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The Tet Offensive at Hué
Trail FACs at the MACV Compound

Captain Bob Dubois
Hué MACV Compound (left of center).
(Photo © Tom Pilsch)

The MACV Compound in Hué was a focal point of the Battle of Hué during the 1968 Tet Offensive.   It was one of only two areas in the city that did not fall to the Communist forces.   This is the story as told by Capt. Bob Dubois, Trail 33, who was at the MACV compound when the attack started.

I arrived in Viet Nam in Aug 67.   My daughter was born on 20 July 67 and my normal date of arrival was slipped 6 weeks so I could be home for Michelle's birth.   I left when she was about 3 weeks old.   By the time I went through jungle survival in the Philippines it was late Aug.

I started my tour in IV Corp flying the 0-1 as an Issue FAC with the 25th Infantry at Cu Chi outside of Saigon.   I was there about three months when I was moved to I Corp at Hué.   They were in the process of upgrading to the 0-2 and had taken all 0-2's for out country work and needed to replace them with 0-1's.   I was selected because I had only been in country a couple months and so I transferred along with one of four 0-1s they needed in Hué.   I was one of six that moved into Hue as Trail FACs in support of the 1st ARVN Division operating out of the MACV compound.

There was not much need for ground support missions as the 1st Div was responsible for Hué and did not do many missions outside of the city.   As a result we were involved with a lot of recon and support of US artillery units around the area.   We would go in pairs back to the A Shau Valley to look for NVA operations.   One 0-1 would stay high as a radio relay and the other went low to look.   I found that using binoculars from high altitude worked well for seeing people on the road in the valley until the low aircraft went in and then they hid because they stayed out of sight whenever they saw or heard an aircraft.   They neither saw or heard the high aircraft so we stopped pairing up and did our observations from high altitude (10,000').

The Navy had fighter patrols in the air, and we found that if they were not utilized on any hot targets they were dumping ordnance before returning to the carrier.   We worked up an arrangement where they would check in with us before they headed home and often had targets for them to dump their ordnance on.   We did not get the best choice of ordnance for the targets we had, but it was better then nothing.   For example we would get Zuni rockets instead of bombs or napalm, but occasionally the rockets would hit the targets.

As luck would have it our unit was scheduled to get 0-2s to replace our 0-1.   I went to IV Corp and spent a week getting checked out in the 0-2.   The day before Tet we finally got out four 0-2s.   We were supposed to fly our four 0-1s out the next day.   In the attack the NVA overran everything except Div Hq and our compound.   Satchel charges were place in each of the gray 0-1s and 0-2s destroying all eight aircraft.   The ARVN 0-1s were not satchel charged but were so full of bullet holes that they were destroyed also.   The conex [container] that we stored our rockets and our flight gear in was also destroyed.   I was the only FAC who brought his flying gear back to the compound so everyone else was without helmets, LPUs [life preservers], and checklists.

We understood Tet to be a three day celebration, and the first night of Tet there were fire works and a lot of noise from weapons being fired.   The second night there was nothing, and that surprised us somewhat.

The first night I was in country I was awakened by explosions and thought we were receiving fire and was heading to a bunker when I was stopped and told it was out going fire.   I asked how they knew the difference between out going and incoming fire.   I was told not to worry, I would know the difference when it happened.   Well the second night of Tet I understood what they meant.

I was rooming on the ground floor of the old hotel we used at the compound.   There were three of us sharing two rooms and bath (our bathroom had one of the few working hot water tanks).   I slept in the front room and an Australian Captain and US Marine Captain slept in the back room.   We were awakened early in the night (about 2:30) with incoming fire. The first rounds landed outside the compound but it was close enough to get everyone's attention.   I rolled out of bed and put on my helmet and flack vest and was duck-walking to the closet to get my cloths and CAR-15.   I was just opening the closet when a 122mm rocket landed outside my room between the row of vehicle parked outside.   The blast blew me through the opening between the front room and the back room and into the Australian Captain who was just coming into my room.   We both ended up on the floor of the back room trying to figure out what the heck had happened.

The three of us had assigned positions to go to in the event of an attack and soon were manning them.   We had quite an assortment of weapons between us and none of us could share ammunition.   I had the CAR-15 retractable stock assault weapon I carried in the aircraft, a 38 revolver, and a 9mm Browning I had brought with me from the States.   The Marine had a carbine rifle, and a Colt 45 and the Australian had a Long Tom rifle, and grenade launcher.

After the rocket attack there was an attempt by the NVA sappers to get through the perimeter at the south east corner of the compound.   Our one gun tower with an M60 machine gun managed to stop the attack.   That position was hit with an RPG and the gunner was badly wounded and died two days later.   He was the only fatality of everyone in the compound.

We managed to get support from Puff the Magic Dragon, AC-47 gunship, that put heavy fire into areas around the compound.   It was strange to watch the gunship work because you would see the muzzel flash of the Gatling gun and see the tracers racing to the ground.   You would hear what sounded like popcorn popping as the rounds hit the ground, but you would not hear the roar of the gun until a couple of seconds after they started firing.   The sound of popcorn would stop after the muzzel flash quit but the roar of the gun could be heard for a couple seconds more.

