Al at the Battle of Song Be
The following story appeared in the Hartford Courant, May 13, 1965. The Lt. Col. Alton E. Park mentioned in the story is the Al I mention frequently in Notes from the Home.
How Brave Died in Viet Nam
SONG BE, South Viet Nam (AP) – They found the sergeant dead at dawn Tuesday, spreadeagled against a bloodied pantry door in the US Army advisory group’s mess hall. His upraised right hand clutched a penknife.
He was Sgt. Horace E. Young of Fayetteville, N.C., one of five Americans killed in the Viet Cong attack on this provincial capital 74 miles north of Saigon.
In his last defiant act he may have taken a Viet Cong with him. Bloodstains led to the jungles outside the defense perimeter. Young bled to death in the dark.
The camp medic, Sgt. William D. Benning of Cincinnati, Ohio, died while trying to save a dozen wounded men from both their wounds and the Viet Cong. A Red suicide squad crept up on Benning while he worked in the mess hall and lobbed grenades.
Benning died instantly.
So did two others lying on makeshift beds in the mess hall – Lt. Henry A. Deutsch of Greenville, S.C., and Spec. 4 Amos C. Watson of Wilson, N.C.
The fifth to die was Sgt. Johnie K. Culbreath of Callison, S.C.
Hearing the grenades exploding, Culbreath leaped from his foxhole near the western edge of the American camp.
Shot Through Door
“They’re going for the wounded,” he shouted and ran toward the mess hall.
The guerrillas inside shot him through the door.
The senior officer in the camp, Lt. Col. Alton E, Park of Columbus, Ga., escaped with a series of wounds. He was injured early in the attack when a 75 mm shell smashed a wall to pieces.
A three-year veteran of the Vietnamese war, Park was carried to the mess hall. There he suffered more wounds when the Viet Cong tossed in their grenades.
That was not the end of Park’s misery. Before being driven from the mess hall, which they occupied for about 20 minutes, the raiders searched Park’s pockets and then shot him in the back.
Not Mortal Wound
But the bullet touched no vital organ.
Two veterans manned a machine gun which commanded the western slopes of the camp. They were Sgt. Maj. Robert Frandes and Sgt. Charles Crockett, both of Fayetteville, N.C.
They were hit repeatedly with grenade and mortar fragments, but kept shooting into the Viet Cong troops.
By dawn Frandes and Crockett were ankle deep in spent shells and were aching and misty-eyed with pain and loss of blood. Their commander, Maj. Mitchell Sakey of Boston, Mass., told them, “If you guys hadn’t held there, we all would be lost.”
Sakey, a short, stocky Special Forces officer, had words of praise for his men and blame for some of his allies.
“The popular force (militia) company on our left flank bugged out after the first exchange of fire and that let the Viet Cong through,” he said.
“If they had held there would be no dead Americans here today.”
Other Americans said this company was the one that turned tail and left four America advisors to their fate in a district near Song Be Several months ago. Three of the Americans were killed and one was captured.
But there were plenty of brave Vietnamese in the battle for Song Be.
Pressed Into Action
Sakey said 60 rangers on the south flank beat off a Viet Cong battalion.
“The Viet Cong thought they could run through us here without trouble,” he said.
“Well, we gave them trouble.”
But he was taking no chances of a further attack. He was eager to press all hands into service. When two newsmen decided to stay Wednesday night, Sakey had no hesitation in asking them to assist in the defense.
“Take this carbine and 500 rounds of ammo and protect the mortarman,” he said.
A US Army doctor also grabbed a rifle.
“What about the Geneva convention?” the doctor was asked.
“This is preventive medicine,” he replied. “I shoot them before they shoot me.”