Looking East. The road going off the top right went Southeast to Bo Tuc (bad news!). Road going off the right center went South to Tay Ninh City eventually. Road going off the top left went North into Cambodia.  The tiny white circle in the center of the camp was the 81mm mortar pit which was about 6ft from the back door of the Teamhouse. During any sort of activity, the first man out the door of the Teamhouse immediately dropped two illum rounds down the tube, regardles of which way the gun happened to be pointed. The runway was also almost due North - South. All fixed wing operations landed from the south and took off to the south. Too many bad guys up north of the camp to fly up there unless you were in a Cobra or equivalent.

Viet Nam - 1968

The distant drone of the C-123 Provider approaching in the early morning dawn caused the war weary inhabitants of the Special Forces camp to look toward the dirt landing strip. The cargo plane on short final coming in from the south was hugging the trees. Katum Special Forces camp nicknamed Ka-boom was notorious for its mortars rockets and snipers. The tired eyes looking toward the airstrip knew the plane's arrival would bring with it as a minimum small arms fire from the forest to the north. But more than likely a few mortar rounds. The green camouflaged two-engine cargo plane touched down heavily on the lateral airstrip sending a cloud of reddish-brown dust into the humid air. The pilot applied the brakes and rapidly moved the throttle levers to the reverse range resulting in the familiar rescinding roar of a Provider assault landing. As the plane decelerated down the 2900-foot runway it simultaneously lowered its cargo ramp. This was going to be a quick off load, no one stays at Katum any longer than what is absolutely necessary. Well before reaching the end of the dirt strip the pilot cranks the duel nose wheel as far around as possible to make a 180-degree turn in preparation for a quick departure. Even before the plane reaches a full stop three men in faded green jungle fatigues with sleeves rolled up and full combat gear race off the ramp heading for the cover of the ditch near the turn around point. Holding their helmets with one hand and their snub nosed rifles with the other they crouch low to the ground in a futile attempt to make themselves smaller targets as they run. Before the gear laden group of men clear the propellers' backwash the Provider starts rolling back down the runway. All in all the landing and offloading of the human cargo took less than a minute.

Aircraft beginning to rotate and depart (rapidly) with a mortar burst just off the nose

The three loaded down with their rucksacks and CAR 15 rifles race to the ditch and dive in, the Provider roars as its engines reach full power and the J-85 jet boaster pods kick in. Turning to look at the aircraft the dust covered men see it lift off the runway taking among other things the deafening noise that may have covered enemy small arms fire. As the three lay in the ditch sweating under their flak vests and helmets the noise of the aircraft fads off in to the distance, they listen. No small arms fire. No mortars. Only the sound of insects and the distant noises of the camp some 500 meters away. Had they been shot at and just didn't hear it or was this their lucky day and the enemy got caught sleeping? The three lay in the ditch watching and listening.

To the enemy observing from the surrounding forest the three looked like army troops but they weren't. They were part of an elite group of men called Combat Controllers, the United States Air Force's ground warriors. A small group of highly trained airmen who facilitated the Air Force support of ground forces in hostile environments. These three Controllers were assigned to the 8th Arial Port Squadron at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Their mission for the next week or so was to help the Air Force re-supply Katum.

This was not the first time a Combat Control Team (CCT) had been sent into Katum to work this mission; numerous teams had come into the camp since its establishment in February 1968. Two of the team members had been to Katum on at least one other occasion Captain Kent L. Helber and Buck Sergeant Rudolph A. Elizondo. In fact Helber had been wounded by small arms fire the last time he had been at Katum. As for the third member of the team Staff Sergeant Billie W. Slayton this was his first time to Katum but not his first time in combat. He had been in plenty of action up to this point to include the siege of Khe Sanh were he was wounded by mortar fire. So this team was not lacking in experience and that experience was telling them to sit tight and listen before making a run for the camp.

After several minutes without incident the veterans agreed it was time to move to the camp. The only entrance to the camp faced the landing strip and was about 500 meters away. The three rose from the relative safety of the dank ditch and quick timed it to the camp ignoring the temptation to look back toward the woods where the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Regulars or whoever else was not happy with the camps location might be putting a bead on them.

Katum is located approximately eight kilometers south of the Cambodian border in the South Vietnam province of Tay Ninh in III Corps Tactical Zone. A small camp measuring about 100 meters across and designed in the shape of a five-pointed star. The camp consisted of three circular defensive berms one within the other. The outer berm was manned by local indigenous Vietnamese civilian irregular troops who were part of the Civilian Indigenous Defense Group (CIDG). The second berm inside the first was manned by a mix of non-local Vietnamese and Cambodians soldiers. And the center berm was manned by Americans Montagnards and very trusted Vietnamese. Between the outer and second berm the indigenous troops' families lived. Between the second and center berm lived the non-indigenous troops. Inside the center berm was the command post a US Army battery of 105mm howitzers and the living quarters of the US troops. Each of the berms provided a defensive ring manned with M-60 machine gun bunkers and firing positions.

