10:49 | The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Keywords : Dave Oliver helicopter pilot Vietnam A Shau Valley Golden Triangle rescue Sikorsky HH-3 (Jolly Green Giant) fog of war Jungle Penetrator Silver Star para jumper (PJ)
College graduate Dave Oliver couldn't get hired because the employers knew he might get drafted. Rather than fight it, he went to enlist and asked the recruiter what pays the most money in the military. Flying airplanes, came the answer. He'd never even been in an airplane, but he decided that was what he was going to do.
He didn't have the "hands" for flying jets, but Dave Oliver found that he had the right skills to fly a helicopter. It was a different kind of flying, which required both hands and feet for control. He became a rescue and recovery pilot, based first in North Carolina and then in the Philippines.
The first daily chore for helicopter pilot Dave Oliver was to fly the perimeter of Clark AFB to see where the Filipinos had stolen sections of the fence. His main job was to fly for the survival school, which was using the amazing talents of the local Negritos as an aggressor force. He also had to ferry hot headed generals to and from the golf course.
Dave Oliver thought he was going to die right then and there before he even had a chance to pilot a helicopter. It was the unluckiest of arrival dates in Vietnam, the night the infamous Tet Offensive began. When he emerged from the bunker, he was sent to Da Nang, where his job was rescue and recovery.
When helicopter pilot Dave Oliver ordered paint from Sears for his room, the supply sergeant set the naive newcomer straight. We can get whatever you need. His main job flying out of Da Nang was rescuing personnel on the ground, but there were other things to do, like bringing nurses to the party.
Rescue and recovery pilot Dave Oliver would often have to orbit off the coast of North Vietnam, waiting for a possible call during air strikes. His observations of these operations led him to question the intelligence and motivation of those leading the war effort.
Air rescue pilot Dave Oliver recalls a mission which could have easily been fatal due to a shoulder fired rocket. On another, he had to land in North Vietnam and break out the M-16 to engage in a little ground combat.
In Vietnam, helicopter pilot Dave Oliver and his roommate suspected that the mama-san who was cleaning their room was relieving them of some of their cash. They weren't wrong.
The war was getting hotter, but Dave Oliver's Vietnam tour was over and he headed to a plum post in Hawaii. The rescue and recovery pilot spent the next seven years there retrieving satellite film canisters, among other things. He finished up his Air Force career in the Philippines, where he'd served at the beginning.
Helicopter pilot Dave Oliver was decorated in Vietnam but some things he heard from higher ups while there, and that he heard in documentaries later on, convinced him that the leadership had been badly flawed.
For Dave Oliver, it was a great career in the Air Force. He encourages everyone to spend some time serving their country. When he took his first trip to Washington after the War, he did not anticipate the emotional experience that visiting the Vietnam Memorial would be. Then he saw a friend's name.
Frank Heiny came from a hard working, military family in Indiana. He had been interested in journalism as a career, but when college proved to be too expensive, an opportunity to attend the Defense Information School and serve in the Army seemed like a great fit for him.
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.
Frank Heiny received his specialized training at the Defense Information School where he’d learn to produce media from within Vietnam. Beyond learning the ins and outs of photojournalism, he also had to be prepared for what could go wrong in the jungle.
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.
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
Like many soldiers in Vietnam, Frank Heiny got around country by helicopter. He recalls one assignment where the LZ turned out to be a minefield, unbeknownst to the first few men to disembark.
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.)
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.
Frank Heiny describes his last days in Vietnam, from an experience with an inconvenient water buffalo to a less than welcoming homecoming. His time in the war definitely had an impact on him, so much so he didn’t use a camera in the decade that followed.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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."
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.
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.
"The Story of Captain Barry McCaffrey and the men of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, Vietnam" In this compilation, men of the 2nd Battalion discuss being rescued from a dire situation by McCaffrey, and then discuss his incredible leadership.
The activity in his area was picking up. Every time Rody Conway, and the South Vietnamese troops he was advising, went out on sweeps, they would find something. When they could not budge the enemy from a bunker, his solution was nearly comic.