BRACK: Local resident led team to rescue 187 Montagnards in Vietnam

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher   |  In the last year, a more complete understanding of the War in Vietnam has come to light for Americans, primarily via the Ken Burns documentary through the Public Broadcasting System.

Many now agree that the United States should not have been so involved in that war. After all, our country lost 60,000 of our finest, while another 150,000 were wounded in that undeclared war.

Next Thursday, Gwinnettians can get a further understanding of one soldier’s distinctive contribution to that war, as 30-year Peachtree Corners resident Tom Ross will speak  on November 9 at 6:30  p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church Parish Hall, as part of a veteran’s observance. Cost is $10 for a spaghetti supper. Veterans are invited at no charge. The address is 400 Holcomb Bridge Road in Norcross.

Ross is president and CEO of Ross Jewelry Company of Buckhead. He landed in Vietnam in 1968 as an Army Special Forces Green Beret first lieutenant. He began writing his story within two weeks after returning home. He outlined it then, but it was not until 2004 that he eventually published his hardback book, Privileges of War, a Good Story of American Service in Vietnam. It is available through the Internet.

Ross

Ross arrived in South Vietnam in January 1968, in the middle of the Tet Offensive and was stationed at Nha Trang, a coastal city. He had volunteered for duty with the Fifth Special Forces group, as an Operations and Intelligence Officer and adviser to the South Vietnamese troops.  His station was responsible for the defense of Nha Trang, and the northern defense for Cam Ranh Bay.

Though much of Ross’ time in Vietnam was something of continuous contact with the enemy, it was always dangerous yet somewhat disconcerting. Those in that war knew that it had become unpopular back home. Yet the Americans were still facing a real, hidden and often undetected enemy every day.  Many days it wasn’t going well for them. The Americans could never tell when the Viet Cong might be attacking their base.

While in Vietnam, Ross was in constant danger, going out on patrols in the jungles while advising the South Viet Nam Army.  The pinnacle of his time in Vietnam came when he learned of Montagnard villagers who were being enslaved, some for eight years, in support of the Viet Cong. The Montagnard tribesmen were a minority in Vietnam, and largely stuck to themselves in the 3,000-foot-tall mountains. Ross describes them as “half naked, half starved” uneducated people caught in a war they did not support.

Lt. Ross felt responsible for a Montagnard man who had escaped the Viet Cong, and was convinced that his family could soon be killed by the enemy.  So Ross organized and coordinated several American advisers, a company of South Vietnamese soldiers, American helicopter transportation and gunship support, to make three different forays on successive days deep into the jungle in Viet Cong territory. They eventually rescued 187 Montagnard women, children and men from the grasp of the Viet Cong.

Remember, these were all volunteers undertaking this assignment. On the last insertion into enemy territory, a CBS newsman, David Culhane, and his camera crew filmed it all. A few days later it aired on the CBS Evening News. Look at this six minutes segment about this rescue:

After a year in Vietnam, Tom Ross returned safely to his home in Pensacola. He had served his time admirably.  Ross doesn’t consider himself a hero. But ask those freed Montagnard tribesmen, and they’ll tell you another story.

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