On this day in 1968, SPC5 John Kedenburg’s actions would result in his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (posthumously) while on a mission in Laos.
Kedenburg was assigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG known only just as SOG) as the Team Leader (1-0 one zero) of Recon Team Nevada. He’d be the team leader for more than six months, taking over for TL Dan Wagner who was killed in action in Laos in December 1967.
Operating out of FOB2 (Forward Operating Base) in Kontum, FOB2 was one of six bases that SOG operated out of in their secret war against North Vietnam.
The team’s mission was to conduct counterguerrilla operations deep inside enemy held territory in Laos. Not long after initial infiltration into a particularly hot area, the team was attacked and encircled by a battalion-size North Vietnamese Army force. Kedenburg immediately called for a Spare 39 (immediate extraction). The Covey aircraft (Forward Air Controller in OV-10 Bronco) directed Kedenburg’s team to a couple of bomb craters on a finger about 600 – 900 meters in elevation.
SP5 Kedenburg led the team, which succeeded, after a fierce firefight, in breaking out of the encirclement. As the team moved through thick jungle to a position at the bomb craters from which it could be extracted by helicopter, the team lost one man, a South Vietnamese team member who was thought killed. Kedenburg laid down heavy fire against the pursuing NVA troops and called for tactical air support. Amazingly, after being able to break contact from a sizable NVA force, outnumbering the Recon Team by better than 50-1, the team reached the craters and the landing zone (LZ) intact.
Once in the crater at the landing zone, Kedenburg deployed the team into a perimeter defense against the numerically superior enemy force. He directed airstrikes from Tactical Air Support, keeping the NVA at bay long enough for the extraction choppers to being airlifting out the team. The helicopters would hover over the area and drop ropes where the Recon Team would attach slings to be lifted out. The first half of the team was extracted by helicopter in this fashion.
Kedenburg and the remaining three South Vietnamese members of the team harnessed themselves to the sling on a second hovering helicopter. Just as the helicopter was about to lift them out of the area, the South Vietnamese team member who had been unaccounted for and presumed dead after the initial encounter with the NVA, appeared at the landing zone.
Kedenburg immediately gave up his place in the sling to the man and directed the helicopter pilot to leave the area. He then continued to engage the enemy who were swarming into the landing zone. Witnesses from the helicopter reported seeing Kedenburg killing six enemy soldiers before he eventually went down, mortally wounded. The final airstrike was right on top of his position.
From John Stryker Meyer’s book, “The Secret War in Vietnam”, Kedenburg’s body was recovered later by another team:
Another SOG team, RT Illinois, found Kedenburg’s body sitting up against a tree, where he had apparently given himself two morphine syrette injections and had attempted to place a tourniquet around his left leg.
Kedenburg had attempted to burn his Signal Operating Instructions and his CAC Code that was used to encrypt and decrypt messages. It appeared as though he was killed by a large-caliber round which had blown apart the BAR ammo belt and harness he wore and destroyed his CAR-15. RT Illinois was engaged in heavy firefights with NVA soldiers for approximately four hours before the team could extract Kedenburg’s body from Laos.
It is possible that either a large caliber NVA weapon or the final airstrike caused Kedenburg’s death. From an account written by Sherman Batman Spike Team Illinois, the team who rescued his body was the report that his equipment was torn apart:
“There was an open area at the base of the finger that we had to skirt by remaining inside the tree line. Shortly after clearing this area we started to ascend the hill and after 20 0r 30 meters the Point Man halted the Patrol and passed back to me half of a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) belt, with a canteen attached and all pockets full of M-16, 20 round magazines.”
“I knew this belonged to John since I had got the belt for him and helped him set it up and attached/adjusted it to his load-bearing equipment. We continued on up the hill and approximately 20 meters further up the hill we found John, he had apparently given himself two morphine syrette injections one of the syrettes was pinned to his fatigue jacket and the other was on the ground beside him.”
“He had been KIA apparently from a major caliber weapon of some kind because his rucksack had been torn from his body, his BAR belt blown apart and his CAR-15 was a mangled mess of metal. None of this material was found by John’s body but several meters away further up the hill. John was seated in an upright position with his back to a log and had from all appearances attempted to put a tourniquet on his left thigh although there was so signs of a wound to his left leg. He has also attempted to burn his SOI (Signal Operating Instructions) and his CAC Code that was used to encrypt and decrypt messages.”
He was buried in Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY.
He was inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment on October 28, 2016.
Remember your Regiment.
Photos courtesy of US Army