5:42 | His father was career Army, sent to Saigon in 1954 as part of the initial effort to aid the South Vietnamese after the French withdrew. Mike Waugh noticed as the war heated up all through his college years and when he took an ROTC commission after graduation, he knew he would be going. He got his first choice of assignments, the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell.
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Mike Waugh came into Vietnam as a replacement, like so many others. Assigned to an artillery battery as a forward observer, he was immediately sent to assist a MIKE Strike Force, which was Special Forces and Montagnard militia. The enemy never materialized and he learned how the elite troops overcame boredom in the field.
On his thirty day foray into the field with the Special Forces, Mike Waugh thought he would be in a hot area, but it was quiet. The Montagnards on the operation supplemented the C-rations with some delicious food and, when they returned to Pleiku, he was invited to dinner with their commander.
Mike Waugh rotated through nearly every job for a Lieutenant in the artillery unit. At one point, his battery was split and he took three guns to a a nearby spot called LZ Pony. Halfway through his tour, he was moved to battalion headquarters, where he was responsible for the firing of many batteries.
He did not experience anything negative on his return from his first tour of Vietnam. In fact, when he went to see his fiance, every home on the street had an American flag out for him. Unfortunately, his next assignment was not to his liking, so he applied for flight school, which had always been a desire.
The hardest part of helicopter flight school is learning how to hover. Mike Waugh finally mastered it when his instructor uttered an expletive. After his training, he had to take a non-flying assignment as he waited for a likely return to Vietnam. It was good duty because he got to participate in the testing of new technology.
His first Vietnam tour was like a romantic adventure, a young man off doing macho stuff. When he left for his second tour, he had a wife and a child, so it was quite different. This time he was a helicopter pilot and a captain, although he deferred to lower ranking pilots who were more experienced. Now he would really learn to fly, the things they can't teach you in flight school.
When he returned to Vietnam, helicopter pilot Mike Waugh was working solely with South Vietnamese troops. On one operation, he flew over an enemy force that was poised to ambush truck traffic and his helicopter was hit. He had to put it down, but it was in a safe area. He realized that everyone was looking at him funny and, once he got his helmet off, he found out why.
Mike Waugh's unit stood down while he was in Vietnam and the personnel were dispersed across the country, although the American presence was shrinking quickly. For his last mission, he had to fly a stripped down aircraft to a transhipment point, a mission that, oddly, he considered his most dangerous.
He surprised his wife after returning from his second Vietnam tour, but then his dog surprised him. Mike Waugh had planned to make the Army a career, but it didn't work out, so he was worried about what he would do. He mailed out resumes and got one reply.
It was the defining moment of his life. Mike Waugh was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and he has some insightful observations on the way the war was fought, the reasons it was fought that way, and the legacy it holds today.
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.
Newly minted Marine Lieutenant Paul Van Riper received orders to go to the advisors course at Fort Bragg. He was being groomed to advise the South Vietnamese Marines and, once he arrived in country, he forged a close relationship with his counterparts. They would be living and working closely together, more so than the ARVN advisors.
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.
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 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.
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.
Marine Paul Van Riper explains some of the problems associated with the M-16 rifle and how they were addressed in Vietnam. His issued weapon was a .45 pistol, but he always carried an M-16 and advocated for all officers to do so. His advocacy of daily ice cream in the mess hall got him into a bit of trouble with his battalion commander.
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.
After recovering from a wound suffered on his first tour of Vietnam, Paul Van Riper tried to return to the same assignment. The Marine Corps had other ideas, however, and after a stint as an instructor at Quantico, he got his own company to command.
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.
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.
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.
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.