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National Police Station Bombing

I was overjoyed. My instructions were short and to the point. Get there early. Find the seat designated for the provost marshal. Stand behind the chair until everyone is there. Sit only when the National Police Commander opens the meeting and sits down. Take notes. Do not answer any questions other than your name. Refer all questions to Lieutenant Colonel Vance for a later time. Smile a lot. Do NOT volunteer any information. 

I went to the meeting room and stood behind the chair designated for the United States provost marshal as instructed. 

The rattle of automatic weapons fire catches my attention. It has a tendency to do that. A machine designed to fire a series of lethal rounds consecutively is not something to be ignored. 

Military police officer holding two guns, standing out on the street.

I am holding both the terrorist AK-47 and the MPs shotgun.

However, this one has an odd cyclic rate, one I am not familiar with. Not heavy enough to be a 50 caliber machine gun. Doesn't have the jingle of the 45 caliber "grease gun." Hmmmm. 

Several people have been seen sporting the old Thompson Submachine Gun, the "Tommy Gun" of old cops and robbers movies. I have never heard one fired. Is there a "Machine Gun Kelly" on the loose?  

I've never heard a Soviet AK-47 either. Naw, the only ones using them are the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

Wow! That burst of fire sounds a lot closer. Oh well, I can read about it in the paper. Does seem very close. Now that's a long burst. At least seven or eight rounds. Not much accuracy. After the first three or four rounds, recoil prevents high accuracy. Man, with bursts that long, the shooter has given up on hitting anything specific with any consistency. Sounds more like suppressing fire.

Must be at least two shooters. Well disciplined. One reloads while the other continues firing. Wonder who they are suppressing and why they are doing it? Must be a covering force of some kind. 

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The hammering sounds of what are now surely AK-47 Assault Rifles are steadily getting louder and drawing closer. The same door through which I entered minutes before, is suddenly thrown open by two Americans in civilian clothing. The short sleeve, white shirts, brown pants and shiny brown shoes identify them as people with a purpose in Vietnam, but definitely not military. Even off-duty or in a casual setting most military types still wear black shoes. I bet they’re from USOM (United States Overseas Mission – a civilian aid organization). What an odd thing to notice – shoe color in the midst of a firefight. 

The men tip the small reception desk on its front and like cowboys in a saloon shootout, dive behind the desk. I’ve seen this scene in innumerable Saturday Matinees. Instead of a trusty six-gun with a long barrel, these guys pry small Berretta pistols from their back pockets. Either .25 or .32 caliber, the pistols are capable of delivering a stinging shot. They might even “put an eye out” with a lucky hit. 

Look who’s scoffing at their weaponry, I am armed with a 16 millimeter camera that offers no defense at all. Remember, President Johnson does not want soldiers going around armed willy-nilly, as this might make a bad impression on people. Even as a Military Police officer I am armed only when assigned as duty officer.

Now that I think about it, those little pop-guns look awfully comforting. I’m not the only man wishing for a weapon.


Colonel Loan, the National Police Commander comes into the room. He is moving fast and places an armload of documents at the head of the table. Suddenly, he disappears under the huge conference table. Shouting, “Inside, inside, Cong inside.”

Things come together in a rush. We are definitely under terrorist attack. I remain standing and turn to face the wall of windows looking for signs of the attacking Viet Cong.

Where is the Cavalry? Why isn’t John Wayne coming through the door with guns blazing?

But — this isn’t a movie. This is real life. I’m not twelve years old, enjoying a movie at the Empire theater. This is war. People are dying — right now — on the other side of that wall. I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t want to die. Not now. Not here. Not like this.

Oh, shit! The firing is inside the compound. They ARE a covering force. Must be a car bomb. The only worthwhile terrorist target in the compound is this building I am standing in. All sound stops. 

Overwhelming pressure prevents my eardrums from vibrating.

What kind of pressure?

Like when I am twelve years old on top of the highest diving board in Riverside Pool, Grand Forks, ND.

Some goof ball shouts, "Come on kid! Jump! We ain't got all day!"  

Then comes the leap, the plunge, the panic. 

Left hand has one mission: Hold onto the precious eyeglasses. 

Right hand grabs for my crotch. The rumors just may be true. 

Perhaps unprotected contact with water from this height will have you singing soprano, childless forever. 

Best not to tempt fate. 

Pressure, pressure, pressure! 

At this untold depth of hundreds of fathoms down (well, maybe only two), the water wants to be inside. 

Eyes, ears, nose, anywhere that promises entry is assaulted.  

Struggling, kicking, clawing, striving for the surface and, finally, the wondrous air. 

That kind of pressure. 

This time not water but the over-pressure of a large explosion.  

Oh—my—God! They...! 

It takes a moment to realize that the blood is mine and the intense pain is from the slivers of glass protruding from my skin.

Photo of a military police officer holding and inspecting an AK-47.

