MPs lead assault on Saigon terrorists

Heavy smoke billows from a massive tire pile as onlookers stand by. Unidentified location, but possibly Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon on Feb. 2, 1968.


By STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 14, 1968

SAIGON — "American Embassy under fire!" "BOQ 3 under fire!" "MP patrol under fire at Phu Thu Race Track!"

Time: 3 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 31.
Place: The 716th MP Bn. Headquarters — nerve center of U.S. Military Police activity in Saigon — as it was besieged by a score of distress calls from many far-flung areas in the city.

As the calls mounted, MPs headed every which way to where the action was. Pfc. Paul V. Healey of Hoi- brook, Mass., dropped 10 Reds in six hours of battling outside the American, Korean and Philippine Embassies.

The strapping 20-year-old was one of the first to reach the American Embassy. After winning a grenade-tossing contest with a desperate VC outside the Philippine Embassy, Healey blasted the chain off the gate, and, shoulder-to-shoulder with Sgt. John II. Shook of Newton, N.C., entered the Embassy grounds.

Scurrying across the lawn — M16 in one hand, captured AK47 in the other — the New Englander engaged the assassins, gunning down nine before the last of the 19-man suicide squad was killed.

Later, Healey admitted that the 2 1/2 hours he spent inside the Embassy grounds "seemed like a lifetime." His only complaint was with his flak jacket. "It must have weighed a thousand pounds," he said. "Sure tore my back up!"

Healey, who earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star during 10 months as an MP with the 101st Airborne Div., before extending for duty with the 716th, stated in all seriousness: "I never want to hear the term “Saigon warrior” used again!"

Meanwhile. Sgt. Robert L. Morrison of Tidioute, Perm., was leading a dozen stalwarts to check out a lost patrol last heard from in the Phu Thu Race Track area.

"When we reached the intersection," recalled the quiet spoken NCO. "We spotted three deserted vehicles. One was burning while two bodies lay alongside a jeep. "Four or five figures were standing by a fourth vehicle. We called to them to identify themselves, but they took off running. We dropped three of them."

The 25-year-old sergeant then told of hearing an agonized voice calling for help. The wounded man was in one of the jeeps and later identified as a Filipino. "Every time we attempted to get to him," said Morrison, "the VC raked Us with machine gun fire. And as we dived for cover, they jeered us . . . inviting us to come and get our buddy. They spoke pretty good English."

When the Americans finally made it to the jeep after eight hours, the Filipino was dead. As dawn approached, the enemy fire increased, MP reinforcements were hit with rockets, claymore, and automatic fire, killing one and wounding two.

Morrison and his men occupied a six-story hotel close to the intersection, where they could best keep the enemy at bay. "Then a chopper landed right on lop of the building," said Morrison, "and two officers from the 199th Light Inf. Brigade stepped out and told us one of their mechanized units was on the way. We were all happy to see those APCs roll by minutes later."
What great attraction did the Race Track area hold for the Communists?

Morrison, a veteran of 26 months with the 716th in Saigon, feels that the Reds were after the two ARVN compounds in the immediate area, "Getting there when we did, probably wrecked their plans," he said.

And while countless firefights erupted throughout the metropolis, 15 MPs sped to their death off Vo Tanh St.

"A patrol called in to say BOQ 3 was under attack." said Spec. Odell N. Conyers of Philadelphia.

The 21-year-old Philadelphian related how 25 of his buddies boarded a 2 1/2-ton truck en route to BOQ 3. Taking every precaution, the MPs elected to approach the troubled spot from a sidestreet. Within 75 yards of the BOQ, the truck was hit by rockets and claymores which had been set up in a nearby graveyard and along the street.

Sixteen American Military Policemen died on the spot, the rest were wounded, as were several others who went to their rescue. For 18 hours, the Reds held fast. For 18 hours, MPs tried in vain to reach their dead and badly wounded buddies.

"When I arrived on the scene," said Conyers, "I was shocked by the sight of the truck, and wondered how anyone could have survived such a terrible thing."

BOQ 3 was little the worse for the 18-hour battle which raged outside . . . nor was the ARVN compound directly across the street. The Communists kept up their city-wide terror attacks. But wherever the distress signals came from, the American military policemen answered with lightning speed and effectiveness, helping to crush a die-hard enemy.

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