PEELING THE ONION
The Sp4 Errol Lynn Kent Story
It is mid spring 2013 and the last thing I expect to learn, is the murder of a Seahorse soldier at Dong Ba Thin, RVN, 42 years past, in my rear-view mirror? None the less, that was the case. Sad enough? It gets worse, for two other soldiers were murdered in addition to our 183rd Brother Sp.4 Errol Lynn Kent, home town, Ogema, Mn.. Pfc. Aldin L. Kendall, 192nd AHC, hometown, Oklahoma City, Ok. and Sp.5 Marvin Briesacher, 192nd AHC, hometown, Farmington, Mn.. Had it not been for 'Nam' Brother Jim Godfrey, 192nd AHC, contacting me about this crime, it would still be an unknown chapter in our unit history. Jim, in an effort to learn why his two men were killed, reached me for answers. How could this escape the attention of our association for so long? Surely someone knows this happened? Then I vaguely recalled 183rd Brother Jim McHaney mentioning the possibility of such an event, as shared by one of our deceased Brothers? Jim also mentioned a posting in the Seahorse Guestbook alluding to the crime, left by Seahorse Glen Bates of Centerville, Tn.. I contacted Glen and he verified that such a crime had indeed happened. Glen then advised that I contact another Seahorse, Billy Hux of Menden Hall, Ms., which I promptly did. It was quite evident when I contacted Billy that he still grieves for his good friend. From that point forward, I roamed the internet searching for names, units, Veterans associations, anything I could find for a foothold as to where to begin the quest for the facts. I found the names of these fine soldiers, hometowns and "cause of death" with dates on the Virtual Wall. With a hometown for Errol Kent, I Googled the town and its county seat. Ogema, a very small town of about 181 people provided the confidence I would locate family members or at least someone whom knew the Kent family. A thought occurred, locate the nearest VFW Hall to Ogema and ask if they can guide me to the Kent family? It worked and in short order, I was in contact with Sue Kent, wife of Errols' oldest brother Rick, himself a Vietnam Brother, having served as a door gunner with the 1st Infantry Division
. I knew my effort was reopening old wounds but Sue desired the truth and in doing so became my Kent family representative. Through her, I learned the parents were deceased and the only information the Kents ever received from the Department of Army regarding the death of Errol was he died as a result of "Friendly Fire". "Friendly Fire"? So why is his cause of death "Friendly Fire", Kendalls' "intentional homicide" and the cause of death for Briesacher, "unintentional homicide"? That just doesn't add up, the three men were gunned down by a U.S. soldier in the same incident, just seconds apart? Fired up, I was now on the hunt and determined to carry this hunt to its completion!
Day after day, I sat pounding the keys of my desktop keyboard, searching and searching for that guiding light and then one day in June I had my "slap the forehead V-8 epiphany moment"~! I actually know a soldier who was there and I have his contact info!~~~ Bingo!!~~~ I began slapping the keys even harder, as if they were the same keys on that old Royal typewriter I had in the Seahorse Orderly Room at DBT, Tour 69-70. The only thing I was missing was that manual carriage return for each new line of type~! That and the screeching spring on the Orderly Room screen door, as it stretched to its max each time a troop entered or exited. Add to that the beautiful sing song rhythm of the Continental engines of our L19s as our men in maintenance tuned them to perfection for the next missions. I could smell Nam again, I could recall names, faces, oh that smell, I was in the "Zone" and I remained "Zoned"~! For me, it is time to contact "The Voice of DBT Tower", none other than 3 Tour troop Vern Elder~! No one knows DBT history better than our man VERN!~~~~~~Vern, this is Mark Mitchell of the 183rd and I need some help with a murder at DBT on the night of Wednesday, 3 November 71. Were you still there or had you DEROSED?? "I was there and I remember it. As a matter of fact I assisted loading the casualties into the Dust Offs that night"! What can you tell meabout that night ? "Mark, it started when a soldier who had been posted to his perimeter guard duty, left his post and went to the nearby House Of Jacks EM/NCO club. That was not uncommon for troops to do, who had been similarly posted near the club. If it was not their time on watch, they would venture over to the club, buy smokes, sodas, snacks and return to the towers/bunkers and share with the other guards. That particular night a troop from a nearby signal company, I believe, came to the club and he was carrying his M16 and entered the club. Unfortunately, the Sergeant of Arms was not at the door to prevent this troop from entering with a weapon. As he entered, troops challenged him for bringing the weapon into the club. Words were exchanged between the patrons and this guard and at some point he un-shouldered his weapon and began firing and in the melee, troops in the club jumped the shooter and held him for the M.P.s"~! Vern do you recall which unit this troop was from? "Word was he was from a Signal company"? Which Company was it? "I can't remember that exactly, for there had been a number of signal companies at DBT".
