from Cavalair, exact date unknown, 1967
Captain Oscar L. OConner of San Antonio, Texas, is probably one of Americas best qualified to talk about the soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or, as Americans in this country call it, the ARVN.
As commander of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division, O Conner leads his men frequently on joint operations with a company of ARVN troops. And when the troops move out, a platoon of OConners company is attached to the ARVN unit, and OConner takes charge of one of the ARVN platoons.
In addition, OConner, who has special forces training, has served as adviser to Vietnam troops.
So he knows what he is talking about when he says, the ARVN has improved one heck of a lot in two years. In this area in Phan Thiet theyre taking the offensive now.
He can tick off several ways in which ARVNs have helped his U.S. troops on joint operations near Phan Thiet, where a 1st Air Cavalry Division Task Force and two ARVN battalions are clearing the former Viet Cong stronghold of Binh Thuan Province.
"Youre forever running into people out in the woods here. The ARVNs know the people. They know the terrain, and they can tell you that guys got no business being here. And they can talk with people. If a bunch of Americans round up civilians for interrogation, delay them, they are going to be offended.
"The last time I was out with the ARVNs, we ran across some Nungs (a Thai tribe who live near Phan Thiet) who told the ARVNs where there was a mine in the path. Now those Nungs might have told us, if wed been there alone. And we might have understood them "
OConner thinks his company has learned a lot from the Vietnamese soldiers about getting along in thickly wooded, mountainous terrain around Phan Thiet. "They can show you what food you can eat. They can show you where the good water is and wheres number 10. Thats one thing about an ARVN soldier, no matter where you put him, hes going to find one way to be comfortable."
Once, OConner related, his company had to stay in the field a day longer than we had planned, and ran out of C-rations. The ARVNs cooked a meal for them, sharing their rice.
"When one of our soldiers who had been attached to them was wounded, their medic dressed the woundour own guy said he couldnt have done betterand they were cutting a pickup zone for the helicopter to come in and get him when our troops reached them.
"I could go on and on telling about the times the ARVNs have helped us a hell of a lot on operations. But the main point is this: Theres nothing that makes a bigger difference to these people than having an ARVN private working with an American private, seeing that the GI doesnt get any special treatment. When it rains, it rains on both. When we get resupplied, we resupply them. And when theres a call on the radio for artillery, or air support, or medevac, no one asks if its an ARVN or American unit on the other end."
Helped by working with U.S. troops, OConner feels that the companies he works with in Phan Thiet are now more aggressive and better trained than they were when the joint operation began nine months ago. "Theyre chasing the Charlies now," he said.
OConner, 29, served a tour in Vietnam in 1965-66 as a Special Forces adviser to Vietnamese units. He volunteered to return to Vietnam because "I dont want my boy to have to come over here a few years from now and not be able to say I did all I could.
"Also, Ive worked for 10 years to have my own combat rifle company. I worked up from being a private, went to Officers Candidate school, because I wanted to have a company with the best. And to me, the 1st Cav is the best."