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Posts tagged ‘vietnam vet’

16
Apr

Vincent Okamoto-The Vietnam War’s Most Highly Decorated Japanese American

Vincent Hichiro Okamoto – featured in the PBS film ‘The Vietnam War’ by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – was born November 22, 1943, in Poston, Arizona, War Relocation Center, where his family was interned during World War II. He was the youngest of the ten children of Henry and Yone Okamoto.

Following the family’s release in 1945 at the end of the war, they moved to South Chicago, where his parents ran a small grocery store. The family later moved to Gardena, California, when he was twelve years old. He attended Gardena High School, where he served as senior class president. He was a three-year letterman in track and football and belonged to the Men’s Honor Society.

Okamoto attended El Camino College from 1962 to 1965. From 1965 to 1967 he attended the University of Southern California receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations in 1967. He enrolled in Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and was the first non-UCLA student to be commissioned through the UCLA ROTC program. He earned his commission as a U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant.

Serving in the military was an Okamoto family tradition: All six of Okamoto’s older brothers served in the military. Two fought in Europe during World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and another brother served with the First Marine Division during the Korean War. This family trend of serving in the armed forces would later influence Okamoto’s decision to volunteer to go to Vietnam in the late 1960s.

After receiving his commission in the infantry, Okamoto went through fourteen months of intensive combat training – including parachute and Army Ranger training at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

In 1968, he went to Vietnam, where he served in various capacities as an airborne ranger, infantry platoon leader, rifle company commander, and battalion intelligence officer, before he came back to the United States in 1970.

His first assignment was the intelligence-liaison officer for two months for the Phoenix Program while attached to Company B of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry 25th Infantry Division – based at Cu Chi Chi, some 14 miles northwest of Saigon, an area honeycombed with miles of Vietcong tunnels. Following his two months with the Phoenix Program, he was assigned as a platoon leader in B Company.

During the conduct of a village search, his platoon didn’t find any weapons or communist literature. Since it was a particularly hot day and his men tired, Okamoto ordered a prolonged lunch break and then moved his RTO, platoon medic and interpreter into a particular house. There were three women inside and a babe in arms, including a kid about four years old. In one corner, an elderly woman was cooking rice. Okamoto’s attention was drawn to the hot, steaming rice – something he had not eaten for months – wanted some. He got his interpreter to ask the grandma that they will give her a pack of cigarettes, a can of C-Ration turkey loaf, and a can of peaches for some of that steamed rice and fish and vegetables. When asking for seconds, Okamoto’s RTO said, “Damn, ain’t these people poor enough without you eating their food?” Okamoto responded, “They’ve got enough rice here to feed a dozen men” And then it dawned on him: they did have enough rice to feed a dozen men. He hurriedly asked his interpreter to find out why so much rice. The interpreter turned to the old women, demanding to know ‘Who is all this rice for? And she said, ‘no biet, no biet, no biet – I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.’ That was enough for the Americans to look around more carefully. The search uncovered a tunnel entrance hidden beneath straw matting.

Okamoto threw a phosphorous grenade into the tunnel. After the smoke cleared, seven or eight bodies were pulled from the tunnel and thrown out into the town square. The bodies were so charred they couldn’t be identified. The women that lived in that house with all the rice were squatting down, wailing.

“I think that was the first time I knew that I personally had killed people. I got an ‘Atta boy’ from the company commander. It wasn’t something that had any glory in it, or made me feel a real sense of accomplishment” said Okamoto.

Over that summer, Okamoto was wounded twice and made 22 helicopter combat assaults, four of them as commander of Bravo Company. The success or failure of a given mission was measured by enemy body count. “Field commanders were told very succinctly,” Okamoto recalled. “We needed to rack up as much body count as we could. How many enemy did you kill today? A kill ratio determined whether or not you called a firefight a victory or a loss. If you kill twenty North Vietnamese or Vietcong and lost only two people, they declared it a great victory.”

On the morning of August 23, Okamoto made his 23rd combat assault. 19 helicopters ferried the first and second platoons to a new landing zone (LZ) just 13 miles from the Cambodian border near Dau Tieng district of Binh Duong Province in the Southeast region of Vietnam. Their task was to do again, stay put, and somehow block a battalion of some 800 North Vietnamese troops who were trying to escape back across the border.

Okamoto’s company was reinforced by a platoon of mechanized infantry, three APCs, and a tank, but they were still badly outnumbered. He and the fewer than 150 men under his command spent the rest of that day and all of the next preparing for an attack as best they could – setting Claymore mines and hanging coils of razor wire.

At about 10 o’clock on the night of August 24, Okamoto remembered, “We got hit with a very heavy mortar barrage. Within the first 10 seconds, all three of those armored personnel carriers and tanks were knocked out with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Trip flares briefly lit up the landscape. Scores of enemy troops were running at the Americans through the elephant grass. Enemy mortar shells blasted two gaps in the razor wire. If Okamoto and his outnumbered men couldn’t plug them, they were sure to be overrun. He and the four men closest to him held their M-16s above their head and fired blindly.

The enemy kept coming. “I had my four people. And through the light of the flares, I yelled, ‘a couple of you guys go in man the machine guns on those APCs.’ The response I got was like ‘screw you, I ain’t going up there.’ That was enough for me to run to the first armored personnel carrier, pull out the dead gunner out of the tournament. I jumped in there, manned the machine gun and fired it until I ran out of ammo.” Okamoto moved to the second disabled APC, then the third, emptying their guns.

“They were still coming at us. I crawled out there, till I was about 10 meters from them. I killed them with hand grenades.” Two enemy grenades fell near him. He managed to throw back both. But a third landed just beyond his reach. Shrapnel fragments peppered his legs and back. “I just knew for sure I was going to die. I thought, ‘Hey Okamoto, you’re not going to make it out of here. Mom’s going to take it hard, but you’re not going to make it out of here.’ That’s liberating. When you know you’re going to die, the fear leaves. At least in my case, I was no longer afraid. I was just mad because here are all these little guys trying to kill me. If that’s the case, then I’m going to make it as tough on them as they possibly can before I go down. I killed a lot of brave men that night. And I rationalize that by telling myself, ‘well, maybe what you did – just maybe – saved the lives of a couple of my men.'”

During the night the enemy slipped over the border into Cambodia, dragging as many of their dead with them as they could. A third of Okamoto’s company had been lost.

For his efforts that day, Vincent Okamoto received the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army’ second highest honor. He also received a Silver Star Medal and two Bronze Star Medals for valor and several Purple Heart Medals. By the end of the war, he was the most highly decorated Japanese-American to survive the Vietnam War.

For Okamoto, the real heroes were the men who died – nineteen, 20-year-old high school dropouts. Most were draftees. They didn’t have escape routes that the elite and the wealthy and the privilege had. They looked upon military service like the weather: you had to go in, and you’d do it. But to see these kids, who had the least to gain – there wasn’t anything to look forward to. They weren’t going to be rewarded for their service in Vietnam. And yet, their incident patients, their loyalty to each other, their courage under fire was just phenomenal. And you would ask yourself, “How does America produce young men like this?”

Following his discharge from active service in 1970, Okamoto began giving thought of going to law school.  “I really did say to myself – and it sounds kind of corny – that if I am fortunate enough to live through this experience, then when I get back to the world – to America – I’d like to go through something that has rules, where people don’t throw grenades at each other and shoot at each other,” Okamoto said. “So I gave law school a shot.”

On the whole, law school proved to be less than enjoyable for Okamoto. But that did not deter him from going on to establish himself as a lawyer and, later, a judge.

