6:31 | 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.
Keywords : John Wilhite Vietnam River Rats river Medium Boat LCM-8 Mike Boat hooch .50 cal machine gun M-60 machine gun fuel bladder JP-4 jet fuel South China Sea Cambodia Richard Nixon Laos helicopter
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.
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.
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 heading to Phu Bai, Bennie Koon and his company went to Camp Evans to be stationed. Facing mortar fire, he remembers feeling terrified and not knowing when it would pass. Bennie explains the defenses they had set up to defend them from the Viet Cong.
With great difficulty, Sardo Sanchez recounts critical events that prove both devastating and fortunate. After taking the life of a VC soldier, he is hit by a sniper and told he may never walk again. In a state of shock, he narrowly avoids a fatal miscalculation.
Under heavy fire, choppers attempt to evacuate wounded GIs from Kontum. After one fatal crash, a dustoff chopper manages to lift Ernest Banasau to safety. Years later, Banasau meets the pilot who saved him, and learns how close he came to meeting a tragic fate. Part 2 of 2
McMahon becomes part of the Combined Action Program (CAP), working with Vietnamese militia to protect villages from Viet Cong thugs. On one occasion, the village is spared from enemy attack by an army artillery unit acting without orders. He and the villagers develop a bond that would last for decades.
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.
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 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.
Growing up in the Midwest in a military family, Rick Bates joined the Air Force with the desire of flying fighter jets. He had to learn quickly to prepare himself for the intensity of navigating these huge machines.
Deciding to re-enlist after Vietnam, Donna Lowery deployed to Germany where she had a nice deployment there and found readjusting to post-war life easy. She ended up spending 26 years in the military and retired a sergeant major. Donna also has some thoughts on the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington D.C.
After re-enlisting in the service, Charlie Pocock passed his flight physical and was on active duty in Utah where he lived. When his plane was shot down over Vietnam, he had to think on his feet to run through the jungle and transmit his whereabouts via radio.
After spending so much time in Hanoi, Rick Bates remembers being released and feeling relieved after they flew to a base in the Philippines. Returning home and getting some leave, he decided to stay in the Air Force and finished out his career flying the F-4.
When one of the Marine units supporting them left, Bennie Koon and his platoon had to think quickly to fill in the gaps to stay secure. In their down-time, they played games and drank beer, which became pretty habitual for him.
While stationed in Vietnam, Peter Ruplenas had a number of enemy interactions that turned out to be extremely close calls and left him with a few injuries. Being a photographer, capturing these moments was still very important to him despite the difficulties.