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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > Vietnam War

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Vietnam War The Battle for Vietnam. .

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  #1  
Old 10 May 09, 11:15
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Firebase Mary Ann

I recently read about Fire base Mary Ann and found it interesting. Was this the last firebase in the conflict to be over ran ? After this battle did the 196th light infantry participate in any other operations ?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_FSB_Mary_Ann
http://www.americal.org/sixtymin.shtml
Firebase Mary Ann 1971





FSB Mary Ann after the 28 Mar 71 Attack

This photo is looking North to South. While the original photo is not very clear, a number of areas can be made out. The mortar area is in the immediate front. The bunkers in the right foreground have been mostly destroyed. Although it's difficult to see in the photo because the original is blurred, there are about 15 American troops without their shirts working in the debris of the destroyed bunkers on the right.
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  #2  
Old 10 May 09, 14:17
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Originally Posted by Tropic Thunder View Post
I recently read about Fire base Mary Ann and found it interesting. Was this the last firebase in the conflict to be over ran ?
If you mean US, I believe it was yes.


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Originally Posted by Tropic Thunder View Post
After this battle did the 196th light infantry participate in any other operations ?
Yes, the disaster happened when the brigade was relocating to a new TAOR near Da Nang to cover the departure of III MAF.
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Old 10 May 09, 16:09
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The base was never really overrun; rather NVA sappers (approx. 50 if memory serves me right) assaulted an unprepared garrison. 33 Americans were killed with the enemy eventually withdrawing.
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Old 10 May 09, 16:22
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FSB Mary Ann and the Army in 1971

I was probably 50 miles south of FSB Mary Ann at the time of the attack also in southern I Corps and remember hearing some of the radio traffic that evening as the attack mounted and the divisional response made. As noted, it was in the 196th Brigade area and I was with MACV in the 198th area. While over the years I have heard that the ARVN who were in the wire and scheduled to take over as the US left were actually VC or even NVA, nothing Iíve read that I put any stock into supports these allegations. Simply put, the NVA had done their homework and while there may have been some recce using the ARVN, the attack was all NVA and succeeded in large part because the US had unwisely and dangerously let their guard down. The 23rd Division/ Americal seemed to be a hard luck unit anyway and had more than its share of disasters.

In order to understand the attack and the NVAís success, one has to appreciate the Army in Vietnam in early 1971. Simply put, we knew we-the Army-was near to being withdrawn and the war was largely over for us. Drug usage at this time unlike 5 years earlier was pervasive, race relations simmered and were barely contained and leadership often sorely missing. Officers could and did get fragged for pushing too hard then, so the modus was to just do enough to forestall attacks, donít go looking for trouble and get everyone out alive. There was little active patrolling around many of the firebases; this is a fairly axiomatic rule in any proper integrated defense. Unfortunately the NVA was still hard at war and ready at their call to press and destroy us. Those were hard days and an ugly time to be in the Army in Vietnam. I always worried about infiltrators in the RVN unit I was with but had the good fortune to have virtually all Montagnard or Dega troops who generally didnít like any of the Vietnamese and certainly didnít collaborate.

Last edited by moonpie46; 10 May 09 at 18:35..
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Old 10 May 09, 20:42
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moonpie46 View Post
In order to understand the attack and the NVAís success, one has to appreciate the Army in Vietnam in early 1971. Simply put, we knew we-the Army-was near to being withdrawn and the war was largely over for us. Drug usage at this time unlike 5 years earlier was pervasive, race relations simmered and were barely contained and leadership often sorely missing. Officers could and did get fragged for pushing too hard then, so the modus was to just do enough to forestall attacks, donít go looking for trouble and get everyone out alive.
moonpie --

We have had several contrasts drawn between the Army in Vietnam in the early 70s and that during my tour in 67-68 - yours being the latest. This is very interesting to me and I have learned a lot about how much things changed during that interval. I confess I had no idea things deteriorated as much as they did - even within my Radio Research units, where top secret clearances were once considered far too valuable to lose with dalliance in drug use, etc. I have to say I am quite glad to have served when I did, during the earlier period, before the deterioration you describe had set in.

