3:37 | 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.
Keywords : Omer McCants Langdale AL Auburn University Chattahoochee River textile mill Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Vietnam
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.
His home town in Alabama was completely segregated. To Omer McCants, it wasn't good but it was "even." In the Army, there was no outward expression of hostility, but he knew he was excluded. He came in knowing he had to work twice as hard and that worked out for him.
Most of the helicopter pilots were Warrant Officers, but Omer McCants was an RLO, a real live officer. He saw a lot of action on his first flight and was a bit flustered, but the aircraft commander said something that settled him down for the rest of his part in the war. He was down in the Mekong Delta, hauling Vietnamese troops on combat assaults.
It was flat in the delta. You could see for miles and that made for good flying, says helicopter pilot Omer McCants. It was wet, a lot of rain. Back at the base, they hung out in the officers club, where he spent a lot of time reading and writing letters home. He was aware of the anti-war movement, but it made no difference to him.
Helicopter pilot Omer McCants relates a few tales of missions that got a little intense. He narrowly missed setting down in a Viet Cong base and on another mission, he struggled to take off while heavily overloaded. Then there was acting as a bait ship to draw fire on a little mission they called Firefly.
He had three close friends in Vietnam, but he struggles to remember any other names. The other relationships were professional, but not close. He actually outranked the man he thought was the best leader he encountered, a Warrant Officer who was talented and knowledgable.
It was like heaven when he saw the Golden Gate bridge. He had made it through his Vietnam tour. Omer McCants went home to Alabama, reunited with his wife, and reported to Fort Rucker for his next assignment. When he eventually prepared to leave the military, a corporal processing his paperwork asked him a fateful question.
He went because his country said go, not because he wanted to kill innocent people. Omer McCants still doesn't understand why his own countrymen treated returning Vietnam veterans so badly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What was it like moving through thick jungle? Michael Marshall answers that question and more as he recalls his time in Vietnam. He loved his M14 rifle, but he wasn't too crazy about the C-rations and the old grenades.
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.
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.