Ben Het, Jay Gearhart-01

Dak To
Defenders

1965-1973

by: Jay Gearhart
2nd Plt. 15th Engr. Co. (LE)
299th CBT Engr BT.
© 2008


Dak To Defenders: 1965-1973

Dak To, Vietnam. The name, for anyone who served in the Central Highlands, during any time frame of the war, will, now, as it did then, bring back those unthinkable memories, and probably a tear or two. Even mixed with the sometimes-funny things we experienced, Dak To, was not a happy place.

Right from the beginnings in 1965, through 1973, the end of our war, the hills and ridges surrounding the Dak To firebase were full of mystery, and for the GI's who fought there full of fear and the unthinkable. In the early years, as with the later years of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail meandering through the hills and valleys from Cambodia and Laos, filtered extremely close to Dak To, bringing the men and tools of war from the north.

The Firebase was the home to some of America’s finest, during different time periods. The 101st Airborne, the 173rd Airborne (The Herd), the Ivy of the 4th Division, many units from the Special Forces, the Dusters, the 92nd artillery and yes, the Combat Engineers and supporting units.  Some of the most horrific battles during the entire war were centered around Dak To. The hills, oh yes, the hills 830, 855, 875, Rocket ridge, Ben Het, and many others that this old mind won’t recall, are now, for those who were there, sacred. It was during 1967 that the hill battles took so many brothers from the 173rd Airborne, and the 4th Division.

In 1969, Vietnamization was under way, the withdrawal of US forces and the turning over of US firebases to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The NVA knew there was no American Infantry there, so the battle for Dak To and Ben Het came full circle. It was the monsoon season so air support, when they could fly, was limited, and the roads were more often then not in the hands of the NVA, so resupply from the road was out.

The only defenders at Dak To were a Duster battery, the 92 Field Artillery and the 299th CBT Engr BT: about 450 total troops. At any given time the enemy strength was estimated at 7,500. I felt that the NVA could have, at any time, overrun our base. Instead they probed us at will and used their artillery to its fullest advantage. I will say, as a member of the 299th CBT Engr BT, the only reason we made it out of there was the counter battery fire of the Dusters and the 92nd Artillery. Those guys will forever be my heroes.

From May thru July we were sitting ducks, defending a muddy firebase, waiting for the ARVN's to take over operations at Dak To. And so it came to pass, on July 16th we turned the Firebase over to the ARVN.

For the above action, the defenders of Dak To received The Valorous Unit Citation (Unit Silver Star). With a 45% casualty rate, the brothers who fought there definitely did Walk the Walk.

Jay Gearhart
2nd Plt. 15th Engr. Co. (LE) 299th CBT Engr BT.




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