By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
Non-military women also served important roles. They provided entertainment and support to the troops through the USO, the American Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations. Women working as civilian nurses for USAID (US Agency for International Development) participated in one of the most famous humanitarian operations of the war, Operation Babylift, which brought thousands of Vietnamese orphans to the U.S. for adoption. Additionally, many women reported the war for news and media agencies.
Combat nurses worked twelve-hour shifts six days a week and when a mass casualty incident occurred, like a major battle, those twelve-hour shifts could easily turn into twenty-four to thirty-six-hour shifts. Nurses also volunteered their time in the communities around them, often going to the local orphanages or hospitals to offer the civilians their medical services or to teach classes on basic hygiene, first aid or even English. Nurses also had to deal with numerous emotions: stress from a number of patients they had to serve, anger at seeing young men so horribly wounded and guilt at not being able to save all of the wounded men or make them whole again.
Despite the long hours and sometimes horrifying wounds these women had to face, many nurses found their service rewarding. They were able to serve their country and save and comfort the wounded men in their facilities. During the Vietnam War 98% of the men who were wounded and made it to the hospital survived. Nurses witnessed some truly miraculous events such as men recovering from their wounds or acts of true selflessness that are common during combat situations, and many nurses made close friends with their fellow co-workers some of whom still keep in contact into the present day.
Eight U.S. of these heroic nurses died in Vietnam; six were killed, two died of illnesses. Each dedicated themselves to taking care of the wounded and dying.
See their faces and remember their names. These are their stories.
Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham, Chief Nurse at 91st Evacuation Hospital in Tuy Hoa. A native of Efland N.C., she suffered a stroke in August 1968 and was evacuated to Japan where she died four days later. She was a veteran of both WW II and Korea. She was 52.
First Lieutenant Sharon Anne Lane died from shrapnel wounds when the 312th Evacuation Hospital at Chu Lai was hit by rockets on June 8, 1969. From Canton, OH, she was a month short of her 26th birthday. She was posthumously awarded the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Bronze Star for Heroism. In 1970, the recovery room at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, where Lt. Lane had been assigned before going to Vietnam, was dedicated in her honor. She was 26 years old.
In 1973, Aultman Hospital in Canton, OH, where Lane had attended nursing school, erected a bronze statue of Lane. The names of 110 local servicemen killed in Vietnam are on the base of the statue.
View here service shadow box on TogetherWeServed: 1stLt Sharon Ann Lane
They are honored on Panel 5E, Row 46 and Panel 5E, Row 47 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
View their shadow boxes on TogetherWeServed: 2nd Lt.Carol Ann Elizabeth Drazba
2nd Lt Elizabeth Ann Jones
https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=107659173 Read more
A Marine radar intercept officer missing nearly 48 years after he was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War has been accounted for after his remains were found last year, the Bergen Record reports.
The remains of Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William (Billy) Ryan, of Bogota, N.J. (left in photo) were identified through DNA tests conducted by the Defense Pow/MIA Accounting Agency at the Pentagon, the paper reported Friday.
Ryan’s plane crashed on a combat mission in southern Laos near the Vietnam border on May 11, 1969, the day before his son’s first birthday.
“I always knew my dad died in the crash, and that’s what my mom told me,” Michael Ryan, 48 told the paper. “What she didn’t tell me is that part of her held out hope that maybe she’d see his face again.”
His aircraft was pulling out of a bombing run when it was hit by enemy fire. The pilot bailed out and was rescued.
Ryan was also shot down in 1968 over the Gulf of Tonkin but he survived that crash.
According to the Record, military investigators went to the Laos crash site in 1990 and found his plane seat.
Investigators visited the site on six other occasions from May 2012 to January 2016 to look for remains.
A lab identified the remains as Ryan’s and notified Michael last month.
The next day Ryan’s widow Judith was diagnosed with stage-4 stomach cancer.
“I don’t know, it’s strange to me,” Michael told the paper. “We’ve waited 48 years for this. And now I’m looking up at God and saying, ‘Can you give this woman a week to celebrate?'”
Billy Ryan will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on May 10, the eve of the crash anniversary.
Much more about Ryan and his family can be found at the site below: http://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2017/02/24/garden-state-mind-missing-action-nearly-50-years-bogota-marine-comes-home/97424752/
As a small boy I was terrified by Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, a comedy which featured Lou Costello in constant danger of being attacked by such horror film villains as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man. Each time Lou was in peril, I would hide my eyes, while my dad would comfort me with the words, “Don’t worry. It’s only a movie.” I soon relaxed. No one was really hurt.
