The once bustling Khe Sanh Marine
Base in South Vietnam's extreme northwest had been a
ghost town for more than three years by the summer of
1971. It was, however, used briefly that February to
support the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. After
that bloody debacle, they abandoned not just Khe Sanh,
but the entire region, yielding immense areas to the
NVA. Almost overnight, the North began extending the
Ho Chi Minh Trail highways into South Vietnam.
In late July 1971, U.S. intelligence
began tracking a large enemy force shifting across the
DMZ a dozen miles east of Khe Sanh, threatening the
coastal cities of Hue, Danang and Phu Bai where the
last sizeable American ground units were based.
It was essential to learn what was
happening near Khe Sanh, the mission was assigned to
a shadowy organization called "SOG". Created
to conduct covert missions deep behind enemy lines in
Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam, the top- secret Studies
and Observations Group had shifted most of its operations
in-country in 1971 to cover the continuing U.S. withdrawal.
From among its clandestine assembly
of Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and USAF Air Commandos,
the Khe Sanh mission eventually became a prisoner-snatch
assigned to Recon Team Kansas, an 11-man Special Forces-led
element, which included eight Montagnard tribesmen.
But how do you grab a prisoner in
the midst of 10,000 or more NVA? Headed by an easygoing,
lanky Midwesterner, 1st Lt. Loren Hagen, along with
Sergeants Tony Andersen and Bruce Berg, the RT Kansas
men had brainstormed through several scenarios until
settling upon the best option: They would land conspicuously
on an abandoned firebase -- which obviously would draw
some sort of NVA reaction -- put up a short fight, then
extract by helicopter.
Except half of Hagen's men would
stay hidden on the hill. When the NVA sent a squad up
to see if the Americans had left behind sensors or bombing
beacons -- as SOG teams often did -- the hidden men
would ambush the NVA, seize a prisoner and come out.
In case a serious fight developed,
Lt. Hagen reinforced his team with three more Green
Beret volunteers, Staff Sgt. Oran Bingham and Sergeants
Bill Queen and William Rimondi, eight Montagnard tribesmen
and six U.S. Special Forces troops -- a total of 14
Landing at last light on Aug. 6,
1971, Lt. Hagen surveyed the scrub brush and bomb craters
below them and split his defense into three elements
to cover three slopes. Immediately they went to work
restoring the old firebase's two dilapidated bunkers
and shallow trenches. The enemy must have seen them
land, and Hagen reckoned to be ready.
Foreboding Night It was well after
dark when the SOG men noticed campfires on two facing
ridgelines: unusual because the NVA normally masked
itself. By midnight, enemy probers were at the base
of the hill, firing provocatively from the north, south,
east and west.
At 1 a.m., a USAF AC-130 Spectre
gunship arrived, walking 40mm and 20mm fire around the
hill nearly all night. Never once did the team fire
their weapons, staying blanketed in darkness. Then at
3 a.m., the SOG men heard trucks and tailgates dropping.
This was odd, very odd.
Beneath the hill, dismounting NVA
soldiers formed up into platoons and companies, which
their leaders marched through the darkness to their
assigned attack positions, to wait for dawn. Just before
sunrise it became forebodingly quiet. Then Lt. Hagen
heard more trucks arriving.
Fifty miles away at a coastal airbase,
a USAF forward air controller (FAC) and a flight of
helicopters was lifting away for the false extraction;
they would be above RT Kansas in 30 minutes.
Encircled by the NVA as darkness
gave way to light, Lt. Hagen detected glimpses of NVA
on one slope; then on another slope pith helmets appeared,
bobbing in the fog. When his men reported NVA on the
third slope, too, Hagen realized the hill was completely
encircled by NVA -- but that would require a whole regiment,
at least a thousand men.
The NVA regimental commander understood
he had to dispatch the Americans quickly. They'd inadvertently
landed almost within sight of the Hanoi High Command's
most critical new venture, the first six-inch fuel pipeline
laid across the DMZ.
It would be absolutely essential
in a few months when entire tank battalions rolled through
there for the war's largest offensive. Already the 304th
NVA Division was massing there. Moreover, a regiment
of the 308th Division was preparing for the 1972 Easter
A fourth battalion moved into place;
then, concealed in the ground fog, a fifth battalion
arrived. Later, SOG's commander, Col. John Sadler, would
learn an entire regiment had stormed the hill, supported
by a second regiment. It was a mass assault by approximately
2,000 enemy infantrymen.