Capt. Michael Harvey, U.S. Army M.P. inspects an AK-47, Vietnam. Note that the magazine has been incorrectly inserted. Public domain courtesy of United States Army Heritage and Education Center.

Instead of spotting the attacking force, I am stunned by the blast that drives the entire wall of windows into the room.

Nothing between the window and the far wall but me. It takes a moment to realize that the blood is mine and the intense pain is from the slivers of glass protruding from my skin.

Colonel Loan crouching under the table is as close to sitting down and starting a meeting as he is going to get. I took his gestures to join him in his impromptu shelter and the general bedlam created by the blast as meaning I did not have to wait for formal permission to move from my position behind my designated chair. 

Slipping under the conference table with the National Police Commander, I try to avoid getting blood on my notes of the aborted meeting. Nearly succeeding as there are only a couple of fading drops along with a few terse notes. 

Possible hand grenade.
Machinegun fire.
Loud explosion.

Talk to most people about photographs from the Vietnam war and chances are pretty good that in a list of ten photographs, these three will appear: 

>The little girl running down the road naked after a napalm attack.
>Jane Fonda sitting on a North Vietnam anti aircraft gun.
>General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong terrorist with a pistol shot to the head. 

Let me add to your knowledge of these photographs. 

The little girl had her clothes burned off after the South Vietnam Air Force dropped napalm, despite US objections. Some people have tried to indicate that the United States of America either dropped the napalm or ordered others to drop it. We did neither. 

Group of soldiers and crying children, one naked, moving on foot away from a distant cloud of smoke rising from the ground.

Photograph by Nick Ut / The Associated Press.

For each of these photos, fair use is cited since they illustrate the subjects in question.

The less said about Jane Fonda the better. If you are ever so foolish as to ask a Vietnam veteran for an opinion about her, do so in a private place. Once I made the mistake of asking a fellow veteran what he thought of her in a very fancy restaurant filled with nice gray haired ladies. Surely each of them learned a few new words or at least a different way of arranging some words. Traitor was the nicest thing he called Fonda.  

Americans have a right to protest against anything they choose. Men and women have fought, bled and died to protect that right. But, it does not extend to offering aid and comfort to an enemy. North Vietnam was an enemy. 

Do you have a friend you would trust with your life? Not in a metaphorical way, I mean trust with your life. 

I had such a friend. He died in July of 1998 in Washington, DC. Prior to his death he owned a small restaurant in Virginia. His passing is mourned in my household. His name will be spoken with honor at the hearths of my people. We first met under unusual circumstances.

He checked my wounds and smiling, told me, “You will not scare small children — at least not much.” It felt awfully good to laugh.

Prior to our meeting, I had known of him for a long time and had seen him on several occasions. After our first meeting he knew me by sight as well as by name. Whenever we met, we greeted one another with salutes, smiles, nods and a special bond. 

At a moment when I feared for my life, this man reached out a reassuring hand. We were both on our knees, not in supplication, but in order to fit under the conference table at the National Police Station. 

How do you even begin to thank a man who has said, "Do not fear. I am with you. We will be Okay." It was so reassuring to have someone confirm that I was indeed alive. That I would indeed be Okay. That I was indeed not alone. 

After the dust of the explosion and the flying glass had settled, we crawled from beneath our shelter. He checked my wounds and smiling, told me, “You will not scare small children — at least not much.” It felt awfully good to laugh.  

Throughout the time we knew one another, we could share that moment again with only a glance. So whenever you see that famous photograph, know that General Nguyen Ngoc Loan was my friend, my hero and a man of honor.

Investigative reports reveal that a terrorist force of six to twelve men conducted an attack on the National Police Station, Saigon, Vietnam on August 16, 1965. Initially throwing hand grenades and firing AK-47 rifles they killed approximately five soldiers guarding the entrance gate to the police compound. The first bomb vehicle was used to ram and breech the gate itself making way for the second bomb vehicle to enter the main compound. 

Soldiers on duty inside the compound returned fire, killing several members of the attacking force and preventing the bomb trucks from reaching their targets, including the first floor meeting room. Another six defenders were killed in this firefight. Responding forces from other parts of the city killed, captured or drove off the remaining hostile forces. In addition to the killed or wounded soldiers and Viet Cong, one United States Army officer was wounded in the attack.

Biographical Details

Primary Location During Vietnam: Saigon, Vietnam Vietnam location marker

Story Subject: Military Service

Military Branch: U.S. Army

Dates of Service: 1962 - 1975

Veteran Organization: American Legion Post 0062

Unit: 716th Military Police Battalion

Specialty: Military Police

Story Themes: 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 716th Military Police Battalion, Army, Firefight, General Loan, Grand Forks, Hanoi Jane, Jane Fonda, John Wayne, Kim Phuc, Lyndon Johnson, Michael Harvey, Military Police Officer, News Coverage, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, Nick Ut, North Dakota, Pop Culture, Read, Saigon, United States Overseas Mission, Viet Cong, Weaponry

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