6:23 | Owen Ditchfield was a brand new infantry officer when he was sent to an infantry battalion in the 1st Armored Division. He was immediately sent on maneuvers, which didn't go so well. His unit was activated during the Cuban missile crisis and sent to Fort Stewart in Georgia to prepare for action. What they really prepared for was a visit by the President.
Keywords : Owen Ditchfield Fort Hood Cuban Missile Crisis Fort Stewart journalism Military Police (MP) John F. Kennedy briefing coffee
Owen Ditchfield was sent to Vietnam by way of the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was preparing to be the public information officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. Once there, he nearly suffered an accidental death in the officers club, but he survived and went on to host reporters Charlie Black, Joe Galloway and Peter Arnett.
While he was chaperoning reporter Peter Arnett around Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield got to hear the exciting story of a soldier who lost his rifle during an ambush and had to rely on his knife. He was also there when Martha Raye invaded the colonel's trailer. The reporters he hosted ran the gamut from celebrated author Joe Galloway to guys who wouldn't leave the hotel in Saigon.
After his first Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield got command of a company at Fort Benning that played the aggressor in Ranger training exercises. His men were short timers, waiting for discharge, but he rallied them to do well by telling them why their job was so important. Then he was assigned a new executive officer, Buddy Allgood, who had a surprising physical characteristic.
For his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. Arriving just after the battle at Hamburger Hill, he was leading a patrol in the same area when the unit was pinned down by multiple enemy gun emplacements. A relief platoon ran into the same fire from the bunkers, but then Gordon Roberts stood up and charged the first position. Before it was over, four enemy positions were taken out and Roberts would deserve the Medal Of Honor.
After nearly getting wiped out at Hill 996, Owen Ditchfield's company spent some time clearing hilltops for landing zones near the Laotian border, where high tech surveillance equipment could trigger remote ambushes on the enemy's supply trails. He relates how life back at the base camp was nearly as dangerous as being on patrol in the jungle.
Halfway through his second Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield was put in charge of the division's Kit Carson Scout program, which used Viet Cong who had turned to the South's side. These soldiers were so useful that American units competed to recruit them as they finished their indoctrination.
He was flying in a Chinook, in transit to pick up some Kit Carson Scouts, when an enemy on the ground sprayed the aircraft with automatic weapons fire. Owen Ditchfield was leaning over reading a book and that meant that the bullet that hit him in the head did not kill him on the spot.
The Kit Carson Scouts were Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers who had defected to the South. Many of them worked with American units to give insight to the tactics of the enemy and Owen Ditchfield was in charge of the program in his division. He would take them to fire bases where one of them would give a startling demonstration to the American soldiers.
After his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the personnel office at Fort Benning. One day, he received a letter from a Vietnamese interpreter who had been left behind and was trying desperately to get out. That started a process that would end happily for both of them. Another happy outcome awaited Ditchfield when he was pushed out by the drawdown.
Owen Ditchfield reflects on some of the strange things he encountered in Vietnam and has an answer for why he does not suffer from bad psychological effects due to his service there. Then he gives some solid advice to future generations of soldiers.
He entered the Army with an ROTC commission and a journalism degree. During college, he was in the Pershing Rifles, who enjoyed firing a blank round during their drill routine to get everyone's attention. At Fort Benning, he moved right through the basic course, jump school and Ranger school.
He was the smallest guy in his Ranger class, so he got the heaviest loads. Owen Ditchfield found out how long he could go without sleep, food and water and still keep going. The testing was as much psychological as physical, as he found out when he was summoned to the front of the column in the middle of the night.
In 1964, Owen Ditchfield was sent to Communications Zone Headquarters in France as a staff officer. The hours and tourism were great, but he knew he needed line company experience to advance so he transferred to a mechanized Airborne unit. Their vehicles were in disrepair but they had an ace in the hole.
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.
Kulvi's Army career lasts well into her later years, taking her from Kentucky to Germany to Walter Reed in D.C. She works her way to a Masters Degree, endures a serious back injury, and navigates the challenges of being a woman in a rapidly changing military - all the while raising her departed sister's children.
At the onset of Operation Desert Storm, Ernest Banasau is a Logistics Coordinator in Germany. He contacts the command to offer his services in the war effort, and is stationed in Turkey to play a coordinating role in Operation Provide Comfort, protecting Kurdish refugees from Saddam Hussein's army.
Stationed in Okinawa, Ruth Kulvi experiences multiple life-threatening typhoons. Her first priority is the safety of the soldiers and children whose lives are imperiled by the merciless storms. While attempting to relocate a sick GI, her team must brave intense winds and stubborn roads.
After his return home from his 2nd tour in Vietnam, he deployed out to Korea providing Medevac support for ground troops there. After that, he rose in the ranks of the military and ended up as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Security for the Army.
Returning to the States after his first tour was relieving but difficult for Aaron Cox as he acclimated back to the U.S. climate. After time in North Carolina, he shipped back off to Afghanistan and found quite a few major changes between there and Iraq.
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.
Barry McCaffrey was in charge of rallying the different battalions right before Desert Storm started and he made sure to do it very decisively. Because they had so many months preceding the conflict, the plans were extensively mapped out so that the different units were all prepared.
Due to the prominence of poppy, Zach Pena and his platoon found many inventive ways that the plant was hidden. After he got a lower GI infection, Pena was almost unable to return home with his platoon, but fortunately mustered the strength to go home with his friends.
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.
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.
After his time in Vietnam, Barry McCaffrey spent some time teaching at West Point and enjoyed his time there. After working there, McCaffrey left to live in Europe to work at the headquarters of NATO and then moving back to D.C. to work at the Pentagon.
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.
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.