"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, April 14, 2014

Documentary: "The Ghosts of Ripcord"

The Last Battle of the Vietnam War.  Coming in the fall of 2014.  

"It is an incredible story that needed to be told." ~Director John Daily

[Documentary, "The Ghosts of Ripcord", produced by Temple University, written and directed by John Daily, and produced by Amanda Boisselle and Katie Frueh. The premier of the documentary recently took place April 6, 2013 at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia.]

FSB Ripcord (upper left), A-Shau Valley)
The documentary tells the story via old photographs, film, and interviews with those who served, of the disastrous overrun of Fire Base Ripcord by approximately 30,000 North Vietnamese Army regulars in 1970.

Nearly forgotten back home, fighting for their lives against impossible odds, the heroes of RIPCORD withstood the advancement of more than 30,000 enemy troops.

The siege of Ripcord cost the lives of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of those on the opposite side. This is their story:

Fire Support Base Ripcord was located in the A-Shau Valley in the Northern part of I Corps in South Vietnam.

Because of the heroics of the battle, three Congressional Metal of Honors and six Distinguished Service Crosses were ultimately awarded.  248 American soldiers were killed and three were missing in action during the time that the 101st occupied the firebase.

Fire Support Base Ripcord
The actual Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord was a 23 day battle between the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and the North Vietnamese Army from July 1, 1970 until July 23, 1970. It was the last major confrontation between United States ground forces and North Vietnam of the Vietnam War.

Little was known about the battle until 1985, when the FSB Ripcord Association was founded.

President Nixon secretly began the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam early in 1969. As the only full-strength division remaining in Vietnam in early 1970, the 101st Airborne Division was ordered to conduct the planned offensive Operation Texas Star near the A-Shau Valley.

On March 12, 1970, the 3rd Brigade, 101st began rebuilding abandoned Fire Support Base Ripcord which relied, as with most remote bases at the time, on a helicopter lifeline to get supplies in and the personnel out. 

The firebase was to be used for a planned offensive by the 101st to destroy NVA supply bases in the mountains overlooking the valley. Located on the eastern edge of the valley and taking place at the same time as the Cambodian Incursion, the operation was considered covert.

As the 101st Airborne Division planned the attack on enemy supply bases, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) was secretly observing their activities. 

From March 12 until June 30, the NVA was sporadically attacking the firebase. After weeks of reconnaissance by the NVA, on the morning of July 1, 1970 the North Vietnamese Army launched a mortar attack on the firebase.

During the 23-day siege, many were killed, including Colonel Andre Lucas, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and First Lieutenant Bob Kalsu, the only active pro athlete to be killed during the war.

Kalsu was an All-American tackle at the University of Oklahoma and an eighth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1968. Kalsu was a starting guard in 1968. He played the entire season and was the Bills' team rookie-of-the-year. After his rookie season, he enlisted in the Army to fulfill an ROTC requirement from college and was sent to Vietnam Nov. 15, 1969, as a first lieutenant.

On July 21, 1970, the base received word that a damaged helicopter would be coming in for an emergency landing, and that enemy troops would be in close pursuit. Kalsu left the bunker to warn the soldiers serving under him when a mortar shell went off 15 feet from him, killing him instantly.

Kalsu left behind a wife and two children – one of whom was born just days after Kalsu's death. A base in Iraq has been named after him, and he is on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.

The actor, Chuck Norris, also had a brother who was killed in the battle.

Fighting from four hilltops, surrounded, and outnumbered nearly ten to one, U.S. forces brought about heavy losses on eight enemy battalions before an aerial withdrawal under heavy mortar, anti-aircraft, and small arms fire. After the U.S. Army withdrew from the firebase, Air Force B-52 heavy bombers were sent in to carpet bomb the area.

By end of day on July 1st, a Chinook CH-47 had been shot down, and there were fifteen wounded. At 1030 on July 2nd, another Chinook was shot down.

On July 23rd, the final day of the battle, from around 6 a.m. until around noon, FSB Ripcord was being evacuated. The Chinooks took out the artillery and heavy equipment first.

