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Refugees find more than hope for new life from the Southern Cross for May 27, 1971

Copy of publication provided by Dave Eckberg

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By Sp/4 Ralph Winter

FSB BRONCO, (11th Inf. Bde. IO) - Early in February, two Montagnards were forced to carry a cannon for an NVA unit on the various trails in western Quang Ngai Province.  And one day they concealed the cannon beside a trail and rallied to an 11th Brigade unit and began one of the largest refugee migrations in the Province.

By April a string of small refugee huts emerged along the Tra Khuc River at Ha Thanh, in the rugged mountains 16 miles west of Quang Ngai City.  Fresh construction was underway and troopers of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry were mustering their resources for food and clothing because the area had swelled from 350 to more than 3,000 refugees in two months.

The 3rd Bn., 1st Inf. had a strong interest in the Montagnards because it has worked with popular forces platoons and the first Hoi Chanhs to help rally others from the NVA and VC domination.  "In just 12 days in February 55 local force VC Montagnards and 350 refugees came to the camp at Ha Thanh," said First Lieutenant David J. Eckberg (San Antonio, Tex.), battalion S-5.

"These people were in deep need of help and we recognized that they would soon need clothing and food.  It's our job to give them the choice of a normal way of life, free from involuntary servitude."

Soon letters were written and donations of clothing came from the North Palm Beach Junior Women's club, the MacArthur Park Lutheran Church of San Antonio, and Mr. and Mrs. W. Murphy (Eugene, Ore).  The mother of medic Private First Class Christopher Russell also donated clothing.  The Son Ha District Chief and the District Senior Advisor personally distributed the items to insure that they get to those who need them the most.

"The clothes also came in handy in an emergency when a small village near Ha Thanh burned down recently," commented Eckberg.  The entire population was clothed with the donated items.

Rice, noodles and cooking oil the battalion captures from the Viet Cong is turned over to the refugees.  The whole unit also assists by donating bars of soap.

Eckberg, who is a medical service officer, leads a MEDCAP (medical civic action program) team once a week into the area.  The battalion medics make the weekly trip to Ha Thanh.

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