Dak To memories - a Vietnam scrapbook

My name is Ernie Camacho,
I served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1969.
I graduated from Keesler Air Force Base's US Army Aviation School, Air Traffic Control course, class 12106C, on 14 Feb. 67.
I was in Vietnam from March 1967 to March 1968.
I was assigned to the 125 ATC (Air Traffic Company), of the 1st Aviation Brigade.
I was in the control tower at Camp Holloway, Pleiku from March to June, 1967.
I was in Dak To from June 1967 to March 1968.

My MOS (job specialty) was Air Traffic Controller. I went to Dak To in early June, '67, with about half a dozen other ATC specialists to set up the airfield (VFR tower, Radar Approach Control) in preparation for a large campaign that was about to begin. We heard that the Special Forces B camp at Dak To had seen enemy activity over the last few days (patrols had not come back), and that a large number of VC were suspected to be in the area. Little did we know.

What I thought was going to be a month or two in the field ended up lasting me the rest of my tour, and it was still going strong when I left the following spring.

During the nine months I was there, I took a lot of photos and collected some newsletters from the 4th ID, along with some Stars and Stripes. I've been meaning to put all I have together into something presentable for my kids, and for anyone else who may have an interest in Dak To and what happened there.

I hope that this website will grow to include not only what little I remember and can share about Dak To, but to include other information from other soldiers that were there and fought in some of the largest engagements of the war.

I'll start by posting a photograph of Dak To Airfield. There were two airfields at Dak To: Dak To 1 and Dak To 2. Dak To 2 was where we all were. Dak To 1 had been used earlier by a Special Forces A team, but was not used while I was there, as far as I knew.

At any rate, let me describe this photo a bit. On 15 Nov. 1967, I was working the tower when we were attacked by mortar. We were in the middle of a very heavy resupply operation. For the last several weeks, we had been having dozens of C130's flying in supplies and flying out dead and wounded. Mortar attacks were an almost daily occurance, but they never hit anything of importance. On this day, I had the ramp, where the planes unloaded, almost completely full of C130's, maybe 8 or so, and others in the pattern for landing. When the mortars first hit, I alerted all air traffic and the planes in the air went into holding patterns, while those on the ground took off as quickly as they could.

Unfortunately, the traffic through the apron was one way and three C130's were hit. The planes at the head of the line were able to get out onto the runway and take off. Those behind the stricken planes were able to turn around on the ramp and get out the way they'd come in.

But, the first two planes that were hit caught on fire and eventually burned. The third plane, although hit and leaking fuel, did not catch fire. Its crew was able to pull it away from the other two, turn it around, and move it as far away from them as possible on the ramp.

During all this, I stayed in the control tower, giving the officers in the command bunker updates on the situation as I saw it, and instructing planes still in the air that we were now closed and that they had to go back home.

Not too long after the attack, I was contaced on the radio by an Air Force reconnaissance aircraft that wanted to take some pictures of the damage. I told him to come on over, the sky was all his. When he flew over, I saw that the plane was an F101 VooDoo with a blister under the nose for the cameras. I asked the pilot if I could have a copy of the photos he was taking and he said sure. A week or two later, a photo arrived.

I've scanned that photo and posted it here for you to view. it shows pretty much the entire runway and most of the structures alongside it. If you lived here at some point, you should be able to see where you lived.

The version of the photo that is posted here is big, about 1.6mb. I left it big so that you can see as much detail as possible. But this copy isn't as high-res as the original scanned image. If you're interested in having a copy of this photo for yourself, you may be able to do well enough by downloading this image, but if it isn't good enough, you can contact me. I'm looking into having high-quality copies made that would be available to you at cost.

OK, that's what I can offer you right now, this photo of Dak To. Here's what I'd like you to do for me. I'm hoping to create another version of this photo, one with circles and arrows and labels, showing what everything on the field is. If you can identify a tent or gun battery, I'd appreciate it if you cropped the photo to only show what you're describing, then send that cropped image back to me with as much detailed description as you can give me.

The 173rd Airborne, and the 4th Infantry Division were at Dak To for this operation, part of Operation MacArthur. We arrived at Dak To almost exactly a year after a famous incident occurred here during Operation Hawthorne, where CPT Bill Carpenter called in napalm on top of his position as his men were being overrun. I remember someone telling me that during this operation (MacArthur), some of the gear from that earlier patrol was found. Here's a map of the Operation Hawthorne area. Click on the "Hill 1073" arrow. John Taylor was there and has some photos .

Any stories you care to share will be added to this website. I've created a bulletin board / discussion area, and of course there'll be room here for any and all photos you might want to share.

