7:41 | In the aftermath of the massive Operation Junction City, helicopter pilot Jack Swickard was assigned to ferry a special ops paymaster from camp to camp. At one of these stops, he was asked if he could help extract a civilian irregular unit that was surrounded by a large enemy force. Of course he could. Part 1 of 2.
Keywords : Jack Swickard helicopter pilot Vietnam Operation Junction City Al Croteau gunner Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) Tom Baca
Jack Swickard was from a military family and when the time came to be drafted, he enlisted beforehand as a matter of honor. He selected the warrant officer program that put him on track to be a helicopter pilot. First up was basic training, where he found the DI's to be quite entertaining.
It was a memorable arrival at Mineral Wells for Jack Swickard, who checked into a hotel that turned out to not be a hotel. Once flight school began, he was at the mercy of higher ranking individuals who liked to make him snap to attention.
During helicopter flight training, Jack Swickard's first instructor pilot really had it in for him, writing him up with pink slips for no reason. After he went through a check ride with another instructor, he was able to fix the situation.
The group of new pilots was split up for the flight to Vietnam and Jack Swickard was on the first plane out. He was a little miffed that he was on the way while the other guys were partying in San Francisco. When he reached Honolulu, an engine failure gave him his revenge.
It wasn't a hooch in Bien Hoa, it was a nice villa. Helicopter pilot Jack Swickard was amazed to find his billet was so luxurious. He had not been there long when he got an unexpected lesson in firearm safety right there in his room. On his first mission, he was puzzled at the strange behavior of the aircraft commander, who was slapping himself in the face.
He had to cut his way down through the vegetation with his rotor blades. Pilot Jack Swickard had volunteered to extract a unit under siege and it was tough just getting down to them on the ground. Once there, as the men began loading onto the chopper, the bullets were flying thick, some finding targets among those already on board. Pt 2 of 2.
Jack Swickard recalls a couple of incidents from his days as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. One involved a Viet Cong hand grenade brought into the cockpit as a trophy. In the other, his aircraft was mysteriously propelled straight up with no control.
In Vietnam, unexpected action was the order of the day. On a routine flight, helicopter pilot Jack Swickard and his crew chief Skip Lyons saw another chopper going down and their mission immediately changed to rescue. As they landed, the enemy approached.
Skip Lyons was the best crew chief helicopter pilot Jack Swickard ever had. He remembers how he once resorted to a fistfight to protect his pilot and how his foolhardiness changed over time to caution.
Combat is a series of very close calls. That was Jack Swickard's experience flying choppers in Vietnam. He recalls landing in a mine field and facing down a VC with an AK-47.
Jack Swickard recalls an unnamed fellow pilot who had one of the civilian women who worked around the base chasing after him. He came up with a novel method to get rid of her, one which developed into some trouble at the officers club. (Caution: adult subject matter.)
The soldiers who served in Vietnam fought well and were gentlemen. That's what helicopter pilot Jack Swickard wants people to remember about that war. He decided early on that he would not indiscriminately kill anyone so that he did not have to live with that on his conscience.
Every male in his family back through history served so it was preordained that Keith Nightingale would serve in the military. He got a commission out of ROTC and went through jump school and Ranger school. He headed to the 82nd Airborne but went on his first tour of Vietnam as an advisor to the South Vietnamese army.
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.)
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.
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.
After his first tour of Vietnam, Keith Nightingale was assigned as an ROTC Instructor at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. The anti-war movement was heating up and he and the cadets had to endure the hateful taunts of protestors. As a result of the widespread protests, the Army as a whole became more insular and isolated from society.
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.
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.
On January 30, 1968, the Vietnamese Ranger battalion was alerted when a nearby provincial capital came under attack. Half the men were sent there right away and the other half prepared to follow. Then, another message came in. Stop, don't leave the camp. The VC are coming. It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive and American advisor Keith Nightingale dug in with the Rangers as the enemy nearly overwhelmed them. 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Midway through his second tour, Keith Nightingale was moved from the field to division HQ where he became the G-2 operations officer. This meant that he was responsible for managing intelligence from the sensor program and developing targets for B-52 strikes. This was his first exposure to intelligence work and he liked it.