5:07 | Gary Lawrence decided that, if he was going to go into the military, he was going to be a frogman. He'd been an excellent swimmer on his high school team and that sounded like the place for him. He nearly was washed out at the first screening because of a problem with the grading on punch cards.
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While at Navy boot camp, Gary Lawrence encountered recruiters for the underwater demolition teams which were no longer known as frogmen but Navy SEALS. He passed the screening test but on career day, he was informed that he had to get a ship rating before he was allowed to go to SEAL training. Dispirited, he chose the Seabees. (Caution: strong language.)
He finally got his wish. Gary Lawrence entered Navy SEAL training and couldn't believe that there were dropouts the first day. The highlight, or maybe the lowlight, of the program was Hell Week, a grueling week of no sleep and arduous tasks. He and his swim partner were the fastest swimmers in camp, which worked out well for them with one memorable exception.
The instructors could make you quit if they wanted to, at least that was what Gary Lawrence observed during Navy SEAL training. Once you made it through the basic program, there were additional schools to learn the skills needed for special operations. This included both land warfare and diving.
After SEAL training, jump school was no problem for Gary Lawrence. He next received training on weapons and explosives in the California desert. His primary weapon was the Stoner, a special submachine gun used by no other service.
There were a lot of interesting operations for Navy SEAL Gary Lawrence once he got to Vietnam. A big one was the weapons factory they were made aware of by a defector. It was too big to destroy or empty out with the infiltration team so an air strike was called in.
As his SEAL team readied for infiltrating a Viet Cong weapons factory, an order came from Saigon. Stop the operation. Gary Lawrence could not believe the reason he was given. On his team were Kit Carson scouts, ex-Viet Cong. They were great fighters and one of them helped him survive an ambush.
In any service in any war, if there's down time, there will be what can be charitably called hijinks. Navy SEAL Gary Lawrence recalls some of these from his Vietnam tours including racy pictures and movies, getting lesser men drunk and absconding with ice cream. (Caution: adult subject matter and strong language.)
The SEAL team had a prisoner who knew someone with possible information on American POW's. This was an instant priority for Gary Lawrence and the rest of the team. As they set out on the operation to capture this individual, they encountered their first problem, low tide. Then, when they got to their destination, they got in a hell of a fight. (Caution: strong language.)
It was the last operation of his first Vietnam tour. Navy SEAL Gary Lawrence yielded the point to another man on the simple recon mission and that kept him from getting shot. The team ran into a huge Viet Cong ambush and a fierce firefight ensued. As they were getting extracted by helicopter, he was making a last check of the landing zone when he noticed the chopper was taking off. He grabbed the skids and hung on. (Caution: strong language.)
There was no ceremony but at least there were no protestors when Navy SEAL Gary Lawrence returned from Vietnam. He was offered a chance to proceed on a course to become an officer but he opted for marriage and career. (Caution: strong language.)
For Gary Lawrence, Vietnam was an unwinnable war. There was just no exit strategy. Despite that, he enjoyed his time as a Navy SEAL because they were the best of the best. (Caution: strong language.)
New Air Force lieutenant Mike Leonard was assigned as a weapons officer at a ground radar site. When he found out that the same job paid more flying in the back of a Lockheed Constellation, he signed up for that. At first, he was flying off the California coast but it wasn't long before he was flying missions in the Gulf of Tonkin.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Air Force pilot and FAC Mike Leonard offers his thoughts on the debate over the justification of the Vietnam war. His experiences in his combat tours, especially one incident in which he helped rescue some downed airmen, led him to write his book, An American Combat Bird Dog Pilot: From the Battlefield of Vietnam and Beyond.
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.
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.