Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘vietnam veteran story’

8
May

It’s Only a Movie

By Al Bell

As a small boy I was terrified by Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, a comedy which featured Lou Costello in constant danger of being attacked by such horror film villains asabbott Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man. Each time Lou was in peril, I would hide my eyes, while my dad would comfort me with the words, “Don’t worry. It’s only a movie.” I soon relaxed. No one was really hurt.

In 1969, I became the senior advisor to a South Vietnamese River Assault and Interdiction Division (RAID), consisting of 21 river boats which had been transferred from the U.S. Navy’s “Brown Water Navy.” I was a Navy lieutenant, and I was assisted by about six enlisted men. We provided technical support and advice in the maintenance and operation of the heavily armed boats. We liaised with U.S. units when the Vietnamese needed air or artillery support. We also helped with logistics in obtaining fuel and ammunition.

My position as an advisor gave me a sense that I was sort of an observer of the passing scene, only becoming involved when help was needed. While I had been to school to learn riverine tactics, the Vietnamese had actually been at war for decades. I had more to learn than to teach.

RAID 72 had the job of transporting a battalion of Vietnamese marines into combat in the U-Minh Forest of the Mekong Delta. We would typically put the marines ashore at a point determined by intelligence to have a concentration of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Our boats would then move into blocking positions, while the marines with air and artillery support would attempt to drive the enemy into our ambush. More commonly, the enemy would fade into the jungle while the marines gave futile chase, leaving the boats to sit and wait for the marines to return.

tet2During Tet of 1968 the enemy had suffered so many casualties that they withdrew into the U-Minh Forest to lick their wounds and to regroup. Both the U.S. and South Vietnamese believed we had the enemy on the run. The South Vietnamese launched a “Dark Forest” Campaign to destroy the remaining enemy in that area.

Our boats carried the marines down a long, narrow canal, the Song Cai Lon. We had to fight our way down. Ahead of my boat, a monitor (a boat bristling with guns) was sunk by an IED made from a U.S. 500 lb. bomb, killing all five sailors on board.

Ever the dispassionate observer, I photographed the boat as it was sinking. After all, this seemed just a movie. There was nothing for me to do but to send a report.

Farther down the canal we bivouacked at a place on the canal shown as the village of Dong Hung. It had been destroyed years before, the villagers had been relocated to a government area, and the jungle had closed in. Still there were the 273rd North Vietnamese Regiment and thousands of VC.

The marines established a small command post (CP) at Dong Hung and the main force went out into the jungle to find the enemy. Our boats moored on both banks of the canal near the CP. My Vietnamese counterpart, Lieutenant Commander Binh, the commanding officer of RAID 72, explained to me that the plan for defending ourselves if attacked was to move the boats to the outside ends of the stretch of the canal bounding our encampment. The boats could then have interlocking fields of fire. I had been concerned that no defensive barrier had been established, nono barbed wire had been strung, nor had trees been felled to provide those fields of fire. They assured me that this would have to do since they did not know how long we would be there. I just thought about Roman Legions on the march who erected timber palisades wherever they stopped, even if it were only for the night.

I don’t recall how many days we were there while the marines were away looking for the enemy. Reports generated by me tracked Vietnamese marine movements, engagements, casualties, and the status of boats. In addition to the 110 Vietnamese sailors, there was one of my enlisted advisors, Radioman 3rd class Bruce McIver, and two enlisted advisors from RAID 74, which provided some of the boats in our group of twenty-one. At night, I would lie under mosquito netting on an air mattress and listen to the chatter on my AN/PRC-25 short range (VHF FM) radio. There were just brief communications between the U.S. Marine advisor, Maj. Mike Cerreta, and the pilot of an Army single-engine forward air control (FAC) aircraft which coordinated air support.

At about 1 a.m. on November 6, I was listening to the Marine advisor and the FAC pilot when the FAC signed off and headed for his base. That meant that there would be no further communication, so I drifted off to sleep. Thirty minutes later, I was jarred awake by explosions all around me. was2Was this just a movie? Mortar rounds were impacting throughout the CP and among the boats. Soon, it became apparent that we were under attack by a large force, perhaps two battalions (500-600 men each) armed with 82 mm mortars, 60 mm mortars, 57 mm recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades (RPG), Chinese machine guns, and AK-47 assault rifles. Swarming from the jungle, they quickly overran the CP, destroying tents, huts, bunkers, and communication equipment. The small contingent of Vietnamese marines and their U.S. advisors were forced to retreat onto the boats.

