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.
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 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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
For his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. Arriving just after the battle at Hamburger Hill, he was leading a patrol in the same area when the unit was pinned down by multiple enemy gun emplacements. A relief platoon ran into the same fire from the bunkers, but then Gordon Roberts stood up and charged the first position. Before it was over, four enemy positions were taken out and Roberts would deserve the Medal Of Honor.
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.
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.
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.