4:44 | 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.
Keywords : John Wilhite Tan Son Nhut mortar Vietnam mess hall cook rat Mekong Delta Medium Boat
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Jack Martin had no close personal relationships with Vietnamese civilians during his tour, but the children who gathered whenever he stopped his jeep were friendly and curious. They were interested in a physical trait that Americans had that none of them shared. He also hosted the occasional USO visitor, including Tarzan, who refused a helmet.
The Marines did what they could to help villagers with sanitation and health needs, but Michael Marshall could feel the chilly distance between them. His company commander was Captain Jerome Cooper, who held an important distinction.
As a battalion commander, Army engineer Jack Martin had a host of problems. From whether there were enough personnel to get the job done to keeping wayward enlisted men from abusing the Vietnamese civilians. Then there was the grim task of writing condolence letters.
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.
Army engineer Jack Martin was offered his choice of assignments. It could be Korea or Vietnam and he hated cold weather so much, he chose Vietnam. His first assignment was at a desk in Long Binh, but his career got a boost when he was offered command of a battalion. He jumped at the chance and faced a host of challenging situations.
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.
Mike Law remembers some of the mechanics behind the explosives they used in Vietnam. Learning the intricacies of the aircrafts and detonatives they used was essential. The connections he made during his time in the service are still with him today.
With not much time left in country, Mike Law remembers being apprehensive about flying with the fear of getting shot down right before he went home. Seeing old friends that he served with was always nostalgic and brought back good memories.
When he stepped off the plane in Da Nang, Michael Marshall knew this was not a place you wanted to be. It was hot and there was a strange smell. Within days, he was with his Marine unit at An Hoa, providing security for bridge building engineers. It did not take long before he saw death.
His first assignment as a new platoon leader was to guard the base at Tan Son Nhut. This gave Greg Camp a chance to get to know his men. On his first foray into the field at night, he was positive he heard somebody crawling up to his position. All night long.
Mike Law remembers finishing school with plenty of flying time where he felt like he began to get proficient at flying. Operating his aircraft in Vietnam was always difficult with the NVA constantly shifting and having to learn their changing routes.
It was early in the battle when Michael Marshall pointed to the machine gunner to show him where to set up his weapon. An enemy round tore into his arm and he was knocked to the ground. The rapid response of his buddies and the evacuation team was outstanding. Back home, his employer before the war continued the good work.
Mike Law remembers some of his more memorable kills over the jungles of Vietnam and some of the funny events that can come from that. Building camaraderie overtime was very easy as the guys got used to serving next to one another.
Grady Birdsong remembers one of the funny moments during training. At Fort Pendleton, he went to basic electronics school and was passed despite not passing the class. Arriving in Vietnam, the humidity stuck with him as being one of the hardest parts about transitioning into lifer there.
Off the coast of Hue City, Grady Birdsong and his battalion set up to siege the beach, but fortunately nothing ended up happening. Once they got to a temporary basecamp, they began to prepare for a more legitimate field of defense.