6:09 | It was a hurry-up assignment. Bill Camper was sent to Quang Ngai to advise the civilian administration and he was so rushed, he had no radio or vehicle when he got there, but he went right to work. He had to put together a reaction force of locals armed with whatever they could find and he had to deliver medical and infrastructure assistance.
Keywords : Bill Camper Vietnam civilian advisor Fort Bragg William Westmoreland Saigon Quang Ngai Binh Son Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) United States Agency for International Development (USAID) medical malaria sanitation
When Bill Camper arrived in Korea in command of an engineer company, the peace talks were going on so they were able to do their work on roads and bridges without getting shot. Mines were a threat, though, left by the retreating Communists. After tours in Japan and Germany, he was training paratroopers at Fort Benning when the Vietnam War began to heat up.
After a short stint in the Navy, Bill Camper decided that it wasn't for him. He was going to serve, but in the Navy, the gulf between officers and enlisted men was too wide, so he got out and enlisted in the Army, where he knew the officers would be in the mud with him. Once in the Army, he was sent to Officer Candidate School and went to Korea with an engineer battalion.
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.
Civilian Advisor Bill Camper only had a small force to deal with snipers and ambushes, but he could call the ARVN unit stationed nearby to deal with larger enemy forces. The first time he went to answer a distress call from a village, the unit was ambushed, so there was some adjustment to procedures. During this time, he developed respect for the Vietnamese people, regardless of their allegiances.
"No one in Vietnam needs these." That's what Bill Camper thought when his district was sent boxes of laxatives by mistake. The civilian advisor told the doctor to hang on to them and that led to victory over a North Vietnamese unit that had moved into the area. "It was kind of like biological warfare."
He had been a civilian advisor, but Bill Camper was reassigned to Hue to advise an ARVN regiment. This made life simpler, just find the enemy and engage him. In his first large operation, the relief of an overrun forward base, victory was achieved, but with a high cost in lives. For three days, they had to wait in the jungle with the bodies of their fallen comrades.
It had to be a mistake. Bill Camper was not a headquarters man but when he arrived in Vietnam for his second tour, he was assigned to Military Assistance Command (MACV) Headquarters. He managed to get a field assignment and was sent up near the DMZ to advise an ARVN regiment. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese commander was hard to get along with.
The North Vietnamese attacked across the DMZ with everything they had. Bill Camper was an advisor to the ARVN unit stationed there in the wake of the American drawdown and barely got back inside the perimeter as two battalions on a maneuver were lost. The enemy artillery barrage was relentless, and after four days of fighting, the South Vietnamese commander decided to surrender. Camper was having none of that.
The artillery fire was so intense at Camp Carroll that Bill Camper could not get a fix for counter battery fire. The rounds were coming from four directions. After four days of intense North Vietnamese attacks and with his ARVN counterpart ready to surrender, Camper escaped with a few others, but they were cut off and had to fight their way back into the camp. Then came a fateful radio call.
ARVN advisor Bill Camper received an unusual experimental weapon to possibly counter the Russian tanks that were tearing up the Southern forces. It was the XM72, a four barreled handheld rocket launcher. While he was training some men to operate it, the North Vietnamese attacked.
In the tense concluding days of the Vietnam War, ARVN advisor Bill Camper was with a unit holding bridges at Quang Tri when he went out to check on suspected enemy activity. He was unconcerned about the artillery rounds passing overhead because the enemy's Russian rounds had no air burst capability. Then a round hit a tree above him.
They aren't all heroes, they were just doing their jobs, says Bill Camper, veteran of Korea and Vietnam. He remembers laying in bed in basic training and trying to breakdown his $55 a month into what his hourly rate was. You don't do it for the money.
After his first tour in Vietnam, Bill Camper was assigned to Fort Carson and the 5th Mechanized Division, training soldiers destined for that conflict. Then he had a six month assignment with a Special Forces team in the Dominican Republic during that country's civil war.
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.
After some intense time in-country, Bob Averill and his battalion got the chance to take a brief leave to the beach for some recovery time. Following his time on Hill 174, Averill was reassigned to command a Combined Action Company, taking him away from Hotel Company and into a new area of operations.
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.
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.
Albert Watson discuses the differences in tactics between operating in the delta and operating in the jungle. Encounters with wildlife were constant, from giant centipedes to elephants. Eventually, Watson was made Executive Officer where he had the headache of issuing constantly changing scrip.
The airliner was full of young soldiers and Marines, who left the cold of Spokane for the heat and humidity of Vietnam. Albert Watson was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, a unit specifically designed for the asymmetric war in Vietnam. Most of his time was spent in the flat delta, where you could see for miles. When they were sent north on an operation, the visibility in the jungle was more like five feet.
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.
There were booby traps galore in the Mekong Delta where platoon leader Albert Watson served most of his tour. His unit managed to avoid any injuries from them until they were sent north into the jungle, where they were tougher to spot. The men had to be crossed trained because of the constant rotation of troops. You had to be able to step into another role to cover for someone who was no longer there.
There was a new Brigadier General and Albert Watson was assigned to him as an aide. General William R. Bond was quite a character with a distinguished career, including escaping from German activity and rolling into Berlin with the Russians. He liked to be in the field with his men and that proved to be his undoing.
Coming home from Vietnam was not pleasant for Albert Watkins. His mother was there at the airport to meet him as he was cursed and spit on by protestors. His parents got harassing phone calls at their home. He felt he had done what was right and he made the Army a career, which helped him get over the divided situation in the country.
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.
When getting the orders to join his Combined Action Platoon, Doc Groulx thought through the idea of helping his wounded soldiers make it home alive and decided it was worth it. Making relationships with the Vietnamese people was essential to their success as a group.
There are certain memories and sensations that bring Bob Averill back to the Vietnam War and, though they were hard times, he has some memories that he won't forget. Thinking back on the war, he would like future generations to remember the sacrifices that were made by everyone involved.