6:10 | Vietnam veteran Al Lipphardt has an instant connection with other veterans of any conflict. He says to truly understand a combat veteran, one must have been through combat because the experience is overwhelming.
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When Al Lipphardt went through basic training, his superiors noticed something special and he was recommended for Officer Candidate School. He recalls the spit shined floors at OCS and the lengths the unit went through to maintain them.
In the I Corps area of Vietnam, the first time new platoon leader Al Lipphardt came under fire, he was slow to drop and take cover because he looked around to see the source of the fire as one of his men tugged on his pant leg. He learned that you drop and then look.
Al Lipphardt spent time as a platoon leader and as an intelligence liaison during his first tour of duty in Vietnam. While a platoon leader, he tried to not get too close to his men, to avoid emotional reactions in battle.
The worst firefight for Al Lipphardt in Vietnam started on Thanksgiving 1967 and continued for four days. The initial barrage from the enemy killed four and wounded ten in his platoon.
Of all the casualties around Al Lipphardt in his first Vietnam tour, one in particular haunted him for years, the death of Rodney Loatman. It was an article in a magazine that brought it all flooding back into his consciousness decades later.
Outmanned by at least five to one, but with good air support, Al Lipphardt’s unit fought the NVA for four days in the fight known only as the Battle for Hill 63 in Operation Dorland. He had never had a greater feeling than realizing he was still alive after it was all over.
Several seemingly innocuous things can bring back the memories of Vietnam for Al Lipphardt. He learned that for vets of different wars, the process was the same but the details were different.
Al Lipphardt’s last duty in his first Vietnam tour was with a new unit that had just arrived. He taught them the ropes, as in "don’t take the path" and "don’t pick things up." Back home, he moved into Military Intelligence, specializing in Aerial Surveillance.
When he arrived for his second tour in Vietnam in Long Binh (IV Corps), Intelligence officer Al Lipphardt knew that it was a different war when he was not issued a weapon. This was disturbing to him, as were the Rules of Engagement in the field.
The sign on the windowless building of the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington D.C. suggested academic research, but the drunks across the street in the liquor store knew what it really was. Inside, Al Lipphardt, was busy predicting the October War of 1973.
Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.
As the American advisor argued with his Vietnamese counterpart over the radio, Willard Womack, an Army pilot stuck in transit, could hear the frustration mounting. The battle of Ap Bac could not be won with these tactics. Eventually, the evacuation was made and, weeks later, several of the aviators involved hitched a ride to Saigon for a night of carousing. Pt 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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.
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.
Willard Womack was nervously awaiting the news of what happened to the helicopter carrying some of his friends who had just participated in the Battle of Ap Bac, a crucial turning point early in the war. They had come though that unscathed but were now missing. Decades later, he received an email that brought the memories flooding back. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
There were no disturbing interactions with anti-war civilians when Gilbert Howland returned from Vietnam. The veteran of three wars was retired at Fort Dix after almost thirty years of service. He finally got his parade decades later at Fort Benning and the Ranger Hall of Fame. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Barry McAlpine grew up in Michigan where he developed an interest in playing baseball, which would ultimately jump start a new life pathway for him shortly before he applied for service in Vietnam. Not before getting his application rejected twice, that is.
One of Sgt. Gilbert Howland's duties was to make a circuit of the perimeter of the base and make sure the guards were awake. It was at this time in Vietnam that drugs began to flow from there back home, transported by soldiers. Knowing that disturbed him, but he, too, brought home something illicit, souvenirs. Before he left, the B-52 strike that had been requested finally came, to everyone's surprise. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Dan Spahn graduated from high school on Friday and left for Navy boot camp on Monday. Unlike so many others at the time, his goal was to serve in Vietnam. He became an electronics technician and joined a spacial squadron that supplied and manned the radar control aircraft that managed air traffic from a carrier.
To close off, Barry McAlpine tells what he wants people to remember about the Vietnam war. Finally, he recounts all the life lessons he's learned from his time serving, how he has integrated those lessons as a parent of six children, and words of advice for the following generations.
General Buck Kernan never intended to join the Army but the GI Bill beckoned and he followed. Once he was in, he was determined to be a Ranger. He was also determined to get to Vietnam before it was all over. He was mentored in his career by both generals and sergeants and he carried forward their lessons.
During his time serving in B Troop, McAlpine was more often than not blessed with his interpreter Thien Huynh by his side. Here he talks about his experiences working with him and how well they got along together. Following, he also talks about how he found humor even while being under fire.
Many years after his experiences in Vietnam, Fairman still has fond memories about the men he commanded, and is still commended by other veterans for his selfless actions to this day. Here he recalls some sentimental memories he has of those times.
On an unexpected day, Barry McAlpine was told he had received the OK to go back home to the states. Upon getting back, he was immediately enrolled in chiropractic school and was slowly but surely integrating himself back into the ways of American society.