SP 4 Johnny S. Conroy U.S. Army (1967-1970)
SP 4 Johnny S. Conroy
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?
A family history of military service played a big role. My brother SK2 Timothy Alan Conroy served with me aboard the USS Coral Sea in 1966-67, including one tour off the coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin.
My brother SN Kelly Joe Conroy served in the Navy from 1970-74. Another brother served two tours with the Marines in Vietnam and was wounded twice.
My father Private J. R Conroy, Jr., served with Company G, 142nd Infantry Regiment 36th Infantry Division during the invasion of Italy (Salerno) in WWII, going ashore with the first wave of Americans to invade Europe. A combat related injury required his reassignment to CONUS by January 1944.
My uncle, Private Brady Cowan, was killed on Iwo Jima while serving with the 28th Marines during World War II.
My grandfather Private J. R. Conroy Sr. served in Company B, 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, then Troop H, 1st US Cavalry regiment during the Spanish American War.
My great-great-grandfather Private S. C. Cowan served with the 14th Brigade, Texas State Militia before and after Confederate Army service; in the 14th Battalion Cavalry, Texas State Troops, Confederate States Army; and in Company E, 2nd Regiment Cavalry, Confederate States Army in the Trans-Mississippi Department during 1863 and 1864.
My great-great-grandfather Private J. L. Brooks served in Company G, 27th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Colquitt’s Brigade, Confederate States Army from 1862-1865. The Brigade served in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee while he was a member.
My great-great-grandfather Private John Joseph Barton served in Company B, 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Rodes’ Division, (Jackson’s) 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate States Army from early 1861 to the end of the war. He was seriously wounded at Malvern Hill and again at Chancellorsville. Physically unable to continue to function in the infantry he became a teamster for the division train from late 1863 until war’s end.
My great-great-great grandfather, Sergeant John Wilkes Barton, served in Company C, 3rd Alabama Reserve Infantry Regiment, Confederate States Army from 1864 to war’s end.
So once the war started it was inevitable that I would find a way out of the Navy (expiration of enlistment) and into combat.
For more data on my military ancestors see their military tribute sites on this web site, Navy, USMC, and Army TWS.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
I enlisted in the US Navy in 1963 at the age of 17. After boot camp at San Diego I was assigned as a deck hand (unrated Boatswain’s Mate striker) in the1st Division on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CV-43). Our ship’s pilots began the sustained bombing of North Vietnam on February 7, 1965 and we continued operations in the Gulf of Tonkin until December. We returned to the Gulf in July 1966 and left in 1967. I had transferred from 1st to GM Division to become a member of the Sidewinder guided missile crew in June 1965.
While in the Navy I attended a Navy firefighter school at Naval Station Treasure Island, became a qualified helmsman (driving the carrier around), and attended a Sidewinder Guided Missile School at Naval Air Station Coronado, California. I was discharged an Aviation Ordnanceman Third Class in May 1967. By Thanksgiving 1967, I enlisted in the US Army specifically for infantry duty.
After AIT I was given a PMOS of 45H20 (for guided missiles) and it took 6 months to get that resolved. I was by then through a leadership course and teaching machine guns to OCS Candidates at the Infantry School. PMOS 11B4H (Instructor) was awarded.
After a year at USAIC, Ft Benning, I was assigned to Vietnam, then the 101st Airborne Division, where I attended Screaming Eagles Combat Leader’s Course 39 at Camp Ray, Bien Hoa. Then I arrived at Camp Sally, I Corps and was assigned to A Company, 1st Battlion, 501st Infantry. I was involved in the tail of Operation Massachusetts Striker and the short-lived Operation Bristol Boots in the A Shau Valley.
On May 12, 1969, the North Vietnam Army (NVA) began a major offensive throughout the Americal Division area of operations at LZ’s Baldy, Center, and Professional. Our battalion was then op-conned (operational control) from 2nd to 1st Brigade and we were sent south to the Tam Ky area to bail the Americal Division out of the only Tactical Emergency declared during the war (Operation Lamar Plain).
