Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Vietnam Stories’

19
Oct

SP 4 Tom Hirst U.S. Army (1969-1971)

Read the service reflections of U.S. Army Soldier:

profile3SP 4 Tom Hirst

U.S. Army

(1969-1971)

Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/bio/Tom.Hirst

(Veterans, if you would like to share your story and leave a lasting legacy of your time in the service, join us at  http://togetherweserved.com

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?

After graduating from high school in 1967, I did what my parents wanted me to do: Stay in school. So I went on to college for one year and maintained my II-S student deferment. I left college and took a job at the local Dodge dealership in Washington D.C.  My life was work and fast cars, a girlfriend and spending most every weekend at the local drag strips. Life was good! The realities of the “my world” were measured in a quarter mile at a time. Not that I wasn’t aware of the escalation of the Vietnam War. I watched footage of it on the evening news but I didn’t really pay too much attention. It never occurred to me that I might be in those news reels myself someday. I guess I was a little naive about what was happening in the “real world” and what losing my student deferment would really mean.

I got my first reality check in December 1968, when I received word that one of my high school friends had been killed in Vietnam. Nolan Byrd had been “In-Country” for a short time when he was killed in a fire fight. Nolan became a “Medic, which was unusually for a couple of reasons. At my high school, everyone was trained to be a Medic. We even had a pseudo military organization called the Medical Cadet Corps. Also, because of our religious beliefs and family upbringing, we considered ourselves “Consciences Objectors” (COs). All us guys knew we might eventually be called upon to fulfill our military obligation but because we were assigned a draft rating of IA-O, we knew it would be in a noncombatant position.

Returning home from work during the first week of August 1969, I found a letter in my mailbox from the Selective Service System. Printed at the top of the letter were the words ‘ORDER TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION.’ The body of the letter began with the word “Greetings…” As it turned out, this was the last draft call before the lottery system took effect. My induction was postponed until October 1, 1969 because of my job, but they got me after all. If I had been fortunate enough to skate by for two more months, I would not have been drafted. My lottery number was 322.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.

I don’t know think “career path” applies to me as I was a two-year draftee and a conscientious objector with limited possibilities. As it turns out and what I had already figured, the only MOS for me was Medic 91A10 . I was sent to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas to attend a 10-week Combat Medic Course.

One night in early December 1969, a sergeant with a clip board greeted us outside the mess hall one evening and said, “Listen Up! If your last name falls between the letter “A” through “M”, you are going to Vietnam!” My “career path” just got a little clearer. Of the 150-200 medics in training at Ft. Sam. half of us went to ‘Nam and the others went to Germany.

As the plane descended into Bien Hoa AFB in the early morning hours of March 5, 1970, I wondered where I was going to end up. As we taxied to the terminal, the stewardess’ attitude changed from “Fly the friendly skies” to “In the case of a rocket attack……” When we boarded a bus taking me to my next adventure, I was starting to realize that things could get a little hairy. I asked the soldier next to me, who was on his second tour, if it was this hot all the time and what the metal screen was for over the bus windows was for? He looked at me and said, “Well, FNG, this here heat is cool ’cause it still early. The ass kicking heat begins a little before noon and lasts until nightfall. Now that mesh there, it’s to keep grenades from being thrown into the bus!” I rode silently for the rest of the bus ride.

I was dropped off at the First Team Academy which I found out was the “Orientation Center” for the First Cavalry Division. Up until this time, I didn’t actually know where I had been assigned or where I was going. After a few days there, I watched as some of my fellow Medics were sent to their respective duty stations. I figured that they must be saving a really good assignment for me.

A couple of days later I got my assignment and took my first helicopter ride to a place called “Song Be” where I was to report to the 12th Cavalry Regiment’s Battalion Aid Station. It was hot when we took off but as we climbed higher, cool air blew through the open side doors. It was a refreshing surprise. Below the countryside was becoming more rural, some farms but mostly rice paddies and green jungle as far as the eye could see. But mostly my attention was on the two gunners on each side of the helicopter. Both looked to be seasoned warriors ready to immediately swing their M60 machine guns into action. That’s when the realization hit me: I was heading into a real war where people are trying to kill each other.

Arriving at the Aid Station, I spent a few days handing out pills at Sick Call. This wouldn’t be too bad. It was more like a dispensary with no badly wounded to take care or bed pans to empty. A week went by and finally I was told that I was going to replace one of the field medics in the 3rd Platoon of Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment. More reality set in when they offered me a .45 caliber pistol and said, “You might need this!” and that I would probably spend the next 6 months with an infantry company in “the bush.” I thought about the impending journey and opted for an M-16, rationalizing it would be a much better “patient protector” than a .45 caliber pistol.

Landing Zone (LZ) Snuffy was at the end of my next chopper ride. Wasn’t much there other than mud, sandbags, bunkers and 105mm artillery pieces. I was told that “log day” (resupply) was the next day and it was time for me to get ready to meet Charlie Company’s third platoon already in the field. There seemed to be a lot of excitement that day since the company had been in “contact” that morning and there was one KIA and one WIA. When the chopper landed, I jumped off as a “body bag” was loaded on. One hell of a way to spend Easter Sunday!

For the next 7.5 months, my career path would be humping the jungles and hard packed, slick trails with 75 pounds on my back.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

When I flew out to join Charlie Company for the first time, I’d been told we may be landing in a “hot LZ,” meaning there had been a firefight in the area earlier. The LZ itself was small, just big enough for one helicopter and surrounded with thick jungle on all sides. When it set down, I jumped off and Ken Garski, the soldier that had been killed, was placed inside and the helicopter took off.

That evening as we set up our NDP (night defensive position), I found out what an “ARC Light” felt like when 500 pound bombs dropped by B52s thousands of feet overhead exploded a few clicks (kilometers) from our position, shaking the earth like a 6-point earthquake.

For the next few weeks Charlie Company conducted “search and destroy” missions along the Cambodia border. I spent most of my time treating minor injuries and jungle rot as well as dispenses anti-malaria pills. In fact, malaria was so bad, the company had to report to battalion every morning that all men had been seen taking their pills. I also had my first Medevac when Greg Egan got a bad reaction to a bee sting.

After I had been with 3rd platoon for about a month, we were called back to Fire Support Base (FSB) Buttons near the village of Song Be for a “secret mission.” We were issued a lot of replacements and new equipment, some we normally didn’t carry such as handheld M-72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapons) and 90mm Recoilless Rifles. On the minds of all of us was, where are we going? We found out that night.

The next day, May 5, 1970, we made a combat assault into Cambodia where we spent the better part of the next two months before returning to Vietnam June 29, 1970. It didn’t take too long to find the enemy. We had many encounters with Vietcong and North Vietnamese Regulars during this operation. [See VIETNAM MAGAZINE, AUG 2010 issue]

One night, as we sat in our NDP, we saw flashlights and the sound of a small group speaking Vietnamese coming toward us. What they didn’t know is we had put out a number of automatic ambushes (AA) along the trails leading into our NDP. Automatic ambushes were claymores daisy chained together by electricity that would go off when a trip wire was engaged. Anyone caught in the killing zone would be a goner. We heard one explosion go off. A few minutes later, another went off. We heard moaning for a few hours and then a single gunshot. In the morning we found 9 NVA bodies, one who had killed himself with his rifle by his pulling the trigger with his toe. We also found one wounded who had survived the blast. He was put on a helicopter but we heard later he too had died.

We found many bunker complexes of significant size during our patrols. As odd as it may seem, while the NVA higher command knew we had invaded their sanctuary , many field units didn’t know we were in the area. On one patrol we walked right up on soldiers playing cards after dinner. The platoon sniper started the firefight by doing his job and the rest of us chimed in to help. We called air support and the Cobras showed up and did their work for the rest of the day. The next day we returned to recon the area. It was a huge complex and we were only platoon size. There was a brief firefight before the few enemy withdrew. We were lucky that the rest of the NVA were not at home that day.

For a month and a half, we had suffered a few minor wounds but no deaths while eliminating dozens enemy. But our luck changed on June 14th.

While following a very well-used trail with signs of recent movement, we ran into the proverbial “hornet’s nest.” First Platoon was on point and my 3rd Platoon was on drag. Second platoon was in the middle. Moving slowly and looking in all directions, the point element spotted NVA in the processes of setting up a hasty ambush. They signaled their sighting and then let loose with their M-16’s on full automatic. The enemy fired back with everything they had and because they were in bunkers and semi-set up, they had the advantage. The first platoon and my platoons moved against the bunkers under heavy fire. Second platoon became the center of our hastily drawn perimeter. Within a few minutes, we suffered our first casualty while in Cambodia. Sgt. Mickey Wright was killed and Tom “TJ” Johnson was badly wounded. Making things worse we were in an area that hampered our radio contact with any support elements. Eventually with the heroics of one of the forward observers, Spec. 4 Tom Thon, who held the radio up over his head while hiding behind a tree, we were able to get air and fire support. We found numerous blood trails and the next day found 10 freshly dug graves.

The next morning we evacuate Mickey’s body and stayed in the same LZ for a resupply. As food and ammunition was coming in, we heard a loud explosion coming from the bunker complex were we had the firefight the day before. We figured it was the automatic ambushes our company commander, Capt. Michael Christy, wanted left in place until after we were resupplied. When we checked it out, we found three dead enemy; one was carrying an RPG with many rounds and other two carrying AK-47s with hundreds of rounds ammunition. They ‘d plan to hurt us bad but never got the chance.

