Fire Support Base Burt

The road that went through FSB Burt

In an especially remote location in northern Tây Ninh province, less than 10 kilometers south of the Cambodia border in a patch of dense jungle is the site of the famed Fire Support Base Burt. FSB Burt was the site of the Battle of Suối Cụt on 1-2 January 1968. This battle was the inspiration for the second half of the movie Platoon. Film director Oliver Stone was one of the base’s defenders, as was Vietnam War novelist Larry Heinemann.

Part of a wall of US Army installations that traced the frontier from Phước Vĩnh in Bình Phước province southwest to the Fishhook region and the Parrot’s Beak region northwest of Saigon, Burt’s role was to help bolster the capital city and its periphery from PAVN and NLF incursions into Vietnam from Cambodia. Today, this part of Vietnam is desolate, and the forests here are thick. My coordinates had me turn south from Provincial Road 794 onto a dirt road, and ride south for about five kilometers. I stopped when I landed at the spot. The site is unmarked, unheralded, and doesn’t get many visitors, so I couldn’t be sure if I was in the right place.

Parked outside FSB Burt

Yet I knew from maps that FSB Burt was bisected by a dirt road in 1967-68, much like the dirt road I was on. Upon noticing a small homemade altar with a stuffed joss stick bowl on the side of the road near where I’d stopped, however, I knew. Homemade altars can be a clue that you’ve stumbled onto a Vietnam War site, especially when that altar is in the middle of the forest. They don’t appear at random. They’re usually erected by people living nearby. Vietnamese are afraid of wandering spirits, and battlefields are full of wandering spirits. The altars are there to recognize those confused ghosts and calm them down from their perpetual confusion about their existence. Yet the FSB Burt site is surrounded for kilometers on all sides by jungle. Nobody lives here. Battle veterans or MIA investigation teams likely installed the altar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBB0b_P_iGw

In late December 1967, all sides had agreed on a 36-hour ceasefire to take effect over the New Year period. The U.S. Army units from the 22nd Infantry, stationed at FSB Burt, had no reason to believe that it would be respected, particularly as elements of the 22nd had gotten hit over Christmas that year during another truce period. On New Year’s Eve 1967, ambush patrols from FSB Burt encountered light contact a mere 200 meters from the base perimeter. Contact was made again the next evening, 1 January, and shooting was followed by sporadic mortar fire onto the base. It intensified as the evening wore on, with 200 more rounds falling on Burt between 11:30 and 11:45 that night. At 12:01 AM, the first of several human wave attacks descended on Burt. It turned out that the base was surrounded by about 2500 PAVN regulars and NLF troops, concentrated in the jungle to the south. The fighting was extremely close and hand-to-hand, and Communist troops penetrated the base perimeter several times.

Fighting position at FSB Burt

More wave attacks followed throughout the night, and the battle was so close that the Americans had to horizontally level their howitzer barrels and fire ‘beehive’ rounds, filled with up to 8,000 flechettes, directly at advancing ground troops. Airstrikes, artillery, napalm, cluster bomb units, and Spooky Gunships were also called in, and FSB Burt commanders even had to order strikes on their own positions. By 5:00 AM on 2 January 1968, the Communists began to melt away back into the jungle, leaving behind nearly 400 fallen soldiers, many of which were piled up around American bunkers and fighting positions. The Americans lost 23 soldiers, with nearly 150 wounded. As the sun came up and the battlefield quieted, the Army got to work cleaning up, putting out fires, and bulldozing the dead into mass graves, as seen in the final scenes of Platoon.

Possible fighting position at FSB Burt

The jungle has reclaimed Burt. Photos from 1967 show that Burt was a circular clearing in the forest; everything had been cut down to build this temporary base. It’s unlikely there would have been permanent structures here, HQ, gun positions and fighting positions would have been foxholes and sandbags. Thus, nothing remains. I visited in late December, which is the dry / cool season in Vietnam. Yet temperatures in winter can and did climb to about 37 degrees (99 F) by 10:30 the morning I was there. As I arrived to the site, I visited the small shrine, lit three joss sticks and said a prayer for the men who gave their lives here before I continued into the thick woods. Before entering, I told myself I’d explore for 30 minutes and then get out. Given the heat and landscape, it would have been very easy to quickly get lost and exhausted. This location is very remote. In the dry jungle, little evidence of a battle remained, though I noticed craters and other landscape features that suggested that they could have once been firing positions or foxholes. I got disoriented and dizzy several times, and my senses were heightened in an atmosphere that I characterize as heavy. The jungle was so dense at FSB Burt that morning that it felt like dusk.

