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.
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.
It began with a call on a field telephone and an alarm horn. Pilots and ground crews would scramble to get the planes armed and into the air. Pilot John Weinig had three radios in his A-1 Skyraider and he could communicate directly with ground forces on one of them. If the mission was search and rescue, he would supply protection to the helicopters which performed the rescue.
He was going to war for the first time. It was the first foray outside the fire base for Galen Foster and, right away, he was in combat. As the men crossed a clearing in pairs, the man next to him stepped on a mine and Charlie opened up. The blast knocked him back into the tree line and, finding himself unhurt he returned fire. That answered a question he had been wondering about himself.
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.
Pilot John Weinig didn't venture off base very much in Vietnam. When he moved to Da Nang, he would go with some buddies to China Beach sometimes and they always took along a soldier with an M-16 to ride shotgun. He went through a few rocket attacks and says you just got as low as you could as fast as you could.
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.
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.
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.
The engine in the A-1 Skyraider was a beast, a huge piston engine with gallons of oil and a one ton propeller. Absent enemy fire, it was the most likely source of problems for pilot John Weinig. He praises his ground crews, dedicated men who kept the plane armed and flying. On search and rescue missions, he supported helicopters which did the actual rescue. One model could outrun his prop plane. Now that's embarrassing.
Nobody liked night ambush patrol. You were out in pitch black in the enemy's own backyard. Galen Foster was on one of these patrols when they spotted a light in the distance where no light should be. They crept closer and he fired a dozen rounds from his grenade launcher at the area.
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.
David Harrington recounts a particularly harrowing experience fighting Viet Cong while his platoon was under heavy fire from RPGs at their company basecamp Camp Rowe. Harrington recounts one of his injuries and a member of his company that came to their rescue in that moment.
It wasn't all warfare on the river. John Wilhite recalls the time his transportation unit took part in flood relief, carrying villagers to safety. He felt sorry for the people of Vietnam, who were deprived by years of war and angry at foreign armies in their land. He was especially touched by the plight of the orphans.
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.
When he flew into Vietnam, John Wilhite could hear mortar fire as they landed. The men scrambled out of the plane and took cover in drainage ditches. They weren't even armed, so it was quite a welcome to Vietnam. The first stop was the mess hall where the food wasn't quite cooked and the cooks were missing.
Galen Foster's father was a Marine and he gave his son this advice, join the Army. It's safer. He did just that and when he got to basic training, the Drill Instructor made a big impression on him. He went to Fort Polk where they had a training camp called Tigerland, designed to prepare troops for fighting in Vietnam.
They arrived at basic training and got a good night's sleep but when the Drill Instructor started beating on a garbage can and throwing it around the barracks, John Wilhite knew he was in for something different than he was used to. After basic, in Advanced Infantry Training, they were practicing air deployment when he noticed that the equipment was really being loaded.
John Weinig flew the A-1 Skyraider out of Pleiku in the central highlands of Vietnam. The missions were either close support for units on the ground or search and rescue missions. They were in the air every day, even if just waiting for a call.
They found a lot of tunnels, says Galen Foster, who was glad it wasn't his job to go down in them. He felt sorry for the Vietnamese people, who were caught between the Americans and the Viet Cong. The search and destroy missions were continuous and when one of them went bad, a relief force hurried to help their brothers. They were in too much of a hurry, as it turned out.
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.
A frequent mission for John Wilhite was the fuel run to Cambodia. They would take the boat downriver to the South China Sea and fill up a huge fuel bladder. Then it was back up the Mekong River to Cambodia. You could always tell when you got to the border because the place was crawling with North Vietnamese troops, allies of the murderous Pol Pot regime.
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.
What was the most difficult thing about flying combat missions in Vietnam? According to A-1 Skyraider pilot John Weinig, it was returning home and getting spit on in San Francisco. He was so proud and then to have to face that. He is grateful that things have changed.
Assigned to the 1099th Transportation Company when he arrived in Vietnam, John Wilhite didn't even see an officer for four days. Fortunately, there were old hands around to get him up to speed. The job was simple, carry people and resources up and down the rivers in the Mekong Delta on Mike Boats, which resembled landing craft. These missions took them into Cambodia, he notes, despite what the President was saying.
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.
Pilot John Weinig had tremendous respect for the Special Forces and relished the opportunity to provide air support to them. On one mission, a team was surrounded in rough mountainous terrain. He followed a Forward Air Controller down to the site and used up all his ammunition keeping the stranded team safe. When it came time to leave, the FAC was nowhere to be found and he didn't know the way out. He said a prayer and pulled on the stick.
Galen Foster's first night after joining his unit in was memorable. They were mortared and, since the fire base was new and had no bunkers yet, a half dozen new guys huddled on the floor of their tent with their duffel bags around them. Welcome to Vietnam. After the barrage, they emerged and readied for a fight which did not come.
David Harrington recounts his time as a platoon leader leading a mission to wipe out enemy combatants. After taking control over a small village, David Harrington called for artillery but an error with the maps led to some rounds coming too close for comfort.