To contact me, send email to erniecamacho-at-comcast-dot-net. Please replace the -..- with the correct punctuation.

Please pardon the rough look of this web page. I'm just throwing this up to get things started. As I find time, I'll spruce things up.

I hope to hear from all you Dak To Vets!

Ernie Camacho

Click here for the Airfield Photo

Remember that it's 1.6mb in size.

Note: In Internet Explorer, under Tools / Internet Options / Advanced tab, you can check the "Enable Automatic Image Resizing" in the MultiMedia section. With that option turned on, the airfield photo will be shrunk so that the whole photo can be seen. When you move your mouse over the image, you'll see a button that will change the image to full-size then back.

Click here to go to the Dak To Audio Page

Click here to go to the Photo Page

Here's a few other items:
1. In searching the web, I see that there are now tours offered where you can visit Vietamese battlefields. Some include a day trip to Dak To. Just do a search for "Dak To airfield" and see what hits you get.

2. When I did the search, I found this page where several Vets took the tour and brought back some photos of Dak To airfield. As you might expect, it looks to be totally overgrown, much as it was when I first saw it.

3. There has been a book written about the fighting around Dak To during this period. The title is "Dak To". The sub-title is "America's Sky Soldiers in South Vietnam's Central Highlands". The author is Edward F. Murphy. The paperback copy I have has a copyright date of 1993, and a paperback publishing date (First Pocketbooks Printing) of March 1995. I thought that the book was no longer in print, but I found this listing of a 1998 printing currently for sale.
Here is a listing from Amazon for a used copy of the book.

4. Here is some information about the photo: The Pilot was flying down runway 10, toward the east, so the "top" of the photo, the left side, is looking toward the east. As you look east, you'll see the highway, Hwy 512, running along the north side of the runway. This dirt road was re-built several times by our engineers, because it kept turning to mud. This road goes west to the Cambodian border, some 15 miles away. It goes east a few miles to connect with the main north/south hwy 14 that goes south to Kontum and Pleiku. In the photo, you can see the road leaving the end of the airstrip, veering to the left, then again sharply to the right. At that right turn you can see a straight line on the far side of the road. That line is Dak To 1 airstrip. There also appears to be a lot of traffic on the road right along there.

In the middle of the photo, under the printing, is the Special Forces B camp. To the right of it, you can see the river that flows all along the south side of the airfield, separating us (thankfully) from the heavily forested hills to the south. To the left of the camp is the ammo dump. At the left lower corner of the camp, you can see the two burning C130s. The black smoke obscures the area to the left of them. There are two taxiways from the runway to the ramp. At the right-hand taxiway, you can see the 3rd C130, which had been directly behind the 2nd burning plane, but has been moved as far away from them as possible. This 3rd plane was eventually repaired and flew again. The other two, mainly just their engines, were hauled out to the side of the firing range, to the north of the runway less than a quarter mile. The control tower, where I lived and worked, is between the road and the runway, on the north side of the runway, at about the mid-point of the Special Forces camp.

The area on the right side of the photo, on the south-west corner of the airfield, was 4th ID country. Here were living quarters, 175 artillery batteries, med evac facilities (next to the runway), mess tents, and the command bunker. On the north-west corner, out of the photo, was the 173rd, and to their north was a large open field used by helicopters for resupplying troops in the field.

Alongside the north side of the runway (bottom of photo) are revetments for helicopters. The large field to the north of the control tower was used as a temporary bivouac by troops coming in from the field, and for loading up helicopters for resupply. A bit further to the east are refueling points for the helicopters (Cowboys, Dustoffs). The Refuel/Rearm point used to be directly across from the control tower, on the north edge of the ramp. You can see the empty depressions in the ground to the left of the "wounded" C130 where the fuel bladders used to be.

5. Here are some maps of Vietnam:
a. Shaded relief of Vietnam
b. detailed maps of Vietnam
- to find Dak To, keep in mind that Dak To is just to the east of where Cambodia and Laos meet at the Vietnam border (sometimes referred to as the "tri-border" region). In the above map click on the map where the borders join. Then click anywhere on the next map. Then, click on the top-right map in the next window. Scroll down until you see hwy "512" in a white circle, then move right (east) to Dak To and n/s hwy 14.

6. If you search the web for references to Dak To, here are some other spellings that you'll want to look for (you can copy/paste to get special characters).

7. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you can download this network link to view some topo maps with Google Earth. Just click on This Link.

8. Some Dak To related links:

Website designed and maintained by Ernie Camacho.