LT Robert McAllister
U.S. Coast Guard (Ret)
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PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE COAST GUARD?
When I was graduating from high school, the commercials that were on TV were all about the ‘active peace-time service.’ My father was in the Navy during WWII and my brother was on active duty with the Navy, serving on a submarine in Hawaii. Most of the military connections that I had were Navy, Marine, and Army. I didn’t see myself as a Marine. I was too skinny, 155 lbs soaking wet, and not a big athlete.
So, I attribute those TV commercials as the major factor in my decision to join the Coast Guard.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
I was not really career minded during my first four years in the Coast Guard. I had a fairly tough time in boot camp. My home was only 15 miles away and I had a girlfriend at home so my mind was probably more on her and my buddies than becoming a Coast Guardsman.
Every time I turned around I was receiving demerits. It seemed every other weekend I was doing extra instruction. I became fairly familiar with Coast Guard cleaning and painting along with many trips to the Grinder for buckets of rocks, etc. My entry test scores were high but because of the demerits from boot camp I received my last choice of duty station in the last district. I was sent to Seattle, Washington as an SA and found myself on the Lighthouse Tender USCGC Fir (WLM-212).
We made many trips, servicing three light ships and various lighthouses and light stations. Good food, hard work, and exercise. I became a solid 175 lbs. I did lose my appetite for sea food for quite a while after cleaning sea life off of the buoys we serviced. The CO of the Fir, after reviewing my service record, noted that I had received a 2.8 conduct out of boot camp. His comment was “They can’t do that to someone!” Several senior personnel on the ship talked with me and thought that I should go to Electronics School. The CO had my conduct marks changed to 3.0 and forwarded a request for me to attend ET School in Groton, Connecticut.
I arrived in Groton as an SA and after 7 months of training graduating as an ET3. I served on USCGC Alert (WSC-127) out of San Diego, went to LORAN-C School in Wildwood, NJ, a short tour at LORAN Station, Kauai, HI, on to LORAN Station Kure Island, HI, and LORAN Station Venice, FL.
During this 4 year period, I remained an ET3. This was at a time when the Coast Guard had slick arm Chiefs (CPO in less than 4 years). After serving my four year hitch, I got out.
During my five month hiatus, I worked three months for Pacific Bell in Oakland, California when I came to the realization it was just a job, not a career. Since I had enjoyed what I had been doing in the Coast Guard, I reenlisted with the intent of making it my career. A decision I have never regretted.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I served twelve months with CG Squadron One, Division XII, in DaNang, Vietnam. I was the Senior Enlisted ET, stationed on the Non self-propelled Floating Workshop YR-71. The crews berthing area left something to be desired, but then I was not sleeping in the open in a jungle. Most of my days were spent in the electronic repair shop on the barge or on one of the 82-foot patrol boats, repairing or adjusting the electronics. I always had the option of going out on any of the 82 footers that we serviced. However, I always put it off and as my time was nearing the end of my tour I though less of going on patrol.
A good share of my off time was spent with my two friends GM1, Maxwell and YN1 Fischer. We would go to the beach to bask in the sun and bathe in the ocean. Sometimes we would visit the club at Camp Tien Sha, down the road from the Vietnamese Navy Base where the YR-71 was tied up. Other times we headed for a small, open air, club at the end of the pier that the barge was attached to. A young Vietnamese man named Phuoc served us our drinks who we found lived behind the bar, actually underneath it. We put our money together for Phuoc to attend training as a typist, hoping that he would be able to get a better job and future. We sent him twice but without success. We heard Phuoc got a job in Hue and died during the Tet Offensive.
The bitter reality of the war was always present. When we made a trip to the DaNang Navy Hospital, I saw piles of combat boots, each one representing a loss of a limb. It was a horrible sight. Sometimes at night, we would watch the “fireworks” around DaNang as enemy rockets slammed into military installation throughout the area followed by friendly return fire. The most spectacular were seeing the gunships in action across the bay. The tracers would be a red light from the sky drawing lines on the ground. I’d hear stories on how service members on their way home waiting for their flights at the DaNang AB were killed or injured during the rocket attacks.
