|Name:||John Charles Stuller|
|Rank/Branch:||Staff Sergeant /US Army|
|Unit:||Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, 23rd Infantry Division|
|Date of Birth:||14 December 1942 (Washington, DC)|
|Home of Record:||Falls Church, VA|
|Date of Loss:||12 May 1968|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Maurice H. Moore, William E. Skivington, Danny L. Widner, Frederick J. Ransbottom, Roy C. Williams and Imlay S. Widdison (all missing); Julius Long (returned POW).|
SYNOPSIS: Kham Duc Special Forces camp (A-105), was located on the western fringes of Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, it was the only remaining border camp in Military Region I, and was located 46 miles southwest of DaNang, 130 kilometers west of Tan Ky and 12 Kilometers east of the Vietnamese/Lao border on a narrow grassy plain surrounded by rugged, virtually uninhabited jungle. The camp and airstrip were bordered by the Ngok Peng Bum ridge to the west and Ngok Pe Xar mountain, looming over Kham Duc to the east. Steep banked streams full of rapids and waterfalls cut through this tropical wilderness.
In late March 1968, US intelligence picked up information that the 2nd NVA Regiment, well over 10,000 men strong, was moving from North Vietnam, through Laos, and intended to enter South Vietnam somewhere south of Kham Duc, on it way to the DaNang area. An intelligence team, comprised of 3 Australian advisors and their Chinese Nung Mike Force, was charged with the responsibility of locating, tracking and reporting on the enemy movement. They established a base of operations five miles south of Kham Duc in the old abandoned French fort of Ngok Tavak located between the Vietnamese/Lao boarder and Route 14.
The commander of the 2nd NVA regiment determined that neither Ngok Tavak nor Kham Duc could be bypassed because of the threat each posed to his flank once the regiment moved past them. Kgok Tavak was assaulted in the early morning hours of 10 May 1968. At the same time, the NVA began blasting Kham Duc at 0245 hours with heavy mortar and recoilless rifle fire in an attempt to "soften up" the entrenched US and allied troops. During the next two days, the battle for Kham Duc continued unabated. In that fierce fighting 19 Americans were captured, became Missing in Action or Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered as the Americans and allied troops tried desperately to hold on. In the end, those survivors who could not be evacuated were given orders to escape and evade from Kham Duc.
On 12 May 1968, 2nd Lt. Frederick Ransbottom, platoon leader; SP4 William "Skip" Skivington, radio operator; SP4 Imlay Widdison, PFC Roy Williams, PFC Danny Widner, then SP5 John Stuller and SP4 Maurice Moore, all riflemen assigned to man Observation Post #2, a defensive position located on the west side of the airstrip and adjacent to the center of it, southwest of the Kham Duc Special Forces Camp. OP2 consisted of three bunkers laid out in a triangle with each bunker being 8 foot wide, 10 foot long and 4 foot deep with sandbags stacked on all sides to increase the height of the walls, and a partial overhead cover. The bunkers were connected by trenches running between them. A 106 recoilless rifle and its 2-man crew consisting of SSgt. Carter and PFC Colonna were situated in the center of OP2.
At approximately 0430 hours, the camp and outlying positions came under heavy and accurate enemy mortar and small arms attack. When the first mortar rounds landed on OP2, the Americans, who had been standing guard outside the bunkers, jumped into the nearest one to their position - SP5 Stuller, SP4 Widdison, PFC Colonna, SSgt. Carter, Sgt. Sassenberger and SP4 Foreman were in the first bunker; 2nd Lt. Ransbottom, SP4 Skivington, SP4 Moore, and PFC Lloyd were in the second bunker; and PFC Widner, PFC Williams, SP4 Bowers and their ARVN interpreter, Ik, were in the third bunker. According to survivors in the first bunker, within seconds of the last mortar round landing in and around OP2, they heard a lot of Vietnamese voices near all positions. During the initial mortar barrage, John Stuller was thrown by the concussion onto SP4 Foreman. Before he could get up, a grenade exploded on top of him causing head and body wounds. When Sgt. Sassenberger, the squad leader; checked SP5 Stuller, John Stuller told him that he believed he was dying. Three to four more enemy grenades were lobbed into the bunker along with 15 to 20 rounds of small arms fire severely wounding SP4 Widdison; killing Sgt. Carter; and also wounding the three survivors.
