4:04 | 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.
Keywords : Gene McCandless amphibious tractor (Amtrac) Vietnam Da Nang heat Dong Ha Lockheed C-130 Hercules body bag Qua Viet Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) river boat sniper
Gene McCandless listened to the war stories of his older relatives and, when he came of age, he heard the bugle. After his single mother passed away, he sought out his father to sign the papers so he could join the Marines when he was seventeen.
After basic and infantry training, Marine recruit Gene McCandless was assigned to Amtracs. The amphibious tractors could ferry troops from ship to shore as well as travel on land to support the infantry. When he got to the staging battalion for final training before deployment, they found out he was still seventeen.
When Gene McCandless got to his assignment at Cua Viet, up near the DMZ, he was greeted by a ferocious artillery barrage. He was certain the next one would hit the back of his head as he headed for the bunker. He was just seventeen and had slipped through the cracks to make it into the war zone.
Gene McCandless had been shipped out of the war zone to Okinawa to await his eighteenth birthday. When he got back, he was sent to Marble Mountain, where he was reunited with his buddies from the Amtrac unit. His job was to transport Marines around their area of operation and support them with supplies and logistics.
For Amtrac crewman Gene McCandless, the worst thing in Vietnam was the bugs. The flies and mosquitoes were relentless. There were plenty of rats, too. When he wasn't dealing with the wildlife, he had a variety of assignments, including the relocation of villagers. (Caution: strong language)
Amtrac crewman Gene McCandless had to spend some time in the rear when his eardrums were perforated by some live fire. When he resumed his duties, he was part of a detail that went to pull a sunk Amtrac out of a river. It sounds simple but it turned into quite an adventure. Part 1 of 2.
It was precise. Amtrac crewman Gene McCandless watched the artillery called in by his commander silence the VC fire from the other riverbank. At the same time, another Marine was firing away on a machine gun that was bootlegged off a helicopter. Don't ask. Part 2 of 2.
Once he was promoted to Corporal, Gene McCandless was able to become a crew chief, responsible for his own Amtrac. He had a good crew, although something did happen to the vehicle while he was away on leave. Later, he worked with some Korean Marines, which was a great experience.
Once, Gene McCandless hitched a ride into Da Nang with two Air Force officers who took him to lunch on their air base. Real plates! The Amtrac crewman was not used to such luxury. He had to check his weapon, also something that he was not used to.
After a year and a half in Vietnam, an office assignment for the rest of his enlistment was a bit of a letdown. Gene McCandless couldn't even get find comfort off base. Members of the military were being shunned.
At the time, Gene McCandless felt that going to fight in Vietnam was the right thing to do. Now, he isn't so sure but he has good memories of his time in the Marine Corps. It was a positive influence on his life.
Hubert Yoshida was fortunate to have a year to train his platoon of Marines before they went to Vietnam in 1965. As they approached the coast, they saw tracers in the hills, so they assumed it would be an assault landing but, when the ramp lowered on the landing craft, what they saw was comical.
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.
One of the first things Platoon leader Hubert Yoshida was assigned to do, when he got to Vietnam, was to overwatch a road. Every day, he saw men with rifles stopping people on the road, so he took his Marines there to catch them. They didn't catch them but they did get a lesson in guerrilla warfare.
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.
He fully intended to stay in the Marine Corps after his tour in Vietnam but he resigned his commission when he realized the toll it takes on the family at home. He went on to a successful career, still haunted by certain memories from the war.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.