7:23 | At the end of a long career that began in Vietnam and drew to a close with General Norman Schwarzkopf, Mike Kenney followed his wife to a teaching job at their alma mater, Western Kentucky University. It wasn't long before he had one of those, too.
Keywords : Mike Kenney pilot United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Norman Schwarzkopf Kuwait Arabic French Western Kentucky University teacher Vietnam West Point George McKnight Buck Griffin Dick Canfield Military Intelligence (MI) pacification
At Western Kentucky University, Mike Kenney was really enjoying ROTC and the Pershing Rifles. He was seriously thinking of a military career but, for some reason, he had not received notice that he was accepted into the advanced ROTC program for his junior year. This led to an odd series of events which had him in the Marine Corps for twenty four hours.
Mike Kenney was an aviator, but he'd not yet had any military pilot training. He started Airborne school after his basic infantry officer course but, a couple of weeks in, the orders came and he was to report to basic helicopter training. He started on smaller aircraft, then moved on to the Huey, the real workhorse of Vietnam.
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 Kenney recalls talking to his wife through the patchwork MARS ham radio network from Vietnam. Even before he flew a Huey into combat, there were incidents at the base, some of them self-inflicted. On the day he did first see combat from the air, it was memorable. He was ferrying a General when they spotted a convoy under attack. This began a battle which would eventually include blood being hosed out of his aircraft.
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.
You accumulated hours fast in the Mekong Delta. Helicopter pilot Mike Kenney got to take a break after 120 hours in a little cabin the unit had on an island. There was no jungle down there, unlike his first post in country, where the triple canopy forest reached about 200 feet.
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.
He totaled up a lot of hours flying in Vietnam, but pilot Mike Kenney wasn't done with the service. After flying for Military Intelligence during his second tour, he made a career out of that field and worked in important posts all over the world.
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.
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.
Combat is always chaotic but the recovery of the SS Mayaguez was particularly disjointed. The joint operation suffered from too many parties at the top trying to exert influence, recalls Ray Porter, who led the assault on the ship itself. Part 3 of 3.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
Everyone breathing in a uniform was hurriedly mobilized by the 82nd Airborne as they scrambled to reply to Gen. Westmoreland's demand for more troops. On the flight over, while some of the planes were grounded by weather, Jim Littig saw an amazing test of wills in an Airborne versus Air Force standoff.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.)
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.
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.
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.
When the door to the airliner opened in Da Nang, the heat was overwhelming. Young Marine Gene McCandless was in an Amtrac unit and he began an eventful journey north to get to his unit. Along the way, he jumped out of a rolling C-130 and hitched a ride on a Navy river patrol boat.
The rotation system in Vietnam was terrible, according to Marine platoon leader Hubert Yoshida. It was the first war where individuals rotated in and out, which was a burden to both units and troops. He tells the story of one young Marine from an Honor Guard outfit who petitioned to go to a combat assignment.
Hailing from California, Hubert Yoshida's family was forced to live in a camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII. He was just a child but he admired the soldiers with their rifles, unaware that they were there to guard the internees. An uncle and a cousin served in segregated Japanese units and they were his heroes and inspired him to join the Marine Corps.