Comments by Major General Julian J. Ewell


Battle of Saigon

On 6 May 1968, in response to the tense situation developing in Saigon, the 9th infantry Division moved a mechanized infantry company up from Long An to reinforce the national police in an area just south of Saigon. The division commander also directed that the mechanized battalion commander establish a forward CP to maintain contact with the precinct officials. This proved to be a timely move because the VC had already began their infiltration into the outskirts of the city.

At first light on the morning of the 7th a battalion size enemy force attacked a national police compound south of the canal between the Route 5A and the “Y” Bridges. C/5/60 elements located to secure these two bridges responded to the call for help and sped to relieve the besieged headquarters. Heavy contact ensued but after an hour the enemy withdrew to the southwest. Company C pursued with the help of B Troop, 7th Squadron, 1st Air Cav reestablished contact. As the intensity of the conflict grew, the battalion commander made a timely decision to commit his A Company from Ben Luc. Their arrival at mid-morning “cracked the nut”. Although contact continued through the rest of the day becoming sporadic by 2000. The days results showed 213 VC KIA versus 2 US KIA and 45 WIA.

The more serious enemy threat demanded greater response on our part. Hence, the 2/47 scout platoon was brought from Bearcat and placed Opcon to 5-60. In addition , the 3-39 Infantry minus Company C moved to block below the built up area south of the “Y” Bridge.

On the 8th of May the 5-60 had no significant contact but such was hardly the case to the east. At mid-morning 3-39 departed their NDP’s to reconnoiter northward into the built up area. The scout platoon 2-47 worked west from the “Y” Bridge toward the common objective area. By mid-afternoon all elements were in contact with a reinforced company. 2-47 Infantry became Opcon to 3-39 and together they pushed northeast toward the “Y” Bridge. The going was slow as it became a house-to-house, street-by-street type of operation. At days end 115 VC had been killed as against 4 US KIA and 25 WIA.

On 9 May there was fighting in three different areas. To the west 5-60 reconnoitered in force to the northwest of their overnight positions. As they approached the built up area, near Thien-Duong, they established contact which lasted for two hours. Near the “Y” Bridge 3-39, augmented by B/6-31 reconnoitered throughout the surrounding built up area. Frequent sniper fire was returned by organic weapons. To the northeast 2-47, having been sent from Bearcat to recon in force a built-up area northeast of the “Y” Bridge, made contact with the enemy near Highway 231. And to the northeast, Companies A and C, 6-31, encountered sporadic contact throughout the afternoon. These four separate actions produced 202 enemy bodies in contrast to 11 US KIA and 66 US WIA.

At the close of the 3rd day in the Battle of Saigon, 9th division had five battalions (4-39 to the east) and two Air Cav troops operating in the southern capital military districts and on this day artillery support had been doubled when three more batteries were brought within range. The 5th Vietnamese Marines had moved into Saigon and we became responsible for their area as well.

At dawn on 10 May, an RF/PF op to the south at Xom Tan Lien came under heavy ground contact from the Viet Cong. It was decided to send B Troop 7th Squadron 1st Air Cav to assist the beleaguered government forces. When the Air Cav received intense ground fire, the decision was made to commit A and C Co., 5-60. Upon approach within 600 meters of the RF/PF op, Co A began to receive fire and dismounted while Company C supported to the northwest. As these forces closed on the enemy, Co. C drew heavy automatic weapons fire from the weedline to the southwest. Because of this resistance, Companies A and C, 6-31 were air-mobiled behind the Viet Cong hitting them from the northwest.

To the north, at mid-morning, the 3-39 Inf and D Troop, 3/5 Cav. commenced reconnaissance-in-force from their overnight positions to the built up area near Saigon. Companies A and B, 3-39 were to work in conjunction with D/3-5 Cav astride the Ong Nho River from the north to the south with a company on each bank. However, upon arrival at the river, Co. B received automatic weapons fire. As contact intensified, Co A was returned from the west bank and while crossing back over the bridge, they received B-40 rocket fire and became heavily involved in the same contact. The enemy was of unknown size and well bunkered. Contact in both the 5-60 and 3-39 areas subsided at night fall. These engagements on 10 May resulted in 113 VC KIA and 9 US KIA and 57 WIA.

