6:54 | 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.
Keywords : Tony Coalson Vietnam helicopter pilot II Corps Nha Trang Hill 875 Dak To assessment team mortar North Vietnamese Army (NVA) airfield control tower Lockheed C-130 Hercules
He'd gotten his private pilot's license through Army ROTC, but it was in helicopters that they wanted Tony Coalson to be trained. He wasn't real excited about that until he got in one. It was in training that a grim sense of humor began to form among the close knit pilots.
In flight school, every day was a new day, always a new procedure to learn. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson remembers learning slope landings and connects that to the first time he actually used one in a combat situation. It was during the Tet Offensive, on the lawn of a beautiful resort hotel built by the French.
Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson felt lucky when he was placed in the 201st Aviation Company instead of being thrown into the replacement circuit. He was sent to Vietnam on a troop ship, a practice that was soon to be abandoned. The trip was uncomfortable, but very interesting.
The anxiety increased as the troop ship approached Vietnam. Once ashore, Tony Coalson was sure they would be ambushed at any minute. In reality, they were in a very safe part of the country. As the aviation company settled into their base at Nha Trang, they had no idea that they had drawn one of the best assignments they could get.
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.
The 201st Aviation Company had a wide variety of missions in Vietnam. Pilot Tony Coalson describes a particularly stressful flight to pick up a special forces team which had been overrun. He knew it was going to be dangerous when he saw the number of gunships that had been assembled. Part 1 of 2.
The helicopter came in fast, touched down for a moment, and the besieged special forces team ran for it. Pilot Tony Coalson remembers seeing a huge amount of enemy bodies in the concertina wire. On the way back, he asked them, what happened back there. "It was Custer's last stand." Part 2 of 2.
The Tet Offensive was the most singular event of the Vietnam War. For helicopter pilot Tony Coalson, it began as almost nothing, but he knew it was a big deal when they brought out the 50 cal machine gun at the base. Does anybody here know how to use this thing? Part 1 0f 3.
The men were sitting on a bunker, watching and listening to the chaos of Tet unfold around them. They were an aviation company in a rear area, but each man was issued a grenade, which caused quite a bit of reflection because they were not at all used to ground combat. Then, pilot Tony Coalson dropped his. Part 2 of 3.
It was an unlikely duel. A lone North Vietnamese with an AK-47 firing at an F-4 fighter jet coming around for pass after pass. Tony Coalson remembers watching that unfold at 3 AM, the first night of the Tet Offensive. What the news media did with the news of this widespread surprise attack altered the perception of the war back home. Part 3 of 3.
The Tet Offensive was only the introduction to Vietnam for helicopter pilot Tony Coalson. He still had eight months to go, but after that huge operation, it was much more routine. One thing he noticed was that the enemy persisted, even after massive amounts of American firepower was used.
Your year in Vietnam went by fast, if you made it through, says Tony Coalson. He did get one R&R in Hong Kong but the night before he was going to leave, something came up. It was another problem for which the solution was his helicopter.
Relatively speaking, Tony Coalson's aviation unit had good living conditions in Vietnam. He describes the ones that were worse and then moves on to the ones that were better. Way better.
It was a tremendous relief when his year was up and he came home. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson still had six months to go on his commitment, so he became one of the men who could tell trainees, this is how it really is over there. He had not planned to return to Vietnam, but it happened with Air America.
His Army experience was very valuable to him, but it was with Air America that Tony Coalson came to understand what was really happening in Vietnam.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Due to his network of friends and colleagues, Lt. Harrington was able to find himself taking over the Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. This unit was heavily trained and ready for combat, which really helped in the long run.
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.)
As a Citadel graduate, Nat Robb had a good chance to make a career of the Army, so he took the commission. After a tour in Germany, he got the assignment to Vietnam. Once there, he was reassigned as an advisor to a South Vietnamese unit, something he was disappointed in, at first.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
One of Sgt. Gilbert Howland's duties was to make a circuit of the perimeter of the base and make sure the guards were awake. It was at this time in Vietnam that drugs began to flow from there back home, transported by soldiers. Knowing that disturbed him, but he, too, brought home something illicit, souvenirs. Before he left, the B-52 strike that had been requested finally came, to everyone's surprise. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)