Our tour in Cambodia turned out to be pretty devastating for the enemy. We found many caches with tons of rice, 55 gallon drums of gasoline that were destroyed and a large motor pool with 25 trucks. Drawing from my old “drag racing” days and tinkering with cars in general, I was able to “hot wire” many of the trucks and jeeps that we found. Using the captured trucks, we loaded up all of the usable supplies that we found in that “motor pool cache.” Tires, tools, bicycles, spare parts and even a diesel powered arc welder were “convoyed” back to LZ Evans with the 1/9th Pink Teams flying “cover” for us and telling us which way to go. At LZ Evans the equipment was airlifted back to the rear area in Bien Hoa. Chinooks with deuce and half’s underneath them made for a pretty strange picture! The unserviceable trucks we destroyed. We keep two trucks to carry our heavy packs marking Charlie Company a kind of a quasi-mechanized unit. It only lasted a couple of day until we got back into thicker jungle but those two days were like heaven.

On June 28th we were told that we had to be back in Vietnam by noon on the 29th, the next day. Although Nixon’s “incursion” was to end June 30, he had ordered us out one day earlier. We had a pretty good distance to travel but in the open fields of Cambodia, the “humping” was easy. Midway between the river we were to cross into Vietnam, a dozen print and television journalists were flown in to accompany us the rest of the way out of Cambodia. It seemed we were the last rifle company to leave Cambodia. With movie cameras and note pads in hand, they interviewed people from their own hometown areas and we got our 15 minutes of fame.

We made it out by the deadline only to be caught up in another unfortunate circumstance later that night. In the early morning hours of June 30, 1970, three mortar rounds from our own fire base smashed into our perimeter. The intent was to fire at suspected enemy positions. Only two of the rounds exploded, but those two rounds killed Denny Dentino and Michael Waters and wounded more than 25 others from our company. Forty decades later we are all still trying to come to grips with that tragic incident.

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

According to my DD Form 214, I spent 13 months and 5 days in ‘Nam which was my only duty station other than basic training and AIT. After my 7 months “in the bush” with Charlie Company’s 3rd platoon, I got a really “cushy job” as the Colonel’s driver at the Division Surgeon’s Office, 15th Medical Battalion at Phouc Vinh.

I was truly a R.E.M.F.! Every day I “broke starch” and wore jungle boots shined by mama-san and every night, I went to sleep in a bed. I also had a 24 hour dispatch on the Colonel’s jeep! After I drove the Colonel to the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) around 6:45 am each day, I was off for the rest of the day unless somebody needed a jeep to go do an inspection or to the PX or just take a ride around Phouc Vinh on a “photo op”. [See my profile photo section for scenes around Phouc Vinh and Song be and many “BUSH” pictures]

One day the Colonel said he wanted to go to Vung Tau and do some in country R&R. He added that he would like to have the jeep down there as well. The Colonel took one of our choppers and flew down while I grabbed one of the other guys from 15th Med and a couple of M-16s along with the .45 caliber “grease gun” that I brought back from Cambodia and drove down to Vung Tau from Phouc Vinh. This was a distance of 150 miles or so. Everybody thought I was NUTS! A single jeep with two people all the way down through Bien Hoa/ Long Binh to Vung Tau and back. No big deal. Maybe that R.E.M.F. mentality of invincibility had actually taken effect.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

Sadly, the things that made the biggest impression on me were the men killed in my company. The things that I saw being a combat medic were pretty horrific. I suppose it can be rationalized that combat deaths are inevitable in war, but the stupid mistakes that kill and wound people, like “friendly fire” is an OXYMORON!

The company was supposed to be airlifted by Chinook for an in-country R&R in Bien Hoa once we arrived at FSB Thor. Unfortunately for us, there were not enough helicopters available that afternoon. This forced us into an NDP outside FSB Thor until the next day. During that night of 29/30 June, our mortar platoon, “E” Company 1/12th, fired mortar rounds at a “suspected enemy” trying to get back across the border into Cambodia. Three rounds fell short of the objective and landed directly on top of Charlie Company’s NDP, killing two and wounding twenty five. This horrible incident is the one memory that stands out the most and it is the one that can never be erased from my memory.

A better memory stems from the recent visit to the Vietnam Memorial where Danny Long, Al Wall, Keith Forry and Mickey Wright’s little sister Anita Rosenberg and her husband joined us in honoring our fallen brothers. “Operation Wall to Wall” was originally spawned one day when I realized that I still had four T-Shirts that were not “claimed” after the reunion in Myrtle Beach. I figured these are the T-Shirts I that would have been worn by Mickey Wright, Denny Dentino, Michael Waters and David Osborne.

Unfortunately these were the four brothers in arms that were killed while I was with Charlie Company. Using the T-Shirts as the back drop in a shadow box worked out well.

Danny Long made DVD’s of photographs that plays a slide show with music. Name plates were donated by the local trophy company and Vietnam magazine donated copies of the August 2010 issue that we put in the back of the shadow box. Each soldier’s medal board from The Wall was also printed out and placed in the shadowbox. It was my first trip to The Wall and it felt pretty good. I tried to visit the Moving Wall back in the 80’s when it came to town, but I couldn’t finish the visit. I got as far as the directory for panel numbers but could not make it down to The Wall itself.

Two more donated T-Shirts made up shadow boxes for Larry Downs and Ken Garski. All total, we left six shadow boxes to honor Charlie Company Brothers. I also left tributes to two high school and college friends who died in Vietnam. Both were medics: Nolan Byrd and Jay T. Diller.

IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

The other two Medics, “Doc” [Steve] Willey and “Doc” [Larry] Stansberry and me were all awarded the Army Commendation Medal for our actions on June 30, 1970. We had dead and wounded troopers all over the place. It was a pretty hectic/chaotic morning. I guess this medal is the most important to me. I realize that it is below the Bronze Star that I received, but I think it is the most important one in my collection. My Combat Medics Badge ranks right up there as well.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

Of the awards I received, my Combat Medics Badge is one of my more prized possessions. It is the single greatest recognition for all combat medics. It tell the world that I served as a combat medic while serving the infantryman “out in the bush.”

The other medal that I was presented was the Army Commendation Medal with Valor device for the not so “friendly fire incident” on 30 June 1970. Our head medic, “Doc Johnson” was severely wounded by the mortar rounds that hit us. This left us one medic short to treat all of the wounded and we did the best we could. Captain Christy nominated the three remaining medics, “Doc Willey”, “Doc Stansberry, and me, to honor our efforts that early morning. I think if you ask the other two “Doc’s”, they would have the same response.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

To say any “ONE” individual had the biggest influence on me would be negating my respect for all of the people that helped me during these days. My first day, 3rd platoon RTO (Radio Operator) Gene Tetzlaff took me under his wing and helped the “FNG” get squared away.

As I became more aware of my surroundings, I realized just how lucky I had been being assigned to a very competent bunch of INDIAN FIGHTERS! Capt. Michael Christy led Charlie Company; 1st Lt. Rick Friedrich was my platoon leader in 3rd platoon (photo is Lt. Rick on left and me)and other enlisted NCO’s like “Pappy” and “Oz” kept us all inline.

The simple fact that I AM HERE to report on the days that I spent with Charlie Company is what makes the biggest impact on me!

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?

We lived in miserably hot, humid weather most of the time and because we were out humping the jungle 30-days at a time, we went weeks without bathing. That’s why I spent a lot of time dealing with hygiene problems. And the two most common problems were ringworm and crotch rot, both made worse by a lack of clean clothes.

The subject of ringworm came up at our 40th reunion in Myrtle Beach 2010. Jim Wilson, one of the guys in my platoon came up to me and said, “Doc, I think about you every time my ass itches!” That made me laugh and reminded me of the antifungal medication treatment I used on ringworm that the guys called “liquid fire.” It never seemed to fail that Jim or somebody else would show up for “treatment” just when I was ready to eat my dinner. Thinking about it now, I did take some perverse pleasure in watching them run around the NDP wanting to shout out just how much this stuff burned, but they COULDN’T MAKE ANY NOISE for fear it might be heard by the enemy.

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?

After Nam, I went back to the Chrysler/Plymouth Dealership in Washington D.C. before I got drafted. Things in the “postwar era” were pretty dull considering where I had spent the previous year or so. I worked for a year and then decided to quit working and take advantage of the GI Bill. Seven to eight years later, having exhausted the government dole, I opened my own auto repair business. During this time period, I discovered the marine industry.

Using my mechanical abilities to repair boats seemed like more fun than working on greasy old cars. Besides, people that owned boats were more “appreciative” than people that only owned cars. During this time period, I worked for Zodiac of North America in a support role for the Government Sales Division. In 1980, we developed the “prototype” of the F470 Assault boat which the SEALS and Rangers still use today. You probably have seen the ARMY STRONG commercial where they drive the inflatable boat up into the back of the hovering Chinook and take off….this is the boat that I got to develop and play with. I spent time with the Army Rangers at Eglin AFB, Florida and the Navy Seals at Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia and the Forward Air Control at Pope AFB in the middle of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. All these guys are pretty crazy!

