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.
It was The Big Red One for Larry Jordan when he arrived in Vietnam. The West Pointer was assigned to a mechanized company in the 1st Infantry Division, where he lived out of an armored personnel carrier. When he was made reconnaissance platoon leader, he had more machine guns and some flametracks, vehicles which shot a stream of napalm.
Believing there would be an uprising among the populace, Ho Chi Minh and Gen. Giap planned a general offensive for the Tet New Year in 1968. There was no uprising, but Ron Christmas would see some of the nastiest fighting of the war as a result.
What Marine Captain Ron Christmas knew, as he assembled a relief convoy, was that action was reported in Hue. What he and others didn’t know was that the North Vietnamese Army had infiltrated the entire city.
In Vietnam, Joe McDonald helped Montagnard villagers engineer their water supply and increase their crop yields. But back home, speaking at schools, the parents didn’t believe him, saying in Vietnam we were only bombing and killing people.
Tommy Clack was taught by John Racine, one of his NCO's, how to find out who was shooting in a firefight and who was just staying out of it. After the battle, you felt the gun barrels of the soldiers on the line.
Ordered to take ground across a bridge in Hue, Captain Ron Christmas used a barrage of smoke rounds to cover a dash across the span. After holding long enough to move across vital units, he found that his men were disappointed they had to withdraw.
When Tommy Clack met Max Cleland, another triple amputee, and saw him get into a car and drive off, he knew he could eventually do it, too. Soon he was taking other veteran amputees on hunting and fishing trips.
After his first combat experience, medic Joe McDonald was told he was not required to pull wounded soldiers from live fire, but he felt differently. His chief task was to stop the bleeding and get the wounded stabilized for evacuation.
Ron Christmas tells the story of a Marine who kept getting wounded, and kept returning to battle because he couldn't desert the men that he considered to be his brothers. That, he says, is the true meaning of Semper Fidelis.
It was Friday the Thirteenth when a North Vietnamese soldier fired an RPG at Ron Christmas. Dodging a direct hit, his legs were wounded badly enough to cause his evacuation. Unfortunately, he became lost in the medical system.
Military duty was a family tradition for Tommy Clack. While many of his generation were going to great lengths to stay out of the war, he withdrew from college and volunteered for the Arm, where he went through OCS and became an artillery forward observer.
As Ron Christmas fought to capture the Capitol building in the battle for Hue, the sight of an enemy flag angered him. Even though it was forbidden, as soon as he secured the site, he raised an American flag to boost the morale of his men.
Marine Ron Christmas reflects on the basic principles of urban warfare, which he learned on the fly in the battle for Hue. He felt blessed in his later career as he received many rewarding assignments.
Joe Galloway's best seller about the Ia Drang battle hit close to home for many veterans, and it inspired many to open up about their experiences. Then it became a big Hollywood film with a pretty good reality/fantasy ratio.
After his first Vietnam tour, artillery officer Tommy Clack tried to modify stateside training to better prepare soldiers for actual conditions. Returning for a second tour, he insisted on forward duty with a combat unit.
Of all the casualties around Al Lipphardt in his first Vietnam tour, one in particular haunted him for years, the death of Rodney Loatman. It was an article in a magazine that brought it all flooding back into his consciousness decades later.