Before withdrawing from the bunker, they checked Sgt. Carter who was obviously dead, then checked Imlay Widdison and John Stuller. Both men were completely limp and bleeding from multiple wounds. PFC Colonna received a shrapnel wound to his knee and Sgt. Sassenberger suffered a flesh wound to his back from a bullet while SP4 Foreman, the most seriously wounded of the three, sustained shrapnel wounds from grenade fragments from the same grenade that wounded SP5 Stuller. In the pre-dawn darkness, William Foreman, John Colonna and Edward Sassenberger slid 10 feet down hill in front of the bunker. As they did so, they heard many enemy voices on the hill and someone opening and closing the breech of the 106MM. At this time two NVA with weapons who were walking slowly passed 5 feet in front of them followed seconds later by two more. The last enemy soldier looked at the Americans with the look of not being sure of what he was really seeing. He walked on, but then returned with the others a moment later walking very slowly, deliberately and obviously searching for the Americans. Sgt. Sassenberger shot them when they were a few feet away because he felt they were in imminent danger of being discovered. Knowing the NVA on the hill would reach their position in minutes, the three wounded Americans continued another 100 feet down the hill. SP4 Foreman was very weak from loss of blood and appeared to be in the verge of fainting. Sgt. Sassenberger made a pressure bandage with his handkerchief and applied it to his wound. This action stemmed the loss of blood and the three continued down hill as daylight emerged. They found a secure hiding place near the eastern end of the airstrip where they remained hidden until they were rescued by helicopter 5 days later.
At the same time, NVA troops were storming bunkers two and three. 2nd Lt. Ransbottom radioed Kham Duc that they were killing enemy troops as rapidly as they tried to enter his command post. As the survivors withdrew from the high ground of the outposts and settled into new positions, they could see and hear NVA gunfire coming from the bunkers. At approximately 1100 hours, when the order came for all Americans manning the outposts to escape and evade as best they could to Kham Duc for evacuation, Julius Long was the only soldier from OP1 located at the southwest end of the airstrip and approximately 40 meters from OP2, to successfully make his way to the camp. When he reached it, he found himself alone. He returned to the airstrip where four days later, on 16 May 1968, communist troops captured him. SP4 Long was first held in a jungle POW camp in South Vietnam, then later moved to North Vietnam where he was repatriated on 16 March 1973.
In an attempt to blunt the NVA attack, artillery and air strikes using CBU, napalm and 750-pound bombs were utilized. Even though the attack was slowed, the enemy continued its assault in this same area throughout the morning. Likewise, in spite of heavy casualties inflicted on the NVA by the continuous air strikes, their shear numbers overwhelmed the camp defenders.
Shortly after 1200 hours, the decision was made to immediately extract all personnel from the beleaguered camp itself. With the severely outnumbered Americans under great pressure from the NVA, this evacuation was disorderly and, at times, on the verge of complete panic. Frederick J. Ransbottom, Maurice H. Moore, William E. Skivington, Danny L. Widner and Roy C. Williams were all listed Missing in Action while John C. Stuller, Imlay S. Widdison, along with the other men missing from outposts 1 and 2, were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
US forces were not able to return to Kham Duc until 18-21 July 1970, then again from 17-20 August 1970, to search for the remains of those Americans who were killed or missing. During these trips, personnel from Graves Registration found that all the bunkers had collapsed from the air strikes and artillery attacks directed upon them after the NVA took possession of the area thereby burying anyone left inside. The SAR efforts were successful in recovering the remains of PFC Harry Sisk, and PFC Antonio Guzman-Rios from OP1; and SP4 Richard Bowers, PFC Randall Lloyd and SFC Johnnie Carter from OP2.
In 1995, the Ransbottom family received a VHS formatted tape of 16mm footage which had been taken by a Laotian film crew during the battle of Kham Duc. The title of this tape is "Victory at Kham Duc." The tape had been sent to them as part of the US Government's policy to provide all information to the families, however, it arrived under strange circumstances and only the Ransbottom's received a copy of the tape. They provided it to the Widner family who, in turn, has shared it with others.
One of the Kham Duc survivors was told by government representatives that the only American POW in the tape who could be positively identified by US intelligence was Julius Long, but they were unable to identify which one he was. He tracked down Julius Long and showed him the film. After seeing it, SP4 Long told him that: 1) he never saw that film before; 2) that was not him in the film; 3) that when the film was made by an enemy camera crew, he as yet had not been captured; and 3) he could not identify any of the 4 POWs clearly shown in that footage. Julius Long also told the survivor that he "had first-hand observation Frederick Ransbottom" in captivity. When he asked about the other men missing, Julius Long told him that he did not see any of them, or any of the Americans missing during the battle for the old French fort of Ngok Tavak that fell to the same NVA regiment 2 days earlier.
Mrs. Laverne Ransbottom, mother of 2nd Lt. Ransbottom, took the communist propaganda tape to the same photo enhancement expert who examined the Oklahoma Bombing footage for analysis. He inspected the tape frame by frame and was able to lift extremely clear and identifiable photos of six separate American servicemen held as POWs. He isolated a seventh man's photo that is not clear. In April 1997, those photos were presented to the Defense Department's POW/MIA Office (DPMO) for analysis. To date they have not responded.
For the men missing during the battle for Kham Duc, there remain many unanswered questions. If they died from wounds received, each has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, for several of these men, as well as many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Indochina, their fate could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.