Camp Rainier, Dầu Tiếng

Tank at outdoor museum at Camp Rainier

Camp Rainier was established in 1966 in Dầu Tiếng village in Bình Dương province. Some of the first US Army units from the 25th Infantry Division assigned to Camp Rainier originated from Fort Lewis, Washington, south of Tacoma, where views of Mt. Rainier are an everyday sight. Constructed to support American attempts to control heavy PAVN infiltrations into Tây Ninh and Bình Dương provinces from over the border in Cambodia, Camp Rainier had a key role protecting Saigon from the southern terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Bombs and artillery shells at outdoor museum

Just 65 kilometers north of South Vietnam’s capital city, this was one of the most highly militarized sections of the RVN. Tây Ninh and Bình Dương provinces were the home of the famous Iron Triangle, a heavily contested area north of Saigon that the US Army and ARVN just couldn’t pacify. This Triangle was home to massive tunnel complexes and daily mass infiltrations of northern troops and supplies, most notably Cu Chi which was 20 kilometers south of Camp Rainier. NLF and PAVN troops launched attacks from the tunnel complex, and retreated back underground when faced with heavy counterattacks from US and ARVN forces. For years, they lived underground and in the forests of the Iron Triangle and conducted frequent operations that rendered Saigon’s outskirts highly insecure.

Huey at outdoor museum at Camp Rainier

Many of these installations were built after the US found a heavy presence of NVA troops in and around the Michelin Rubber Plantation, which at that time, stretched to the border of Dầu Tiếng town. Camp Rainier’s location, supply depots, and airstrip enabled the US to rush reinforcements to nearby firebases and operations quickly. Launched in 1967, Operation Cedar Falls was designed to destroy large swaths of the Triangle and deny this real estate to communist forces. Five hundred troops stationed at Camp Rainier were among the vanguard units deployed during Cedar Falls.

The responsibility of pacifying Bến Súc, a town that the NLF had captured two years earlier and used as a base of operations, fell to them. The Bến Súc  story is harrowing and began with a surprise landing on the town by 60 helicopters from Rainier, evacuation of residents, deployment of bulldozers, and concluded with air strikes and napalm. Camp Rainier regularly came under NLF attacks launched from the adjacent Michelin Rubber Plantation, notably during the Tet Offensive and later in February 1969, when the base was in danger of being overrun. Two battalions of PAVN broached Camp Rainier’s surrounds that night, and several soldiers breached the perimeter of the base. Rockets landed on the very airstrip that remains in Dầu Tiếng town today, and small units attacked bunkers in and around the runway.

Tank at outdoor museum in Dau Tieng, Camp Ranier

The old airstrip of red soil and surviving chunks of tarmac from Camp Rainier crosses the town’s main road. The dimensions of the runway were more or less retained. There’s no construction here, and the backyards of homes border either side of it. An informal market of conical-hatted and colorful pajamas-wearing women squatting over tubs of live shrimp and vegetables was at the intersection with the main road. I crossed the intersection, proceeded along the runway, and encountered the ingredients for some kind of a carnival or fair.

Video below is provided by Luke Johnston at Viet Nam Heritage - Healing Through History

Rows of colorful two-seater rocket ships and bumper cars were parked on the cracked pavement and red soil, waiting to be assembled as carnival rides. Random Vietnamese stuff piled up along the sides of the airstrip - stacks of weathered lumber, concrete, rusted fences, and burned couches. The old airstrip is now mixed use public land: a place for community events like carnivals and markets, a dump, and a motorbike short cut across town.

Amusement park on runway at Camp Rainier

In Dầu Tiếng town center a community park and sports center with a front lawn display of dozens of US bombs, a Willys Jeep, an M-41 tank, and a UH-1 Huey helicopter. Next to this display is the famous Camp Rainier swimming pool. It is a raised pool on the second level of the construction housing it, and it’s well-maintained and still used today. It was gated and shut when I visited, as I’d shown up before opening hours. This was unfortunate, as I was curious to see if the black mosaic of a Playboy Bunny rendered by American GIs in the late 1960s on the pool’s floor was still there. The pool was originally built around 1930 by French who were affiliated with the Michelin Rubber Plantation.

The pool at Camp Rainier, Dau Tieng

By 1967, it had been sitting idle for about twenty years in a dilapidated state. Soldiers from the US Army 12th Infantry Regiment decided to fix up the pool and deliver themselves a luxury few troops in the field had. They built ten showers under the pool, repaired structural damage, of which part was caused by a grenade blast, and gave it a new coat of paint. They installed a high dive platform, with a diving board that was constructed from a UH-1 Huey rotor. They installed a hi-fi system and painted the Playboy bunny on the floor of the pool.

The pool at Camp Rainier, Dau Tieng

At the time, this pool was written up in Army journals as the biggest morale boost since the Armed Forces Network started broadcasting the TV show Batman. It most likely got a lot of use in the late 1960s, even if it was mere meters from PAVN soldiers hiding in the rubber forests that ringed the base. I climbed around on the structure to see if there was any way I could get around the locked gate, but it wasn’t promising. I was left to imagine these soldiers cranking Tommy James and the Shondells, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, or Buck Owens on a hot Bình Dương afternoon, swimming and drinking beer, taking a break from the war.



