5:50 | Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
Keywords : Bill Pearson Vietnam Ambush Viet Cong (VC) artillery fire rice paddy booby traps Anthony Romaniello Kenneth Dougherty Thomas Olin
Anyone who's in the Army for an extended period can point to mentors who helped them or inspired them along the way. Bill Pearson remembers several, including Norman Schwarzkopf.
He wanted to fly. Three times Bill Pearson applied to the Air Force Academy and three times he was first alternate. He finally said to heck with it and finished college with ROTC and took an Army commission. He also joined the local Army Reserve unit. At Fort Benning, he was hardened with the infantry officer's basic course, Ranger school and jump school.
The 199th Light Infantry Brigade was forming up at Fort Benning to deploy to Vietnam. Bill Pearson was with them as a platoon leader. They went to Vietnam as a unit, which was not the norm. Once there, they spent weeks just acclimating and their first combat experience was against the local wildlife.
After a month guarding an ammo dump, the men of Bill Pearson's platoon were anxious to see some action. Their first real assignment was in the delta south of Saigon and it wasn't long before those same men missed the boredom of that guard duty.
After the war, Bill Pearson served as a JROTC instructor and he always got the question, "Did you ever kill anybody?" He would then relate a story about a dead Viet Cong, who had a letter from his fiance in his pocket.
Bill Pearson was walking along the top of a flooded rice paddy dike when the man in front of him stepped on a booby trap. The explosion wounded that man and the man behind him, but he was untouched. When his radioman was hit, he had to carry the litter through the deep muck.
Bill Pearson's platoon was on call as part of a rapid reaction force. Their base of operations was in the delta south of Saigon. They did not get into any hairy situations from that arrangement but they did have some dangerous moments jumping into the water from hovering choppers during their own operations.
Near the end of his first tour in Vietnam, Bill Pearson was appointed Executive Officer of the unit. As XO, one of the things he had to manage was the daily helicopter flights to men in the field to deliver rations and supplies. On one of these trips, he had to make a decision about an overloaded aircraft that still haunts him.
After his first tour of Vietnam, Bill Pearson was assigned to a training unit which was preparing soldiers for deployment there. He was ready to return to private life and had submitted the paperwork when he got a call. How can we convince you to stay? Well, I always wanted to go to flight school.
He had been an infantry officer during his first tour, but now Bill Pearson was back as a Cobra gunship pilot. He literally climbed into a Cobra the moment he arrived and was immediately in a huge firefight. Thankfully, this pace did not continue.
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.
Mike Devine was in the second week of jump school when his girlfriend suggested they get married, another leap into the unknown. So, when he made his final jump, he was a married man. The only problem was, his chute got tangled and he was approaching the ground pretty fast.
At Western Kentucky University, Mike Kenney was really enjoying ROTC and the Pershing Rifles. He was seriously thinking of a military career but, for some reason, he had not received notice that he was accepted into the advanced ROTC program for his junior year. This led to an odd series of events which had him in the Marine Corps for twenty four hours.
Mike Devine was a new infantry platoon leader in Vietnam and he moved into an area of operation that was already notorious, the Ia Drang valley. It had been the site of a large battle which would one day be memorialized in the book, "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young" and subsequent movie, "We Were Soldiers."
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
You accumulated hours fast in the Mekong Delta. Helicopter pilot Mike Kenney got to take a break after 120 hours in a little cabin the unit had on an island. There was no jungle down there, unlike his first post in country, where the triple canopy forest reached about 200 feet.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
He was looking forward to a couple of years stationed in Hawaii but, when Mike Devine got there, it was only a matter of weeks before his unit was deployed to Vietnam. After some intense mountain and jungle training, they boarded cargo planes and flew into Pleiku in the central highlands.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
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.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
It was an unpopular war, but the mood of the country following his return from Vietnam did not prevent Mike Devine from pursuing a career in the Army. For thirty years, he served in a variety of commands all over the world and never regretted one bit of it.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
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.
There was nearly constant contact with the enemy in the Ia Drang valley. Mike Devine remembers the close air support, which could kill you if the coordinates were just a little off. The napalm, especially, was a scary sight. For his last couple of months, he became the support platoon leader, which was only slightly less dangerous.
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
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.
It was a dangerous business being an infantry platoon leader in the Vietnam highlands. Mike Devine knew that the enemy would target him because he was always next to the radio operator's tall antenna. He was very close to his RTO and this led to the toughest moment he had to live through during the war.
It was a long trip across the Pacific with typhoons pushing the ship around. Mike Kenney finally arrived in Vietnam and his very first night there, sappers attacked another ship in the harbor. Once ashore, the unit was trucked to Bien Hoa, where a huge base camp had been prepared for the 11th Cavalry.
The heavy weapons squad was a close knit group of guys that platoon leader Mike Devine could depend on. It was with a sergeant from that squad that he was detailed to go on missions with some 1st Cavalry units. His outfit was new in country and it was felt that they could learn from the guys who had been around a while.
The first order of business was to carve a base camp out of the jungle. Mike Devine was a platoon leader, newly arrived in Vietnam, and he goes over the various weapons used in his infantry outfit. Only a month after they arrived, the M16 rifle replaced the M14 that the men carried and they began jamming in the heat and humidity.
Mike Kenney was an aviator, but he'd not yet had any military pilot training. He started Airborne school after his basic infantry officer course but, a couple of weeks in, the orders came and he was to report to basic helicopter training. He started on smaller aircraft, then moved on to the Huey, the real workhorse of Vietnam.