“I hated law school,” Okamoto said. “In fact, I still look back and think law school was, other than Vietnam, probably the most unpleasant period of my life.”

For him, law school proved to have its own challenges and shortcomings. Coming back from three years in the U.S. Army – two of which were spent overseas – to law school at USC took some getting used to.

“I certainly didn’t set the legal academic world on fire when I was in law school,” he said. Having never associated with “study-mongers” in a classroom context, he “really had to work his tail off to survive academically.”

There was also the issue of the disparity he felt between himself and his classmates, who were usually several years younger and had never served in the military. “It was hard for me to come back from Vietnam and then listen to some young, twenty-four-year-old prodigy out of Harvard or Yale who’s talking about life experiences,” Okamoto said, recalling that disconnect with his law school peers when it came to lived experiences.

Though there were relatively few trial lawyers who were role models for Japanese Americans in the early 1970s, the few who were around helped the up-and-coming wave of young Japanese American attorneys.

“There were a few, and fortunately, those few worked hard, were well-thought of, so new guys like me were the beneficiaries of their positive appearances,” Okamoto said. “I look back on being a deputy district attorney as some of the better times of my life.”

In the mid-1970s, as a young deputy district attorney, Okamoto took part in the founding of the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA). Speaking to the reasons for his role in the formation of JABA, Okamoto emphasized the need for role models for the younger people in the community.

“At the time, I thought, in the event that more Japanese Americans become attorneys, we’re going to need some kind of organization – some mentoring if you will. And that’s what JABA started out to be,” Okamoto said.

“I think at the first or second installation dinner, we had a total turnout of forty people. And that’s with families and spouses, and all that,” Okamoto said. “You go to the JABA installations now, and multitudes and legions of people come out – some very, very prominent in politics, some in the legal community.”

JABA installation dinners now boast attendance in the hundreds and prominent guests from the legal community. Speaking to the growing ranks of JABA and its accomplishments since its inception, Okamoto lauded the direction of the organization.

Okamoto prosecuted criminal cases under the aegis of the deputy district attorney until 1978, when he started practicing private law with a former law school classmate.

“I wanted to make some money,” Okamoto said, explaining why he eventually decided to start his own practice. “Another former deputy DA that I’d gone to law school with, we left the DA office together, opened up shop and put out a shingle.”

As relatively new and young lawyers with their own practice, they struggled initially to find clients and to establish themselves. Eventually, though, they made a name for themselves as a firm and went on to represent notable clients like the port of San Pedro.

“It was a learning experience, starting down at the bottom rung of the ladder and having to climb up,” Okamoto said. “It took us a couple years before we actually made a profit, so it was tough on us, it was tough on our families, but it’s a rite of passage.”

Okamoto’s military service continues to inform his community involvement. He has served in the past as president of the Japanese American Vietnam War Veterans Memorial Committee. In the late 1980s, he led the committee to establish plans for the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial at what is now the National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court, located at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. The black granite memorial lists the names of 114 Japanese Americans who were killed in action or are missing in action in Vietnam.

Speaking to the valor of the Japanese Americans who decided to fight for the United States during World War II, Okamoto highlighted the fierce patriotism that led them to fight for a country that had placed nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans into inland concentration camps. “Having been denied due process, having been imprisoned behind barbed wire stockades, they still felt a love of country and felt it was their duty to go serve and fight for the very country that had confined them,” Okamoto said. “That’s part of the Japanese American experience in this country. It’s something that’s unparalleled.”

“I consider the Japanese American Vietnam Veterans Memorial one of my more noteworthy accomplishments,” Okamoto said. “And once we did that, then the Korean War vets said, hey, we should do the same thing. So two and half years later they put up their monument. Then the World War II guys said, hey, here are these little punks from Vietnam, and our younger brothers from Korea, we should have one for our people.”

With the addition of a memorial for the Japanese Americans who fought in the Korean War and in World War II, the National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court features the name of all the Japanese Americans who were killed in the conflicts of the United States.

“To me, the significance of that is the Japanese American community, their loved ones, and friends can go there to commune with those that died in the war. But it tells America, and the public at large – hey, all Japanese Americans didn’t go to pharmacy school, or become dentists, or doctors, or engineers,” Okamoto said. “The Japanese Americans paid with their life’s blood to be able to live in mainstream American society, and if you don’t believe me, go on down to the JACCC and look at the names of over twelve hundred Japanese Americans who were killed in America’s wars.”

In 2002, California’s Governor Gray Davis appointed Okamoto to the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench. Okamoto had submitted an application for a judgeship at the encouragement of his mentors, role models, and friends in the Japanese American legal community.

“I was fortunate enough to get an exceptionally well-qualified rating, and then I had to go to Sacramento to be interviewed,” Okamoto said. “I think I just lucked out, or maybe I fooled them. I’m not quite sure. But after about four or five months, it was kind of neat. I get the call from Burt Pines, the appointments secretary, then he says the governor’s on the phone, and bingo, with a stroke of his pen, I’m a judge.”

Davis personally swore Okamoto in as a judge on August 26, 2002, at the Nisei Veterans of Foreign Wars facility in Gardena. Since then, Okamoto has enjoyed his role on the Superior Court bench. “I’m a fan of trial courts, and what I’m doing now as a judge is probably the best job I ever had in the world,” Okamoto said.

Among Okamoto’s other achievement are two books documenting the stories of veterans. The first, ‘Wolfhound Samurai’ (2008), is an autobiographical account of the Vietnam War in novel form to minimize the hurt to actual people, according to Okamoto. The second, ‘Forged in Fire’ (2012), tells the story of Hershey Miyamura, a Japanese American Medal of Honor recipient and distinguished Korean War veteran.

Video on Vincent Okamoto found at:
https://vimeo.com/225602438

Okamoto’s DSC award found at http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=5126

8
Feb

QM3 Robert Zinn U.S. Navy (1967-1970)

Read the service reflections of US Navy Sailor

zinn2QM3 Robert Zinn

U.S. Navy

(1967-1970)

Shadow Box on TogetherWeServed.com

http://navy.togetherweserved.com/profile/525307

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

My father was with the 6th Marines on Eniwetok and Kwajalein Atolls during WWII. He came back with what was then described as battle fatigue and is now post traumatic stress disorder. My parents insisted I go to college after high school but I quickly realized after one semester itwasn’t for me. I remember coming home telling my father I was joining the Marines as some kids want to follow in their fathers footsteps. It was the first time I could remember he talking to me as an adult when he said to me “You’re 18 now I can’t tell you what to do but if you want to join the military join the Navy as it will keep you out of Vietnam.” Wanting to follow him and trusting his wisdom I joined the Navy and off to Recruit Training Great Lakes, Illinois in January 1967 I went. I can’t begin to explain nor will I ever forget the look on his face when he found out I’d been assigned to Mobile Riverine Force, Mekong Delta. My father was and always will be my hero and I will always be proud of following in his foot steps as part of the military.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?

