7:08 | 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.)
Keywords : Willard Womack pilot Vietnam Ap Bac Vietnam John Paul Vann Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) advisor helicopter Lewis Stone Soc Trang Vietnam Piasecki H-21 machine gun Saigon 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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
Gilbert Howland had already served with Merrill's Marauders and was there at Pork Chop Hill in the next war. He shipped out for his third war in 1966 as an ARVN advisor in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He felt lucky that his Vietnamese counterpart spoke English, which made the job much easier.
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.
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.
After successfully migrating to America, Huynh was finally able to transport his family over 4 years later. In the years following the war, he was able to acquire a few jobs in the states, where he worked until retirement. Now and then, he returns to Vietnam and pledges donations to his home town and its people. To conclude, Huynh has a few words of advice for future generations that hear his story.
As much as it was life changing, flying Dust Off was never easy for Lt. Ortolano. He remembers that he had to work some very stress inducing situations, even though he was only flying the ship to and from and not actually treating the patients. Was it all really worth 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.
The closest encounter that Fairman had while in Vietnam was way too close for comfort. On top of all of this, it happened to be friendly fire instead of from the enemy. As one can imagine, he still has a vivid memory of how it all happened.
After serving as part of the 9th Cavalry, Huynh was appointed to the unit known as MAC-V, or Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. It was during this time that America decided to withdraw its efforts from the Vietnam war, which unfortunately left him and the south to fend for themselves.
His first tour was not the only time Bill Ryan was deployed to Vietnam, he was actually sent there twice. Here he talks about what he did with his time back in the states before being shipped off to war once again, including his time in different schools like flight school.
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.
Alex Ortolano talks about his interesting early life growing up in New Orleans as the son of a grocer. Despite his parents both being against the idea of flying in an aircraft, he decided that upon his enlistment into the Army that he was going to apply for flight school.
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.
Lt. Ortolano recalls many memorable Dust Off pilots during and before his time, some of which include Patrick Brady and Charles Kelly. He believes it's worth taking the time to talk about these individuals because of the sacrifices they made for the unit and for the people they saved.
Lt. Ortolano continues talking about his experience flying Dust Off missions, some of which were rather unpleasant due to dealing with dying soldiers and dead bodies. When operating missions like these, it was very important that Dust Off members conducted these medical evacuations with the proper procedures and methods.
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.
In Bill Ryan's everyday life in Vietnam, he had a daily mission to wake up to. Most of those missions took place in the air, having to locate and target the enemy. Following that, Ryan closes with an 'army pet peeve' that irritates him about other soldiers.
When Bob Hyatt got to Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group, he found many of his friends from training already hard at work. The group was spread throughout the country, with headquarters at Nha Trang. As he awaited assignment, he noted one particular camp that seemed exposed and not very secure where it was located. Wouldn't want to be posted there!
American advisor Bob Hyatt was sharing a cigarette with his one of his Vietnamese soldiers when the man made a startling prediction. He was a North Vietnamese who had come to help the cause of the South. It was a difficult fight because of so many disparate factions, including competing Buddhist sects.