3:17 | 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.
Keywords : John Wilhite Vietnam River Rats Mike Boat rice paddy North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Claymore mine .50 cal machine gun Mobile Riverine Force
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Growing up in Philadelphia to single mother, James Holmes was raised to work hard during his entire upbringing. Being an athlete all of high school, he decided to join the Army at age 17, trained and shipped off to Germany.
Dealing with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, they had to adapt to combating the many tactics of the enemy forces. The guerilla tactics of the VC in addition to the well-trained and equipped NVA was a great danger to American forces in Vietnam.
James Holmes remembers one particular hairy encounter from Vietnam that they managed to get out of with minimal casualties. On the final day, the NVA attempted a final push to get out of the village and the company had to push back on the attack.
Paul Hart remembers his time in flight training at Fort Rucker before his deployment to Vietnam. After landing in Bien Hoa and getting processed, he was sent to the 1st Cavalry Division which was based out of An Khe. Paul was assigned to support the men on the ground as they patrolled the hills and valleys of Vietnam.
Paul Hart remembers growing up with some military influence in his family when he got his notice to report for a physical. He remembers not really knowing much about the conflict in Vietnam during the time of his joining.
James Holmes remembers shipping off to Vietnam just before his 21st birthday. Since he had 4 years military experience, his leadership was essential to the success of their unit while stationed over there.
Returning home from Vietnam, James Holmes and other Vietnam vets had a lot to get used to about civilian life. James took great strides to take care of himself after his time and the service, and he reflects on the Vietnam conflict and the miscommunication between Washington D.C. and the men on the ground.
In 1967, General Westmoreland called for more troops in Vietnam, which President Johnson later approved. Grady Birdsong and his battalion were called into Hue City in 1968 to run support on the canal areas near the citadel.
Paul Hart remembers two of his good friends from flight school, Ralph and Wylie. Helicopter pilots had a high risk of injury and death, but even decades later, Paul remembers these men and what happened to them both during and after Vietnam.
Returning home, Grady Birdsong remembers not telling people he was a veteran and having to watch the war be lost on national TV. Being treated with disrespect after all he had been through was a very upsetting thing to have to go through.