After graduation from high school I was pressed by my parents to attend college. After one semester I knew it wasn’t for me. I informed my parents of my decision to quit college and join the Marines as my father was. It was the first time my father really talked
to me as a man and asked me if I was going to enlist to join the Navy. He was devastated when I told him I was going to Vietnam. I started aboard the USS Ajax AR-6, home ported in Sasebo, Japan but making trips to Vung Tao as a support mission. After six months, I volunteered for service in South Vietnam assigned to the USS Benewah APB-35, Mekong Delta Mobile Riverine Force, River Assault Flotilla One. Once in-country I found it unpleasant to say the least. I figured I was there, nothing I could do about it so I made the most of it becoming diverse and being assigned to various units. Leaving was a thoughtless process. Upon separation from active duty I was offered $10,000 to re-up for another six years. Asking where I would be assigned I was told another tour in country. Again a no brainer.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

Rung Sat Special Zone Cambodia and Trung Hao XI. One night in 1968 I was awoken by one of the on-watch staff telling me the XO wanted me on the bridge on the double. On the bridge I was summoned to the chart room. At the time I was the
lead Quartermaster. The XO asked me to pull all the charts we had from our position up to Phenom Pem Cambodia. He wanted me to chart a course from where we were up the Mekong and into Cambodia. In looking at the charts, there were no depth markings into Cambodia as these were uncharted waters. With my XO and OPS Officer LT. Paul Ferguson we came to the decision to put four River Patrol Boats. “PBR’S” a couple of hundred yards ahead and relay depth soundings.

I took position behind the wheel of the lead PBR calling soundings back to the fleet. Coming to the position the orders we were given, I had the fleet anchor in approximately 21 feet of water all seemed to be well. At approximately 0500 the following morning I was summoned to the bridge of the Benewah by a very upset sailor. Upon my arrival on the bridge I was met by my CO, LCDR. D.L. SOLOMON, the XO LT. KMETZ, and LT. FERGUSON. Much to my dismay and theirs the fleet was aground, the tide ebbing by more than 20 feet overnight obviously unanticipated. There weren’t too many suits pleased with me. After all was said and done, and no one pointing the finger at me or anyone else, the tide came in, once afloat I had found a large area of deep water about five miles ahead of us where we found safe anchor. We were not supposed to be that far north. Thankfully we took no significant damage and sustained no casualties.

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

Aboard the USS Ajax AR-6 I requested and was granted to go to Quartermaster school in Yokosuka, Japan. Upon successfully completing the course I decided life aboard the Ajax wasn’t for me and wanted to navigate the rivers of the Mekong. I put in for transfer and was assigned to Mobile Riverine Force USS Benewah APB-35, a self propelled barracks ship joining it in Dong Tam, South Vietnam. I found a happy medium between love and hate in my new assignment being given a lot of flexibility as to what I could do. I became part of the Helicopter flight crew which in the end recorded a record number of landings. I was able to fly door gunner on an Army UH-1, fly in the co-pilots seat on a light observation Helicopter (LOH), patrol with PBR’S doing insertion and extractions and laying fire in designated free fire zones, and able to be the shooter on the forward quad 40mm mount.

This diversity kept me occupied and made the time go a little faster. My fondest memory I had is when the Commanding Officer came to me and asked if I would like to take Benewah and reposition her. We would have to move every night even if it were 50 to 100 feet in case “CHARLIE” set up on us during the day. B-40 rockets could be set up and when night fell all the enemy would have to do is come back, fire and run, thus moving everyday became a necessity. It was a thrill to have Command, even for the brief period of the fleet movement.

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

Clearly the horrors of war is something no man or woman who has experienced it will ever forget. The vision of a body bag with someone you served with whether you knew that person or not is a vision which can be unrelenting. When the body of our Radarman, a good friend, who went missing one night was found floating in the Mekong is a vision I will never forget.

WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS OR QUALIFICATION BADGES FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT OR VALOR, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

Upon my separation from active duty I was awarded The Navy Commendation with Combat Distinguishing Device “V” authorized for Meritorious Service. I remember being asked to attend a ceremony at the Third Naval District in Brooklyn, New York to receive the award. I discussed it with my father explaining I had no desire to put my uniform back on, he didn’t persuade me to do it as I think he understood my decision having served. Thinking back on it now it was a bad decision and probably selfish on my part not having my family be part of it. The award was sent in the mail. I regret it to this day.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

The Presidential unit citation and two Naval Unit Citations were probably the most significant as it shows the great team I was privileged to be a part of. No one person in and of himself could achieve the missions and goals we were tasked with. Mobile Riverine Force, “The Brown Water Navy” was unique and one of the most successful units to have served in the Vietnam war. To have been a very small part of it was and always will be an honor and privilege.

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

LCDR D. L. Solomon, as my Commanding Officer, he always led by example. Being a mustang and becoming the CO, he always had everyone’s respect for his authority and leadership. Also LT. Paul Ferguson our Operations Officer put his faith and trust in me, probably more times than he should have, always having my back. For that I am forever grateful.

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?

As told previously coming up to the bridge after putting my boats aground in Cambodia seeing my outfit playing football in the muddy bottom around my boat. Certainly not laughing on the outside at the time and after having thoughts of my short lived military career coming to an end I found the event to be hysterical after all was said and done and everyone was safe.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?

I always challenged myself to succeed by putting my entrepreneurial visions to work. The work ethic my father and the military instilled in me drove me then as it does now. After building and selling several business’s I moved to Las Vegas to join my two boys in a consulting business. Leaving them to tend to the business on their own. I now am a Security Supervisor at a Las Vegas Strip Casino leading a young group of Officers and trying to instill upon them the work ethics which were taught to me. I am very fortunate to have the staff I work with. At my age of 66 they all keep me going. I can retire if I choose, but I love what I do. If you love your work you’ve never worked a day rings so true.

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

Mobile Riverine Force Association. The benefit I receive from them is that I am always reminded that, even though it was an unpopular time in our nations history, that

I did not question when we were in conflict, and our freedom’s may be in jeopardy. I am still proud of myself and all of the men and women with whom I had the extreme privilege of being a part of.

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

To respect authority, and to be as responsible of a person as I can be. I have to this day maintained a routine. I’ve been reminded by my superiors at times I’m no longer in the military. I have learned to back down and accept those for who they are not what I want them to be.

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

No matter what the situation of your assignment, no matter what the civilian world thinks of the duties you are assigned to, you are still a part of the GREATEST and most POWERFUL military in the world and defending the GREATEST nation on earth. Always remember we may all not support the actions our nation takes, however, those of us at home will always support, and honor you that are serving. The wrong things happened years ago, we’ll not let that happen again. My son served in the Submarine Service of which I am extremely proud of. He is fifth generation generation Navy from our family and served his nation proudly.

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

It enabled me to contact some of those I served with, and whom I have not had contact with for over 35 years. The pictures in this section and those in my profile were provided to me by QM3 Bruce Holdsworth who I the pleasure of seeing again a few years ago in Vegas, and our Operations Officer Paul Ferguson whom I’ve had contact with for more than several years now.

1
Feb

SGT Earl Watters U.S. Army (1965-1967)

Read the service reflections of US Army Veteran

profile3SGT Earl Watters

U.S. Army

(Served 1965-1967)

Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/265930>

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

What influenced me to join the Army was that the Vietnam War was going on and I knew that my Draft number was coming up. I also came from a rather large family with many veterans that served during the time of War. I felt it was my duty to following the footsteps of my family members that served, so I volunteered for the 2 year draft. I thought it was the smart thing to do at the moment. I would soon learn a hard lesson.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?

I served my two year stint, my father was in World War II, my brother served in the 11th Airborne in the Cold War, my grandfather’s brother served with the 5th Cavalry during the Civil War. Most of my uncles served in World War II, so if you love your country,you serve if asked, or not asked.

Why I left the Military? It’s because I knew that if I went to Viet Nam one more time, I wouldn’t make it back a second time. I was the only one from my platoon who didn’t go to the hospital from WIA or Malaria or KIA. It was life changing for me. Sometimes I’m still fighting some of those battles.

