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 by picking up on and perfecting 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.
He made Buck Sergeant about the time he figured out that he and his buddies were basically fighting for each other and for no other reason. They were taking a large bunker complex and when two others were under fire, he went out to get them. After the fight was over, he was disturbed to learn what his superiors intended to do about the enemy base.
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.
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.
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.
Bravo Company has been all but wiped out, and Ernest Banasau worries that he and his buddies will be sent in to replace them. Instead, he joins A Company, where he experiences his first enemy contact - in the form of a rice paddy machine gun ambush.
Tom Blake's first assignment was at Fort Hood, where he kept an old Volkswagen in which he shuttled returning veterans around to help them solve medical and administrative problems. He got an earful from them about Vietnam, which he was about to experience for himself. Once he got there, he kept falling into the most difficult assignments and he learned that surprises waited for him everywhere.
Newly commissioned out of ROTC, Albert Watson got to know Fort Benning really well. After his basic course, he went through Ranger school and Airborne school. At his first assignment, a very capable sergeant taught him how to be a platoon leader.
One day at his Army Reserve weekend drill, an NCO walked up and handed Bill Patterson a truck driver's license. Then he pointed to the truck he would be driving. The entire unit was being switched to a transportation role and they prepared to deploy to Vietnam.
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.
There was some serious weaponry in Vietnam, recalls Bill Patterson. The truck driver felt his 5 ton truck bounce into the air when a huge cannon was fired. On another occasion, as he was delivering ammunition to a base, the ground began to shake so violently he thought it was an earthquake. The men unloading the trucks went calmly about their business as if nothing was going on.
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.
After Khe Sanh, Bob Averill and his division shipped down to Cam Lo, where they faced ample NVA fire. Here, he had to take the lead on throwing a grenade into the enemy bunker, leading to a close call as he quickly retreated away from the blast.
As he returned from Vietnam and the plane was descending, the landing was aborted and the plane diverted to a different base. Bill Patterson and the rest of the men were thinking that they had survived a year of war and were now going to die back home in Georgia.
Growing up in Ohio, Bill Brezina was drafted and got a switch from infantry to be able to work as a unit clerk. After that, he got assigned to Brooks Army Medical Center to work as a patient data coder where he thought he would stay, until he got the call to Vietnam.