6:11 | 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.
Keywords : Jim Benson Vietnam Tu Cau Bridge Song Cu De River Dodge City patrol ambush sleep replacement debrief smell Nuoc Mam fish sauce
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.
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.
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 1st Cavalry was the first Army unit to have it's own helicopters and the Vietnam War was the first war in which they were used tactically in large numbers. Pilot Pat Richardson flew for them sometimes, as well as supporting Australian and New Zealand units. He remembers a party during which a couple of American pilots decided they could drink the Australians under the table. Bad idea.
The Vietnamese had a unit called the National Police Field Force and when a platoon of these men was sent to his battalion, Paul Van Riper insisted they be assigned to his company. He integrated them with his Marines and they functioned well together. He recalls a bunker clearing operation that had a surprise ending.
Instead of anti-war protestors, Pat Richardson was greeted by a Texas cattleman who bought him drinks. Decades later, looking at the wide variety of books about the Vietnam experience, he recommends reading the ones written by those who were actually there.
Bill Camper felt like the people of Hue supported the South Vietnamese soldiers he was advising. He made some headway encouraging those men to fight and he relates the story of how he taught them to advance through their own artillery barrage and surprise the enemy from the rear.
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.
The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
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.
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.
Pat Richardson had served three years and was at at college when he went back for more. His first service was as a nuclear weapons technician, which instilled a good sense of procedure and precision. This helped him tremendously in his later duty as an aviator.
Pat Richardson's helicopter was blown up at Phu Loi, but he wasn't in it and it wasn't the enemy. While it was up on the rack for maintenance, from out of nowhere a rocket screamed in and it erupted in a huge fireball. As the men on the base scrambled for cover, it became clear that it wasn't Charlie shooting at them.
The radio operator said that a Bravo Report had come in. What's a Bravo report? Company commander Paul Van Riper was wondering but the main thing was that an NVA regiment was on the move. Before it was over, the Marines had a good haul of enemy arms and intelligence.
While serving in a remote area of Korea in the early sixties, Pat Richardson was surprised when the water purification unit disappeared overnight. Nobody knew where they were for quite a while. He flew in helicopters while there, never thinking that he would fly them himself someday.
Marine Paul Van Riper had high regard for the Vietnamese people and he had no tolerance for abuse of civilians in his unit. Ironic that he was called a baby killer and his family was subject to abuse when he returned from each tour. He attributes his lack of PTSD to staying on active duty, where the Vietnam veterans talked it out regularly, effectively becoming counselors for each other.
He was at artillery school manhandling howitzers in the mud. That all ended when Pat Richardson went to a briefing from an aviation officer signing up men for flight school. No mud up there. It meant two more years of service, but he still jumped at the chance.
When Marine advisor Paul Van Riper arrived in Vietnam, he had already faced live fire in the Dominican Republic. That helped the rookie officer deal with the more intense combat he would now face. There were many combat assaults, but the one he remembers most is the one in which a Viet Cong rifleman shot him.
Most days, helicopter pilot Pat Richardson ferried troops on assaults. On other days, there were a variety of single ship missions including "sniffer" missions that were highly technical and a little boring. He would also ferry VIP's and special teams. He recounts one mission down to the Mekong Delta where he picked up an entirely new skill.
To promote espirit de corps, Marine company commander Paul Van Riper required the men to fix bayonets as they crossed the wire. They were very dedicated to their unit, as demonstrated by one young corporal who was repeatedly wounded, yet kept returning. Then there was the Sergeant Major who gave him the highest compliment a young Captain can receive.
Omer McCants was born in a little Alabama town where everyone worked in the textile mills. He decided that was not for him, worked hard, and was the first in his family to graduate high school and go on to college. ROTC attracted him and he began to think like a military man.
Pilot Pat Richardson details the different models and modifications of the workhorse aircraft of Vietnam, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, known as the Huey. He reveals how it got that name, and why his commanding officer was doubly upset that one was accidentally destroyed by an errant rocket.
His father opened the newspaper and said to the boys, "Well, the war will be over pretty quick. They're sending the Marines." The Korean War did not end quickly, but for Paul Van Riper, that started a burning desire to become a Marine. His parents insisted on college, so he set his sights on being a Marine officer.
It was an easy commitment to make. Omer McCants stayed in the ROTC program so he would enter the Army as an officer, not a private. Not only that, but he was going to flight school. He had an advantage there because at Tuskegee he received flying lessons from the legendary Chief Anderson.
Based in a central location in Vietnam, helicopter pilot Pat Richardson was assigned a variety of missions and was always busy. When he could, he liked to refuel at a Navy base where he could get good chow. His own unit's cook was no slouch, and he had contacts all over to insure a good supply of treats like ice cream.