at Camp
Carroll. The Americans returned to their bunker to come up with a plan of their own.
As Brown destroyed classified documents and gathered up gear and ammunition for the
escape, Camper radioed his superiors at the Team 155 headquarters in Ai Tu, the 3d
ARVN Division forward headquarters northwest of Quang Tri City. He was vague on the
radio, not wanting to give anything away to the enemy who was certainly monitoring the
airwaves. The fact that Colonel Dinh had managed to quietly negotiate surrender with
the North Vietnamese was strong evidence that there was plenty of American radio
equipment in enemy hands.
"The American advisers at Camp Carroll are no longer needed with the 56th Regiment.
We are leaving the perimeter for Mai Loc at once," he said cryptically, then waited for the
The call came in to Ai Tu just after 3:00 PM. The radioman at the division bunker asked for
clarification. "What’s the reason for your departure?" he asked."Can’t say over the
radio," was the reply.Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley, the U.S. Marine officer suddenly
left in command of the 3d ARVN Division forward advisory base at Ai Tu, heard the
message and was furious. There was enough to worry about without a couple of damned
Army officers trying to bug out when the situation got hot. He snatched the radio handset
and barked his orders.
"Damn it, Colonel, stay at your post and do your job."
Camper was a bit taken aback but it was an order from a superior. "Roger. Out." He put
down the radio and nodded knowingly to Brown.
Lieutenant Colonel Turley immediately realized he had violated the unwritten "adviser’s
code" by ordering Camper to remain at his post. Only the man on the ground could
accurately judge the combat situation, and since there were so few Americans left in the
chain of command, it was imperative that decisions be left to the adviser in the field.
Turley was under great pressure in his unwanted position as acting senior adviser and
he had made the wrong call.Despite the direct order, neither man intended to stay in
Camp Carroll. Major Brown continued to dump kerosene on everything that was to be
left behind. Gathering up their weapons and gear and putting them just outside the
bunker, Camper then ignited several thermite grenades and threw them inside. The
white-hot explosion set off the kerosene and soon the bunker was burning brightly.
Two South Vietnamese radio operators asked to go along with the Americans. They had
been assigned to Camper by Dinh, and the men had formed a good relationship. The
more men the better reasoned Camper, especially if they would fight and he felt certain
that these men would.
South Vietnamese officers were slowly moving from bunker to bunker, rousting out the
frightened soldiers. They moved toward the center of the perimeter and milled around
waiting for orders. What a tragedy, thought Camper. Camp Carroll was not in bad shape
and could probably hold its own against the present North Vietnamese onslaught.
Despite the mauling they had taken during the troop shuffle on 30 March, 1,800 soldiers
inside the perimeter was a strong force. Then there was the artillery batteries which
could easily batter the enemy, if only the South Vietnamese gunners would emerge from
their holes and fire them. They seemed willing enough to come out in order to surrender.
The Americans and their two South Vietnamese compatriots were saddled up and ready
to go. Each had shed all but the most essential equipment, keeping mostly ammunition
and water. At 3:20 PM Camper radioed Ai Tu once more. His message was more specific
this time, his voice more adamant. There was nothing left to hide. "We’re leaving Camp
Carroll," said Camper. It was a statement, not a request. "The Base commander wants to
surrender. The white flag is going up in ten minutes."Camper had a final word with the
regimental operations officer, the only South Vietnamese in the camp who spoke good
English. With nothing left to lose, and still insulted at being deceived by Colonel Dinh,
Camper spoke his mind freely. "You don’t know what you are doing," he explained. "You
are a coward and should come with us and we will fight our way out." The man simply
bowed his head and said he had to follow orders. They were the last words Camper
spoke to any South Vietnamese officer from the disgraced regiment.The four men walked
down the low hill from their bunker toward the southeastern edge of the perimeter,
moving through groups of soldiers stacking their weapons in piles as officers stood
silently by. Camper tried not to look. Nothing was more repugnant to a professional
military man than cowardice. And at Camp Carroll it was especially demoralizing because
there was no reason to surrender. It reminded him of a movie he had seen as a
youngster about the American surrender to the Japanese at Corrigedor in the early days
of World War II. Poor leadership was the only explanation for what was happening.
Camper tried to stop thinking about it as he and the other three began cutting a cap
through the jagged coils of sharp razor wire.