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Old 11 May 09, 05:40
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Your points are spot on and some any either donít know or have modified the history of the period thru the time. When I was with the Cav in 68, again as a mortar platoon leader in a combat battalion, there was little visible dissension, no drug use in the field, and while black and white tensions existed were at a controlled level. In 1971 working with the Americal troops again in the north, things had changed. Uniform discipline was lax, black and white tensions were barely submerged and drug use was fairly prevalent. It was a different environment to be sure. Further, the troops in the field knew the American public finally disapproved of their efforts. Again, remember, it really only in June 1970 with Nixonís push into Cambodia that the campus protests took to the street here and the war was decidedly unpopular. I could go on about my trip home in July 1971 and the reception at the San Francisco airport, but thatís another post.

I stayed in the Army when I returned in 71 and can report that thru the seventies (really until the late eighties) the Army went slowly from broken to functioning. Why with Desert Storm in 1990, the US Army re-emerged as the best land force in the world. We were back! But it was a hard road getting there. In the early 70s many NCOs had 23 weeks in the green suit total from recruit to E-5, Ďshake and bakesí; and while placeholders for head count, many were simply in water over their head. Race relations finally boiled over and had to be consciously addressed and repaired. The Army had broken its back, the NCO corps.

But back to the topic at hand, the Army in 1971 and the troops ay Firebase Mary Ann. Again, I attribute the ability of the NVA to hit FB Mary Ann with their continuing the intensity of the fight when we-the US-were beginning to stack arms. No active patrolling outside the wire ought to explain much of what happened. They looked for and sought holes in our defense, found them and exploited them.
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Old 11 May 09, 12:51
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But back to the topic at hand, the Army in 1971 and the troops ay Firebase Mary Ann. Again, I attribute the ability of the NVA to hit FB Mary Ann with their continuing the intensity of the fight when we-the US-were beginning to stack arms. No active patrolling outside the wire ought to explain much of what happened. They looked for and sought holes in our defense, found them and exploited them.
The irony is the NVA hit one of the best battalions in the AMERICAL, the 'Professionals" of the 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, who had a very good track record until that day. One of the reason of the disaster lies in the fact that the battalion and brigade were to relocate to a new TAOR the following day and turn the FSB to the ARVN, and many of the base's defense systems had been removed. Also, MARY ANN had never been hit before and the grunts had developed a false sense of safety, feeling they were in a rear area. Read Nolan's Sappers in the Wire for the full story.
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Old 11 May 09, 13:06
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Boonie, your observation is good and the fact that Mary Ann was pending sunrise turn over is certainly pertinent, but the point of my previous posts on this issue are more in terms of the change in the Army over the five or so years before the attack. 1/46 was as good a battalion within the Americal as there was, but-and this may draw fire-the 1/46 in 1971 wasn't the same 1/46 of 1969. Further, the Americal in April 1971 wasn't the Americal that stood up in 1967. And, certainly to be true, the Army and all divisions in Vietnam were plus or minus different from what they had been 5 years previous.
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Old 11 May 09, 13:18
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Boonie, your observation is good and the fact that Mary Ann was pending sunrise turn over is certainly pertinent, but the point of my previous posts on this issue are more in terms of the change in the Army over the five or so years before the attack. 1/46 was as good a battalion within the Americal as there was, but-and this may draw fire-the 1/46 in 1971 wasn't the same 1/46 of 1969. Further, the Americal in April 1971 wasn't the Americal that stood up in 1967. And, certainly to be true, the Army and all divisions in Vietnam were plus or minus different from what they had been 5 years previous.
I don't disagree with you moon, the quality of US frontline units had suffered badly after 1969, but what I mean is there's more to the story of MARY ANN than just drug use and indiscipline.
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Old 11 May 09, 13:32
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Boon, not to belabor the point, you are totally correct. In fact, the glaring issues you highlight-poor operational security (letting the word out about the withdrawal and turn over) and having a lax attitude because they'd never been hit before- were certainly the two major contributors to the NVA attack devastation. Drug abuse and leadership problems were the backdrop against which these more primary faults were allowed to persist. Thanks for the clarification and I hope this discussion continues as well as inspires further discourse on like subjects. It is really difficult to conjure up the past thru forty years of time and get an accurate and comprehensive window into that hard war.
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Old 12 May 09, 03:34
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I was in 'Nam during 1972. I will take exception to the mention of drug use being 'pervasive' and any note of fragging being common. Perhaps the word 'pervasive' gets to me, meaning the majority. No, the majority of troops, even in the worse units, did not use drugs. Were drugs there & sometimes commonplace? Yes, but I will not say 'pervasive'

Fragging happened, that's a fact. But it was also an infrequent and rare occurence.

Race relations were a big problem.

There were good units, & poor units. The poor units generally had poor officers and drug problems. You could tell within 30 seconds if you were with a good or poor outfit. The way they dressed and talked was evident about how they felt.

I was in the same situation they were, knew what the USA public felt like they did, knew all too much about traitor Hanoi Jane, etc. I, like the vast majority of American troops in VIetnam, did not use drugs, did not violate the UCMJ & were proud of wearing the green uniform.
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Old 12 May 09, 07:51
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You mention fragging and the opinion that it was infrequent. In numbers of incidents against the number of personnel in theater, thatís correct but itís also a bit misleading.
ďFragging. When one American killed another American, usually a superior officer or an NCO, the term "fragging" came into use. Although the term simply meant that a fragmentation grenade was used in the murder, it later became an all-encompassing term for such an action. During the years of 1969 down to 1973, we have the rise of fragging - that is, shooting or hand-grenading your NCO or your officer who orders you out into the field," says historian Terry Anderson of Texas A & M University. "The US Army itself does not know exactly how many...officers were murdered. But they know at least 600 were murdered, and then they have another 1400 that died mysteriously. Consequently by early 1970, the army [was] at war not with the enemy but with itself."
Rough figure for "fraggings" is about 1000.Ē

In 1971 vice 1968 Officers and NCOs were very aware of the occurrence and while most certainly didnít modify their leadership approach because of it, I submit all certainly thought about it. I donít have figures or statistics, but I suspect that most incidents were in base camps or on small firebases (as opposed to at or below company level of units in the field). I well recall flying into Chu Lai with a company minus of an Americal infantry unit in June 1971 having been lifted out of the western AO with a few of my little people (RF/PF) and having a stand down and Ďgrenade turn-iní almost upon arrival where the remaining M-26 frags were accounted for before the troops did much else. I kinda knew what this was all about as I watched, and recalled that this sort of accountability didnít happen in the cav my first trip in 68.

Again, Trailboss, I agree with you but the point isnít the 'frequent or infrequent'. Frequent-infrequent- thatís largely a subjective judgment. But rather that the phenomenon was on the rise and unit commanders and NCOs were aware of it. I have no evidence that the attack on Mary Ann was facilitated by unit leaders being less than diligent because of fears in the back of the brain housing group that fraggings Ďcould happení, but my gut tells me Ďmaybeí.

Drug useÖpervasive? Itís a nut roll. I can say that there was a whole lot of puffin going on within virtually all the firebases I saw in northern (LAM SON 719) and southern I Corps in late 70 and thru mid 71. It wasnít necessarily visible but the evidence was clear, and yes, pervasive. What was the effect? Troops were often NOT out wandering the berm at 2200-0400 as they should have been and as had been done with abit more regularity a few years before. Result: seriously compromised security. Happen at Mary AnnÖI donít know (havenít read the book noted, but will peruse it in the near future) but it sure as hell happened a bunch.

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Old 29 May 09, 12:09
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Moonpie I was one of those carried off that hill on the 28th. I was a TOC radio operator for about 3 month prior to the attack.

I wish I could say I have an answer for what happened but I do not. What I think happened was a lack of attention to past details of security (apathy, no night flares for a few weeks and the knowledge that this would be one of the last nights on this hill). Drugs sure they were around but to imply they were a major cause is not believable. It would mean significant numbers of the guys in the bunkers and on the hill were stoned at the time of the attach, they were perhaps apathetic but not stoned. To blame even part of this incident on drugs is ludicrous the enemy planned well and we did not, it is as simple as that. It is too simple to use drugs as the excuse for a much deeper and considerably more complicated issue. We all knew Vietnam was ending and lost focus. We were asleep at the switch and did not know it was coming. A high price was paid for being so sure that all was well. I have seen the suffering first hand and it is still causing heartache and sorrow. Vietnam taught us many things and I hope we learned the lessons well.

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Old 29 May 09, 12:13
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Glad to have you onboard REMBERG, nothing beats first-hand experience. Did you read the book by Nolan? what did you think of it?

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Old 29 May 09, 12:29
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I was a TOC radio operator for about 3 month prior to the attack.
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