It was 47 years ago, today that US Army Special Forces SGT Brian Buker would lose his life in a battle for a Viet Cong mountain stronghold at Nui Khet. For his actions in the three-day battle, Buker would posthumously be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Buker was killed by a combination of rocket and mortar fire while leading numerous charges against a bunker complex at the top of the mountain while acting as a platoon leader with the 513th Company of the 5th Mobile Strike Force Command (Mike Force).
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 and gone to Vietnam and had returned home. Buker joined right after high school at the age of 17, he also went to Vietnam returning safely. But he went back for a second tour.
As the story goes, Buker arrived in Vietnam and was told he was going to be diverted from the 5th Special Forces Group to the 4th Infantry Division. Buker, as young soldiers are prone to do, took matters into his own hands.
He hitch-hiked across Vietnam to Nha Trang, where the 5th Special Forces Group had their headquarters. He went with his hat in hand to the Mobile Strike Force Command (MIKE Force) compound next to the Group Headquarters and got an interview with the Company Sergeant Major.
He voiced a compelling argument in his interview and his orders were immediately changed to the 5th SFG(A) MIKE Force – Detachment B-55, immediately.
It was here that he’d find himself at the end of March of 1970 during Operation INTREPID, the code name for the storming of the Nui Khet mountain fortress which was part of 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 that began at dawn on April 4, supported by Cobra gunships from the 7th Cavalry and the SF mortar crews again managed to make 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 thru 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. The assault cleared several VC bunkers by firing point blank 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 top of the mountain. Two American SF soldiers SGT Strode and SFC Parker were wounded by mortar fire during this time. It was Parker’s third wound of the engagement.
The final bunker complex held out despite four Cobra gunship rocket attacks, forty rounds of direct fire from 106mm recoilless rifles and captured Viet Cong urging their comrades to surrender via loudspeaker systems.
Buker moved his men forward to knock out the last of the bunkers braving machine gun fire and B-40 rockets. During this move forward, Buker spotted a previously unknown 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 found bunker, neutralizing the threat. 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. It was then shortly after that when Buker was killed by mortar and rocket fire. The final bunker was taken at 5:45 p.m. 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 the intense fire from a determined enemy located in 2 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.
His 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 is the Digital Training Site (DTS) for Distance Learning for Reserve training.
Photos Courtesy US Army