In 1969, I became the senior advisor to a South Vietnamese River Assault and Interdiction Division (RAID), consisting of 21 river boats which had been transferred from the U.S. Navy’s “Brown Water Navy.” I was a Navy lieutenant, and I was assisted by about six enlisted men. We provided technical support and advice in the maintenance and operation of the heavily armed boats. We liaised with U.S. units when the Vietnamese needed air or artillery support. We also helped with logistics in obtaining fuel and ammunition.
My position as an advisor gave me a sense that I was sort of an observer of the passing scene, only becoming involved when help was needed. While I had been to school to learn riverine tactics, the Vietnamese had actually been at war for decades. I had more to learn than to teach.
RAID 72 had the job of transporting a battalion of Vietnamese marines into combat in the U-Minh Forest of the Mekong Delta. We would typically put the marines ashore at a point determined by intelligence to have a concentration of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Our boats would then move into blocking positions, while the marines with air and artillery support would attempt to drive the enemy into our ambush. More commonly, the enemy would fade into the jungle while the marines gave futile chase, leaving the boats to sit and wait for the marines to return.
During Tet of 1968 the enemy had suffered so many casualties that they withdrew into the U-Minh Forest to lick their wounds and to regroup. Both the U.S. and South Vietnamese believed we had the enemy on the run. The South Vietnamese launched a “Dark Forest” Campaign to destroy the remaining enemy in that area.
Our boats carried the marines down a long, narrow canal, the Song Cai Lon. We had to fight our way down. Ahead of my boat, a monitor (a boat bristling with guns) was sunk by an IED made from a U.S. 500 lb. bomb, killing all five sailors on board.
Ever the dispassionate observer, I photographed the boat as it was sinking. After all, this seemed just a movie. There was nothing for me to do but to send a report.
Farther down the canal we bivouacked at a place on the canal shown as the village of Dong Hung. It had been destroyed years before, the villagers had been relocated to a government area, and the jungle had closed in. Still there were the 273rd North Vietnamese Regiment and thousands of VC.
The marines established a small command post (CP) at Dong Hung and the main force went out into the jungle to find the enemy. Our boats moored on both banks of the canal near the CP. My Vietnamese counterpart, Lieutenant Commander Binh, the commanding officer of RAID 72, explained to me that the plan for defending ourselves if attacked was to move the boats to the outside ends of the stretch of the canal bounding our encampment. The boats could then have interlocking fields of fire. I had been concerned that no defensive barrier had been established, no barbed wire had been strung, nor had trees been felled to provide those fields of fire. They assured me that this would have to do since they did not know how long we would be there. I just thought about Roman Legions on the march who erected timber palisades wherever they stopped, even if it were only for the night.
I don’t recall how many days we were there while the marines were away looking for the enemy. Reports generated by me tracked Vietnamese marine movements, engagements, casualties, and the status of boats. In addition to the 110 Vietnamese sailors, there was one of my enlisted advisors, Radioman 3rd class Bruce McIver, and two enlisted advisors from RAID 74, which provided some of the boats in our group of twenty-one. At night, I would lie under mosquito netting on an air mattress and listen to the chatter on my AN/PRC-25 short range (VHF FM) radio. There were just brief communications between the U.S. Marine advisor, Maj. Mike Cerreta, and the pilot of an Army single-engine forward air control (FAC) aircraft which coordinated air support.
At about 1 a.m. on November 6, I was listening to the Marine advisor and the FAC pilot when the FAC signed off and headed for his base. That meant that there would be no further communication, so I drifted off to sleep. Thirty minutes later, I was jarred awake by explosions all around me. Was this just a movie? Mortar rounds were impacting throughout the CP and among the boats. Soon, it became apparent that we were under attack by a large force, perhaps two battalions (500-600 men each) armed with 82 mm mortars, 60 mm mortars, 57 mm recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades (RPG), Chinese machine guns, and AK-47 assault rifles. Swarming from the jungle, they quickly overran the CP, destroying tents, huts, bunkers, and communication equipment. The small contingent of Vietnamese marines and their U.S. advisors were forced to retreat onto the boats.
Plans to move the boats to the edges of the CP evaporated under the speed of the attack. Soon the enemy was among us, climbing on some boats with hand grenades and satchel charges. Most boats got underway from the west bank of the canal and moved to the east bank, for, although we were completely surrounded, the main force of the attack was from the west.
Maj. Cerreta retreated to my Command and Control Boat (CCB) with many Vietnamese marines, some of whom were badly wounded. The CCB tried to back off the west bank but it was tied with nylon lines to a bush on the bank. The CCB backed at full power, but it could only fishtail helplessly three feet from the bank while the enemy on the bank was raking us with rockets and small arms fire. Maj. Cerreta and I crawled to the bow trying to free the line, but it was hopeless. The major even tried unsuccessfully to shoot the line in half with his military issue 1911 Colt.45 Cal pistol.
