4:42 | It was the "Sands of Iwo Jima" with John Wayne that inspired Jim Benson enough to leave a job he loved, coaching high school football, and join the Marines. It was 1968 so it was certain he would go to Vietnam. After the new Lieutenant recovered from the heat when he walked off the plane, he was assigned a platoon. He was surprised at what supplies were being packed for patrol.
Keywords : Jim Benson Roanoke VA Biak John Wayne Sands Of Iwo Jima Officer Candidate School (OCS) Quantico Vietnam Da Nang beer
It was his first patrol as a platoon leader and they were only a thousand yards out when Jim Benson encountered his first booby trap. He thought, is it this bad here? He found out that his platoon was not very disciplined, not even using flank security when moving. That all changed, but not before he lost a promising young corporal who ignored a basic rule.
His platoon was defending the Tu Cau Bridge when a Viet Cong came walking down the road right toward the machine gun emplacement. "Chu hoi," came the cry from the injured Vietnamese fighter and Jim Benson took him in and questioned him. A successful operation followed, marred only by some errant artillery shells that killed some civilians. This enraged his medic, who was not allowed to remain and treat the wounded.
Jim Benson's mission was to hold and guard the Tu Cau bridge. The work load on his men was heavy and he details the routine of patrols and ambushes, both day and night, that left the Marines exhausted. At the same time, he had to constantly train new replacements who had no combat knowledge.
It was already late and Jim Benson had a river crossing to deal with. Once there, he called for the rope, a vital piece of gear for the crossing. Private Dewey had forgotten the rope. Private Dewey was a train wreck, but when the shooting started, he was the man you wanted by your side. The next day, after a sleepless night with the listening post reporting movement, they made a startling discovery.
The platoon had just moved from the point position to the back of the column. Platoon leader Jim Benson walked up the column to speak to the next platoon's leader when the Viet Cong attacked and he was pinned down. One man rose to the occasion, Private Dewey, the unit's misfit.
They had good intelligence from the Vietnamese that the Viet Cong were making a supply run down from their mountain base. Jim Benson's platoon got to the area, set up an ambush, and waited. They never came. They didn't come the next day either and the sleep deprived platoon went out for a third try. Part 1 of 2.
After failing for three days to ambush a Viet Cong supply run, Jim Benson's unit was finally getting some sleep when word came, Charlie was moving. He reached the scene and, following a blood trail, he was just turning back when someone spotted a cave entrance. Part 2 of 2.
On Go Noi Island, a Marine company would secure an area, the bulldozers would clear it up to that point, and the Marines would advance some more. After his company's week was done, Jim Benson was going to warn the relieving officers and Amtrac drivers to take a different trail because he had smelled the enemy's pungent fish sauce on the trail. He was too late.
Jim Benson had been in the field for a long time getting thin on K-rations, that it only took a few beers to get him looped, and that's exactly what happened on the next R&R. Good thing he had an excellent sergeant looking out for him.
The Provincial Reconnaissance Unit men were a rough bunch. They were locals recruited by the CIA to help identify and eliminate Viet Cong and they were working with Jim Benson's Marine platoon. After a successful ambush, he was disturbed to find what the PRU's did with the enemy bodies. What he found following a blood trail made him distrust his own eyesight.
Platoon Leader Jim Benson loved to have Private Dewey around in a firefight but he was also the company misfit. When a new battalion commander took the reins, he laid down the law about accidental discharges. As the unit formed up in the field during an operation, the commander was standing right there when Dewey approached, the M79 Grenade Launcher in his hand.
Jim Benson figured out that the Viet Cong were going into a village at night to visit women there so he came up with a good technique to get them when they were coming out in the morning. Snipers would hide all night and set up before dawn to pick them off. This was working but two of the snipers got in trouble one morning and he set off with Doc Hargett to find them.
After some R&R in Hawaii, Jim Benson had duty with the battalion operations staff. This soon grew tiresome and he longed to get back into the field and command a platoon again. He was able to do that and more before he left Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the stress was just the beginning. Jim Benson describes the emotional states of the grunt on the ground in Vietnam. The lessons he learned and the qualities in men he admired are valuable to him.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Keeping a positive attitude and a sharp mind while captured was essential to staying alive as a prisoner of war. Spending time in the Hanoi Hilton, Heartbreak Hotel and Little Vegas was difficult but they found ways to work through the hard times.
Brice Barnes remembers his first operation providing security for Medical Civilian Action Program and the bartering he did with some Vietnamese children. After the Tet Offensive, he remembers having to deal with a lot of the bureaucracy that came with the ongoing war.
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.