6:54 | 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.
Keywords : Tony Coalson Vietnam helicopter pilot II Corps Nha Trang Hill 875 Dak To assessment team mortar North Vietnamese Army (NVA) airfield control tower Lockheed C-130 Hercules
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
His experience in Vietnam taught him something about what it means to be an American, says Jim Lawrence. He reflects on the death of his friend, Don Cornett, and the effect it had on all the lives connected to him. Multiply those numbers by the 58,000 names on The Wall and you get an idea of the true scale of the tragedy of war.
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.
Bruce D'Agostino did well in business following his service in Vietnam. One thing he didn't do was have much contact with fellow veterans, but that changed in 1987 when he met a POW/MIA activist at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He began loosening red tape, and eventually made back channel contact with the Vietnamese government.
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.
Vietnam veteran Al Lipphardt has an instant connection with other veterans of any conflict. He says to truly understand a combat veteran, one must have been through combat because the experience is overwhelming.
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.
It was extreme in effort and cost. Lt. Beirne Lovely reflects on the difficulty of a ground frontal assault, the bravery of his men and the lack of overwhelming force that was needed. One particular Sergeant decide to supply his own overwhelming force with a .60 caliber machine gun on his hip. Though in constant fear and danger, his men never hesitated.
Rocky Bleier tells his story of determination--from the football fields of the U.S. to the rice-patties of Vietnam, and back again despite a life-changing injury he suffered during the war. (4-time Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steeler.)