The U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam (Provisional) was formed at Saigon in 1962 to advise and assist the South Vietnamese government in the organization, training, equipping and employment of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) forces. Total personnel strength in 1963 was 674, all but 98 of whom were TDY from 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa and 5th and 7th Special Forces Groups at Ft. Bragg. USSF Provisional was given complete charge of the CIDG program, formerly handled by the CIA, on July 1, 1963.
The USSF Provisional/CIDG network consisted of fortified, strategically located camps, each one with an airstrip. The area development programs soon evolved into combat operations and by the end of October 1963, the network also had responsibility for border surveillance. One of the Provisional/CIDG camps was manned by Detachment A-21 at Hiep Hoa, Hau Nghia Province, South Vietnam. The isolated location, in the midst of known heavy enemy presence, made the camp vulnerable to attack.
On 24 November 1963, Lt. John Colbe, detachment executive officer; SFC Isaac “Ike” Camacho, heavy weapons specialist; then SFC Kenneth M. “Ken” Roraback, radio operator; SSgt. Claude D. McClure, medic; and SSgt. George E. “Smitty” Smith were assigned to Detachment A-21, Hiep Hoa Special Forces Camp. The detachment’s mission was to train CIDG troops and gather intelligence pertaining to enemy activity throughout the region.
Just after midnight the camp was attacked by an estimated 400-500 VC troops whose communist sympathizers within the camp had provided them with detailed knowledge of the garrison’s layout. The informants’ also provided tactical information regarding the fact that half of the camp’s personnel would be away from the camp at this time on a reconnaissance mission. VC within the camp killed the guards and manned a machine gun position in the first moments of the attack firing on the inhabitants as they emerged from their bunkers. They also climbed the camp walls and shouted to the CDIG force, “Don’t shoot, all we want are the Americans and the weapons!”
Lt. Colbe immediately rallied the camp personnel and began moving between their defensive positions. From the command bunker located in the center of the camp, SFC Roraback immediately notified higher headquarters of the situation and requested assistance including close air support before a heavy volume of enemy gunfire damaged his radio. Ken Roraback attempted to salvage the radio, but when it was apparent the radio was beyond repair, he set the remnants on fire. He departed the bunker and proceeded to man one of the machine guns.
Once the VC broke contact and faded into the countryside with their captives, a full-scale search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated. When no trace of Ken Roraback, Claude McClure, Smitty Smith and Ike Camacho could be found in or around the demolished camp, all four men were declared Missing in Action.
The VC tied each man’s arms tightly together at the elbow in back, blindfolded them and tied a rope from one man’s neck to the next. A few minutes later, American aircraft started dropping napalm and making strafing runs on the beleaguered camp. Once the Americans were out of bomb range of the air strikes, the ropes were removed and the two wounded men were ordered to walk down a little dirt road. The guards prepared to kill Ike Camacho and Smitty Smith, but were stopped by a ranking VC who appeared from the front of the column. The Americans had another reason to be demoralized. The morning after their capture, the VC received a radio message announcing President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. As the prisoners were taken through hamlets and put on display, the villages taunted them with “Kennedy di-et” Kennedy is dead.
Roraback proved very uncooperative, a situation that infuriated the communists. Their actions also drew much close scrutiny to themselves and away from the others. In part because of this, Ike Camacho who continually looked for a way to escape succeeded in doing so during a monsoon rain the night of 8 July 1965. The following is a copy of an advisory received regarding the execution of 2 Special Forces Advisors . . .
Five Star Edition
Vol 21, No. 270
Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1965
Report 2 Advisers Executed
Saigon (UPI) — The Viet Cong executed two captive servicemen Sunday morning, the clandestine Liberation Radio said late Sunday night.
The communist radio identified the two Americans as Capt. Albert Rusk Joseph and Sgt. Kenneth Morabeth (as received phonetically)
However, later a Communist news article stated that the executions were faked. The US Army, who had already changed both men’s status from Prisoner of War to Dead/Died in Captivity, chose not reopen either man’s case to determine whether or not they had in fact been executed. In the late 1970’s all information regarding their “execution” was reclassified, and is no longer part of the public record.
MSG Roraback was married with four small children.
On 22 December 1970, the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), better known as the Viet Cong, released a list containing the names of American POWs who they reported died while under their control. The PRG list included Ken Roraback as having Died in Captivity. Ironically, at the end of the war the VC refused to return the remains of SFC Roraback in spite of the fact they acknowledged holding him prisoner and executing him in reprisal.
If Ken Roraback died under the direct control of the VC, the Vietnamese could return his remains to his family, friends and country. However, if the report of his execution was merely a propaganda ruse, his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no question the communists know the truth and could provide answers, as well as Ken Roraback or his remains, any time they had the desire to do so.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Hiep Hoa was the first Special Forces camp to be overrun in the Vietnam War.