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.
Jim Benson had been in the field for a long time getting thin on K-rations, that it only took a few beers to get him looped, and that's exactly what happened on the next R&R. Good thing he had an excellent sergeant looking out for him.
At the Hanoi Hilton, Ron Mastin's first roommate was Robbie Risner, commander of an F-105 unit and an early shootdown in the war. Risner was one of the most mistreated prisoners due to his intransigence and his leadership. When he refused to follow a script for a meeting with Japanese officials, he lost his roommate and Mastin was moved to another cell.
Jim Benson figured out that the Viet Cong were going into a village at night to visit women there so he came up with a good technique to get them when they were coming out in the morning. Snipers would hide all night and set up before dawn to pick them off. This was working but two of the snipers got in trouble one morning and he set off with Doc Hargett to find them.
Ron Mastin took an ROTC commission out of college and went to flight school where he really took to it. His first assignment was in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom fitted for reconnaissance. He served a tour at an RAF base in England, then he was sent to Thailand to fly reconnaissance missions over Southeast Asia.
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.
The POW's were moved around the countryside and, eventually, back to the Hanoi Hilton. They knew something was up when they were allowed to mingle and were allowed to try on new clothes. Then the camp commandant read aloud the Paris Peace Accord document, but the reaction was subdued. Finally, one group was suited up and marched out of the prison.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gordon Roberts was from a small town and the patriotic displays on national holidays made a big impression on him. His dream was to go to college, so he enlisted in the Army as soon as he graduated high school with the GI Bill in mind. He went through basic training and jump school at Fort Benning and, after a tour in Europe, was sent to the 101st Airborne in Vietnam.
His platoon was defending the Tu Cau Bridge when a Viet Cong came walking down the road right toward the machine gun emplacement. "Chu hoi," came the cry from the injured Vietnamese fighter and Jim Benson took him in and questioned him. A successful operation followed, marred only by some errant artillery shells that killed some civilians. This enraged his medic, who was not allowed to remain and treat the wounded.
After the hard fight at Hamburger Hill, Gordon Roberts moved to an artillery fire base to protect it for a few days, then it was back to search and destroy missions in the A Shau Valley. The aim was to interrupt the flow of supplies from North to South. He was fortunate in that there were no civilians in the remote area, so he did not have to try and separate friend from foe.
The platoon had just moved from the point position to the back of the column. Platoon leader Jim Benson walked up the column to speak to the next platoon's leader when the Viet Cong attacked and he was pinned down. One man rose to the occasion, Private Dewey, the unit's misfit.
Gordon Roberts was walking point when the third man in line was dropped by enemy fire. Unfortunately, he was the M-60 machine gunner who usually supplied the suppressive fire, so it was up to Roberts who managed to find the bunker and fire through the port with his M-16. Then came the fire from the second bunker.
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.
It was his first patrol as a platoon leader and they were only a thousand yards out when Jim Benson encountered his first booby trap. He thought, is it this bad here? He found out that his platoon was not very disciplined, not even using flank security when moving. That all changed, but not before he lost a promising young corporal who ignored a basic rule.
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.
It was already late and Jim Benson had a river crossing to deal with. Once there, he called for the rope, a vital piece of gear for the crossing. Private Dewey had forgotten the rope. Private Dewey was a train wreck, but when the shooting started, he was the man you wanted by your side. The next day, after a sleepless night with the listening post reporting movement, they made a startling discovery.
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.
On Go Noi Island, a Marine company would secure an area, the bulldozers would clear it up to that point, and the Marines would advance some more. After his company's week was done, Jim Benson was going to warn the relieving officers and Amtrac drivers to take a different trail because he had smelled the enemy's pungent fish sauce on the trail. He was too late.
A hot landing zone meant that you could expect contact as soon as you set down. They might tell you that a landing zone is cold, but Galen Foster says you never could tell. He saw the lead helicopter get shot down as they went into a so-called cold LZ. When moving on foot, the point man used a compass the guide the unit. Once, an improper reading led the men straight into a Viet Cong base camp.
After failing for three days to ambush a Viet Cong supply run, Jim Benson's unit was finally getting some sleep when word came, Charlie was moving. He reached the scene and, following a blood trail, he was just turning back when someone spotted a cave entrance. Part 2 of 2.
After his Vietnam tour, Galen Foster returned to Fort Benning. He went from slogging through the jungle with muddy boots to spit and polish. He was assigned to an honor guard unit. One day his unit was sent to help a film crew and he wound up being in the film The Green Berets. He did not re-enlist and he reveals his only regret over that.
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.
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.