Arthur N. “Bo” Dolph
Member: Recon Team SAW
Award: 5/21-23/1969 Bronze Star for Valor.
21 May 1969: The CCS Recon Team SAW, under the leadership of Sergeant Arthur N. “Bo” Dolph, with three US SF and three Yards went in from Duc Lap Mobile Launch Site (MLS) on a POW mission. Their target area was about 7.5 miles inside Cambodia near Nam Lear Mountain and Route 13 in Krachech Province. They captured a civilian and turned him lose, before calling for evacuation. CCS Headquarters was not happy with turning the civilian POW loose and wanted the team reinserted. After a day of aerial recon for another Landing Zone (LZ), RT SAW was reinserted again on 23 May. The LZ was small and surrounded by 200 ft. tall trees, and the team very quickly saw lots of evidence of NVA. They attempted to evade after hearing many signal shots and to find a suitable LZ under the rather dense canopy. Then they captured two POWs – one an NVA in uniform and the other in native attire. They immediately called for extraction by two slicks, rather than the normal one; the extra slick was denied. The first Slick, A 155th AHC chopper with a chase medic, picked them up by use of rope ladders. But it was over-loaded; the tail rotor hit the trees trying to takeoff and they crashed. A second Slick, Slick 2, could see people flying out as it spun. Then Slick 1 went into the trees and crashed – killing some of the passengers and the Crew Chief who were pinned under the aircraft. That attracted the enemy who began to close in and a rather long firefight ensued with the gunships working over the area and Slick #2 trying to land to pick up the survivors.
Perspective of the Recon Team: Dolph said, “I do not remember a lot about this. Once on the ground, we could hear what sounded like someone chopping wood. As we got closer, it became obvious that this was the case. I talked to my two best Yards. We decided that they would attempt to capture the woodcutters and leave. When the two Yards came back, they had with them what I thought was a Cambodian civilian. I did not want to cause an international incident. I released him. I gave him some rations and a pack of cigarettes and called for an extraction. Back at HQs, it was discovered that he was a Yard from Vietnam who had been kidnapped by the NVA. He would have been a good source of information.
“I had hoped HQs would consider the target compromised and not return RT SAW back to the area. This proved not to be the case. I refused to return there. After stating my case to the Company Commander of Recon, he called for the Officer of the Day, so the matter could be sent through formal channels. The O.D. was LT Ardison. He had been the team leader of RT SAW before me. He had supported my being appointed team leader (1-0). I immediately changed my mind.
“On the 22nd, I helped pick out a new LZ for insertion back to the mountain. This took up the whole day and we were inserted in a different area for the same target. (I have not tried to assign time-periods; time has made details hard to remember.) I will say we were inserted in early morning. Once on the ground, things fell into order – nothing I had not experienced before. We established commo [communications] with the air assets. After a short while, we proceeded to the objective with our air assets and after a short period, we moved out. A little while later we began to receive signal fire to our rear and our right flank. I took evasive 90-degree turn, which worked for a while. Signal fire was common and wasn’t unduly alarming. Everything was like previous runs.
“We came upon a large stand of hardwood trees. I remembered this from previous missions in this area. There was no underbrush and no break in the canopy. If this lack of undergrowth was natural or man-made, I don’t know. The area was without significant land features and was crisscrossed by many foot trails. This made map orientation difficult. I decided to run on a parallel line with our objective in order to travel through the area quickly. Sometime during the day, we came upon an elephant. This was a sign of NVA presence for they would never have left such a valuable asset unguarded. We got to an area of thicker brush. It was both a good sign and bad – good because it was harder to track us; it was a bad sign because there were hardly any breaks in the canopy.
“Meanwhile, the signal firings were nearly unceasing. I gave the mid-day Sit Rep which I described our movement as “highly channelized.” (I felt by now I was somewhat following the NVA direction and not mine.) I felt that a firefight with the bad guys was almost certain. I began to look for breaks in the canopy or an LZ. Signal fire was closer in time and in frequency. I was going to stop early so we could have time for our air assets in case of a firefight. I found a break in the canopy that I noted – a fateful find indeed! Very soon we came upon a large clearing with a shelter at the 7 o’clock position (we were moving from the 6 to the 12 o’clock.) The area was largely flat except for the 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock area the tree line was not visible. My lead Yard spotted two figures going into the shelter. I sent my two best Yards to police up with the two bad guys. They came back with two men. One was in native attire and one was in NVA uniform.