Fire Support Base Mai Loc lay almost two miles due south of Camp Carroll, but it might as
well have been `100 miles away. Just outside the perimeter lay a network of mines, and
beyond that, the enemy. As the small group neared the outer ring of concertina wire the
North Vietnamese spotted them. The enemy had refrained from firing on Camp Carroll as
the surrender was proceeding, but escape was not to be permitted. Some of the North
Vietnamese – Camper estimated about a company – moved to cut off the retreat. As they
closed, Major Brown and the two South Vietnamese radiomen opened fire: Camper
reached for the radio and called Ai Tu."We’re pinned down just outside the perimeter,"
yelled Camper over the staccato bursts of his teammates’ rifles. Major "Jimmy" Davis,
the Team 155 operations officer answered the call. By the time, everybody at Ai Tu was
aware of the touch-and-go situation up at Camp Carroll and safety of the American
advisers was paramount.Fortune smiled on the besieged quartet huddled like insects
caught by a rising storm they could not possibly hope to stand against. A combination of
lucky timing by a re-supply helicopter and quick thinking on the part of the radio
operators at Ai Tu intervened against fate and snatched the advisers from certain death.
"There’s a Chinook lifting ammunition to the Marines at Mai Loc in the air. I’ll try to get
him," said Captain Amery, one of the Team 155 operations watch team manning the radios.
The CH-47 cargo helicopter was approaching Mai Loc with a badly needed load of 105mm
howitzer rounds for the desperate defenders, and it was pure chance the radiomen were
able to find the correct frequency.
"We’ve got two Americans at Camp Carroll who need your help. The ARVN are
surrendering and the bad guys are closing in.""Roger," replied the pilot as he dropped
into Mai Loc and released the ammunition pallets slung in a net beneath the helicopter’s
belly. However, instead of landing and disgorging the rest of its cargo, the Chinook
climbed back into the sky, heeled over, and turned north toward Camp Carroll. The
Marine advisers on the ground called frantically asking why the chopper was not
landing, but the pilot had already switched frequencies and did not hear the call.
Lieutenant Colonel Camper had no idea what was happening. To him, Coachman 005 was
just another desperate straw to grasp at. As instructed by the radioman in Ai Tu, he
switched his radio frequency and called the big helicopter.
Coachman 005 came on the air immediately, "I read you loud and clear. We’re inbound to
your position. Give me instructions."Camper had to think quickly. With the North
Vietnamese closing in around them, the Chinook could not land outside the wire. They
had to go back the way they had come. "Look for the wind sock next to the helipad inside
the perimeter," he radioed. "Land there. We’re outside the wire, but will pull back
through the wire.Camper motioned to the other three men, all of whom were still firing
coolly and deliberately at the North Vietnamese. "Pull back. There’s a chopper coming in
to get us."Without a pause the men stood and ran for the ragged perimeter wire. The
North Vietnamese stopped firing at the fleeing men, thinking that they had driven them
back into the pen with the others. The deep thump of the CH-47’s twin rotors sounded
over the treetops, but Camper could not see the helicopter.The North Vietnamese saw it
first. Sharp bursts of small arms fire tore skyward at the racing chopper, but the pilot was
oblivious to it.
"Watch out. That’s the enemy firing at you," radioed Camper. "Must be the same company
that pinned us down."As the Chinook came into view both Camper and the North
Vietnamese got a surprise. Racing low behind the Chinook was a pair of Cobra gunships.
It was their job to protect the big CH-47 against just this sort of threat. They slashed
down on the surprised North Vietnamese, peppering them with rockets and scattering
them like ants. The Cobras continued to circle, snarling back and forth as the cargo
helicopter swooped in low.
The door gunner in the Chinook saw the wind sock first. Leaning out of the chopper’s
side door over the M60 machine gun he kept his eyes on the landing pad while calling
out directions to the pilot. Then he reached for the D-grips of his machine gun and
hammered away at the running shapes of North Vietnamese soldiers below.The South
Vietnamese inside Camp Carroll had watched the entire episode. Not one lifted a hand to
help, not even to fire a rifle in support of the beleaguered advisers. Now, when they saw
the helicopter coming in, they sprang to life. Dozens of soldiers raced for the hovering
helicopter, and as the wheels touched down they were swarming all over it.