As the Combat Control Team moved through the entrance of the camp theshirtless Vietnamese sentry raised his hand in casual greeting while removing theMarlboro from his mouth and adjusting the M-16 rifle slug over his shoulder. Elizondo was never quite comfortable with these irregular troops; their loyalty was not a certainty.  The three men moved through the living areas filled with families cooking breakfast and taking care of morning chores. The smell of Vietnamese spices mixed with US Army issued C-rations permeated the air. The sound of children in a fighting camp had always seemed out of place to Slayton. But this was not his first time in a Special Forces camp and he knew it was the norm. The skinny camp dogs paid little attention to the team moving through the area; their attention was on the cooking stoves and the possibility of something edible being dropped. The trio moved through the next defensive ring exchanging profane batter some familiar faces and enjoying the feel of camaraderie and relative security. Once in the center ring Slayton and Elizondo moved to the bunker reserved for the Combat Controllers while Helber went to check in with the camp commander First Lieutenant Donald Giddeon.

Lieutenant Giddeon was in command of Special Forces Detachment A-322 of the 5th Special Forces Group. His command consisted of Green Berets Artillerymen with 105-mm howitzers and a mixed bag of local and non-local indigenous troops. The Command Post was a sandbagged bunker in the middle of the camp that doubled as the Team Room for relaxing. The mission of the camp was pretty simple on paper. It was to observe and report enemy activity on the numerous trails that came in and out of Cambodia. This was a tall order for such a small force but the Lieutenant did the best he could. On top of trying to execute the mission the Lieutenant was faced with the constant threat of attack. The camps proximity to communist strongholds and infiltration routes made it a magnet for enemy attacks. In fact the camp had suffered its most intensive attack to date only a month ago barely surviving.

While Helber was with Lieutenant Giddeon Slayton and Elizondo broke out the PRC-47 high frequency radio and called back to the 834th Air Division Airlift Control Center at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. After notifying the Airlift Control Center call sign Hilda and getting the schedule of missions for the day Slayton signed off and began preparing for the day's labors. The day was 20 September 1968, before the weeks mission was completed Captain Helber Staff Sergeant Slayton and Sergeant Elizondo would earn Silver Star Medals for gallantry.

Around midnight on the 24th Slayton and Elizondo came into the bunker after having a few drinks with their buddies at the Team Room; Helber was already sacked out on his cot. The bunker they had called home for the last three days was actually three eight by ten metal connexs placed in the shape of a Y covered with sandbags. The door to the connex faced out to the northern perimeter. Just outside the door an M-60 machine gun was mounted on a wall of sandbags at the ready. If the camp came under attack it was the job of the Combat Control Team to man this position. Although no one on the team had any formal training on the M-60 they had been around sixties enough to know how to operate one. As the sergeants stumble around in the dark bunker looking for their cots they heard another 82mm mortar round go off near the runway. This type of harassment along with small arms fire had been going on sporadically since they got here. It didn't cause them too much concerned the rounds seldom hit in the camp. The only aircraft that had landed since their arrival was the one that had brought them in on the 20th. Everything else had been delivered by LAPES (Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System). This is basically a C-130 Hercules coming in over the runway at about 10 feet with its ramp open. It releases a parachute out the back that is tied to one or more pallets of supplies inside the aircraft. The parachute pulls the load out allowing the aircraft to exit the area as quickly as possible without landing. The pallet skids down the runway finally coming to a stop somewhere near the departure end of the runway. Unfortunately someone has to unload and recover the pallets parachutes and rigging - that someone was the Combat Control Team.

For the last four days the Combat Control Team recovered numerous pallets of supplies while under sporadic small arms and mortar fire from the surrounding forest. Using a ¾ ton truck and the help on numerous occasions from the artillerymen in the camp the Controllers would off load the pallets on to the track. Then re-rig the pallets to a sling and call in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to retrieve them. As the helicopter hovered over the stack of pallets a Controller standing on top of the pallets attached the cargo strap with a donut on it to the hook hanging from the under side of the Chinook. On several occasions this was done while receiving small arms and mortar fire. Most of the time the small arms fire was not very accurate. However earlier in the week the team got pinned down by well-directed sniper fire and the trio had to leap frog back to camp under fire. On another occasion while trying to hook a load of pallets on to a CH-47 the enemy started walking mortar rounds toward the Controllers and helicopter. Seeing the ground erupting in clouds of red dust and earth getting closer and closer the Controller trying to link up with the chopper's hook made eye contact with the CH-47 door gunner. No words could be heard over the whirling roar of the helicopters down wash, eye contact was enough. The Controller jumped off the stack of pallets and headed for cover with his buddy. At the same time the helicopter gained altitude and banked away from the incoming rounds. All in all the week had not been too bad. Unfortunately that would all change tonight. But to the tired Controllers stumbling in the dark the only thing they were concerned about was finding their cots.