After my move to Florida in 1984, I went back to the “civilian” boating business where I still work in today. I have worked with all of the marine manufacturers from Johnson/Evinrude to Volvo. Currently, I am still working in the marine industry with the Cummins/Mercury/Suzuki companies. I run the parts department here at the Cummins Dealership in St. Petersburg, Florida.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

I joined the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) because I think that this is the best forum for people of our time period. I enjoy their newsletters every month and like reading how other people were affected by their tour of duty.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

I am convinced the biggest impact the military had on my life was that it “cut the apron strings” and made me survive on my own. It also opened my eyes to all the possibilities that exists for those who spend a couple of years within a disciplined structure where following the rules creates good order. It also makes a person grow in self-esteem, giving them the confidence to take risks in order to achieve great results. Frankly, I think a couple of years of mandatory military/civil service would work wonders for today’s youth. It may also reveal a talent they didn’t know they had.

If nothing else, a couple of years in the military makes a person grow tenfold over most entry-level civilian jobs.

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE ARMY?

For the active duty folks, I advise them to learn their jobs and the job of the person above them. I also recommend that you consider your time in the military as a valuable learning experience on how to get along with others who have nothing or very little in common with yourself. It’s a skill you can use in your community and in your chosen work field. It will also keep you out of trouble.

I also have some advice for those who got out of military service recently or for old guys like me: Take advantage of the GI Bill, especially the college benefits. I did and I am forever grateful. However, there was one huge benefit I ignored for years: The many program offered by the VA. I just didn’t realize or didn’t want to accept how things I experienced in Vietnam affected me emotionally and physically. Not wanting to come to grips with this reality intensified as the years crept up. A few years ago I finally enrolled in the VA and now use it on a regular basis. My advice to you? Don’t wait like I did.

Fortunately for me, I had developed a skill I could return to in the automobile business where I was employed before I was drafted. Hopefully you active duty types and veterans acquired a skill set that can be employed in today’s work place. If not, use the tools at the VA and get some specialized training in a field that interests you. There’s nothing wrong with working with your hands building or repairing something. This ability is fast becoming a “lost art” in America today.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.

Seventeen of my company met at Myrtle Beach for our 40th reunion. I had not seen 16 of them since I left ‘Nam. I even found out one of them from my platoon, Danny Long, live within an hour of my home. I discovered Danny and I had the same email provider which led to our reunion after 38-39 years. (Danny is second row, last person of left. I am just below him in green shirt.)

ATWS also helped us locate many of the other members of Charlie Company that attended the reunion. Danny and I also made a trip to the Vietnam Memorial where we were joined by Al Wall, Keith Forry and the adopted “little sister” of Charlie Company Anita Wright-Rosenberg, sister of Mickey Wright who was KIA in Cambodia.

Hear Tom tell his story in his own words:

19
Sep

Fire Base Mary Ann

Richard Nixon had campaigned in the 1968 presidential election under the slogan that he would end the war in Vietnam and bring ‘peace with honor.’ However, there was no plan in place to do this, and the American commitment continued for another five years. The goal of the American military effort was to gradually build up the strength and confidence of the South Vietnamese armed forces by re-equipping it with modern weapons so that they could defend their nation on their own. This policy became the cornerstone of the so-called ‘Nixon Doctrine.’ As applied to Vietnam, it was labeled ‘Vietnamization.’

With a renewed U.S. offensive bombing campaign forcing a recalcitrant North Vietnam back to the negotiating table, with resulting progress in the Paris peace negotiations, on January 15, 1973, Nixon announced the suspension of all offensive actions against North Vietnam. This would be followed by a unilateral withdrawal of all U.S. troops. Twelve days later, on January 27, the Paris Peace Accords on “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” were signed, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The agreement included the provision that all U.S. combat units would leave Vietnam by March 29, 1973. As an inducement for President Thieu’s government to sign the agreement, Nixon had promised that the U.S. would provide financial and limited military support (in the form of air strikes) so that the South would not be overrun. But Nixon was fighting for his political life in the growing Watergate scandal and facing an increasingly hostile Congress, which was withholding funding for the continuation of the war, and he was unable to back up his promise. Compounding the issue, many United States citizens had turned against the war, citing the length of time it had been going on, the high number of U.S. casualties, and U.S. involvement in such war crimes as the My Lai massacre.

With just a little over a month to go, American combat troops stationed throughout South Vietnam were ecstatic over the prospects of going home as they turned over their installations and war materials to the South Vietnam military. But as they did so, the NVA and Vietcong continued to wage battle, resulting in 68 Americans killed in 1973.  Thirty-three of those KIAs alone occurred in a single one-hour battle at Fire Support Base (FSB) Mary Ann.

However, before the agreement was signed and American troops began standing down, fighting the NVA and Vietcong raged on.  One battle in particular caught the eye of Americans – the siege of FSB Mary Ann on March 28, 1971.

The firebase was strategically located to interdict the movement of enemy troops and materiel down the K-7 Corridor and the Dak Rose Trail (branches of the Ho Chi Minh trail running from Laos to the coast of South Vietnam). Originally intended to be a temporary base, it evolved into a more permanent location garrisoned by at least one company of U.S. ground forces. The base was manned by 231 American soldiers at the time of the attack. Also present on the base was a Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) artillery battery awaiting the turnover of the FSB to ARVN units.

FSB Mary Ann was similar to other U.S. firebases in South Vietnam, although it occupied a bulldozed hilltop which looked like a camel with two humps. Running northwest to southeast, the firebase stretched 500 meters across two hillsides with twenty-two bunkers. The headquarters consisted of the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and Company Command Post (CP), and was located at the south end of the camp. The northwest end of the camp consisted of an artillery position with two 155mm howitzers, the fire direction center, and the artillery command post. Surrounding the firebase was a trench system protected by concertina wire.

For months leading up to the attack, the level of enemy activity in the area had been low and contacts were infrequent. The lack of significant recent engagements, along with preparations to turn the FSB over to ARVN units and their impending return home, had given the U.S. soldiers in the area a false sense of security.

Read more »

9
Sep

SP4 Rocky Bleier US Army (Served 1968-1971)

View the military service of Football Great:

rockySP4 Rocky Bleier

US Army

(Served 1968-1971)

View his service profile on TogetherWeServed.com:
http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/342300

Short Bio: Served in Vietnam. Was drafted in December 1968. He volunteered for duty in the Vietnam War and shipped out in May 1969, serving with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. On August 20, while on patrol in Heip Duc, Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by a rifle bullet when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy. While down, an enemy grenade landed nearby after bouncing off a fellow soldier, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. He was later awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

5
Aug

CSM Laurence E Williams U.S. Army (Ret) (1966-1989)

Read the service story of US Army Veteran:

profile2CSM Laurence E Williams

U.S. Army (Ret)

(1966-1989)

View his service profile on TogetherWeServed.com

http://army.togetherweserved.com/bio/Laurence.Williams
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

My Father, Uncle and 1st Cousin served or were still active in the Army throughout my adolescent and teen years. My Uncle was still active while I served until I made E-6. I originally joined to qualify for the GI Bill, so I could return to college. I wanted to be a JAG lawyer.

WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

My service career path was Combat Arms. My primary MOS was Infantry, but I served in every Combat Arms branch. Infantry in Korea (2 tours). Armor and Infantry in Germany (2 tours), and Air Defense Artillery in Vietnam. I performed duties as a Basic Rifle Marksmanship Instructor and Drill Sergeant at Fort Knox, KY.

Following DS status, I volunteered for Airborne and Ranger training and duty with the 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield, GA as a Platoon Sergeant, Operations Sergeant and Intelligence Sergeant. I served 1 year as the Operations Sergeant of a Brigade sized unit at Hunter AAF after being promoted to E-8 and then back to Korea as 1SG of Joint Security Force Company at the JSA. I also had a Combat Support secondary MOS of Ground Surveillance Radar and performed duties on the Korean DMZ, Czechoslovakia and East German borders on guard posts, observation posts and even combat patrols.

I retired as the Command Sergeant Major of a Mechanized Field Artillery Battalion with the 24th Infantry Division.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

I participated in combat operations during my 1st tour to Korea from February 1967 through March 1968. My battalion had 12 soldiers killed during “CONTACTS” with North Korean soldiers. I was very proud of my unit and bragged that we had sustained less losses then any other Battalion that was stationed north of the Imjin River during that period – but I swore that if I ever returned and had any rank, that would never occur again.

My next tour of duty was on the Czech and East German borders and while I did not participate in combat operations, I witnessed, reported and called for medical assistance for a Czech Border Guard who was shot by his comrade. He died in the snow awaiting verification by the West German border patrol of the action.

I was levied from Germany to Vietnam where I spent all but 4 weeks of my tour on Fire Support Bases or Lai Khe Base Camp, which was called “Rocket City” by it’s occupants. I only lost one soldier to combat operations and my Battalion only lost 9 during that year. I finally stopped bragging about my Korean tour of duty!! I have never forgot the one soldier who was killed as I escorted his patrol to set up an ambush.

WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?

Hunter Army Airfield and Savannah, Georgia holds the fondest memories for me. My service with the 1st Ranger Battalion and the lifelong friends that I met and still hold dear were there. The pure dedication of the officers, NCOs and the men of the unit was (and is) the best that the military has to offer. The support shown to the unit by the citizens and elected officials of Savannah made the deployments more bearable due to the treatment we received when we came home. I brought my first home in Savannah and became really active in the community and our church. My wife and I lived in that community longer then we had anywhere else in our lives – both of us having left our hometown as teens. We lived in Savannah from August 1979 until January 2003. Having a hard time trying to decide if we will spend our retired lives in Petersburg, VA or Savannah, GA.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

The camaraderie shared by soldiers in combat or combat situations. I am in daily contact with soldiers who I served with on the Korean DMZ (both tours) and with those who I served with in the Ranger Battalion. While I did not participate in direct combat operations with the Rangers, actual combat operations were conducted during my service with them and we lost good men training for those operations. I also have lost some of those friends who continued to serve with Special Ops since I retired. It is as if you have lost a close family member.

