Team 54 Kien Giang

MACV Team 54 – Kien Giang

This Page is intended for the discussion of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam Team 54 located in Kien Giang.

19 thoughts on “Team 54 Kien Giang

  1. I was really surprised to find this site, albeit quite by accident. To judge from the input thus far, not too many others who were former members of Team 54/55 have discovered it yet, although it’s really great that relatives and friends are using it. That seeming to be the case, perhaps it would help if I drew a picture of sorts about Advisor life in Team 54 in 1966-67 (bear in mind that organizations and situations could and did change in later periods).

    My time with US Military Assistance Command Vietnam Team 54 (which was basically an infantry advisory unit) was July 1966-April 1967. I was a Captain experienced with tank and cavalry units, but not in infantry — luckily we were cross-trained in combat arms. I served in various capacities in Team 54, all of which were infantry. Initially, I was on a sub-sector team of five (if we were full-strength, which was seldom) located in Kien Tan district in Kien Giang Province. (Think of a Province as being like a US state except smaller in area than most states and governed at that time by Army of Vietnam military officers.) Team 54’s area of operations and responsibility was Kien Giang Province, a coastal area at the southernmost end of Vietnam, and bordered on one side by Cambodia.

    Our Advisory team in Kien Tan district consisted of two captains (District Advisor and Asst District Advisor), a SFC (Benny Bryant) as training and operations advisor, an E-6 medic (Hal Beaver), and an E-4 radio operator (whose last name was Dilday, don’t recall his first name). We also had an ARVN Sgt Luong assigned as interpreter. I thought of all of us in Team 54 as being “the drip at the end of the American pipeline.” By that I meant that virtually everything (personnel, modern weaponry, air and artillery support, supplies, etc) had been bled out of the “pipeline” before reaching us. The name of the game for all of us on province-level advisor teams in the Mekong Delta region was “isolation.” Other than a single Army helicopter unit that supported the entire Delta, there were no US units other than advisors. Our Kien Tan advisor team was located 20+ miles from the nearest other Americans in Team 54 (until they got blown up one night). All of us were armed with WWII weapons, had absolutely no food supply system other than what we managed to create (we each got $40 a month extra to make our own food arrangements) and had a pitiful military equipment supply system (for example, we purchased our unit radio batteries out of our own pockets in the village market because we could never get any through supply channels). We were the last priority for US air support and for occasional ARVN artillery support (which had an annoying habit of shooting at the wrong targets).We provided military advice to local Regional Force and Popular Force leaders and units (no RF units larger than company-size; and no PF units larger than platoon size), and accompanied them on combat operations. We also actively visited Vietnamese governmental civilian officials and the local population, and represented the US and US Army at activities such as school openings, distribution of food donated by the US, etc. as well as attending weddings and funerals when invited. We were all of the American presence the typical Vietnamese villager in Kien Giang Province would ever likely see — a heavy responsibility when one thinks about it.

    After about the first half of my tour in Vietnam, I shifted to being the sole US Advisor at a very small RF/PF basic training camp. It was, thank God, a temporary assignment. I say that because I was the only American there and the camp location was severely undermanned and very close to a notorious, traditionally VC-controlled area of the Mekong Delta. In fact, “my” camp was closer to that area than any other Team 54 location. It didn’t help that I was high on the VC hit list at the time (yes, Virginia, the VC in our area did maintain a hit list for Advisors, complete with monetary awards). The “Advisor War” in Vietnam was a bit more personal in nature than was the “American unit” war being fought by US units much further north of us.

