On New Year’s Eve, 1968, at the top-secret SOG base camp at FOB 1 in Phu Bai, Camp Commander Maj. William Shelton ordered extra base security based on reports of a planned VC or NVA attack that night. Months earlier, VC agents had placed markers on the roof of the lounge, which VC or NVA mortarmen could use as target guide-ons. A day or two earlier, a Green Beret NCO had found a camp worker carefully counting his steps as he walked away from the clubhouse—a common practice for mortarmen or artillerymen to improve their accuracy against a proposed target.

That night in the Green Beret Lounge, as we prepared to ring in the New Year, the jukebox blared, the drinks flowed, the men played the slot machines, and the pot-limit poker stakes were high. But there was an edge to the evening’s festivities because of the intel reports and Shelton’s order to close it early in case of enemy activity.

Before the club closed, the conversation around our poker table turned to a FOB 4 team, RT Diamondback, that was on the ground in the MA target, in Laos, west of S. Vietnam. The Green Berets on the team, SSG James M. Hall, Specialist Fourth Class Wayne L. Hawes, and Michael J. McKibban, were unhappy about having to run a target on New Year’s Eve. I knew Hawes from our days in Special Forces Training Group and considered him a good recon man. The others I knew only slightly.


Around 2200 hours, SSG Robert J. “Spider” Parks told us that he and the Covey (SOG forward air controller) pilot were going to fly into the team’s AO at midnight to wish the men a “Happy New Year.” While Spider’s O-2 was over the target area, the mortarmen at FOB 1 lit up the sky with flares of various colors and other rudimentary explosive devices, welcoming in the New Year. When he returned to base, Spider told me he gave the team holiday greetings and a reminder that they were in Laos. The only enemy activity we had at FOB 1 was from a poorly trained VC mortar crew that lobbed some mortar rounds at us, but they landed in the ARVN compound to the south of FOB 1 instead.

Early in the morning of 1 January, 1969, Spider left FOB 1 for a commo check with RT Diamondback, got a team OK and returned to Phu Bai. Later in the morning, however, the team radio operator requested a tactical extraction from the AO because there was a lot of enemy activity around the team. The O-2 Air Force pilot and Spider quickly returned to area of operations over the MA target. Spider regained radio contact with Hawes, who was speaking clearly but quietly about enemy activity in the area.

Deadly silence

As Hawes was speaking to Spider, he heard a sudden burst of AK-47 fire and screams. Then silence. For a long time Spider was unable to raise anyone on the radio. He knew something was terribly wrong. Finally, an indigenous team member spoke on the radio. He said the Americans were dead, but the indigenous members of the team had survived the attack.

Back at FOB 1, at around 1200 hours, someone from the commo shack came into the club and said a Vietnamese team member from RT Diamondback was on the radio, talking to Spider. That was very bad news. Several of the recon team members in FOB 1 headed toward the commo shack. Before we got there, Tony Herrell, a veteran recon man, came around the corner with more bad news.