As the clearing ground fog disclosed
that terrible truth, Lt. Hagen had no time for inspiring
words, just serious soldier work; in those final moments
he repositioned weapons while his men readied grenades
and stacked magazines. The Catholic Montagnards made
the sign of the cross.
Then the NVA came.
Four KIA in Four Minutes A well-aimed
RPG rocket smashed into Bruce Berg's bunker, collapsing
it and signaling the attack -- fire went from nothing
to 10,000 rounds per second. Andersen could see dozens
of NVA rushing in lines up his slope, meeting them with
his M-60 machine gun.
Hagen hollered that he was going
to check Berg. And then he ran directly into a ferocious
maelstrom, bullets ricocheting and slamming the earth
in front of, behind, and beneath his dashing feet. He
made it a dozen yards when fire from the other slope
cut him down, killing him.
Then Klaus Bingham left a bunker
to reposition a claymore and a bullet struck him in
the head, apparently killing him. One Montagnard in
a trench below Andersen fired several bursts then jumped
up to pull back and fell into Andersen's lap, dead.Four
men had died in less than four minutes. It was up to
Andersen, now the senior man.
Small arms fire rattled closer on
all sides and grenades lobbed up from below the hillcrest
where waves of NVA were scurrying behind small rises
and rolling from bomb crater to bomb crater. Andersen
dashed over the hill to look for Hagen, but couldn't
see him anywhere -- just 100 khaki-clad NVA almost at
He fired one M-60 belt at NVA advancing
up his own slope, then sped to the other approach and
ran belt after belt on the 100 assaulting enemy. By
then, grenades started coming from behind him as NVA
closed in from his rear. Just a dozen yards away, beyond
the curvature of the hill, enemy heads popped up, cracked
a few shots, then dropped back down.
Still a dozen minutes away, the
approaching Cobra gunships went to full throttle, leaving
the slower Hueys behind.
Meanwhile, RT Kansas had just run
out of hand grenades when a North Vietnamese grenade
exploded beside Andersen's M-60, rendering it useless.
He spun his CAR-15 off his back and kept shooting, then
he tossed back another grenade, but it went off in front
of him, nearly blinding him, yet he kept shooting. More
shrapnel tore into him, then an AK round slammed through
his webgear and lodged in his elbow, knocking him down.
He stumbled back to his knees and kept firing.
The perimeter was pinched almost
in half when Andersen grabbed his last two living Montagnards,
circled below the nearest NVA and somehow managed to
reach the survivors on the opposite side. He found Bingham,
started to lift him, and saw he, too, was dead from
a head wound. All around him he heard, "zzssss,
zzssss, zzssss," as bullets flashed past his ears.
He dragged Bingham back to where
Bill Queen lay, wounded. Only Rimondi wasn't yet hit
and still fired furiously. Andersen put them in a back-to-back
circle just off the hilltop where they would make their
last stand. AK bullets had destroyed their team radio,
another slug had shot Andersen's little survival radio
out of his hand, so Rimondi tossed him another survival
radio -- their last.
Now the NVA were streaming, rolling
over the crest like a tidal wave, their rattling AKs
blending together into one never-ending burst. Andersen's
men were firing not at NVA, but at hands wielding AKs
over parapets and around bunkers. There was no place
left to fall back. Andersen was shooting NVA little
farther away than the length of his CAR-15 muzzle. The
time it took to speed-change a magazine meant life or
From the air it looked like an ant
mound, with moving figures everywhere. Cobra lead rolled
in and sprinkled 20mm cannon shells around the surviving
SOG men, and at last fighters arrived, adding napalm
and Vulcan cannons to the melee. Then at last the assault
ebbed, turned, and the NVA fled for cover, just as the
Though wounded repeatedly, Andersen
crawled out to fire his CAR-15 to cover the landing
Hueys. With Rimondi's help, Andersen dragged as many
teammates' bodies as he could to the first Huey, then
helped the wounded Queen and others aboard the second.
