6:31 | As three Marine companies advanced on a decidedly non-friendly village, the forward observer called for artillery support. Frank Cox was the artillery liaison officer and, finding the commander asleep, he gave the fire order himself, a move which had repercussions. A CBS news crew was embedded in the operation and they captured a famous image which had major repercussions back home.
Frank Cox describes the booby traps fashioned by the Viet Cong, which some say killed and wounded more Marines than anything else in Vietnam.
After operations south of Da Nang, the Marine battalion rotated to the air base there to provide security. On a security patrol, the platoon leader led his unit through exactly the wrong place. That officer had been in basic school with Frank Cox, who had noticed the man dozing off during a class on patrolling, and who listened in on the radio as his platoon was decimated.
The restrictions on artillery fire in Vietnam were so strict that by the time permission to fire was obtained, the combat conditions had changed. Artillery liaison officer Frank Cox tells how he beat the system once he became a forward observer by using prepared coordinates and then firing his pistol in the air as he requested the fire mission over the radio.
New Marine officer Frank Cox and his friend Jack Swallows admired the beauty of the mountains and landscape of Vietnam as they approached it on the troop ship. They didn't know where they were going, but soon they knew what knowledge they were lacking, and that was how to avoid booby traps, how to avoid friendly crossfires and how to relate to people who weren't really on your side.
New Marine officer Frank Cox was assigned to an artillery battery and was soon in Okinawa training for Vietnam. He and his buddies were dismissive of the enemy there when they saw television coverage. The cocky new Marines weren't very kind to the Naval officers, either, on the voyage to the war.
In the officer's basic school at Quantico, every Marine officer is trained to command a rifle platoon, so that, no matter the officer's specialty, there is an ability to fight and win in combat. Frank Cox tells the story of his friend, Barney Barnum, who upon arriving in Vietnam, was immediately thrust into leadership and received the Medal of Honor for his response.
Frank Cox is a Marine who was inspired by that great American recruiter, John Wayne. There was no ROTC at his small college, so he signed up for a platoon leaders class. If you made it through two intense summer sessions, you had the chance to be a Marine officer after graduation.
The decision was made to evacuate the villagers while booby traps and bunkers were destroyed. An old woman walked up to forward observer Frank Cox and started kicking the ground and giving him grief. This led to a surprising friendship.
They were chasing a famous North Vietnamese Army division which had bested the French and were now formally entering the new war to support their Viet Cong allies. Artillery forward observer Frank Cox describes the tense moments of what proved to be a futile pursuit.
Operation Kings started out badly when two young Marines suffered heat stroke and had to be evacuated. Then the three platoons were caught in an ambush by a larger enemy force. In the chaos, Lt. Frank Cox went to aid of his favorite corporal, whose life was saved by an unusual haversack load. Part 1 of 2.
As the enemy swarmed towards them, the Marines formed a 360 degree defensive position and then they faced a night long assault. It was Frank Cox spotting the artillery support that won the upper hand against, as he calls the Viet Cong, "as difficult an enemy as the Marines have ever faced." Part 2 of 2.
Unlike some outfits, Foxtrot Company based it's number of kills on actual body counts, but a touring colonel made them take down their sign, saying no outfit had killed that many. As Frank Cox tells it, one sergeant took exception to that and did something totally inappropriate.
The patrols were brutal during Operation Double Eagle, recalls Frank Cox. Thick jungle meant no visibility and a lot of hacking at foliage just to move. They also ran out of water, which caused a risky decision involving a rice paddy.
Frank Cox had a friend from Marine officer's basic school named James Egan. Egan, a talented and popular officer from Notre Dame, disappeared when his reconnaissance patrol was attacked and has never been found to this day. Fortunately, the talent was deep in that unit.
When forward observer Frank Cox was out on a mission, the artillery fire base was attacked by Viet Cong sappers, who managed to knock out one of the howitzers, along with an unpopular sergeant.
It was New Year's Eve, ours not theirs. Before the night was over, Frank Cox had tackled a belligerent Marine who was hacked off at the infantry camped nearby, and placed his own battalion commander under a watch after confiscating his sidearm.
The large mortars attached to his artillery battalion were always down and needing spare parts, recalls Frank Cox. Other equipment problems plagued the Marines in Vietnam including inadequate boots and balky radios.
When Frank Cox first got to Vietnam, his unit suffered from many rookie mistakes that put them at risk without even facing the enemy. A Naval gunfire officer attached to the unit chronicled these mishaps in a little black book.
The packages from home were priceless. The simple items made the war more bearable, says Frank Cox, and were as exciting to him as when he was a boy getting his mail order toys.
