5:28 | 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.
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While he was chaperoning reporter Peter Arnett around Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield got to hear the exciting story of a soldier who lost his rifle during an ambush and had to rely on his knife. He was also there when Martha Raye invaded the colonel's trailer. The reporters he hosted ran the gamut from celebrated author Joe Galloway to guys who wouldn't leave the hotel in Saigon.
After his first Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield got command of a company at Fort Benning that played the aggressor in Ranger training exercises. His men were short timers, waiting for discharge, but he rallied them to do well by telling them why their job was so important. Then he was assigned a new executive officer, Buddy Allgood, who had a surprising physical characteristic.
For his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. Arriving just after the battle at Hamburger Hill, he was leading a patrol in the same area when the unit was pinned down by multiple enemy gun emplacements. A relief platoon ran into the same fire from the bunkers, but then Gordon Roberts stood up and charged the first position. Before it was over, four enemy positions were taken out and Roberts would deserve the Medal Of Honor.
After nearly getting wiped out at Hill 996, Owen Ditchfield's company spent some time clearing hilltops for landing zones near the Laotian border, where high tech surveillance equipment could trigger remote ambushes on the enemy's supply trails. He relates how life back at the base camp was nearly as dangerous as being on patrol in the jungle.
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.
He was flying in a Chinook, in transit to pick up some Kit Carson Scouts, when an enemy on the ground sprayed the aircraft with automatic weapons fire. Owen Ditchfield was leaning over reading a book and that meant that the bullet that hit him in the head did not kill him on the spot.
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.
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.
Owen Ditchfield reflects on some of the strange things he encountered in Vietnam and has an answer for why he does not suffer from bad psychological effects due to his service there. Then he gives some solid advice to future generations of soldiers.
He entered the Army with an ROTC commission and a journalism degree. During college, he was in the Pershing Rifles, who enjoyed firing a blank round during their drill routine to get everyone's attention. At Fort Benning, he moved right through the basic course, jump school and Ranger school.
He was the smallest guy in his Ranger class, so he got the heaviest loads. Owen Ditchfield found out how long he could go without sleep, food and water and still keep going. The testing was as much psychological as physical, as he found out when he was summoned to the front of the column in the middle of the night.
Owen Ditchfield was a brand new infantry officer when he was sent to an infantry battalion in the 1st Armored Division. He was immediately sent on maneuvers, which didn't go so well. His unit was activated during the Cuban missile crisis and sent to Fort Stewart in Georgia to prepare for action. What they really prepared for was a visit by the President.
In 1964, Owen Ditchfield was sent to Communications Zone Headquarters in France as a staff officer. The hours and tourism were great, but he knew he needed line company experience to advance so he transferred to a mechanized Airborne unit. Their vehicles were in disrepair but they had an ace in the hole.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.