One of my nicest memories while in Vietnam was seeing Bob Hope’s 1967 USO Christmas at DaNang AB. As Hope had been doing since his first USO tour, he brought with him a taste of home. This time it was Raquel Welch, Elaine Dunn, Phil Crosby, Barbara McNair, and Miss World, Madeleine Hartog Bell. For those two hours I was lost in the laughter, glamor and music and not once did I think of the many hazards that existed around me.
With my year in country was over (February 6, 1968) I was given a TR [travel request] for a PANAM flight out of Saigon, leaving from DaNang to Saigon to Hawaii. But since January 1968 was the start of the Tet Offensive and the DaNang AB was still an enemy target, my TR became useless. There were no flights from DaNang to Saigon and there were no flights from Saigon to anywhere. I traveled back to my unit where they cut new travel order for any flight leaving from DaNang to anywhere else.
My worst night in country was spending the night at the airfield in DaNang waiting for my flight–the very installation I saw rocketed almost every night I was in DaNang. This anxiety increased when I thought about the stories of people being killed while awaiting their flight. That did not happen and after about 12 hours at the airfield I was finally given a seat on a C-141 leaving for Japan. Goodbye Vietnam!
I still ‘welcome home’ everyone I meet that served in Vietnam.
Staff Sgt. Taresha Hill/Army
Battle of Midway
In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese drove the Americans out of the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island; the British out of British Malaya, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Burma; and the Dutch out of the East Indies.
The Japanese then began to expand into the Western Pacific, occupying many islands in an attempt to build a defensive ring around their conquests and threaten the lines of communication from the United States to Australia and New Zealand. Emboldened by its rapid and successful victories, the Japanese high command prepared to deal one more decisive blow to the U.S. Naval forces in the Pacific by destroying the U.S. aircraft carriers that had escaped the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and to occupy Midway; a tiny but strategically important island nearly halfway between Asia and North America that was home to a U.S. Naval Air Station.
The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway as part of an overall plan to extend their defensive perimeter in response to the Doolittle air raid on Tokyo. This operation was also considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii itself.
Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, Japanese fleet commander, hoped to draw out the American fleet, calculating that when the United States began its counterattack, the Japanese would eliminate the United States as a strategic power in the Pacific, giving Japan a free hand in establishing its superiority over other Asian races in a program known as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese also anticipated that another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to capitulate in the Pacific War and thus ensure Japanese dominance in the Pacific.
Instead, and unknown to Japanese planners, American intelligence had broken the Japanese fleet codes, enabling Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to pinpoint the date and location of the attack allowing him to prepare his own ambush by placing available U.S. carriers in position to surprise the unsuspecting Japanese.
On June 3, 1942, the crucial and decisive naval Battle of Midway began and since the two adversaries were never within sight of each other, all attacks were carried out by carrier-based or land-based aircraft. Over the next five days, aircraft launched from Midway Atoll and from carriers of both navies flew hundreds of miles, dropping torpedoes and bombs and fighting one another in the skies.
By June 7, 1942, victory belonged to the Pacific Fleet which had inflicted devastating damage on the Japanese fleet that proved irreparable, solidly checking Japanese momentum.
SSgt Larry Wilcox
US Marine Corps
Long before he found fame riding alongside fellow 70’s heartthrob Erik Estrada in the hit TV series “CHiPs”, Larry Wilcox took on a very different role, one far less glamorous and that won him few fans. In May of 1967, the then 19-year-old, knowing the draft was looming, followed in his older brother’s footsteps and joined the Marine Corps. His unit, the 12th Marines, fought in Vietnam in the I Corps which ranged in areas from Dong Ha to the DMZ and Con Thien, and eventually, the Tet Offensive.
