Clausewitz famously coined the phrase “the friction of war” to encompasses the all the ways the reality of war differed from the the theory. The Battle of Lang Vei is a textbook example of what Clausewitz meant.
After all, In theory solid intelligence confirmed multiple times by men on the ground will always be believed. In reality, you had officers that would not believe reports of enemy tanks even after they overrun an American Special Forces base…
The landing was uneventful, and I proceeded directly to the Intelligence debriefing room where I was told to call directly to Headquarters 7th Air Force in Saigon. A Colonel answered the phone and began the debriefing. When I mentioned tanks, he fired off and as much as called Captain Rushforth a liar or maybe just mistaken? After all we had been reporting that day and for weeks prior, I thought it incredible that he was questioning me like this. He was so adamant I became adversarial in tone, if not in words, and described the vehicles as “ya know, they have tracks on both sides, this thing that looked just like a turret on top, with a big long thing sticking out of it (like maybe a big gun)!?” Not only that, I was only 500ft. above them. To my amazement, he still wasn’t buying it? I played my Ace of Spades — “I have pictures!” “Pictures,” he shouted! You get them right over to the photo lab and we’ll divert a plane to pick them up immediately! I did, and he did, like within the hour. I’m sure the pictures were great on the briefing circuit (they came out well), but we never heard about them again. —-Toby Rashforth
This failure to believe that tanks were really in the area even after weeks of warning lead to a helpless situation.
Our Special Ops personnel, call sign “Spunky Hanson,” were holed up in their Tactical Operations Center (TOC). They were talking to 688 via FM radio. The NVA were swarming all over the TOC, throwing satchel charges, plus smoke and frag grenades down the ventilation shafts and any place they could find access. Spunky Hanson 15A and some CIDG, who had stormed the Camp to rescue the troops, were pinned down by machine gun fire. —-Toby Rashforth
To make matters even worse, many of the surviving elements had no idea what was going on.
By this time Lindewald and Hannah were dead, Moreland was mortally wounded in the TOC. Brande & McMurry were POWs and Shungle & Wilkins lay wounded under the dispensary. As far as I could tell, I was the only American alive in that camp. The CIDG was in full flight but the Bru in the Combat Recon Platoons held their positions. I picked up a couple of radio transmissions I figured came from the TOC. It was enough to make me believe there was somebody down there.— Dennis Thompson
Basically, you had a textbook case for a unit that should have surrendered or totally destroyed. But the Americans who were overrun refused to do and in the end most of them were preserved. In a way, the story of how they escaped also vindicates Clausewitz’s contention that that only way to deal with the friction of war was to develop perseverance. Of course, it also helped that surrendering solders where being killed….
The Bru could’ve shed their uniforms, faded back into the hills and left my white ass to fend for myself. Instead they elected to stay and we shot our way to the old Lang Vei camp. There were several surprise encounters with enemy patrols that were hunting down and killing the wounded CIDG scattered around the camp’s perimeter. We could hear the NVA laughing and mocking them as they pleaded for their lives. Then a few short bursts of automatic weapons fire, fewer and fewer screams, some single shots then silence.Dennis Thompson
Those interested in the battle should read the first hand accounts found here (you can expand those little windows by clicking and dragging). Those who are not big on reading can watch some first hand accounts below.