Plans to move the boats to the edges of the CP evaporated under the speed of the attack. Soon the enemy was among us, climbing on some boats with hand grenades and satchel charges. Most boats got underway from the west bank of the canal and moved to the east bank, for, although we were completely surrounded, the main force of the attack was from the west.

Maj. Cerreta retreated to my Command and Control Boat (CCB) with many Vietnamese marines, some of whom were badly wounded. The CCB tried to back off the west bank but it was tied with nylon lines to a bush on the bank. The CCB backed at full power, but it could only fishtail helplessly three feet from the bank while the enemy on the bank was raking us with rockets and small arms fire. Maj. Cerreta and I crawled to the bow trying to free the line, but it was hopeless. The major even tried unsuccessfully to shoot the line in half with his military issue 1911 Colt.45 Cal pistol.

I jumped below, fetched my Buck knife, and ran back up to the deck. We had been hit by four B40 RPGs, and the boat was on fire from burning fuel. I told Maj. Cerreta that I was going to crawl up and cut the line. Reinforcing my feeling that this was only a movie, he held up his pistol and said, “I’ll cover you!” I crawled exposed up to the bow and found a Vietnamese marine still trying fruitlessly to free the line; I shoved him aside and cut it loose. The CCB quickly moved to the east bank, only 20 yards from the enemy who pounded us with crew manned weapons from the west bank. We fired back with every weapon we had.

The fierce fighting continued until dawn. A medevac helicopter relayed a request for air support. This turned out to be Shadow and Spooky gunships, cargo planes fitted with high speed Vulcan guns. Those Gatling type guns fired so many rounds that it appeared they were pouring liquid metal on the enemy.

In the morning, I organized the evacuation of the many wounded. A man pressing a battle dressing against his belly to hold his intestines in place was begging me to get the helicopters there fast. Each time the helos approached, the VC would fire mortars at us.

After it was all over, I had fired every one of the 500 rounds of M-16 ammunition that I had. A quick survey revealed that all of the boats were out of ammunition, too. I urgently requested helo delivery of all types of ammunition. It did not arrive until the following day. Had we been attacked that night, we would have been wiped out.

Searing my soul for life is a scene from the morning after the fight. Lacking body bags, the Vietnamese had wrapped one of our sailors in a plastic rain poncho. I remember thinking irrationally as I looked at the face limned against the plastic, “He can’t breathe!” Then it came home to me — he would never breathe again! We suffered 44 killed and 151 wounded. Seventy-five enemy bodies were found.

The night of November 8, the enemy attacked again, this time sinking two boats, but we held them off again, but with more casualties on both sides. My realization at this point that this was not a movie and that I had nearly five more months of this affected me deeply. Clearly, this was serious business.

The week in March 1970 that I left Vietnam, we killed a VC whose possessions included a citation for his role in the November 6, 1969 attack on us. Unfortunately, the same firefight which killed that VC resulted in the death of a U.S. Army advisor to Regional and Popular Forces we were transporting.

Al Bell is a writer and publisher who just released his second book “Sea Story!” and Other Sketches: Memories and musings from a life of adventure. Available from Amazon.com/books (search term; “CDR BELL”). My first book, “Sea Story!” & Other Sketches, is still available there.

The book is a collection of previously published stories, essays, rants, and musings by ‘Skipper Al’ Bell, whose adventurous life has given him a unique perspective on the world. The writings range from interesting accounts of real events to humorous lampoons and fiction. Some are inspiring, while others are ironic. The gentle reader may not agree with the author on some issues, in which case the reader is almost certainly wrong. His writings are part Mark Twain, part Jonathan Swift, and a large dose of Mad Magazine. Some stories are serious and uplifting. Others reflect brooding depression. All are entertaining.

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.

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.

Read more »

%d bloggers like this: