10:16 | This isn't going to work. That's what Tony Nadal told his boss, Hal Moore, as they launched a helicopter assault to search for the enemy. He was right. The forces scattered and hid, so new tactics were called for. The next assault was in the Ia Drang Valley and they were perhaps too successful. Part 1 of 5.
Keywords : Tony Nadal Vietnam helicopter (chopper) An Lao Valley Fort Benning Hal Moore Ho Chi Minh Trail Hanoi Pleiku Cambodia Chu Pong Plei Mei Boeing CH-47 Chinook artillery ambush LZ X-Ray Battle of Ia Drang
He didn't have an appointment, but Tony Nadal was the son of an Army officer, so he was able to compete for a spot at West Point. He won that because of his superior academics, although he was unenthusiastic about math. Once there, he discovered one thing, he detested the plebe system.
After West Point, the basic infantry course, jump school and Ranger school, Tony Nadal was getting close to his goal of leading men in combat. The only action in the early sixties that he knew about was Army Special Forces beginning to operate in Laos and Vietnam. After a pleasant first assignment in Germany, he volunteered for the elite group.
The plane that took Tony Nadal to Vietnam was old and slow but the men on it were not. He was part of a Special Forces team that aimed to organize tribal people in the border area into civilian defense groups. It was in rough terrain in the central highlands where he made his way to the camp at Nam Dong.
Along with his Vietnamese counterpart and his ARVN force, Tony Nadal also had a group of Chinese Nung at the Nam Dong Special Forces camp, Nationalists who had fled China after the victory of the Communists. They patrolled the border looking for infiltrators but it was the camp's next American commander who would become part of history.
Tony Nadal wanted to go back to Vietnam but the Army had him on assignment to Korea. He had already shipped his footlocker when he got a 4 AM call. Report to Fort Benning. He didn't know it but LBJ was sending the air mobile cavalry to Vietnam.
Before his second deployment to Vietnam, Tony Nadal did quite a bit of reading on the French experience in Indochina. Shortly after his arrival, he and battalion commander Hal Moore went off to find a monument left by them.
When the 1-7 Cav got to the base camp at An Khe, Tony Nadal was one of only two officers who had been to Vietnam before. The unit had come by ship and the slow journey gave him a chance to loan out his books and teach classes on what to expect. At first he was assigned as intelligence officer but he soon got his wish to command a rifle company.
The men of the 1-7 Cav had unknowingly choppered in to an LZ that was right next to a huge NVA force. The shooting began almost as soon as the first companies landed. Company commander Tony Nadal was in the thick of it as he and his men fought a fierce battle in a creek bed. Part 2 of 5.
There was a platoon that was separated during the fighting on the first day of the Ia Drang battle and Tony Nadal was ordered go find them and bring them back. After a quick pep talk he led his men toward the action. Almost immediately a machine gun opened up and brought down nearly everyone around him. He was miraculously spared but he was making no headway and asked to be withdrawn. Part 3 of 5.
Tony Nadal's company had gone after the "lost" platoon at the Battle of Ia Drang, but they had been driven back by the enemy. The platoon had to spend a long, lonely night hunkered down inside a small ring of artillery fire. The next day brought a major assault before dawn, which was only broken when daylight brought gunships and other air support. It was the end of the fight at LZ X-ray but the Battle of Ia Drang was not over. Part 4 of 5.
They had fought hard for three days and now what was left of Tony Nadal's company was airlifted out of the Ia Drang valley. Other units, however were just beginning another fierce firefight at LZ Albany, where the men were strung out in a long column. They had been hiking to get clear of an impending B-52 strike, which was not usually the preferred form of air support by the men on the ground. Part 5 of 5.
Tony Nadal is most proud of his time commanding A Company of the 1-7 Cav. The battalion was full of first rate officers because, back when the Army and the Air Force were dueling over who would control the helicopters, the Army wanted to make sure they bested the other branch. They wanted full control of the emerging air mobile concept.
Tony Nadal was on a recon flight when it suddenly got real quiet. The helicopter's engine had stopped. The pilot was autorotating down when he spotted what looked like a clearing in the jungle. As the crippled ship came down, it became clear that it wasn't grass down there. It was forty foot tall bamboo.
After his second Vietnam tour, Tony Nadal was sent to graduate school. This led to an interesting exchange with some anti-war students. He would go on to teach at West Point, where he tried to implement lessons he had learned about combat leadership, lessons that the Army had overlooked.
There is nothing in the civilian world as intense as combat. Tony Nadal speaks about the bonds it leads to, and the pain of loss. He still feels it every day.
Most people today just think of riots in the streets when the Vietnam War is mentioned. Tony Nadal fought in two tours and he has been back there twice. The first time he sat and talked with an officer who had opposed him on the battlefield at Ia Drang.
Raised in the projects of South Boston, Kevin Hathaway was so impressed with John F. Kennedy's speech about what you can do for your country that he quit high school and joined the Army. At basic training, he met a man who changed his life, his drill sergeant.
The sergeant was only 27 years old, but he was a mean, old sergeant to Sammy Davis and the crew in the artillery battery. His mom had sent some fishing gear and he and his buddies caught fish in the Mekong and traded them in town for whatever young men go looking for in town.