I jumped below, fetched my Buck knife, and ran back up to the deck. We had been hit by four B40 RPGs, and the boat was on fire from burning fuel. I told Maj. Cerreta that I was going to crawl up and cut the line. Reinforcing my feeling that this was only a movie, he held up his pistol and said, “I’ll cover you!” I crawled exposed up to the bow and found a Vietnamese marine still trying fruitlessly to free the line; I shoved him aside and cut it loose. The CCB quickly moved to the east bank, only 20 yards from the enemy who pounded us with crew manned weapons from the west bank. We fired back with every weapon we had.
The fierce fighting continued until dawn. A medevac helicopter relayed a request for air support. This turned out to be Shadow and Spooky gunships, cargo planes fitted with high speed Vulcan guns. Those Gatling type guns fired so many rounds that it appeared they were pouring liquid metal on the enemy.
In the morning, I organized the evacuation of the many wounded. A man pressing a battle dressing against his belly to hold his intestines in place was begging me to get the helicopters there fast. Each time the helos approached, the VC would fire mortars at us.
After it was all over, I had fired every one of the 500 rounds of M-16 ammunition that I had. A quick survey revealed that all of the boats were out of ammunition, too. I urgently requested helo delivery of all types of ammunition. It did not arrive until the following day. Had we been attacked that night, we would have been wiped out.
Searing my soul for life is a scene from the morning after the fight. Lacking body bags, the Vietnamese had wrapped one of our sailors in a plastic rain poncho. I remember thinking irrationally as I looked at the face limned against the plastic, “He can’t breathe!” Then it came home to me â he would never breathe again! We suffered 44 killed and 151 wounded. Seventy-five enemy bodies were found.
The night of November 8, the enemy attacked again, this time sinking two boats, but we held them off again, but with more casualties on both sides. My realization at this point that this was not a movie and that I had nearly five more months of this affected me deeply. Clearly, this was serious business.
The week in March 1970 that I left Vietnam, we killed a VC whose possessions included a citation for his role in the November 6, 1969 attack on us. Unfortunately, the same firefight which killed that VC resulted in the death of a U.S. Army advisor to Regional and Popular Forces we were transporting.
Al Bell is a writer and publisher who just released his second book “Sea Story!” and Other Sketches: Memories and musings from a life of adventure. Available from Amazon.com/books (search term; “CDR BELL”). My first book, “Sea Story!” & Other Sketches, is still available there.
The book is a collection of previously published stories, essays, rants, and musings by ‘Skipper Al’ Bell, whose adventurous life has given him a unique perspective on the world. The writings range from interesting accounts of real events to humorous lampoons and fiction. Some are inspiring, while others are ironic. The gentle reader may not agree with the author on some issues, in which case the reader is almost certainly wrong. His writings are part Mark Twain, part Jonathan Swift, and a large dose of Mad Magazine. Some stories are serious and uplifting. Others reflect brooding depression. All are entertaining.
Read the service reflections of TogetherWeServed.com member:
Sgt Doug Woods
U.S. Marine Corps
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?
In high school I was rated 1-A by the Selective Service. My folks couldn’t afford to pay for college and I wanted a break from school, so even before graduating in 1968 I talked with the USN recruiter. With Vietnam in full swing I figured the Navy was the safest bet. When my AFEES test scores weren’t high enough for the USN, he had me talk with the USMC recruiter across the street since I made clear I didn’t want to be drafted into the Army. Sgt Greene was a pretty straight-shouter. I could enlist for two years, which likely meant being a grunt in VN. I could sign-up for four years for a USMC tech school, but there was no guarantee I could quality for it. Or I could opt for three years which made everything 50/50. I enlisted for three years.
In boot camp I took the standard USMC tests, plus an optional journalism test to basically avoid extra time standing in formation in the hot San Diego July sun. The night before graduation I learned I’d been selected to be a USMC military journalist. After ITR at Camp Pendleton I attended the Defense Information School at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis IN. I was then assigned to MCB Quantico VA, where I wrote for the Quantico Sentry.
After six months at Quantico I applied for orders to WestPac. My orders came through in late August 1969. I was to report to the 9th MAB on Okinawa. Going through processing on Okinawa my original orders were cancelled and I was assigned to 1st MAW Vietnam. Reporting to 1st MAW ISO/PAO HQ in Danang, I was given the options of staying at HQ, going south to the Marine jet base at Chu Lai, or reporting to the large USMC helicopter base at Marble Mountain Air Facility four miles SE of Danang. I chose the choppers of MAG-16.
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 never considered making the Marine Corps a career. I did endeavor to be the best Marine I could be and do the best job I could while I served my country.
