4:58 | After a short stint in the Navy, Bill Camper decided that it wasn't for him. He was going to serve, but in the Navy, the gulf between officers and enlisted men was too wide, so he got out and enlisted in the Army, where he knew the officers would be in the mud with him. Once in the Army, he was sent to Officer Candidate School and went to Korea with an engineer battalion.
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When Bill Camper arrived in Korea in command of an engineer company, the peace talks were going on so they were able to do their work on roads and bridges without getting shot. Mines were a threat, though, left by the retreating Communists. After tours in Japan and Germany, he was training paratroopers at Fort Benning when the Vietnam War began to heat up.
Bill Camper felt like the people of Hue supported the South Vietnamese soldiers he was advising. He made some headway encouraging those men to fight and he relates the story of how he taught them to advance through their own artillery barrage and surprise the enemy from the rear.
It was a hurry-up assignment. Bill Camper was sent to Quang Ngai to advise the civilian administration and he was so rushed, he had no radio or vehicle when he got there, but he went right to work. He had to put together a reaction force of locals armed with whatever they could find and he had to deliver medical and infrastructure assistance.
Civilian Advisor Bill Camper only had a small force to deal with snipers and ambushes, but he could call the ARVN unit stationed nearby to deal with larger enemy forces. The first time he went to answer a distress call from a village, the unit was ambushed, so there was some adjustment to procedures. During this time, he developed respect for the Vietnamese people, regardless of their allegiances.
"No one in Vietnam needs these." That's what Bill Camper thought when his district was sent boxes of laxatives by mistake. The civilian advisor told the doctor to hang on to them and that led to victory over a North Vietnamese unit that had moved into the area. "It was kind of like biological warfare."
He had been a civilian advisor, but Bill Camper was reassigned to Hue to advise an ARVN regiment. This made life simpler, just find the enemy and engage him. In his first large operation, the relief of an overrun forward base, victory was achieved, but with a high cost in lives. For three days, they had to wait in the jungle with the bodies of their fallen comrades.
It had to be a mistake. Bill Camper was not a headquarters man but when he arrived in Vietnam for his second tour, he was assigned to Military Assistance Command (MACV) Headquarters. He managed to get a field assignment and was sent up near the DMZ to advise an ARVN regiment. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese commander was hard to get along with.
The North Vietnamese attacked across the DMZ with everything they had. Bill Camper was an advisor to the ARVN unit stationed there in the wake of the American drawdown and barely got back inside the perimeter as two battalions on a maneuver were lost. The enemy artillery barrage was relentless, and after four days of fighting, the South Vietnamese commander decided to surrender. Camper was having none of that.
The artillery fire was so intense at Camp Carroll that Bill Camper could not get a fix for counter battery fire. The rounds were coming from four directions. After four days of intense North Vietnamese attacks and with his ARVN counterpart ready to surrender, Camper escaped with a few others, but they were cut off and had to fight their way back into the camp. Then came a fateful radio call.
ARVN advisor Bill Camper received an unusual experimental weapon to possibly counter the Russian tanks that were tearing up the Southern forces. It was the XM72, a four barreled handheld rocket launcher. While he was training some men to operate it, the North Vietnamese attacked.
In the tense concluding days of the Vietnam War, ARVN advisor Bill Camper was with a unit holding bridges at Quang Tri when he went out to check on suspected enemy activity. He was unconcerned about the artillery rounds passing overhead because the enemy's Russian rounds had no air burst capability. Then a round hit a tree above him.
They aren't all heroes, they were just doing their jobs, says Bill Camper, veteran of Korea and Vietnam. He remembers laying in bed in basic training and trying to breakdown his $55 a month into what his hourly rate was. You don't do it for the money.
After his first tour in Vietnam, Bill Camper was assigned to Fort Carson and the 5th Mechanized Division, training soldiers destined for that conflict. Then he had a six month assignment with a Special Forces team in the Dominican Republic during that country's civil war.
Evarist LeMay recalls the capturing of a group of Chinese soldiers by his regiment and the actions they took for retribution. While scouting, LeMay and his fellow scouts come across a group of American soldiers that had been brutally executed. He credits these types of situations for the PTSD that happens to guys like him when they come home.
When it was time to act, Bill Minnich came through. On a night watch, as he caught sight of a Chinese patrol, the only question was, rifle or grenade? When the unit was pinned down and no one responded to the order to move out, he cussed them all out and charged forward. And when he fell wounded, it was a sure thing that he would get up and scramble through the bullets landing at his feet.
Ben Malcom recalls a mission to infiltrate and destroy a 76mm gun hidden inside a North Korean mountain. During the cover of night on July 14, 1952, Malcom managed to sneak 120 guerilla fighters onto the mountain and into the bunker, and describes the combat that ensued.
It was called Hill 205. The small Ranger company was told to take and hold the hill. They did that as long as they could but Ralph Puckett and his men had to go through hell to do it. Waves of Chinese attackers had him calling in very close artillery strikes. He lay there, unable to move after three wounds, watching the Chinese bayonet wounded Rangers. Then two figures charged up the hill.
Ron Clark remembers when the Chinese would attack and how the strategies between American and Chinese differed. He also explains one detailed account of an American casualty during battle and his own major injury that permanently disabled his eyesight.
