Ssgt. Talmadge H. Alphin Jr.
August 23, 1968 marks what was known for many years as the worst day in Special Forces History – the attack on the MACV-SOG camp FOB-4 near Da Nang, Vietnam, also referred to as the Battle of Marble Mountain. Sixteen men were killed during the attack, the most SF men killed in a single battle, a dark record that still stands today. While stories about battlefield displays of courage by Special Forces men abound, and names such as Lang Vei and Khe Sahn have become legend, the story of FOB-4 seems to have faded from memory along with the grizzled old team sergeants who served in Vietnam. In 1968 Special Forces was still a small community, and almost every man wearing the Green Beret knew one of the sixteen men who died during the attack.
With time and study, the many short comings that allowed 100 sappers to slip into FOB-4 under the cover of darkness during the night of 22-23 August have become clear. Poor perimeter defenses, both in the physical barriers and the guard force; leaderships disregard for intelligence reports about the enemy build up in the area; a local workforce compromised by enemy agents and a strong sense of false security within the camp. These errors in leadership can’t be ignored, but they fall on the command, and should not cast a shadow over the rank and file men of FOB-4.
By the time the sun rose on the morning of 23 August, actions taken by the men in the camp would result in one Distinguished Service Cross, four Silver Stars, 11 Bronze Stars w/Valor device, eight ARCOM’s w/Valor device and 66 Purple Hearts being awarded. Over one third of the men in the camp were wounded or dead.
It was a great blow to the Special Forces family, but an even greater blow to the families of the casualties. Eleven women were suddenly widows, several with young children to raise; fourteen boys lost their fathers; nine daughters lost the man who would have walked them down the aisle; fourteen young men lost a brother they expected to always have; sixteen young women lost a brother they idolized and twenty-seven moms and dads faced the unthinkable, losing a child before their own deaths. That’s ninety-one people who had their world forever changed in the few hours of the attack on FOB-4.