2:21 | After his first tour in Vietnam, Bill Camper was assigned to Fort Carson and the 5th Mechanized Division, training soldiers destined for that conflict. Then he had a six month assignment with a Special Forces team in the Dominican Republic during that country's civil war.
Keywords : Bill Camper Columbus GA Fort Carson 5th Mechanized Division Vietnam Dominican Republic Special Forces revolution Fidel Castro Communist 82nd Airborne election Hubert Humphrey Santo Domingo
When Bill Camper arrived in Korea in command of an engineer company, the peace talks were going on so they were able to do their work on roads and bridges without getting shot. Mines were a threat, though, left by the retreating Communists. After tours in Japan and Germany, he was training paratroopers at Fort Benning when the Vietnam War began to heat up.
After a short stint in the Navy, Bill Camper decided that it wasn't for him. He was going to serve, but in the Navy, the gulf between officers and enlisted men was too wide, so he got out and enlisted in the Army, where he knew the officers would be in the mud with him. Once in the Army, he was sent to Officer Candidate School and went to Korea with an engineer battalion.
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.
It was a hurry-up assignment. Bill Camper was sent to Quang Ngai to advise the civilian administration and he was so rushed, he had no radio or vehicle when he got there, but he went right to work. He had to put together a reaction force of locals armed with whatever they could find and he had to deliver medical and infrastructure assistance.
Civilian Advisor Bill Camper only had a small force to deal with snipers and ambushes, but he could call the ARVN unit stationed nearby to deal with larger enemy forces. The first time he went to answer a distress call from a village, the unit was ambushed, so there was some adjustment to procedures. During this time, he developed respect for the Vietnamese people, regardless of their allegiances.
"No one in Vietnam needs these." That's what Bill Camper thought when his district was sent boxes of laxatives by mistake. The civilian advisor told the doctor to hang on to them and that led to victory over a North Vietnamese unit that had moved into the area. "It was kind of like biological warfare."
He had been a civilian advisor, but Bill Camper was reassigned to Hue to advise an ARVN regiment. This made life simpler, just find the enemy and engage him. In his first large operation, the relief of an overrun forward base, victory was achieved, but with a high cost in lives. For three days, they had to wait in the jungle with the bodies of their fallen comrades.
It had to be a mistake. Bill Camper was not a headquarters man but when he arrived in Vietnam for his second tour, he was assigned to Military Assistance Command (MACV) Headquarters. He managed to get a field assignment and was sent up near the DMZ to advise an ARVN regiment. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese commander was hard to get along with.
The North Vietnamese attacked across the DMZ with everything they had. Bill Camper was an advisor to the ARVN unit stationed there in the wake of the American drawdown and barely got back inside the perimeter as two battalions on a maneuver were lost. The enemy artillery barrage was relentless, and after four days of fighting, the South Vietnamese commander decided to surrender. Camper was having none of that.
The artillery fire was so intense at Camp Carroll that Bill Camper could not get a fix for counter battery fire. The rounds were coming from four directions. After four days of intense North Vietnamese attacks and with his ARVN counterpart ready to surrender, Camper escaped with a few others, but they were cut off and had to fight their way back into the camp. Then came a fateful radio call.
ARVN advisor Bill Camper received an unusual experimental weapon to possibly counter the Russian tanks that were tearing up the Southern forces. It was the XM72, a four barreled handheld rocket launcher. While he was training some men to operate it, the North Vietnamese attacked.
In the tense concluding days of the Vietnam War, ARVN advisor Bill Camper was with a unit holding bridges at Quang Tri when he went out to check on suspected enemy activity. He was unconcerned about the artillery rounds passing overhead because the enemy's Russian rounds had no air burst capability. Then a round hit a tree above him.
They aren't all heroes, they were just doing their jobs, says Bill Camper, veteran of Korea and Vietnam. He remembers laying in bed in basic training and trying to breakdown his $55 a month into what his hourly rate was. You don't do it for the money.
Clowns in action. That's how Keith Nightingale describes the confusion and snafus during the initial Grenada operation. Most objectives were quickly achieved but there were some difficult battles, including one with a Cuban unit. When the Rangers got to the medical school where American students were waiting, they found out about a second campus with more students. Part 2 of 3.
Operation Eagle Claw was the name of the attempt by US Special Forces to rescue the hostages from the embassy in Iran. The mission was aborted because of mechanical failures in helicopters and then turned tragic when eight men died in a fiery crash. Pilot George Ferkes was part of that team and he describes the events from his perspective.
After months of intense planning and training, Operation Eagle Claw commenced. Pilot Roland Guidry was on the first plane to arrive at Desert One, a remote rendezvous point in the Iranian desert. There, the mission would unravel, done in by mechanical malfunctions and worse.
Operation Eagle Claw was a pivotal moment in Special Operations history. Unconventional warfare had been ignored after the Vietnam War and three veterans of that conflict, who were also deeply involved with the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran, reveal the inside story of the planning and tragic outcome. George Ferkes, Roland Guidry and Keith Nightingale each offer a unique perspective on the events.