The stuttering truce talks in Korea were incredibly demoralizing for the troops, says Jim Walsh. Repeatedly, it seemed as if they would be going home and then, invariably, their hopes would be dashed. When he finally did return to America, everyone expected to see a festive hero's welcome. It was not quite that.
His father was a coal miner in Nova Scotia and it shortened his life, so Ralph McKay did not go into the mines, he joined the army as soon as he was eligible at seventeen. He was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment, the oldest unit in Canada, and then to jump school. His first jump was memorable.
New Yorker George Bruzgis opted for the draft instead of enlistment because it required a year less, just in case he didn't like the Army. Trained in armor, he was deployed to Korea where he was unnerved by the destruction he saw on his way to the front. There, the tanks were dug in and essentially acted as artillery pieces.
Jim Walsh had the term "Killer From a Distance" applied to him by his squad leader, Ron Smith. Walsh had used his heavy machine gun to suppress Chinese fire and allow the squad to move forward. Later, Walsh would write a book with that title, referring to artillerymen on whom the infantry depended. Of all the weapons used in Korea, napalm was the most horrendous.
The Armistice was scheduled to take effect that evening, but George Bruzgis received orders for a fire mission at dawn. The high explosive rounds were fired from the tank and, years later, he found out the significance of those rounds. He was able to revisit Korea twice due to the generosity and gratitude of the Korean people.
They got the word that the Armistice had been signed and to cease all firing. That gave Joe Nemastil a chance to find out what was actually in the no man's land below his position. Checking his weapons, he made his way down the hill and very soon, spotted a Chinese soldier walking right toward him.
He was studying for the priesthood, but Jim Walsh enlisted in the Army when the Korean War began. When he arrived in country, entry into combat was immediate for the machine gunner. His weapon was an old design, but it was effective. The only drawback was the large crew required to operate it.
George Bruzgis received a non-combat injury in Korea when his platoon sergeant, who had a grudge because George was a Yankee from New York City, assigned him to midnight refueling duty. He fell in a slit trench in the dark and couldn't walk for several weeks. That wasn't the end of it.
When the snow finally melted along the front line in Korea, there was a grisly discovery along the supply path. There were also rats. Lots of them, big ones. Jim Walsh talks about the rats and other, little known aspects of life on the line.
Ralph McKay was at Hill 355 on the front line in Korea. It was during the stalemate period and each side watched the other across the valley between them, occasionally firing artillery or mortars. One mortar shell killed the Canadian unit's cook, their first fatality. McKay was disturbed after he picked up his dead friend, but in those days, you dared not say anything about your feelings.
It was on Hill 440 that Jim Walsh nearly got hit by an incoming round. It killed the two men next to him and completely deafened him for a while. Sent back to the MASH unit, he felt guilty for being there as he walked among the bloody wounded.
He shipped out to Korea and, right away, he was disturbed by something he saw in the streets of Pusan. Ralph McKay knew then he was somewhere very different from his home in Canada. It was 1953, late in the war, but the shelling was nearly constant on the front line.
As soon as the troop ship cleared Seattle and headed for Korea, they hit a storm and Joe Nemastil was seasick the rest of the way. He was on his way to join the 7th Infantry Division at the front. It was only three months before the armistice was signed but it was three months of combat on the static lines. For Joe, the worst enemy was not North Korean or Chinese. It was something in the bunkers.
President Truman had long ago given the order, but it was in 1951 that integration finally came to 35th Regiment in Korea. Two black GI's were assigned to Jim Walsh's squad and they proved to be tremendous assets. They were both miners and they taught the men how to better perform one of their primary tasks.
The area where Joe Nemastil was sent as a replacement had seen plenty of action. Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill had been hard fought over and then abandoned. Sent to reinforce an outpost on the next hill over which had been attacked, he saw the aftermath of the worst of war.
Canadian soldier Ralph McKay describes the attempts by the enemy in Korea to overrun his position. He still used his British single shot rifle, but many had traded with the Americans for better weapons. The men were ecstatic over the peace agreement, but they had to stay in country until their 14 month tour was up. At least no one was shooting at them.
When Joe Nemastil arrived at the front in Korea, his platoon leader gave him a short talk, then disappeared, not to be seen very often again. Joe was assistant gunner on the 75 mm recoilless rifle and quickly learned how to use it in combat. That was just one heavy weapon on the line, and it was really something when they were all firing at once.
The advance on Hill 440 was stalled due to a well dug in bunker. After a couple of hours of getting nowhere, Jim Walsh saw a GI running up the hill with a flame thrower. During that same battle, the misfit of the unit also rose to the occasion.
They were a little short of funds to continue in college so Joe Nemastil and his cousin talked to a recruiter to see what they could get in the Army. Promised a place in Officer Candidate School, he went off to basic training. The conditions were rough and the Kentucky winter came blowing right through the wall boards of the old barracks. Then, surprise! No OCS and orders for Korea.
He had been a Radioman for the Navy and when Turner Harris was called to active duty during the Korean War, they sent him to Adak, Alaska, where he monitored Russian Morse Code for Communications Support Activities, a Naval signal intelligence agency. He missed his wife, but the chow was good.
Records clerk Lou Pardy had always been just behind the front lines with Headquarters Company, but after the rapid retreat from North Korea, all HQ personnel were moved back to Seoul. As his rotation date neared, and with a savvy replacement already in place, he took an unofficial job as a courier, which carried him back to the front on a daily basis.