 

At one point I encountered a huge crater, possibly 60 meters by 60 meters. This was a hard feature to understand, as there was nothing else like it in the jungle. I thought that it could have been an artillery position, so I descended and explored the pit and the walls of the crater. I came back up no closer to a conclusion and kept on moving. Later that day, through research and sharing my description with people involved in MIA searches, I learned that I had walked through a site that was once a mass grave of Vietnamese soldiers. One that was dug and filled with American bulldozers just as the last American troops were evacuating after the battle, only to be dug up again years later by the Vietnamese Government.

PAVN mass grave at FSB Burt

Close to four hundred North Vietnamese troops killed in 5-6 hours is a lot. The feature suddenly made sense; I had been exploring an exhumed mass grave. After the war, the Vietnamese government sent specialists to battle sites to exhume bodies from these mass graves. This effort continues to this day, and the goal is to get their remains home to their families or rebury them in formal liệt sĩ (“martyr”) military cemeteries.

Possible fighting position at FSB Burt

At that point, I got out of the jungle. Having seen maps of the base, it’s clear I was near the center of the former FSB Burt. Yet I’d only scratched the surface of the expanse of the battle. Like many places from the war, FSB Burt isn’t marked, reminding the explorer that this country is speckled with hundreds of monumental sites that take some digging and determination to find.

 

How to get there

FSB Burt is a 130 kilometer drive which proceeds north on historic Highway 13 (“Thunder Road”) through Bình Dương and Bình Phước provinces. Turn west at An Lộc onto the provincial road, and let your coordinates lead the rest of the way.

Decimal coordinates: 11.582661 106.369776

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The nearby Dau Tieng Base Camp still has its runway fairly intact and some old structures such as the swimming pool that was used by GIs during the war.

13 thoughts on “FSB Burt”

  1. I was with the 3/22 Bravo company 2nd platoon. North perimeter. It was the scariest night of my life cause the Vietcong just kept coming out of the jungle like ants. They told us to get in our foxholes so howitzers could shoot point blank, you could hear the beehive rounds above your head. Then they called the Napalm jets in and also puff the magic dragon . Every fifth round from puff was a tracer and it looked like streams of blood coming down from the sky. The napalm just burned everything in site. I was involved in carrying the Vietcong bodies to the trench the bulldozers dug very ugly site. That night haunts me to this day,

    1. Hi George. Thank you for your comment. I am glad you made it out. I would really like to learn more from you about these events. Please send us an email on nanwartravel@gmail.com if you like. It would add greatly to the context of this article.
      /Jonas

  2. As you mentioned in the article, my unit C/3/22nd Infantry, 25th Infantry Division fought at FSB Burt. That was a year before I came into country. Our company website, http://www.c322association.org has an after action report about the battle along with survivor interviews and a few pictures. Our KIA section also has pictures of the 11 brave men who died in the battle.

    Thanks again for this tremendous website. It’s nice to have access to a site that stays away from the political discourse of that era and concentrates on the historical aspects of the war. But I was also wondering if you ever come upon unexploded ordinance or war artifacts in your travels. I guess you definitely have to keep your eyes open in some of these areas.

    1. Hello C.J. thank you for your comment. I will make sure to check out the website and read the after action report. I am happy you made it home from the war.

      I agree, we make sure to keep politics away from our site, we focus on the history of the war and honor all who served and fought.
      About finding items on these sites. Yes it is common to find old sandbags, spent shellcases and boot soles. On occassion we also stumble upon weapons parts and I have friends who have found live mortar grenades. Myself I found a piece of a poncho liner on Hamburger Hill, right where the worst fighting was on May 18. I rarely bring anything back, but leave it in place. On more remote places we make sure to stay on the trails to reduce the risk of stepping on something dangerous. Some of the places we go to have rested untouched since the war which makes it quite dangerous. On other places with many visitors, the risk is much smaller of course. Ahain, thank you for your kind comment and please send us an email at namwartravel@gmail.com if you want to talk more.
      Jonas

  3. With just ten days left of my tour I was assigned to Battery A, 3rd battalion, 13th Artillery, 25th infantry Division on a 155mm SP Howitzer, M 109. We lost one gun going there when it hit a mine and blew the left track off. It left us with five guns. For the first time all year, they dug swimming pool size bunkers so we could drive our Howitzer Tanks into them only leaving the top half of the Howitzer sticking above ground. Our gun was right next to the road on the North End of the base. After a large mortar attack our guns started firing counter mortar as we were shooting a full 360 degree circle around our our base. In Artillery terms it was 6400 mill circle. After midnight fire directional control center had me and our gun shoot directly into the waves of VC trying to overrun the outer perimeter on the North East and East side of our base camp. I was the closest gun to do so and we shot for several hours into the incoming Enemy forces. I am 73 years old now and I can remember the battle like it was yesterday! I would be glad to talk to anyone about this battle, the HORRIFIC noise it made and as day light was moving in the blue haze and the smell of bodies burning in the surrounding woods was a sight to behold. We were all in a daze and the quietness overwhelmingly set the true nature of what had happened. I later stood at a make shift morgue looking at our own losses laying on Army cots— I can’t explain the feeling. My cell phone # is 270 943 7545.

    1. Michael. Thank you so much for your comment. I am happy you made it out from that violent battle. I will send you an email as I am very interested to learn more about the battle and what you went through.
      /Jonas

    2. I was with the 3/22 B company and assigned to the north side of the perimeter. All night we watched the gooks line ups for assault the perimeter. Our medic was killed and %75 of-our crew was wounded. Just before dawn 4 gooks charged into the elephant grassland we killed them . Last action of the night until around 7:00am when the relief force reached us to help carry the dead and wounded. The longest night of my life.

    3. Michael – Thanks for these details. I wrote this piece, and it really brings the visit to life for me. I can recall most of the positions / places you’re recalling. Amazing that you got sent to Burt with ten days left in country; I’m glad you made it out. Sounds like Jonas will reach out to you, and I’ll be interested to hear how the conversation goes. Meanwhile, I’m living in rural Vietnam (Phan Rang) with my family. Where else did you serve? I’m hoping to do another few site visit trips this year, and if there are any places you’re curious about, I’ll see what I can do.

      All the best,
      Stephen

    4. I am the FDC Operator who ordered the direct fire what a night Harvey my name is Paterno I don’t know if you remember me or not but I was FTC chief of section

  4. Thanks for your comment and extra context, Richard. Good to know you’ve seen this article. Certainly one of the more interesting sites I’ve been to. Stephen

  5. Sixteen years ago a grave was excavated at what may be the present large depression discovered by Stephen and described in his article on LZ Burt.
    There have been one or two significant other battles at this same location:
    – the 1-Nov’68 LZ Rita, 1st Division battle with well over 100 NVA KIA
    B/1st Bn/4th Cav/1st Div; B Battery, 1st Bn, 5th Arty; C Battery, 8th Bn, 6th Arty;
    – a second is depicted in Chapter 70-‘Rita Overrun’ of Bob Hutton’s book “Gypsies”; with no date referenced.
    In studying the AARs & ORLL, the only suspect date I find is 23 Feb’69, yet with little mention of Rita. I remember the 23rd specifically as a busy night throughout the area, which may explain the mediocre reports on Rita. This account leads me to think a significant grave may have resulted. Bob Hutton’s book can be found on the Tall Comanche website (C/2/5th Cav) under menu item ‘Stories’.
    A grave was excavated there over the winter of 2003/2004, though it is difficult to attribute it to Burt or one of the two Rita battles. The depression west of the Shrine suspiciously appears to be the excavated grave. The phone GPS location of the Shrine provided by Nguyen Xuan Thang is a half-click south of LZ Burt’s center and 350 meters or so south of the perimeter. Possibly too far to be a Burt grave?
    Further research is necessary. I thank Stephen for this informative article.
    All the best,
    Richard
    Tiger 38, D/229th (Smiling Tigers), 1st Cav, 68/69

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