Major Brown and the two South Vietnamese radiomen were the first onboard. As Camper
turned to climb in he was almost thrown aside by the rush of South Vietnamese soldiers.
He stood defiantly on the ramp and allowed only those soldiers still carrying weapons on
to the helicopter. The rest were cowards who did not deserve a ride out of the base.
They had decided to surrender; let them live with the decision, Camper reasoned.
One unarmed soldier tried to slip past. Camper grabbed him by the shirt and angrily flung
him from the helicopter. Two more skulked up the ramp, hoping they might slip by, but in
frenzy Camper roughly pushed them back.
"Colonel, for God’s sake, let’s get out of here," yelled Brown from inside the Chinook’s
cavernous belly. The North Vietnamese had recovered from their initial surprise and
were shooting at the helicopter from just outside the wire. The pilot revved the turbines
in anticipation of a fast getaway and the Ch-47 bounced and jigged from side to side as
the rotors pulled it slightly off the ground. With Camper finally aboard, the helicopter
roared into the sky and veered hard to the southeast, clinging to the treetops toward
Quang Tri City. In all, about thirty South Vietnamese soldiers rode out of Camp Carroll
with the American advisers. All of them still had their rifles.Lieutenant Colonel Camper
looked down at the base as it shrunk from view. All was quiet down there as the
remnants of the 56th ARVN Regiment prepared to surrender. The helicopter pilot
reported over the radio that he saw while flags going up all over the place. What a
tragedy, thought Camper. What a disgrace.
Yet not all the South Vietnamese inside Camp Carroll chose surrender. One Marine
artillery battery, placed inside the firebase to augment support to the Marine units on
the western perimeter, radioed Mai Loc saying they would not give up. As the victorious
North Vietnamese marched through the front gates to accept the 56th ARVN Regiment’s
surrender, Bravo Battery lowered its guns and fired point blank. They fought to the last
man.Nor did all the infantry units go along with Colonel Pham Van Dinh’s decision to give
up. An entire battalion of 300 men rallied behind its commander and broke free of the
perimeter. Over the next few days the unit exfiltrated east to Dong Ha "intact and under
control." Although they were tired and shell-shocked, most of the soldiers still had their
weapons. In fact, by mid-April almost 1,000 soldiers from the ill-fated 56th ARVN Regiment
had filtered through enemy lines to Dong Ha, Quang Tri, and Ai Tu. They were sent south
to Danang for refitting and retraining before being sent back into combat in Quang Nam
Province during the summer.The ordeal of the American advisers was not yet over.
Ground fire hit a hydraulic line running the Chinook’s rear rotors and engine pressure
began to fall. Instead of flying to Quang Tri City, the helicopter was forced to land at the
first level spot the pilot could find, in this case right in the middle of Route 1 near the
coast. Unfortunately, the enemy was already there and the chopper settled down in the
midst of an enemy 122mm rocket barrage.Camper and Brown dashed to the side of the
road and flung themselves face first into a ditch. Bullets whined overhead punctuated by
the occasional whoosh-bang of incoming rockets. Crawling cautiously along the side of
the road, the Americans soon ran into a jeep carrying two advisers from a tank unit
forging north to reinforce the 3d ARVN Division. Since Camper was the senior officer,
they all agreed to set up a defensive perimeter and wait out the North Vietnamese
attack. In the meantime, Camper radioed FRAC asking for a B-52 strike on Camp Carroll.
