5:56 | It went pretty well for Sam Pyle for a while, guarding an Air Force base in Vietnam. Then came the Tet Offensive and "the most helpless feeling" of his life as the mortar barrages exploded around him.
Keywords : Sam Pyle Air Police Mekong Delta Bassac River Can Tho Vietnam Tet Offensive Mortar ARVN Shrapnel
Air Force recruit Sam Pyle was assigned to Air Security and guarded the smallest Air Force Base in Vietnam. Among the rice paddies and elephant grass, the prized aircraft were under his watchful eye.
The different culture of Vietnam was puzzling to Sam Pyle when he arrived fresh from home. Men holding hands? Next to the Air Force base was a Navy base, where Sam was sorry he went on a ride-along out on patrol.
Sam Pyle recalls a humorous event involving a jeep, a machine gun and a C-47 aircraft. Less humorous to him were the rules of engagement, which meant his Air Security unit had to get permission to fire on VC approaching the base.
Under Viet Cong mortar fire, Sam Pyle will "never forget the sound of all that shrapnel." He could hear a buddy screaming nearby, and assumed he was dying, but was relieved when he found out what happened.
Sam Pyle saw the two kinds of horror in war, the personal, as Viet Cong killed nuns and orphans, and the impersonal, as the incessant mortar attacks killed seemingly at random. A very close round gave him a concussion and hearing loss.
During his time in Vietnam, Sam Pyle had the occasion to laugh, like the time the tyrannical sergeant forgot to clear his gun. He also had the occasion to feel queasy when the ARVN interrogator started breaking fingers.
Sam Pyle knew wasted effort when he saw it. As the C-47 Psy War planes dropped leaflets urging the Viet Cong to surrender, he knew exactly how they were going to use the paper.
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/.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
Curtis James was the first officer in charge of a Pentagon effort to manage crises during the Cold War. It was a brand new office inside the giant headquarters and, after running that for a while, he served in Vietnam at MACV in Saigon, managing the logistics of the war effort.
During his first tour of Vietnam, medic Franklin Monroe was happy to be issued a .45 because it could get pretty dangerous when the compound was attacked. Eventually he sought out some heavier weaponry. He recalls those firefights and also the traumatic time a soldier stepped on a mine.
Curtis James returned from Vietnam to an assignment as director of personnel at Parris Island. This was the last post for the Marine Corps staff officer. His favorite was the Pentagon, where he initiated a brand new office to coordinate military crisis response.
Company commander Richard Jackson tried to be as unpredictable as he could with his Marines, following no set pattern and changing tactics constantly. This worked so well that his unit received praise from up the chain of command.
He was lucky to get a job with an office during his second Vietnam tour, managing a platoon of medics. Then when the war was being turned over to the Vietnamese, Franklin Monroe began medical missions in the streets and started organizing escape for refugees.
He'd made a decision to always take training seriously and learn as much as he could about what he would face in the field, and when Richard Jackson got to Vietnam, it saved his life. As he was walking on patrol, he heard a click, something he'd heard in training, but this time, it was for real.
Phil Mayrand describes the furtherance of his infantry training leaving Ft. Bragg for Ft. Polk where he'd also meet some lifelong friends. The opportunity to get some additional leadership training presented itself, and anything he would agree to take would delay his inevitable trip to Vietnam, but an unfortunate injury would put this plan in jeopardy.
After basic training, Edwina Morrison was assigned to the 30th Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir. The finance and accounting specialist may not have put boots on the ground in Vietnam, but she got the soldiers paid. She remembers the funny looks she got when she showed up and they expected a man.
It cost too much money to go to college, so Edwina Morrison walked into an Army recruiting office and left only when it was time to get on the plane. She arrived in the middle of the night and the drill instructors were a bit of a rude awakening.
Richard Jackson recalls the time when he was stuck in a helicopter with a general observing the battle field while his company of Marines were getting battered down below. When he finally got down to the ground, he repositioned the unit with a mad dash downhill from their exposed position.
His extensive training, resulting in bodily injury as well as a debilitating illness, held him back a few weeks, but as he assumed, he'd be on his way to Vietnam. Phil Mayrand describes the conditions of his departure and the foreboding welcome he received there.
One of the notable controversies of the Vietnam war was the reported failures of the M-16 rifle platform. Andy Boyko's Marine experience featured both the M-14 and the M-16, and he gives his thoughts on using the rifle in the field.