On 11 May, five companies Opcon to 3-39 were drawn from different directions to a contact area south-southwest of the “Y” Bridge. Contact continued throughout the afternoon in varying degrees of intensity. To the southwest, A and C/6-31 made sporadic contact throughout the afternoon. The enemy lost 116 compared to 4 US KIA and 34 WIA.

On 12 May, the 3rd Brigade conducted final mopping up operations where they had so successfully waged the battle for the defense of Saigon during the previous five days. Five companies Opcon to 3-39 began recon-in-force in the built up area south of the “Y” Bridge. By mid-day all companies had established contact with fire team and squad size VC forces. The enemy contact continued until dark in degrees varying from sniper to sporadic. However, at 1720, B/6-32 came in heavy contact with a platoon size enemy force near an abandoned PR Outpost. This contact too broke at darkness. The enemy suffered 93 killed while the US losses were 4 KIA and 26 WIA.

With the Battle of Saigon over by 12 May, the period 13 to 20 was characterized by aggressive US pursuit of the Viet Cong forces into their base camp areas south and southeast of Saigon. This pursuit resulted in sporadic contact. Nevertheless, the Viet Cong suffered heavy casualties. In this eight day period the Viet Cong lost 148 KIA in contrast to 7 US KIA and 37 WIA.

The fighting had been difficult particularly in the built up areas. Airstrikes were the only answer to the enemy bunkers along the southern edge of Saigon, and Air Cavalry gunships supported our forces throughout, not to mention artillery, at the relatively small cost of thirty-three of our own, the enemy lost 852.

Subject: commendation for outstanding combat performance

To: Commanding officer
3rd Brigade
9th Infantry Division

1. On behalf of the entire 9th Infantry Division, I would like to commend the 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, and all assigned, attached, and supporting units for outstanding performance during the period 6 to 12 May 1968.

2. The 3rd Brigade in five full days of intense combat completely destroyed or decimated every Viet Cong and NVA units which attacked the southern outskirts of Saigon. With indomitable courage and dogged perseverance the elements of the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry and the 5th Battalion, 60th Infantry initially set up an impenetrable defense and then counterattacked, destroying or driving away enemy units and soldiers, while inflicting over a thousand casualties on the enemy force at relatively low cost to themselves. The performance of the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry reinforced by B Company, 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry and B Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry was particularly gallant. In 97 continuous hours of house to house and bunker to bunker fighting of the bitterest sort, they completely cleared the approaches to the “Y” Bridge to Saigon.

3. The performance of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Artillery and reinforcing units was particular outstanding. Delivering heavy fire support twenty-four hours a day, sometimes as close as 30 meters from friendly lines, their fire was critical to this successful battle. The bravery and skill of their forward observer teams was beyond praise.

4. The performance of the Air Cav troops, B Troop, 7th Squadron, 1st Cavalry and D Troop, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry was most critical to the operation. Not only did they deliver accurate and overpowering rocket and machinegun fire in close support, but they sealed off the approaches to the area, destroying Viet Cong in the open, sinking sampans, and even destroying rockets ready to fire on Saigon. They also ranged far afield picking up information of friendly and enemy movements, which was a great assistance to the commanders.

5. The fighter bombers of the 7th Air Force and the Air Force Forward Air Controllers of the 3rd Brigade put on a spectacular performance. In 181 sorties, some conducted very close to friendly troops, they delivered bombs, napalm, and gunfire with great effectiveness. This support was of critical importance to the operation.

6. The 191st and 195th Helicopter Companies of the 1st Aviation Brigade performed magnificently in a variety of missions. The mobility and speed of the 3rd Brigade was primarily due to the fine support in assaults, extractions, eagle flights, emergency resupply and repositioning.

7. The Vietnamese forces in the area were most courageous. The National Police did yeoman service, as did elements of the 38th ARVN Ranger Battalion and the RF/PF Outposts in the area.

8. The organic medical personnel of the brigade did their utmost to support the combat troops, exhibiting bravery, compassion, and professional skill throughout. The men of the 45th Medical Company (helicopter ambulance) were magnificent.

9. The assistance of many small units and individuals, too numerous to mention, made this great team effort possible. I have directed that a recommendation for a distinguished unit citation for all units involved be prepared as expeditiously as possible.

10. We of the 9th Division salute the 3rd Brigade and its associated units for an outstanding combat action in which bravery was commonplace and heroism the rule.

Dated 23 May 1968
Julian J. Ewell
Major General, USA