BRIGHAM, ALBERT "A.B."

Name: Albert "A.B." Brigham
Rank/Branch: Lance Corporal/US Marine Corps
Unit:

Company E, 2nd Battalion,
1st Marines, 1st Marine Division
DaNang, South Vietnam  

Date of Birth: 12 April 1945 (Girard, GA)
Home of Record: Savannah, GA
Date of Loss: 14 December 1966
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 160218N 1081433E (BT 050 750 - official loss coordinates)
(AT 99483 60716 - actual loss coordinates)
Click coordinates to view(4) maps  

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  LCpl. A.B. Brigham was assigned as a fire-team leader in Company E, also known as Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. Other Marines assigned to this company included SSgt. James "Jim" Bathurst, PFC Delano "Del" Cummings and a PFC nicknamed Poncho.

In December 1966, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion was participating in a search and destroy mission in the heavily populated and hotly contested region directly south of the major military base at DaNang. This sector was covered in rice fields and forested areas with scattered hamlets and villages dotting the landscape. It was also laced with rivers, streams, canals, roads and footpaths of all sizes. Another prominent terrain feature was a single-track railroad line that generally paralleled Highway 1 that ran along the coast of Vietnam. The Battalion's command post was established in the village of Phong Luc (2). While major US bases were located nearby, it was well known that Viet Cong (VC) forces also inhabited the area. The patrol's area of operation was bordered by the railroad tracks to the west, the Song La Tho River to the south, just east of Highway 1 to the east and part of the Song Vinh Die River to the north, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.

On the evening of 13 December 1966, several squads from Echo Company, including LCpl. Brigham's, established night ambush positions in anticipation of catching the illusive enemy in the open. The rest of the company was concealed not far away. However, during the night none of the traps were sprung. 

According to PFC Cummings, 14 December 1966 "was a warm day with no rain for a change." In the morning Echo Company moved from their ambush site to the south bank of the Song La Tho River, approximately 300 yards east of the completely destroyed railroad bridge that was located east of the town of Chau Lou. Other squads moved to different defensive positions along the shrub-lined riverbank. LCpl. Brigham and his fire team were located roughly 50 meters upstream from PFC Cummings' team. The rest of the platoon dug in some 500 yards away. Further, the Marines along the riverbank were a bit uneasy because intelligence reports indicated the VC had concealed tunnels dug into the riverbanks that they entered from underwater. 

Roughly an hour later LCpl. Brigham's squad opened fire on a VC element moving along the opposite riverbank. PFC Cummings' fire team also opened fire and shortly thereafter the squad leader yelled, "We got 'em!" and all firing stopped. When they looked across the river, the Marines could clearly see two VC bodies lying in the bushes along the north bank.

The squad leader told Del Cummings that he was sending two men across the river to check the bodies and for his fire team to "cover them." PFC Cummings watched A.B. Brigham and Poncho preparing to cross the muddy river. According to Del Cummings, "They had slung their rifles over their shoulders and taken off their rifle belts. The river was only about 50 feet wide, but the current was running pretty strong. I yelled to my team to cover them and shoot anything that moved on the other side."

LCpl. Brigham entered the water upstream from PFC Cummings' squad with Poncho right behind him. As the two Marines swam across the fast moving river, the Americans heard an enemy AK-47 rifle go off. All the Marines providing cover fire immediately opened fire in response. The firing stopped as quickly as it had started. PFC Cummings looked over to where the two enemy bodies had been and saw that both were gone. The VC had come back for their dead. He then looked back to A.B. Brigham and Poncho and noted they were nearly to the north bank.

As he watched his friends' progress, Del Cummings saw LCpl. Brigham change direction from swimming toward the north bank to drifting with the current. Later he reported the thought crossed his mind that A.B. Brigham may have been wounded in the exchange of gunfire. He appeared to be struggling to keep afloat when his head went under water, then popped up again as the river's current began to pull him downstream toward the covering squad.

Immediately PFC Cummings stripped off his rifle belt and boots as the current pulled A.B. Brigham even with the covering squad's position. Poncho reached the riverbank and crawled out of the water. As he did so, he realized his teammate was in serious trouble and instantly called out to him. A.B. Brigham, whose head was barely above water, looked over at Del Cummings. As he dove into the river, PFC Cummings noted that his friend was unable to get his arms up before going under again.

Over the next several minutes, PFC Cummings swam as hard as he could with the current to reach A.B. Brigham. When he reached the area where the fire team leader was last seen, he looked downstream, but saw no sign of LCpl. Brigham. Del Cummings swam near the north bank and checked the shrub and tree roots to see if his friend had become tangled in them, but found nothing. He swam to the middle of the river and dove under to try to locate him there, but again found nothing. At the same time, the squad leader contacted the platoon leader notifying him of the situation and that the patrol had initiated a search and rescue (SAR) operation along both sides of the river as well as in it. Four other Marines shed their rifle belts and boots before joining PFC Cummings in this portion of the search.

Over the next several hours, the five Marines continued to examine the Song La Tho River from the point where LCpl. Brigham disappeared for a distance of at least 500 meters downstream. The remainder of the Marines patrolled both riverbanks looking for any trace of their friend in case he had surfaced out of view and was able to pull himself out of the river.

The entire search operation continued until just before dusk. At that time SSgt. Bathurst, who had served with A.B. Brigham and Del Cummings since June 1966, told the Marines that it was time to wrap it up. Before departing the area of loss, SSgt. Bathurst said to the members of the company, "Brigham was a good Marine. We all tried. Now it's time to go back and get some rest." At the time the formal search was terminated, A.B. Brigham was reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In the years since the end of the war, information regarding the actual loss location verses the official loss coordinates has established the two positions are quite different and, in fact, miles apart. In reality, according to PFC Pat Morris, another Marine assigned to this search and destroy mission, the actual loss location was 7 miles southwest of the official location and 10 miles south of the south end of the DaNang Marine Base runways. The actual location was annotated on his copy of the field map used during this operation.

A.B. Brigham was a well-trained, experienced and highly respected Marine who is believed to have died performing his duty. While there is very little doubt that A.B. Brigham drowned while crossing the Song La Tho River, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all humanly possible. Above all else, he has the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which he gave his life. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Military men in Vietnam were called upon to 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 proudly served.