Visit his profile to read one of the better articles on his struggles with PTSD.
(Veterans – view more military profiles of famous people on www.togetherweserved.com)
SSgt Ruben L. Encinas
U.S. Air Force
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?
I was mostly influenced by watching war movies as a kid in the 50s. I had a cousin that had come back from Korea in 1953 and he brought me a miniature Marine Corps uniform. I was so proud of it, I wore it to school pictures day. I
even worn miniature combat boots. Still, at this time I liked all the Services and I started building model airplanes and Army models while my brother built model Navy ships. In the 60s we had a competition of Air Force Verse Navy in our bedroom with Naval Academy and soon the Air Force Academy pennants on the walls and various pictures of ships and planes. My interest in the military increased and leaning mostly to the Air Force. I had a cousin that served in the Air Force as well as neighbors that were stationed at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. I remember the 50s TV show of “You asked For It” where you would write in and request they show a special location. I sent mine in asking to show a SAC Air Force Base, but they never got to it. I remember watching the B-36s takeoff and land at Biggs AFB back in the 50s and I always wondered what it would be like to fly in one of those. One of my neighbors was a MSgt at Biggs and I kept bugging him about what it was like to serve.
I also remember when a B36 crashed into the side of the Franklin Mountains while on approach to Biggs AFB. The crash site was close to housing and was not far from where we lived. I remember seeing my first B58 land and take off at Biggs AFB. All these sights of planes just whetted my appetite for more. In high school I would beg my brother to get me a ticket to see Texas Western College (before they became The University of Texas at El Paso and win the NCAA Basketball Championship in 1966) play Air Force Academy in football and basketball. I was hooked. It was during Christmas break of 1965 in my senior year in high school that I began to get serious about my future. Since I couldn’t afford to go to college, I went to visit the local recruiting offices and explored what they had to offer. The Air Force (there really wasn’t any other service I really wanted to join, but I had to check anyway) offered the best future skills that I liked and it was then I decided the Air Force was for me. I scored well on the tests and could select most anything I wanted. Although Ft Bliss was right next to Biggs AFB in El Paso, I was not interested in the Army. They just didn’t have the airplanes.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
I scored high in what was called the General Field and put down my three choices as Photo Mapping, Weather Observer and Mandarin Interpreter. I didn’t score high enough in the language testing, but was glad of that because of the limited assignments associated with this career field.
So at completion of Basic Training, I received orders to go to Chanute AFB, IL for Weather School. With just over one hundred of us, we left Lackland AFB by train going to Chanute for various schools. When we left San Antonio, it was a nice warm day and arrived at Rantoul, IL in snow. Coming from the desert, this was new to me. I think I had seen snow maybe three or four times in my life. I really liked the Weather career field and I still do it as a hobby. To this day, first thing I do when I walk out the door is look at the sky. I guess the reason I got out was that I needed to do something else and raise my family without being separated from them while they were still young.
I had seen a lot of separations and the problems associated with them. I got out of the Air Force after my second enlistment, went back home to El Paso, TX, attended college at night while working as a Forklift Operator at Ft Bliss and as a SSgt in the Air Force Reserve as a Weather Observer as an Augmentee at Holloman AFB, NM Weather Station. After Junior College, I got a job with the National Weather Service in San Angelo, TX as a Meteorological Technician. After about 10 months, I was transferred to Stephenville, TX as a Weather Radar/Upper Air Specialist. Worked their until I graduated from Tarleton State University with a Bachelor’s Degree and moved on to worked with the Department of the Army as a Quality Assurance Specialist Ammunition Surveillance (QASAS) civilian. Some interesting assignments as a QASAS included Saudi Arabia and Korea. So in the end, I worked my two hobbies for nearly 39 years thanks to the Air Force and Army.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
My job at Nahkon Phanom Royal Thai AFB, Thailand in 1969 was to support missions over Laos heading for the Ho Chi Minh Trail or other sites in Laos. I spent the first six months working the base weather station and alternating working in the Control Tower. The last months there I was working the CPS-9 Weather Radar located at Task Force Alpha. The CO at TFA was the Base Commander at Webb AFB while I was stationed there in 67-68. I followed him to NKP in ’69. I talked to some Pilots over Laos that required weather updates. At one point I had to vector an aircraft from a point deep in Laos heavy with thunderstorms and monsoon rain using my weather radar. Since I could attenuate my radar signal, I could decrease the precipitation sign and let the pilot know which was the best possible route around the thunderstorms.
