4:23 | He was the smallest guy in his Ranger class, so he got the heaviest loads. Owen Ditchfield found out how long he could go without sleep, food and water and still keep going. The testing was as much psychological as physical, as he found out when he was summoned to the front of the column in the middle of the night.
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Owen Ditchfield was sent to Vietnam by way of the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was preparing to be the public information officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. Once there, he nearly suffered an accidental death in the officers club, but he survived and went on to host reporters Charlie Black, Joe Galloway and Peter Arnett.
While he was chaperoning reporter Peter Arnett around Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield got to hear the exciting story of a soldier who lost his rifle during an ambush and had to rely on his knife. He was also there when Martha Raye invaded the colonel's trailer. The reporters he hosted ran the gamut from celebrated author Joe Galloway to guys who wouldn't leave the hotel in Saigon.
After his first Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield got command of a company at Fort Benning that played the aggressor in Ranger training exercises. His men were short timers, waiting for discharge, but he rallied them to do well by telling them why their job was so important. Then he was assigned a new executive officer, Buddy Allgood, who had a surprising physical characteristic.
For his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. Arriving just after the battle at Hamburger Hill, he was leading a patrol in the same area when the unit was pinned down by multiple enemy gun emplacements. A relief platoon ran into the same fire from the bunkers, but then Gordon Roberts stood up and charged the first position. Before it was over, four enemy positions were taken out and Roberts would deserve the Medal Of Honor.
After nearly getting wiped out at Hill 996, Owen Ditchfield's company spent some time clearing hilltops for landing zones near the Laotian border, where high tech surveillance equipment could trigger remote ambushes on the enemy's supply trails. He relates how life back at the base camp was nearly as dangerous as being on patrol in the jungle.
Halfway through his second Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield was put in charge of the division's Kit Carson Scout program, which used Viet Cong who had turned to the South's side. These soldiers were so useful that American units competed to recruit them as they finished their indoctrination.
He was flying in a Chinook, in transit to pick up some Kit Carson Scouts, when an enemy on the ground sprayed the aircraft with automatic weapons fire. Owen Ditchfield was leaning over reading a book and that meant that the bullet that hit him in the head did not kill him on the spot.
The Kit Carson Scouts were Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers who had defected to the South. Many of them worked with American units to give insight to the tactics of the enemy and Owen Ditchfield was in charge of the program in his division. He would take them to fire bases where one of them would give a startling demonstration to the American soldiers.
After his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the personnel office at Fort Benning. One day, he received a letter from a Vietnamese interpreter who had been left behind and was trying desperately to get out. That started a process that would end happily for both of them. Another happy outcome awaited Ditchfield when he was pushed out by the drawdown.
Owen Ditchfield reflects on some of the strange things he encountered in Vietnam and has an answer for why he does not suffer from bad psychological effects due to his service there. Then he gives some solid advice to future generations of soldiers.
He entered the Army with an ROTC commission and a journalism degree. During college, he was in the Pershing Rifles, who enjoyed firing a blank round during their drill routine to get everyone's attention. At Fort Benning, he moved right through the basic course, jump school and Ranger school.
Owen Ditchfield was a brand new infantry officer when he was sent to an infantry battalion in the 1st Armored Division. He was immediately sent on maneuvers, which didn't go so well. His unit was activated during the Cuban missile crisis and sent to Fort Stewart in Georgia to prepare for action. What they really prepared for was a visit by the President.
