6:23 | 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.
Keywords : Owen Ditchfield Fort Hood Cuban Missile Crisis Fort Stewart journalism Military Police (MP) John F. Kennedy briefing coffee
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.
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.
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.
Inchon did not have a deep water port. Ocean going ships had to drop anchor outside the tidal basin and offload the cargo and personnel to smaller vessels. Transportation officer Tom Pemberton expected to be sent up country, but he was given a job at the port.
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.
It was Bob Nash's job to provide security for supply trains running from postwar Germany to Austria and beyond. The main problem was Russian troops hijacking the trains and detaining GI's. They eventually put a stop to that. Another responsibility for the MP unit was guarding the Eagles Nest from possible damage.
The Austrians were very happy to see the American GI's, including Bob Nash, who was there as part of an MP battalion. He traded his cigarettes for some very nice souvenirs that he sent home. After his tour, he joined the reserve but quit over a pay dispute. Turned out he was just in time to miss something big.
Al Stiles was temporarily based in Argentina and his wife was with him there. As he was aboard ship going around Cape Horn, she was hospitalized and he was allowed to leave the ship and go take care of her. They had been told they would not be able to have children because of other issues, but a miracle occurred after they returned to the States.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved but the Cold War was heating up. The band at Fort Meade was broken up and Joseph Hudson had to return to more critical duties. He was sent to Germany for five years, where he worked in personnel, due to a surgically repaired back. He returned to Fort Benning to finish a twenty year career.
After recovering from wounds received in Korea, William Moncus had a few stateside posts before it was time to re-up, or not. He fancied a tour in Japan and they gave it to him. He had a fondness for the Japanese kids and helped build an orphanage while he was there.
Al Stiles didn't think he was qualified for a job as weapons officer on a guided missile frigate, but he was wrong. He was even offered his choice of ships. This was to be his last sea tour and, after one more assignment as an instructor, his long Navy career was at an end.
While an instructor in gunnery at the Dam Neck Fleet Training Center, Al Stiles put all his combat experience from Vietnam to use. He helped teach a new philosophy of fire control in which all of the ship's sensors are aligned to the same point.
While participating in the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll, Don Lacy had to change to new clothes frequently because they became so radioactive. The second test was underwater, which contaminated the sea for miles around. His job was to inspect radio equipment on the target ships, so he was fortunate to have no lasting effects on his health.
Tom Pemberton was serving in Korea when his tour was reduced from fourteen to twelve months. His next post was Fort Campbell, where his wife joined him for the first time. He next had a tour in Germany, but Vietnam was beginning to heat up the Cold War.
While in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Talbot, Petty Officer Al Stiles flippantly suggested to the captain that he should be able to learn to drive the ship and stand that watch. To his surprise, the captain did just that and the captain of his next ship agreed to continue. This led to an interesting exchange between the captain and Admiral Stansfield Turner.
At the Army port in Inchon, it was a 24 hour workday, with loading or offloading going around the clock until completed. Tom Pemberton started out as a stevedore officer, supervising the work on board. He later switched to the on shore job, coordinating the outflow of men and materials.
He'd been at sea for a while, so Al Stiles had some shore duty, first in Virginia and then Japan. After overseeing some major ship overhauls, he returned to sea on the USS Midway, his first time on a carrier. Meanwhile, at home, his wife found out some disturbing news about her health.
After two Vietnam tours, Tom Pemberton had an assignment at the Army Infantry Training Center at Fort Polk. The career transportation officer no longer had to worry about rocket attacks, he had to worry about dozens of buses and the occasional crazy recruit.
At the induction center, the men were told that some are going to the Navy, some to the Army. When the sergeant got to Stan Seaman, he laughed and said, "You know where you're going!" After basic training in Bainbridge, the next destination was Pensacola.