5:42 | 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.
Keywords : Bill Pearson Oakland KY Air Force Academy Western Kentucky University Pershing Rifles Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Reserves Fort Benning Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) Ranger School jump school Navy SEALS
Anyone who's in the Army for an extended period can point to mentors who helped them or inspired them along the way. Bill Pearson remembers several, including Norman Schwarzkopf.
The 199th Light Infantry Brigade was forming up at Fort Benning to deploy to Vietnam. Bill Pearson was with them as a platoon leader. They went to Vietnam as a unit, which was not the norm. Once there, they spent weeks just acclimating and their first combat experience was against the local wildlife.
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.
After the war, Bill Pearson served as a JROTC instructor and he always got the question, "Did you ever kill anybody?" He would then relate a story about a dead Viet Cong, who had a letter from his fiance in his pocket.
Bill Pearson was walking along the top of a flooded rice paddy dike when the man in front of him stepped on a booby trap. The explosion wounded that man and the man behind him, but he was untouched. When his radioman was hit, he had to carry the litter through the deep muck.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
He had a suitcase in each hand when an anti-war protestor called him a baby killer and spit in his face. By the time Joe Richardson collected himself, the man had run off. Welcome home. He tried to stay in the Air Force but the downsizing eventually caught up with him and he went to work for the industry that had built the aircraft he flew. (Caution: strong language)
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. As difficult as this experience was, it was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. New wounded were 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/.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When it gets close to time to go home, for some reason, the danger increases. Some died during their last few days, but Vic Grahn made it back from Vietnam and didn't even get the rude greeting so many did when they returned. He became a flight instructor and nursed a bitterness towards the powers that be who abandoned the war when we had it won.
His father had been wounded on Tulagi, so he never got to be the Marine aviator he intended to be, but he did teach his son to fly. Joe Richardson soloed at fifteen and went on to become a fighter pilot.
There was a Green Beret on the ground. He had just escaped from the North Vietnamese and fighter pilot Joe Richardson was tasked with laying down a smokescreen to aid in his escape. Years later, he ran into a man who's story seemed to line up with his. Was this the guy?
A-37 pilot Vic Grahn and his buddy Jack Beam were working a target with napalm when a bullet came through his windsceen and exited the cockpit through a side window. There was no other damage to his plane so he returned to the attack. Then Jack's plane took a hit as well but he, too, pressed on. You would think that the brass would like that but they didn't.
Fighter pilot Joe Richardson was laying chaff for a B-52 run over North Vietnam when the SAM's started to fly. That was bad but the worst was yet to come. As his squadron turned and headed for home, the bombers were headed the opposite direction. A head on collision would be disastrous. (Caution: strong language)
What should future generations remember about the war in Vietnam? For Vic Grahn, it's all about those who fought the war being abandoned by their own leadership and the general public. What song takes him back? The answer is surprising though totally logical.
It turns out you can see a lot at night. Fighter pilot Joe Richardson was apprehensive about night missions over Vietnam but the tracers and the missiles were unmistakable. He had to learn how to out maneuver the surface-to-air missiles, which wasn't easy but it was doable.
There were no real anti-aircraft guns per se down in IV Corps. Vic Grahn took a lot of small arms fire and the occasional 20mm on his missions, which were often in support of troops in contact (TIC). He flew the A-37, a small highly maneuverable aircraft and that maneuverability came in handy when he was up in III Corps where the trees are bigger.
Joe Richardson was three years into the Air Force Academy when he decided to quit. He didn't care that he would be exposed to the draft. When he brought recruiters into the Explorer group he was mentoring, he was so impressed with the film the Air Force recruiter showed, he joined up.
He was a military man from day one. Vic Grahn's father had served in World War II aboard the USS Hornet and, when he came of age, he decided on the Air Force. A new war beckoned from Southeast Asia and he didn't want to miss out. With a commission out of ROTC in hand, he began his pilot training.
The three companions were flying down to Webb Air Force Base to check it out. Joe Richardson was piloting the Beechcraft and while they were all going to be at flight school there, this was just a little pleasure trip. It nearly ended in disaster.
Don Rohde went into one tunnel, just to say he did it. They were everywhere and the VC would just disappear into them. He was a Corpsman attached to a Marine company and he took no gruff from a doctor who didn't appreciate his field emergency work.
Just as he was finishing flight school, Joe Richardson contracted Valley Fever, a respiratory illness connected to fungus in the soil in that part of Texas. It set him back because it took a while for the doctors to figure out what he had. He recovered and continued in his training as a fighter pilot. Finally, he was headed to Southeast Asia.
The Corpsman in Vietnam really saw the most difficult parts of war. Don Rohde will never forget the first Marine who died in his arms nor will he forget the first life he took, considering who she was and what she was doing. The Marines weren't arbitrary in their actions but if they took fire from a village, that village would burn.
It was strange. Vietnam was a bit of a culture shock for Vic Grahn but he got over it. He was flying the A-37, a small jet aircraft designed for close air support to troops in contact (TIC). His base at Bien Hoa was the target of frequent rocket attacks which may or may not have disturbed the poker game.
When Joe Richardson's squadron was working with some Navy pilots over the A Shau Valley, one of them made a mistake which caused some of their bombs to detonate prematurely. Two of his fellow pilots had to bail out. One of them was located fairly quickly but the fate of the other was unknown for a while.
Don Rohde decided to re-enlist. The Navy Corpsman really had his eyes opened in Vietnam and civilian life just wasn't working out for him. He and his pregnant wife headed for Camp Lejeune, where no one knew it yet, but there was something wrong with the water. (Caution: strong language)
Before he got to Thailand, fighter pilot Joe Richardson went through survival school in the Philippines as well as a little extra-curricular activity. When he did get to the air base at Ubon, he ran into a buddy who was in a squadron known as the Night Owls. Oh, I don't want to fly at night. Too bad.