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.
Air Force pilot and FAC Mike Leonard offers his thoughts on the debate over the justification of the Vietnam war. His experiences in his combat tours, especially one incident in which he helped rescue some downed airmen, led him to write his book, An American Combat Bird Dog Pilot: From the Battlefield of Vietnam and Beyond.
Why were the Montagnard units getting no contact? It was determined that they weren't going out far enough and on the second patrol that ventured further, Jim Bolan and the combined unit ran into the back of a VC ambush. A furious firefight followed, and he summoned his ace in the hole, the Air Force.
Forward air controller Mike Leonard went up to Ban Me Thuot to help out for a few days. The first night, as he settled in with a cold beer, the radio crackled with pleas for help from a nearby special forces camp. They were under siege. Part 1 of 3.
American advisor John Le Moyne didn't give the South Vietnamese Airborne unit much advice. He was there to call in air strikes, artillery, Medevacs and resupply. He marveled at the toughness and courage of the fighters who traced the unit's lineage back to the French Colonial Airborne.
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
The Lockheed Constellation would fly at about 50 feet above the water just out of Haiphong harbor. In the back, weapons controller Mike Leonard noticed that enemy radar was attempting to lock on. It turned out there was an anti-aircraft battery on a small island.
This isn't going to work. That's what Tony Nadal told his boss, Hal Moore, as they launched a helicopter assault to search for the enemy. He was right. The forces scattered and hid, so new tactics were called for. The next assault was in the Ia Drang Valley and they were perhaps too successful. Part 1 of 5.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
On his first tour of Vietnam, pilot Mike Leonard lived in relative luxury in Saigon, enjoying barbecues and water skiing. His second tour was shaping up to be very different. This time he was flying a Cessna Bird Dog as a forward air controller at a forward operating base.
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.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
Long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror. That was the life of a forward air controller flying in a small Cessna over Vietnam. FAC Mike Leonard describes these missions and the array of communications gear he used for different purposes. He also describes what it was like to coordinate a defoliation mission.
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.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
Bird Dog Pilot Mike Leonard wound up in a small village near the Cambodian border. It was a tight knit group of pilots and the head of the unit would take new guys up for an orientation flight. On one of these, they got a little too close to the border and the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries.