3:47 | When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
Keywords : Roye Wilson Vietnam politicians Soviet Union communism Iron Curtain Ho Chi Minh Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Growing up, his heroes were cowboys and soldiers. There was never a doubt to Roye Wilson that he would be a soldier and it was automatic that he would join ROTC when he got to college at Western Kentucky University.
When his National Guard unit was activated, Roye Wilson went with them to Fort Hood for training with the 1st Armored Division. They received all new gear and weapons, including brand new howitzers. It wasn't long before he was in Vietnam, marveling at the sights and sounds of the first firefight.
Roye Wilson had been on a small artillery fire base and when his battery moved to Phu Bai, it was a much larger base housing many units. Forward observer teams were sent out with both American and Vietnamese units and it was one of these operations that became known as the Battle of Hamburger Hill.
Members of Roye Wilson's artillery unit had been scattered around South Vietnam, but they all converged on Phu Bai when it was time to go home. They were spared the ill treatment by anti-war protestors and were greeted warmly by friends and family back in Kentucky. He stayed on for a thirty year career in the Guard and Reserve.
While he was in Vietnam, Roye Wilson was struck by just how different life was from modern America. There was no mechanization and the Vietnamese would go to great lengths to reuse any scrap of material and repurpose it for their own use. Very industrious culture.
Roye Wilson took two trips back to Vietnam, years after the war. In 1997, he went with a group of educators for a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City and was surprised to find an official from the old regime working at a university. In 2011, he visited Hue and Phu Bai, where he marveled at the amount of commerce and enterprise.
When he hears Aquarius by the 5th Dimension, Roye Wilson's mind is taken back to the year he spent in Vietnam. Despite being in a war, he did keep up with news from home and remembers where he was when he heard about the Apollo moon landing. He thinks about the war every day, but it does not haunt him, though he is saddened by the needless death.
As the years went by after the war, Roye Wilson began to notice how many of his fellow Vietnam veterans were suffering from cancer. He had recovered from two different bouts with the disease himself, and the question was always there. Did this have anything to do with Agent Orange?
The first time he left the base and traveled through the Vietnam countryside, he was struck by the exotic and beautiful scene. He wrote his wife and told her, "We need to travel and see the world."
There was nearly constant contact with the enemy in the Ia Drang valley. Mike Devine remembers the close air support, which could kill you if the coordinates were just a little off. The napalm, especially, was a scary sight. For his last couple of months, he became the support platoon leader, which was only slightly less dangerous.
It was a long trip across the Pacific with typhoons pushing the ship around. Mike Kenney finally arrived in Vietnam and his very first night there, sappers attacked another ship in the harbor. Once ashore, the unit was trucked to Bien Hoa, where a huge base camp had been prepared for the 11th Cavalry.
Mike Devine was a new infantry platoon leader in Vietnam and he moved into an area of operation that was already notorious, the Ia Drang valley. It had been the site of a large battle which would one day be memorialized in the book, "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young" and subsequent movie, "We Were Soldiers."
He had no idea what to take with him. Helicopter pilot Jim Smith was headed to Vietnam and had received no information about what he needed, so he stuffed some clothes and boots into an ill-fated footlocker and took the long flight over the Pacific. He was first sent to the 101st Airborne up north, where he marveled at the ferocity of the Korean troops based nearby.
Finding a little humor kept you sane. Mike Kenney recalls a joke he played on his grandfather, who sent him grass seed and received pictures of tall elephant grass. When somebody figured out all the helicopter pilots would rotate out at the same time, they were split up and he was sent south to the Mekong Delta, a whole different situation.
It was ROTC that made Mike Devine think that the military would be a good career. At Western Kentucky University he also joined the Pershing Rifles and Scabbard and Blade. After receiving his commission, he was off to Fort Benning to begin the training of an infantry officer.
Mike Kenney's second tour of Vietnam was very different from his first. He flew for military intelligence in a plane crammed with radios and linguists. Part of the standing orders were to report any mention of captured American pilot John McCain. There were no combat missions but the base was often under mortar attack, like every base in Vietnam.
After establishing which pop songs remind him of his Vietnam tour, Jim Smith describes his emotional reaction to visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and his pride in the memorial built in his home state of Kentucky. That structure is built in the form of a sundial which has a unique behavior.
Since his roommate was the personnel officer, Greg Lowe was able to skip the routine of waiting in a replacement detachment when his time was up in Vietnam. His relationship with his father was strengthened when he got home because of the shared experience of combat.
The Vietnam War was starting to slow down when LC Johnson arrived in 1972. His logistics skills were needed to get some expensive furniture used by the brass back to America. He did have one spine tingling moment during a rocket attack, but thankfully his battles were mostly played out on the baseball field.
He was an Army brat who was attracted to the service. Greg Lowe went to Western Kentucky University, where he excelled in ROTC and was an enthusiastic member of the Pershing Rifles. After receiving his commission, he spent a year in an armored unit and a year in a cavalry unit, but, in fact, he was a Military Police officer and he was destined for Virtnam.
Bill Pearson's platoon was on call as part of a rapid reaction force. Their base of operations was in the delta south of Saigon. They did not get into any hairy situations from that arrangement but they did have some dangerous moments jumping into the water from hovering choppers during their own operations.
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.
Greg Lowe discusses his visits to the Vietnam War Memorial and the veterans group he is active with, who were partners in the 50th anniversary commemoration activities. He fondly remembers the troops love of a classic Eric Burden tune and he pays tribute to the ROTC supply sergeant who taught him about leadership.
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.
After his first tour of Vietnam, Bill Pearson was assigned to a training unit which was preparing soldiers for deployment there. He was ready to return to private life and had submitted the paperwork when he got a call. How can we convince you to stay? Well, I always wanted to go to flight school.
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.
Near the end of his first tour in Vietnam, Bill Pearson was appointed Executive Officer of the unit. As XO, one of the things he had to manage was the daily helicopter flights to men in the field to deliver rations and supplies. On one of these trips, he had to make a decision about an overloaded aircraft that still haunts him.
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.
He wanted to fly. Three times Bill Pearson applied to the Air Force Academy and three times he was first alternate. He finally said to heck with it and finished college with ROTC and took an Army commission. He also joined the local Army Reserve unit. At Fort Benning, he was hardened with the infantry officer's basic course, Ranger school and jump school.
Greg Lowe had no use for the anti-war sentiment growing on college campuses. He arrived in Vietnam and took command of an MP company guarding Long Binh post. When a soldier killed a civilian in a traffic accident, he learned about the humility and dignity of the Vietnamese.
After a month guarding an ammo dump, the men of Bill Pearson's platoon were anxious to see some action. Their first real assignment was in the delta south of Saigon and it wasn't long before those same men missed the boredom of that guard duty.
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.
He had been an infantry officer during his first tour, but now Bill Pearson was back as a Cobra gunship pilot. He literally climbed into a Cobra the moment he arrived and was immediately in a huge firefight. Thankfully, this pace did not continue.