Like the other USMC writers and photographers at MAG-16, I reported on and photographed, the men, their choppers and the missions they flew. I also wrote feature stories on various Marines at MMAF who worked on the ground to keep the aircraft flying. Most prized was to get temporary flight orders. Those orders allowed me to approach pilots and crew chiefs and request to fly with them on their mission(s) scheduled that day. I was never refused. I flew medevac, troop insert/extract, recon insert/extract and outpost resupply missions as well as a napalm drum bombing mission on an NVA HQ complex. Besides experiencing and reporting on the missions I flew, I took hundreds of photos of the people and events.
Before my VN tour was completed I was pulled-out as part of one of Nixon’s “Phased Withdrawals” and sent by ship (USS Denver LPD-9) to Iwakuni, Japan, a USMC jet fighter base SW of Hiroshima on the Inland Sea. Iwakuni was the HQ of 1st MAW REAR and they weren’t expecting me and several dozen other Marines. After sitting on the dock for several hours, we were finally trucked to a Transit Barracks. At Iwakuni I was a reporter for the base newspaper, the Torii Teller.
At Iwakuni I was able to journey to Hiroshima, where in September 1970 I visited the Peace Park and Museum. The central city was rebuilt. The A-Bomb park areas and museum were very somber.
My final duty station was with the 12th Marine Corps District Public Affairs Office in downtown San Francisco. There I participated in various honor guards (including the Miss California pageant), sent supplies to recruiters and was flown to Billings MT to do a story for Leatherneck Magazine on a Marine Corps Reserve unit’s winter training in Yellowstone National Park.
My 4312 MOS was judged ‘critical’ in 1970′ and I was offered a $7,000 reenlistment bonus and promotion to Staff Sergeant if I’d stay in. I declined the offer. I chose a different career and life path.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
As a combat correspondent with a Marine helicopter group my combat experience was limited to having helicopters I was flying in being shot at by the NVA and VC during medevac and Marine recon extract missions. I was very lucky; neither myself nor anyone in any of the choppers I flew in was ever injured despite several aircraft taking numerous hits during missions.
The most dangerous mission was an emergency extract of a recon team surrounded by the NVA in the Au Shau Valley NW of Danang. Despite USMC jets and chopper gunships providing suppressing fire around the zone, the chopper’s first attempt to land in the small jungle zone failed because of intense enemy fire. With the recon team’s survival at stake, the HMM-262 pilot of the CH-46 said he was going in again. With the jets swirling above us dropping bombs and strafing the zone’s perimeter, we came in straight and fast. While the port and starboard 50- cals. spit bullets, I stood in the large port side window and photographed the sequence of the recon team scrambling from the jungle and racing to the rear ramp. Our pilot gunned the turbines and the Frog screamed up and out of the zone to safety.
Because of their bravery, the pilots and crew of the chopper on that mission all got medals. I didn’t get a medal, but that was all right because I got the pictures! I’ve always been appreciative of the pilots and crew chief for letting me fly that mission with them. The photos and negs eventually found their way to HQMC’s Historical Division, where they where chosen by a publisher for use in a 1980’s Vietnam War coffee table book.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I was very fortunate in that I had great duty and worked for and with wonderful people in several places. The highlight was being a writer/photographer at Marble Mountain Air Facility just outside Danang in South Vietnam. Following that I enjoyed my time at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. My final posting was to 12th MCD in San Francisco, there’s no way SF couldn’t be great.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
Going undercover to investigate the training and operations of the Military Police/Shore Patrol unit at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. A month before my arrival a Marine had died in a riot at the base brig. The unit was accused of institutional racism and brutality. Because I was unknown when I arrived on base from Vietnam, the Public Affairs Officer and Commanding General asked me to accept a short assignment to the MPs and then report on what I saw and experienced. I lived, ate and drank with men of the unit. I did road patrols, stood entry gate watch, walked a beat in Iwakuni city and stood Sergeant of the Guard on a Saturday night at the brig.
My story was totally complimentary of the professionalism I saw the MPs/SPs operate under doing a hard, under-appreciated and thankless job. I saw no overt racism or brutality. Instead I saw and personally experienced the horrid effect alcohol has on people. As an MP I was kicked, spit on, pushed, punched and threatened with being killed.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
I’m most proud of the Air Medal and Combat Air Crew wings I earned recording, both in print and in photos, the exploits of the brave men flying helicopter missions in support of allied ground forces in Vietnam.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
There’s actually two and both are from boot camp. The first is Daniel Minor, my best buddy in the platoon whose maturity and understanding helped me deal with the brutal and confusing early stresses of the training cycle.