While my diagnosis for PTSD was caused by my combat service in Vietnam, it was the Ranger Battalion that ensured that I received the mental counseling that saved both my family life and my military career. The stresses of that assignment brought it all to bear and my Chain of Command immediately took the action required to get me and my family the care we needed.

To directly answer the question – the memory that stands out the most is still the loss of one sergeant E-5 who only had 3 days left in country (VN) and a wife and the new born baby daughter who he never got to see.

WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?

I received the Bronze Star for Valor while escorting an infantry squad from FSB Thunder I to set up an ambush overlooking a two lane road that had just been cleared by the combat engineers. The road had not been used for years because of Viet Cong heavy activity in the area. It was believed that the enemy would return during the hours of darkness and attempt to place mines or other explosive devices in the roadway.

My Trail Duster (M42A1) was destroyed by a command detonated 155 mm American artillery shell as we ferried the infantry squad to their ambush site. When I heard the explosion and saw my trail vehicle disappear in a fireball, I directed my vehicle to perform a 180 degree turn and cover the wood-line to our immediate right. I jumped from my vehicle and ran to the trail vehicle to help the soldiers who were attempting to clear the burning vehicle, some of them in flames. I shouted instructions for the men who were fleeing for their safety to move to the opposite side of the road and knocked two of them to the ground and beat the flames out from their flak jackets. I then attempted to pull one soldier from under a burning vehicle when it suddenly exploded, sending me airborne backwards and engulfing him in flames. My only combat loss. His foot was pinned under the vehicles track – 12 tons of steel. My platoon leader recommended me for the Bronze Star with V for rescuing the soldiers who were in flames and directing the others to safety.

OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

I would guess the Ranger tab. It represents the most demanding course that I have ever undertaken and the most proficient unit that I have served with. The leadership and professionalism of the Officers, NCOs and soldiers are superior to any unit in the armed forces. Rangers Lead the Way!!!

WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

1SG Lloyd Price, HHC, 3rd Bn, 23rd Infantry, 3rd Bde, 2nd Infantry Division. I had just been promoted to Sergeant E-5. His advice on leadership was to ALWAYS remember 3 things when making decisions: Mission, Men and Me.

MISSION – The military mission is always FIRST – complete the mission, when you do this, your superiors will look out for your welfare.

MEN – Look out for the welfare of your MEN, don’t ask (or tell) them to do anything that you wouldn’t do. Lead them by example. When you do this, the MEN will look out for your welfare – always covering your back and your A_S.

ME – Your career, you will never have to worry about ME, because your superiors and your MEN will always take care of you because you always completed the MISSION and took care of your MEN.

After 1 SG Lloyd Price told me this, it worked for me for 22 years while in the Army, 13 plus years as a City Police Officer, Patrol Sergeant and Vice Squad Supervisor and now as a Federal Police Officer with 9+ years of service.

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

Being in the RADAR section maintenance hutch charging the batteries for our “pack portable” radar sets when one of the new replacements stepped in the door and asked what he should do with the old hand grenade he had just found. There were three of us inside and we all yelled for him to step back outside and just throw the thing into the mine field behind our hutch. He was fumbling with the safety pin, which was hanging dangerously 3/4 of the way out of only one side of the safety clip. As he backed towards the door, he stumbled on the door ledge and pulled the pin. He let out a LOUD “OOPS”. We all yelled, just throw the damn thing outside. He turned and threw it and it hit the door sill and bounced back into the hutch. He ran out and the three of us charged the door – all reaching it at the same time and we became wedged in the door – no one giving quarter to the others. One of us, don’t know who, turned side ways and we all fell out the door and crawled like the devil was on our tail away from the hutch. Standing outside was one of our Sergeants – laughing and holding his sides. The “new guy” was rolling in the dirt laughing!! Realizing that we were the butt of a joke, we all laughed until we cried – I’m chuckling now just remembering the incident.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?

Trying to figure out what to wear to work each day was a constant bother for my wife, so I decided to make my transition to civilian life easier by REMAINING IN UNIFORM. I still had an intense desire to continue serving my country, or at least my community – so I entered law enforcement. I became a Police Officer with the Savannah, GA police department. I served as a beat Patrol Officer, a Crime Prevention Specialist, Patrol Watch Supervisor, Bicycle Squad Supervisor for our 2nd Precinct’s Crime Suppression Unit (CSU). I was selected to serve as the Patrol Staff Sergeant in the office of the 1st Deputy Chief of Police/Patrol Bureau Commander, for two Deputy Chiefs. My final assignment was as the Supervisor of the Tactical Reaction and Prevention Unit (TRAP), which was the city’s Vice Squad.

After September 9, 2001, I applied for and was accepted for a federal law enforcement position with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s Pentagon Police Directorate. While waiting for a school slot at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, I served as the midnight patrol supervisor for the Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Department of the Army Police Department. I am currently the 3rd shift Lead Officer for the Pentagon Police’s Security Detachment at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

I am a Life Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Life Member of the U.S. Army Ranger Association, Life Member of the 75th Ranger Regiment Association and a member of the American Legion.

The main benefit that I derive from my memberships is being associated with men and women who share a common bond of having served our country and sharing “war stories” that most civilians would think were just dreams and lies, though we know to be real life experiences. Even our spouses can share experiences that everyday civilian spouses could not or would not tolerate. So camaraderie is the most important benefit of memberships for me. Plus we get to march in a lot of parades!!!

HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?

Military service provides you with leadership skills, instructional skills, and communication skills that are highly prized in all aspects of life and certainly in any career path you could choose. Your ability to make decisions in stressful situations, maintain a calm demeanor and keep others calm by your actions are assets to day to day life and career progression. I have not been in any job where my leadership abilities gained in the service have not been recognized by my supervisors and managers.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?

Enjoy your service and make the most of it that you can. Take on as much responsibility that you can handle. Train your replacements. Never ask your subordinates to do any job that you wouldn’t do – even in combat. Get all the service schools that you can – cross train and cross train your people in the many tasks that are inherent in your particular unit. My Ranger platoon medic earned the EIB and won the Special Forces Medical Rodeo at Ft. Bragg. I served in the same division with one of my E-4s as a CSM after he completed college and returned to the Army as an officer. I had never been in an artillery unit until I made E-9, but I had my soldiers train me in every gunnery task and I taught them navigation and patrolling skills. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY OFFERED TO YOU, be it Service Schools, Foreign Assignments, Administrative Details and especially Joint Forces assignments. USE YOUR IN-SERVICE CIVILIAN EDUCATION BENEFITS.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?

I have re-connected with people who I served with in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We have Unit reunions and email and phone conversations with Soldiers who I served with in Korea on the DMZ in 1967 -1968 and at the JSA in 1983 – 1984. I have found some of my Commanders and Supervisors and was surprised that we live in the same area. I was invited by my Brother-In-Law, who was in the Air Force before I entered the service because he had found some of his long lost comrades. I have connected with soldiers who served in or are still serving with units that I served. You can keep up with your favorite unit and you could also contribute to the history of the units that you served.

25
Jul

Profiles in Courage: Heroes of Hill 488

During the Vietnam War, one of the 1st Marine Division’s primary area of operation was the southern two provinces of I Corps – Quang Tin and Quang Ngai located in the southern portion of South Vietnam’s I Corps Military Region. Astride the boundary between Quang Nam and Quang Tin provinces is the populous, rice-rich Que Son Valley, considered as strategically important in controlling South Vietnam’s five Norther provinces. For that reason, it was a principal focus for the Marines in I Corps.

 

In early June 1966, when intelligence reports indicated increased numbers of uniformed North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops moving into the Que Son Valley, it became an even greater issue.

To gain more immediate and timely eyes-on intelligence on the reported movements, seven recon teams from the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion were sent out to ring the large valley. If enemy’s positions were located, the teams were to call in artillery and air strikes against them. Among the seven teams was Team Two, consisting of 16 Marines and two Navy Corpsmen led by Staff Sgt. Jimmie Howard, a former drill instructor and battle-tested veteran with 16-years in the Corps. In photo Howard is top row, third from left.

Born in July 1929 in Burlington, Iowa, Howard attended the University of Iowa for a year before enlisting in the Marine Corps in July 1950. In February 1952, Howard, then a Corporal, was sent to Korea and assigned duty as a forward observer with the 4.2-inch Mortar Company, 1st Marines 1st Marine Division. At the time the division was part of a United Nations line defending a 35-mile line that encompassed the Pyongyang to Seoul corridor. Much of the fighting revolved around holding and retaking various combat outposts along key pieces of terrain.

Attached to a forward rife company sitting atop a critical outpost along this line, Howard was positioned in a spot where he could better call in defensive fires on the enemy. When a large, determined enemy force tried to overrun the outpost, Howard’s location made him a perfect target for the advancing enemy, yet he held his position, calling in critical fire missions. Still, the enemy kept coming in spite of growing casualties and when some of the enemy made it through the perimeter near his location, Howard and others battled them in close hand-to-hand combat. During the height of the battle, he was knocked unconscious by an enemy mortar shell but as soon as he recovered consciousness, continued calling in life-saving fire missions. Later he was again knocked unconscious and was forced to be evacuated. For this action he was awarded the Silver Star medal and his second Purple Heart. His next war was 14-years later in the jungles of Vietnam.