I had my fill of danger and combat while in Viet Nam: I was in these operations from 1965 to 1966: Combat Operations #1: 1965-1966; Operation Scrimmage, Binh Khe, Quick Kick, Matador, White Wing, Lincoln 1, Mosby 1, Crazy Horse, Nathan Hale, and Henry Clay.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

Yes, I was in combat several times. I knew that when we went to Ia Drang Valley we would lose a few buddies. I’ll tell you one thing, I found God in Ia Drang on Dec 19th, 1965 and Nov 2nd and 3rd 1965. I got to the point where I knew I wasn’t going to make it home alive. One night I laid out my .45 in the dirt next to me and my M-60 machine gun. All my buddies were hooking up their bayonets. I didn’t have a bayonet for my machine gun, but I had my .45. At 0300 the Viet Cong tried to overrun us. We fought back like hell and beat them back. We chased them back to the Chu Pong Massif. The division called us back and told us not to go any further. We didn’t know but there was 2.800 Viet Cong on that mountain and only 100 of us from Alpha Company. It was our lucky day on Nov 3rd, 1965.

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

My most favorite was Fort Campbell, Kentucky as we had clean sheets, hot showers and hot food. My least favorite of course, was Viet Nam.

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

Nov 2-Nov 3rd 1965. Alpha Company made the 1st night air assault in Viet Nam into a landing zone under attack by NRVN Forces to reinforce a unit from the 1st Squadron of the 9th Cavalry in the Ia Drang Valley. We had 17 men shot while landing. We lost Sgt Ross, lost Sgt Platt. Landed from 12pm to 0100. Lt John Hanlon was shot up really bad. We hooked up bayonets as they tried to overrun us at 0300. We held our position until 0600. Combat Operations #2: Vic Thuan Hahn, Dec 1965. Lost my Lt Stuart Tweedy, Sgt James Thompson, Lost Sgt Dale Fugate. Had two of my good buddies, Gary Schavers and Nathan Villagomez wounded. Combat Operations: #3: White Horse (LZ Horse Bonson). May 1966. Lost good buddy David Canales, Had several more men shot up and my 4th Lt John Doubet took one through the arm. I go to Benson, AZ every year to David Canales’s gravesite to talk or leave a US flag at his grave.

On May 15th, 1966, we were going to move next to the Mekong Delta on an early morning air assault. I landed first to lay down fire with my M-60, if needed. One of the Hueys with 12 men from my Platoon crashed while coming in for a landing. It was bad seeing it roll end over end tumbling down the mountain with bodies flying out, legs cut off, broken backs and you name it. I was the only one from my squad left that day. Half my platoon was lost. I still see it when I close my eyes every day.

WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS OR QUALIFICATION BADGES FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT OR VALOR, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

You know, I wasn’t looking for any medals. My buddies who died should have gotten the medals. The one who stands out is Capt Ted Danielsen, my Company Commander. He took care of his men. He wouldn’t have us do anything he wouldn’t do. If we didn’t have enough food to go around, he would do without. He received Two Bronze Stars with ‘V’ Device and a Silver Star for Valor. We all loved him and Lt Hanlon. He was shot up real bad. A bullet went through his spine and he couldn’t move but was still giving orders to us men before he passed out from pain.

Our medic, Raymond Ortiz who was shot 6 times, was still helping the wounded before he passed out from loss of blood. I could go on and on but those men from Fort Benning were heroes to me. Damn they were great.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

Of all the medals I received, I think the Presidential Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism under Fire from President Lyndon B. Johnson. I have it hanging on my front room wall. Why? Because a lot of my buddies gave up their lives for this Citation.

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

LTC Mertel, he was my Battalion Commander. He would fly over every mission we where going on a few days in advance to make sure he would know the area in case something would happen. He checked danger zones for the landings and or air assaults. He was an old WWll man. I hated to hear that he was deceased. We had talked online for many years. When he died, his daughter sent me his banner books and some pictures and plaques. He was a great leader.

And, there was LT John Hanlon who took us into the first night combat landing on Nov 2nd and 3rd at 1200 hrs to O100, 1965. He wouldn’t give up after being shot three times. What can I say?

LT Stewart Tweedy was another great man. The day he was killed, he was leading us up front, not from behind.

These men I have all the respect in the world for. Only GOD knows how great they really were.

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?

My squad was going out on ambush. It was about 0100 in the morning. We came to this small creek. We had only moonlight to see by as we stopped to see where we would cross. This big python slid off the bank into the river. It made abig splash. Now, I looked around at my squad. I could see all those eyes lighting up thinking, “Damn, if we get into this creek, this damned python is going to get one of us”. It was too wide to jump across, so we found this tree that had fallen down and threw or let it fall from one side to the other.

So, Sammy Daniels gets on this tree and starts moving across this creek with his M-16, frags, 20 twenty round clips and all his gear when he gets right in the middle of this tree. It starts to break and he falls into this creek and goes under water and we can’t see him. Then all of a sudden he shoots out of the water climbing the river bank. We started laughing, I mean really loud, all of us. We couldn’t stop and even our Sarge was laughing. We could have all been killed that night. Sammy thought that snake was going to get him.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?

I worked at a lot of jobs when I first got out. First at Suzuki Motorcycles in La Marinda, CA as a mail clerk. Then as a meat cutter at George A. Hormel and Company. Then a welder for a while. Then went to plumbing, heating and welding school. I started my own business for many years. Then worked for Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys in Apple Valley, CA.

I was lost for many years as you can see. I had a bad accident, woke up in the hospital with two broken arms and a concussion. I thought I was in Saigon in an Army Hospital, that’s when my life changed.

Some of my buddies found me through the White Pages on the internet for a reunion at Fort Bragg in 1995. I went to it. It was one of the greatest moments of my life seeing these men who I fought with 30 plus years earlier. We were having beers, hugging one another. When it was over, I cried myself to sleep.

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

I belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Together We Served website. I am assisting two WWII Veterans in capturing their military legacy and posting it to this website.

I meet with Rio Rancho Coffee Club every Friday with all the Vets. Each branch of the service is represented. I try and help any Veteran who needs help getting on with their lives.

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

I try to live every day to the fullest. When I was in Viet Nam, it was a bad day every day. My buddy was shot laying next to me. I said, “No matter how bad things get, it can always get worse”. I could have been laying there myself. So, I live every day thinking of one of them and call the ones who made it home as often as I can.

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

Follow orders, keep your head down and leave no man behind. By all means, love, honor and respect your county and the leaders that you are to follow.

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

It brought back a lot of old memories and a few more tears. We had 331 KIA’s and one MIA, Ellis S Randall, from 1st Battalion, Eight Cavalry in Viet Nam. One day I hope that they find him. God Bless him and the USA and TogetherWeServed which helped me tell my story.

4
Jan

LCDR E. L. “Jack” Spratt US Navy (Ret) (1969-1999)

Read the service reflections of US Navy Sailor:

sprattLCDR E. L. “Jack” Spratt

US Navy (Ret)

(1969-1999)

Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/bio/EL.Spratt

Veterans, join us today at http://togetherweserved.com to share your story.

WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

I graduated from high school in 1967 and decided to give college a try, because that was my only way to keep a draft deferment. Well, college and I didn’t see eye to eye and in the middle of my third semester I had dropped out.

Coming from a small town, the lady who ran the draft board turned out to be my Aunt. I was home for Thanksgiving and she bumped into me in the post office. She indicated that since I was no longer in school, I probably shouldn’t make any plans after Christmas.