The second is the Platoon Commander, GySgt Roy Gallihugh, who kept me in the platoon when I warranted being dropped for being weak and overweight. The Gunny had to promise higher-ups I’d steadily improve by being on a stringent diet and by doing extra daily workouts after lights out. I proved his trust by losing 50 lbs in less than 10 weeks and graduating on schedule with the platoon, but there was a ‘bump’ along the way as I cheated on my diet. At lunch one day I ate an ice cream treat. Nothing was done right away, but in formation I was told to report to the Duty Hut that night after lights out. GySgt Gallihugh was there and he was none too pleased with what I’d done. He verbally lit into me as a liar, cheat and Em-Effer among other choice epithets, who’d stabbed him the back! Urged on by other DI’s in the hut, he then expressed his disappointment more ‘forcefully.’
Needless to say, I didn’t cheat on my diet again and nothing was ever said of the incident.
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?
The day before I got out of the Marines in mid-July 1971, Top Arnold, the Press Chief in the office had me sign a reimbursement form for mileage for use of my personal car on official business. No big deal. A few minutes later he and the other staffers in our Public Affairs Office ominously surrounded my desk. Top then handed me a fully completed USMC Reenlistment Contract for six years and at the bottom was my signature! They all clapped and congratulated me on my decision to become a Lifer. Then I noticed that my signature wasn’t a legally binding true original, it was a carbon facsimile. Top had slipped the contract’s last page beneath the mileage reimbursement form I’d signed earlier.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
As I’d enjoyed being a military journalist during my three years in the Marine Corps, I got a Journalism degree in college. When I graduated in 1975, however, there was another bad economic recession in the country and there were very few newspaper or other media jobs available.
To pay the bills I got a temp job with the federal government in San Francisco that eventually led to being a loan closer with the Small Business Administration. I enjoyed that work which entailed a lot of people contact, detailed research and paperwork. Over the next few years I applied for several media jobs, but was never hired.
I ended up spending 33 years in the residential mortgage business, where my journalism training and skills came in handy. For various companies I wrote and edited lending manuals and put together training programs.
Now I am retired. I was fortunate to be able to retire in early 2008 when my last residential mortgage employer closed down. I am currently doing much travel. The attached photo was taken June 2011 during a return trip to Vietnam (the location is on the south side of the Peace Bridge over the Song Ben Hai in the former DMZ).
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
* U.S. Marine Corps Combat Helicopter Association (has large reunions every 2 years of Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan chopper veterans and active duty Marines.
* MCRD San Diego Museum Historical Society.
* Vietnam Veterans of America.
* Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund-dues help to maintain The Wall and build a visitors’ center.
* Marine Corps Heritage Foundation-dues help maintain the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
I cannot imagine being the man I am today and have been for some 44 years if not for having enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. As a teen I was a stuttering, shy and overweight “momma’s boy”. When I came home after boot camp, no one recognized who I was. My Mom said, “What have the Marines done to my little boy?”
Military service taught me self-reliance, discipline, organization and the courage to face obstacles unafraid, as well as to not be intimidated by anyone or anything. It further taught me to more truly appreciate the courage and sacrifice of everyone who has ever served our country and to value the kinship and friendships of others who have served.
The values and mental toughness I learned in the service have served me well in my personal life, professional career and when I officiated high school and small college sports.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE MARINE CORPS?
Do the best you can do at whatever task you are assigned. Regardless of how the big picture military events turn out when they recede into history, i.e. Korea, Vietnam and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, be able to look back with pride in the knowledge that you and your comrades did what your country asked you to do. Let others debate whether policies and results are right or wrong. Always know that you did your country’s bidding and served it honorably.
Also that time goes by so fast! Memories quickly fade except for truly exceptional events. So although it may seem dumb and senseless at the time, make notes and take pictures/videos of the people and places you are stationed at and the events whether training or in combat you experience. They become a record as you proceed through life.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
Together We Served is a great place to not only find those you have served with, but also to honor those who have paid the ultimate price.
My duties as a communications (cryptologic) technician would include flying missions, as one of 30 crewmembers, with VQ-1 that was headquartered in Atsugi, Japan. VQ-1 was a naval air reconnaissance squadron that flew in support of Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign against North Vietnam from March 2, 1965 to October 31, 1968. Rolling Thunder was the longest bombing campaign ever implemented by the U.S. Air Force and Navy during the Vietnam War. The aircraft used by VQ-1 during Operation Rolling Thunder was the EC-121M, a converted Lockheed Super Constellation passenger plane that was commonly used in the 1940’s and 50’s. We referred to this aircraft as the ‘Connie’. It consisted of a crew of 18 to 30 personnel depending on the electronic tasks involved in our missions. During the time that I served with Det Bravo, I flew 38 missions with VQ-1.
Our flights were usually eight or more hours in length flying over the Gulf of Tonkin near and around the North Vietnamese port city of Haiphong. Our crews consisted of specialists in Morse code intercept along with Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese linguists who monitored voice intercept from the surface to air missile (SAM) sites in North Vietnam. Our plane also had the capability of establishing the coordinates of our downed pilots who were shot down during their bombing missions and relaying this information to the U.S. 7th Fleet in the South China Sea below. This information was vital to determine if a rescue attempt could be made.