An incident that happened to me while working at TFA occurred one night while I was working the Radar. We had two rooms, one with the CPS-9 Radar and the other across the hall with the satellite receiver where we would get the latest satellite photos on weather. I had just finished checking the Radar when I went across the hall to check on the latest photos coming in. When I returned to the Radar room, I found the the door had shut and locked. I went back across the hall and called the security NCO for a spare key. Realizing that I needed to get back into the Radar room soon in order to run my scan, I started looking for a way into the Radar room from the Satellite Room. I looked at the floor tiles and realized that I could lift them up and underneath were cables and assorted pipes. I also noted that it was a crawl space and I decided that I should see if I could get into the Radar room this way. I tried a couple of tiles before I found one that opened just inside the door of the room and I removed it and crawled inside. I replaced the tiles in both rooms and resumed my duties with the Radar. The Security NCO finally showed up and asked how I got in. When I told him my story, he said that I found a security flaw because I could have access to most of the offices in the building using the crawl space. Don’t know what finally happened, but I’m sure it was addressed at higher levels.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My first assignment after tech school was Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. As a brand new 19 year old, and being on my own it was a great place. The AF personnel in our Weather Detachment were great and taught me well. Shortly after arriving, my CO (I think it was Capt Lydon) took my friend and I up on his private airplane over Big Spring, TX. This was a great introduction to my first assignment. I worked in the Base Operation building and alternated with the Remote Observation Site on top of the Transient Maintenance building. In the Base weather Station, I worked two different weather Radars, the FPS-77, just coming in on line and the old APQ-13, a relic from a B-29 and still a useful tool for short range. My favorite work site was the ROS. It was a wooded tower structure on top of the Transient Maintenance building and used to be the old Control Tower. We had a speaker where we could listen to the Control Tower Personnel instructing pilots landing and takeoffs. It was from this site that came my most memorable sights and sounds. The night a B58 Hustler had request takeoff at night from Midland Center was a sight to see to appreciate what this aircraft could do. They had requested a certain flight altitude but were denied by Midland Center. After repeated request and denials The pilot said “Roger” and took off and when it reached the end of the runway headed straight up with afterburners going until it reach the level Midland Center had given them after which the pilot radios Midland Center “have a nice evening Midland”.
