On 6 August 1971,
a handful of Americans of the shadowy
Studies and Observations Group
pulled off what has been called
one of the greatest combat feats of the Vietnam War
Behind enemy lines,
the last Army Medal of Honor was earned.
SOG Recon Team Kansas, with 1st. Lt.
Hagen (3rd from right), was dropped
into the Khe Sanh area on a
reconnaisance "prisoner-snatch" mission.
The once bustling Khe Sanh Marine Base in South Vietnam's extreme northwest had been a ghost
town for more than three years by the summer of 1971. It was, however, used briefly that February
to support the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. After that bloody debacle, they abandoned not
just Khe Sanh, but the entire region, yielding immense areas to the NVA. Almost overnight, the
North began extending the Ho Chi Minh Trail highways into South Vietnam.
In late July 1971, U.S. intelligence began tracking a large enemy force shifting across the DMZ a
dozen miles east of Khe Sanh, threatening the coastal cities of Hue, Danang and Phu Bai where
the last sizeable American ground units were based.
It was essential to learn what was happening near Khe Sanh, a mission assigned to a shadowy
organization called "SOG." Created to conduct covert missions deep behind enemy lines in Laos,
Cambodia and North Vietnam, the top- secret Studies and Observations Group had shifted most of
its operations in-country in 1971 to cover the continuing U.S. withdrawal.
From among its clandestine assembly of Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and USAF Air
Commandos, the Khe Sanh mission eventually became a prisoner-snatch assigned to Recon
Team Kansas, an 11-man Special Forces-led element, which included eight Montagnard
But how do you grab a prisoner in the midst of 10,000 or more NVA? Headed by an easygoing,
lanky Midwesterner, 1st Lt. Loren Hagen, along with Sergeants Tony Andersen and Bruce Berg, the
RT Kansas men had brainstormed through several scenarios until settling upon the best option:
They would land conspicuously on an abandoned firebase -- which obviously would draw some sort
of NVA reaction -- put up a short fight, then extract by helicopter.
Except half of Hagen's men would stay hidden on the hill. When the NVA sent a squad up to see
if the Americans had left behind sensors or bombing beacons -- as SOG teams often did -- the
hidden men would ambush the NVA, seize a prisoner and come out.
In case a serious fight developed, Lt. Hagen reinforced his team with three more Green Beret
volunteers, Staff Sgt. Oran Bingham and Sergeants Bill Queen and William Rimondi, eight
Montagnard tribesmen and six U.S. Special Forces troops -- a total of 14 men.
Landing at last light on Aug. 6, 1971, Lt. Hagen surveyed the scrub brush and bomb craters below
them and split his defense into three elements to cover three slopes. Immediately they went to work
restoring the old firebase's two dilapidated bunkers and shallow trenches. The enemy must have
seen them land, and Hagen reckoned to be ready.
It was well after dark when the SOG men noticed campfires on two facing ridgelines: unusual
because the NVA normally masked itself. By midnight, enemy probers were at the base of the hill,
firing provocatively from the north, south, east and west.
At 1 a.m., a USAF AC-130 Spectre gunship arrived, walking 40mm and 20mm fire around the hill
nearly all night. Never once did the team fire their weapons, staying blanketed in darkness. Then at
3 a.m., the SOG men heard trucks and tailgates dropping. This was odd, very odd.
Beneath the hill, dismounting NVA soldiers formed up into platoons and companies, which their
leaders marched through the darkness to their assigned attack positions, to wait for dawn.
Just before sunrise it became forebodingly quiet. Then Lt. Hagen heard more trucks arriving.
Fifty miles away at a coastal airbase, a USAF forward air controller (FAC) and a flight of
helicopters was lifting away for the false extraction; they would be above RT Kansas in 30 minutes.
Encircled by the NVA
As darkness gave way to light, Lt. Hagen detected glimpses of NVA on one slope; then on another
slope pith helmets appeared, bobbing in the fog. When his men reported NVA on the third slope,
too, Hagen realized the hill was completely encircled by NVA -- but that would require a whole
regiment, at least a thousand men.
The NVA regimental commander understood he had to dispatch the Americans quickly. They'd
inadvertently landed almost within sight of the Hanoi High Command's most critical new venture, the
first six-inch fuel pipeline laid across the DMZ.
It would be absolutely essential in a few months when entire tank battalions rolled through there for
the war's largest offensive. Already the 304th NVA Division was massing there. Moreover, a
regiment of the 308th Division was preparing for the 1972 Easter Offensive.
A fourth battalion moved into place; then, concealed in the ground fog, a fifth battalion arrived.
Later, SOG's commander, Col. John Sadler, would learn an entire regiment had stormed the hill,
supported by a second regiment. It was a mass assault by approximately 2,000 enemy infantrymen.
As the clearing ground fog disclosed that terrible truth, Lt. Hagen had no time for inspiring words,
just serious soldier work; in those final moments he repositioned weapons while his men readied
grenades and stacked magazines. The Catholic Montagnards made the sign of the cross.
Then the NVA came.
Four KIA in Four Minutes
A well-aimed RPG rocket smashed into Bruce Berg's bunker, collapsing it and signaling the attack
-- fire went from nothing to 10,000 rounds per second. Andersen could see dozens of NVA rushing
in lines up his slope, meeting them with his M-60 machine gun.
Hagen hollered that he was going to check Berg. And then he ran directly into a ferocious
maelstrom, bullets ricocheting and slamming the earth in front of, behind, and beneath his dashing
feet. He made it a dozen yards when fire from the other slope cut him down, killing him.
