2:26 | They arrived at basic training and got a good night's sleep but when the Drill Instructor started beating on a garbage can and throwing it around the barracks, John Wilhite knew he was in for something different than he was used to. After basic, in Advanced Infantry Training, they were practicing air deployment when he noticed that the equipment was really being loaded.
Keywords : John Wilhite Fort Knox Evansville IN Drill Instructor (DI) Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) Vietnam
When he flew into Vietnam, John Wilhite could hear mortar fire as they landed. The men scrambled out of the plane and took cover in drainage ditches. They weren't even armed, so it was quite a welcome to Vietnam. The first stop was the mess hall where the food wasn't quite cooked and the cooks were missing.
Assigned to the 1099th Transportation Company when he arrived in Vietnam, John Wilhite didn't even see an officer for four days. Fortunately, there were old hands around to get him up to speed. The job was simple, carry people and resources up and down the rivers in the Mekong Delta on Mike Boats, which resembled landing craft. These missions took them into Cambodia, he notes, despite what the President was saying.
John Wilhite traveled the rivers of the Mekong Delta with the River Rats, a transportation company using long, shallow draft boats called Mike Boats. The first time he saw the enemy, he was off the boat in a defensive position. When the firefight began, the .50 caliber machine guns on the boat cleaned up the situation.
It wasn't all warfare on the river. John Wilhite recalls the time his transportation unit took part in flood relief, carrying villagers to safety. He felt sorry for the people of Vietnam, who were deprived by years of war and angry at foreign armies in their land. He was especially touched by the plight of the orphans.
They tried not to have any more than three boats together on the river, says John Wilhite, a member of the River Rats, a transportation company. Once when they had six in a line, the enemy detonated a thousand pound bomb underneath the second one. The boats were carrying fuel bladders and the resulting blast blew the water out of the river at that point. Less effective were the homemade rockets that were like big fireworks.
The missions were continuous, one after the other. When they were out, they were totally alone, nowhere near any installations, so the River Rats had their food dropped right onto the boat by helicopter. John Wilhite's weapon was the M-60 machine gun and he used it both on the boat and in defensive positions on shore. Once, he overheated it and the breach popped up and smacked him in the face.
A frequent mission for John Wilhite was the fuel run to Cambodia. They would take the boat downriver to the South China Sea and fill up a huge fuel bladder. Then it was back up the Mekong River to Cambodia. You could always tell when you got to the border because the place was crawling with North Vietnamese troops, allies of the murderous Pol Pot regime.
There was a Buddhist hooch on the other side of the river near their base camp. John Wilhite had seen people coming and going there for a long time, but they were respectful of religious locations so it was left alone. One day, while they were playing cards on the boat, the man across from him was hit by a large caliber round. Soon it was apparent where it had come from.
When the River Rats made the ocean run to fill up the fuel bladder they would carry upriver, it was party time. Through trading with sailors, they acquired the steaks, lobster and beer they need for a decent beach affair. After a night beside the South China Sea, it was up to Cambodia to deliver the goods.
He made Buck Sergeant about the time he figured out that he and his buddies were basically fighting for each other and for no other reason. They were taking a large bunker complex and when two others were under fire, he went out to get them. After the fight was over, he was disturbed to learn what his superiors intended to do about the enemy base.
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.
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.
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.
He came out of the field his last few weeks in Vietnam, but Lt. Tom Blake hated leaving his men. He would give them the Mother Hen treatment when he saw them leaving the firebase while he was waiting to go home. On the last leg of that trip, an airline pilot gave him a solid welcome home.
Tom Blake recommends two excellent books on the Vietnam War that he feels give a good feel for what it was like there. He nearly returned to visit the former battlefield, but doesn't regret his decision to stay home. He has a healthy respect for his former enemies in that difficult war.
11 frightening days in the Battle of Dak To, and the bloody fight for Hill 875. When a Marine F4 misses its target, a 500 pound bomb takes out an entire encampment of wounded GIs. The South Vietnamese Civilian Army prepares a Thanksgiving feast, but the meal does not sit well with the American palette.
How did the M-16 rifle function in a jungle environment? Just fine, according to Tom Blake, RECON Platoon leader in Vietnam. As long you kept it clean and dry in the hot, wet mess of the rice paddies. There were less booby traps there than up North, but no less Viet Cong.
His men loved the care packages that Lt. Tom Blake's parents sent to him, full of Kool-Aid and cinnamon rolls. The area they were in was flat, hot and wet and the job was interdiction of the Viet Cong, who were confiscating the rice harvest. To Blake, the constant stalking and ambushes resembled a game of cops and robbers.
Banasau and his team struggle with questionable orders from an inexperienced, egomaniacal company commander. Later, they come across what sounds like a massive army, and are forced to take cover... only to discover their ears have deceived them.
Tom Blake's first assignment was at Fort Hood, where he kept an old Volkswagen in which he shuttled returning veterans around to help them solve medical and administrative problems. He got an earful from them about Vietnam, which he was about to experience for himself. Once he got there, he kept falling into the most difficult assignments and he learned that surprises waited for him everywhere.
Among the spoils of Hill 875, Banasau discovers the gruesome remains of the enemy. After witnessing the loss of so many GIs, he feels only satisfaction at the sight of NVA corpses. Nonetheless, a shell-shocked prisoner is mercifully evacuated from the smoldering wreckage.
Tom Blake was the RECON Platoon leader and he depended heavily on his point man, Tex Quinn. You could bet a six pack on your location on the map and you'd lose. They used characters from Robin Hood for radio code names, but there was no fun and games if you were caught falling asleep on watch.
The first fire Tom Blake received in Vietnam was 50 caliber rounds from his own side. He was mixing it up with the Viet Cong soon enough. In fact, they knew his name. The first man he lost in his platoon failed to heed a very basic rule, rules that Lieutenant Blake tried to remind them of every day.
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.
Lt. Tom Blake had a Kit Carson scout in his platoon and the former Viet Cong was good at getting information from the locals, but, after the My Lai incident, cooperation was hard to come by. The tragedy occurred in the same area and Blake felt the fallout in his civilian encounters.
Bravo Company has been all but wiped out, and Ernest Banasau worries that he and his buddies will be sent in to replace them. Instead, he joins A Company, where he experiences his first enemy contact - in the form of a rice paddy machine gun ambush.