9:21 | During an air assault into an area with a bunker complex, a common sense rule of landing zones was ignored. You don't keep using the same one over and over. Bob Clark was in charge of the last platoon out and this mistake cost them.
Keywords : Robert Bob Clark Vietnam air assault landing zone (LZ) mortar fire crater analysis
After commanding troops in combat as a lieutenant in Vietnam and as a colonel in Iraq, Bob Clark still had a lot of service left in him. He had more commands including the 101st Airborne Division before he finally retired. He reveals some of the insights that he learned during his career.
Retired LTG Bob Clark reveals what he considers to be the number one requirement of good leadership. He also recalls the music that encouraged morale in Vietnam and later in Operation Desert Storm. A visit by Jay Leno to the field in Saudi Arabia was also much appreciated.
Bob Clark was a third generation soldier. His father served for thirty one years and was highly decorated, so soldiering was in the younger Clark's blood as he went off to ROTC at Texas Tech. It was a fairly conservative campus, but the war in Vietnam was inflaming opinions everywhere. He knew he would be going there as soon as he received his commission.
He got married shortly before he went to Vietnam and once he got there, Bob Clark had very few options for communication back home. The new lieutenant wrote letters, of course, and there was a system in the rear which allowed you to make phone calls over short wave radio, but he was almost always in the bush.
When he got to Vietnam, newly minted lieutenant Bob Clark was assigned to the 8th Cavalry which was heavily involved in the new air assault concept. He was fortunate to have good NCO's in his platoon and to have a company commander who imparted some advice that stuck with him for the rest of his career.
Bob Clark's first contact with the enemy in Vietnam was memorable. His platoon found a bunker complex they'd been looking for and soon a firefight began. When it was over, a search for intel in the pockets of the dead revealed a photograph of the family of an NVA soldier. That provoked a little soul searching.
Every contact with the enemy was a chance encounter that was chaotic, loud and up close and personal. That was the experience of Bob Clark in the jungles of Vietnam, who felt the burden of leadership in that first firefight when every one of his men looked to him for guidance.
Vietnam was a dirty war in the literal sense. Bob Clark describes the misery of living and fighting in the jungle, a filthy experience. Then there were the snakes.
When Bob Clark finally got to talk to his wife from Vietnam, it was to tell her he was coming home. The tour was over. He was treated royally in an airport bar when he landed and lovingly when he got home to his wife. He had none of the negative treatment many vets were receiving, not until years later in a McDonald's.
As the old draft Army was changed to an all volunteer force, Bob Clark was part of the team at Fort Lewis raising up a new division. But, as this was happening, the dreaded RIF, the Reduction in Force program, began.
The Army reinvented itself after Vietnam. The NCO corps was professionalized with new schools and many other lessons learned were applied. Bob Clark rose through the ranks during this time in some key roles.
It was only a couple of years in a long career, but the time that Bob Clark was an aide to General John Wickham, Chief of Staff of the Army, was particularly memorable.
When Bob Clark arrived to assume command of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, Saddam Hussein had just moved into Kuwait and the unit was preparing to deploy. Soon, he was staring across the Saudi desert into Iraq.
The attack helicopters, Humvees and other armaments were lined up in the empty desert, poised for attack. To Bob Clark, it seemed like a mini-version of the mighty Normandy armada. Then it was a mad dash into Iraq and the Euphrates River valley.
It was a busy four days in Iraq for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team commanded by Bob Clark. Once the cease fire was declared, his mission became more humanitarian with swarms of displaced persons to take care of. Then there was that Elvis sighting.
He was one of five brothers but Bruce Hojnacki was the only one to get drafted. He was going to school in the nascent field of data processing and he put that on hold to serve his country. As he left for basic training, his father gave him some sage advice.
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.
After basic training, Bruce Hojnacki found out he was going to be an MP. The advanced training for the military police was right there at Fort Gordon, where he had his basic. Then, like most draftees at the time, he got orders for Vietnam.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
When he got on the bus in Bowling Green, Bruce Hojnacki was put in charge by the soldier there. Why me? At the next stop, the Army draftees were lined up and a Marine sergeant came down the line. Guess what happened if he he tapped you on the shoulder.
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.