8:56 | Living full time with his Vietnamese crew meant that Galen Hoover ate what they ate. His first night on the river, they served him a dish that was so good, he requested it regularly, even after he found out what it was. The crew knew he was really green, so the boat captain thought he would mess with the new advisor a little.
Keywords : Galen Hoover Vietnam river boat Vietnamese cooking Go Dau Ha Viet Cong (VC) Cambodia North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Ho Chi Minh Trail Starlight scope Language School rat hand grenade liquor drinking hot box
One day, aboard ship, Galen Hoover got a notice he was being transferred to river boat duty in Vietnam. Soon after, the movie about the Green Berets was screened on movie night, so he had a lot to think about while he waited to go. First, he had to undergo four months of intensive training for the dangerous duty.
After a quick leave, Galen Hoover and a buddy from a nearby town, started the long trip to Vietnam. He stopped in a frigid Alaska on the way, but when the airliner doors opened in Vietnam, it was a different environment. It was hot and it smelled really bad. And why was that chicken wire on the bus windows?
The river boats operated near the Cambodian border. Galen Hoover was advisor to the Vietnamese crew of one craft, which was an old troop carrier. Every night, interdiction points were set along the river to catch infiltration from Cambodia. When he arrived at the unit, he couldn't believe the layout of the base.
He was supposed to teach the crew all about the boat, but Galen Hoover had just arrived in Vietnam and some of the Vietnamese crew had been doing it for years. So his job was to man the radios and call for air and artillery support and for medical evacuation. Besides the enemy, there was rain...so much rain, and poisonous vipers.
Galen Hoover's river interdiction unit was moved from up near the Cambodian birder to the U Minh forest in the southernmost part of Vietnam. The waterways were very narrow, canals so small the boat couldn't turn around. The enemy were plentiful and devious. They even tried to trick him with bogus radio calls.
The river boats were patrolling in narrow canals and rivers, searching for infiltrating NVA troops. Galen Hoover was in the second boat, trailing a boat that was supposed to be mine sweeping. That was the last thing he remembered about that day.
When Galen Hoover woke up in a hospital with a bandaged head and a broken hand, he had no idea what happened or how he got there. The guys from his unit came to see him and he finally heard the tale of that fateful patrol on the canal that day.
After his boat was blown up, Galen Hoover had to go back to Saigon and get a new assignment. He was offered a safe, quiet post after he was nearly killed but he pushed back, insisting that he was there to be in the action. He went to a unit in the Mekong Delta, interdicting fishing boats coming in from the ocean.
On their daily trips to the market to get the day's food, advisor Galen Hoover paid for most of it because he made more than his entire Vietnamese crew combined. He spoke Vietnamese, so he always listened to the conversation of the locals to pick up hints on enemy movements.
Galen Hoover's river boat was sometimes used for jungle insertions of Vietnamese troops, but you had to watch them closely while they were on board. Things would disappear. The area was heavily sprayed with Agent Orange, so it's a concern for him to this day.
Vietnamization was underway and, soon, Galen Hoover was sleeping away the long flight home. He landed in San Francisco and was glad to be back in the States, but as he left the plane, here came the peace protestors. What happened next haunts him still.
Galen Hoover listened to Adrian Cronauer's radio show while he was serving in Vietnam and fondly recalls meeting him years later. He has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial many times and discovered a cousin on the wall.
Galen Hoover and all but one of his brothers joined the Navy as they came of age in the Sixties. He was assigned to the USS Escape, a rescue and salvage ship. He saw 17 countries, including the entire Mediterranean, where the ship's divers assisted the local sponge divers with safety training.
As a returning Vietnam veteran, Jim Lawrence disappeared into his own life, along with all the others who were ignored or worse by the public. He is happy about the respect returning vets get today, but is disturbed by what he considers the same mistakes being made by politicians.
Eyewitness to an accidental massacre, Vietnam War correspondent Tom Reilly was forever changed by the experience. After the war, it was thirteen years before anyone thanked him for his service, and that was all he ever asked for.
It was a lot of weight to carry. He needed the mortar tube and the strap, but there was no time to use the sight, the way the mortar was used in Vietnam. The base plate and the bi-pod added a lot of weight and also slowed down the set up. So Bob Atkinson started carrying just the mortar and setting it in a helmet, firing by sight and instinct. The Captain didn't like that.