He did not care if the surrendering regiment was still there, he wanted the base
destroyed before the enemy took over the base artillery and turned it against the South
Vietnamese still fighting. As it turned out, the enemy made no attempt to use the big
guns captured at Camp Carroll. The North Vietnamese knew they would be bombed into
oblivion if they remained in the base, so it was quickly abandoned, though not before a
few of the artillery pieces were towed out. One 175mm gun was later placed on display in
Hanoi as a symbol of the North Vietnamese Army’s battle prowess.When the short
firefight died down, Camper called for another helicopter to take them to Ai Tu. The
armor advisers continued their drive north while Camper and Brown flew up to the
division headquarters in Quang Tri City. Colonel Metcalf, the senior adviser to the 3d
ARVN Division and Camper’s boss, asked what had happened. Although Camp Carroll
was a crucial piece in northern I Corp’s crumbling puzzle, there were other pressing
problems keeping Colonel Metcalf busy. He wanted to know the whole story.General Giai
was also in the command bunker. When Camper recited the story about Dinh’s cowardly
surrender, Giai was furious. But his anger was directed at Camper, not Dinh. The "Young
Lion of Hue’ could not possibly have surrendered his regiment; in Giai’s mind it was
Camper who was the coward. He believed that the American advisers had run, leaving
the South Vietnamese to their fate. But the advisers at Ai Tu knew what had happened
and they had radioed Quang Tri City. It soon became obvious that Camp Carroll had
surrendered when all communication with the 56th ARVN Regiment suddenly went off the
air at about 3:30 PM.Not until the next day, 3 April, did the ignominious fate of the 56th
ARVN Regiment become clear to the doubting South Vietnamese general. In a communist
radio broadcast picked up by American monitors, Colonel Pham Van Dinh helped the
North Vietnamese exploit their victory. During the broadcast he was fully cooperative
with his new masters, telling his former brothers in arms, "I think that your continued
sacrifice at this time means nothing….Find out how to get in touch with the NLF (National
Liberation Forces, the Viet Cong) in order for you to return to the people. Your action
will effectively assist in ending the war quickly and also save your life." Dinh also
confessed that "My personal feeling is that the NLF is going to win the war. The NLF is
ready all the time to welcome you back. The NLF is expecting you to return very soon."
An orderly retreat was also out of the question he maintained, because "Most of the
troops of my unit in all ranks refused to fight anymore."Major Ton That Man, an infantry
battalion commander at Camp Carroll, also cooperated with his captors. In another radio
broadcast he recalled that the base "shook and wavered at the very first shellings by
PLAF (People’s Liberation Armed Forces)….In such a situation, how could we continue to
fight? Our regiment’s commander then summoned a briefing…a meeting of particular
significance for it decided on the fate of 600 officers and men in this base. Within only
five minutes, all agreed to offer no more resistance and decided to go over to the
Liberation forces’ side."Colonel Metcalf ordered the tired advisers back to FRAC
headquarters in Danang for a change of clothes and reassignment. Later in the day
General Giai called Camper and asked him to return to Quang Tri to talk. The general
sounded more understanding this time. He had heard the radio broadcast and had
spoken with some of the soldiers who had come out on the Chinook with Camper, so he
knew the real story. Giai apologized for his curt comments of the day before. Colonel
Metcalf then reassigned Camper as senior adviser to the 2d ARVN Regiment, his old unit.
Major Brown was again his deputy.
To Lieutenant Colonel William Camper the surrender of Camp Carroll was a betrayal of
the personal honor between soldiers. He had not been consulted by his counterpart.
Colonel Dinh, and from a tactical viewpoint, there was no need to give up. They should
have fought on. The I Corps leadership was also aghast at Camp Carroll’s surrender.
Brigadier General Thomas Bowen, the I Corps deputy senior adviser, later recalled that
"until Camp Carroll was lost we didn’t get too excited." Suddenly, the regiment was gone
and the South Vietnamese command did not understand why. "General Lam was
outraged. A whole regiment – gone just like that. He wanted to execute everybody who
had anything to do with it."With Camp Carroll in enemy hands the Ring of Steel was fatally
punctured. The big 175mm guns had provided a security blanket for the network of other
bases facing the Laotian border. As of nightfall on 2 April, however, only Mai Loc still
stood. But not for long. The loss of Camp Carroll robbed Mai Loc of artillery support and
made it vulnerable to ground attack. The North Vietnamese, smelling blood, quickly
coiled to strike.
News of Camp Carroll’s surrender came as a shock to the Marine advisers at Mai Loc,
and they knew they were next. Without any friendly bases to the north and west, Mai Loc
was in danger of being encircled by North Vietnamese forces. By 4:00 PM, what had been
a sporadic enemy bombardment turned into a continuous and crushing pounding, which
the Marines correctly identified as the prelude to an all-out infantry assault. The South
Vietnamese Marines bravely fired back, though their howitzers were no match for the
communist 130mm guns. An hour later the Marines fired their last round. Silent in the
face of the continuing enemy shelling, Mai Loc was evacuated on the evening of 2 April.
|HQ Company 4th Marine Regiment
3rd Marine Division