In 1964, Owen Ditchfield was sent to Communications Zone Headquarters in France as a staff officer. The hours and tourism were great, but he knew he needed line company experience to advance so he transferred to a mechanized Airborne unit. Their vehicles were in disrepair but they had an ace in the hole.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
Frank Noonan owed the Navy another year. That's how he wound up at the Bikini atoll for Operation Crossroads, the first post-war atomic bomb tests. There were two detonations, an air burst and an underwater burst. He describes the scene and the devastating effects on the target ships. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
With a variety of successful engineering assignments behind him, Jack Martin began participating in high level general war planning, first in Washington, and then in an underground facility in the Midwest. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
After a short bit of shore duty, Frank Noonan was assigned to the USS John R. Craig, a destroyer that was bound for a goodwill tour in the Pacific. It berthed in some unlikely places, including up the Irrawaddy River at Rangoon. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
He already had a long, distinguished career in the Army but Rock Merritt wasn't done. He served in the Dominican Republic, where he had a hard time believing that taxpayer money was being used to buy off the combatants, and in Panama, where he got to bring his wife with him. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Jack Martin was having a fine time his first year at college when his father asked him this question, would he accept an appointment to West Point? Having answered the only way a real man could answer, he chose engineering school at Fort Belvoir upon graduation. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
Working in Civil Affairs, it's essential to understand the nuances of what is going on in the place you're deployed. Christina Cross made sure she was well-versed in the intellectual part as well as the physical training. Being given the honor graduate award at airborne school meant a lot to her.
He joined the same National Guard unit that his father had joined. Dale Beatty wasn't ready to leave his North Carolina home, but the guard offered a taste of military life, even deployments during weather emergencies.
After his Vietnam tour, Army engineer Jack Martin served with an agency testing technical equipment developed for the unusual circumstances of an insurgency war. His next assignment was at Fort Hood where he fought a different enemy, the barren environs where the Army wanted a golf course. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
Jack Martin was a new lieutenant out of engineering school by way of West Point. His first post was in Cold War Germany in support of the 2nd Armored Division, where he faced a great challenge, moving tanks across the Rhine. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
As part of an effort to integrate education in the services, Army engineer Jack Martin was sent to Quantico for the Marine equivalent of the Army Command and General Staff College. Then came the plum assignment, Hawaii, where he could learn to do something he'd always wanted to do. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)
As Dale Beatty's truck convoy moved through the southern Iraqi desert, he encountered crowds of children begging for food and water. The soldiers were instructed not to throw them anything, but when a father sees children in need, the rules sometimes get overlooked. As he moved into populated areas, the begging turned to selling.
After a mission, Tommy Rieman and his company also took time to debrief with each other and other members of the Army. When they returned to Kuwait, they reached a deal with a UAV company to get a ride back to their unit. They ended up surveilling the Iraq-Iran border where there was lots of activity.
Though he was severely injured in Iraq, Dale Beatty has no animosity towards anyone. He acknowledges the good leaders that he had in the Army, who all shared one important quality which he tried to emulate, and he shares an experience he had in an Iraqi family's home that gave him a sobering perspective on our mission there.
Growing up with both parents as Marines, Christina Cross grew up with a military influence in her family that caused her to want to join. Living on a military base as a kid was very influential for her and helped give her a sense of what it was like. She still remembers the influence that 9/11 had on her life and desire to join the service.
National Guardsman Dale Beatty was at work when he saw the 9/11 attacks unfold on TV. He knew immediately that he would be going to war soon. That was confirmed when he was sent to California for desert training. After further training at Fort Bragg, his unit readied to deploy.
After Advanced Individual Training, Aaron Cox shipped over to Kuwait and stayed there until their deployment to Iraq. After enjoying Kuwait, the transition to Iraq was a more difficult place to live, especially with all the added complications that came from war.
It was an old Iraqi Air Force base in northern Iraq that the Americans settled into and began to fortify and improve. Dale Beatty noted the grass and trees near the base and they gave him the idea that maybe they were far enough north to avoid the heat of the desert. He was wrong. The base kept taking fire from the surrounding area, so patrols were started to find and eliminate the threat.
A unique opportunity, Tommy Rieman was asked to be the model and main character of America's Army, a video game dedicated to depicting American service. Touring around the country representing the game was good for him.
A few years into his career, the Corps of Engineers sent Jack Martin to M.I.T for a year of civil engineering study. Then it was on to an ROTC teaching assignment at Auburn. Finally he put his engineering mettle to the test in Greenland, where a giant RADAR installation was needed. (This interview made possible with the support of BARBARA SHELDON in honor of Joseph Graham.)