6:37 | When helicopter pilot Tony Coalson was on the ground during the Battle of Dak To, he was astounded at the numbers of American dead. Some of the casualties were from a terrible friendly fire incident. He remembers watching a C-130 full of wounded men just barely survive takeoff. When he returned to his base, he had a solemn observation for his roommate. Part 2 of 2.
Keywords : Tony Coalson Vietnam helicopter pilot Dak To Hill 875 bodies odor smell Boeing CH-47 Chinook friendly fire McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II 500 lb bomb wounded Lockheed C-130 Hercules bulldozer Nha Trang Ron Gibbs
He'd gotten his private pilot's license through Army ROTC, but it was in helicopters that they wanted Tony Coalson to be trained. He wasn't real excited about that until he got in one. It was in training that a grim sense of humor began to form among the close knit pilots.
In flight school, every day was a new day, always a new procedure to learn. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson remembers learning slope landings and connects that to the first time he actually used one in a combat situation. It was during the Tet Offensive, on the lawn of a beautiful resort hotel built by the French.
Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson felt lucky when he was placed in the 201st Aviation Company instead of being thrown into the replacement circuit. He was sent to Vietnam on a troop ship, a practice that was soon to be abandoned. The trip was uncomfortable, but very interesting.
The anxiety increased as the troop ship approached Vietnam. Once ashore, Tony Coalson was sure they would be ambushed at any minute. In reality, they were in a very safe part of the country. As the aviation company settled into their base at Nha Trang, they had no idea that they had drawn one of the best assignments they could get.
Tony Coalson's helicopter unit flew all of II Corps, a fourth of the entire country, unlike dedicated combat units, which only flew in their little slice of Vietnam. He recalls his first combat related mission, in which he delivered an assessment team right in the middle of one of the biggest battles of the war. Part 1 of 2.
The 201st Aviation Company had a wide variety of missions in Vietnam. Pilot Tony Coalson describes a particularly stressful flight to pick up a special forces team which had been overrun. He knew it was going to be dangerous when he saw the number of gunships that had been assembled. Part 1 of 2.
The helicopter came in fast, touched down for a moment, and the besieged special forces team ran for it. Pilot Tony Coalson remembers seeing a huge amount of enemy bodies in the concertina wire. On the way back, he asked them, what happened back there. "It was Custer's last stand." Part 2 of 2.
The Tet Offensive was the most singular event of the Vietnam War. For helicopter pilot Tony Coalson, it began as almost nothing, but he knew it was a big deal when they brought out the 50 cal machine gun at the base. Does anybody here know how to use this thing? Part 1 0f 3.
The men were sitting on a bunker, watching and listening to the chaos of Tet unfold around them. They were an aviation company in a rear area, but each man was issued a grenade, which caused quite a bit of reflection because they were not at all used to ground combat. Then, pilot Tony Coalson dropped his. Part 2 of 3.
It was an unlikely duel. A lone North Vietnamese with an AK-47 firing at an F-4 fighter jet coming around for pass after pass. Tony Coalson remembers watching that unfold at 3 AM, the first night of the Tet Offensive. What the news media did with the news of this widespread surprise attack altered the perception of the war back home. Part 3 of 3.
The Tet Offensive was only the introduction to Vietnam for helicopter pilot Tony Coalson. He still had eight months to go, but after that huge operation, it was much more routine. One thing he noticed was that the enemy persisted, even after massive amounts of American firepower was used.
Your year in Vietnam went by fast, if you made it through, says Tony Coalson. He did get one R&R in Hong Kong but the night before he was going to leave, something came up. It was another problem for which the solution was his helicopter.
Relatively speaking, Tony Coalson's aviation unit had good living conditions in Vietnam. He describes the ones that were worse and then moves on to the ones that were better. Way better.
It was a tremendous relief when his year was up and he came home. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson still had six months to go on his commitment, so he became one of the men who could tell trainees, this is how it really is over there. He had not planned to return to Vietnam, but it happened with Air America.
His Army experience was very valuable to him, but it was with Air America that Tony Coalson came to understand what was really happening in Vietnam.
