6:41 | On Thanksgiving day in 1968, Huey pilot Thomas Gipson spent all day delivering meals to various camps and bases. When he saw what his own holiday meal consisted of, he felt a little neglected. It was dangerous operating in a dense jungle and he recalls an incident in which another aircraft was shot down.
Keywords : Thomas Beck Gipson helicopter pilot Vietnam Thanksgiving Duc Lap Pleiku Chu Pa We Were Soldiers Spam Medical Evacuation (Medevac) B40 rocket Purple Heart Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey)
College wasn't going that well for Thomas Gipson, so he knew the draft would eventually come for him and he would end up in Vietnam. When he found out that you could be a helicopter pilot in the Army without a college degree, he knew that was the path for him.
It was long hours and long days for Thomas Gipson in Vietnam. He gives an overview of his tour, describing the different types of missions and some of the misadventures. The amount of flying time was closely monitored to make sure the pilots didn't crack, but it was still exhausting.
The first combat mission for helicopter pilot Thomas Gipson was memorable. He saw an NVA soldier stand up and fire right at him and then wanted to forget what he saw our bulldozers doing after the fight. He was still in the right seat as a co-pilot, trying to get used to this new, dangerous world.
One great thing about flying helicopters in the Army. The guy who maintained the aircraft flew with you. That made all the difference in the world to Thomas Gipson. His crew chief took good care of the him, as well as the Huey, and he had to set him straight on what the nose art really meant.
Thomas Gipson was lucky enough to be able to go to Hawaii on R&R to meet his wife, getting away from Vietnam for a break. That was great, but there was a downside.
The fog rolled in while he was out an a mission. Huey pilot Thomas Gipson had to divert from his base to a nearby base in Pleiku which had IFR capability, instrument flight rules. They would have to talk him down.
Once he made aircraft commander, Huey pilot Thomas Gipson had to mentor other pilots fresh from flight training. He remembers one cocky pilot who couldn't be bothered to follow common sense rules.
Every helicopter pilot in Vietnam had to take a check ride every 90 days to make sure his skills were holding steady. When Thomas Gipson was on his check ride, sudden engine failure nearly caused a disaster.
The load limit on a Huey is not something to be ignored. Thomas Gipson was piloting the last aircraft on a mission to extract a ground unit. He had never carried more than eight passengers but somebody screwed up. There were thirteen men left.
The takeoff was a tense moment for Thomas Gipson. The Huey pilot was leaving Vietnam on a commercial airliner and he was not in control, hence his nervousness. He had this feeling again when he ventured into rush hour traffic back home. The Army offered to promote him straight to captain if he would go back for another tour, but that was a tough sell.
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.)
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.)
His first assignment was in a Davy Crockett platoon, but that field nuclear weapon system was short lived and John Le Moyne began training to be an advisor in Vietnam. When he got there, he walked out of in-processing and went looking for the unit he wanted.
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.
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.
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.
His first day in the jungle was memorable. American advisor John Le Moyne saw his South Vietnamese paratroopers stage a daring frontal assault, called in his first air strikes and Medevacs and, after it was over, he wondered if every day was going to be like this.
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.
Six months after John Le Moyne had battled entire regiments of the NVA in the Tay Ninh area, there were only isolated small groups operating. The war had changed. As a new company commander, he had a lot of questions and he was fortunate to have superiors who were patient.
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.
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.
Advisor training gave John Le Moyne a good grounding in Vietnamese language and culture. Reading books like Street Without Joy and The Ugly American gave him an idea of what to expect as an outsider in a nation at war. Once he was there, he found out that he had been taught the language with a North Vietnamese accent.
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.
John Le Moyne never asked questions. The American advisor just ate the dinner his Vietnamese partners served him every night. There was no real down time for the South Vietnamese Airborne. They were always on the move. One night, the battalion XO made contact on the radio with an enemy soldier across the border in Cambodia. This led to an interesting discovery.
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/.)
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.
The enemy was mainly NVA regulars where American advisor John Le Moyne was working with a South Vietnamese Airborne battalion. They would pour out of Cambodia every couple of weeks and attack. Some of the men with the Airborne had been fighting the Communists for twenty years.
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.
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.
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.
Vietnam was full of important lessons for John Le Moyne, who tried to pass the knowledge on throughout his career. Should we have been there? Maybe not, when you consider who was in charge at the time. At least he missed the ill treatment that many experienced when he returned.