|Russell (Russ) Wallace and "Tusky"|
by Russell (Russ) Wallace
Tracer rounds originating on Kilo 9 split the growing darkness and got the attention of the sentries in their towers.
“Bravo 2 to Base.”
“Go ahead Bravo 2, this is Base.”
“Shots have been fired on Kilo 9. There are outgoing tracer rounds.”
“10-4. Base to Kilo 9.”
.... (no answer) ....
“Base to Kilo 9.”
..... (no answer) ....
“No contact with Kilo 9.”
It was a very hot and humid August night at Phan Rang Air Force Base. The K-9 units were called to work early this night. Both the Early Flight and Late Flight stood guard mount together.
The Early Flight, which normally posted just after dark, was posting before dark. The Late Flight, which normally posted two hours after the Early Flight, began posting as soon as the trucks returned to the kennels.
I was on the Early Flight and assigned to Kilo 9. As instructed, I did not check my radio after being posted, because I was receiving all the radio chatter. It was just a little after 1930 hours and I passed the gate guard as I walked down towards the fence line. At 7:30, the double-gated entrance was locked and unmanned overnight. I had about 200 yards of perimeter to patrol, so I made a sweep of the area and it was secure.
Feeling happy and safe, I sat down on a rock and plugged my ear plug into my pocket transistor radio and tuned in the oldies on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Then, something I had never done before. I plugged an ear plug into my walkie-talkie, so I could still hear the radio transmissions. I felt good. Both radios were working, not blaring, giving away my position.
I stood, and noticed Tusky was alerting towards the gate and the road towards the Strip, a village that had sprung up close to the base to service the needs of the off-duty personnel. I could hear the sounds of merriment wafting in on the gentle breeze.
I thought to myself, Tusky, you silly dog. I can hear those sounds. too. They are nothing. True, the noises I heard were nothing, but the noises Tusky was alerting to were something. He had picked up the sounds and perhaps the scent of some people coming up the road towards the base.
The sky was barely light, still outlining the tree tops, but the tree line was plunged into total darkness. I was 30 feet from the gate and I could not see it. But I could hear the sounds of people approaching the gates, even though I could not see them.
It was time to call in my dog’s alert. I should have believed him from the start. He was trained to see, hear, and smell things my senses could not discern. He did his job, so I had to catch up and do mine, by calling in the evolving situation on my radio. I called it in and received a 10-4 from Base.
Little did I know, Base did not receive my transmission. The 10-4 I heard was for someone else’s radio transmission.
I did not hear control dispatch the Security Alert Team for my back up, because they had not done so. I did not notice the omission, because I was busy focusing on what was happening right in front of me, about 40 feet away.
The men I still could not see were shouting and rattling the gates. It was an Asian language, and I remembered the briefing at guard mount about the sapper unit that was expected to attack us. We had been told that sapper units would probably be high on something which would help them overcome their fear of the dogs guarding the perimeter. These men had no fear of my dog who was being very vocal.
I found a huge rock to crouch behind just off to one side of the road. I still did not know how many men were out there in the darkness. I felt protected, and then they started climbing the first of two gates. I needed to inform the Control Center of the changing situation.
“Kilo 9 to Base.”
... (no response) ...
“Kilo 9 to Base.”
... (no response) ...
“Kilo 9 to Bravo 1.”
... (no response) ...
“Kilo 9 to Bravo 2.”The men climbed the first gate and were crossing the ten feet of open space to get to the second gate. The huge rock I was crouched behind shrank to the size of a pea in my mind. I ran back 30 yards and found a rock that was twelve feet high and had a shear edge like the corner of a house. My dog was barking out of control, his adrenaline rush probably comparable to mine.
... (no response).
I refocused on the sounds in front of me. The men were shouting and shaking the chain link gate. Then they started climbing the last gate. I tried my radio again, but first I pulled out the ear plug. It did not matter that it would blast out radio transmissions, because my dog was louder than the radio.
I tried calling Base and the two towers that were close to me, but the ear plug was not the problem. They still did not receive my transmissions. My radio’s battery was strong enough to receive, but not strong enough to transmit. A simple radio check would have resolved that when I was posted. I could not worry about that, because there was an unknown number of men walking up the road towards me.
Suddenly, two silhouettes appeared in the middle of the road. I gave them an order to halt and they did not. My dog was barking like crazy and jumping around wanting to get to them. My warning shot was straight at them. I continued firing and they both fell. Then one of them jumped up and ran for cover, and I shot twice more at him. He fell in the ditch at the side of the road.
I thought, how many others made it to cover in the rocks? I ran from my position and took up another defensive position further up the road. Tusky had calmed down and was not barking.
The tower guard called in the shots fired and Control tried to reach me. I tried to answer, but I could not. I heard Base dispatch the Security Alert Team and then I shut off my useless radio. The base went from Yellow to Red Alert.
