6:10 | Vietnam veteran Al Lipphardt has an instant connection with other veterans of any conflict. He says to truly understand a combat veteran, one must have been through combat because the experience is overwhelming.
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When Al Lipphardt went through basic training, his superiors noticed something special and he was recommended for Officer Candidate School. He recalls the spit shined floors at OCS and the lengths the unit went through to maintain them.
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.
Al Lipphardt spent time as a platoon leader and as an intelligence liaison during his first tour of duty in Vietnam. While a platoon leader, he tried to not get too close to his men, to avoid emotional reactions in battle.
The worst firefight for Al Lipphardt in Vietnam started on Thanksgiving 1967 and continued for four days. The initial barrage from the enemy killed four and wounded ten in his platoon.
Of all the casualties around Al Lipphardt in his first Vietnam tour, one in particular haunted him for years, the death of Rodney Loatman. It was an article in a magazine that brought it all flooding back into his consciousness decades later.
Outmanned by at least five to one, but with good air support, Al Lipphardt’s unit fought the NVA for four days in the fight known only as the Battle for Hill 63 in Operation Dorland. He had never had a greater feeling than realizing he was still alive after it was all over.
Several seemingly innocuous things can bring back the memories of Vietnam for Al Lipphardt. He learned that for vets of different wars, the process was the same but the details were different.
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 he arrived for his second tour in Vietnam in Long Binh (IV Corps), Intelligence officer Al Lipphardt knew that it was a different war when he was not issued a weapon. This was disturbing to him, as were the Rules of Engagement in the field.
The sign on the windowless building of the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington D.C. suggested academic research, but the drunks across the street in the liquor store knew what it really was. Inside, Al Lipphardt, was busy predicting the October War of 1973.
He made Buck Sergeant about the time he figured out that he and his buddies were basically fighting for each other and for no other reason. They were taking a large bunker complex and when two others were under fire, he went out to get them. After the fight was over, he was disturbed to learn what his superiors intended to do about the enemy base.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
Among the spoils of Hill 875, Banasau discovers the gruesome remains of the enemy. After witnessing the loss of so many GIs, he feels only satisfaction at the sight of NVA corpses. Nonetheless, a shell-shocked prisoner is mercifully evacuated from the smoldering wreckage.
Tom Blake's first assignment was at Fort Hood, where he kept an old Volkswagen in which he shuttled returning veterans around to help them solve medical and administrative problems. He got an earful from them about Vietnam, which he was about to experience for himself. Once he got there, he kept falling into the most difficult assignments and he learned that surprises waited for him everywhere.
Newly commissioned out of ROTC, Albert Watson got to know Fort Benning really well. After his basic course, he went through Ranger school and Airborne school. At his first assignment, a very capable sergeant taught him how to be a platoon leader.
Bravo Company has been all but wiped out, and Ernest Banasau worries that he and his buddies will be sent in to replace them. Instead, he joins A Company, where he experiences his first enemy contact - in the form of a rice paddy machine gun ambush.
One day at his Army Reserve weekend drill, an NCO walked up and handed Bill Patterson a truck driver's license. Then he pointed to the truck he would be driving. The entire unit was being switched to a transportation role and they prepared to deploy to Vietnam.
After recovering from a wound suffered on his first tour of Vietnam, Paul Van Riper tried to return to the same assignment. The Marine Corps had other ideas, however, and after a stint as an instructor at Quantico, he got his own company to command.
11 frightening days in the Battle of Dak To, and the bloody fight for Hill 875. When a Marine F4 misses its target, a 500 pound bomb takes out an entire encampment of wounded GIs. The South Vietnamese Civilian Army prepares a Thanksgiving feast, but the meal does not sit well with the American palette.
The Vietnamese had a unit called the National Police Field Force and when a platoon of these men was sent to his battalion, Paul Van Riper insisted they be assigned to his company. He integrated them with his Marines and they functioned well together. He recalls a bunker clearing operation that had a surprise ending.
There was some serious weaponry in Vietnam, recalls Bill Patterson. The truck driver felt his 5 ton truck bounce into the air when a huge cannon was fired. On another occasion, as he was delivering ammunition to a base, the ground began to shake so violently he thought it was an earthquake. The men unloading the trucks went calmly about their business as if nothing was going on.
After Khe Sanh, Bob Averill and his division shipped down to Cam Lo, where they faced ample NVA fire. Here, he had to take the lead on throwing a grenade into the enemy bunker, leading to a close call as he quickly retreated away from the blast.
As he returned from Vietnam and the plane was descending, the landing was aborted and the plane diverted to a different base. Bill Patterson and the rest of the men were thinking that they had survived a year of war and were now going to die back home in Georgia.