F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
April 30, 2000
"Team 70" Heroism at An Loc Honored

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

Veterans of Combat Assistance Team 70 meet in Biloxi this week to celebrate their heroic victory over vastly superior North Vietnamese forces in the 1972 Battle of An Loc.

"When the North Vietnamese launched their massive 120,000-man Easter Offensive March 30, 1972, some of the communist troops heading for Saigon had packed away new uniforms for an expected victory parade," recounts former foreign correspondent and Behind The Headlines reporter Philip Clarke. "Hanoi had reason to feel confident," Clarke confirms. "Caught by surprise, South Vietnam's thinly spread defenses were crumbling. And on the southernmost of three battlefronts," he adds, "an army of of three heavily reinforced divisions -- 36,000 crack troops backed by 100 Soviet-made tanks -- rolled toward Saigon.

"With most of America's combat forces withdrawn and the remaining 65,000 in the process of going home, the South Vietnamese capital seemed ripe for the taking," Clarke observes in a recent issue of The American Legion magazine. "So did An Loc, a rubber plantation town only 65 miles up Highway 13 from Saigon. When the enemy encircled An Loc and began an armored assault at dawn April 13th," he recalls, "the defenders could muster fewer than 5,000 rag-tag troops and militia and a handful of U.S. Army advisors.

"South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered the 5th to hold An Loc 'at all costs,' but the outlook was grim," Clarke continues. "Media reports predicted the town's imminent fall," he notes. "Hanoi's delegate to the moribund peace talks in Paris boasted that within a week An Loc would be proclaimed the provisional capital of a new revolutionary government of the South.

"But the communist vows of victory were premature," Clarke confides. "In what seemed a miracle, An Loc's defenders, though vastly outnumbered, rallied and held again and again. For three agonizing months they endured the most sustained tank and infantry attacks and all-out artillery bombardments of the war, burrowing underground to survive and fight back . . .

"Finally and heroically, An Loc and its handful of U.S. advisors turned the tide," Clarke concludes. "By early July the siege was broken; Hanoi's mighty Easter Offensive was turned back; America's last great battle of the Vietnam War was won." Thanks to the victory at An Loc, Clarke emphasizes, the fall of Saigon was postponed, "the remaining 65,000 U.S. combat troops were returned safely home, and the long-delayed Paris peace accord was signed, leading to the release of our POWs from Hanoi."

That was 28 years ago, but it was only last year that the members of Combat Assistance Team 70 were awarded the U.S. Army's "highest unit award for heroism," thanks to the dogged intervention of the veteran journalist who covered their awe-inspiring battle, and who sought to "honor all of the U.S. Army advisors who remained behind in Vietnam to safeguard our withdrawal [and] bind the spiritual wounds left from that tragic conflict." That veteran journalist: foreign correspondent Philip Clarke.

For a free copy of Philip Clarke's popular 24-page pamphlet Patriotism in America, send a stamped self-addressed envelope to "Patriot," America's Future, 7800 Bonhomme Avenue, St. Louis MO 63105.