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.
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.