6:28 | The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
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There was no radio contact with the 2nd battalion on Hill 875 and losing contact with an American unit could only mean really bad news. To get there and find out what was happening, David Brown's unit had to walk in, a long trek through more dead bodies than he had ever seen. The answer to what had happened was very unsettling, and he was even more unsettled when he heard something huge crashing through the trees.
David Brown can't remember anything about his first battle, but he'll never forget the second one, Hill 823. The men had to jump from helicopters onto the hilltop. Soon, they were surrounded as the enemy who fled during the bombardment came back up the hill to reclaim it. A long, sleepless night followed, with American gunships keeping up a constant barrage of bullets.
The heat and the smell, that's what you first noticed about Vietnam, says David Brown. He got a little relief from the heat when he was sent to the countryside and spent most of his time under the canopy in the jungle. He was out there so long that he was momentarily baffled when he sat down at a table in a mess hall after a long trek. Tablecloths? Silverware? This was nice after the malaria and the leeches.
David Brown met a man in a pool hall who had Jump Wings on his chest and he knew he had to get some of those. Volunteering ahead of the draft, he went to jump school after basic and got his own wings despite the trepidation he felt when he saw the raggedy plane they would use. After a year of spit shine and Brasso with the 82nd Airborne, it was time for Vietnam.
When he recovered from his wound, David Brown was moved to another platoon and made Platoon Sergeant. He didn't have the actual rank necessary, but he had the heart and his performance earned him a Bronze Star. His last real action was during the Tet Offensive and after that, he headed home, declining the chance to stay and get another stripe.
David Brown developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder late in life once he retired and had more time to think about the war. When he first returned, he was nearly sent right back, but his Congressman helped him avoid that injustice. His last assignment was marching trainees around at Jump School, where he encountered some Navy SEALs who made quite an impression on him.
For his last duty in Vietnam, Galen Foster moved to Chu Lai. The base camp was on a hill with a view of the South China Sea on one side and a village on the other side. One night, they heard a ruckus in the village. Women and children were screaming and crying. The soldiers were forbidden to go and help.
After single-handedly taking out four bunkers, Gordon Roberts maneuvered around the battlefield under fire, bringing wounded and dead to a central spot that could be defended. Much later, after his Vietnam tour was over and he was at home on leave, a call came from Washington. He would be receiving the nation's highest honor. Part 2 of 2.
The bunkers were simply constructed but very strong. No weapon carried by the foot soldier could take them out. So when the firefight started, Gordon Roberts took advantage of return fire from his unit and flanked the bunker. Firing from the hip, he got to the portal and fired inside. Then it was on to the next one.
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.
He had the Silver Star and the Bronze Star and was, unknown to him, under consideration for the Medal of Honor, but that didn't stop Gordon Roberts from being docked by the paymaster on his return to the States for some long ago Article 15 punishment. After 18 years pursuing a career, he returned to the Army.
Two days after Gordon Roberts was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley, contact was made with the enemy at a site known as Hamburger Hill. The battle grew and lasted ten days as a vast bunker complex was discovered and taken. The main lesson he took from this fight was to press hard after initial contact so the opposition can't set up and execute their plan.
Booby traps were a fact of life in Vietnam. In fact, Mike Province replaced a Marine who had shoved others out of the way of the blast from one and was badly injured. The squad leader was big and tough and would issue a beating for what he considered transgressions. Eventually, it was Mike's turn, but first, he had some words for the sergeant.
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.
Marine Mike Province compares the personalities of the three Lieutenants he served under in Vietnam. Two out of three ain't bad. He pays tribute to the Corpsmen, who were alongside the Marines, taking care of the wounded. The wildlife and the elements were front and center, namely snakes and Jungle Rot.
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.
Marine Mike Province feels lucky that he had a loving family to welcome him home from Vietnam. He knows there were many who had a much different experience. Everyone who served there in any year is worthy of remembrance to him. He only wishes the lessons of Vietnam could have provided more guidance for the wars of today.
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.
Ron Mastin had been a POW for a year and his captors were constantly moving him around, into camps in the country and back into the Hanoi Hilton. His family didn't even know he was alive until the release of Doug Hegdahl, who had memorized hundreds of names of prisoners. He never gave up hope, never once thought he might not go home. He even found his crew mate, Tom Storey, with whom he'd been shot down in 1968.
They were told an attack was coming and they hunkered down in individual foxholes and waited. Marine Mike Province's thoughts drifted to home and family and then his mind got the best of him. Fear set in and he began to shake uncontrollably. This made him so mad he started pounding himself with his fist and then, the firefight began.
The call came in. Delta Company was in a Broken Arrow situation and could be completely destroyed, so a relief effort was assembled and they started climbing through rough terrain. Gordon Roberts was the point man when, all of a sudden, an unseen bunker erupted with fire. Finding himself alone, he moved forward toward the bunker, laying down suppressive fire of his own. When it was over, four bunkers were taken out by one man. Part 1 of 2.
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.
In Vietnam, the stress was just the beginning. Jim Benson describes the emotional states of the grunt on the ground in Vietnam. The lessons he learned and the qualities in men he admired are valuable to him.
When the River Rats made the ocean run to fill up the fuel bladder they would carry upriver, it was party time. Through trading with sailors, they acquired the steaks, lobster and beer they need for a decent beach affair. After a night beside the South China Sea, it was up to Cambodia to deliver the goods.
They tried not to have any more than three boats together on the river, says John Wilhite, a member of the River Rats, a transportation company. Once when they had six in a line, the enemy detonated a thousand pound bomb underneath the second one. The boats were carrying fuel bladders and the resulting blast blew the water out of the river at that point. Less effective were the homemade rockets that were like big fireworks.
They had good intelligence from the Vietnamese that the Viet Cong were making a supply run down from their mountain base. Jim Benson's platoon got to the area, set up an ambush, and waited. They never came. They didn't come the next day either and the sleep deprived platoon went out for a third try. Part 1 of 2.
A captured North Vietnamese soldier had papers on him that indicated a large enemy movement would be coming in a few days. Galen Foster's unit dug in, set up an excellent ambush, and waited. For two days, his mind was swirling with thoughts of home, his childhood and his family. He wrote a letter to his fiance that was never mailed. He prepared himself to die. It was the most scared he'd ever been.
After some R&R in Hawaii, Jim Benson had duty with the battalion operations staff. This soon grew tiresome and he longed to get back into the field and command a platoon again. He was able to do that and more before he left Vietnam.