The rocket that landed outside of our room had severed the water main supplying the compound and set fire to a couple jeeps.   The headlights on one of the burning jeeps came on, and I could hear others down the walkway argue that someone must be in the jeep and that it should be shot at.   Should have heard the comments when the starter shorted and the jeep, being in gear, started moving forward toward the building.   It stopped, after moving about one vehicle length forward, and the lights went out.   No one was in the jeep but it was shot at anyway by some very nervous people.   By moving out of line it saved adjacent vehicles from catching fire.

Everyone was so jumpy that it only took one person to open fire along the compound perimeter before almost everyone would open up, and it would be almost a minute before things would settle down again. I never fired because I never saw anything to shoot at and had a limited supply of ammo.

Some of the guys had captured AK-47s.   It did not take them long to figure out that it was not smart to use the AK-47 in this situation.   The AK-47 had a very distinctive sound, unlike any weapon issued to the friendly military members guarding the compound.   The idiot that fired his AK-47 is lucky he is alive because everyone within earshot of the weapon fired back in the direction of the sound when it was used.   Special forces often carried clips of AK-47 ammo that had doctored ammo that would destroy the weapon it was used in and injure the person attempting to use the weapon.   We were told the AK-47 was poorly designed and could blow up so it should never be used.   The real story was the weapon was excellent, but you couldn't tell if you had some of the doctored ammo.

Click here for a detailed map of the Battle of Hué.

The compound and Div Hq held off the attacks.   Our maintenance sergeants did not live in the compound and were in a two story house about a block away.   Next to them was a house with nuns and across the street from them was a compound that the NVA had overrun and turned into an operations center.   We had contact with them via radio because they had our radio jeep which had the VHF, UHF, HF, and FM radios on it.   Our chief sergeant was a real good scrounger and had a stock of weapons large enough to start an army of his own.   They moved the nuns from next door into their building to keep them safe.   They managed to keep the NVA pinned down without giving away their location.   They manned every window that overlooked the NVA position and every now and then would have everyone in the building fire three rapid shots into the compound.   They also used the radio to direct artillery fire on the positions where they observed enemy activity.   We were not able to get them safely into the compound for almost a week.

The Marines from Phu Bai fought their way north to our position and reached us the afternoon the next day.   They lost over 40 members getting to our position.   They set up temporary positions in the compound and began limited operations in an attempt to expand the area of control around the compound.

The Navy had a river patrol station [LCU ramp] about three city blocks from the compound.   The Army was able to get helo transports into that position to resupply ammo and food.   The second night was spent trying to secure a clear path between the river and the compound.   On the morning of the second day it was decided that we FACs could do more if we could get to Danang and get aircraft.   I went to every room and told people we were planning to get out of the compound and if they had any letters ready I would mail them in Danang.   I packed up my clothes and flight gear and along with four others loaded one of our jeeps for the dash.   I went back around to all the rooms and collected over 60 letters guys had written and headed for the jeep.   We had wounded that were placed on the bed of a two ton flatbed truck.   We followed behind in the jeep, driven by the ALO, and loaded with five FACs and what equipment we had.   During our run to the river we did have a couple rounds fired at us but no hits were scored.

At the landing we helped unload ammo from a banana chopper [CH-47] and then helped load the wounded.   Once loaded we closed the doors and lifted off flying down the river and after gaining altitude headed for Hué Phu Bai.   We landed on the Army side of the base (east) and after gathering our things walked to the edge of the runway.   We did not see any traffic so we crossed the runway and headed toward operations.   A C-123 was taxiing by, and I waved it down.   The cockpit window opened and the pilot stuck his head out so I shouted "Danang, Danang".   The pilot nodded and then the back ramp came down.   We ran around behind the C-123 and jumped on board.

When we arrived at Danang we went to operations.   The other four guys went to get flying gear, and I asked for an available aircraft.   They had one so I left my clothes in ops and headed to the line to fly.   Within 15 minutes I was back in the air heading toward Hué to do what I could in support of the guys in the compound.  

About the only help we could give was directing artillery on observed enemy sites.   The weather went to low cloud cover that prevented use of fighters except as radar controlled Skyspots.   These were brought in within 200 meters of friendly ARVN.   The US Army would not let Skyspots any closer than 1000 meters.   The weather stayed bad for over three weeks.

The NVA had infiltrated Hué and had moved into local homes and threatened to kill anyone that gave them away.   When the offensive started they kill many of the civilian population anyway and there were mass graves found after the battle was finally over.   There were US civilian advisors that were helping with farming, buildings, water systems, etc.   Only one of these advisors managed to make it to the compound.   All the others were killed.

The evening of the first day of Tet I managed to call my home in Enid, Oklahoma, via MARS [Military Affilate Radio System] connections.   My wife was attending college classes, and I talked to the baby sitter.   I set up a time that I would call Marcine the next day.   The attack knocked out our MARS system so needless to say the call was not made.   The letters I mailed were the first contact any of the families in the states had with us once the attack started.   Marcine tried to make a reverse call through MARS and was told that they had lost contact with our site and did not know what our situation was.

Escape           Battle of Hué           LCU Ramp