We fought the 2nd NVA Division on and around the besieged FSB Professional and in the jungles and hills for several months until I was WIA for the second time and medevaced to Japan for medical treatment. I returned to Nam but then was quickly reassigned to Ft. Benning in late September 1969, which ended my desire for any further Army duty.
I served in the 1st Battalion, 58th Infantry (Mech, 197th Infantry Brigade until my release from active duty in December 1970. During that time I attended Personnel Management classes and became a TOW guided missile instructor.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
From the time I left LZ Sally enroute to A Company, 1st Battalion, 501th in the A Shau Valley I was involved in combat ops of some sort. A brief layover of three or four days on Fire Base Thor in the middle of the A Shau Valley introduced me to dailyincoming fire.
I was finally relieved of the drudgery of filling sandbags on Thor in order to build it up. I was flown to FB Whip, near the Laotian border at the southern end of the A Shau. Once I was assigned to a squad I began helping to empty sandbags in order to tear down the base and to shut it down. Go figure!
While at Whip for several days we experienced tragedy when three men were blown to pieces by a case of grenades detonating in a fire. It was something I still visualize often and will not further describe here.
After several days at Whip the company was extracted (under harassing fire) and flown elsewhere in the A Shau to FB Pike. That evening, during a heavy rain storm, we walked off Pike and began patrolling the A Shau Valley.
I think that at this point I was the typical cherry grunt boy-san. I felt very alone and miserable. I was in such a new element I had no clue as to what was going on. The weather was wet, muddy and slippery the first night, all night due to continuing heavy rain, but we marched, up and down hills and ridges made nearly impassable because of thick jungle until well after dark, finally stopping and spending the night in a cold heavy downpour. The next day was hot and very humid and I was introduced to the norm in the field: sweating and humping with a 75-pound rucksack tearing into my shoulders and in the company of men snaking accordion-like through the jungle.
We were out for a good number of days, well over a week, but it was all a blur to me as I tried to adapt to this new experience and ever-changing situations. We marched and marched and got ambushed several times by trail watchers and fortunately never found the NVA in force. I fired very few shots, if any and never saw an NVA soldier. A wake up call was our LT deciding we could cut across country and head off and kill a trail watcher who had just ambushed our point man. After running full bore until even he saw the futility he led us full bore back across the jungle, through wait-a-minute vines, etc. I had a very hard time making it back up the hill to the company, where I was greeted by a medic with water and a pill and looks of disdain from the old guys and demeaning mutterings about “f—ing cherry.” But I found out later that it wasn’t only me, at least three of us were really dragging and barely functioning, probably on the verge of heat exhaustion.
To make matters worse the LT had a shortage of Sergeants and put me in charge of a loose “squad” of several soldiers. I was mortified that I would get someone killed due to my lack of experience and told him so. But he said that was just the way it was until some Sergeants got into our ranks. He then turned and walked off.
Well, luckily, we had no major contact and things rocked along as I began to acclimate and bear the burden better. I had no clue where we were, but was told later that we were patrolling the Ruong Ruong Valley and the southern A Shau Valley, and possibly Laos–depending on who read the map.
In order to maintain brevity I’ll just say we had excellent leaders in our unit.
On May 15th we were extracted back to FB Pike by slicks, then to Phu Bai Airport by Chinook where we were refitted and sent to Tam Ky to bail the Americal Division out of a pending disaster. They were losing the equivalent of a company a day in combat and had lost most of their AO to the control of the NVA. Thus, Operation Lamar Plain began, with 1st Battalion, 501th Infantry and 2nd Battlaion, 501th Infantry taking on the 2nd NVA Division. Some remaining Americal units also participated in the operation.
On May 17th my platoon attempted a night insertion to reinforce the battalion in a vicious fight. The lead pilot refused to land as we encountered fierce small arms and .51 cal. fire with all of his birds calling in hits.
