The operation to which Robert H. Nooter referred in his Nov. 9 letter was Lam Son 719. It was conducted in 1971 to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and trap North Vietnamese forces operating in South Vietnam without means of supply -- a war-stopper, if not a war-ender.
I was the operations adviser to the South Vietnamese Marine Division, operating out of the forward command post at Khe Sanh; the Corps Headquarters operated out of Dong Ha, farther to the east. Mr. Nooter's base of operations in Hue was far to the south and east.
Despite the selective photos of terrified Vietnamese soldiers clinging to helicopter skids, most of the South Vietnamese units acquitted themselves bravely and well. Brigade 147, the hardest-hit of the Vietnamese Marine units, struck back at its opposing North Vietnamese regiment so hard that the regiment was dropped from the North Vietnamese order of battle.
Mr. Nooter's recollection also was faulty in claiming that the South's troops were not tested again before 1975. How could he forget the 1972 Easter Offensive, in which the South Vietnamese beat back a three-pronged attack into the south, with U.S. air and naval gunfire support?
Thanks to the political climate in the United States, not even that measure of support was available when the North Vietnamese attacked again in 1975, and we proceeded to abandon 17 million allies to the communists.
JOHN G. MILLER
The high cost of the 1971 Laotian incursion was our fault, not the fault of the South Vietnamese.
We underestimated the enemy, and the antiaircraft fire was so devastating that we could not provide the promised air support. Despite this and despite being vastly outnumbered by their foe, the South Vietnamese made a fighting withdrawal.
While Robert H. Nooter "received reports" in Hue, Col. Robert Molinelli was over the battlefield. He wrote in the Armed Forces Journal on April 19, 1971: "A South Vietnamese battalion of 420 men was surrounded by an enemy regiment of 2,500-3,300 men for three days. The U.S. could not get supplies to the unit. It fought till it ran low on ammunition, then battled its way out of the encirclement using captured enemy weapons and ammunition. It carried all of its wounded and some of its dead with it. Reconnaissance photos showed 637 visible enemy dead around its position."
As for 1975, the North won because the South Vietnamese were short of everything from rifle and artillery rounds to tank parts, radio batteries and bandages after Congress cut aid in 1974. Even the enemy said so. Nevertheless, a reinforced South Vietnamese division held off five of Hanoi's best divisions for a week at Xuan Loc, in a battle as brave as any ever fought by Americans.
It's bad enough that we abandoned the South Vietnamese. Let's not insult them to assuage our guilt.
HARRY F. NOYES III