Biên Hòa Air Base
Ammo Dump Exlosion

Sapper Attack!

January 12, 1972

by: Arnold John Houchin
Biên Hòa, USAF 3rd Security Police Squadron
Phu Cat, 37th SPS; Thu Hoa, 31st SPS;
Pleiku, 633rd SPS; Phan Rang, 35th SPS
© 2005

Photo by, James Lebowitz (the next morning)
Sapper attack on 12 Jan 1972 resulting in the explosion of the ammo dump at Biên Hòa Air Base.
Sapper attack on 12 Jan 1972 resulting in the explosion of the ammo dump at Biên Hòa Air Base.

In 1972, as part of the Vietnamization Program, the base had consolidated into the USAF side and the Vietnamese side. Many facilities were transferring over as part of the program. The base had transitioned from being the 3rd Combat Support Group to being the 6251st Air Base Squadron and I was the Chief Security Police.

We were running combined USAF and VNAF patrols. I believe the QRT (Quick Reaction Team) was also a combined force. TSgt Al Story was either the night flight chief or the NCOIC of the sector where the ammo-bomb dump was located.

Our CSC (Central Security Control) had consolidated into what had been the Base Police Desk and served as the control center for both Law Enforcement and Base Defense. It was close to the base Comm Center so when any attack started it was a quick dash across the street to send the up-channel message to 7th AF. The Air Base Commander wanted a message delivered immediately when a 10-88 Rocket Attack hit. I tried to hold my ground, arguing that it would not be safe to send an SP out as rockets were impacting. An O-3 Captain doesn’t get far when an O-6 full-bird Colonel says “Do it!”

A sapper attack took place on 12 Jan 1972, resulting in the explosion of the ammo dump at Biên Hòa Air Base. On that fateful night, explosions began at the bomb dump, I immediately responded to CSC as the SP’s went to “Red Alert” with the base siren wailing. We initially thought it was another rocket attack but no one reported impacts or explosions except in the ammo dump. We then figured a sapper attack was either in progress or imminent. TSgt Al Story deployed his QRT near the ammo dump and in the process gave us all a running commentary on the beauty of the fireworks. They were beautiful and numerous!

During the explosions the Air Base Commander responded to CSC to be briefed and was joined by the USAF Officer in Charge of the ammo dump (Captain Cherry—not his real name). They sat in a small room adjacent to CSC and I joined them briefly. I overheard Captain Cherry began telling the Air Base Commander how he “…bet it was the cops smoking again” and that he was “…  sure it was those security cops” and said he’d seen them smoking many times. I couldn’t take anymore and left to monitor the radios in CSC, but promised myself at first light, when the explosions subsided, we’d sweep the ammo area for sappers or to determine what really caused the explosions.

Dawn came and VNAF Base Defense, along with our SP’s and myself, went to the ammo dump. People always said I didn’t have good sense and I proved it by wandering in an area covered with unexploded bombs and ordnance — lots of 40 mm, cluster bomblets and rockets. Entering one of the open-sided sheds that hadn’t been destroyed, it quickly found a VC satchel-charge wedged between ordnance boxes. It looked like the fuse had gone out before it reached the detonator.

About the same time, I heard some excitement coming from the VNAF Base Defense force near a gully in the fence. Working my way through the ordnance to reach their location, they had found a dead sapper in the gully. It seems the VNAF had recognized the gully as a possible weakness and had booby trapped it with a trip wire to a claymore mine. The VC caught several pellets in his back. Like most sappers, he was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a shiny Seiko watch, and armed with a handgun. The watch was quickly retrieved by one of the VNAF NCO’s.

After hearing Captain Cherry run the SP’s down relentlessly, finding the dead VC and unexploded satchel-charge reinforced my faith and confidence in our maligned SP’s. Needless to say I didn’t have much time for that OIC in the future.
Report a Broken Link / Photo (tell me where!), or eMail a Comment
© 1995-2023. All Rights Reserved.