11 -Dispatch from Kinh Mon

Mr. Diem is 63. He was captured by the NVA when they took Da Nang. For the next 6 years he did hard time in one of re-united Vietnam's many "re-education camps" - learning to be a good little Marxist - it didn't take. He bargains hard for every dollar while still making this client happy.

Mr. Diem is one of the several old vets who learned their English fighting with us, and now makes a living taking other old vets, like me, on tours of their youthful escapades. One of my escapades involved a name on my old map - a village that, in 1968, had long disappeared into the moonscape of the DMZ. Americans died here. Many more would have died except for a unique event in this war of jungle and swamp - a cavalry charge by a small group of tanks.

The weather had turned from poor to terrible for our troops on foot in the DMZ - no jets could see to drop bombs, no helicopters to fire rockets or bring more food or bullets - or even take out the wounded. The enemy was even too close to safely call in artillery. Deprived of our superior technology, it was man-to-man, and the enemy held all the aces - more men, known terrain, prepared positions and re-supply. A disaster was in the making.

Decades after this battle, I get an email out of the blue. A writer doing research wants to hear all I remember about that day. He knows his craft and has hunted down a large number of others who had been involved. The Internet Age brought us all back together - after 40 years.

That crazy general, that I still do not name, was "quite the man with the local ladies," says Mr. Diem - his ex-boss use to party with the general. This same general watched the operation unfold from a bunker in Con Thien, our "Hill of Angels." It was called Operation Rich, but now is known as the Battle of Kinh Mon - a place where the weather and the unexpected moves by his foe, set up the possibility that over a hundred of the general's brave men would die.

Tanks were put on Con Thien, for defense - and were never intended to roar off on their own. But they became the only chess piece left - a spur-of-the-moment, unplanned, unscripted charge into a most un-tank friendly place - the mines and mire of the DMZ.

It takes some persuasion for me to get Mr. Diem and our driver to try the route the tanks took that day - only part is a road of sorts.

Today it is at least dry and warm, and the village of Kinh Mon has come back to life. On one hilltop now there is a small house where another Birddog beat an anti-aircraft gunner to the draw. An old woman there says there were "big holes" here when she returned to start a farm. It looks a lot better from down here today, than it did from my little Birddog above the tanks, way back then.

The area had been mined, over the wars, by four armies … counting ours. The first tank was destroyed almost immediately after leaving Con Thien. Then another tank was hit, and then another - but they kept on moving until they could bring their big guns into action. Shock and awe! The enemy stopped and withdrew - and the cold, wet and grateful infantry huddled behind the tanks all night - some warming themselves until passing out in the exhaust gas of the engines.

I never met those tankers. I only spoke to their commander by radio that one eventful day that none of us will ever forget. Thanks to that skillful writer and the miracle of the internet, I have a name to go with the radio call-sign.

That ballsy young officer, who's men and tanks saved the day (and a general's career) became a busy city attorney in Arizona. He has a family and is not much interested in the war. He did offer to buy me a drink, and I hope to take him up on that one day to show him some old pictures - and to tell his daughters what a brave man they have for a daddy.

- Recalling Rod

PS: The Battle of Kinh Mon is featured in a book, 100 Feet Over Hell, by Jim Hooper.