Then Klaus Bingham left a bunker to reposition a claymore and a bullet struck him in the head,
apparently killing him. One Montagnard in a trench below Andersen fired several bursts then
jumped up to pull back and fell into Andersen's lap, dead.Four men had died in less than four
minutes. It was up to Andersen, now the senior man.
Small arms fire rattled closer on all sides and grenades lobbed up from below the hillcrest where
waves of NVA were scurrying behind small rises and rolling from bomb crater to bomb crater.
Andersen dashed over the hill to look for Hagen, but couldn't see him anywhere -- just 100
khaki-clad NVA almost at the top.
He fired one M-60 belt at NVA advancing up his own slope, then sped to the other approach and
ran belt after belt on the 100 assaulting enemy. By then, grenades started coming from behind him
as NVA closed in from his rear. Just a dozen yards away, beyond the curvature of the hill, enemy
heads popped up, cracked a few shots, then dropped back down.
Still a dozen minutes away, the approaching Cobra gunships went to full throttle, leaving the slower
Meanwhile, RT Kansas had just run out of hand grenades when a North Vietnamese grenade
exploded beside Andersen's M-60, rendering it useless. He spun his CAR-15 off his back and kept
shooting, then he tossed back another grenade, but it went off in front of him, nearly blinding him,
yet he kept shooting. More shrapnel tore into him, then an AK round slammed through his webgear
and lodged in his elbow, knocking him down. He stumbled back to his knees and kept firing.
The perimeter was pinched almost in half when Andersen grabbed his last two living Montagnards,
circled below the nearest NVA and somehow managed to reach the survivors on the opposite side.
He found Bingham, started to lift him, and saw he, too, was dead from a head wound. All around
him he heard, "zzssss, zzssss, zzssss," as bullets flashed past his ears.
He dragged Bingham back to where Bill Queen lay, wounded. Only Rimondi wasn't yet hit and still
fired furiously. Andersen put them in a back-to-back circle just off the hilltop where they would make
their last stand. AK bullets had destroyed their team radio, another slug had shot Andersen's little
survival radio out of his hand, so Rimondi tossed him another survival radio -- their last.
Now the NVA were streaming, rolling over the crest like a tidal wave, their rattling AKs blending
together into one never-ending burst. Andersen's men were firing not at NVA, but at hands wielding
AKs over parapets and around bunkers. There was no place left to fall back. Andersen was
shooting NVA little farther away than the length of his CAR-15 muzzle. The time it took to
speed-change a magazine meant life or death.
From the air it looked like an ant mound, with moving figures everywhere. Cobra lead rolled in and
sprinkled 20mm cannon shells around the surviving SOG men, and at last fighters arrived, adding
napalm and Vulcan cannons to the melee. Then at last the assault ebbed, turned, and the NVA fled
for cover, just as the Hueys arrived.
Though wounded repeatedly, Andersen crawled out to fire his CAR-15 to cover the landing Hueys.
With Rimondi's help, Andersen dragged as many teammates' bodies as he could to the first Huey,
then helped the wounded Queen and others aboard the second.
Allied KIA Count: 64%
In one hellacious half-hour, nine of Recon Team Kansas' 14 men had been lost.
Lt. Hagen had died, along with Bingham; Berg was presumed dead; six Montagnards had died.
Rimondi and Queen both suffered multiple frag wounds, Andersen had been struck by both small
arms fire and shrapnel, and their other Montagnards, too, all had been wounded.
"It's amazing that any of us came through it with the amount of incoming that we were getting," Tony
Andersen says today, 25 years later. He attributes their survival to his deceased team leader, Lt.
Loren Hagen. "He epitomized what a Special Forces officer should be -- attentive to detail, a lot of
rehearsals, followed through on things," he explains. "We were ready. I think that was probably the
only thing that kept us from being totally overrun. Everybody was alert and knew what was
happening and was waiting."
As for Hagen's bravery, dashing into a wall of AK fire to try to save Bruce Berg, that didn't surprise
Andersen, either. "Lt. Hagen was that kind of officer. He was a good man."
Against the loss of most of his teammates, Andersen learned, the USAF counted 185 NVA dead
on that hill -- little RT Kansas had killed half a battalion and probably wounded twice that many NVA.
But that gives Andersen little satisfaction compared to the loss of most of his team.
Perhaps Andersen's most difficult duty was carrying the bodies of his six Montagnard teammates --
his "family" he called them -- to their home village.
"As soon as they saw us driving up in the truck, they knew. Wailing and moaning started, and all the
grieving." The villagers gathered in a circle around the headman's stilted longhouse. "Through one
of the interpreters I tried to explain how proud we were of them, what good fighters they were, that
they had died for a good cause."
That would be borne out a few months later when the intelligence generated by RT Kansas' spirited
defense helped U.S. analysts read enemy intentions, enabling American airpower to counter the
NVA's Easter Offensive.
And though details of this incredible fight would remain classified for decades, enough was
disclosed that 1st Lt. Loren Hagen's family was presented the U.S. Army's final Vietnam War
Medal of Honor. Tony Andersen, who held together what remained of RT Kansas through those
final mass assaults, received the Distinguished Service Cross. Queen, Rimondi, Berg and
Bingham were awarded Silver Stars.
And now, today, with full disclosure, we can appreciate the significance of their noble stand.
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