RED HORSE TRIPLE NICKEL
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COLONEL HAM AND THE FIRST ROCKET ATTACK
It was pastmidnight and the Cam Ranh Bay flight line was eerily quiet. From the top landing of
the Super Hootch staircase, the Red Horse Squadron officers listened for the normal sounds.
Missing was the roaring blast made by the F-4 Phantom fighters as they roared down the runway
and kicked in their afterburners. Likewise, the whop whop of the Huey’s going or returning
from landing zones (LZ’s) could not be heard. Nor could anyone pick up the high-pitched drone
of any C-130 turbo-prop transports or the squealing of tires impacting the AM-2 aluminum mat
runway. The officers muttered amongst themselves.
Perhaps it was just an unusually quiet night at the giant air base located on a peninsula between
the South China Sea and the mainland of Vietnam? Not likely. Most disturbing, there was no
hint of the gentle tympanic flutter made by the Jolly Green choppers bringing the wounded into
the base hospital for life-saving treatment. These were the sounds the guys were used to
hearing, night and day. Even when the base was cloaked in darkness, they could hear, but not
see, the ongoing panoply of war. But this evening, the sounds were nowhere to be found.
Standing at the base of the staircase, Colonel Maynard G. Hamilton, known by all as Colonel
Ham, Commander of the Triple Nickel Red Horse Squadron, listened along with the others.
“Ray,” he said quietly to his deputy, Major Ray Medeiros, “Alert the squadron. Get everyone
inside a revetment. Something’s up.”
Major Medeiros grabbed his radio, affectionately called the “brick,” and pushed the talk
button. “Control Center, this is Red Horse Two, over.”
“Control Center. Go ahead sir.”
“Get everybody on the Red Horse net to pass the word. Move to revetted shelters
immediately—by order of Colonel Ham!”
That was all it took. The magic words—by order of Colonel Ham—sent the troops scurrying to
their sandbag-surrounded hootches. Still, the quiet night lingered on.
Suddenly, perhaps ten minutes later, the first round hit. No warning from the Command Post.
No sirens. Just the intuitive moxie of the colonel had caused his four hundred Red Horse troops
to take cover.
A rocket had found its way from the mountain side across the bay and landed somewhere to
their west, possibly near the C-130 operations area. The base was under attack.
The handful of officers at the top landing made way as Colonel Ham climbed the staircase and
gazed across the water to the hillside harboring the Viet Cong. In the darkened and obscured
vista, an occasional flash of light told him that more ordnance was headed their way.
“I believe those S.O.B.’s are zeroing in on us tonight fellas. The rockets are going to hit
somewhere and they just might prang in here! Have the SP’s asked for the RDF?” he called to
Lieutenant Ford, the deputy commander and leader of one of the two Red Horse Rapid Defense
“Negative sir.” Harry Ford replied from his position behind the Super Hootch revetment.
“Put our young ruffians on alert Lieutenant. Tell Jones to do the same with his RDF team. You
never know when these VC bastards are going to assault the concertina wire.”
Lieutenant Scott Jones, the over-all Commander of Red Horse’s RDF and the other team leader
overheard the conversation. “Sir, I’ve been in contact with the Security Police Command Post.
They say the attack is all airborne—rockets, mortars, and perhaps artillery, because their Intel
indicates no troop movements toward the perimeter.”
“Never mind those mealy-mouthed mothers. When the enemy hits you with artillery or rockets, it
may be just to soften you up and fool you into thinking there will be no ground assault. The SP’s
may be right but we’re not taking any chances. Are your guys trained?”
“Yes sir. Both RDF teams have had numerous drills deploying to our sector of perimeter
concertina wire and simulating everything from small arms fire to sappers with satchel charges.
We’re also prepared for an all-out massive rush.”
“Outstanding, Lieutenant. Red Horse is responsible for Sector Nine and if any of the bad guys try
to approach our section of wire I want our RDF’s to bite ‘em right in the ass. Make sure your
young whippersnappers are dressed, armed, and ready.”
Before the lieutenant could get underway, Colonel Ham gave him one reminder. “Alert,
Lieutenant, not deploy to battle stations. At least not yet.”
“Understood. Yes sir.” Jones was on his radio.
Another ten minutes passed.
Wham, Bam! The silence was broken with earth-shattering punctures. From out of the quiet
darkness a half dozen rounds slammed into the aluminum mat parking ramp, cratering it and
spraying shards of shrapnel in every direction. That got the base radio traffic humming. From the
Control Tower, Base Operations, and the Command Post, the warnings came. Every radio net and
loudspeaker was blaring, “Take cover; cease all operations. The base is under attack.”
Where in the Hell were these weenies when the first round came in, the Colonel wondered? If I’d
been up there in the command post, I’d have somebody’s ass for this. I’d nail him right to the wall.
“Sir, we just heard from the Command Post,” Lieutenant Jones called to Colonel Ham. My RDF
team has been alerted to prepare for deployment to Sector Nine or Sector Three.”
“Sector Three? We haven’t trained for Sector three.” Colonel Ham’s voice was calm but, even in
the dark, the lieutenant could tell he was irritated.
A few minutes later, Colonel Ham rolled his jeep to a stop in front of the Super Hootch. Major
Medeiros and several others were there to greet him.
“Where have you been Colonel?” they asked.
“Well, before Red Horse can fix the damage, we need to have the areas cleared of any live shells.
I didn’t see anyone doing that. So while the SP’s and EOD weenies still had their heads up their
asses, I went out and found those mothers. Now, I suggest you do as I’m going to do—go to bed.
We’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”
And with that, Colonel Ham left his officers standing there in awe. Their first exposure to action,
and the lesson he taught them on how to react, was over.
Dedicated to the memory of Colonel Maynard G. Hamilton, commander and inspirational leader of
the four hundred men and officers of the 555th Red Horse Squadron during a period of their lives
when duty, honor, and leadership by example mattered most.
|COLONEL HAM AND THE FIRST