During the six months that I served at Da Nang, there were three rocket attacks made against the airbase by enemy forces. The most severe rocket attack at Da Nang during the Vietnam War had occurred on July 15, 1967 when the enemy forces fired 83 rounds of 122mm and 140mm Russian manufactured rockets on to the airbase. There were 175 casualties during that attack and 44 of them were personnel of Det Bravo and VQ-1. Our barracks happened to be located about 50 yards from a bomb storage area that was ignited by one the rockets that had exploded there. The bunkers that we had constructed did not have roofs on them at the time, so the shrapnel from the exploding bombs rained down into our bunkers. Fortunately, no one was killed but our barracks was totally destroyed. After the attack, the personnel of Det Bravo were transferred to another area located near Da Nang Harbor called Camp Tien Sha. It was near the R & R area at China Beach. China Beach was a favorite place for many G.I.s, especially when the pretty American nurses were there. We referred to them as round eyes.
I was only at Da Nang for six months of my life but it was six months that I will never forget. Compared to the Vietnam combat veterans, I had easy duty while I was in Vietnam but I served with honor and felt that both Det Bravo and VQ-1 had performed their assignments with exemplary dedication in support of the U. S. war effort.
In conclusion, I would like to pay a special tribute to all of the Vietnam veterans and also to the VQ-1 crew that was shot down by North Korea over the Sea of Japan on April 15, 1969. I had flown with some of that same crew while I was at Da Nang, including the plane commander, Lt. Cdr. James Overstreet.
To view video of rocket attacks on Da Nang airfield https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDdIdT9pd3s
Unique to all that served in Vietnam is the UH-1H helicopter. It was both devil and angel and it served as both extremely well. Whether a LRRP, U.S. or RVN soldier or civilian, whether, NVA, VC, Allied or Civilian, it provided a sound and sense that lives with us all today. It is the one sound that immediately clears the clouds of time and freshens the images of our mind. It will be the sound track of our last moments on earth. It was a simple machine – a single engine, a single blade and four man crew – yet like the Model T, it transformed us all and performed tasks the engineers never imagined. For soldiers, it was the worst and best of friends but it was the one binding material in a tapestry of a war of many pieces.
The smell was always hot, filled with diesel fumes, sharp drafts accentuated by gritty sand, laterite and anxious vibrations. It always held the spell of the unknown and the anxiety of learning what was next and what might be. It was an unavoidable magnet for the heavily laden soldier who donkey-trotted to its squat shaking shape through the haze and blast of dirt, stepped on the OD skid, turned and dropped his ruck on the cool aluminum deck. Reaching inside with his rifle or machine gun, a soldier would grasp a floor ring with a finger as an extra precaution of physics for those moments when the now airborne bird would break into a sharp turn revealing all ground or all sky to the helpless riders all very mindful of the impeding weight on their backs. The relentless weight of the ruck combined with the stress of varying motion caused fingers and floor rings to bind almost as one. Constant was the vibration, smell of hydraulic fluid, flashes of visionary images and the occasional burst of a ground-fed odor – rotting fish, dank swampy heat, cordite or simply the continuous sinuous currents of Vietnam’s weather – cold and driven mist in the Northern monsoon or the wall of heated humidity in the southern dry season. Blotting it out and shading the effect was the constant sound of the single rotating blade as it ate a piece of the air, struggling to overcome the momentary physics of the weather.
To divert anxiety, a soldier/piece of freight, might reflect on his home away from home. The door gunners were usually calm which was emotionally helpful. Each gun had a C-ration fruit can at the ammo box clip entrance to the feed mechanism of the machine gun. The gun had a large circular aiming sight unlike the ground-pounder version. That had the advantage of being able to fix on targets from the air considerably further than normal ground acquisition. Pears, Apricots, Apple Sauce or Fruit Cocktail, it all worked. Fruit cans had just the right width to smoothly feed the belt into the gun which was always a good thing. Some gunners carried a large oil can much like old locomotive engineers to squeeze on the barrel to keep it cool. Usually this was accompanied by a large OD towel or a khaki wound-pack bandage to allow a rubdown without a burned hand. Under the gunner’s seat was usually a small dairy-box filled with extra ammo boxes, smoke grenades, water, flare pistol, C-rats and a couple of well-worn paperbacks. The gun itself might be attached to the roof of the helicopter with a bungee cord and harness. This allowed the adventurous gunners to unattach the gun from the pintle and fire it manually while standing on the skid with only the thinnest of connectivity to the bird. These were people you wanted near you – particularly on extractions.
