War - Peace - Tax Collectors
Except for the PAVN siege on Khe Sanh, Lai Khe was probably the most rocketed base camp in the country during 1965.
At times the camp at Lai Khe would receive 50-75 incoming projectiles during each attack, three times per day and twice at night. There was a sign at the main gate reading: “Welcome to Rocket City.”
Army LTC Gordon Lippman wrote to his family about a Thanksgiving party his unit (3rd Brigade) held for the students of a local high school and added, “I’ll send you one of the letters. You might like to show it around as an example of the spirit of the kids in this country who have a chance to speak in freedom.”
Reported in an article written by the Rapid City Journal on July 20, 1970 is one example of a lesson he learned back in his post-WWII occupation of Germany. After the war comes the peace, and he wanted to initiate that thought process during the current conflict.
He was impressed by the appreciation of Ben Cat High School students in Bing Duong, and he forwarded the letter that he received from the students thanking the 3rd Brigade for their efforts against the VC at Bau Bang. The letter, in beautiful penmanship, which was received by Lippman just two weeks before his own death, said in part:
“You have come from many thousands of miles to our country in the sole purpose of helping our people in the struggle against the communists and fighting for the liberty of the whole free world. We take this opportunity to express to you our sincere admiration and thanks. Next, we want to reserve one minute of reverent silence in memory of those among you who gave their lives for our country’s freedom in that Bau Bang battle. We also ask you to convey our sympathy and regrets to those heroes’ families in the United States.”
Under LTC Lippman’s supervision, a sound and effective civic action program was developed and carried out in the area. This accomplishment resulted in the establishment of a close cooperative working relationship with the local Vietnamese communities both in and surrounding the areas from the Brigade base camp.
However, even in this relatively administrative role, combat sometimes comes too close. A curious 42-year-old warrior climbs into an observation helicopter to investigate a developing set of conditions on nearby Highway 13 where just days before, during Bushmaster II, his troops engaged the enemy in heavy fighting. The following Associated Press story from November 18, 1965, reveals the story.
“Lai Khe (Vietnam) (AP) – Death caught up with Viet Cong tax collectors last night on bloody Highway 13. The First Infantry Division was sweeping toward the huge Michelin rubber plantation, 50 miles northwest of Saigon.
Major Roblie Davis, the 3rd Brigade’s Air Officer, was climbing into his helicopter for an observation flight when an old Vietnamese man in a coolie hat struggled into camp.
The wispy-bearded peasant had walked for more than two hours to report that a team of Viet Cong tax collectors was stopping all trucks and buses along Highway 13, near Bau Bang, where 146 Communists were killed in severe fighting last Friday.
He told intelligence officers the collectors were demanding 1,000 piasters (about $140) to allow vehicles through.
Dusk was just settling over the endless rows of rubber trees around Brigade headquarters, when Davis took off in his bubble-topped helicopter to have a look. Riding along with him was the Brigade’s Executive Officer, Gordon Lippman. Davis’ chopper is one of the few bubble-model H13’s in Vietnam armed with machine guns.
No one over here thought these choppers could lift those heavy guns until the boys got to experimenting,” said Davis explaining his raid on the tax point. He flew in low over the trees and found the three local Communist Commissars sitting at a table near the roadside between a pair of machine guns.
They had quite a business-like operation going on there,” said Davis, “sitting right out there in daylight in uniform with web belts on and everything, and traffic backed up for one-quarter of a mile. We swooped down on them and Colonel Lippman let loose with those guns before their machine gunners knew what happened.
We came in so low over the trees, they never saw us coming. On the way out we drew some small arms fire from deep among the trees and a carbine shot the bubble out of my chopper.
Neither Davis nor Lippman were injured when the bubble burst. The maintenance crews had no trouble believing how low they had flown over the trees because they spent an hour picking leaves out of the gun mounts on Davis’ ship before getting around to stitching up the plastic bubble.”