Alpha Company went on to FB Professional which was under siege from rockets, mortars, recoilless rifles and ground assaults. After a harrowing week providing security and dodging everything imaginable we turned to patrolling.
On May 25th we got into a vicious firefight with my squad losing two very good soldiers. By this time there were two Sergeants in the squad and I was just another rifleman. One fire team overran a bunker and I and another guy held a mortar team at bay until help arrived and dispatched the remainder of them. We killed seven, I think, and took an NVA Sergeant prisoner.
As small firefights continued through the AO, we racked up losses and got some confirmed kills as well. It was lots of combat from the time we hit Tam Ky until after I was gone a few months later.
On June 2nd the battalion began the fight for Hill 376 and fought a reinforced NVA regiment for eight days and nights until we possessed the whole thing. It was a horrendous battle and we took many casualties in the companies and the battalion. Alpha Company was down to two undermanned platoons by then and I was assigned to a 90mm recoilless rifle team. We generally provided security for the HQ element, ran details such as ammo resupply to the squads, sometimes joined with them to fight, provided security for the overflowing battalion aid station and LZ, covered any withdrawal the company made, and did whatever else the captain asked. And we were responsible for using the 90, which had no sight due to shrapnel knocking it off. A Sgt. First Class became Platoon Leader when 2-6 was KIA. On the final day of the hill fight Gene Lunn, the 90 gunner, and I assisted Charlie Company knocking out a bunker after they had lost two men trying. Our shots were the last of the hill fight.
For the survivors it was back to patrolling, ambushes, fire fights, medevacs, resupply, air support, some few booby traps. One day turned into another as we pushed along searching for the NVA. I have no idea as to the chronology of events during the hill fight, or in the days following. We were so sleep deprived and weary that there was no way to understand the order of things, even to this day.
Then we went back to LZ Professional for more incoming fire and security duty. I was WIA, a small piece of shrapnel in the chest from a mortar, and returned to duty. Our last LT was WIA at the same time, leaving the CO the only Alpha Company officer in the field.
We had a two day drunken stand down at Chu Lai, and returned to the field, a hot LZ, 23 civilian prisoners, 1 NVA KIA and 1 POW. The point man and I were still drunk and had walked right past a bunker when our Kit Carson Scout came up and took over. We sobered up in a hurry while he killed one and captured another. I have forgotten his name but our Kit Carson Scout was an ex-Viet Cong and a superb soldier. He was KIA in 1970.
The Americal Division had thrown us out into the field regardless of our condition after we were “disruptive” and even riotous toward them. That displayed their lack of leadership to me as much as Mai Ly did later and their loss of territory to the NVA control did in both 1967 and 1969, when in both cases the 101st Airborne had to come bail them out, losing many troopers in the process, but getting the job done.
Back in the field it was indistinguishable days and nights. At some point my old Lt, I think after 1-6 was WIA with me on Professional, had already done his field time but volunteered to come back to the field where he and a couple of other LT’s and replacements reformed the 3 platoons. We had had so many replacements lost so quickly I never knew some of their names. One got off the chopper, chatted with me, went to another company and was KIA within 20 minutes. Another who got off the chopper and went to get water, was shot 20 meters from the slick and medevaced with a head wound. It was continuous, or so it seemed.
Finally, on July 8 we set up a company perimeter in plenty of time to dig in before dark. I was a machine gunner by that time and argued with my Sergeant about where to set the gun up, to no avail. So my assistant gunner and I dug in. Just before dark the LT came to our position and told me to move the gun to the trail, where I had wanted it all along. There was no time to dig in. We had lots of movement to our front, our LP set its Claymores off when someone tripped a flare at their position, and we were at 50% alert early in the night. Things settled down and I laid on the ground to sleep. I was awakened when I was hit in the outer left thigh by a large piece of shrapnel. Ten or more of us were hit by artillery – our own. I was treated and carted up the hill in the dark, a harrowing and painful experience. We were medevaced in daylight, over 8 hours later.
