The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam

Dak Seang and Lt. Tom Kelly


by then Lt. Frank DeLong

One Saturday afternoon last August I was working in the yard when my wife brought the cordless phone out the front door. The fellow on the other end said: "Mr. DeLong, you don't know me, but I was going through some things of my dad's last week, and I came across a letter you sent to our family." I said: "You're Tom Kelly's brother." I sent a letter to his family from Vietnam in 1970. I was the last one to see Tom Kelly alive.

He was the FO with our battalion advisory team. There were four of us with the 1st BN 42ndRGT ARVN.. Tom and his RTO made six.. The battalion was inserted southeast of the camp on April 12, 1970. After about five days of fighting, the battalion had moved to a hilltop a klick north of the SF camp and was attempting to push further with no success. For the next six days, the 1st BN 42d RGT was surrounded on that hill. That's when I met Tom. Up to that point, I had been with the lead company, but when we were no longer able to move, all units were pulled back into a rough perimeter on the hilltop. Tom and I became friends, during the six longest days of our lives.

Our lives depended upon artillery and air support. Dak Seang was a difficult environment for an FO. At any one time, there were three to five battalions deployed independently in the area of operations, all requiring artillery and air support. There were frequent check fires to permit the air assets to provide close support. Our hilltop was also a difficult location for an FO. It was moderately wooded, with treetops in the 75 to 90 foot range. The NVA were hugging our position. Tom and his RTO worked round the clock, juggling the assets he had available, but the bottom line was we were exposed on that hilltop. Toward the end, It became impossible for us to be resupplied with food, water or ammo. My boss, the senior advisor, was wounded by shrapnel in the lower spine when an enemy round exploded in a tree above his hole. Tom's RTO was wounded by shrapnel from an RPG while trying to help repel a ground assault on the battalion. Tom's radio was put out of commission. On 4/23/70, during that same ground assault, the battalion "broke out" and headed back toward the SF camp.

Tom and I were together, sharing one radio and one map between us. Heading down a ravine from the hilltop, the battalion came under fire from one or more automatic weapons covering the mouth of the ravine. My NCO was wounded. Meanwhile, a medievac came on station, and our senior NCO called him in to pick up our wounded, including my boss, the senior advisor, my NCO, the RTO, and several wounded ARVN soldiers. There was a small open area on the side of the hill created by airstrikes. It was amazing that the pilot could find that tiny LZ, much less get the helicopter into it. The medevac drew machine gun fire before we even got everyone aboard, but that pilot held it at a low hover until he had a full load and then lifted almost straight up, absorbing hits all over his ship. He was forced to make an emergency landing at the SF camp. One of those machinegun rounds hit our senior NCO in the belly, and he died in the RTO's arms before they landed.

That left me and Tom laying prone at the uphill end of the tiny LZ. Several ARVN wounded and a few able bodied scattered soldiers were in the middle of the LZ. I said to Tom that we needed to get off that LZ. Tom was trying to raise his unit to see if they had a helicopter in the area that could pick us up. He was twisting the PRC=25 knob to change the frequency when a machine gun began firing at us from behind. He had us in his sights. The rounds kicked up the dirt all around us. We rolled in opposite directions, trying to get out of his target zone. I rolled across the LZ and into a depression caused by an uprooted tree. Then all hell broke loose with small arms fire raking the LZ, coming from uphill of our position. I saw several wounded ARVN killed as they tried to return fire from the middle of the LZ. I never saw Tom again. I believe he was killed by the initial burst of machine gun fire.

Three ARVN soldiers (one of them wounded) took care of the machine gun, though among the 4 of us, not one of us had a grenade. I was attempting to point them back in the general direction of the SF camp (I did not have the map, just a compass), when we were taken under fire again, and I got separated from them, too. I was damn near shot at point blank range by a guy in a covered fighting position that I almost stepped on. Fortunately, he missed, and (17 rounds later), I didn't. I then alternately walked and crawled back to the SF camp by early evening and scampered across an open area to a bunker on the outer perimeter. It was manned by soldiers from my own ARVN battalion who were yelling encouragement. The ARVN 1st BN A Co. commander (a lieutenant like me) came double-time from around the outside of the concertina, saluted and grabbed and hugged me. For 31 years I have thought about Tom and what happened to us, going over it again and again, remembering how Tom looked grinning from behind his glasses; remembering how he was calm and funny; remembering how he took care of his RTO; remembering how we shared hot cocoa in a canteen cup, squeezed into the same foxhole during a mortar attack; remembering how we depended on him. Then last August I got that call from his brother. It was a wonderful thing to talk to someone who knew Tom and to talk about what a great guy he was and how much I have missed him. I'll bet it is hard for the average person to believe you can feel like that about somebody you knew for just six days, but those were not six ordinary days, and Tom Kelly was not an ordinary man.

Frank DeLong MACV Team 23 1969-70

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