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.
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."
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.
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.
Ron Mastin took an ROTC commission out of college and went to flight school where he really took to it. His first assignment was in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom fitted for reconnaissance. He served a tour at an RAF base in England, then he was sent to Thailand to fly reconnaissance missions over Southeast Asia.
The Kit Carson Scouts were Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers who had defected to the South. Many of them worked with American units to give insight to the tactics of the enemy and Owen Ditchfield was in charge of the program in his division. He would take them to fire bases where one of them would give a startling demonstration to the American soldiers.
Gordon Roberts was from a small town and the patriotic displays on national holidays made a big impression on him. His dream was to go to college, so he enlisted in the Army as soon as he graduated high school with the GI Bill in mind. He went through basic training and jump school at Fort Benning and, after a tour in Europe, was sent to the 101st Airborne in Vietnam.
After the hard fight at Hamburger Hill, Gordon Roberts moved to an artillery fire base to protect it for a few days, then it was back to search and destroy missions in the A Shau Valley. The aim was to interrupt the flow of supplies from North to South. He was fortunate in that there were no civilians in the remote area, so he did not have to try and separate friend from foe.
Ron Mastin had been shot down and was somewhere North of Hanoi. He hid through the night but woke up surrounded by men with rifles. A long jeep ride was interrupted several times so villagers could jeer at him and functionaries could lecture. During his interrogation, they would tie his arms and pull them up behind his back, but what could a 1st Lieutenant tell them?
Gordon Roberts was walking point when the third man in line was dropped by enemy fire. Unfortunately, he was the M-60 machine gunner who usually supplied the suppressive fire, so it was up to Roberts who managed to find the bunker and fire through the port with his M-16. Then came the fire from the second bunker.
Halfway through his second Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield was put in charge of the division's Kit Carson Scout program, which used Viet Cong who had turned to the South's side. These soldiers were so useful that American units competed to recruit them as they finished their indoctrination.
Flying in a reconnaissance jet over North Vietnam, Ron Mastin was never aware of ground fire until the day he was shot down. Just a small thump thump and the plane was going down. He and Tom Storey ejected and he had a few serene minutes in the air before the ground came up. He had made it but he had no idea where Tom was.
After his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the personnel office at Fort Benning. One day, he received a letter from a Vietnamese interpreter who had been left behind and was trying desperately to get out. That started a process that would end happily for both of them. Another happy outcome awaited Ditchfield when he was pushed out by the drawdown.
He told the Marine recruiter that he was interested in a two year hitch and the old sergeant said, "Son, for a two year hitch, all I can promise you is two years of a hard time." That sounded OK to Mike Province and he was off to Vietnam by way of Camp Pendleton. He had just arrived and was on the way to his unit when the truck driver came upon two young Vietnamese girls who had bicycled over a mine in the road.
At the Hanoi Hilton, Ron Mastin's first roommate was Robbie Risner, commander of an F-105 unit and an early shootdown in the war. Risner was one of the most mistreated prisoners due to his intransigence and his leadership. When he refused to follow a script for a meeting with Japanese officials, he lost his roommate and Mastin was moved to another cell.
There was a machine gunner in Mike Province's platoon named Emilio De La Garza. On a patrol, they encountered an enemy who indicated he wanted to surrender. De La Garza went to bring him in and, as they approached, he pulled out a grenade. When it was over, there was a Medal Of Honor waiting.
Ron Mastin's first stop at the Hanoi Hilton was an area known as Heartbreak Hotel. One day he heard an American voice, the first he'd heard. "Do you know the tap code?" Once he had this, when he was near others, they could communicate. He still did not see another American until he got his first roommate.
Owen Ditchfield was sent to Vietnam by way of the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was preparing to be the public information officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. Once there, he nearly suffered an accidental death in the officers club, but he survived and went on to host reporters Charlie Black, Joe Galloway and Peter Arnett.
The POW's were moved around the countryside and, eventually, back to the Hanoi Hilton. They knew something was up when they were allowed to mingle and were allowed to try on new clothes. Then the camp commandant read aloud the Paris Peace Accord document, but the reaction was subdued. Finally, one group was suited up and marched out of the prison.