Events are happening fast at The House of Jacks. Men are restraining the subdued shooter while others are crawling from behind flipped tables or any other source of protection they could find. The floor is awash with beer seeping from cans, which moments earlier were ceremoniously standing proud as pyramids of salute upon round cocktail tables as young soldiers washed the work of their day into yesterday.~~~~ In a booth lay three men, each shot once in the chest, mortally wounded. Calls cry out for medical care for the wounded and most of the men feel naked with no weapons to defend themselves from the VC, their mortal enemy. Pandemonium does not allow them the truth. As they 'bunker down', they do not know the enemy is one of them. A United States soldier has committed the ultimate betrayal.~~~ Specialist John Perrin is on duty at the 10th Combat Aviation Battalion switch board and his board is lighting up and over loading with calls for assistance and alerts of someone shooting troops inside Dong Ba Thin compound. He will not learn until daylight that the shooter was a US soldier. As pandemonium turns to reality and dismay and anger, the 630th MP detachment gets the call, arrives and takes the shooter into custody. (Though I have his name and documents of his arrest and early interrogation, I find his identity is not worthy of print)~Men are working feverishly to comfort and save Errol, Aldin and Marvin as they are whisked to the air field for the medevac's. The ships arrive quickly and three good men, in the wrong place at the wrong time are swiftly flown to the 483rd USAF Hospital in nearby Cam Ranh Bay. Captain Olie D. Brown and his staff receive the casualties in Triage at 2230 hours and work feverishly to save the men. For Sp.4 Errol Kent, he is pronounced deceased 20 minutes after arrival. Twenty Five minutes later, Aldin Kendall is dead. Sp.5 Briesacher, gravely wounded and paralyzed, surrenders his fight for life on 10 December 1971. Three fine men, three fine soldiers, gone and no answers as to why.
I want the answer, men of the 183rd want the answer, Jim Godfrey and the men of the 192nd want the answer and so does Sue Kent of Ogema, Minnesota. I decided my next step was to contact the 18th Military Police Brigade Association. As I shared my knowledge of events of this case with the 18th MP association president, he in turn guided me to which forms to request from Military Archives in College Park, Md..With form titles and form identifying numbers in hand, I contacted a clerk at Military Archives and requested the "Serious Incident Reports" for the period of 3 November 71 through 10 November 71. At this point, I alerted Jim Godfrey and Sue Kent as to where I was in this case and I that I had solicited the assistance of my U.S. Senator, David Vitter, in the hopes his office could procure the records for me in a more timely manner. That senatorial contact led me to a wonderful young woman in the Senators' Mettarie, La. office. Vibrant and eager to assist, Dana Brignac came on line and worked fervently to assist Jim and I as we pursued Court Martial records of the shooter, later identified as a member of "A" Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and we waited for Military Archives. In between Jim worked with the Army Records in St. Louis and he and I pondered any and every scenario we could conger and even dreaded the reality of some? "What ifs" became our phrase of the day. Between those days, I would share the progress or the lack of progress with our 183rd CO Emeritus, Col. Mack Lee Gibson and association president Jerry Lemons. Mack never failed in sharing his experience and fore sight. In his wisdom, he cautioned that we should not expect court martial records in this case. Not that such records did not exist but be prepared that "events of the time" relative to racial unrest in the States and rampant and fomented by Soviet influence in our national media may have precluded any court martial. In other words, "don't be surprised" if this case was never brought to trial. The possibility exist the perpetrator plead guilty by reason of insanity? Such a judicial determination was not what Jim, Mack nor I wanted for this traitor but it was a fact those years were tumultuous for this Nation and our courts. Political Correctness was in its early stages and our military was not immune. Our military bases across the globe, especially in Europe were strife with racial dissidence and crime. The Soviets did not miss a beat in fomenting this poison between black troops and white troops. This infection of discontent in our homeland society also took hold in Vietnam. Though not reported by the alphabet media in America, race riots at the Army stockade at Long Binh Jail, RVN, aka L.B.J. had exploded. White soldiers no longer trusted their "6" (backs) to black soldiers and the black soldiers in turn did not trust their white Brothers. Hard drugs such as heroin and opium had become common place and commanders increasingly found their ability to command effectively had been undermined. Our military had began to sour from within, like a rotten fruit upon the ground.
That initial contact from Jim Godfrey in May 2013, seems to have been just a few weeks ago? Now its 22 January 2014 and on Friday, 17 January I get that long awaited call from Dana Brignac. "Mark, this is Dana from Senator Vitters' office. I just completed a call from a Ms. Hamilton at Military Archives relative to the case of Sp.4 Kent, Kendall and Briesacher. There was never a Courts Martial. Pfc. William ####@@ was deemed Criminally Insane". Mack Gibsons' warning has become our reality. It appears that nothing else is left pursue. It was just another sad chapter of that war. I had gleaned the answers to questions long pondered and it was time to close the book. Or was it???
