7:34 | The river boats were patrolling in narrow canals and rivers, searching for infiltrating NVA troops. Galen Hoover was in the second boat, trailing a boat that was supposed to be mine sweeping. That was the last thing he remembered about that day.
Keywords : Galen Hoover Vietnam river boat canal mine sweeper hospital Neil Demsky rocket Bob Hope
One day, aboard ship, Galen Hoover got a notice he was being transferred to river boat duty in Vietnam. Soon after, the movie about the Green Berets was screened on movie night, so he had a lot to think about while he waited to go. First, he had to undergo four months of intensive training for the dangerous duty.
After a quick leave, Galen Hoover and a buddy from a nearby town, started the long trip to Vietnam. He stopped in a frigid Alaska on the way, but when the airliner doors opened in Vietnam, it was a different environment. It was hot and it smelled really bad. And why was that chicken wire on the bus windows?
The river boats operated near the Cambodian border. Galen Hoover was advisor to the Vietnamese crew of one craft, which was an old troop carrier. Every night, interdiction points were set along the river to catch infiltration from Cambodia. When he arrived at the unit, he couldn't believe the layout of the base.
Living full time with his Vietnamese crew meant that Galen Hoover ate what they ate. His first night on the river, they served him a dish that was so good, he requested it regularly, even after he found out what it was. The crew knew he was really green, so the boat captain thought he would mess with the new advisor a little.
He was supposed to teach the crew all about the boat, but Galen Hoover had just arrived in Vietnam and some of the Vietnamese crew had been doing it for years. So his job was to man the radios and call for air and artillery support and for medical evacuation. Besides the enemy, there was rain...so much rain, and poisonous vipers.
Galen Hoover's river interdiction unit was moved from up near the Cambodian birder to the U Minh forest in the southernmost part of Vietnam. The waterways were very narrow, canals so small the boat couldn't turn around. The enemy were plentiful and devious. They even tried to trick him with bogus radio calls.
When Galen Hoover woke up in a hospital with a bandaged head and a broken hand, he had no idea what happened or how he got there. The guys from his unit came to see him and he finally heard the tale of that fateful patrol on the canal that day.
After his boat was blown up, Galen Hoover had to go back to Saigon and get a new assignment. He was offered a safe, quiet post after he was nearly killed but he pushed back, insisting that he was there to be in the action. He went to a unit in the Mekong Delta, interdicting fishing boats coming in from the ocean.
On their daily trips to the market to get the day's food, advisor Galen Hoover paid for most of it because he made more than his entire Vietnamese crew combined. He spoke Vietnamese, so he always listened to the conversation of the locals to pick up hints on enemy movements.
Galen Hoover's river boat was sometimes used for jungle insertions of Vietnamese troops, but you had to watch them closely while they were on board. Things would disappear. The area was heavily sprayed with Agent Orange, so it's a concern for him to this day.
Vietnamization was underway and, soon, Galen Hoover was sleeping away the long flight home. He landed in San Francisco and was glad to be back in the States, but as he left the plane, here came the peace protestors. What happened next haunts him still.
Galen Hoover listened to Adrian Cronauer's radio show while he was serving in Vietnam and fondly recalls meeting him years later. He has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial many times and discovered a cousin on the wall.
Galen Hoover and all but one of his brothers joined the Navy as they came of age in the Sixties. He was assigned to the USS Escape, a rescue and salvage ship. He saw 17 countries, including the entire Mediterranean, where the ship's divers assisted the local sponge divers with safety training.
Dennis Haines had seen dead soldiers on stretchers but it was totally different with his friend Jack Kirchner. Dennis had been right there with him in the line of fire. He learned it was best not to be too close to your wartime comrades.
The decision was made to evacuate the villagers while booby traps and bunkers were destroyed. An old woman walked up to forward observer Frank Cox and started kicking the ground and giving him grief. This led to a surprising friendship.
The sailors of the USS Kirk knew that one of the Vietnamese women they had saved during the chaotic exodus of refugees had named a baby after the ship. Captain Paul Jacobs tracked her down and she came to the ship's crew reunion, along with Richard Armitage, a civilian official at the time who took charge of the largest rescue operation.
Frank Cox recalls the frustration and anger felt by many in Vietnam due to the ineptness of the war effort and the difficulty in the field. Channeling this anger fueled a successful career for him later, but there was an incident on patrol when he let the anger get the best of him.
In 1969, the worry was that there would be another Tet Offensive. That did not materialize, but there was plenty of combat. Marine Captain Paul Van Riper tells the story of a large encounter with the 141st NVA Regiment during which one of his men, Lance Corporal Lester Weber, charged the enemy with such fury that he is now part of Marine history.
Fred Mills had a rookie pilot on a evacuation mission who nearly hit the only tree in a rice paddy. Other stories include a refused Purple Heart, tracers through the cabin, and landing a replacement craft next to the still smoldering craft it replaced.
Being trained in unconventional warfare, Ted Cummings and his division learned about going behind enemy lines and causing massive disruptions in their ongoing processes. In special forces, the key was to train so that there was a fully developed team effort so that the company never had to rely on a single person.
During the early days of the Vietnam War, West Pointer Bill Ray expected to be advisor to an ARVN engineer company, but he wound up advising the topographic company instead. He was comfortably housed at the Five Oceans hotel in Saigon and he remembers the great day when the huge mapmaking camera arrived.
Les Carter knew his district was secure when he recovered a letter from a North Vietnamese commander lamenting defeat. He also knew it came at a cost to civilians, such as the group of young nurses who walked into an ambush.
As an advisor in Vietnam, Bill Hanna faced an unusual obstacle, the cultural phenomenon known as "saving face." This led to some perplexing situations as he tried to school the Vietnamese in running a modern Air Force.
Rody Conway knew that it was a waste of time to be in the infantry and not go into combat, so he pushed to get sent to Vietnam. First was a six-week course on what to expect, like the fact that “friend” and “shoot” was the same word in Vietnamese.
Three of Captain Marshall Carter's men who were on a fateful raid with him, went to the battalion commander to tell him what Captain Carter had done during the operation. That conversation worked out well for him, much better than the conversation he had years later with a reporter from WGBH.
When you set an eighteen year old kid down in a jungle and give him "half the power of the Lord to carry on his hip," it becomes a real concern to restrain him. According to Captain Marshall Carter, once they see their buddies blown away in front of them, they want to shoot anything that moves.
Arriving in Vietnam, Dennis Haines got a quick lesson in weapons safety when a soldier dropped a grenade in practice. He also met Jack Kirchner, who was from the same area at home and the two became great friends.
As a child, Bill Acebes picked fruit alongside his parents. As a man, he entered the service along with his brothers. Going for airborne meant extra money and, he thought, the chance to study electronics. First he had to face the rigors of basic training.