Mentioning that he served in Vietnam would clear the area around him in a bar, remembers Bruce D'Agostino. The World War II vets weren't much better, and told him that Vietnam wasn't a real war. Korean War vets were more understanding, but no one, not even his father, wanted to talk about Vietnam.
Growing up in Ohio, Bill Brezina was drafted and got a switch from infantry to be able to work as a unit clerk. After that, he got assigned to Brooks Army Medical Center to work as a patient data coder where he thought he would stay, until he got the call to Vietnam.
When the door opened after landing in Da Nang, it was like opening an oven, the heat was a blast right in the face. It was that and sand fleas and combat on his first night there, remembers Bob Atkinson. He was a Marine rifleman, but then he was picked at random and told, "You're a mortarman." Never having seen, much less fired a mortar during training, he wondered, "Are we laying block and brick for these people?"
He wanted to be a company commander, but Kenneth Moorefield's experience as an ARVN advisor was an eye opening experience which gave him insight to the Vietnamese people and their precarious position, caught in the middle of a war. He developed great respect for his advisory unit and they became a band of brothers like any others in combat.
Bill Smith always wanted to fly. In fact, when he reported to Air Force pilot training, he already had a private pilot's license. As a Forward Air Controller flying out of Thailand, he patrolled the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, looking for traffic to disrupt. He flew the OV-10, a turboprop which was one of his favorite aircraft.
The old capital city of Hue was the center of the Buddhist struggle against the South Vietnamese government. At the consulate, Jim Bullington found himself face to face with student mobs and acted as a go between with the leader of the monks. The situation began to get out of control and roadblocks were set up throughout the city.
When Frank Cox first got to Vietnam, his unit suffered from many rookie mistakes that put them at risk without even facing the enemy. A Naval gunfire officer attached to the unit chronicled these mishaps in a little black book.
Hugh Bell began his second Vietnam tour flying night surveillance missions over the midsection of the country, but he was then sent to Udorn air base in Thailand. His new mission area was Laos, where he was shot at constantly without result because the enemy gunners had no radar.
He was pinned down by enemy fire when he suddenly realized that, with his captain called to the front of the column, he was the leader of a company in the middle of an ambush. Jim Lawrence knew he had to get them moving and away from there so he stood up and at that moment, a sniper fired. Part 4 of 5.
Before getting settled in his company, Stan Marcieski was hastily brought on a mission over the jungle to try to help out a company that had been ambushed by NVA forces. After they had some issues with the plane, they had to think quickly to be able to save some casualties.
Under his command in Vietnam, only one soldier was lost. Bob Ballagh felt badly about that, but was proud that was the only loss. After over one hundred air assaults, he returned home and advocated for a return to unit basis for deployments and was gratified when the Army changed the policy.
Doug Garner shares a story about how closely he and his fellow soldiers had been interacting with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese officials without even realizing it, and how the Viet Cong would lie to the local population about the American soldiers.
As a Chinook pilot, Aaron Watkins had some of the best living quarters in Vietnam. The pilots had their own club and chow, but he had to learn to like rice, which he did. Some of his missions involved transporting Vietnamese civilians and on one of these, he found out just how much weight his aircraft could lift.
Instead of anti-war protestors, Pat Richardson was greeted by a Texas cattleman who bought him drinks. Decades later, looking at the wide variety of books about the Vietnam experience, he recommends reading the ones written by those who were actually there.
He was a platoon leader in Korea but after his tour, Richard Hawes became a Marine Aviator. He was part of the first qualified Marine nuclear delivery squadron, training to drop early weapons from fighter planes. He was headed to deployment in Japan when the flight made an abrupt left turn. The new destination? Vietnam.
When Ed Zielinski returned home from Vietnam, he took fire immediately, a spitball from an anti-war protestor. His entered a trying time in his life, but continuing to fly was a big help. He joined the National Guard and taught new helicopter pilots the real life skills they would need, the ones not in the book. (Caution: Coarse language)
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'd been in Korea and Cold War Germany, but Bob Bruffey had one more conflict to attend. After confronting a python at yet another survival school, he flew technical missions to flight check the gear at airfields in Vietnam and Thailand. Still in the Air Force when he returned stateside, he had a moment of enlightenment while serving coffee to a General.