On the evening of June 13, 1966 as the waning sun dropped behind the western horizon, UH-34 helicopters moved quickly to the top of Hill 488 (Nui Vu hill) just 25 miles west of Chu Lai. Staff Sgt. Howard and his fifteen Marines and two Navy Corpsmen were inserted and the helicopters hurriedly lifted off and headed home to Chu Lai.

For two days Howard and his men watched for enemy troop movements in the valley below and called in artillery and air strikes on those they spotted. Hardly the fools, the enemy figured there had to be someone in the area watching them, directing fire upon their every move. Hoping to find the American spotters, NVA patrols fanned out checking the hills surrounding the valley. It is unknown if an enemy patrol spotted Howard’s team but chances are they did, which explained the large force send to eliminate them. Photo shows Daniel Mulvihill calling in a fire mission.

By the third day, based on aerial reconnaissance, Howard’s Battalion Commander Lt. Col. A. J. Sullivan began to sense the danger the small recon patrol faced and offered to pull them out. Howard believed he could hold out one more day and requested permission to remain on the hill, citing a good escape route to the east. His request was granted. Shortly thereafter word reached Chu Lai that a full NVA battalion of 200-350 well-trained soldiers were moving on Hill 488. Sullivan radioed that information to Howard, who requested immediate extraction. Several UH-34 helicopters were launched but as they were close to Hill 488, they came under immediate attack from machine gun fires, forcing them to return to Chu Lai. Sullivan relayed the bad news back to Howard that they would not be able to be extracted until day light. Somehow they would have to survive the night against a force outnumbering them by 20-to-1. It was June 15, 1966.

Howard placed all of his Marines in strategic positions around the summit of the almost barren hill top, with orders to pull back into a tight perimeter the moment the enemy struck. That moment came at 10 PM, only 12 feet from one of the Marine defenders. As the enemy swarmed the hill amid gunfire, grenades, mortars and support from four .50-caliber machine-guns, Howard pulled back his men into a tight circle only 20 yards in diameter. Back-to-back they defended their small perimeter, counting on each other to work as a team to do the impossible. Howard moved among his men, encouraging them, directing their fire and shoring up the weaknesses in the perimeter. For most of his Marines it was their first major test of combat. Huddled in the darkness amid the deafening explosion of grenades and mortars and the dark sky filled with tracer rounds, it was Howard’s reassuring words that calmed them down and his strong leadership that inspired them to fight on, often in hand-to-hand combat. Then quiet engulfed the hill as the enemy pulled back, their fanatical human wave assault initially repulsed.

Howard looked around him. Every one of his young Marines and both Corpsmen had been wounded in the initial attack. Several were dead. Howard knew the quiet wouldn’t last long; that the enemy was regrouping for another attack. He surveyed what remained of his Marines and found that ammunition was desperately running low. His men who were out of ammunition, picked up AK-47s and ammo belts from dead NVA. The grenades were gone, expended to push back the first wave of the assault. So Howard issued one of the most unusual combat orders in recent history, “Throw rocks!”

As incredible as the order sounded, it worked. When the enemy soldiers began to push their way through the sparse brush and knee high grass to probe the perimeter, Howard’s men threw rocks at them. Mistaking the rocks for grenades, the enemy soldiers would move quickly into the open, allowing the defenders clear shots that made every round of remaining ammunition count.

For five hours the enemy alternated between small probes and full scale assault on the surviving Marines. Howard continued to encourage his battered platoon, direct their fire, and calling in aerial support. At times the enemy was so close that Howard directed aerial strafing runs within 30 feet of their position. From Chu Lai, Sullivan listened to Howard’s calm, precise voice across the radio. Then, shortly after 3 AM, the radio went dead (reason unknown). At the Command Operation Center there was dread, the assumption being that Howard was dead and his brave platoon wiped out.

Howard wasn’t dead but he was wounded and couldn’t move his legs. During one of the enemy attacks his lower back and legs were sprayed with shrapnel shards from exploding grenades. As the enemy continued to assault his perimeter, the wounded leader did his best to encourage his Marines. He kept reminding them that if they could just hold out until daylight, more Marines would come and pull them out of there.

As daylight dawned, a helicopter approached the hill. The Marines were still taking fire, the battle wasn’t yet over. The chopper was shot down and the pilot, Maj. William J. Goodsell, was killed.

At dawn a Marine rifle company began the trek to relieve the remnants of Howard’s platoon. Company C of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment landed at the base of Hill 488 and forced their way up the small mountain through scattered but strong resistance to reach Howard and his recon team. Two 1/5 Marines were killed and it wasn’t until noon that they finally reached Howard’s perimeter. Five of the defenders on Hill 488 were dead. A sixth died enroute to the base camp at Chu Lai. When finally the rescue effort reached Howard and his men, among the 12 survivors there remained only 8 rounds of ammunition.

On August 21, 1967 at the White House, Gunnery Sgt. Jimmie E. Howard stood proudly at attention next to his wife and six children. Following the reading of his heroic action at Hill 488, President Lyndon B. Johnson carefully placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of an incredible leader and true American hero. With tears in his eyes the grizzled Marine then stepped to the microphone to give the credit to his 15 brave Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen.

And they were there, all eleven survivors of that unbelievable night of horror and courage at Hill 488. After speaking briefly, Howard took the President by the hand and led him to the edge of the stage where he introduced him to each and every one of the men he had led that night, and to whom he felt the Medal of Honor belonged more than it did to himself.

The team member he was referring to were recipients of four Navy Crosses and thirteen Silver Stars making Howard’s team the highest decorated unit of the Vietnam War.
Navy Crosses
Ricardo Binns
B.C. Holmes, Navy Corpsman
J.T. Adams (posthumously)
J.R Thompson (posthumously)

Silver Star Medal
Charles Bosley, Navy Corpsman
R.J. Fitzpatrick
Raymond Hildreth
Joseph Kosoglow
Robert Martinez
Daniel Mulvihill
William Norman
Thomas Poweles
Ralph Victor
Ignatius Carlisi (posthumously)
T.D. Glawe (posthumously)
J.C. McKinney (posthumously)
A.N. Mascarenas (posthumously)

On November 12, 1993 Jimmie Howard passed away at his home in San Diego. He is buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery near the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot where years before he served as a Marine Drill Instructor.

In honor of Howard’s 27 years of dedicated service to the U.S. Marine Corps, the United States of America and his unwavering leadership and courage, the U.S. Navy on October 20, 2001 christened the thirty-third Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in his honor, the USS Howard (DDG-83).

Every time it sets to sea from its homeport of San Diego, it passes within view of Gunnery Sgt. Howard’s grave at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and salutes it’s namesake.

13
May

Battle Chronicles:The A Shau Valley

The A Shau Valley is a rugged, remote passageway near the border of Laos and the Ho Chi Ming Trail in Thua Thien province. It runs north and south for twenty-five miles. It’s low, mile-wide, flat bottomland is covered with tall elephant grass and flanked by two strings of densely forested mountains that vary from three to six thousand feet. Because of its forbidden terrain and remoteness – and the fact it was usually hidden from the air by thick canopy jungle and fog and clouds – it was a key entry point during the Vietnam War for the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) for bringing men and materials in support of military actions around Hue to the northeast and Da Nang to the southwest.

To stop the flow of hardware, food and soldiers coming through the A Shau Valley, a number of bitter battles were waged by the American Army and Marines. So fierce was the fighting that any veteran who fought thereearned a mark of distinction among other combat veterans. But once the Americans achieved their objective, they did not remain in the valley for very long. U.S. strategy for fighting the enemy did not include occupying remote and sparsely populated areas.

That enabled enemy survivors to flee back to their safe haven across the Laotian border where they waited until the Americans deserted the battlefield. Satisfied the Americans were gone, they infiltrated back into the valley, picked up where they left off, and relaunched their vital resupply mission.

Dominating the western end of the valley next to Laos and the Ho Chin Ming trail loomed a solitary ridge named Dong Ap Bia, towering some 937 meters above sea level. Snaking down from its highest peak were a series of ridges and fingers, one of the largest extending southeast to a height of 900 meters. The entire mountain was a rugged, uninviting wilderness blanketed in double-and triple-canopy jungle, dense thickets of bamboo, and waist-high elephant grass.

In May 1969, Operation Apache Snow was launched and like previous allied operations, its goal was to limit enemy infiltration from Laos that threatened Hue and Da Nang. The ensuring bloody battle was the infamous ten-day Battle of Hill 937, or for those who fought there, cynically dubbed Hill 937 “Hamburger Hill” because it reminded them of a meat grinder.

The operation kicked off on May 10, 1969 with a heavy concentrations of pre-assault firepower, including heavy artillery, napalm, and B-52 “Arc Light” air strikes of suspected enemy positions. But this time was different.Rather than retreat from the area, the enemy chose to defend his dug-in positions, which meant eventually his positions had to be assaulted by infantry with the inevitable high casualties.

When the fires were lifted, elements of Colonel John Conmey’s 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne landed by helicopter in varies predesignated landing zones scattered throughout the valley.

Among his forces were the 3rd Battalion 187th Infantry (3/187) commanded by Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt and 1st Battalion 506th Infantry (1/506) under the command of Lt. Col. John Bowers. Supporting them was the 9th Marines Regiment and the 3rd Battalion 5th Cavalry Regiment, as well as elements of the Army of Vietnam (ARVN).

