8:33 | Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
Keywords : Tom Buchan Vietnam tank night defensive position (NDP) M551 Sheridan technical manual loader Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) M-79 grenade launcher shrapnel Bronze Star
He was a rebel who hated school. Tom Buchan spent most of his time trying to stay out of trouble when he began to get interested in the draft he knew was coming for him. Wanting to choose his specialty in the Army, he joined the reserves to become a tank crewman.
After his reserve unit had been dissolved, Tom Buchan was working in his auto mechanic shop when he got a letter from Uncle Sam. He went to Fort Carson to a mechanized infantry unit. "I'm a tanker," he told them, but he was put to work as a radioman and then as a driver. He might have finished out his obligation stateside but he got into a ruckus in a bar. The CO didn't like that.
While stationed at Fort Carson, Tom Buchan took a moonlighting job as an auto mechanic. This kept him off the streets and it led to something special, a chance meeting.
He got fatigues and gear in Oakland and flew on a charter across the Pacific to Vietnam. Tom Buchan was there as a replacement and had received no training specific to Vietnam as of yet. Fortunately, there was a three day orientation at his first stop before he was sent up to Cu Chi, to the 3-4 Cav. He saw tanks when he arrived and was hopeful he could avoid the infantry job he dreaded.
When he got to his assigned base at Cu Chi, Tom Buchan finally got a weapon but they didn't give him any ammo. He was a tanker by training but the platoon sergeant put him on an APC. There's got to be some mistake, he thought. They bedded down for the night at a fire support base and, when he woke up and struck a match for a smoke, all hell broke loose.
The first day in combat in Vietnam was a memorable one for Tom Buchan. He learned an RPG could hit at anytime, that you could fire your weapon for hours without having seen anything, that a path that ended abruptly was hiding something and that good peripheral vision was essential.
Around Cu Chi, you almost never saw the enemy who was shooting at you. He would pop out of a hole, fire off some rounds and hide again. It was maddening to Tom Buchan, but at least there weren't many booby traps in the area. He did nearly run over a land mine, but was saved by a driver who cut in front of the tank.
Tom Buchan finally got his own tank, despite not yet making buck sergeant. That meant he owed his platoon sergeant a favor and that turned out to be some night guard duty atop the sergeant's tank. It was in the dead of night that he saw the backblast from an RPG and time began to slow down. He thought he was done for. It was a close one, but it was the next one that sent him to the medics.
Tank commander Tom Buchan was taking fire from a hooch, so he fired a high explosive round. Nothing, it passed right through. It turns out that's not the type of round you want.
Tom Buchan learned a lot in Vietnam, a lot about combat, third world countries, politics, poverty and a lot about himself. When he got off the plane after it was all over, some anti-war protestors taunted him with hateful speech. He nearly lost it.
Twenty years or so after the war ended, Tom Buchan was "walking the wall." A scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial had come to town and, as a volunteer chaplain, he was there to support anyone who needed it. He noticed a man sitting in a car nearby, just watching.
After a few months, Ellis was split up from the group of other prisoners he shared a cell with, including the Lieutenant Colonel. The POW Camps had plenty of US prisoners locked away, and it was very difficult for them to communicate with one another because of how split up the different groups were. Ellis shares the living conditions of his prison cell and what it was like to stay there for so long. He would constantly have nightmares.
His father had served with French paratroopers at Dien Bien Phu. Sar Phouthasack remembers playing around the air base there as a child. He and his mother and brother were sent home to Laos before the famous battle. By the time he was eighteen, Sar was training with his father in the CIA backed Special Guerrilla Units.
When the prisoners weren't cooperating with the NVA, the guards would use rope to torture them. Ellis describes in detail what it was like to feel that pain, as well as how frightening it was when American air raids flew right over the prison. There was a lot of potential to be bombed, but fortunately they never were.
Flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail was a very dangerous. There was a large number of heavy guns on the ground that could fill the sky with tracers and could bring down jets going over 400 knots. Rick tells the stories of some of the men that were lost bombing the Trail, and those lost to accidents.
Following personal leave to attend his father's funeral, Tom Pemberton returned to Vietnam with a new assignment, auditing stevedore contracts at the Saigon port. When his time was up, he returned to the Army Reserve Advisory Group in Jacksonville. It was a good post, but there was one difficulty. It fell on this unit to notify families in Florida of a soldiers death.
