7:30 | 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.)
Keywords : Willard Womack pilot Vietnam Saigon Tan Son Nhut Air Base Medical Evacuation (Medevac) 93rd Transportation Company helicopter radio John Paul Vann advisor Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Ap Bac Vietnam Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) observation plane rice paddies Huey Vietnamese Charles Fitts
After receiving his pilot's license through Army ROTC, Willard Womack was committed to Army flight school. There he met an instructor who reminded him of someone and he made it the top of his class. Flying came naturally to him, it seemed. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
After flight school, Willard Womack was sent to a tiny detachment with no planes. It's purpose was to set up and run combat air fields. The unit was sent to Okinawa to run an airfield there where a helicopter company was based. That company went off on a training mission to the Philippines and didn't come back. Womack and his unit soon followed to a place most had never heard of, Vietnam. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Sailing from Okinawa to Vietnam on an LST was miserable for Willard Womack, thanks to the bobbing of the landing craft on the waves and the diesel exhaust in his air vent. Once in country, he was surprised how behind the times everything was. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
It was all advisors when Willard Womack went to Vietnam. The Army pilot was part of the early effort to help the South resist the insurgency. The rules for the advisors were very stringent and often stymied the progress of the war. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
There was not much for Willard Womack to do at the Soc Trang air field early in the war. He flew small observation planes to support a helicopter unit and he was the supply officer. The unit had an exotic pet, which supplied some laughs, and there were nightly movies. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
The plane was a Cessna Bird Dog and Willard Womack flew it in support of a helicopter company, frequently on evacuation missions. The troops were all Vietnamese, and when the unit's flight surgeon found out what their doctors were actually doing at the evacuation hospital, they stopped flying the rescue missions for them. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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 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.)
Army pilot Willard Womack's job was to support a helicopter company in his spotter plane, usually from above the action. He tells how he came to be just 300 feet off the ground the only time he took a round in the plane. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
In Vietnam, Army pilot Willard Womack visited Saigon several times, usually because he was ferrying someone around but he had a few occasions to get out and see the place. He remembers a wild ride in a pedicab in the chaotic traffic. This was way more exciting than his duty, which was mostly ferrying people around in a Cessna. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Wherever there are weapons, there is always the potential for accidents. Army pilot Willard Womack recalls several times when carelessness caused trouble during his tour in Vietnam. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Willard Womack was a pilot in the Army but everyone in the Army has other duties and his was supply. As supply officer, he had a first row seat to the spectacle of Army bureaucracy and reveals how the last scene of Indiana Jones just might be true, that there are stacks of things around the world lost in paperwork. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Army pilot Willard Womack explains how his Air Medals are no big deal because they were automatic with the number of combat missions flown. And in a guerrilla war like Vietnam, every flight was a combat mission. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
After enduring plenty of training at different schools and camps, Fairman finally was able to get into flying school where he flew plane simulations. It was during this time that he learned an unfortunate truth about his sight.
Nat Robb was advisor to a South Vietnamese unit guarding a highway outside Saigon. In preparation for the Tet Offensive, their base was attacked to clear the way for infiltration by the enemy into the city. The fierce battle required that he call for multiple sources of firepower, artillery and gunships.
After running low on men and ammunition during his mission by the river, Reed and his men were in a very bad place. In addition, the VC had just blown up a bridge, and soon after Reed was caught in the explosion of another bomb from a jet. Immediately, he took shelter as best he could, but was still ultimately affected by the blast. Part 2 of 4.
The attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam was no easy task, as one can imagine. It is here that Myron Harrington goes into descriptive detail on how exactly they planned and conducted this tower attack.
John Reed recalls a time when he rescued one of his own men, named Robinson, from death. Because of this, he's always looking to see if he's at any of the veteran reunions. He also remembers another casualty he was directly involved in that took place in a grenade pit. Part 3 of 4.
The Vietnamese troops had their families living with them in the fort, and once American Advisor Nat Robb got to know them, he was glad he got the assignment he did. This was a change of heart for the infantry officer. He bolstered his defenses with some salvaged fifty caliber machine guns, but he had a dilemma. How was he going to get the ammunition?
One of the men that Reed was with had a .45 Auto handgun, which was one of the only guns left that had any ammunition in it. Reed remembers that he had to know how to use his gun like it was second nature, and how that helped him in his Viet Cong approach. Part 4 of 4.
American Advisor Nat Robb was glad his men had their new M-16's when the Tet Offensive happened. Once the American and South Vietnamese forces regrouped, they began to surround Saigon in order to trap the enemy. Robb's unit took part in an ill fated river crossing that was salvaged by massive air power.
Upon going into battle, Reed and the rest of the men from his division were told to expect many casualties. Luckily they had been to this very same river spot beforehand and at least knew the terrain somewhat, but were still prompted to write letters to loved ones back home. Part 1 of 4.
Ray Fairman has learned plenty of important lessons not just during his time in the military, but in life itself. Here he documents just a sliver of those important lessons for future generations to hear and uphold.
After easily passing Ranger school and flight school, Bill Ryan was sent back to Vietnam for his second tour. It was here that he flew gunships to aid in the war efforts. On one occasion he unfortunately suffered some gunshot wounds to his legs, halting the entire mission.
To close off, Barry McAlpine tells what he wants people to remember about the Vietnam war. Finally, he recounts all the life lessons he's learned from his time serving, how he has integrated those lessons as a parent of six children, and words of advice for the following generations.
There were no disturbing interactions with anti-war civilians when Gilbert Howland returned from Vietnam. The veteran of three wars was retired at Fort Dix after almost thirty years of service. He finally got his parade decades later at Fort Benning and the Ranger Hall of Fame. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Dan Spahn graduated from high school on Friday and left for Navy boot camp on Monday. Unlike so many others at the time, his goal was to serve in Vietnam. He became an electronics technician and joined a spacial squadron that supplied and manned the radar control aircraft that managed air traffic from a carrier.
General Buck Kernan never intended to join the Army but the GI Bill beckoned and he followed. Once he was in, he was determined to be a Ranger. He was also determined to get to Vietnam before it was all over. He was mentored in his career by both generals and sergeants and he carried forward their lessons.
During his time serving in Vietnam the first time, Bill Ryan had plenty of up close encounters with the Vietnamese enemy and some civilians. At this point, Ryan's ears were used to hearing the sound of gunfire in the distance when not being directly part of it.
Many years after his experiences in Vietnam, Fairman still has fond memories about the men he commanded, and is still commended by other veterans for his selfless actions to this day. Here he recalls some sentimental memories he has of those times.
Gilbert Howland moved from an ARVN advisor position to become operations sergeant at a1st Infantry Division unit with large artillery pieces. He was the in the command post, but he dodged the Viet Cong rockets along with everyone else. During the Tet Offensive, a few infiltrators made it into the base, but the damage was limited. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
When General Buck Kernan was a young officer going into Vietnam, he was hoping to be assigned to the 101st Airborne and he got his wish. Soon he was in command of Tiger Force platoon, a group of hardened specialists who operated in the deep jungle. There was no training that could completely prepare you for that. It was an evolutionary learning experience.
After the communist invasion of South Vietnam, Thien Van Huynh was forced to work many hours without pay or food. He knew the best solution for both him and his family was to escape to America. However, this would prove to be the most difficult task for him yet.