You can run into old friends at unit reunions. You can also embarrass them, as Kevin Hathaway found out when that happened to him. Near the end of his tour, he and two buddies took a trip to Vung Tau, a beautiful beach resort. One of them he ran into at the reunion. The other never made it to any reunions. (Caution: coarse language.)
John Overcash had three tours in Vietnam, but it was during Ranger training that he first flirted with death. The final exercise took place in the Georgia mountains. A three man team was to escape and evade their way out of the back country, but as night approached, the weather took a turn for the worse.
He didn't see a lot of snakes, but the wildlife was plentiful when Clebe McClary was in the field in Vietnam. The birds were beautiful, the monkeys were annoying and the water buffalo did not like Marines. As for the enemy, he could not be trusted at all and the truces were a joke.
The conditions in Vietnam did not make for an easy time being a photographer. Frank Heiny describes having to go out during monsoon season, Colonel Lynch, and his efforts to find a water buffalo.
Only one helicopter pilot was killed in Jim Smith's unit, but it wasn't for lack of trying that there weren't more. He describes the incredible amalgamation of ballistic seats, flak jackets and armor that he and his fellow Huey pilots utilized during hot operations.
Gary Lawrence decided that, if he was going to go into the military, he was going to be a frogman. He'd been an excellent swimmer on his high school team and that sounded like the place for him. He nearly was washed out at the first screening because of a problem with the grading on punch cards.
There was plenty of hunting, fishing and sports for Clebe McClary growing up in South Carolina. He wanted to enlist in the Marines right away, but was persuaded to go to Clemson. After a time as a football coach, he saw an American flag burned and that was it. Straight to the recruiter he went and during basic training, he was selected for OCS.
Jim Smith tried not to make close friends with anyone in Vietnam. You never know when they might get killed. He flew missions for MACV, the advisory group which had a lot of special forces assigned to it. These men had to be trained on triple canopy extractions, a tricky business.
It was not as tough as being in the infantry, but being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam had its own hazards. Huey pilot Jim Smith describes the life of an aviator in the first helicopter war. He fondly recalls the music on AFVN, the American Forces Vietnam Network, which was immortalized in the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam."
It was just like the show MASH, says Army doctor Quinn Becker. He served as a surgeon at an evacuation hospital in Vietnam where it was not unusual to operate for eighteen hours straight. There was also a tremendous physical and mental strain on the young nurses, who had volunteered to come help take care of the troops.
Jim Smith was part of the last group of helicopter units remaining in Vietnam. He was flying missions out of Cam Ranh Bay for MACV, the Military Assistance Command. He met the delightful Montagnard people on these missions and had a brief billet in the mountain resort town of Da Lat.
It was round after round of surgery for wounded Marine Clebe McClary after several hand grenades worked him over. He was a white lieutenant from rural South Carolina, and a black man from Charleston saved his life at the cost of his own. The blood is red and the uniform's green and the rest doesn't matter.
On Thanksgiving day in 1968, Huey pilot Thomas Gipson spent all day delivering meals to various camps and bases. When he saw what his own holiday meal consisted of, he felt a little neglected. It was dangerous operating in a dense jungle and he recalls an incident in which another aircraft was shot down.
Not every assignment was about the soldiers, some were about the Vietnamese people they had been sent to protect. Frank Heiny remembers some of the other stories from his time in Vietnam and the effect of what he witnessed there.
His father was a pilot and flight instructor, so flying was a lifelong dream for Ron Dillard. He wanted to get Uncle Sam to pay for his training, so he entered Western Kentucky University and the ROTC program and joined the Pershing Rifles.
The group of new pilots was split up for the flight to Vietnam and Jack Swickard was on the first plane out. He was a little miffed that he was on the way while the other guys were partying in San Francisco. When he reached Honolulu, an engine failure gave him his revenge.
Lt. Clebe McClary told his dad that running Recon patrols was a lot like hunting back home. It could be deadly, though, especially if you were the point man. He describes two of his men, one of whom he's still close to and one who was destined to save his life.
Quinn Becker was the medical battalion commander but he was also a surgeon. He describes a heart wrenching experience in the operating room regarding a man he had sent to the field earlier in the day. A lot of the injuries treated there in Vietnam were caused by booby traps and there were also a lot of gunshot wounds through extremities.
Quinn Becker describes the primitive sterilization units he used in Vietnam at an Army hospital. Smokey Joes, they called them. It was a demanding environment for medical personnel who were tasked with quickly getting casualties off the battlefield and into care and treatment.
Bob Clark was a third generation soldier. His father served for thirty one years and was highly decorated, so soldiering was in the younger Clark's blood as he went off to ROTC at Texas Tech. It was a fairly conservative campus, but the war in Vietnam was inflaming opinions everywhere. He knew he would be going there as soon as he received his commission.
Jack Swickard recalls an unnamed fellow pilot who had one of the civilian women who worked around the base chasing after him. He came up with a novel method to get rid of her, one which developed into some trouble at the officers club. (Caution: adult subject matter.)
Quinn Becker's father was a country doctor and he decided that was the field for him as well. After medical school at LSU he took a regular Army commission because he was DMS, Distinguished Military Student, of the campus ROTC. Orthopedic surgery became his specialty and he began to think about an Army career.