KIA Count: 64%
In one hellacious
half-hour, nine of Recon Team Kansas' 14 men had been
Lt. Hagen had died, along with Bingham;
Berg was presumed dead; six Montagnards had died. Rimondi
and Queen both suffered multiple frag wounds, Andersen
had been struck by both small arms fire and shrapnel,
and their other Montagnards, too, all had been wounded.
"It's amazing that any of us
came through it with the amount of incoming that we
were getting," Tony Andersen says today, 25 years
later. He attributes their survival to his deceased
team leader, Lt. Loren Hagen. "He epitomized what
a Special Forces officer should be -- attentive to detail,
a lot of rehearsals, followed through on things,"
he explains. "We were ready. I think that was probably
the only thing that kept us from being totally overrun.
Everybody was alert and knew what was happening and
As for Hagen's bravery, dashing
into a wall of AK fire to try to save Bruce Berg, that
didn't surprise Andersen, either. "Lt. Hagen was
that kind of officer. He was a good man."
Against the loss of most of his
teammates, Andersen learned, the USAF counted 185 NVA
dead on that hill -- little RT Kansas had killed half
a battalion and probably wounded twice that many NVA.
But that gives Andersen little satisfaction compared
to the loss of most of his team.
Perhaps Andersen's most difficult
duty was carrying the bodies of his six Montagnard teammates
-- his "family" he called them -- to their
"As soon as they saw us driving
up in the truck, they knew. Wailing and moaning started,
and all the grieving." The villagers gathered in
a circle around the headman's stilted longhouse. "Through
one of the interpreters I tried to explain how proud
we were of them, what good fighters they were, that
they had died for a good cause."
That would be borne out a few months
later when the intelligence generated by RT Kansas'
spirited defense helped U.S. analysts read enemy intentions,
enabling American airpower to counter the NVA's Easter
And though details of this incredible
fight would remain classified for decades, enough was
disclosed that 1st Lt. Loren Hagen's family was presented
the U.S. Army's final Vietnam War Medal of Honor. Tony
Andersen, who held together what remained of RT Kansas
through those final mass assaults, received the Distinguished
Service Cross. Queen, Rimondi, Berg and Bingham were
awarded Silver Stars.
And now, today, with full disclosure,
we can appreciate the significance of their noble stand.
HAGEN, LOREN D. - 1Lt, US Army,
Inf, US Army Training Advisory Group.
Action: Republic of Vietnam, 7 Aug 1971.
Inducted: Fargo, N. Dak.
DOB 25 Feb 1946, Fargo, N. Dak.
Citation: 1st Lt. Hagen distinguished
himself in action while serving as the team leader of
a small reconnaissance team operating deep within enemy-held
At approximately 0630 hours on the
morning of 7 Aug 1971 the small team came under a fierce
assault by a superior-sized enemy force using heavy
small arms, automatic weapons, mortar, and rocket fire.
1st Lt. Hagen immediately began returning small-arms
fire upon the attackers and successfully led this team
in repelling the first enemy onslaught. He then quickly
deployed his men into more strategic defense locations
before the enemy struck again in an attempt to overrun
and annihilate the beleaguered team's members. 1st Lt.
Hagen repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy fire directed
at him as he constantly moved about the team's perimeter,
directing fire, rallying the members, and resupplying
the team with ammunition, while courageously returning
small arms and hand grenade fire in a valorous attempt
to repel the advancing enemy force. The courageous actions
and expert leadership abilities of 1st Lt. Hagen were
a great source of inspiration and instilled confidence
in the team members. After observing an enemy rocket
make a direct hit on and destroy 1 of the team's bunkers,
1st Lt. Hagen moved toward the wrecked bunker in search
for team members despite the fact that the enemy force
now controlled the bunker area. With total disregard
for his own personal safety, he crawled through the
enemy fire while returning small-arms fire upon the
enemy force. Undaunted by the enemy rockets and grenades
impacting all around him, 1st Lt. Hagen desperately
advanced upon the destroyed bunker until he was fatally
wounded by enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire.
With complete disregard for his personal safety, 1st
Lt. Hagen's courageous gallantry, extraordinary heroism,
and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at
the cost of his own life, were in keeping with the highest
traditions of the military service and reflect great
credit upon him and the US Army.