6:31 | After being drafted in 1962, Tal Centers became an artillery surveyor, responsible for siting batteries and establishing ground coordinates. A three year posting to Cold War Europe gave way to the inevitable when he received orders for Vietnam.
Keywords : Tal Centers Kentucky Fort Leonard Wood Missouri artillery surveyor math Fort Benning Airborne Jump School Europe USNS General Maurice Rose (T-AP-126) Wurzburg Germany Kitzengen Germany Vietnam Fort Sill Artillery Board of Research and Development
The smell hit him as soon as he stepped off the plane in Saigon. A nauseating smell that never went away, the smell of Vietnam. Tal Centers was trained as an artillery surveyor and once he got in country, he was attached to the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division. The first job? Set up base camp at An Khe.
He began as an artillery surveyor, but the rotation system in Vietnam meant that Tal Centers moved from job to job, all of them meant for someone with a higher rank. Eventually, he became a forward observer, one of the most dangerous jobs in any war.
Not long after arriving in Vietnam, Tal Centers was attached to the 5th Special Forces Group as a forward observer. They had to venture into Cambodia to retrieve the bodies of some men who had been captured and mutilated, a sight he could not forget.
As a forward observer, Tal Centers would sometimes go up in a small helicopter for aerial spotting. On one such mission, a high caliber round from an enemy machine gun brought down the aircraft. He saw red, then he went unconscious.
When he wasn't busy on a mission or building something at base camp, Tal Centers would volunteer as a door gunner on a Huey. Normally, he was a forward observer and he directed fire in an incident depicted in the movie "We Were Soldiers." He usually worked with a radio operator and he remembers one who didn't make it back.
During his time in Vietnam, attached to the 1st Cavalry, artillery surveyor and forward observer Tal Centers was engaged all over the length and breadth of the country, always moving by air. His good artillery spotting earned him a Bronze Star, but here he recalls a funny incident that happened back at base camp.
It was regrettable, but villages were leveled by his artillery rounds. Tal Centers knew that civilians were killed, but he also knew that the enemy looked the same as the innocents. That was the way it was in Vietnam. After being attached to the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division for a year, he returned to the same desk at Fort Sill he'd been using before the tour.
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.
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.
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.
Jack Martin had no close personal relationships with Vietnamese civilians during his tour, but the children who gathered whenever he stopped his jeep were friendly and curious. They were interested in a physical trait that Americans had that none of them shared. He also hosted the occasional USO visitor, including Tarzan, who refused a helmet.
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.
As a battalion commander, Army engineer Jack Martin had a host of problems. From whether there were enough personnel to get the job done to keeping wayward enlisted men from abusing the Vietnamese civilians. Then there was the grim task of writing condolence letters.
Army engineer Jack Martin was offered his choice of assignments. It could be Korea or Vietnam and he hated cold weather so much, he chose Vietnam. His first assignment was at a desk in Long Binh, but his career got a boost when he was offered command of a battalion. He jumped at the chance and faced a host of challenging situations.
When he stepped off the plane in Da Nang, Michael Marshall knew this was not a place you wanted to be. It was hot and there was a strange smell. Within days, he was with his Marine unit at An Hoa, providing security for bridge building engineers. It did not take long before he saw death.
Mike Law remembers some of the mechanics behind the explosives they used in Vietnam. Learning the intricacies of the aircrafts and detonatives they used was essential. The connections he made during his time in the service are still with him today.
The Marines did what they could to help villagers with sanitation and health needs, but Michael Marshall could feel the chilly distance between them. His company commander was Captain Jerome Cooper, who held an important distinction.
His first assignment as a new platoon leader was to guard the base at Tan Son Nhut. This gave Greg Camp a chance to get to know his men. On his first foray into the field at night, he was positive he heard somebody crawling up to his position. All night long.
With not much time left in country, Mike Law remembers being apprehensive about flying with the fear of getting shot down right before he went home. Seeing old friends that he served with was always nostalgic and brought back good memories.
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.
Mike Law remembers finishing school with plenty of flying time where he felt like he began to get proficient at flying. Operating his aircraft in Vietnam was always difficult with the NVA constantly shifting and having to learn their changing routes.
Off the coast of Hue City, Grady Birdsong and his battalion set up to siege the beach, but fortunately nothing ended up happening. Once they got to a temporary basecamp, they began to prepare for a more legitimate field of defense.
It was early in the battle when Michael Marshall pointed to the machine gunner to show him where to set up his weapon. An enemy round tore into his arm and he was knocked to the ground. The rapid response of his buddies and the evacuation team was outstanding. Back home, his employer before the war continued the good work.
Mike Law remembers some of his more memorable kills over the jungles of Vietnam and some of the funny events that can come from that. Building camaraderie overtime was very easy as the guys got used to serving next to one another.