Describing the operation as a reconnaissance in force, Conmey’s strategy was for his five battalion to search their assigned sectors for PAVN troops and supplies. The 9th Marines and the 3/5th Cavalry were to conduct reconnaissance in force toward the Laotian border while the ARVN units cut the highway through the base of the valley. The 501st and the 506th were to destroy the enemy in their own operating areas and block escape routes into Laos. As his troops were airmobile, Conmey planned to shift units rapidly should one encounter strong resistance. In this way, Conmey could reposition his forces quickly enough to keep the PAVN from massing against any one unit.

Contact on the first day Americans and ARVN were in A Shau Valley was light but intensified the following day, May 11, when the 3/187th approached the base of Hill 937. Sending two companies to search the north and northwest ridges of the hill, Honeycutt ordered Bravo and Charlie companies to move towards the summit by different routes. Late in the day, Bravo met stiff PAVN resistance and were forced to fall back.

Helicopter gunships were brought in for support but the gunships mistook the 3/18 7th’s staging area for a PAVN camp and opened fire killing two and wounding thirty-five. This was the first of several friendly fire incidents during the battle as the thick jungle made identifying targets difficult. Following this incident, the 3/187th retreated into defensive positions for the night.

Over the next two days, Honeycutt attempted to push his battalion into positions where they could launch a coordinated assault. This was hampered by difficult terrain and fierce PAVN resistance. As they moved around the hill, they found that the North Vietnamese had constructed an elaborate system of bunkers and trenches. Seeing the focus of the battle shifting to Hill 937, Conmey moved Bowers’ 1/506th to the south side of the hill. Bravo Company was airlifted to the area, but the remainder of the battalion traveled by foot and did not arrive in force until May 19.

On May 14 and 15, Honeycutt launched attacks against PAVN positions with little success. The next two days, elements of the 1/506th probed the southern slope. American efforts were frequently hindered by the thick jungle which made air-lifting forces around the hill impractical. As the battle raged, much of the foliage aroundthe summit of the hill was eliminated by napalm and artillery fire which was used to reduce the PAVN bunkers. On May 18, Conmey ordered a coordinated assault with the 3/187th attacking from the north and the 1/506th attacking from the south.

Storming forward, Delta Company of the 3/187th almost took the summit but was beaten back with heavy casualties. The 1/506th was able to take the southern crest, Hill 900, but met heavy resistance during the fighting.

Later that day, the division commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General Melvin Zais, arrived and decided to commit three addition battalions to the battle as well as ordered that the 3/187th, which had suffered 60% casualties, be relieved. Protesting, Honeycutt was able to keep his men in the field for the final assault.

Landing two battalions on the northeast and southeast slopes, Zais and Conmey launched an all-out assault on the hill at 10 am on May 20. Overwhelming the defenders, the 3/187th took the summit around noon and operations began to reduce the remaining PAVN bunkers. By 5 pm, Hill 937 had been secured. Eleven days later on May 28, the Americans and ARVN left A Shau Valley.

American losses during the ten-day battle totaled 72 KIA and 372 WIA. Losses incurred by the 7th and 8th Battalions of the 29th NVA Regiment included 630 dead (discovered on and around the battlefield); including many found in makeshift mortuaries within the tunnel complex. Yet no one could count the NVA running off the mountain, those killed by artillery and air strikes, the wounded and dead carried into Laos or the dead buried in collapsed bunkers and tunnels.

The battle of Hamburger Hill was similar to other engagements during the war. Enemy losses were much higher than American casualties, the enemy retreated without pursuit by American or ARVN forces, and the battlefield was abandoned 11 days after the end of hostilities. Being the most sever and costly battle going on in Vietnam at the time, it also attracted significant media attention.

Much of the coverage pointed out the difficult and slowness the airborne troops were taking the enemy positions and the high number of casualties they took each time they assaulted the hill.

In its June 27 issue, Life Magazine published the photographs of 241 Americans killed in one week in Vietnam; this is now considered a watershed event of negative public opinion toward the Vietnam War. While only five of the 241 featured photos were of those killed in the battle, many Americans had the perception that all of the photos featured in the magazine were casualties of the battle.

The overall result was of Hamburger Hill was the frustration of achieving an overwhelming battlefield success without any indication that the war was being won. To many, this frustration suggested that such battles were isolated events which were unrelated to any eventual policy goal. Consequently, Hamburger Hill became the subject of passionate public debate, focusing on the decision to capture Dong Ap Bia regardless of the casualties and irrespective of its marginal significance in terms of the reasons why the United States was in Vietnam.

The United States Congress also spoke against the war. Several influential senators stood before their peers, severely criticizing the military leadership and calling the operation “senseless and irresponsible.” Their chorus of disapproval was seen as part of a growing public outcry over the U.S. military policy in Vietnam. This led to further outrage in America over what seemed a senseless loss of American lives.

The controversy of the conduct of the Battle of Hamburger Hill led to a reappraisal of U.S. strategy in South Vietnam. As a direct result, to hold down casualties, General Abrams discontinued a policy of “maximum pressure” against the North Vietnamese to one of “protective reaction” for troops threatened with combat action.

While the coverage by the media was highly critical of the tactics and the leadership, newspapers and television often applauded the honor and courage of the foot soldiers who bravely followed their orders knowing there was a very good change they could be killed or wounded every time they assaulted the hill.

In 1987, the movie Hamburger Hill directed by John Irvin hit the American theaters. In it the horrors – and futility – of the Vietnam War came brutally to life through the eyes of 14 American soldiers of 101st Airborne Division as they attempt to capture a heavily fortified Hill 937 under the PAVN control. In the opinion of most Vietnam combat veterans the movie was the most realistic depiction of deadly combat.

In the website below is an extraordinary 27-minute film on two desperate battles. One in the A Shau Valley early May 1969 which follows elements of the 101 Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade during the 10 day battle of Hill 937 (Hamburger Hill). It features Sgt. Arthur Wiknik. The other takes place two months earlier in Mach 1969 at the Rockpile. In it Company C, First Battalion Fourth Marines is attacking Hill 484. Featured is the company’s executive officer, 1st Lt. Karl Marlantes, who earned a Navy Cross for his actions on Hill 484. Marlantes is the author of ‘Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War’ and ‘What It Is Like To Go To War.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtPnQr3eHQo

2
Dec

The Billionaire Green Beret

1​Former SOG soldier, John Walton, could have traveled the globe on luxury jets. Instead, the Wal-Mart fortune heir loved to take to the skies in an experimental plane built from a kit. On June 27, 2005, while a Cessna business jet he used sat on a runway at the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Airport, he took off in the plane, powered by a gas engine similar to those in snowmobiles. A third of a mile from the runway, the craft went into a steep dive and crashed in Grand Teton National Park, killing the 58-year-old educator and outdoorsman.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation indicated that the crash was caused by the incorrect installation of a piece of airplane equipment. At the time of his death, Forbes magazine had ranked John Walton as the 11th-richest person in the world, tied with his brother Jim. The brothers then each had an estimated net worth of $18.2 billion.

Walton was the son of Sam Walton, who founded the Wal-Mart discount store chain that became one of the world’s biggest companies. Unlike his father, Walton didn’t pursue a business career. He attended the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, dropping out after two years. 2He then joined the Army and served in Vietnam.  But his duties were far from ‘regular.’  He was a Special Forces soldier in a unit code-named the Studies and Observations Group, or SOG (cover for “special operations group”), a secret, elite military unit that often operated in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam in what had been called America’s “Secret War.” Walton joined the unit in 1968, right after the Tet offensive.

He became a member of a SOG “Hatchet Force” which consisted of small cross border teams generally made up with two or three Americans and up to five Indigenous troops; sometimes South Vietnamese, sometimes Montagnards and sometimes Chinese Brue, but always very capable, loyal and fierce warriors who knew how to operate in the jungles with stealth and outstanding bravery. On almost every mission there was a firefight. 3A particularly horrifying battle occurred in the A Shau Valley in Laos while he was assigned to ST (strike team) Louisiana. The team mission was to find a fellow Green Beret who had been separated from his team when it was forced to evacuate after running into a large enemy force. John was the commando team’s No. 2 as well as its medic.

In the low light of early morning, ST Louisiana was dropped from Sikorsky H-34 helicopters onto a ridge near the DMZ and was attacked by North Vietnamese army soldiers. In a memoir titled Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam, fellow Green Beret John Stryker Meyer gives an account of that day: “Four of the NVA’s rounds struck the tail gunner, wounding him severely. As Walton swung his CAR-15 [a submachine gun version of the M-16] toward the enemy soldier … [his] rounds hit the NVA soldier and drove him back in the jungle.”

The account goes on to say that Walton’s commanding officer, Wilbur “Pete” Boggs, called in a napalm strike that landed yards away from John. Soon the six-man team was surrounded. One was dead and three were wounded. John tended to casualties, including Boggs, who was knocked semiconscious by shrapnel, and Tom Cunningham, who was badly hurt with a knee that was blown out and started hemorrhaging very, very severely. 4Walton applied a tourniquet to his leg to stop the severe hemorrhaging. With Boggs down, Walton was now in charge. He picked up the radio and called in two choppers for extraction. As the first Sikorsky H-34 (King Bee) dropped in and lifted off with some of the men, the NVA intensified its assault. A second chopper was needed to get all the men out, but the landing zone was too hot to make it in. Walton and his team thought they were doomed, but suddenly the first chopper came back down, even though their added weight might make it too heavy to take off again. With the enemy advancing into the clearing, firing at the helicopter, and Walton trying to keep Cunningham alive, the King Bee took off and barely made it over the treetops.

Cunningham and Boggs survived, though Cunningham lost his leg. That night while John was playing poker, someone pointed out that he had a flesh wound across his right wrist. A round fired by the NVA soldier John had killed had creased his skin. Later John was awarded the Silver Star.

To many who called him a friend, he was a Renaissance man who didn’t really care about the trappings of inherited power. When he returned from Vietnam he worked as a crop duster and a ship builder. He was known for choosing jeans and a T-shirt over a suit and tie.  He preferred a beat-up truck over a shiny new car. Among his hobbies was flying, skiing, scuba diving, mountain biking and hiking and fulfilling his obligation on the Wal-Mart board. Aside from his passion for spending time with his family and playing various sports, he spent his adult life promoting education reform and throwing his considerable financial support behind efforts to educate low-income children.

23
Nov

GM3 Darwin L Mckee U.S. Navy (1964-1967)

mac2View the service reflections of US Navy Sailor:

GM3 Darwin L Mckee

U.S. Navy

(1964-1967)

Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/bio/Darwin.Mckee

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joiningwww.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)

WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

I planned on making the military a career for years. I knew I would eventually get drafted into the Army in a couple years and knew I didn’t care for that.

My dad had been Navy 6 years, Army Air Corps for 2 years and USAF for 13 1

I was about 3 weeks short of being 18 so took the papers I needed signed by my dad to enlist. Thought the old man would break a leg getting to a pen to sign.

I went to Des Moines to take a physical and test to get in the Navy. After the test a LT came out and asked which one of us was McKee. My first thought was I must of flunked the test. Then he said “You scored real well on the test for not being a high school graduate”. Don’t know what I scored but it was good enough to get in!

After taking the oath we ended up taking a three day train ride to San Diego. We stopped at a lot of places picking up other guys on their way to Navy boot. Places like, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona etc. It turned out to be a troop train like the ones that used to roll through Iowa in WWII.

WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

Out of boot camp I was offered EN OJT (On the Job Training) or TM. If I wanted to extend my three year enlistment to six years I could go Hospital Corpsman which would mean going green. I turned it all down so I was sent to NTC Mess cooking.

2I pulled my tour of Mess cooking, which I kind of liked. I thought of maybe even becoming a cook but I held off.

I was then assigned to NTC Base Police. It was very good, clean work. Most of the time I stood at gate watches, all spit polished with AJ squared away uniforms, checking ID’s, saluting the officers. Occasionally we had to deal with drunk and out of line sailors!

Then I got orders for Vietnam & ended up with Camp Tien Sha Security. Which means the Navy got me into green after all!

One year later, I was assigned orders to the USS Loyalty MSO 457 out of Long Beach. I was a GMG striker and made GMG3. I could have gone SK3 at test time as I had all requirements filled out for both GM & SK. I elected to take the GMG 3&2 test.

I was offered missile school, but that would mean having to ship over for 6 more years.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

I was assigned to Camp Security on Camp Tien Sha. We were standing outer perimeter and tower watches, going on occasional patrols. The Camp came under fire several times during my tour. Sometimes a single shot or two and sometimes hundreds of rounds incoming, including an occasional mortar.

The closest I 3came to getting shot was when we were under red alert and I was making my way to my GQ bunker. An automatic weapon, probably AK-47, opened up on me from an old abandoned Buddhist temple just outside our perimeter fence. Several rounds hit right in front of me and I was sprayed by the dirt they kicked up. I dove to the ground and cut my hand on a piece of broken glass. I crawled in behind a stack of plywood and let go with two 20 round clips into the old temple with my M-14 automatic rifle.

The Camp once had a scare of a siege by NVA & VC moving in on us. The Camp CO called for a Naval Call Fire to deal with the enemy spotted on the other side of Monkey Mountain. Jet fighters from Da Nang also came in and no enemy made it to our side of the mountain. It was a little unnerving not knowing if we were gonna have to fight a full scale battle or not or watching the projectiles going overhead and hoping they didn’t drop one short. Our bunkers shook from the shells hitting on other side of mountain.

I seriously don’t think we had enough people to hold them off if they would have made it to our side of Monkey Mountain. Most of the time we just returned fire at the other rifle flashes!

I even had a grenade bounce off my bunker one night with the pin still in it.

WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?

That’s a tough one. I consider my hitch in 3 sections. I was a on a Kiddy cruise which got extended 2 1/2 months.

My 1st year consisted of boot camp, mess cooking & NTC Base Police. That year was my introduction to real adult time. Several trips to 4Tijuana. (go figure!) It was really good duty but not much good for any kind of advancement.

Second year was as far from the Navy as most sailors short of Corpsman serving with the Marines will be. I never dreamed of being “in country” during a war or right in the middle of the shooting side of it up close. It was the scariest time of my life but also the proudest time of my life looking back on it.

During my time there your main concern was surviving and looking after your shipmates. I didn’t have any urge to return but never regretted being part of the first Navy to provide their own security. We were pioneers of what eventually became the MA Rate of today.

My third & final period was actually being in the Navy aboard a ship. I choose a MSO because it was a small ship with a small crew. I was actually able to work in a rate & pass the test for GMG 3&2. It was a great ship and a tight crew. I had a lot of experiences that I hadn’t been able to partake of in my first two years in the Navy. I got to be a helmsman, help fire a 40mm gun-mount, that I even got to be Gun Captain on. I even helped running out sweep gear for mine sweeping. I loved standing mid-watches at sea. It was quiet and peaceful.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

First one was while standing gate watch at NTC San Diego. A guy came into our gate, white as a ghost, telling about an old man half a block up the street bleeding and hurt. The PO on the gate told me to go with him and check it out. There was an all-night laundromat and the old guy who ran it was laying in the parking lot covered in blood. He had been stabbed and robbed. He was still breathing but not able to respond to me talking to him. I kept him company, continually talking to him, until the ambulance arrived. He died en route to the hospital and I found out later he was a retired Chief. That was the first time I saw a bleeding and dying person.

Next time I saw bleeding and dying persons was in Vietnam. I was visiting a buddy at the Da Nang hospital and I was starting to leave when a couple dust offs came in loaded with 5wounded Marines. I pitched in to help with stretchers into the ER. I don’t know how many made it because they were really tore up.

A more pleasant thing was the house three of us built for a family down in Son Sa village who had lost their dad – a RVN Captain who was KIA. Those kind of things never make it back with the news media.

And my 15 minutes of fame was when Ann Margaret with Johnny Rivers band came to Camp Tien Sha to entertain the troops. I got to dance with her on stage. The picture ended up in Stag Magazine in 1966! (See opposite)

WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?

I would say no. I was just doing my job to the best of my ability never thought too much about medals and such. Maybe I was a little naive. I didn’t even know we got a ribbon for serving in Vietnam much less three or more that were available just for being “in country”.

One thing we did talk about a few times was not getting a “cheap” Purple Heart for some scratch in an accident. That could be unlucky for the long run.

OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

6The ribbon that is my pick would be the first one received, the National Defense Medal. That one says I took an oath to defend the nation and I was part of a select group of people to do so. Without that one no others would have came along.

I am also proud of my Navy Expert Rifleman, because you have to earn those by yourself.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

The person who stands out as my biggest impact my naval service would be one who was not even there with me – my father. He was a 21 year career man as I said before. My first 15 years of life was with the military as what’s called “military brat”.

7I learned a lot from the old man including how to stand a helm watch and follow a compass heading when I was just 14 years old.

As far as the Navy itself, CS2 Barry Watt aboard the USS Loyalty. He was someone I always admired. I am still friends with him. He retired as a CSC and he actually grew up 20 miles from where I now live.

My close buddy in Vietnam, YN3 Rogers. We got away with far more than we should have but it was a hell of a ride anyway. We still talk on the phone after almost 45 years past our last tour in Vietnam.

Read more »

4
Nov

Grunt’s Challenge To An Army Gunship Pilot

By Darrell “Moe” Elmore

1In 1970, I was Company Commander of Charlie Company, 2/503d, 173rd Airborne Brigade operating out of LZ English near Bong Son in northern III Corps. At that time we carried out our “Search and Destroy” missions with relatively small size elements. An additional responsibility was to provide the firebase with the company’s mortar section. About midway through my command time, I took R&R to Australia.

The afternoon before I was to arrive at in-country R&R center, I got a hop on a Huey to Lane Army Air Field near Qui Nhon. One of the units flying out of Lane AAF was the 61st AHC (Assault Helicopter Company) which supported the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

That night I had a few drinks with some of the pilots I knew when one of the gun ship pilots started bitching about how slow the guys on the ground were. He said they just plodded and they could not wait around some times. 2I quietly told him that if he and other pilots felt “grunts” were too slow, maybe they should come out to the field and visit. “Get a feel for the life of a field soldier,” I added. That ended that exchange and we continued other conversations. The next morning I was off to the in-country R&R Processing Center and soon boarded a plane for the “land down under” where I had a great, carefree holiday.

Once it was over, I returned to Vietnam and resumed command of my troops. A few days later we got a resupply and surprise-surprise, one of the gun ship pilots jumped off. He had accepted my “challenge” and come for a visit.

I took him up on the base and started a VIP tour. He had only been there for a few minutes when I got a call to immediately take a platoon and reinforce a Cavalry troop in contact. I called to alert the 1st Platoon Leader to get his men ready, then called by headquarter crew telling them the same.

3During the prep, I told the Weapons Platoon Sergeant to get a rifle, some web gear with canteens and two bandoleers of ammo. He quickly returned with the gear which I handed to the surprised pilot. I told him the best way to learn why we were so slow was to see us in action. He was going with us. I put him under the care of the company medic and my artillery FO. Within minutes were picked up on our LZ and linked up with the first platoon enroute.

We landed in a valley in the Tiger Mountains with a lot of grass fires going filling the air with dense smoke with the action up a steep hill. Temperature was near 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity equal. Not a nice day.

We assembled and I made radio contact with the Cav. We organized a scheme of maneuver and I gave the troops a quick operations order. We formed up and started up the hill.

We moved up, made 4some contact and had a lot of close air support from the cobras the Cav had called in. As we continued the attack the NVA were giving ground at first. As we got closer to the top of the hill we heard a Soviet 12.7 – 108 mm heavy machine gun working. It got into a duel with a cobra and we held up while the cobra engaged. It was quite close as frags from the rockets were rattling in the trees. The gun shut up and we were going to drive on when we got a call on the radio.

Stop the advance, pull back and move to the LZ to be picked up for a return to our AO. Apparently the crisis had ended and we were no longer needed.

We moved down and assembled into chopper loads. As we waited I got another call. We had a Ranger team in the An Lao Valley that was in heavy contact and being pursued. I got the leaders together and gave a 5brief order explaining what we were to do and how we would do it. Just then the first Huey started to arrive. Our guest, a CWO2 who was built much like a fire plug and trained by setting on his ass, came to me and said, “I can’t do it. I will bring the rifle and gear back tomorrow but I can’t go with you. I will never ever, ever bitch again about how slow you guys move.” I reminded him he was carrying a really light load so what was his problem. The reply was basically that he knew that, but he had never really understood what a grunt had to face.

The choppers arrived, we boarded and off we went less one gun ship pilot.

I might add that I ran into him once when I went to visit some wounded and I was unable to buy a drink!

19
Oct

CDR Allan R. Carpenter U.S. Navy (Ret) (1955-1978)

Read the service Reflections of US Navy Sailor:

carpenterCDR Allan R. Carpenter

U.S. Navy (Ret)

(1955-1978)

Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/profile/529895

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joining www.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE NAVY?

I graduate at the age of 17 from Sanford High School in 1955 and at the end of that summer I enlisted in the Navy on September 27, 1955 with the intent to qualify for the Naval Cadet program as soon as I turned 18.

There was also a family history. My father had served in WWII on the cruiser USS Vincennes and an uncle completed a career as a YNC after serving on SS combat patrols in the Pacific, ultimately as COB.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.

I went to boot camp at the United States Naval Training Center, Bainbridge with additional training at Norman, Oklahoma, Norfolk and Glynco. In August 1956 I was assigned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River as an Airborne Radar Operator on WV-2s (EC-121 Warning Star). While here I married the former Carolyn Malone (my high school sweetheart) of Sanford, Maine on August 31, 1957.

In October 1958 I went to Olathe, Kansas for Tower and Ground Controlled Approach School then on to Quonset Point for three years shore duty.

I was well into training as an AC (W) and, of course, had developed a bad attitude regarding officers! Made AC1 in 5 yrs., leaving little to look forward to (most Chiefs, in those days, did more admin than ops), so I succumbed to urging from an excellent Division Officer to apply for the Integration Program (“Seaman to Admiral”) and NESEP (Navy Program Seeks Officers From the Ranks). I was selected for both; decided I could always get an education, but it would be my last and only shot at Wings of Gold, so accepted orders to Flight Training, via OCS at Newport.

While in training I flew the T-34, T2A, F9F Cougar, and F-11 Tiger – how’s THAT for dreams come true!!

I next went to Naval Justice School at Newport, then on to the A4 RAG, VA-43 at Oceana as a Fleet Replacement Pilot. I completed RAG training in June 1964 and immediately reported to my new squadron, VA-72 at Oceana, flying the A4E Skyhawk. I became the squadron Legal Officer and Landing Signal Officer trainee. Significant cruises were in the Mediterranean in the fall of 1964 and in the Western Pacific in 1965, both on the USS Independence.

I finished the 1965 cruise as a fully qualified LSO. I finally dropped my legal duties and moved the family to Jacksonville, Florida in January 1966. After a few more training cruises, I shoved off for Vietnam again, this time aboard the USS Roosevelt.

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.

In May 1965, I made my first combat cruise aboard the USS Independence (CVA-62). The ship was deployed for more than seven months, including 100 days in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to do so. She also was the fifth U.S. carrier to operate off Vietnam. We participated in the first major series of coordinated strikes against vital enemy supply lines north of the Hanoi-Haiphong complex, successfully evading the first massive surface-to-air missile barrage in aviation history while attacking assigned targets, and executing the first successful attack on an enemy surface-to-air missile installation.

During this cruise I lost my roommate to hostile fire. On September 13, 1965, LTJG Joe Mossman launched in his Skyhawk (“Scooter”) attack aircraft as the number four plane on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Only the month previous, two A4E’s had been the first Navy aircraft to be shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAM). They claimed so many American planes in the duration of the war.

When the flight was over the target area near the city of Dong Hoi in Quang Binh Province, Joe’s aircraft was hit by small arms fire. No ejection was observed. The aircraft crashed approximately 12 kilometers west of Dong Hoi, near Route 101.

Search and rescue (SAR) was flown over the crash site but no signs of survival were spotted. Joe was initially placed in a status of Missing in Action which was later changed to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered in 1973.

On November 1, 1966, I was leading a flight of three F4s on a missile suppression mission in support of a vital photo reconnaissance flight in the Haiphong area. It was my 107th combat mission. Flying over a missile site I was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Almost immediately my plane caught fire and my controls began difficult to use. As I had been trained to do, I headed for open water where I lost complete control of my plane. I punched out of my crippled plane suffering severe injuries from the high-speed ejection and fell into the ocean below that was filled with many North Vietnamese fishing boats.

It was the second time I had been shot down. The first was on August 21, 1966 and that time I had been rescued by our ship’s rescue helicopter. By the time I hit the water, I was immediately pulled onto a fishing junk that took me to the beach and into the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?

My six years and four months as a P.O.W., for mostly obvious reasons, the first of which was the realization that I was so fortunate to serve in the company of heroes, to survive, and to have served my Navy and my country with honor!

Also during all that time the feeling that my wife and children needed me home, safe and sane, and the firm conviction that the United States of America would never abandon its prisoners of war, sustained me whenever I got to feeling particularly blue.

In early 1973, we started hearing rumors that the U.S. and Vietnam were conducting peace talks that could lead to our release. That rumor became a reality beginning in February when we learned all 591 American prisoners of war still held by North Vietnam were going home. A few days later, I touched American soil for the first time since the mid-60s when my plane home landed at Logan Airport in Boston. After receiving the proper medical attention I returned to my hometown of Sanford Maine to be with my family and to start life anew. This photo was taken of me with my family at the Sanford airport moments after my return after six years of captivity as a POW of the North Vietnamese.

Since that day, March 4, 1973 has gone into my personal history as the happiest day of my life to date and one that will be celebrated as my “Re-birthday” from here on out.

IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

Three Silver Stars – first for leading the Iron Hand, SAM suppression flight (my flight of 3 destroyed the SAM site) on which I was shot down and captured; 2nd and 3rd for enduring severe torture sessions in prison; Legion of Merit and 2 Bronze Stars for particular actions while a P.O.W.; some of my 11 Air Medals and four Navy Commendations for individual, noteworthy, combat flights.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

Two: My Division officer Quonset Pt., LT Jim Yates (now deceased), for prodding me into applying to officer procurement programs, and CDR Edward P. Stafford, veteran of WW-II combat ops in the Med and Pacific, Patrol Plane Commander of our VW-15 flight crew, and grandson of RADM Robert E. Peary, discover of the North Pole, for being a tremendous role model. I recommend reading his books:”The Big E”, “Little Ship, Big War”, and “Subchaser.”

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?

My final assignment in the Navy was as an instrument flight instructor in Virginia and where I retired from the Navy in late 1978. We remained in Virginia living on a tributary on Chesapeake Bay. Every summer we would return to Sanford to visit our friends.

I worked as a small marina owner; marine railway operator; ultralight aircraft sales and service; and aerial photographer.

Finally, fully retired!

In 2007, I returned to Vietnam with my wife and two of our daughters. I must admit I traveled there with some trepidation, but ended up having a wonderful time. We found no evidence of hatred or dislike or violence there. While Vietnam is still a communist nation, I noticed that the country has changed dramatically and that capitalism has made tremendous inroads.

We even toured the Hoa Lo Prison, which is now part of a museum. We went into the room where I and the other POWs were held captive more than 30 years earlier. It brought back memories it had taken me years to forget but I glad I made the trip.

I continue to act as guest speaker at events where POW/MIA issues are discussed.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

Nam POWs: a matchless fraternity of love, respects and support.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

I thoroughly love and appreciate every aspect of my Navy career. I am very proud of my enlisted service, from AA to AC1. Those years gave me a basis, understanding and appreciation of ALL of us – enlisted and officer – that would serve me extremely well throughout the rest of my career – from squadron Legal Officer to X.O.

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE NAVY?

Always serve with pride, and honor, never forgetting that you are ambassadors of our country, and the protectors of our freedom and the U.S. Constitution!

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.

For me, TWS is a chance to connect with old friends, make a few new ones along the way.

I’ve enjoyed putting my profile together and telling a bit of my story.

I know it will be well taken care of long after I am gone.

%d bloggers like this: