February 15, 1968 — Tay Ninh Province
SP5 Bruce A. Nelson was assigned to B Company, 588th Engineer Battalion that was in a Base Camp near Tay Ninh City. In early February 1968, Bravo Company was tasked to assist A Company in building a five-pointed star-shaped Special Forces Camp with air strip at Thien Ngon. The location is on QL 22 highway (trail in 1968) about 4 miles from the Cambodian border. Most of the outline of the Camp can still be seen on Google Earth.
On February 15th, Bravo's mission was to sweep the road between the river and the Camp. Then the dump trucks would start hauling soil to build the berms for the Camp. I took 1st platoon down to the river on the 14th and stayed overnight. Then at first light we started north sweeping the road for mines. The previous three days we had started from the Camp and swept south. To break up any potential pattern that the Communist might see and predict, we started from the river that day.
We were a little more than half way when I unexpectedly saw a sweep team coming south from the Camp. I tried to make radio contact but a load explosion occurred. The sweep team from the Camp was being escorted by a M 48 tank and several armored personnel carriers. They were in an ambush. I divided 1st Platoon into two sections, one on each side of the road, and attacked into the ambush. The VC were focused on the North team and when we came from the South, the VC retreated into the jungle, breaking the ambush.
The combat losses from our side were ten KIA of which B Company lost 4. They were 1LT James M Hill, SP5 Kenneth L Fulton, SP4 Rex Tutor, and SP5 Bruce A Nelson. The VC losses were 0. Many blood trails lead into the jungle and I personally saw two VC fall. The VC tied ropes to their ankles so when they were hit, someone could drag their body away.
There were many brave acts that day. All but one of the tank crew were killed. The remaining man operated the tank and fired the gun. He was awarded a silver star. SP5 Fulton was a medic and killed as he ran to down men. He was awarded a bronze star. Because of the combat action that the 588th Engineer Battalion was involved in from October 1967 to March 1968, the Valorous Unit Award was presented to the Battalion and every man in the 588th Battalion.
Thank you for your service, Bruce Nelson. And God Bless your Family.
Timothy Richards, CPT, CE (Ret.)