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.
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."
Bill Camper felt like the people of Hue supported the South Vietnamese soldiers he was advising. He made some headway encouraging those men to fight and he relates the story of how he taught them to advance through their own artillery barrage and surprise the enemy from the rear.
Jim Benson's mission was to hold and guard the Tu Cau bridge. The work load on his men was heavy and he details the routine of patrols and ambushes, both day and night, that left the Marines exhausted. At the same time, he had to constantly train new replacements who had no combat knowledge.
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.
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.
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.
The Kit Carson Scouts were Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers who had defected to the South. Many of them worked with American units to give insight to the tactics of the enemy and Owen Ditchfield was in charge of the program in his division. He would take them to fire bases where one of them would give a startling demonstration to the American soldiers.
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.
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.
Owen Ditchfield was sent to Vietnam by way of the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was preparing to be the public information officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. Once there, he nearly suffered an accidental death in the officers club, but he survived and went on to host reporters Charlie Black, Joe Galloway and Peter Arnett.
Ron Mastin had been shot down and was somewhere North of Hanoi. He hid through the night but woke up surrounded by men with rifles. A long jeep ride was interrupted several times so villagers could jeer at him and functionaries could lecture. During his interrogation, they would tie his arms and pull them up behind his back, but what could a 1st Lieutenant tell them?
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.
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.
Halfway through his second Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield was put in charge of the division's Kit Carson Scout program, which used Viet Cong who had turned to the South's side. These soldiers were so useful that American units competed to recruit them as they finished their indoctrination.
Flying in a reconnaissance jet over North Vietnam, Ron Mastin was never aware of ground fire until the day he was shot down. Just a small thump thump and the plane was going down. He and Tom Storey ejected and he had a few serene minutes in the air before the ground came up. He had made it but he had no idea where Tom was.
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.
After his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the personnel office at Fort Benning. One day, he received a letter from a Vietnamese interpreter who had been left behind and was trying desperately to get out. That started a process that would end happily for both of them. Another happy outcome awaited Ditchfield when he was pushed out by the drawdown.
There was a machine gunner in Mike Province's platoon named Emilio De La Garza. On a patrol, they encountered an enemy who indicated he wanted to surrender. De La Garza went to bring him in and, as they approached, he pulled out a grenade. When it was over, there was a Medal Of Honor waiting.
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.