Another time I saw an aerial maneuver by an F104 and a T33 over the field. The F104 shot almost straight up and the T-33 tried to follow. After a few moments, I heard the T33 declare an inflight emergency and landed. From what I heard afterwards, the T-33 had suffered some type of structural damage while trying to catch the F104. The F4s however made a big impression when they stopped at Webb. After they left, we found stenciled on several buildings a picture of a figure that resembled the radio and movie character the Shadow with the word underneath “The Phantom”. There are many more stories like this, but best of all, this is where I met my future wife. From Webb AFB, TX I went to Nahkon Phanom RTAFB (NKP), then to Holloman AFB, NM and finally Davison AAF, VA on Ft Belvoir. I didn’t have a least favorite assignment. Each assignment was different and required different skills, so I wasn’t really into not liking where I went as long as I learned and had my family with me. Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir also a great assignment. I had a chance to meet General Westmoreland while working at Base Weather during one evening and the Airfield also supported the Presidential Support Army Helicopters. It was at Ft Belvoir that I really learned to hunt and fish. I had a great Army SFC friend that lived above me in base housing that took me to his favorite spots on Post. One day while out squirrel hunting, he took me to a place that had a fence around a medium size tree with a sign that said “American Chestnut Tree, Keep out”. Forests of American Chestnuts were devastated when a blight killed most of them off.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
What I had learned during all of my weather training was to pay attention to all details and report accurate information no matter how insignificant they seem. This attention to detail served me in two later incidents involving weather. The first incident was when I watched an A1 takeoff from NKP, Thailand one night in fog and rain while I was on duty as a Weather Observer in the Control Tower and saw the plane go up in a fireball at the end of the runway as the ordnance exploded and afterwards giving my testimony before the inquiry board. Not sure what the finally outcome was, but weather was not a factor. Another incident involving a plane crash at Dallas/Ft Worth Airport (DFW) occurred on my watch as a Weather Radar/Upper Air Specialist working for the National Weather Service at Stephenville, Texas, in 1985. This time it was a weather related incident. A book was written and a movie made based on the book including what I consider slanderous content aimed at me contrary to actual details. The press was brutal in its reporting, but my testimony at the NTSB inquiry was solid with very specific details that were not report by the press previously. The NTSB Board determined two years later that it was pilot error. Once again, attention to details played an important part for me.and is always at the forefront of whatever I do. It also served me well in my later career as an Ammunition Inspector, a field that really requires detail analysis. I’m sure that I could have learned this attribute elsewhere, but I learned it at as a young Airman at Weather School at Chanute AFB, IL.
The waterlogged body was taken by Spanish authorities to a location where they opened the attache case and found an official-looking military envelope from Lt. General Archibald Nye, vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff to Gen. Harold Alexander, senior British officer on Gen. Eisenhower’s staff in Tunisia. The case with its unopened content was offered to the local British vice-consul, Francis Haselden who declined it, suggesting that the handover go through official channels.
While Spain was a neutral country, much of its military were pro-German and the Nazis went to Colonel Jose Lopez Barron Cerruti, Spain’s most senior secret policeman and friend of the Germans, asking him to search for the briefcase.Barron had fought with the Blue Division, the Spanish volunteer unit sent to the Russian front to fight along Nazi troops. Once the briefcase was found, Barron and others opened the briefcase finding the military envelope. The envelope was maneuvered in such a way so it appeared unopened and reviewed the documents inside which revealed a secret Allied scheme to stage an invasion of Sardinia and Greece in the coming weeks. Arrangements were made to make all of the contents available to Nazi agents. Photographs were taken and immediately sent to Berlin. Believing Sicily was were an invasion would take place, General Alfred Jodl, head of the German supreme command operations staff proclaimed, “You can forget about Sicily. We now know it’s in Greece. ” Hitler and his High Command became convinced Greece was the target for an invasion and quickly ordered the transfer of Panzer tank divisions and other personnel to the Peloponnese in Greece.
When a hundred and sixty thousand Allied troops invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943, it became clear to the Germans that they had fallen victim to one of the most remarkable – and successful – deceptions in modern military history.
The men behind the audacious plan were two officers in Section 17M of the British Intelligence Service – a group so secret that barely 20 people even knew they existed. The two officers, who Churchill called “corkscrew minds,” were Charles Cholmondeley a RAF officer and Ewen Montagu, a Royal Navy intelligence officer.
Oddly this highly successful and innovative twosome could not have been more different. Cholmondeley was a dreamer seeking adventure. Montagu was an aristocratic, detail-oriente But together they were the perfect team and created an ingenious plan: Get a corpse, equip it with secret (but false and misleading) papers concerning the invasion and drop it off the coast of Spain where German spies would, they hoped, take the bait. The idea was approved by British intelligence officials and Winston Churchill who believed it might ring true to the Axis and help bring victory to the Allies.
Working with Cholmondeley and Montagu on this great deception was an extraordinary cast of characters including Ian Fleming, who would go on to write the James Bond stories; a famous forensic pathologist; a beautiful secret service secretary; a submarine captain; three novelists; an irascible admiral who loved fly-fishing; and a dead, Welsh tramp. Using fraud, imagination and seduction, Winston Churchill’s team of spies spun a web of deceit so elaborate and so convincing that they began to believe it themselves. From a windowless basement beneath Whitehall, the hoax travelled from London to Scotland to Spain to Germany and ended up on Hitler’s desk.
According to Ben Macintyre, author of ‘Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat,’ the incredible plan was the one brilliant deception that turned the course of World War II, helped the Allies defeat Nazi Germany and saved the lives of some 40,000 Allied servicemen and women. Macintyre also wrote that Montagu and Cholmondeley had a specific target in mind for their elaborate deception: Adolf Clauss, part of the Abwehr (German military intelligence) who was active in the area and one of Germany’s most successful spies. He was known to be efficient, ruthless and extremely gullible – the perfect ‘sucker.’
The screenplay of the film stayed as close to the truth as was convenient, with the remainder being fiction. For example, the Irish spy in the film is a complete fabrication. Ewen Montagu declared that he was happy with the fictitious incidents which, although they did not happen, might have happened. During filming, Montagu has a cameo role, that of a Royal Air Force Air Vice-Marshal who has doubts about the feasibility of the proposed plan.
1stLt William Holden
US Army Air Force
Short Bio: Few Hollywood actors have conveyed spiritual and physical pain with the charismatic authority of William Holden. Holden joined the Army Air Force, served in WWII and returned to the screen with a more complex personality. (His brother Robert was KIA in the Pacific and many said it changed him.)
(Veterans – view more military profiles of famous people on www.togetherweserved.com)
HM1 Robert Hays
FMF Navy Corpsman
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?
Actually I didn’t. When I graduated from high school in 1962, I wanted to enlist, but my mother put the quietus on that one and I went to college–but with an attitude. With no intention of studying I figured I’d get kicked out, so by my second year I joined the Navy Reserve and became a Hospital Corpsman. I wanted to beat the draft and with my grades I figured there was no way the school was going to let me stay much longer.
What I didn’t count on was a big program they had at the time to raise the population of male students and the bottom line was, if you wore britches you couldn’t get kicked out! So, after five years of fooling around, I graduated and went on two years active duty. First there was Hospital Corps School in San Diego and then to Field Med School at Camp Pendleton, December, 1967. After Field Med, I was stationed at Naval Hospital Memphis and later to D 1/4, 3rd MarDiv, Vietnam.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
When I joined the Naval Reserve, the unit offered only two career paths – Radioman or Corpsman. I went for Radioman. After about two weeks of electronic theory and Morse code, I decided that Corpsman was more suitable for me. I was a Biology major in college, so that option just seemed to go well with what little formal education I had managed to scrape up by that time. Viet Nam was just getting cranked up then – 1964 – and I knew Corpsmen were attached to Marines, but my attitude was, “Let’s get it on!”
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ACTIONS WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
I was attached to D 1/4, 3rd MarDiv in I Corps. Our Area of operations (AO) was as far northwest in the country as you could get. It was bordered on the west by Laos and on the North by the DMZ. I got there shortly after the siege of Khe Sahn and there really wasn’t much happening at the time. I had been in country about a month before being mortared the first time. Our ordinary mission was “search and destroy” or fire base security. We were ambushed a few times walking through the jungle.
The biggest action that I was in was the assault on Fire Base Argonne during Operation Purple Martin. My letters home say it was Mar 19, 1969 but the official report I have read says it was on the 20th. Whichever here’s what happened as I remember it and as I wrote in letters home:
On or about this date, we decided to go to Fire Base Argonne, the Northwestern most fire base in RVN. It had belonged to us back in December, and we had no real reason to believe it otherwise now. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Sargent, sent a Huey with a pre-assault recon team up to look things over before we were to go. The Huey got shot down. The Colonel said something about how they couldn’t do that to his men and the assault was on.
