7:30 | Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Keywords : Willard Womack pilot Vietnam Saigon Tan Son Nhut Air Base Medical Evacuation (Medevac) 93rd Transportation Company helicopter radio John Paul Vann advisor Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Ap Bac Vietnam Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) observation plane rice paddies Huey Vietnamese Charles Fitts
After receiving his pilot's license through Army ROTC, Willard Womack was committed to Army flight school. There he met an instructor who reminded him of someone and he made it the top of his class. Flying came naturally to him, it seemed. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
After flight school, Willard Womack was sent to a tiny detachment with no planes. It's purpose was to set up and run combat air fields. The unit was sent to Okinawa to run an airfield there where a helicopter company was based. That company went off on a training mission to the Philippines and didn't come back. Womack and his unit soon followed to a place most had never heard of, Vietnam. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Sailing from Okinawa to Vietnam on an LST was miserable for Willard Womack, thanks to the bobbing of the landing craft on the waves and the diesel exhaust in his air vent. Once in country, he was surprised how behind the times everything was. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
It was all advisors when Willard Womack went to Vietnam. The Army pilot was part of the early effort to help the South resist the insurgency. The rules for the advisors were very stringent and often stymied the progress of the war. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
There was not much for Willard Womack to do at the Soc Trang air field early in the war. He flew small observation planes to support a helicopter unit and he was the supply officer. The unit had an exotic pet, which supplied some laughs, and there were nightly movies. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
The plane was a Cessna Bird Dog and Willard Womack flew it in support of a helicopter company, frequently on evacuation missions. The troops were all Vietnamese, and when the unit's flight surgeon found out what their doctors were actually doing at the evacuation hospital, they stopped flying the rescue missions for them. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
As the American advisor argued with his Vietnamese counterpart over the radio, Willard Womack, an Army pilot stuck in transit, could hear the frustration mounting. The battle of Ap Bac could not be won with these tactics. Eventually, the evacuation was made and, weeks later, several of the aviators involved hitched a ride to Saigon for a night of carousing. Pt 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Willard Womack was nervously awaiting the news of what happened to the helicopter carrying some of his friends who had just participated in the Battle of Ap Bac, a crucial turning point early in the war. They had come though that unscathed but were now missing. Decades later, he received an email that brought the memories flooding back. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Army pilot Willard Womack's job was to support a helicopter company in his spotter plane, usually from above the action. He tells how he came to be just 300 feet off the ground the only time he took a round in the plane. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
In Vietnam, Army pilot Willard Womack visited Saigon several times, usually because he was ferrying someone around but he had a few occasions to get out and see the place. He remembers a wild ride in a pedicab in the chaotic traffic. This was way more exciting than his duty, which was mostly ferrying people around in a Cessna. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Wherever there are weapons, there is always the potential for accidents. Army pilot Willard Womack recalls several times when carelessness caused trouble during his tour in Vietnam. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Willard Womack was a pilot in the Army but everyone in the Army has other duties and his was supply. As supply officer, he had a first row seat to the spectacle of Army bureaucracy and reveals how the last scene of Indiana Jones just might be true, that there are stacks of things around the world lost in paperwork. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Army pilot Willard Womack explains how his Air Medals are no big deal because they were automatic with the number of combat missions flown. And in a guerrilla war like Vietnam, every flight was a combat mission. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Barry Howard just missed an appointment to West Point, "Thank the Lord!" Instead he went to the Naval Academy where he got in trouble more than once with pal John McCain. Then it was on to pilot training in yet another branch, the Air Force.
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley had raged for hours when Henry Dunn's unit was moved in for support. They listened all night to the sound of the fight and then advanced the next morning. They immediately manned the perimeter and Dunn began his work as Forward Observer, calling in areas of concentration for artillery fire. Part 1 of 4.
The value of the Medivac chopper standing by at high altitude was proven when a pilot on a supporting fire mission had to bail out. Marshall Carter was able to call down the Medivac unit and extract the pilot, who surely would have been a POW. Part 4 of 5.
The sign on the windowless building of the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington D.C. suggested academic research, but the drunks across the street in the liquor store knew what it really was. Inside, Al Lipphardt, was busy predicting the October War of 1973.
During a brigade operation in the Plain of Reeds close to the Cambodian border, Richey's platoon was asked to stay behind to see what the Viet Cong would do. That night the men encountered a few Viet Cong, but the next morning they found themselves far outnumbered.
Richard Nixon gave them six weeks to get into Cambodia and get out. Greg Camp got there and then had to deal with an ad hoc company of cooks, clerks and malcontents he was given. As their deadline approached, he tried to help a West Point classmate who was nearby with his own company and a severely wounded soldier. His only hope was the Jungle Penetrator, a rescue rig that could be lowered from a helicopter.
Joe Galloway was right in the middle of the Ia Drang battle and witnessed the withering artillery and air power that felled so many thousands. Later, Galloway asked North Vietnam's General Giap what he thought about losing so many men. The answer surprised him.
After a variety of Army medical jobs, Fred Mills had a final task. Planning operations for the Gulf War. After retiring, he recalls the harassment when he returned from his 2nd tour in Vietnam. Some sore bar patrons and scared Hare Krishnas also remember.
Operation Kings started out badly when two young Marines suffered heat stroke and had to be evacuated. Then the three platoons were caught in an ambush by a larger enemy force. In the chaos, Lt. Frank Cox went to aid of his favorite corporal, whose life was saved by an unusual haversack load. Part 1 of 2.
Helicopter pilot Fred Mills was "really busy" flying medical evacuations in Vietnam. When trees prevented a landing, he dropped a chainsaw to troops, and he used a map with no borders to evacuate from Cambodia. It was "the dirty part of the war."
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.
New Marine officer Frank Cox and his friend Jack Swallows admired the beauty of the mountains and landscape of Vietnam as they approached it on the troop ship. They didn't know where they were going, but soon they knew what knowledge they were lacking, and that was how to avoid booby traps, how to avoid friendly crossfires and how to relate to people who weren't really on your side.
Platoon leader Ron Christmas was a stickler for training, even on his first deployment, and all his men who were up for promotion passed their test. From the Mediterranean, he went to the Caribbean, where a beautiful sunset changed his life.
Freddie Owens reflects on the heroic actions of Capt. George Forrest during the battle of the Ia Drang Valley. He saved the day, but still, men were lost. One was the baby of the unit, eighteen year old Vincent Locatelli. Owens felt that if he could keep young Vincent alive, he could do it for the others.
As three Marine companies advanced on a decidedly non-friendly village, the forward observer called for artillery support. Frank Cox was the artillery liaison officer and, finding the commander asleep, he gave the fire order himself, a move which had repercussions. A CBS news crew was embedded in the operation and they captured a famous image which had major repercussions back home.