In the aftermath of the debacle at Desert One, an effort to plan and execute another mission to rescue the hostages in Iran got under way. Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes recalls that new tactics and equipment were developed that served as the blueprint for the revitalization of special operations units throughout the military.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
Delta Force and the Rangers had arrived at Desert One but the helicopters were delayed by a dust storm. Only five of them were deemed flyable when they got there and the mission requirements were for six. The mission was scrubbed until the next day and mission planner Keith Nightingale describes the tragic circumstances of the departure from the Iranian desert.
When he returned from his combat tour in Korea, Ed Fulghum began a long period of being sent all over the place by the Army. A series of short assignments culminated in Germany, where he served until his discharge. He got married and began an unsuccessful job hunt. Should he return to the Army?
From the beginning, Tom Fleming wanted to be a fighter pilot. He settled for a tour as a forward air controller in Vietnam and, after that, his quest for fighters continued as he embarked on a lengthy Air Force career. That career took him to Turkey, Germany, many stateside bases and the Pentagon, but it was Hawaii that was most satisfactory.
When he returned from Vietnam, George Ferkes is fairly sure he saw his old hooch burning on the television when Quang Tri fell. After a couple of years he leapt at the chance to join a special ops outfit, even though, at the time, there was little interest in those units.
The newly formed Joint Special Operations Command was beefing up the capabilities of all branches. One of the keys was the formation of SEAL Team 6. Over at the Air Force, Roland Guidry explains how they struggled to come up with the assets to succeed at their part of the plan. In the middle of all this, Grenada suddenly became a hot spot.
After rejoining the Army as an MP, Ed Fulghum returned to Korea where he guarded inspection teams. His next assignment, back in the States, was in a Military Government company, which was trained to rebuild and reset devastated areas. He decide that the Military Police was a career dead end, so he returned to the infantry.
Special forces went through a bit of a renaissance after the failed rescue of the hostages in Iran. Never again would US special operations be caught flat footed and unprepared. Pilot George Ferkes was a part of that mission and it provided him with a purpose that guided him through the rest of his career.
As Operation Desert Shield gave way to Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon needed someone like a fighter pilot to brief the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense on biological and chemical warfare in language they could understand. So, Tom Fleming became the "bugs and gas guy."
Roland Guidry's first language was French, down in the Louisiana bayou. Inspired by a cousin who enlisted first, he went in after college, where he began pilot training at a civilian flight school. Tough as nails is how he describes real flight school at Reese Air Force Base. When it came time to pick your aircraft, the C-130 was still available and that suited him just fine.
In the aftermath of the Grenada invasion, peacekeeping forces from all around the Caribbean were assembled to help keep order. Keith Nightingale's battalion was spread all around the island involved in various missions and the locals in all these enclaves helped their liberators celebrate Thanksgiving. Part 3 of 4.
The recruiter asked if he really wanted to try for special forces. You're not big enough, he said. Changiz Lahidji, having already served in the Iranian special forces, assured him he was. At jump school, he broke an ankle and didn't let on, but his sergeant knew.
The Pentagon set up a commission to investigate Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. Roland Guidry was the first chief of air operations at the newly formed Joint Special Operations Command, the organization created to deal with unconventional warfare in the future.
After the tragic events at Desert One, planning began for another rescue mission. Parallel with this was the decision to create a permanent and robust special operations structure. Keith Nightingale was right in the middle of this difficult effort which involved all the services.
Roland Guidry didn't just fly any old C-130, he was flying a C-130D, outfitted with skis. The vast network of radar sites in the Distant Early Warning system needed supplies and servicing. Some of the Arctic sites were so distant and isolated, there were no runways for a wheeled landing. It was during this time that he first went to Vietnam on temporary duty supporting the construction of a new base.
Keith Nightingale remembers that, during the buildup of the new Ranger Battalion, the team researched units from the past including British commandos and Vikings to extract any useful training techniques. Live fire exercises and road marches became very important. In December of 1974, the new Rangers were ready.
On his first operation, Green Beret Changiz Lahidji went to Afghanistan to help the Mujahideen fight the Russian occupiers. The Iranian embassy takeover led to the second, a daring solo mission into Iran, where he surveilled the embassy. He had to make it out on his own after the aborted rescue attempt. (Caution: strong language.)
The plan was complicated, with a lot of moving parts, but there was high confidence that the team would be able to rescue the hostages in Iran. Pilot Roland Guidry describes how a combination of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters would deliver the Delta Force and the Rangers and then extract them along with the hostages. Part 3 of 4.
The decimation of the Army was complete. The leadership had punted in Vietnam and there was no support among most of the public. Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams decided to rebuild the Army around a reborn Ranger Battalion, which would be built from the ground up as the finest light infantry in the world. Keith Nightingale found out about this and made sure he was in on it.