Excavations Update: LZ Ranch / Patrol Base Frontier City

As noted elsewhere on this site, former Copra pilot and civilian medical evac pilot Richard Magner, and former Delta 1/12 Cav grunt Bob March are collaborating with their colleagues in Vietnam to locate American dug NVA mass. In the Vietnamese culture the spirit will not rest until the body is properly buried. Here is Richard’s December 2023 update:

The initial excavation work on LZ Ranch—one summer night in Cambodia, while Delta 1/7 Cav had perimeter guard Ranch was overrun—continues.

Based on aerial and terrain map analysis, and interviews with American vets (Richard Magner spoke with Medic, Delta 1/7 Cav Mike Derrig and Bravo 1/7 Cav Robert Kon. Bob March interviewed 1st/21st FA Martin Corcoran and Delta 1/7 Cav Carl Lee), Nguyen Xuan Thang in Vietnam assembled aerial overlays of LZ Ranch which suggest at least 2 mass grave sites on LZ Ranch.

The first, in the northwest sector, formed by a bulldozer, may hold 12 to 15 remains. The second, a bomb crater in the southeast sector, may hold four to five remains. In the 2024 dry season the excavation crews will explore other areas on or around LZ Ranch.

Regarding the 1969 battle at Frontier City fought by Charlie 4/9 25th Infantry against the NVA’s 1st Regiment of the 9th Infantry. In December Nguyen Xuan Thang attended an NVA mass graves excavation seminar in Tay Ninh. On Christmas Day 2023 he wrote, “It’s hard to express how grateful I am. Four years ago, on the anniversary of the battle at Patrol Base Frontier City we went to Patrol Base Frontier City to search for our uncles. Then, in 2021, as we offered a little ceremony to our ancestors, the authorities found a collective grave of 213 people who died during the battle. They were soldiers of E1 F9 and support units. After many delays, authorities will hold a conference concluding the six year search and excavation process.”

According to Thang, the participants included the leader of Tay Ninh province, the political commissar of Tay Ninh military province, the head of military politics of Tay Ninh province, a representative of the NVA 9th Infantry, several online 9th Infantry vets, several local witnesses, and representatives of relevant authorities.

After presentations and discussions the workshop determined the following:

The battle at PB Frontier City took place on the night of April 25 and the morning of April 26, 1969. The after action reports of the US and Vietnamese forces completely match. The 1st Regiment of the 9th Infantry was the main assault unit at Frontier City, supported by mortars, bazookas, anti-aircraft weaponry, medical and logistical teams, and Viet Cong.

The first efforts to contact American and Vietnamese veterans to help locate mass graves on Patrol Base Frontier City began in September 2019. In the summer of 2021, based  on those interviews, aerial map analysis, and on scraps of torn clothes, rubber sandals, spent bullets, and severely decomposed remains, Vietnamese authorities located an area at the base likely to be a mass grave. In 2023 team K71 discovered and excavated approximately 200 bodies from Platoon 1, 9th Infantry Regiment and supporting units. The original tally of 213 NVA KIA is supported by a 1st Regiment operations officer present at the battle. He stated the unit consisted of 300 soldiers prior to the assault. About 100 soldiers survived the attack.

American accounts of a skirmish on the night of April 24 west of Frontier City are consistent with Vietnamese recollections of the event. A witness recalled that a VC POW, placed on a helicopter, called on his comrades to oppose the war.

A casualty roster compiled by the Vietnamese identified the remains of 60 individuals. The authorities will continue archival searches to update the list.

Ms. Hiep, a VC who participated in the battle, stated that on the morning of April 26, 1969, when observing from afar, she saw the American troops search for and collect VC KIA. Many of the corpses at the fence [concertina wire?] were dragged by ropes to mass graves.

According to Ms. Hiep there may be two mass graves; possibly three. Because Ms. Hiep cannot read maps the authorities will accompany her to the field and work out the coordinates. Comparing her data with satellite images will determine whether or not to pursue further excavations in the area.

The conference thanked everyone who contributed valuable information and wished all a happy and healthy New Year. Nguyen Xuan Thang forwarded the witness’s names to the military command of Tay Ninh province so they can be acknowledged and honored.

On behalf of the victims’ families and relatives, the symposium thanked Bob Connor for contacting witnesses who provided initial information. Thanks were also extended to Richard Magner for his technical expertise. To Mr. Tuan, Mr. Phuong, and Mr. Lam, who participated in numerous search surveys. And to the American vets who shared information on the battle and its aftermath, especially the Manchus (Charlie and Alpha Company, 4/9 25th Infantry), and in particular Greg Lederer and the late Randy Pullman.


A Google translation of a Vietnamese Facebook tribute to a successfully identified fallen NVA soldier at Patrol Base Frontier City.