    My final assignment was to the headquarters element of Team 54, which was located in the Province capital city of Rach Gia. That consisted of a group of around 20 Army officers and men, commanded by an Army Lieutenant Colonel, who also advised the Province Commander/Governor. Each Vietnamese staff chief (personnel, intelligence, training/operations, and supply) had a US counterpart advisor. My assignment, for example, was as Assistant S3 (operations) Advisor. In addition to the usual headquarters admin and supply support personnel (very few of them!), there was a small US Navy advisor element located in Rach Gia (but not attached to Team 54). That element worked with the Vietnamese naval force stationed at the port of Rach Gia. We also had two US aircraft flying out of a very rudimentary air strip at Rach Gia. One aircraft was an Army L-19 Bird Dog spotter-artillery adjustment plane (think of a Piper Cub airplane) with the radio call sign of Shotgun, and the Air Force’s version of the L-19, which the USAF called an O-1E, and intended primarily to call for and adjust air strikes. There was one Army pilot — Smitty, a First Lieutenant, and two USAF pilots, Major (Sky) King and a First Lieutenant. Each plane had a mechanic from its own branch of service. I volunteered to fly in the back seat of each aircraft often and because I had been out on many ground operations, I could assist with visual reconnaissance (VR). VR was a key role of the aircraft. The pilots also liked to have some company, especially if they had engine trouble or were shot down. We often flew low and sometimes dove, trying to attract ground fire so that we could call in an air strike on VC. Other than the pilot’s rifle and the passenger’s sidearm, the only weapons on board were fragmentation hand grenades and on occasion, phosphorous grenades. Each aircraft had two home-made rocket 3.5″ rocket tubes attached under each wing, but these were to mark ground targets for strike aircraft, and there were no real aiming systems — just gravity and Mother Earth.

    Each of the Provinces in South Vietnam had a Provincial Recon Unit (PRU), that was provided to conduct special high-risk reconnaissance missions and also serve as a special strike force on occasion. Unfortunately, the “word” in Vietnam was that most PRUs were really simply palace guards for the ARVN officer who was headman for the Province. Not so, however, in Advisor Team 54. The PRU for Kien Giang Province provided a test-bed for the US CIA to test what today is called a Special Ops unit, or “Black Ops” unit. This unit of 100 men, all recruited from Vietnamese prisons, also worked regular combat operations, often carrying out the Ranger-type parts of a field op. The unit had been trained by an Australian Army Captain who was himself a graduate of the British Army’s Special Air Service school, at that time the premier commando force in the world. They were very, very good.I say this because I was recruited to work with them as an advisor when they acted in concert with regular RF units on a Province operation, or in certain other long-range or Ranger-type ops.Ultimately, what they did was incorporated into the US Army units in a at-that-time classified program named Phoenix. Phoenix was hugely successful in a very quiet way, until eventually done away with by the so-called “Doves” (anti-war Senators) in the US Senate. I include this item simply because Advisor Team 54 had a role — small as it was — in a situation very unique to other Advisor Teams.

    During my time with Advisor Team 54, significant amounts of territory were taken from VC control and put under South Vietnamese control, one new district US advisor team was added because of territorial gains, and the two major VC organized units in Kien Giang were both decimated in successful ground combat operations, and ceased to function as units. I hope that this overview provides a helpful understanding of how Advisor Team 54/55 was organized and operated “back in the day.”

    • Charlie — I was on USMACV Advisor Team 54 from July 1966-April 1967 so did not know MAJ Rubin. I have made overview observations on my viewpoint of Advisor Team 54 location, organization, role, and various other aspects of its operation. See those comments on the macvteams.org website. Perhaps knowing more of the background can be of some value to you.
      Frederick (Fred) C Bosarge

  2. Does anybody remember PRU advisor Gordon “BUSTER” Brown with SEAL Team 1 (plank owner)? He was killed by an explosion at the PRU camp 10 miles NW of Rach Gia on 19 May 1968. He’s my uncle and would love to touch base with someone who knew him or has any info about him.

    • Jason — I served on USMACV Team 54 from July 1966-April 1967 so did not know your uncle. I did have some association with the PRU team during my time there. I have posted overview-type comments about the location, role, etc, etc at the USMACV Teams website for Team 54 Perhaps some of that overview could be of assistance to you.