I wasn’t even sure where Vietnam was, but I knew I didn’t want to go there, so the Monday after Thanksgiving 1968, I went to see the Navy recruiter and entered boot camp on January 7, 1969.

WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

My career was very unconventional. I was a Radarman (later Operations Specialist) as an enlisted man, but I did my shore duty at an Air Traffic Control facility where I became a control tower operator and radar approach controller.

I made Chief in 1981 and the following year was selected for the Limited Duty Officer program and commissioned as a Surface Operations Ensign. I did the standard shipboard tour, followed by a shore tour. After that, I got out of my element a bit and ended up spending almost eight years in the Naval Special Warfare’s small boat community.

I completed my twilight tour in San Diego at the newly commissioned Fleet Information Warfare Center.

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

I served a year in Vietnam as a crewman on a PCF, more commonly referred to as a Swift Boat.

Twenty years later, I served in Desert Storm operations with the Naval Special Warfare Boat Units.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

There are so many … but I think watching one of my boat crewmen during Desert Storm overcome his fear of nighttime patrols in mined waters is probably the top.

This young man was always the last guy on the boat and I could sense his reluctance. So one afternoon before we were to patrol up the Kuwaiti coast, I asked him to take a “walk and talk”.

He explained that he was afraid every time we took the boat out at night. He was with us when we had spotted a mine and in his words, “it scared me. I have a new baby at home and I’m scared to death that I’m never gonna see him or my wife again.”

I told him I understood and that I would take him off the boat and put him in the maintenance detachment. I also told him that no one would know of the conversation we just had. It was his answer that impacted me.

He said, “Sir, I’d like that, but no thanks. I’m part of this crew. We have trained together and we know each other well. If it’s all the same, I’d like to stay with them. Yeah, I’m scared, but I won’t let you down. I’ll never be late for an o, and I’ll do what I need to do. So, thanks, but I’ll stay with the boat.”

As we walked back to the boat house, just before we got within earshot of the others, he stopped and said, “Sir … thanks for listening and thanks for understanding.”

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

I received the Navy Achievement Medal with the combat V for my actions in Vietnam. According to the citation, I participated in 125 combat patrols and engaged the enemy on six occasions. Truthfully, although I remember being in a firefight or two, the details escape me. I am extremely thankful that no one on my boat was wounded or killed during my time in Nam.

I received the Navy Commendation Medal with V for my actions during Desert Storm. It is basically an end of tour award for my being Officer in Charge of the Special Boat Detachment of Naval Special Warfare Task Unit, Central. I was fortunate to be in charge of 46 of the bravest guys I ever had the privilege of working with.

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

One of the most meaningful awards I received is the Navy Achievement Medal with the Combat V that I earned while in Vietnam. A close second is the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V I received for Operation Desert Storm.

I’m also extremely proud of my Good Conduct medals, and my Surface Warfare Officer pin.

That said … there is one award I cherished then, and still do now, more than any other. The day I was commissioned, my daughter gave me a “friendship pin” she had made with her Brownie Scout troop. It was nothing more than a few beads strung on a safety pin, but it was hand-made by her, and it was beautiful. When she pinned it on my shirt, she said “This will keep you safe, Daddy.”

I kept that pin and wore it on the inside pocket of my jacket every day until I retired. I still have it in my jewelry box, and it is by far the most meaningful award I obtained while in the Navy.

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

This one is easy. Radarman Chief Charles B. Sharp. He was my Chief on the USS Monticello, the first ship I rode after my tour in ‘Nam. He taught me more about leadership than any of the schools the Navy sent me to  and the lessons I learned from him in our two years together have remained with me for my whole life.

Chief Sharp helped me get through the post-Vietnam “spookies”. He showed me how to be a leader and he taught me that the most important things a leader has going for him are the people who work for him. He also taught me the concept of “walk and talk”, as a way to get to know what’s going on in your division.

One night, we were walkin’ and talkin’ and he mentioned that my enlistment was ending in a few months. He asked what I was going to do when I got out. Since I really had no concrete plans, he listened to me babble for a few minutes and then asked me one question, “Do you like what you are doing now?”

Well, we were about 3/4 through a great Westpac cruise that had me visiting places like Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines. I was a Second Class by then, making more money than I had ever made in my life and was having a blast seeing the world. Of course I liked what I was doing and I told him so.

He just said, “well, you might want to think about re-enlisting. It ain’t a bad life, you know.” And he walked away. I had a bit of trouble sleeping that night and the next morning I initiated the walk and talk. He explained that not only would I get to keep doing something I enjoyed and was good at, but if I shipped over within the next four days, I would add a couple of thousand dollars to my re-enlistment bonus because we were still in the tax-free war zone.

That afternoon I put in my chit to ship for six years and two days later, I was raising my hand. And Chief Sharp … well, before he would allow me to raise my hand or sign the paper he made me promise him something. He said, “Spratt, promise me this. If this ever quits being fun, you will quit doing it.”

Well, for 27 years after making that promise, the Navy was still fun and I kept doing it. Thanks to RDC Sharp who did more for me and my career than he will ever know.

One side note, shortly after I was commissioned, I was able to track Chief Sharp down. He lived in Hawaii and I was able to speak to him by phone and tell him how much of an impact he had on me and my life. I have heard since, but unable to verify, that he has died. If this is so, the world is a little worse off for his passing, but a great deal better off because he was here.

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

Wow. Over 30 years, there have been so many.

One of my favorites is the night my roommate went blind. I shared a stateroom with the Bos’n, and one afternoon in Australia, Tommy and I went out on a wine-tasting tour. Well, it seems Tommy tasted about three bottles over his limit and I literally carried him back to the ship. I got him undressed and in his bunk, then I went back out to hit the town.

I got back about midnight. The ship had lost shore power and she was totally dark. Not a problem, I knew my way around, so I headed to the stateroom. It was pitch black inside the room, so I started getting undressed for bed.

Just as I was about to hit the rack, Tommy woke up and asked, “Jack, is that you?”
“Of course,” I answered. “Who else would it be?”

Tommy then said, in a bit of a panicked voice, “Jack, you can turn on the light if you want.”

Never one to pass up an opportunity, I replied, “Tommy, the lights ARE on.”

About ten seconds went by, then Tommy let out a blood curdling scream … “Jack … I’m BLIND. I’m F…kin’ Blind.”

I flipped on the light, laughing like crazy. Tommy was sitting up in his bunk, he had one hand holding his eyelids open and the other right in front of his nose. He said, “What the …” and then he started to laugh along with me. He told me later he really thought he may have gotten some bad wine and somehow drank himself blind.

I will also say that Tommy got even with me for that … but that’s a sea story for another time.

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

I am a Juvenile Probation Officer in San Diego. I am part of a program that partners with the Police Department trying to offer diversion and intervention programs to minors early enough they don’t get caught up too far in the system. The goal is to get them back on track so they don’t become criminal adults.

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

I’m a Lifetime Member of the VFW. When I came home from Desert Storm, my hometown VFW Post purchased a year membership for me (and all local DS Veterans). I thought that was a nice gesture and bought the life membership a year later. I’m not too active – my Post is 800 miles away. I do stop by the local Post now and then for a cold one, but that’s about it.

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

I think the biggest influence I carried over from the military is my work ethic. The military taught me to be on time, do my job to the best of my ability and to follow orders. I was also taught to be a leader as well as a follower, and this has served me well in my new career.

