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.
Jerry Sinn retired as a three star General but he started out as a draftee who decided to go to Officer Candidate School. Trained as a combat engineer and sent to Vietnam, he was surprised at the type of equipment he was issued for an assignment to the reconnaissance platoon. That's when he found out he was a Tunnel Rat.
In Vietnam, Regimental Commander Lawrence Snowden saw the dirty part of the war operating down in the Delta. Later, working at HQ making bombing assessments, he began to realize the aerial assault on the North was not working.
Always looking for a bit of humor for relief, Captain Ron Christmas and his men had some fun in a posh toy room in a captured mansion. What they found in another well appointed house was an eye-opening stash of brandy. Both were great morale boosters.
Just as he heard of his promotion, medic Joe McDonald narrowly missed the mortar blast that claimed the life of his friend. Back in combat, rushing to relieve a unit under attack, he stumbled upon a scene of horrible atrocity.
It was a classic L-shaped ambush that decimated several companies on the march to LZ Albany. George Forrest's company had fared better, but instead of heading to a Thanksgiving dinner like some, they went straight to another battle at Bong Son. He observes that you can go through hell and come out better for it and his company was stronger for the experience. Decades later, he gained an appreciation for the way the opposition must have felt. Part 4 of 4.
Under the rules of the Marine Corps at the time, Ron Christmas should have been discharged after he was wounded in Vietnam. As he recovered his strength, he was able to avoid a medical exam until he got in line with some inductees.
No one got any sleep that first night in Vietnam. Freddie Owens recalls the tension among the men, most of whom he had trained. This bond would make it tough for him later on when the dying started. His unit went straight into the field and stayed there. Not a chance they would get to see Bob Hope but they did claim to run into some Chinese troops.
After operations south of Da Nang, the Marine battalion rotated to the air base there to provide security. On a security patrol, the platoon leader led his unit through exactly the wrong place. That officer had been in basic school with Frank Cox, who had noticed the man dozing off during a class on patrolling, and who listened in on the radio as his platoon was decimated.
Al Lipphardt’s last duty in his first Vietnam tour was with a new unit that had just arrived. He taught them the ropes, as in "don’t take the path" and "don’t pick things up." Back home, he moved into Military Intelligence, specializing in Aerial Surveillance.
When Ron Christmas was assigned to Vietnam, he was so excited to be going that he studied the Vietnamese language at his own expense. When he arrived in country, he reluctantly took the command of a service company.
When he arrived in Vietnam at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Tom Reilly was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade at Long Binh, and began a routine of sweeps, patrols and ambushes. Long periods of monotony were the rule, but he soon got a taste of action.
Tommy Clack was out for seven days following his gruesome injury at the Vietnam front. He gradually became aware of missing limbs and a pretty nurse. His memories of an out-of-body experience after he was hit became the subject of a television documentary.
Reporter Joe Galloway was with COL Hal Moore and the 1st Cavalry, operating in the central highlands of Vietnam, when word came of enemy movement in the Ia Drang valley. He waited with a group of correspondents, including Peter Arnett, all trying to get to the front. But it was Galloway who finessed a ride into the pages of history at the battle.
On his second Vietnam tour, Bill Ray commanded a combat engineer battalion. The large unit was still housed in tents, which raised some eyebrows, and was tasked with building a national road including many bridges. They also built some airstrips way down in the delta where he encountered entertainer Martha Ray, to his great surprise.
In the I Corps area of Vietnam, the first time new platoon leader Al Lipphardt came under fire, he was slow to drop and take cover because he looked around to see the source of the fire as one of his men tugged on his pant leg. He learned that you drop and then look.
Reporter Joe Galloway wanted to get to the action but the airspace around the battle was closed. After he got a fellow crazy Texan named Ray Burns to fly him in, he was told to go see camp commander Charlie Beckwith. The Major needed everything but a reporter, but he immediately put Joe to work on a machine gun.
The secret electronic intelligence operation known as Igloo White kept Al Matheson busy flying over Laos and North Vietnam. He describes the complex and exotic technology used which involved IBM mainframes and thousands of sensors, and he analyzes it's predictable failure.
Marine helicopter pilot John Jones recalls a fateful day when he switched aircraft with his friend, Bruce Eaton. Not long after the switch, it suffered a mechanical failure and crashed, killing all aboard. He had to pack up his friend's belongings to send home and he remembers a poignant moment when he saw a drawing that hung over the man's bunk.
His uncle was a veteran, so Bruce D'Agostino corresponded with him while in Vietnam, feeling he would understand what he was going through. The disgust began to build as he witnessed the nonchalant treatment of the remains of dead soldiers and read the ridiculous undercounts of casualties by the top brass. His top secret clearance gave him access to material which convinced him that they had no intention of winning the war.
Veteran Marine Jay DeGraw, like so many old hands, wound up with a Vietnam tour late in a long career. He says he was a paper pusher, but he spent his time behind sandbags with everyone else when the incoming was hot. The salty Sergeant describes that tour as only he can.
Naval ROTC graduate Ron Christmas took a Marine commission and headed to Camp LeJeune where he learned basic facts of leadership. One is that you share all hardships with your men. Another, unique to the Marines, is that everyone is trained as a rifleman.
The man was a World War II veteran and he was clutching a flag at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Freddie Owens tells his remarkable story and how he became the subject of a famous photograph. And don't you tell him that the Wall doesn't talk to you.
Captain Paul Jacobs served seven tours in Vietnam waters and the first time he returned home, he was welcomed. By the last time, he and his men were suffering the typical abusive homecoming remembered by veterans of that war. This despite the fact that they had just completed a miraculous refugee rescue operation which saved thousands.
When Gen. Westmoreland decided to move around and reinforce certain units in Operation Checkers, Captain Ron Christmas found himself just outside of the city of Hue in a camp where hostiles owned the high ground.
With great difficulty, Sardo Sanchez recounts critical events that prove both devastating and fortunate. After taking the life of a VC soldier, he is hit by a sniper and told he may never walk again. In a state of shock, he narrowly avoids a fatal miscalculation.
McMahon becomes part of the Combined Action Program (CAP), working with Vietnamese militia to protect villages from Viet Cong thugs. On one occasion, the village is spared from enemy attack by an army artillery unit acting without orders. He and the villagers develop a bond that would last for decades.