Frank Cox recalls the frustration and anger felt by many in Vietnam due to the ineptness of the war effort and the difficulty in the field. Channeling this anger fueled a successful career for him later, but there was an incident on patrol when he let the anger get the best of him.
To complete the process of registering his artillery pieces on the target areas, Frank Cox went to the highest ground around. There he found an exotic anti-aircraft battery with a delusional commander who had an exaggerated sense of his mission and of the worth of his weapon system, the HAWK.
The job of forward observer is a vital one in combat and Frank Cox describes how he did his job in Vietnam. The forward observer feeds data to the artillery battery for targeting the enemy. On one memorable mission, he called in over 1700 rounds, a record at the time.
He felt he had done his job well in Vietnam, but Marine Frank Cox wounded himself when his sidearm accidentally discharged. This bothered him for years, but the passage of time gave him the perspective to come to grips with it.
How did the rules of engagement in Vietnam affect helicopter pilot Rd Zielinski? He worked for Koreans and says that's all you need to know. He flew other missions and on one clandestine foray into Laos, he spotted two MIG fighter planes on a makeshift runway in the jungle. Could he be the first helicopter pilot ace?
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.
When Ed Zielinski returned home from Vietnam, he took fire immediately, a spitball from an anti-war protestor. His entered a trying time in his life, but continuing to fly was a big help. He joined the National Guard and taught new helicopter pilots the real life skills they would need, the ones not in the book.
As the war went on, Ron Rutowski felt the culture and morale of Vietnam change for the Vietnamese and for the Americans. In an effort to create an outlet of peace for Viet Cong defectors, they began a pamphlet program to let them know how to effectively surrender should they want to.
Dick Dyer and Jim Thorne were in flight school together and they both were deployed to Vietnam with the 145th Aviation Battalion flying Hueys. There was a great need for pilots and every one of them practically had a helicopter strapped on.
It was hot at Fort Polk and he was getting picked on by the 1st Sergeant. Ed Zielinski found out why he was getting the business after he graduated from basic training, then it was on to flight school. Terrified at first, he gained confidence, especially when he made the switch to Hueys. At the end of the training, all the men played a prank on the platoon leader.
During firefights in Vietnam, there are always challenges that Rutowski and his unit always had to overcome. During one particular encounter, they had to worry about their position being compromised as they crouched in the woods hoping to stay hidden.
He was days from going home so helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski had an easy resupply mission with a green co-pilot. They were done and heading back when the mayday call came in. Two Cobra pilots were down and fighting for their lives. He turned to the rookie and said, "OK, we're going to the war."
Helicopter pilot Dick Dyer was sent to pickup supplies from a ship in the Mekong Delta, but when he approached, the call sign and frequency he was given for contact elicited no reply. Circling the ship, he saw other helicopters land and take off so he went on in. Then he got an earful.
Army brat Ed Zielinski had always been fascinated with flight. As a child he just knew he would lift off on a windy day with a long coat for wings. So when the draft loomed he decided he would try to fly over the rice paddies rather than slog through them.
Nineteen and invincible, newly minted helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski was singing on the 26 hour flight to Vietnam. Assigned to work with a Korean unit, he began to familiarize himself with the area he was based in, determined to be the best pilot there.
The call went out. There was a unit in trouble and they needed casualties evacuated. Huey pilot Dick Dyer responded, but as he was taking off with the wounded, there was a loud boom. He settled back on the ground and then he heard from his crew chief. This helicopter wasn't going anywhere.
The Koreans didn't speak much English, at least to him. They would point to a map and helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski would take them there. On one mission, he had to set down and wait. This gave him an unexpected opportunity to utilize his Texas quick draw skills.
What was Operation Lam Son 719 like? To helicopter pilot Dick Dyer, it was a "gaggle." There were so many aircraft flying at once, it seemed to him like hundreds. A recurring problem on these big troop movements was overloading caused by eager soldiers. On occasion, the pilots were tasked with transporting reporters.
The veterans today have it easier than Dick Dyer did when he returned from Vietnam. The mood is supportive, and when he wears his Vietnam Veteran hat, he gets a little of the love he missed back in the day. He is very proud of the role that helicopter pilots like himself played in the war.
The officers club for the helicopter pilots was one of the best in Vietnam, says Ed Zielinski. If only he could have figured out how the Korean officers were cheating at dice. There was another kind of wildlife there, elephants, which could also be enemy trucks, deer and wild pig, which you could barbecue, and monkeys, which you better not shoot if Ed was around.
Dick Dyer was in college ROTC when he was offered the chance to learn to fly. The program was geared to a private pilot license but the instructor was a a World War II flying ace. This gave him an advantage when he was commissioned and sent to flight school to learn to fly helicopters.