      Feel free to contact me at my email (fredbosarge@yahoo.com) should you have any questions or comments.

      Frederick (Fred) Bosarge

  3. Wow! Can/t believe I found this site. I don’t recognize any of the names mentioned above but I was an Army medic with Advisory Team 54 in Kien Giang province from July 1967 to May 1968. Our 5 man (usually) team was up at the subsector compound in Kien Son village about 20 kilometers or so up the coast to the northwest of Rach Gia by the 3 Sisters mountains. Rach Gia was our Sector H.Q. 3 of the Advisors from Kien Son were killed by a land mine in early July 1967 and I went in as one replacement from Sadec. It was the longest 10 months of my life. — I remember the L-19s or “Bird Dog” spotter planes mentioned above were the first thing I was impressed by. They were a fearless one man airforce who flew around doing recon, spotting for artiller rounds they would call us for, or just hunting the enemy and blasting away at him with an arsenal of weapons they had in that little plane, everything from hand grenades to shotguns, pistols, rifles and even rocket pods they mounted on the struts. They even dropped our mail off to us in canvas bags tossed out the window. We loved and admired them and depended on them a lot. That was dangerous time and place and I’ll never forget all the bravery I saw there.

  4. I saw that David mentioned they were Team 54, but were changed to Team 55. But all personnel remained the same. I thought I’d post here to see if anyone on this team might know him. I’ve been contacted by Stephen Miles.

  5. SFC Leslie L (Roy) Karnes served with MACV Tm 55 in Kien Giang / August 1970 until February 1971 – KIA. He was my Father. Does anyone remember him?

  6. I need some help from you IV Corps (Mekong Delta) Advisory Team vets.

    I am trying to piece together my brother’s experiences in Vietnam (June 65 to June 66) for the benefit of his boys and the rest of the family.

    A2C Tom Toussaint was a USAF reciprocating engine mechanic. For part of his time he was on Advisory Team 53 at Long Xuyen or Can Tho. He spent time at Soc Trang and Chi Lang. And he had been in both Thailand and Laos.

    I think he was a crew chief on a Forward Air Control 1-E Bird Dog. He had hundreds of slides taken from the rear seat of the FAC plane of air strikes in the forests below. But the few pictures I have of him show only Bird Dogs with US Army markings, not USAF.

    How were these Advisory Teams organized? Who did the members report to?

    Could he have been working on an Army plane?

    He talked about having an M60 mounted on the door of the O1-E. The FAC’s I have talked to said that the Army O1-E’s did this, but not the Air Force.

    What was the role of these USAF people on these Advisory Teams in the Delta?

    Thanks,

    Ed Toussaint
    Potomac, MD
    Etoussaint44@yahoo.com

  7. DAVID,i WAS ASSINGED TO TEAM 54 in nov. 1965. i SPENT 6 MONTHS IN KIEN LUONG SUB SECTOR AT THE CEMENT PLANT SOUTH OF THE TOWN OF HA TIEN. I FINISHED MY VN TOUR IN RACH GIA IN THE RADIO ROOM.

  8. If I remember correctly… When I first arrived in Rach Gia, Kien Giang Province in June 68 we were Team 54. Very shortly thereafter (within weeks) the # was changed to 55. I don’t know why. All personell stayed the same, I believe. Anybody know the details?

    • Did any of you know my grandfather, John (Jack) Rubins? He was KIA in Nov. of 1967. I would love to learn more about who he was and the work he was doing before he died.

      • John Rubins was your grandfather? We are related. My grandpa and your grandpa were cousins. Although Jack was close in age to my dad. (I think they were close.) I don’t have any information on his time in Vietnam other than was is listed in the National Archives. But I will keep looking and let you know if I find something.

        • Was your dad David? He came to visit us several times when we lived in Ft. Leonard Wood. He was a good friend of both my dad and my mom. (I am Eriin’s mom, Kim.) your great-grandma Charlotte Sternagle was my grandpa Rubins sister. Thanks for your research!

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