“I was suspicious about this most fortunate find. I decided to move from this area in case it was a setup. In short order we came to the area I described earlier. I had the 1-1 (RTO and Asst. Team leader) call in the air assets for extraction. I also requested that two Slicks instead of the usual one. My reason for this request is normally a slick contained a crew of four. With our RT and the two prisoners we would be heavy by two men. (I did not know there was an additional man aboard – making 13 instead of 12! Besides the extra weight there was the unfortunate number itself.)
“My request was denied. Whether this decision was because C&C figured two extraction slicks would be too awkward or time-consuming, I do not know. Also we were using Air Force gunships, but Army slicks. The AF slick was different in power; maybe C&C felt one slick could do the job. I set up a perimeter with the two prisoners in the middle. The last thing I remember is turning to my #2 Yard and saying, “We go home now.” I remember the leaves being blown off the trees by chopper prop wash, and then nothing (else about subsequent events).”
SGT Jim Day, a member of the MLS crew, remembers: “Bo Dolph got a BSV and should have a PH since when they got him to the hospital they found two bullet holes in him. Dolph suffered two bullet wounds and extensive injury from the crash. He was medevaced and spent six months in the hospital stateside.”
Team Leader SGT Dolph’s BSV award citation reveals, “… shortly after infiltration SGT Dolph found an area suitable for a POW snatch. Due to SGT Dolph’s outstanding aggressiveness, the capture of enemy was accomplished without firing a shot. Shortly after moving the team and POWs to an LZ he began a spot interrogation of the prisoners. Due to the nature of the terrain, the exfiltration helicopter had to use rope ladders and SGT Dolph remained on the ground until the team and POW’s were in the helicopter before he boarded it. A sudden burst of ground fire caused the helicopter to crash but before the crash, SGT Dolph prepared the team for the impact. The helicopter crash killed three Americans, one SCU and one POW, and SGT Dolph received a compound fracture of the right leg. Realizing he could not move, he told the assistant team leader to give first aid to the others first. When rescue personnel arrived, he insisted the walking wounded be evacuated first…” (Per 5th SFGA GO #1238, dtd 08/05/69.)
SGT Arthur N. “Bo” Dolph – Bo Also Saw His Share of Natural Encounters on Recon.
Dolph notes, “When we thought something was following us, we used a trick used by both us & the bad guys – Clyde or NVA. We would walk quickly then stop quickly. An animal would be indifferent to our sound. If it was following the scent, the scent would become stronger and the animal would continue at a natural pace. A human or monkey would mimic us & stop. That’s how we decided it was human. A couple of incidents come to mind that was both unnerving as well as it was a relief. Early in my tour, a monkey began to follow us and acted like a human. Everyone was concerned -including the Yards, that just about unnerved me, the cherry in the crowd. Had my 1-0 not calmed me down, things would have gotten messy – both literally & figuratively.”
Wild Boar. “The second incident involved a wild boar that occurred on my last target as a 1-1. We were inserted into an area that had a lot of enemy activity. We could hear all kinds of movement & even talking. We could not see them, but they were there, just never closed upon us. On this target, we had a new (then) starlight scope, which the 1-0, the extra American and me used continuous during the night.
“We could hear noises even an NVA radio “pop” station! The next day sometime all the noises stopped. Later in the afternoon, we heard loud noise of brushes being broken. This was almost like a modern timber crew clearing a work area. A little while later a huge beast broke into the opening. This boar must have been at least shoulder height. The 1-0 got out his 22-pistol with an attached silencer as if to shoot him. I remember thinking this would only piss it off! A more appropriate weapon would have been the M79! Anyway, after this, the Yards became more relaxed than I had ever seen them act in the field. Our senior Yard said this was a good omen because it avoided humans & vice versa. Sure enough, the rest on the mission was uneventful.”
Popping Bamboo. “Another natural nuisance was the bamboo popping in the afternoon. The moisture inside the “joints” would turn into a gas & bust the joint. This was only a problem until a person heard it enough. In nature, it bust with a single Pop. If a person stepped on it, the sound would be of a crunching noise.”
Elephants. Lastly, on a mission in 05/22/69, Dolph’s team was moving towards his target objective. “We began to receive enemy signal fire to our rear and our right flank. I took evasive 90-degree turns that worked for a while. Signal fire was common and wasn’t unduly alarming. Sometime during the day we came upon an elephant. This was a sign of NVA presence, for they would never have left such a valuable asset unguarded. We got to an area of thicker brush. It was both a good sign and bad – good because it was harder to track us; it was a bad sign because there were hardly any breaks in the canopy.” Soon after that, the team captured two POWs and would have to try to extract through a marginal break in the 200-foot high canopy. The chopper would crash trying to rise up through the hole in the canopy, killing or wounding most of the team and crew.