I finally had time to breathe and think. My dog was calm, but alert. I began wondering how many men were part of this penetration attempt. One man was lying in the ditch moaning, the other was babbling something, probably giving information to his comrades who had made it to cover in the rocks.
I wondered how many times I had fired and how many rounds I had left. I was carrying a CAR-15 with 18 rounds in the magazine. I was firing it one-handed, like a pistol on semi-automatic. But what if someone charges me from the rocks and I run out of ammo?
I unclipped Tusky’s leash and took hold of his collar. He was easy to control, because he had calmed down. If I run out of ammo, I could let Tusky go and hopefully get my magazine changed while the person struggled with an 80-pound attack dog.
All stayed quiet. Two dog men from the Late Flight were posted at the perimeter road and shouted out to me as they approached. I was never so glad to see two guys as I was right then.
The supervisor for the Late Flight showed up next. He drove his jeep with its lights on right down to where the South Korean non-commissioned officer was lying in the road. Fortunately for him it was not an attempted penetration of the base by a North Vietnamese sapper unit.
Two South Koreans were late returning from the bars and whore houses of the Strip. The Korean compound had a curfew of 7:00 PM, the airbase, a curfew of 7:30 PM, and the two Koreans arrived at the gates at 7:45 PM.
Both Koreans lived. They were sent to do two years hard labor in a Korean prison. I had fired 8 rounds and hit each of them twice. I found that out, during my four-hour investigation by the Korean Military Police. I had to explain to them exactly what happened and I made sure my explanation was in line with the MACV Rules of Engagement.
If I had shot the unarmed Koreans when they were outside the fence, I would have been the one going to jail. I could only shoot at them if they shot at me first, or if I saw them setting up a crew-served weapon to be used against the base. I did my job, scared as I was.
Well they did not shoot at me, so that took me to the next scenario: penetration of the base. But I still do not have the authority to shoot them. I must give them two verbal warnings. Well, I gave them one verbal warning in Vietnamese and English -- I figured my dog barking was an even bigger halt command than my verbal one.
That did not stop them, so I gave them a warning shot -- I just did not tell the Koreans that it was straight at them. I again figured that Tusky’s bark was as much a warning shot as a shot from my gun. The two Koreans knew they were crossing a secure post and failed to halt.
The Koreans, as they interrogated me, asked a couple of interesting questions. First, “Why didn’t I tell them to halt in Korean as well?”
Let’s see, I thought it was an attack by a North Vietnamese sapper unit. Why would I even think it might be Koreans? Besides, I was so frightened, I could not remember the Korean word for halt.
Second, they asked me if I walked over and shot the guy lying in the ditch, because he was shot once through the back.
Well, he turned his back on me when he was running for the rocks and I fired twice at him. Not an easy shot, shooting one-handed from the hip, while your dog is jumping around trying to get to the guy. But they already knew the answer. All of my casings were in the one spot where I stood and fired.
After I spent four hours giving my statement and a signed, handwritten, report to the Koreans, the U.S. Air Force spent three and a half hours interrogating me. There is nothing worse than putting your life on the line and watching the justice system decide whether you acted properly, or not.
That incident had to be one of the most frightening things to happen in my life. An almost equally frightening event occurred two nights later. The Koreans I shot belonged to a White Horse Division artillery battery.
The following night, I did not go to post, because I was up all day being investigated for any wrongdoing by the Koreans and the U.S. Air Force. I had the night off. The post I should have been on was shelled short by the Koreans. Occasionally, they do make an error in their co-ordinates.
The second night after the incident, I was back on duty protecting the base from intruders who wanted to blow up our planes and I was taking cover from the artillery rounds which shelled my post short for the second night in a row.
As was normal, I heard the howitzers firing, but unlike normal, they were not hitting a point 1500 meters, or more, off base. The three rounds were whistling in on my position. It was too late to get to a bunker, by the time I realized I was the target.
I hit the ground and tried to pull my dog down -- he wanted to stand up and howl at the whistling. We survived unscathed as the shrapnel whooshed over our heads. I could hear it pepper the tin that surrounded the sandbags in the tower close to my position.
The tower guard did not have time to get to his bunker. He ducked behind the sandbagged walls of the tower and escaped injury.
Our Operations Officer visited the Koreans the next day and told them, "Once might be a mistake, but twice is not." He let it be known that it must not happen again. Thankfully it stopped.
My wife and I are campers. There is a firing range just over the hill from the campsite our trailer is on. I guess hearing shots being fired can trigger long hidden memories.
One evening, I had the most frightening nightmare I have ever had. I dreamed we were sitting in front of our fire pit enjoying a drink, when some rounds started whistling in on top of us. My struggle was not to get my dog down, but to convince my wife to get out of her chair and lie prone.
I awoke before it concluded, but it seemed as real as the event in Nam. I was shaken and did not sleep well that night. Every now and then, I get a crazy dream like that. I am thankful it does not happen often.
Russell (Russ) Wallace
USAF - Security Police
Sentry Dog Handler
Vietnam - February 1968 to February 1969
“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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