Eight Chinooks were hit by fire, including mortars and .51-cals atop Hill 805, and AK-47 fire from NVA in the debris at the base of Ripcord. Another two Chinooks were shot down, the latter crashing into the previously destroyed 105mm guns of B/2-319th, preventing their extraction. 

During the extraction of the infantry, two Cobras attacked helicopters and twelve Hueys (UH-1) were hit. There were a total of 22 Chinook sorties and 100 Huey sorties.

The last living man off Ripcord was a Kit Carson Scout. "A Cobra saw him walking around," a door gunner wrote. They immediately had a LOH (Light observation helicopter) OH-6A go in to get him. They barely got him off in time. 

Five minutes after his rescue, several hundred NVA charged up the hill and threw satchel charges into the empty bunkers and operations center. At 1225, the final extraction began.

The heroics of those who fought on Ripcord have not fully been properly conveyed. Since the disaster of Hamburger Hill, Hill 937 on Ap Bia Mountain in May of 1969, the media was deterred from reporting other major battles.

The only documented pieces of Ripcord come from Army photographers and film crews, pictures and films from those who fought and verbal accounts of those who served. 

It was not until the Ripcord Association was created that members started to come together in reunions and other gatherings to talk about their memories of the battle. 

In 2000, the Ripcord Association website www.ripcordassociation.com was created and is managed by Frank Marshall.  There is also a Ripcord Association Group on Facebook (by Anthony Critchlow).

It is the hope of the association that with documentaries such as this, that the true significance of the battle of Ripcord will never be forgotten.

Reviews of the "Ghosts of Ripcord" Preview:

"In every one's life, one looks back to see what he or she has accomplished.

In your case, the documentary you did for us on Ripcord will always be a shining moment of many accomplishments to come.  For me it was a powerful film. It brought back memories of the experiences I had at Ripcord and gave me a better idea of what went on. One realized that something was happening, but not the magnitude of the situation at the time.

Getting the the story from all the units involved in the operation was enlightening as well as your getting the events of the situation first hand. I have never been more proud to have served with the Veterans of Ripcord.
If anything your film has given the Vietnam Veteran the respect he deserves by showing the sacrifices he made while over there.
John, thank you for taking the time do this project and for your interest in us. You are now a member of Ripcord."
Curaheee Brother
Tim Newman 
Forever Proud

"Everyone who was on Ripcord has their own small personal experience of the battle, but after seeing The Ghosts of Ripcord Documentary premier, I feel all of us now have a much better understanding of the entire battle and all that went on. I learned a lot I didn't know before. I thought Temple University did an excellent job of telling our story in the time they did. Great job!"
George D. Murphy
B 2/320 Arty

"I was overwhelmed with emotions after viewing your film Saturday night. Actually, I haven't slept a whole lot since then, as so many memories have flooded back in. It is absolutely the best documentary I have seen, which so accurately relates the story of the guys on the ground. 

Most such films come through the filter of those who were not actually in harm's way. Yours, so eloquently told by the veterans on camera, was spot on. It captured the gritty reality of that event, including the understandable bitterness about some of the tactical decisions that were made, which ended up costing lives, and the quiet heroism of those brave men who endured, and who took care of each other.

I was a pilot with the Lancers, Co. B, 158th Assault Helicopter Bn. As such, our role was solely to support the guys on the ground. If we could actually get in and out of Ripcord, or any of the "LZs" surrounding the FSB, without getting shot down, we were out of harm's way until the next sortie. Each trip in was an adventure in just trying to limit ours and the ground troops exposure to all of the weaponry the NVA could bring to bear, which was formidable.

The guys on the ground, however, had no respite from that onslaught. I salute them all, and you, too, for telling their story.

I could not be prouder of the number of times our aircraft, with the telltale white dot on the tail boom, were included in the footage. I can now show my children, that "We were there".
Bill Walker
(Lancer 17)
Co B, 158th Aslt. Hel. Bn., 101st Abn, Div. 1970

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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