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.
The patrols at the forward fire base were the scariest thing Larry Jennings did while in Vietnam. He was the supply sergeant but he also supported the line companies on their missions. Trip wires, rockets from bamboo tubes and mined bridges were a few of the dangers he faced. Then there was the sacred water buffalo.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
The NVA was a trained army, but the Viet Cong were ordinary people, and that included women, children and old people. Larry Jennings was constantly on edge as he rode by the rice paddies, wondering which one of the workers out there would suddenly fire on him. He spent some time off in Saigon, which had it's own problems.
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.
Larry Jennings saw some of the younger soldiers in Vietnam going astray with the local women, which he attributed to the very young age of the men. Out in the field, friendly fire was sometimes a problem, affecting our Australian and Korean allies as well.
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.
Drafted in 1968, Larry Jennings spent almost a year at Fort Hood before drawing overseas duty. He asked if he was going to Germany. No such luck, it was Southeast Asia. The air base was under rocket fire when he landed and he had to crawl to a bunker, weaponless. Soon, he was up to speed and assigned to the 82nd Airborne as a supply sergeant.
Upon his arrival in Vietnam, Roger Hamann is assigned to serve as a "Rustic", communicating with French-speaking Cambodian troops from the back seat of an OV-10. Though he flies dozens of combat missions out of his Thailand air base, one in particular still haunts him.
Larry Jennings was a little older than most of the guys he served with in Vietnam and he tried to steer them away from the bad choices that they could easily make. Many of them looked up to him and took his advice, including one who didn't make it.
A veteran of World War II and Korea, Frank Noonan served long enough to make it to Saigon on the first American warship to venture up the Mekong River. There, he observed a German civilian use an unusual defensive technique when attacked at a sidewalk cafe. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Larry Jennings returned from Vietnam knowing full well what the reputation of returning veterans was. He points out that women and children die in every war and in this particular war, many of them were in the ranks of the enemy. He does have fond memories of one child, a little girl at an orphanage near his base in Pleiku.
Larry Jennings was in transit to a new outfit when the Viet Cong launched a furious attack on the holding company's base. Once that was over and he got to Pleiku, he was struck by the different environment that resembled his home. He was supply sergeant for an engineer company with a lot of heavy equipment, a tempting target for Charlie.
Every night, a clearing patrol went out to sweep the area ahead of the unit in preparation for the night. Dale Ney tells what happened on one search and destroy mission when the clearing patrol did not return. What he found the next morning haunts him till this day.
He was used to discipline, so Marine boot camp wasn't so bad for Michael Marshall. When the drill instructor asked if anyone was unhappy and wanted to go to the Army, he thought surely no one would step forward.
Daily life included a shower from a hanging 55 gallon drum and maybe some C-rations. Larry Jennings was stationed at Pleiku where he engaged in search and destroy missions in addition to his job as supply sergeant. He reveals why the enemy had a better rifle and which was more dangerous, the line or the rear.
Larry Jenning's engineer unit was ordered out of Pleiku and back to the Saigon area. After a long trip that included passage on LST's, they settled in and waited. He had a short time left and he was trying to keep his head down when his buddy organized a trip to Saigon.
What was it like moving through thick jungle? Michael Marshall answers that question and more as he recalls his time in Vietnam. He loved his M14 rifle, but he wasn't too crazy about the C-rations and the old grenades.
Vietnam veteran Larry Jennings describes the use of Agent Orange to deprive the enemy of its hiding places. It really worked well, but in 2001, he joined the long list of personnel who had lingering effects. He also had a small shrapnel wound, for which he received no Purple Heart.