My combat in Viet Nam was over, except for a few rounds thrown at a medevac plane I was lying in: just the NVA saying goodbye.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
A Company, 1st Battalion, 501th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
I saw such magnificent men perform under such strenuous circumstance. I was proud just to be a small part of them.
I won’t even go into the worse one. I might have another heart attack. I still bear grudges.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Going one on one with an NVA soldier in my first serious fire fight, and prevailing.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
No. I was no hero, but walked with lots of them during my 7 years of service. I am proud that they knew that if they needed someone at their side or back I would be there and could be counted upon.
I still see some of these genuine heroes at reunions, but the ones we all consider heroes gave their lives covering our backs. The fallen are the biggest heroes.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
My Combat Infantryman’s Award. Many guys did much that went unrecognized, but the CIB meant that you were to be counted among the warrior ranks.
My two Purple Hearts mean more to those close to me than the CIB, because they do not understand the statement I made above. Thus, they are important as well. Otherwise, is sharing space with a high velocity projectile anything noteworthy?
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
This is difficult because I had so many good leaders at all levels. The 101st Airborne Division had many great leaders, including my company commander, Captain Patrick Maguire, who saw an attempt by the NVA to conduct a flank attack while our flank was “up in the air.” His actions saved the whole company from annihilation.
The biggest impact, though (other than keeping me alive in combat) was BM2 R. A. Fish on the USS Coral Sea during 1964-65. He understood that he had a bunch of uneducated, unskilled teenagers he had to turn from children into men and sailors, and when to give them leeway and when to tighten up. He was a hell of a leader.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Yup! I stood on a hilltop talking with my Squad Leader, Terry Lucarelli, and our grenadier, Kenny Bunner, about our inability to dig into the dirt to make a fox hole at that location. The most we had succeeded in doing had been to scrape a shallow trench, about six inches deep and as wide as one man. There was a firefight going on the next hill, and a Navy Phantom came screaming over us at tree top level to bomb the enemy there. We knew we were going to catch a bunch of shrapnel from that.
So we all dove for the shallow trench, such as it was, at the same time. Terry was first to get into the trench with Kenny landing on top of him. I landed on top of Kenny, a full 18 inches or so ABOVE ground, which made me a great target. We caught a lot of small shrapnel, but no serious stuff, and had a good laugh about it afterward. We never did get a hole dug on that hill, either.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
I worked for the USPS for a decade, then went into law enforcement. Twenty-three years of that and I retired. I am a Disabled Veteran.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
1. USS Coral Sea Association -annual reunions I attend every ten years or so.
2. Company A, 1st Battalion, 501th Infantry veterans. We have a loose organization and I attend reunions at least annually. There is the annual Kokomo reunion we attend, and others held in various places each year. We have web sites LZSally.com and Geronimo-VietNam.com and then the regular 1/501 Geronimo facebook site for anyone who ever served in it.
5. Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Specific benefits, other than at reunions – a cold beer? Spending occasional time with people I respect, for certain. Other than that I am not involved with any of them.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
My military experiences made me a confident and secure individual. I was always a leader at work, either formally or otherwise, because of this. It also gave me a certain pride in myself that I would not otherwise have experienced. One step toward being self-assured, which I believe I am.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE ARMY?
Thank you for protecting us. Your sacrifices are even more meaningful given what the politicians are doing to the military.
Find your old combat comrades NOW before they pass away one at a time and leave you stranded, if you are the lucky survivor. They get much harder to locate as time passes, and mean much more than many of us initially realize. Never stop searching for them.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
It has been a link to other 101st Airborne members of the era. Reading the details of other soldiers’ profiles has been a reminder of the great sacrifices made when ordinary men and women strive to become extraordinary in the service of their country and their countrymen.
That’s me of the left with two Vietnam buddies, Larry Darnall and Jon Quick in cammies.