The pilots were more mysterious. You only saw parts of them as they labored behind the armored seats. An arm, a helmeted head and the occasional fingered hand as it moved across the dials and switches on the ceiling above. The armored side panels covered their outside legs – an advantage the passenger did not enjoy. Sometimes, a face, shielded behind helmeted sunshades, would turn around to impart a question with a glance or display a sense of anxiety with large white-circled eyes – this was not a welcoming look as the sounds of external issues fought to override the sounds of mechanics in flight. Yet, as a whole, the pilots got you there, took you back and kept you maintained. You never remembered names, if at all you knew them, but you always remembered the ride and the sound.
Behind each pilot seat usually ran a stretch of wire or silk attaching belt. It would have arrayed a variety of handy items for immediate use. Smoke grenades were the bulk of the attachment inventory – most colors and a couple of white phosphorous if a dramatic marking was needed. Sometimes, trip flares or hand grenades would be included depending on the location and mission. Hand grenades were a rare exception as even pilots knew they exploded – not always where intended. It was just a short arm motion for a door gunner to pluck an inventory item off the string, pull the pin and pitch it which was the point of the arrangement. You didn’t want to be in a helicopter when such an act occurred as that usually meant there was an issue. Soldiers don’t like issues that involve them. It usually means a long day or a very short one – neither of which is a good thing.
The bird lifts off in a slow, struggling and shaking manner. Dust clouds obscure any view a soldier may have. Quickly, with a few subtle swings, the bird is above the dust and a cool encompassing wind blows through. Sweat is quickly dried, eyes clear and a thousand feet of altitude show the world below. Colors are muted but objects clear. The rows of wooden hooches, the airfield, local villages, an old B52 strike, the mottled trail left by a Ranch hand spray mission and the open reflective water of a river or lake are crisp in sight. The initial anxiety of the flight or mission recede as the constantly moving and soothing motion picture and soundtrack unfolds. In time, one is aware of the mass of UH1Hs coalescing in a line in front of and behind you. Other strings of birds may be left or right of you – all surging toward some small speck in the front, lost to your view. Each is a mirror image of the other – two to three laden soldiers sitting on the edge looking at you and your accompanying passengers all going to the same place with the same sense of anxiety and uncertainty but borne on a similar steed and sound.
In time, one senses the birds coalescing as they approach the objective. Perhaps a furtive glance or sweeping arc of flight reveals the landing zone. Smoke erupts in columns – initially visible as blue grey against the sky. The location is clearly discernible as a trembling spot surrounded by a vast green carpet of flat jungle or a sharp point of a jutting ridge, as the bird gets closer, a soldier can now see the small FAC aircraft working well-below, the sudden sweeping curve of the bombing runs and the small puffs as artillery impacts. A sense of immense loneliness can begin to obscure one’s mind as the world’s greatest theatre raises its curtain. Even closer now, with anxious eyes and short breath, a soldier can make out his destination. The smoke is now the dirty grey black of munitions with only the slightest hint of orange upon ignition. No Hollywood effect is at work. Here, the physics of explosions are clearly evident as pressure and mass over light.
The pilot turns around to give a thumbs up or simply ignores his load as he struggles to maintain position with multiple birds dropping power through smoke swirls, uplifting newly created debris, sparks and flaming ash. The soldiers instinctively grasp their weapons tighter, look furtively between the upcoming ground and the pilot and mentally strain to find some anchor point for the next few seconds of life. If this is the first lift in, the door gunners will be firing rapidly in sweeping motions of the gun but this will be largely unknown and unfelt to the soldiers. They will now be focused on the quickly approaching ground and the point where they might safely exit. Getting out is now very important. Suddenly, the gunners may rapidly point to the ground and shout “GO” or there may just be the jolt of the skids hitting the ground and the soldiers instinctively lurch out of the bird, slam into the ground and focus on the very small part of the world they now can see. The empty birds, under full power, squeeze massive amounts of air and debris down on the exited soldiers, blinding them to the smallest view. Very quickly, there is a sudden shroud of silence as the birds retreat into the distance and the soldiers begin their recovery into a cohesive organization, losing that sound.
On various occasions and weather dependent, the birds return. Some to provide necessary logistics, some command visits and some medevacs. On the rarest and best of occasions, they arrive to take you home. Always they have the same sweet sound which resonates with every soldier who ever heard it. It is the sound of life, hope for life and what may be. It is a sound that never will be forgotten. It is your and our sound.