Collins went to command staff school, where he got to fly the F-104 Starfighter airplanes. He also remembers that it was around this time that the Cuban missile crisis was going on. Soon after, he became so good at flying the F-104s that he became the instructor pilot for incoming trainees.
Ellis talks about POWs who were in Son Tay, Vietnam for far longer than he was, which really put things into perspective for him. After the North Vietnamese demanded he make them a radio program and he refused to cooperate many times, Ellis' co-pilot Ken was subject to being forcefully kept awake for 21 whole days.
Coming out of Officer Candidate School, Bill Knowlton would be assigned to the Special Forces which had already done a lot of work in Vietnam. In fact, some members had already done multiple tours there, and he recalls the tragic story of one who was trying to go back to support his comrades. After another long stint of training, he’d get his orders to Vietnam. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.- https://theveteransmuseum.org/)
Collins went to military school at The Citadel. Upon being admitted, he immediately sought out the school's band and auditioned for that. He talks about the types of tests he had to take to get into the Air Force, and how he was instructed to report to Sampson Air Force Base in New York afterwards.
Lee Ellis concludes his vast amount of stories from Vietnam to share all the things he learned from being held captive in a prisoner of war camp for so long. He describes what leadership is to him, and how you can still have influence on the people around you even if you aren't the one in charge.
Kirk didn't have a lot of wildlife experience, but he remembers one time with a cobra encounter. When he returned back to the United States, he went to work for a friend of his in their beauty shop right in his hometown. He gives his reflections and final thoughts about the Vietnam War, and how he wants people to remember it.
Collins talks about his all important assignment to the Air Force Academy, training the first three classes, and what that was like for him as an instructor. He recounts one particular student who preferred not to be there, and Collins had a back and forth with the student's mother about it.
You went unassigned to Vietnam, a roll of the dice. Sgt. Major Henry Rice joined the staff at 1st Brigade, 1st Division headquarters. That didn't sound like he would be in a chopper much, but he was. He was offered a prestigious assignment at MACV, but he was ready to retire after three wars.
Lee Ellis illustrates how he remembers getting shot down and ejecting himself out of his aircraft and straight into enemy territory. Fortunately his co-pilot, Ken Fischer, managed to also survive and the two of them surrendered to the North Vietnamese as soon as they reached the ground. (Part 2 of 3)
Any Marine will tell you the appreciation and respect they had for their Navy Corpsmen. Andy Boyko did, and he shares the sort of relationship they had in the field. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.- https://theveteransmuseum.org/)
Collins talks about his crazy interview with General Frank Everest, and how he got the job almost instantly because of how well they connected. Around this time, his first son was born. After the General retired, he went to chief of staff school at Maxwell Air Force Base.
Landing at Tan Son Nhut air base to begin his second tour, Tom Pemberton could see flashes on the ground. It was VC fire aimed at his plane. The transportation officer had a staff job monitoring motorpools and cargo operations. Then he had a highway traffic control job in which he tried to keep convoys from running into each other.
Andy Boyko came home from Vietnam twice, but the second time, the entire culture had shifted. He still had some time left owed to the Marines, and he describes the following weeks of breaking down and packing up. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.- https://theveteransmuseum.org/)
Upon the request of the NVA running the prisoner of war camp, Collins was asked to form a choir along with other musically inclined prisoners. While they were practicing, they set it up so that there was a hidden message for the American audience watching; spilling information about the POWs.
Growing up with polio could have meant Bill Knowlton would’ve been unlikely to ever serve in the military, but in his favor he was able to join the Army after he got fed up working on Wall Street. Being placed in Airborne really gave him a love for the Army so he decided to take on more responsibility and go to Officer Candidate School. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.- https://theveteransmuseum.org/)
When his first tour in Vietnam came to a close, Fedde had no choice but to leave behind his scout dog, Charlie Brown. When he returned home, he became a drill sergeant at Fort Dix. Afterwards he went to flight school at Fort Wolters and Fort Rucker, and started his second tour in Vietnam flying missions in helicopters.
Not only did they have to deal with the immediate threat of enemy soldiers, the system of booby traps laid across the region was incredibly saturated and dangerous. Andy Boyko describes the disbelief from the higher ups that the area was as dangerous as they had reported. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.- https://theveteransmuseum.org/)
Visual reconnaissance was one type of mission that scout helicopter pilot Roger Cox flew in Vietnam. When you found some enemy on the ground, you struck first and hard. His other job was to support the infantry platoon of his cavalry unit. When they got into trouble, he went to bail them out.