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15 thoughts on “Dau Tieng”

  1. I arrived in county in November of 66. I was assigned to the 4th Inf and we moved via a convoy to the site in early 67. We spent the first night in the old mansion and were then moved out for officers. We spent several weeks in Artic Tents (that’s what they had). Then we got a 10 man tent that worked well. Built lots of bunkers on the air strip. Came home 11/15/1967. The 3rd of the 4th was changed to the 3rd of the 25th. New patches for everyone!! I lucky to work in Admin and spent a lot of time at the pool😊. I spent one full year in county and had less than three months left when I returned so I was released. I was incredibly lucky and fortunate with the time I spent in Dau Tieng.

  2. I was with the air force’s 1st Mobile Communications group “1st Mob” and we were TDY at Camp Rainier for operation Junction City – while their saw puff dragon C47 B52 gunship in action one nite and another nite mortars came in because there was a c7 caribou twin engine plane there that nite because it lost an engine on take off with army rangers on it and came around and landed and they kissed the ground when they got off!! B52s woke us up one morning-BOMBING 7 MILES AWAY AND SHOOK US AWAKE. YES THAT pool was welcomed. That’s all for now.

  3. Our 319th Transportation Company convoyed to Dau Tieng often during our tour in the late ’60s. I drove my 5 ton truck into a square of buildings with some other trucks and was greeted by a mortar round or rocket landing right in the middle of us. Then we had to stay overnight. A company near my truck had a small outdoor movie. I couldn’t enjoy the movie as an M-60 machine gun crew near us was spraying the woods outside the perimeter. Hated to be there but grateful to God for bringing me home safely.

  4. I served in D Co, 2/28th, 1st Inf Div ( Black Lions) from Sep 69 to Jan 70, and then was transferred out to several other units when the BRO rotated back to the states. We operated out of FSB Kien ( formerly Mahone) south of Dau Tieng and close to the Michelin Rubber Plantation. One of our operations was to move our whole company (D) into the rubber at night to catch the enemy off guard. We were issued potato sacks to put over our boots so we wouldn’t, theoretically, leave any footprints. It was pitch dark & the company moved in single file with each trooper hanging on to the rucksack of the guy in front. We walked for a long time when word was received to move off the trail (or road) and set up for the night. Didn’t make any contact there for the next several days so we went back to Kien. I just thought it funny that we used sacks to cover our boots.

    1. Ron, I was with Delta 2/28 first platoon from 8-69 until Feburary when they cased the colors and went back to Ft. Riley, Kansas. I was then reassigned to Americal Division. If I remember correctly you were a Sgt. at the time. I was an e-5 also. I remember the story you told. Yes we used sand bags to cover our foot prints and taped up anything that might rattle. The Company Commander at the time was Capt. Gail Woods. The Company along with the ARVN’s were sealing off a village south of our Firebase (Mahone) when Major Kien was killed. He was assisting putting wounded on a Dust Off when he was killed. This was during the rice season and the VC/NVA were coming into the village for rice. The Firebase was renamed in honor of Kien. Glad you made it back. Black Lions Sir!

  5. I served in Dau Tieng, never knew it as Camp Rainier, from Oct ’68 – July ’69 with the 25th Med. Remember well the attack in Feb ’69 and spent as much time as I could at the pool. What a luxury.

    The lifeguard at that time had been serving in Europe, as I recall, teaching something to do with maps. Kept screwing up and the Army sent him to Vietnam even though his MOS wasn’t in country. He went out as F O for an arty unit, suffered a ruptured ear drum and was reassigned to the pool. I seem to recall their was a smaller one for officers somewhere over around the plantation house.

    Also had a library that was air conditioned in one of the plantation buildings. During Feb attack story goes there were some guys hunkered down inside while NVA were out front on the porch. I was part of the reaction force that pushed them away from that building and the pool.

    1. I was one of the five guys pinned down in the library. My name is Larry Hamilton, from Lancaster, Mass. with me we’re Bill Sluis of Mokena, I’ll. Hector Nadal of San Francisco, CA. John Caldwell of Bogalusa, Louisiana. The fifth guy was a stranger. We each thought he was a friend of one of our buddies. He refused to work with us and hid under the stairwell. We were elated to hear the reactionary force yelling if there was anyone inside the building! We knew the NVA were on the other side f the door. We could hear them talking. I had my M-16 with me with one full magazine, Bill had a 45 pistol with one clip. That was it. We each watched the door and windows all night. After we were rescued we hound out that the N.VA. Were above us on the second floor most of the Night!! Boy, we’re we lucky!!!!!!!!!

  6. This is one of my favorite Vietnam War websites. I was wondering if you were going to do a segment on Nui Ba Den, the “Black Virgin Mountain” in Tay Ninh Province. I was there with the 25th Division during Operation Cliff Dweller IV in January 1970.

    1. Hey CJ. Yes we have that in pipeline. We have visited and have the pictures so we just need to get the article together. Thank you for the kind comment. Much more material to come.

    1. I was wounded and after became a life guard at the pool in May of 1968. I lived underneath the pool in the filter room to avoid the mortars and rockets.

      1. When I first arrived in Dau Tieng Dec 66 we were quartered in ten man tents. A month or two later we were moved to buildings next to the in ground swimming pool. That is where I met a 25th Inf soldier (he had broken his leg and was recovering) who was taking care of the pool and serving beer and soft drinks to the officers that swam there.

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