I also think the military has taught me to embrace life a little more than many who don’t have the military experience. I have come face to face with my mortality and have learned to value the important things (to me at least). I can love unconditionally, I can accept unconditional love and I try and always do the right thing.

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

In the words of Chief Sharp … if it ever quits being fun, quit doing it!

Enjoy every moment, take pictures, keep a log, take pictures, work hard, take pictures and don’t forget to take pictures. Of course, try and label them so you can remember who/what/where/when. In this digital photo computer age, this should be easy.

My only regret in my career is not taking enough pictures or keeping enough notes. Well, maybe not my only regret, there was that night in Freemantle, but ….. never mind! LOL

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

I have touched base with a couple of warriors I knew from my Boat Guy days – and because of TWS I have formed a very good friendship with someone I didn’t know before. The site has also allowed me to keep abreast of the changes which have occurred in the Navy since I hauled out. I’m happy to say, it appears my Navy is in good hands.

2
Nov

Sgt Jerry D Dennis U.S. Air Force (1970-1974)

Read the service history of U.S. Air Force Airman:

profileSgt Jerry D Dennis

U.S. Air Force

(Served 1970-1974)

Shadow Box: http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/profile/85070

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

While a senior in high school, I applied for appointment to Senator Fulbright, a Congressman from Arkansas, for appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. I did well with the academic portion, but wasn’t up to par physically. My parents and I visited the Air Force Recruiter in PineBluff, Arkansas where I signed up for the 90 Day Delayed Enlistment Program.

In early childhood I “played” the role of Soldier. I really didn’t know much about the Air Force. That exposure was brief. I played with small plastic Army men from a very early age and was hooked on the military. As youngsters, my brothers and I would “patrol” the ravines of New Mexico and chase each other behind the trees. Dad insured that I watch movies about the military, particularly ‘Pork Chop Hill’ and ‘The Longest Day.’ He also drilled into me the necessity of being in the military “to build character.”

However, because of the family’s continuously moving from place to place, there was little opportunity to join a high school Junior ROTC program. To me, the military in the movies was exciting but not reality and I had no scope of that reality. Dad even emphasized the great traits of General Douglas MacArthur when we lived in Little Rock, AR, and called him “the Greatest Soldier.”

In truth, there were no monies available to go to college. That left one opportunity: the military, particularly the Air Force. Dad frowned on the Army, even though he was once part of the Arkansas National Guard, and feared I might get caught up in combat in Vietnam. I never saw the number assignment by Selective Service. I’m glad I enlisted. It is a legacy I will never forget.

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

On Nov 19, 1970, I entered Air Force Basic Training and was assigned to Flight 1355, 3727th Training Squadron, under the instruction of SSgt Houston, TSgt Medina, and TSgt Rhoades. As the night sky darkened, I became just one more recruit in a succession of recruits. I began to giggle under my breath until I hear the deep baritone voice of a tall black man who set me back in order. My nerves suddenly frayed, but I kept in step. SSgt Houston became a great inspiration to me throughout my training, and I enjoyed the training.

Midway through Basic, I volunteered for the Linguist Program, not knowing what it held. I made my own decisions.

I graduated from Basic Training on Jan 1, 1971 and entered ‘Casual’ until orders were cut for Language School. I finally received my orders for training as a Vietnamese (Hanoi Dialect) at DLISW, in El Paso, Texas and began in Feb 1971. With my training completed in November 1971, I was sent to Goodfellow AFB Texas to attend Specialized Training for six months. Additionally, I received training in Cabin Depression in Mineral Wells, Water Survival in Florida where I discovered the Air Force had its own Navy, and then two weeks at Survival Training in Washington State. My next orders were for OLBB, 6948th SS, at Fort Mead, MD, beginning May 1, 1972 as a Cryptologist/Transcriber.

In late October, early November, I received word that there were two places I could be assigned: Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (NKP), Thailand for 18 months as a Ground Operator at the Det 3, 6994th SS flying or Danang AB, Republic of Vietnam. I chose Det 2, 6994th SS. I took 30 days leave, and arrived in Vietnam on Dec 12, 1972 to begin my training as an airborne radio operator. The unit closed Feb 28, 72. I was reassigned to Det 3, 6994th at Ubon RTAFB, Thailand.

In August 1972, I learned my father-in-law was in critical condition and was released from Det 3, 6994th, and sent back to the States on Emergency Leave. Not too long after I arrived my father-in-law died. I was in “assignment limbo” for over 30 days. I finally received orders to return to OLEB, 6948th at Fort Mead. I put in for another language, and my last assignment was DLI West Coast with Arabic Language Training. That was my last assignment. I requested a “hardship discharge” due to my mother-in-law’s health.

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

I participated in Combat Operations as a Vietnamese Linguist flying combat sorties from December 1972 through February 1973 aboard unarmed WWII vintage EC-47 aircraft as a member of Detachment 2 and 3, 6994th Security Squadron. Our motto was ‘Unarmed, Alone, and Unafraid.’ In Vietnam, we operated out of Danang AFB (commonly called “Rocket City”) and in Thailand at Ubon Royal Thai AFB.

Our mission was to fly above and all over Southeast Asia locating and identifying the enemy using airborne radio direction finding (ARDF) techniques and collecting intelligence information in support of ground combat commanders. As a result of our work, many attacks on friendly forces were mitigated and it has been reported that up to 95% of the B-52 attacks in Vietnam were based in part on information collected by our squadron.

While in DaNang I experienced a “”Friendly fire” experience on Jan 6, 1973. I awoke to the sound of 500 pounders exploding just across the street in the hangers situated in “Gunfighter.” I rolled out quickly from my bunk thinking it was the NVA Rocket Battalion giving us “what-for.” I found out later a Marine colonel and his F-4 squadron dropped his remaining ordnance with heavy cloud cover and did not even realize he was bombing the Air Base and destroying the giant petroleum drums and many of the OV-2’s and OV-10’s aircraft which were in hangers. As I understand it, the Marine colonel never flew again and the only sound he heard was a pencil sharpener and typewriter to remind him of his faux pas. To date, I have found no comments regarding this episode, but I remember it vividly.

I also experienced other several close calls while in Vietnam. One was when a 122mm Soviet made rocket struck right behind the hanger where I was preparing my radio. I heard the explosion, but did not realize it was so close. I turned around to let my AMS know I was ready and noticed all but the pilot, copilot, and navigator were gone. I ran out the back of the aircraft taking my headsets with me and almost gave myself whiplash. I jumped onto the tarmac and took cover.

On the day the Cease Fire was to be signed, I was in the Operations Quonset Hut. We intercepted a North Vietnamese Message that indicated there would be a rocket attack at midnight, and notified our HQ in Saigon. Those in Saigon blew us off. At midnight, one of our aircraft on the tarmac was hit by two or three 122mm Rockets and completely destroyed. When time came for the signing of Peace Accord in Paris, the NVA Rocket Battalion fired all of their rockets which passed over us and hit Monkey Mountain. After it was all over, it was surreal. There was a stunning silence in the air…no more AC-47, AC-123, or AC-130 firing from the around the perimeter, no Vietnamese Artillery Rounds being fired. All was quiet. The sun was coming up on the horizon, the sky was bright blue, and only a few clouds filtered by.

In February 1972 we began breaking down the unit, and afterwards, celebrated at a Korean Restaurant nearby Gunfighter.