Shortly after they fell into a restless sleep, interrupted by the occasional sound of mortar and rocket rounds in the distance, an Army sergeant woke them up. Things were warming up, Lieutenant Giddeon wanted to get some air cover overhead but had not had any luck through official channels. The sergeant asked the Controllers to try and get some help on their end. Slayton grabbed the PRC-47 and moved outside. Crouching down below the top of the sandbags he called Hilda. Leaning against the damp burlap wall of sand bags, Slayton waited for Hilda to respond. Having made contact with Hilda he explained the situation. Watching the red streaks of the tracer rounds shoot across the black sky above, Slayton listened in seething anger as Hilda told him to have the Army go through their channels. Slayton demanded to speak to the Command Center Chief. The next voice he heard was that of Colonel Kasadra an ex-combat controller. Kasadra stated the same thing as his subordinate had...go through Army channels. Slayton reiterated that things were getting hot and there was no help coming through Army channels... We need help are you going to give it to us? Kasadra knew Slayton, Slayton didn't scare easily...Kasadra sent help. An AC-47 Gunship better known as Spooky was on it way from the 14th Air Commando Squadron out of Bien Hoa Air Base. There had been an AC-130 Specter Gunship over Katum up until about midnight but it ran out of loiter time and returned to base for fuel making the camp vulnerable to attack. This did not go unnoticed by the enemy once Specter departed things started happening.

The Controllers manned their defensive position. Slayton on the M-60 with Helber feeding the 7.62mm belted rounds into the chamber and Elizondo on top of the bunker acting as a spotter. Things were heating up quick. The heaviest concentration of fire seemed to be coming from the direction of the forest to the north. The best Slayton could do was concentrate his fire wherever he saw tracer rounds coming out of the darkness at the visibility. The noise was deafening. The 105 s were pumping out shells as fast as they could with no apparent results the enemy kept coming. Crew served weapons and small arms fire lit up the night. The constant flash of the 105 muzzles robbed the Controllers of what night vision they had. Time no longer was measured in minutes or hours, it was measured in the distance of the enemy and the ability of the camp to hold. At some point Spooky arrived overhead and started adding its three 7.62 mini-guns to the fight. In addition Spooky provided a steady stream of illumination flares casting an aerie surreal quality over the scene. Even with the flares not much could be distinguished through the cordite smoke filled air. The screams of the wounded and dying mingled with the yells of those still in the fight.

Shortly after 0300 hours the enemy broke through the northwestern point of the perimeter using flame-throwers and satchel charges. As luck would have it, the Controllers' position faced the break through. They were in the last line of defense. The situation was desperate. By this time the Controllers had over heated the sixty's barrel having forgotten to change it out during the fight? Quickly switching the barrel the Controllers continued the fight pouring as many rounds as possible into the breach. Elizondo adding the firepower of his CAR 15 was order to save his ammo by a nearby sergeant, things were looking bad, and he would need his ammo for the final defense. The enemy kept coming. A defensive position several meters in front of the Controllers tried to retreat but were ordered back, there was nowhere to retreat. In a final act of desperation the 105s lowered their barrels level to the breach and fired point blank with bee hive (canister) rounds into the advancing enemy. Quickly shifting reserves to the breach the beleaguered warriors counter attacked driving the remaining enemy back through the hole in the perimeter. The burping sound of Spooky raining thousands of rounds per minute on to the enemy outside the fence was joined by the firepower of the returned AC-130 Specter. Specter's 7.62 mm mini-guns and 20 mm Vulcan cannons provided significant firepower to the fight. The rhythmic pounding of the Vulcan cannons was a comforting sound to the Controllers fighting for their lives. As the glow of false dawn appeared in the sky the intensity of the battle seemed to decrease. Was the enemy being bled dry or was it just a lull before the final push? The tired camp continued to pour everything they had at the relentless enemy. As the sun's glow appeared through the smoky pall that lay upon the camp Elizondo could see the hazy shadows of the enemy retreating into the trees still firing as they backed into the forest. Suddenly the vibrating roar of F-100 Super Sabers pierced the din of battle followed by the sound of the forest being demolished by their bombs? The battle at Katum was over.

None of the Controllers had been wounded during the action; however the sandbags that protected them were torn and shredded. The fins of an unexploded 122-mm rocket stuck out of the front of their bunker. The dead and dying lay before them tangled in the concertina wire and struined upon the ground in pieces. The carnage reached out past the northwest perimeter attesting to how close the camp and the Controllers had come to making the ultimate sacrifice. The enemy had come within 30 meters of the Controllers' position. For gallantry under fire they received their country's fifth highest military medal - the Silver Star.

Billie Slayton and Smith

Note: I received a letter from Reg Manning, CSM (Army Ret.) who took the first four photos used in this story.  I also had a picture of the infamous C7 being blown in half by blue fire with a note about Al Barksdale witnessing the mishap, which Reg informed me was wrong.  He pointed out that Katum didn't have any mountains around and the picture of the C7 sure had mountains in the background.  I removed the picture and will research the story behind it.

My intent is to provide CCTer's an accurate history of their accomplishments and I certainly appreciate any information to further my intent.  Thanks Reg, I owe you a beer and Thank You for visiting The Team Room; However, next time Signz The Damn GuestBook!

Combat Control Control Point