Logistics is always a trial. Pilots don’t like it, field soldiers need it and weather is indiscriminate. Log flights also mean mail and a connection to home and where real people live and live real lives. Here is an aberrant aspect of life that only that sound can relieve. Often there is no landing zone or the area is so hot that a pilot’s sense of purpose may become blurred. Ground commanders beg and plead on the radio for support that is met with equivocations or insoluble issues. Rations are stretched from four to six days, cigarettes become serious barter items and soldiers begin to turn inward. In some cases, perhaps only minutes after landing, fire fights break out. The machine guns begin their carnivorous song. Rifle ammunition and grenades are expended with gargantuan appetites. The air is filled with an all-encompassing sound that shuts each soldier into his own small world — shooting, loading, shooting, loading, shooting, loading until he has to quickly reach into the depth of his ruck, past the extra rations, past the extra rain poncho, past the spare paperback, to the eight M16 magazines forming the bottom of the load – never thought he would need them. A resupply is desperately needed. In some time, a sound is heard over the din of battle. A steady whomp whomp whomp that says: The World is here. Help is on the way. Hang in there. The soldier turns back to the business at hand with a renewed confidence. Wind parts the canopy and things begin to crash through the tree tops. Some cases have smoke grenades attached – these are the really important stuff – medical supplies, codes and maybe mail. The sound drifts off in the distance and things are better for the moment. The sound brings both a psychological and a material relief.
Wounds are hard to manage. The body is all soft flesh, integrated parts and an emotional burden for those that have to watch its deterioration. If the body is an engine, blood is the gasoline – when it runs out, so does life. It’s important the parts get quickly fixed and the blood is restored to a useful level. If not, the soldier becomes another piece of battlefield detritus. A field medic has the ability to stop external blood flow – less internal. He can replace blood with fluid but it’s not blood. He can treat for shock but he can’t always stop it. He is at the mercy of his ability and the nature of the wound. Bright red is surface bleeding he can manage but dark red, almost tar-colored, is deep, visceral and beyond his ability to manage. Dark is the essence of the casualty’s interior. He needs the help that only that sound can bring. If an LZ exists, it’s wonderful and easy. If not, difficult options remain. The bird weaves back and forth above the canopy as the pilot struggles to find the location of the casualty. He begins a steady hover as he lowers the litter on a cable. The gunner or helo medic looks down at the small figures below and tries to wiggle the litter and cable through the tall canopy to the small up-reaching figures below. In time, the litter is filled and the cable retreats – the helo crew still carefully managing the cable as it wends skyward. The cable hits its anchor, the litter is pulled in, and the pilot pulls pitch and quickly disappears – but the retreating sound is heard by all and the silent universal thought – There but for the Grace of God go I – and it will be to that sound.
Cutting a landing zone is a standard soldier task. Often, to hear the helicopter’s song, the impossible becomes a requirement and miracles abound. Sweat-filled eyes, blood blistered hands, energy-expended and with a breath of desperation and desire, soldiers attack a small space to carve out sufficient open air for the helicopter to land. Land to bring in what’s needed, take out what’s not, and to remind them that someone out there cares. Perhaps some explosives are used – usually for the bigger trees but most often it is soldiers and machetes or the side of an e-tool. Done under the pressure of an encroaching enemy, it’s a combination of high adrenalin rush and simple dumb luck – small bullet, big space. In time, an opening is made and the sky revealed. A sound encroaches before a vision. Eyes turn toward the newly created void and the bird appears. The blade tips seem so much larger than the newly-columned sky. Volumes of dirt, grass, leaves and twigs sweep upward and are then driven fiercely downward through the blades as the pilot struggles to do a completely vertical descent through the narrow column he has been provided. Below, the soldiers both cower and revel in the free-flowing air. The trash is blinding but the moving air feels so great. Somehow, the pilot lands in a space that seems smaller than his blade radius. In reverse, the sound builds and then recedes into the distance – always that sound. Bringing and taking away.
Extraction is an emotional highlight of any soldier’s journey. Regardless of the austerity and issues of the home base, for that moment, it is a highly desired location and the focus of thought. It will be provided by that familiar vehicle of sound. The Pickup Zone in the bush is relatively open, or if on an established firebase or hilltop position, a marked fixed location. The soldiers awaiting extraction close to the location undertake their assigned duties – security, formation alignment, or LZ marking. Each is focused on the task at hand and tends to blot out other issues. As each soldier senses his moment of removal is about to arrive, his auditory sense becomes keen and his visceral instinct searches for that single sweet song that only one instrument can play. When registered, his eyes look up and he sees what his mind has imaged. He focuses on the sound and the sight and both become larger as they fill his body. He quickly steps unto the skid and up into the aluminum cocoon. Turning outward now, he grasps his weapon with one hand and with the other holds the cargo ring on the floor – as he did when he first arrived at this location. Reversing the flow of travel, he approaches what he temporarily calls home. Landing again in a swirl of dust, diesel and grinding sand, he offloads and trudges toward his assembly point. The sounds retreat in his ears but he knows he will hear them again. He always will.
Keith Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded two airborne battalions and both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade. He was a member of the Iran rescue attempt in 1981 (Operation Eagle Claw, better known to many as “Desert One”) and was the assault force commander in both Grenada and Panama.