In the early hours of Feb 28, 1972, Sgt. Sullivan, an SP, and I settled down on the duffle bags prepared for loading later that day. We sat there in the darkness and could see that the fighting was not over: artillery fire, possibly armor units, and a light show to outdo all light shows were occurring. We were out of it, but the North Vietnamese were just settling in against South Vietnamese units.

As we prepared to say goodbye to Det 2, 6994th Security Squadron, we noticed that the United Nations troops had arrived. As we made our way to the KC-130, I notice a well-dressed North Vietnamese Officer, well-polished, with a scowl on his face, and with him was a Viet Cong soldier observing. As we boarded, I tried to put it all behind me as we left a “war zone” and enter “the real world” Air Force.

When I arrived in Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base it was a whole new world, and with it, more flight time over combat areas in Southeast Asia.

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

The duty station at the OLBB, 6948th Security Squadron, located inside the National Security Agency stands out. The work challenged me and those above me, both military and civilian, provided me an opportunity to work independently. I thank those people who schooled me, showed confidence in me, and considered me more than just a low ranking individual in the Air Force chain of command.

In one way, I wished I could have stayed and worked there as a civilian.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

My time in Vietnam and Thailand as an Airborne Voice Intercept Operator stands out the most. I had the privilege of flying 46 combat sorties with the 6994th Security Squadron and contribute to the most highly decorated squadron in the history of the current Air Force Intelligence and Surveillance Agency and all of its predecessor organizations.

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

I received no individual medals or awards received for Valor, but I did receive a “V” for Valor on my Outstanding Air Force Unit Citation for my participation with the 6994th Security Squadron while in Vietnam.

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

Among the medals, awards and qualification badges, the one most meaningful is the award for the Permanent Crew Member Badge I received for flying combat sorties while serving with Det 2, 6994th Security Service.

This award was most memorable because it was “permanent award” much like the “combat infantry badge” which was earned by Army Infantry troops in Vietnam.

I consider it to be higher than even the single Air Medal I received.

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

This is a difficult question to answer. However, I believe it would be my TI, SSgt Houston who served as one of my Training Instructors in Basic Training because of his patience, humor, and reflection of the honor. Without him, I might not have made it through Basic Training. He proved a great mentor as well as Training Instructor, and had great patience even while in Basic Training.

I recall how proud I was seeing him as a Master Sergeant in an Air Force Now Video while I was at DaNang Vietnam. Two years had passed, and the last time I saw him in person, he was a Staff Sgt. I’ve tried to locate him, but I don’t even know his first name. He was a great inspiration.

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?

That particular incident would have to be in Basic Training in November 1970, when I became a member of Flight 1355 under the guidance of SSgt Houston and TSgt Medina.

During the first week, Medina called the flight together and asked for “volunteers for a very special assignment.” I raised my hand, as did others. Come to find out it was to perform latrine duty: Cleaning showers, mopping floors, scouring commodes and sinks. I still laugh at how naive I was back then.

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?

The highlight of my profession outside military service involved my 25 years of commitment to serving veterans for the Department of Veterans Affairs working at VA Hospitals.

I served at Overton Brooks VAMC, Houston VAMC, Amarillo VAMC, the Texarkana VA Outpatient Clinic, and the Albuquerque VAMC. It was a wonderful experience to give back to those who gave so much to their country while serving in the U.S. Military. I felt a great affinity for those in every branch, and even two gristle Marine veterans who served at Iwo Jim counted me as one of their own, and often asked if I was at Iwo. That was a great honor for me and I will never forget them.

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

Discipline, commitment, honor, sacrifice, and fellowship from my time in the military have followed me even to where I’m at now. Forty years have elapsed since I first went into the military. I’m glad I did. That camaraderie continues every time I shake the hand of other military service men that have come before me in appreciation of their service.

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

Build on the examples of those who served before you. Get to know those unknown heroes seen every day. Learn about the stories they would like to share. Be guided by your leaders and be patient. Even if you don’t meet your goals for rank or assignment, be thankful and help others achieve their goals. I have learned from the old expression, “what goes around, comes around”. Others taught me.

It is my honor to encourage those who are still in the battle to protect America.

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

Togetherweserved.com has helped me expand my horizon. One of my greatest interest is to give recognition to those who will not be recognized in today’s world without the assistance of others, to be aware, that despite the deactivation of my units, to keep them aware that life is like Forrest Gump says “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.” Forrest Gump became a hero even if his only desire was to get Bubba out of harm’s way and took everyone back until he found him.

28
Sep

CMSgt Gilberto Flores U.S. Air Force (Ret) (Served 1961-1987)

Read the service reflections of U.S. Air Force Airman:

profileCMSgt Gilberto Flores

U.S. Air Force (Ret)

(Served 1961-1987)

Shadow Box: http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/bio/Gilberto.Flores

If you are a veteran or a family member of a veteran, join us TogetherWeServed.com

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

Having little or no money to attend college after high school, I decided to join the Air Force, learn a skill and obtain a degree. I’m pleased to say that the Air Force was very supportive of higher education, and I managed to obtain a BS degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, an Associates degree from the Community College of the Air Force, and another Associates degree from the University of Maryland. This education helped me gain employment in Aerospace when I retired from the Air Force.

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

I was in the Administrative/Information Management career field in my early years as an Airman. When I enlisted in 1961, there were not many available or open career fields other than support type jobs such as Supply, Food Service, Personnel, and so on. Because I did not have 20/20 vision without glasses, I was unable to enter combat related fields such as Combat Control teams, Weather, Rescue, etc. which I really wanted. However, I managed to attain the grade of Staff Sgt. before I retrained in the Aircraft Maintenance career field which enabled me to be promoted all the way to Chief Master Sergeant.

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.

While assigned to the 315th Air Commander Group (TC) at Tan Son Nut AB, Republic of Vietnam and working in the Airlift Control Center by day, I volunteered to fly aboard C-123 aircraft as an Illuminator Operator (commonly called “flare kickers”). We flew an average of 8-10 hours at nightsupporting ground forces under attack by enemy combatants. Because we flew at low altitudes while dropping our flares, we were always subject to enemy ground fire. In fact, several of our assigned aircraft came back from the missions with bullet holes and other damage. During my 14 months in country we lost two C-123 aircraft due to enemy action.

I flew a total of 42 combat missions and was awarded the Air Medal, of which I am very proud. I was 8 combat missions short of an additional medal. At the time the criteria for the Air Medal was 25 combat missions.

It should be noted that my Air Commando Group consisted of four airlift squadrons, including the Ranch Hand squadron which was responsible for defoliant operations. Little did we know how “Agent Orange” would affect us later!

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

My favorite assignment was in Vietnam with the 315th Air Commando Group. It was an honor to serve with outstanding Airman (Air Commandos) whom I greatly admired and who had a great history and tradition going all the way back to WWII. This is the group I have the fondest memories of due to the fact that we were in a war. In fact , I always make it a point to tell people that I was surrounded by heroes every day while I was in Vietnam.

My least favorite assignment was serving 6 months in Guam. Other than work, there was not much else to do and the time went slowly before we returned to our home base in California. Those 189 days in Guam seemed like the longest in my 26 year career. We were in Guam in support of B-52/KC-135 operations during Operation Arc Light missions in Vietnam. During that period, several SAC combat wings deployed to Guam and Thailand for six month periods on a rotational basis.

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

Throwing out a “hot flare” while on a combat mission in early 1965. Flying through turbulence and ground fire, one of our flares did not clear the open ramp and came back in to the floor of our aircraft–hot. Being closest to the ramp at the time, I somehow managed to grab a hold of the flare and threw it out of the aircraft before it ignited. As soon as it cleared the aircraft it did ignite turning night into daylight.

