8:08 | While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
Keywords : Lawson W. Magruder III Vietnam duty officer Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Dong Ha Lam Son 719 Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) helicopter Dick Anshus Hughes OH-6 Cayuse (Loach) Prisoner Of War (POW) Hanoi Hilton Fort Benning
Family and faith helped LTG Lawson Magruder cope with the harder parts of a long career. That and a resilient state of mind. The new digital world may be making this kind of balance more difficult.
Lawson Magruder's father was a career Army officer who had his family with him at posts around the world. The younger Magruder's eyes were opened when they drove from Paris to Normandy and found the spot where his father was wounded in the battle. At a later post in the Philippines, he found inspiration at Corregidor.
The timing didn't work out for Lawson Magruder to attend West Point, so he settled for his father's alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. When the school recruited the elder Magruder to be Professor of Military Science, the entire ROTC got some seriously good instruction.
It was a tip that paid off. Learn from your platoon sergeant all you can. Lawson Magruder was a green lieutenant when his first platoon sergeant handed him a little green book.
Lawson Magruder was excited to be heading to Vietnam to an airborne unit, but he had a rude awakening when he was told he was going to the Americal Division. Well, he belonged to the Army and he went where they needed him. The young platoon leader had no more than a quick introduction to his men when he was off on his first air assault.
When the resupply convoy was scheduled at the firebase, the road had to be swept for mines and booby traps. LT Lawson Magruder sent a squad to protect the engineers who were performing the sweep. The men were then told by the convoy commander to ride the refuel truck back to the firebase. Lawson wished they had walked.
He was on the way to brigade headquarters. Lawson Magruder had been designated Lieutenant of the Week, something the brigade commander liked to do to give young officers a taste of high level operations. At the end of the day, he had a great surprise.
When Lawson Magruder returned from Vietnam, he took the lessons learned in that war and helped to shape the training programs of the new volunteer Army. He went to Fort Benning for the career course and that's when the dreaded Reduction in Force began to hit the officer corps.
Lawson Magruder tells the story of Nguyen Cong Luan, an ARVN officer he befriended at Fort Benning. He was here for training when it became apparent that South Vietnam would fall. He was offered asylum, but returned home to fight for his country and reunite with his family.
It's important to have a confidant or someone's ear to listen, even if it's just a journal. Lawson Magruder had his father, who had also been a career Army officer. This was important after a great loss in his platoon.
The army had to plan for operations that were short of total war, stability and security operations. Lawson Magruder worked with a team writing new light infantry doctrine, which was the type of force that would be tasked with these missions. Ironically, he was soon at the 10th Mountain Division, which was destined for Somalia.
The 10th Mountain Division deployed to Somalia, where LTG Lawson Magruder worked with his Marine counterpart to secure distribution of humanitarian aid and stop the fighting between rival factions. It was not yet the Information Age, so he and his staff would huddle around a lone satellite phone every evening.
There were two rival militia leaders in Somalia, both of whom had been in the Somali army. Both had also met with BG Lawson Magruder, who warned them to cease hostilities. They didn't listen.
Lawson Magruder, who commanded troops in the Somali deployment, was disturbed by what he discovered after the conflict was over. Partisan distrust following a change of administrations had sidelined the most experienced diplomat in the area. This contributed to an already bad situation.
Coming home from Vietnam was a difficult experience. Jesse Groves was perplexed by the apathy and outright abuse. He suppressed his memories and moved on. Once later wars made service respectable again, and once he began to reconnect with his comrades, he could feel proud of his service.
Normally, a door gunner would not fly his last month in country, but Steve Long finagled his way into the air. In his other job in the avionics shop, he had a run-in with the new officer in charge. He got a little satisfaction the night after he got his orders home.
There was little contact up by the DMZ so the 1st Air Cavalry was moved south near the Cambodian border. Plenty of action there. The first day, Jerry Gast's platoon set off on a 500 meter sweep in front of the perimeter and ran into a trail. The ambitious lieutenant decided they would follow it. Bad idea.
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 day Jack Jeter was wounded was the third day of serious firefights. His commanding officer, Captain Barry McCaffrey, was wounded on the first day and the temporary replacement had his own ideas about how to proceed. That led the unit right into big trouble. Part 1 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
It started 45 minutes out from Da Nang with a sobering announcement from the pilot. Then there was the oven-like climate, the surprise machine gun fire, the ribbing from the old-timers. Steve Long was definitely in Vietnam.
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.
“I was out of it for days,” recalls Dennis Haines, He had a head wound and would only regain full consciousness after he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he learned the left side of his body was paralyzed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 heavy fire, choppers attempt to evacuate wounded GIs from Kontum. After one fatal crash, a dustoff chopper manages to lift Ernest Banasau to safety. Years later, Banasau meets the pilot who saved him, and learns how close he came to meeting a tragic fate. Part 2 of 2
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.
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.
Willard Womack was nervously awaiting the news of what happened to the helicopter carrying some of his friends who had just participated in the Battle of Ap Bac, a crucial turning point early in the war. They had come though that unscathed but were now missing. Decades later, he received an email that brought the memories flooding back. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Jim Benson's mission was to hold and guard the Tu Cau bridge. The work load on his men was heavy and he details the routine of patrols and ambushes, both day and night, that left the Marines exhausted. At the same time, he had to constantly train new replacements who had no combat knowledge.
Bill Camper felt like the people of Hue supported the South Vietnamese soldiers he was advising. He made some headway encouraging those men to fight and he relates the story of how he taught them to advance through their own artillery barrage and surprise the enemy from the rear.
As the American advisor argued with his Vietnamese counterpart over the radio, Willard Womack, an Army pilot stuck in transit, could hear the frustration mounting. The battle of Ap Bac could not be won with these tactics. Eventually, the evacuation was made and, weeks later, several of the aviators involved hitched a ride to Saigon for a night of carousing. Pt 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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.
He made Buck Sergeant about the time he figured out that he and his buddies were basically fighting for each other and for no other reason. They were taking a large bunker complex and when two others were under fire, he went out to get them. After the fight was over, he was disturbed to learn what his superiors intended to do about the enemy base.
Upon leading the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Myron Harrington had to help conduct an attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam. This is the story of how he and his men charged the tower, which took longer to accomplish than expected.
The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
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.
There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.