On this day 51 years ago, U.S. Army Special Forces SGT Brian Buker was killed in action during the battle for a Viet Cong (VC) mountain stronghold at Nui Khet. For his actions in the three-day battle, Buker would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor (MOH).
Buker was born on November 3, 1949, in Benton, Maine, and came from a military background. His three older brothers Victor, Gerald, and Alan had all enlisted, gone to Vietnam, and returned home. Buker joined right after high school at the age of 17. He completed a deployment in Vietnam but volunteered to return for a second tour.
However, when Buker arrived in Vietnam for the second time, he was told he was going to be diverted from the 5th Special Forces Group to the 4th Infantry Division. Buker didn’t want to go to the 4th Division and took matters into his own hands.
He hitchhiked across Vietnam to Nha Trang, where the 5th Special Forces Group had its headquarters. He went with his hat in hand to the Mobile Strike Force Command compound next to the Group Headquarters and got an interview with the company sergeant major. He must have voiced a compelling argument because his orders were immediately changed to the 5th SFG(A) MIKE Force – Detachment B-55.
The Nui Khet Mountain Fortress
In March of 1970, Mike Force participated in Operation INTREPID, the storming of the Nui Khet mountain fortress which was held by 300-400 North Vietnamese soldiers. The fortress was part of the Seven Mountains.
The 513th Company was assigned to be flank security. The 511th and 512th Companies began the assault after an intense bombardment on April 3. They managed a toehold at the crest of the mountain but were driven back by concentrated rocket and mortar fire and hidden troops from 12 concealed reinforced bunkers on the peak.
A second attack began at dawn on April 4. It was supported by Cobra gunships from the 7th Cavalry and the SF mortar crews. The U.S. troops once again managed to reach the top only to be pushed back a second time. The companies dug in short of the summit.
Buker volunteered to bring two platoons to ferry water and ammunition to the dug-in companies. Halfway up the mountain, his men were ambushed. Buker led the first of many counterattacks into the VC positions and he and his men made it to the dug-in companies. Another VC attack was thwarted when Buker personally led a second counterattack through heavy rifle and B-40 rocket fire.
On the morning of April 5, Buker’s 513th Company was ordered to replace the beleaguered 511th on the west side of the mountain. At 0900 they spearheaded a final assault on Nui Khet. In the assault, they cleared several VC bunkers by firing from point-blank range and flushing them out with grenades.
The 512th and 513th companies linked up on the summit just after 1200 hours and began flushing out the numerous bunkers on the mountaintop.
The Assault on the Remaining Bunkers and Brian Buker’s Heroism
The final bunker complex held out despite four Cobra gunship rocket attacks and 40 rounds of direct fire from 106mm recoilless rifles. The SF troops even used captured Viet Cong urging their comrades to surrender via loudspeaker systems.
Buker, braving machine gun fire and B-40 rockets, moved his men forward to knock out the last of the bunkers. He then spotted a previously undetected bunker that would catch his men in a devastating crossfire if they attempted to withdraw. With his men channeled into a narrow kill zone, he charged. Miraculously he was unhurt and pitched four grenades into the newly detected bunker neutralizing it. But upon regrouping his men, B-40 rocket fire severely wounded him.
While bleeding profusely from his wounds, he still crawled forward to yet another VC bunker and eliminated it with a grenade. Shortly after that Brian Buker was killed by mortar and rocket fire. The final bunker was taken at 1745 hours that evening and Nui Khet was secure. It was one of the last major Mobile Strike Force operations of the war.
For his gallantry, Buker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was just 20 years old at the time of his death. He was buried at Brown Cemetery in his hometown of Benton, Maine. His Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Buker, Detachment B-55, distinguished himself while serving as a platoon adviser of a Vietnamese mobile strike force company during an offensive mission.
Sgt. Buker personally led the platoon, cleared a strategically located well-guarded pass, and established the first foothold at the top of what had been an impenetrable mountain fortress. When the platoon came under intense fire from a determined enemy located in [two] heavily fortified bunkers and realizing that withdrawal would result in heavy casualties, Sgt. Buker unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, charged through the hail of enemy fire and destroyed the first bunker with hand grenades.
While reorganizing his men for the attack on the second bunker, Sgt. Buker was seriously wounded. Despite his wounds and the deadly enemy fire, he crawled forward and destroyed the second bunker. Sgt. Buker refused medical attention and was reorganizing his men to continue the attack when he was mortally wounded. As a direct result of his heroic actions, many casualties were averted, and the assault of the enemy position was successful.
Sgt. Buker’s extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
On September 15, 2010, in accordance with his mother’s wishes, the Buker family donated his Medal of Honor and other memorabilia to his alma mater, Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Maine for display.
Brian Buker’s other awards and decorations include the Congressional Medal of Honor, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Vietnamese Gallantry Cross, Combat Infantryman Badge.
The Buker Learning Center in Fort Devens, MA, the Digital Training Site (DTS) for Distance Learning for Reserve training, is named after him.