We had six CH-46s to launch our operation. Each CH-46 could only hold about 12 or 13 men, and we sent two at a time, so we didn’t exactly overwhelm the NVA holding the hill with a massive show of immediate force.
I was on the third round of choppers in. In other words, by the time I got there, we had landed about 50 men and had been engaged for maybe ten to fifteen minutes at the most. As the chopper began its descent, you could hear small arms fire everywhere. Our machine guns were going, and stuff was happening everywhere. Looking out the window as we neared, you could see a pitched battle in progress. The ground was exploding everywhere on the hill as rounds of small arms, mortars, RPGs, and other munitions landed all over it.
As we hurtled toward the LZ, they told us to roll off in a hurry when the bird got around six feet off the ground. We were either going to get off while it was going down or going up, but it wasn’t going to stay there waiting on us to move off. So people started jumping off it when it was still five feet or so above the ground. By the time it touched down, it was empty of passengers and ready to get out of there fast. It just sort of bounced.
On the ground, resistance increased with small arms fire everywhere, mortar rounds going off, and utter chaos as we fanned out across the fire support base. As we neared Hill 1308, deadly blasts of enemy automatic weapons fire from well-constructed bunkers halted our progress but one thing that runs through one’s mind: get to the top and kill all the people you can identify as being on the other side before they get you. I discovered that there is a drive which takes hold of a person and makes him do something he would not usually do – go through bullets to stop the bullets and hope there’s not one there destined for him. To stop and try to hide would be suicide. It’s the fastest who survive in this action–or at least, who have the best chance at it.
So we shot our way to the top by dark had destroyed the last enemy fortification. The hill was now ours but we had a tiger by the tail. Smoke was oppressive from burning trees, set off I suppose from all the explosions. We were still taking small arms fire and mortar rounds from neighboring hills. During the assault we lost six killed and eleven wounded. We did find fifteen dead NVA scattered amidst the ruined bunkers.
Dr. Sheppler, our battalion physician, had come with us (wanted to see what war was like, he said) and a couple of Corpsmen, Rick McGaffick and Bob Biebel, and I found a depression in the hillside and began to construct a hooch over it before the NVA got mad and tried to take it back.
After it was over, as I remember, there were several dead Marines laid out on the LZ to be taken away. One of them was a fellow who, just a few days earlier, had asked me to cut all his hair off because of the heat (I also served as a company barber), and I had refused. I told him that if he got killed, I didn’t want his mother mad at me when he got home with no hair. He went home with a good haircut.
As we sat on the hill trying to establish some order to take care of the Marines, a couple of the highest ranking men on the hill came up for treatment of their “wounds.” One of them had a strawberry scrape, as I remember, and the other must have had something equally heinous. I looked down at the LZ and saw the dead Marines waiting to be taken out, while these so-called leaders were whining up to the Doc so they could get another medal – a Purple Heart.
I don’t remember everything I said to these two “casualties,” but I do remember some others telling me I needed to be a lot more judicious in what I said to whom. All these two were interested in, or so it appeared to me, was furthering their own careers by collecting medals, and the dead Marines on the LZ apparently didn’t mean squat to them. I remember saying something about how I ought to put myself in for a Heart for a scratch I incurred on my finger coming up the hill.
Cpl Robert Ryan
US Marine Corps
(Veterans – view more military profiles of famous people on www.togetherweserved.com)
Short Bio: Chicago-born, distinguished U.S. actor and longtime civil rights campaigner, Robert Ryan served in the United States Marines as a drill instructor (winning a boxing championship) and went on to become a key figure in post WWII American film noir and western productions.