In 1965, North Vietnamese leaders planned to launch a summer offensive to destroy the regular units of the South Vietnamese military. For the first time, the newly created VC 273rd and 274th Regiments were ordered to join the 271st and 272nd Regiments to attack and establish “liberated zones” in the south.

As part of the overall plan, the VC 9th Division was ordered to attack Dong Xoai. Dong Xoai was a district town situated at a road junction that connected Inter-Provisional Road 13, National Highway 1, and Highway 14. The district was defended by 200 local Vietnamese soldiers drawn from the 327th and 328th Militia Companies, and the 111th Regional Force Company. They were supported by one armored squadron (six armored vehicles) and two 105mm howitzers.

Dong Xoai was also home to a Special Forces A-Camp, Detachment A-342, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), that housed 400 Montagnard CIDG strikers and 24 U.S. troops including Army Green Berets and Navy Seabees. The Green Berets had only been there since May 25 and the defenses were far from finished.

Marvin Shields, a Navy Seabee was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously for his valor defending the Dong Xoai camp in June 1965.
Marvin Shields, a Navy Seabee was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously for his valor defending the Dong Xoai camp in June 1965.

The Attack Begins

On the night of 9-10 June, the Viet Cong, with North Vietnamese support, attacked the base with about 2,000 guerrillas armed with AK-47s, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, rocket launchers, and flamethrowers. 

The Americans were aware of the buildup outside the camp and had placed their troops on full alert. This caused the Viet Cong to begin their attack more than an hour early, and at 2330 they began to mortar the camp hitting both Vietnamese and U.S. positions. This was followed by an infantry assault from the 272nd Regiment. The initial assault suffered heavy casualties as the VC had failed to detect the minefields and their sappers had trouble maneuvering through the barbed wire fences.

Charles Williams Medal of Honor. Dong Xoai
LT Charles Q. Williams with his Medal of Honor.

It was during the initial artillery fire that the Special Forces commander of the camp, Captain Bill Stokes, was hit and seriously wounded in both legs by a mortar round as he was racing to the command bunker to report the attack. 

Stoke’s wounds would place 2LT Williams in command of the camp. However, he wasn’t the typical 2LT. Williams had been an NCO in the 82nd Airborne Division before joining Special Forces and later attending Officer Candidate School.

Williams had a PRC-10 radio which he used unsuccessfully to try to contact district HQs. He then organized his compound’s defenses, determined the source of the insurgents’ main effort, and led the troops to their defensive positions on the south and west walls.