The War: The Massacre of Dak Son

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The worst atrocity yet committed in the Viet Nam war (see pictures opposite) began its course last week when a handful of Viet Cong crawled up to the wall-and-wire perimeter of the hamlet of Dak Son, some 75 miles north east of Saigon. The V.C. called for the hamlet's inhabitants to surrender and come out. When they got no takers, they withdrew, hurling behind them their ultimate epithet: "Sons of Americans!" Earlier in the day, villagers had reported to their 140-man defense force that some Viet Cong were roaming through the surrounding fields. But that was hardly unusual, or cause for any particular alarm. The Viet Cong had steadily harassed Dak Son, and four times this year had mounted an attack and tried to overrun it; each time they had been stopped short of the defense perimeter and thrown back.

The reason for the Communists' in tense interest in Dak Son, a hamlet of 2,000 Montagnard people, was that it was the new home and sanctuary of some 800 Montagnard refugees who 14 months ago fled from life under the Viet Cong in the surrounding countryside, where they had been forced to work in virtual slavery as farmers and porters. The Montagnards are the innocents of Viet Nam: primitive, peaceful, sedentary hill tribesmen. The women go bare-breasted and the men, who scratch out a living by farming and hunting with crossbows and knives, wear loincloths. The Viet Cong not only missed the services of those Montagnards who had fled to government protection, but also feared that their lead might be followed by the 20,000 other Montagnards in the province of Phuoc Long, many of whom are still serfs of the V.C. Lest the others should get the idea of seeking government protection, the Communists decided to make an example of the refugees of Dak Son.

Yelling & Screaming. As in most Vietnamese villages, the people of Dak Son were completely unarmed, and most of them were women and chil dren. The Viet Cong began their attack at midnight, pouring machine-gun, mortar and rocket fire into Dak Son as they had in the past. This attack, however, was to be very different from the others. The 600 Viet Cong who assembled outside Dak Son were armed with 60 flamethrowers. Yelling and screaming, they attacked the town, shooting countless streams of liquid fire that lit up the night and terrified by its very sight a people who had only recently discovered the use of matches.

The Viet Cong first broke through the perimeter opposite the refugee quarter and forced the outmanned militia force to retreat aross the road into the town proper. There the militiamen were surrounded and isolated—and for the rest of the macabre night pointedly ignored by the marauders. The Viet Cong were not intent on a military victory but on the coldblooded, monumental massacre of the helpless Montagnards.

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