Today is 22 March 2015, exactly 14 months since I began what was to be my final report of the murders at the House of Jacks, Dong Ba Thin, RVN.. This past January 2015, I received a phone call from Dave Larson, a former MP of the 630th MP Company. Dave had read my post in the 630th MP Association website guestbook, in which I asked its members for any knowledge of this case? He recalled such a suspect being held in their "lock-up" facility in Cam Ranh and if not, perhaps some of his 630th contacts may? He described their facility as quite small, with a few detention cells and a lone clerk to process reports during the day. It was simply a holding facility and the first step in moving suspects through the military legal system. It was adjacent to the CID detachment office where the shooter from Dong Ba Thin, when questioned why, replied to the investigator, "I have always wanted to kill someone". Was it as simple and cold as that?~~~ Dave stated that the commanding officer of each prisoner was required to provide two meals a day and two guards from the same unit, providing a 24 hour a day guard detail. Also being held was another "power fisted malcontent". He also was being held for murder, having shot and killed MP Jerry Tew of Grinnell, Iowa, 29 October 1971, at the posted "Off Limits" village of Cam Ranh. Daves' details also identified a group of US black troops who had formed Black Brothers United, aka BBU. This group fomented a great deal of trouble for military command and its authority in general at Cam Ranh Bay and Dong Ba Thin, as well as throughout South Vietnam. In turn, he believed the House of Jacks suspect may very well have been a member of BBU, the other prisoner certainly was. So disruptive was this group that bounties of $1,700 was placed on the head of MP Fowler and Dave Larson had a bounty value of $1,300! Dave says he still "chafes" at the thought he wasn't perceived as valuable as his pal Fowler!! With BBU members so firmly entrenched in the facilities of Cam Ranh Bay, all security personnel were advised not to place their return address on their outgoing mail. Intelligence revealed a legitimate concern for the welfare of the families of these soldiers and girl friends back home. Such troops were advised to be especially alert in Post Exchanges, unit orderly rooms, mess halls and dispensaries. The Provost Marshal also launches an investigation for the identify of BBU leadership. Ironically, one of its leaders was an American Red Cross "Donut Dollie" known as "Lil Sis" or "Sister Millie". The American Red Cross "Donut Dollies" were mostly volunteered American young women tasked with promoting recreational activities and moral building activities for US forces, whether on post or in outlying base camps and LZs.
As a result of that initial contact from Dave, several former 630th MPs are in contact with me. Now, I await more records from Army Archives. In the Army, hurry up and wait is the standard of the day. More of this onion is yet to be peeled!
The summer heat of August 2016 has settled upon my part of this world, north west Louisiana. The outdoor heat is at 100 degrees, A/C is humming, wife visiting children and my Belgian Malinois, Roxie, is stretched across the sofa. Seems like an ideal time to bring this investigative work to its finale? In the months since my last entry, other contacts have been established and additional information has been gleaned. It's enough information that I can state, this work is coming to its conclusion.Twice this year, I posted request into the VVA magazine for witnesses of this case to contact me. Fortunately, each posting was successful . With that information, Sp4 James Sanders, 192nd AHC, answers and describes the time and events leading to the House Of Jacks, during the shooting and immediately afterward.
Brother Sanders states, "Our work day had ended and as usual, we all drifted back to our quarters to relax, clean up and BS. Errol Kent from Seahorse was there as was Aldin and Marvin. After a while, we all decided to go to the House of Jacks for beer and hanging out. Kendall says his BDU shirt was too dirty to wear and he didn't have a clean one. We wanted to get over there so I told Aldin take mine and I'll just wear my T-shirt and off we went. We wanted to get there in time for the band? Usually, when we were there, we would sit in with the house band and play with them or join them. I played drums and still do. Ok, we are just sitting around enjoying ourselves, close to the stage.. Everybody was getting along, there was no trouble at all. After a bit, I left our table and went to the end of the bar. You can see the entire club from there and I could get my beer quicker that way, than waiting for the waitress. We had been there for several hours. Out of nowhere, this black troop comes in and starts screaming "White Trash" and just starts shooting, He fired at least seven rounds and the place was going crazy. The bar girls were screaming, men diving for cover, tables flipping and no one knows what the hell is happening? Then the dudes' rifle jams and an NCO rushes him and jumps him, then two of our door gunners, twin brothers but I can't remember their names, they pile on with the sergeant and they beat the hell out that bastard. It was crazy in there man, it was really crazy. I got my ass out of there as quick as I could, just running. Guys were going every direction! Finally I stopped, heck I didn't know what to do? Shit was happening everywhere, it was crazy. I lit a smoke and tried to settle myself down. It seems like I just walked around for hours? It was close to midnight when I made it back to our company area. Once there, I entered our company operations shack and Jeff Ferris was on duty. He saw me and thought he was looking at a ghost!
"Sanders, we thought you were dead"! I'm like, what are you talking about?
Then he asks me if I knew who got shot at the club? Hell, I didn't hang around long enough to know anyone was actually shot, I just carried my ass! It was then that Ferris told me that Kent was dead, I was supposed to be dead and Marvin is hit real bad. Lt. Luciano and another troop have gone to Cam Ranh to identify the bodies. It was then I realized why Ferris thought I was dead? The other dead troop must be Kendall because he is wearing my BDU shirt, with my name on it.
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