2:21 | 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.
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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.
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.
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.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
Newly transferred from the Army into the Air Force, Bob Seeley's rapid promotion ruffled some feathers. When his commanding officer was transferred to Germany, he went with him. During this time, he helped General Eisenhower locate the site of a peculiar memory from World War I.
The battle at the Rumaila oil field came during a cease fire. Chuck Ware was directing a small group of tanks and supporting vehicles moving to investigate an Iraqi armored formation right in front of them. What he saw was that his unit was greatly outnumbered and his flanks were exposed.
He could not believe how much tax was withheld from his first paycheck, so Bob Seeley went back into the Army. He began driving generals around once it was discovered he could manage the prickly personalities. He so impressed a visiting Air Force general, he was invited into a B-17 cockpit and transferred to the Air Force to serve on the general's staff.
There are things you don't think about until you are there. Mechanized battalion commander Chuck Ware scrambled to get his tanks and other vehicles fueled out in the desert. The battles were fought at night and American thermal imaging technology gave them a big advantage.
As the driver for the Supreme Allied Commander in Cold War Europe, Bob Seeley met some interesting people, including the Duke of Windsor, who played golf with his boss. When the new ambassador to France arrived, he turned out to be a former commanding officer.
After his son was born, Bob Seeley returned from his posting in Europe and settled into Washington with a job at the Pentagon as 1st Sergeant with the Pentagon Squadron. One of their responsibilities was ceremonial parades and no one told him that these were graded. No problem.
What did not work right in Iraq? Battalion commander Chuck Ware has a list. The sand was insidious, getting into every crevice of every piece of gear. There were vast quantities of supplies, but no one knew where anything was in a sea of unmarked CONEX containers, including food and vital parts. Anti-aircraft gunners were operating as road guards, everyone was in chemical suits, and the .45 ammo didn't work.
Patrick Sauer recalls some of the differences between the American medical system and the one they implemented in South Korea. After Korea, he stayed busy working in the States as an U.S. Army Recruiting Command seeking out medical recruits.
Chuck Ware was selected for battalion command, but he deployed to Iraq as an Inspector General for General Barry McCaffrey. He soon had his battalion and was a little unnerved to find out that there were forty Lieutenant Colonels in the rear as replacements for battalion commanders who were killed. Saddam Hussein had been built up to be almost formidable.
Zach Pena remembers some of the most inventive IEDs that his platoon came across as they patrolled the Afghan desert. After one particularly hairy encounter in the desert, his platoon had to secure the area and make it back to safety.
Vietnam forced a great change in Army training and operations. Conditions and equipment were upgraded and the quality of the soldiers improved with the advent of the all volunteer force. Chuck Ware was stationed in Cold War Germany when the new attitude swept in.
Coming back to civilian life, Zach Pena found his time at University of Tennessee to be a smooth transition. Coming back to civilian life can bring some hurdles but he was able to excel at his new challenges and came out for the best.
The war simulations were easy after participating in an actual war. That's what Chuck Ware realized when he returned from the desert. He retired as the Deputy Commandant of the War College and then worked as a contractor in the Pentagon, where he never had duty during his long career.
On his way out of Iraq, Chuck Ware passed under a black sky filled with smoke from the burning Rumaila Oil Field. No one thought that it was over. The other shoe must drop. He recounts a story about General Barry McCaffrey accepting the surrender of a ditch full of Iraqis, and he talks about the period of adjustment once he returned to Fort Stewart.