I think the Good Lord was on our side that night, and I thank him frequently for saving our aircraft and my 10 fellow Airmen on board. Each flare has a million candle power when fully ignited, and we carried several hundred of them on each flight. The aircraft commander told me after the mission that we would have surely lost the aircraft had it ignited inside the aircraft.

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

Proud of my Air Medal and aircrew wings which I earned in Vietnam while flying as an additional crew member on C-123, C-130 and C-7 aircraft supporting our ground troops with flare drop missions.

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

The Air Medal for combat service in Vietnam and my four Meritorious Service Medals (MSM) and Commendation Medals in recognition of my service. Award of these prestigious medals showed me that my Air Force appreciated my contributions to the mission.

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

Master Sgt. Gilbert Ching, my Administration supervisor and role model at the 3595th Aerospace Test Wing at Vandenberg AFB. He always told me to be the best I can be in everything I do as an Airman, NCO or Civilian.

His leadership style and professionalism left an enduring, positive impact on me and stayed with me throughout my career and into my current life. I unfortunately lost contact with him, but I often think of him.

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?

My NCOIC and I were traveling through the flight line at March AFB in the fall of 1968 when we inadvertently entered a highly restricted area. Needless to say, after being laid out on the hot runway by a dozen Security Policemen and two guard dogs, and having to face the old man afterward, this was not funny at the time. It was downright embarrassing.However, throughout the years, I laugh when I think about the incident and have fond memories of my NCOIC who took responsibility, since he was driving the maintenance truck when the incident (a 7-High) occurred.

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?

Due to my experience in the Air Force, I went in to the Aerospace profession with McDonnell Douglas and the Boeing Company. I worked a total of 15 years in aerospace, mainly on transport aircraft, including the C-17 program.

Presently, I am happily retired and working with Veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of America. I hold an officer position in each one of these organization. This keeps me busy and I enjoy helping my fellow Veterans and their families.

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

As listed in my profile, I belong to several military associations such as the Air Force Association, the Air Commando Association and TREA.

They each offer their own specific benefits, but the most important thing that do is working with, and on behalf, of Veterans both active duty and retired. Additionally, my membership allows me to keep a connection to the U.S. Air Force, although I no longer serve in the military.

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

It thought me management, leadership and personal skills which has served me well throughout my life and made me the person that I am.

Because of my many years serving in the U.S. Air Force, I strongly believe in and try to live my life in accordance with our Air Force creed of: “Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellence in All We Do.”

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

Always aim high (it’s more than a slogan), get educated, do your job to the best of our ability, and love your country. Best of luck to those of you who have recently joined the Air Force. You are now part of a great heritage, a proud history and a member of the world’s finest Air Force.

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

TogetherWeServed.com has allowed me to keep in contact with my fellow Airmen, whom I consider to be my brothers and sisters. Further, it has encouraged me to put together my military service and contributions in a well laid out personal profile for others to see if they wish. In short, I am proud to be a member of this great organization. Thank you for all you do on behalf of our Air Force.

Lastly, it has showed me those former members of the various units I served with, and who are no longer with us. Let us never forget them, and may they continue to rest in peace at Post Everlasting.

10
Nov

SSgt Leslie E Little U.S. Marine Corps (1965-1974)

Personal Service Reflections of US Marine:

liferSSgt Leslie E Little

U.S. Marine Corps

(1965-1974)

Shadow Box: http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/269135

(Veterans – read more stories like the following when you join www.togetherweserved.com)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

I was 13 years old when I spotted the Japanese rifle that had been quietly tucked away in the back corner of Uncle William’s closet.

My aunt Mamie had instructed me to place my knapsack into the closet after I had been invited to spend the weekend with the two of them. Spotting the rifle came as quite a surprise to me.

The both of them had completely forgotten that the rifle was stored in the closet and when I inquired about it, my uncle went on to tell me of the rifle being a souvenir from his tour of duty in Japan, at the close of the Second World War, following Japan’s surrender on VJ Day.

Holding the rifle in my hands, looking through Uncle William’s photograph album and listening to the stories he told me of his military exploits made me very proud of him, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps by serving my country as well.

I patiently waited for five years after that day. On the morning of my 18th birthday I was standing in the rain on the doorstep of the Marine Corps Recruiting Office when, at 07:59 hours, Staff Sergeant Gray approached. As he walked closer, he looked at me standing there, with no umbrella and soaking wet. He shook his head and said, “You got it bad.”

WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

On September 16, 1965, I graduated with honors from basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina. I received a Meritorious Promotion to the rank of Private First Class and the Leatherneck magazines DRESS BLUE AWARD, for being selected by my Drill Instructors as The Outstanding Marine of Platoon #151.

After completing my Advance Infantry Training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, I remained there to attend Machine Gunners School, prior to being assigned to the Weapons Platoon of A Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, located at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In July 1966, upon the completion of a 4-month Caribbean tour by BLT 1/6 as a Lance Corporal E-3, I received my orders to Vietnam, where I was assigned with the Weapons Platoon of C Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, near the city of Hoi An.

I was promoted to Corporal E-4 on October 1, 1966. Due to the shortage of commissioned officers, I was given the NCO assignment as C Company’s Weapons Platoon Commander, where I remained until early December of 1966, when I was asked to join the Combined Action Program to serve as a Squad Leader of CAP Delta-5, located at Tan Than.

On February 1, 1967, I was again meritoriously promoted to the Non-Commissioned Officers rank of Sergeant E-5 and given assignment as Commanding Officer of the newly formed Combined Action Company 2-3, located at Dien Dan, RVN.

After successfully completing my tour of duty in The Republic of Vietnam, I served two years (1968-1970) as a Drill Instructor on Parris Island, receiving a Meritorious Mast for assisting 5,023 recruits to return to their regular training, while I was attached to the Special Training Branch (STB) of Head Quarters Battalion.

The next four years (1970-1974) I spent as a Marine Corps Recruiter, in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina and from there I would graduate first in my class from the Marine Corps Human Relations School at MCRD, San Diego, where I would go on to be the Human Relations Instructor for the 4th Marine Division on Okinawa, until receiving my Honorable Discharge, on the morning of my 27th birthday in 1974.

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

Operation Arcadia (1966).
DaNang (1966).
Operation Shasta II (1966).
Operation Trinidad (1966).
Operation Trinidad II (1966).
Combined Action Platoons Ops (1966-67).

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

I got a radio call from a chopper pilot, instructing me to clear an LZ inside my CAP Units compound. As I was trying to tell him that my compound was too small to land a Huey inside, the bird came whirling over the tree tops. It hovered a few seconds and the pilot set it down with precision, without touching a thing. Out pops General Cushman, grinning from ear to ear and right behind him was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who was in Vietnam on a fact-finding mission. Upon his return home from Nam, General Cushman would become the 25th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

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

No medals, but I was meritoriously promoted twice and received one Meritorious Mast.

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

My Meritorious Mast for helping 5,023 recruits complete their special training syllabus and return to regular Recruit Training, while I was assigned as a Drill Instructor, with the Special Training Branch (STB), at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, on Parris Island, South Carolina between 1 November 1968 and 14 April 1970.

The job of the STB Drill Instructor was a lonely one away from the beaten path and it was a revolving door of recruits coming and going.

No graduation ceremonies, no pomp and circumstance, no handshakes from smiling, no proud parents on graduation day. The only reward was the smile on a kid’s face the day you informed him he had successfully completed his special training and he was being returned regular training.

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