The NVA 66 th and 28 th Infantry Regiments along with elements of the 40 th NVA Artillery Regiment and the K-394 NVA Artillery Battalion had moved south through Laos and Cambodia to the Duc Lap and Bu Prang vicinity where arteries of the Ho Chi Minh Trail crossed into South Vietnam . These were major arteries leading to Saigon and Ban Me Thuot. Just as at Ben Het, this was going to be another opportunity for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) command to show the results of Vietnamization. I was vaguely aware of the 66 th Regiment as early in my tour I had encountered them in the Ben Het /Dak To Campaign as a forward observer assigned to several U.S. artillery battalions from the 52 nd Artillery Group (Pleiku) operating in concert with the ARVN 24 th Special Tactical Zone (STZ). At this time, I was now one of the most experienced Fire Direction Officers in the Provisional Artillery Group (DaLat). I had varied experience in my battery which consisted of 8 inch and 105MM Howitzers, 175MM guns and 81 and 82MM mortars.
I weakly protested to the Deputy Commander IFFV Arty. that I was in no position for an interview only to hear that the Colonel would appreciate seeing combat troops straight from the field. While I was waiting, we discussed family, duck hunting and other items of common interest then he took me into a briefing room and showed me the plan that had already been developed. It initially consisted of three firebases in a triangle formation south and east of Bu Prang(YU495558). They were FSB Kate, Susan, and Annie, named after his three daughters. Duc Lap also had a similar configuration with FSBs Helen, Martha, and Dorrie. I thought I knew about the planned splitting of batteries for internal fire support to each fire base but when I saw how close to the Cambodian border they were, I asked if I was correct. I was told I was and asked my impression of the plan. I understood well that the triangular formation would let them fire artillery support for each other while supporting Bu Prang, but since we could not fire into Cambodia and we would have only 25-30 U.S. artillerymen on each base it seemed to me that the number of NVA in the vicinity could easily affect a siege on all three bases at once and no one would be firing for anyone but themselves. I was assured that with air support, ARVN troops, and the Special Forces contingent, this would not be a problem. Outside of this, my first interview went very well and it was inferred that BG Winant Sidle (outgoing IFFV Arty. CO), whom I considered to be one of the nicest gentlemen I had ever met, had sponsored me for this job. At this point I was feeling confident about everything except finding myself on Kate, Susan, or Annie.
Similar to the Ben Het situation, Duc Lap and Bu Prang showed a hesitancy on behalf of the ARVN 24 th STZ and ARVN 23 rd Division to become involved to support or reinforce the action. They felt that no more resources should be expended. Since this was a test of Vietnamization the US command would not commit American ground troops. Politics not firepower doomed these isolated firebases. It should be noted that in the beginning some of the people who had participated in the Ben Het siege felt that as then, these three firebases were being used as bait to draw a large force of NVA into the target zone of U.S. airpower. This thought was reinforced by the fact that the same South Vietnamese Marine COL Nguyen Ba Lien was commanding the 24 th STZ. When he had been involved with the 56 day siege of Ben Het earlier in the year, he had stated in an interview picked up by Stars and Stripes and the New York Times that he had always intended to use lightly defended Ben Het as “bait” to lure the NVA across the border where they would be engaged by American artillery and air power. A month later, in December 1969, COL Lien was killed when his helicopter was shot down. Stars and Stripes ran headlines that said “Vietnamization working at Bu Prang” and “ARVN Are Clobbering Charlie”. The text in one article said that the ARVN were doing most of the major fighting while the Montagnard forces had experienced little contact. Those who were involved knew the real story.