Recruit Dennis Haines wanted to go to airborne school but the Army gave him a choice. He could either go to airborne school or home for Christmas. He took the leave because he was worried he might not ever return.
Having learned the Thai language and mastered radio school, Allen Robinson deployed to Vietnam where he was stationed on an intelligence ship, monitoring and transcribing broadcasts. When he was ashore, the Thai people were delighted to find a Westerner who could speak their language.
As an aeronautical engineer, Al Muller had done a lot of interesting work in the Air Force, but as a Forward Air Controller flying out of Thailand, he added the experience of war to his resume. After targeting a vast ammo dump that burned for two weeks, he got a surprise when he returned from R & R.
When the battle of Ia Drang started, reporter Joe Galloway flattened until he heard Sergeant Major Basil Plumley bellow, "Can't take no pictures laying there on the ground, Sonny." Galloway not only got up, he was a player in the biggest battle of the war, with Custer's old outfit in a river valley surrounded by a vastly larger number of hostiles.
“I was out of it for days,” recalls Dennis Haines, He had a head wound and would only regain full consciousness after he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he learned the left side of his body was paralyzed.
He already had a pretty significant career, but Ralph Puckett went to Vietnam as a battalion commander and didn't waste any time getting into the field. His first matter of business was to assure his unit commanders that he had their backs.
First, Walt Russell’s neurologist told him to get used to watching TV because he could not hold a job. Then the loan examiner told him he could not handle law school. After years of public service in elected office, he had proven them both wrong.
Bob Ballagh says nearly all of his West Point class wanted to go to Vietnam. "A good soldier runs to the sound of guns." Assigned to the 1st Cavalry field artillery, he was engaged in a major battle almost immediately at Pleiku.
"We don't want your equipment!" Communications engineer Mac McCahan was trying to improve military telephone service in Vietnam and he had to repeatedly reassure units that he wasn't tying to take over, just trying to make the system work better.
Freddie Owens says there is a difference between Vietnam veterans and the veterans returning from wars today. Those people are worse off and in terrible shape after multiple combat tours. Although he was able to put his life in order after his war experiences, not everyone is so lucky.
It was inevitable. The hilltop outpost was overrun by what must have been a battalion of NVA regulars. Jolted from sleep, with his .45 in his hand, Beirne Lovely ran right into an AK-47 wielding North Vietnamese soldier. 2ndLt Terry Roach, the unit leader, ran right into much worse.
The restrictions on artillery fire in Vietnam were so strict that by the time permission to fire was obtained, the combat conditions had changed. Artillery liaison officer Frank Cox tells how he beat the system once he became a forward observer by using prepared coordinates and then firing his pistol in the air as he requested the fire mission over the radio.
Already a capable engineer and a pilot, Al Matheson moved into classified work when he joined the Air Force and was soon flying huge circles in planes full of electronics. This sophisticated operation led to a grand scheme known in the Kennedy administration as the McNamara Wall.
Vietnam was alive with animal life according to chaplain Bo Blasingame. Aside from the pythons, the tarantulas and the pet mongoose, there was a bird in a banyan tree that had a habit of making a noise that sounded like an obscenity during services.
Years after his head wound, Dennis Haines found the surgeon, John Baldwin, who operated on him in the field hospital. Only then did he learn how close to death he had been, so close that he was put in the group of patients who were deemed not likely to survive.
Bruce D'Agostino had many contacts with civilians in Vietnam, but was wary of anyone he didn't know well. You never knew who could be the enemy. Warned to watch out for unwitting children carrying possible booby traps, he found himself in exactly that situation when a little boy ran up with something in his hand.
Tom Reilly’s Vietnam service took a new direction when he took an assignment as a war correspondent. He carried a camera along with his rifle, and documented the action for Stars and Stripes and the Army Times.
Marine mortarman Bob Atkinson got to relax back at battalion only every now and then, and it wasn't that safe there because it was hit frequently. Nor was he immune to heartbreak there, as he found out when a swarm of children went after food scraps in the dump.
Dennis Haines and his friend Jack Kirchner came across a Viet Cong bunker that they thought was empty. After Kirchner fired a shotgun round through a port, he turned to leave and was nearly cut in two by enemy rounds.