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.
Chuck Officer remembers his early plan to go to college in addition to becoming a Marine, a goal that he never gave up on. After he faced some difficulties with his eyesight, he had to go through a few hurdles that led him to his final path as an officer.
Al Lipphardt’s last duty in his first Vietnam tour was with a new unit that had just arrived. He taught them the ropes, as in "don’t take the path" and "don’t pick things up." Back home, he moved into Military Intelligence, specializing in Aerial Surveillance.
When Ron Christmas was assigned to Vietnam, he was so excited to be going that he studied the Vietnamese language at his own expense. When he arrived in country, he reluctantly took the command of a service company.
Tommy Clack was out for seven days following his gruesome injury at the Vietnam front. He gradually became aware of missing limbs and a pretty nurse. His memories of an out-of-body experience after he was hit became the subject of a television documentary.
In Vietnam, Regimental Commander Lawrence Snowden saw the dirty part of the war operating down in the Delta. Later, working at HQ making bombing assessments, he began to realize the aerial assault on the North was not working.
When Gen. Westmoreland decided to move around and reinforce certain units in Operation Checkers, Captain Ron Christmas found himself just outside of the city of Hue in a camp where hostiles owned the high ground.
The Ia Drang veterans were visiting North Vietnamese veterans of the same battle. When Bill Beck drew a diagram of his machine gun position in the battle, the North Vietnamese officer at the table turned white.
When he arrived in Vietnam at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Tom Reilly was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade at Long Binh, and began a routine of sweeps, patrols and ambushes. Long periods of monotony were the rule, but he soon got a taste of action.
In the I Corps area of Vietnam, the first time new platoon leader Al Lipphardt came under fire, he was slow to drop and take cover because he looked around to see the source of the fire as one of his men tugged on his pant leg. He learned that you drop and then look.
Naval ROTC graduate Ron Christmas took a Marine commission and headed to Camp LeJeune where he learned basic facts of leadership. One is that you share all hardships with your men. Another, unique to the Marines, is that everyone is trained as a rifleman.
Reporter Joe Galloway wanted to get to the action but the airspace around the battle was closed. After he got a fellow crazy Texan named Ray Burns to fly him in, he was told to go see camp commander Charlie Beckwith. The Major needed everything but a reporter, but he immediately put Joe to work on a machine gun.
The secret electronic intelligence operation known as Igloo White kept Al Matheson busy flying over Laos and North Vietnam. He describes the complex and exotic technology used which involved IBM mainframes and thousands of sensors, and he analyzes it's predictable failure.
Reporter Joe Galloway was with COL Hal Moore and the 1st Cavalry, operating in the central highlands of Vietnam, when word came of enemy movement in the Ia Drang valley. He waited with a group of correspondents, including Peter Arnett, all trying to get to the front. But it was Galloway who finessed a ride into the pages of history at the battle.
His uncle was a veteran, so Bruce D'Agostino corresponded with him while in Vietnam, feeling he would understand what he was going through. The disgust began to build as he witnessed the nonchalant treatment of the remains of dead soldiers and read the ridiculous undercounts of casualties by the top brass. His top secret clearance gave him access to material which convinced him that they had no intention of winning the war.
Captain Paul Jacobs served seven tours in Vietnam waters and the first time he returned home, he was welcomed. By the last time, he and his men were suffering the typical abusive homecoming remembered by veterans of that war. This despite the fact that they had just completed a miraculous refugee rescue operation which saved thousands.
Marine helicopter pilot John Jones recalls a fateful day when he switched aircraft with his friend, Bruce Eaton. Not long after the switch, it suffered a mechanical failure and crashed, killing all aboard. He had to pack up his friend's belongings to send home and he remembers a poignant moment when he saw a drawing that hung over the man's bunk.
The man was a World War II veteran and he was clutching a flag at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Freddie Owens tells his remarkable story and how he became the subject of a famous photograph. And don't you tell him that the Wall doesn't talk to you.
Veteran Marine Jay DeGraw, like so many old hands, wound up with a Vietnam tour late in a long career. He says he was a paper pusher, but he spent his time behind sandbags with everyone else when the incoming was hot. The salty Sergeant describes that tour as only he can.
The activity in his area was picking up. Every time Rody Conway, and the South Vietnamese troops he was advising, went out on sweeps, they would find something. When they could not budge the enemy from a bunker, his solution was nearly comic.