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.
Bruce D'Agostino's most vivid memory of Vietnam is leaving. Instead of waiting on a commercial flight, he hopped a military plane to his home base in Japan. Climbing aboard in darkness, he was startled when the lights came on and revealed the plane's cargo. His life was changed during that flight.
Mac McCahan never cared for the rule that he had to store his weapon in the safe in his office. When the Tet offensive happened, he had to hunker down, unarmed, in his quarters. When he returned to the States, he was armed only with his dignity as he faced rabid protestors.
While on his 2nd Vietnam tour, Fred Mills was picked to be the Aviation Officer for the Surgeon General. From there, he moved to the Pentagon and a civilian outreach program that resulted in widespread use of civilian air ambulance operations.
When he arrived for his second tour in Vietnam in Long Binh (IV Corps), Intelligence officer Al Lipphardt knew that it was a different war when he was not issued a weapon. This was disturbing to him, as were the Rules of Engagement in the field.
When Al Lipphardt went through basic training, his superiors noticed something special and he was recommended for Officer Candidate School. He recalls the spit shined floors at OCS and the lengths the unit went through to maintain them.
John E. Walker enlisted during the Vietnam era and got the specialty he wanted, aviation mechanic. The dreary weather on the day he departed should have been a clue. His first test in the war zone, monsoons. Next, the task of cleaning the aircraft after medical evacuations.
Dennis Haines had done the reconnaissance on a village at the Mekong River, so he manned the listening post overnight as his unit prepared a cordon operation. He thought he saw movement in a doorway, then a muzzle flash as he took two rounds to the head.
As the battle of the Ia Drang Valley began, Freddie Owens had to hunker down and listen to the fire from a couple of miles away. He knew there were enemy battalions in there and he feared a bloodbath. Moving in the second day, he saw the grim results of the battle so far, an unbelievable scene of death and destruction.
Marine Paul Van Riper explains some of the problems associated with the M-16 rifle and how they were addressed in Vietnam. His issued weapon was a .45 pistol, but he always carried an M-16 and advocated for all officers to do so. His advocacy of daily ice cream in the mess hall got him into a bit of trouble with his battalion commander.
After washing off the grime of battle from Ia Drang, Joe Galloway could not believe what he was hearing as General Westmoreland stood on the hood of a jeep and tried to give a rousing speech. Then, in a press conference, when another General would not call a disastrous ambush an ambush, he stood and spoke his mind.
Outmanned by at least five to one, but with good air support, Al Lipphardt’s unit fought the NVA for four days in the fight known only as the Battle for Hill 63 in Operation Dorland. He had never had a greater feeling than realizing he was still alive after it was all over.
Tet came to Rody Conway’s area in a big way. Word of a large uniformed force nearby brought in heavy airstrikes and his unit went in to do damage assessment. When they got there, they found out that the wrong spot had been bombed and they were in hot water.
It was better to put men in the field and leave them there. That was the philosophy of Battalion commander Ralph Puckett in Vietnam, where some commanders inserted and then quickly withdrew their troops. When the operation was over, the reward was beer and steak and ice cream. Being prepared was very important to him and he illustrates that principle with a story about some soldiers who were not.
When communications engineer Mac McCahan arrived in Vietnam, he had to straighten out an Air Force Colonel who was trying to send him to Thailand, where he wouldn't get credit for a combat tour. Then he settled down to improving voice communications and found out that it was so stressful on the switchboards, operators were committing suicide.
Although Les Carter’s Airborne soldiers were paratroopers, they never used parachutes in Vietnam, relying on helicopters to deploy and fight. As in modern conflicts, booby traps were the main source of casualties.
Mac McCahan felt like he was doing something great on his second tour in Vietnam. As he transferred control of facilities to the Vietnamese, each one meant that soldiers were going home. Then he stopped at the dispensary to find out why he was suddenly soaked in sweat. Part 1 of 3.