5:35 | Despite the fact that they could receive no confirmation of his arrival, the family and fiancé of Dennis Haines were there on Christmas Day when he arrived at Walter Reed Hospital. A friendly pilot had made the flight from Alaska fun for the injured warrior.
Keywords : Dennis Haines Walter Reed Hospital Japan Christmas C-141 Starlifter Andrews AFB wheelchair
Recruit Dennis Haines wanted to go to airborne school but the Army gave him a choice. He could either go to airborne school or home for Christmas. He took the leave because he was worried he might not ever return.
During Advanced Infantry Training, Dennis Haines remembers a problem with the bolt on the M-16 rifle. It would swell and stick. Fortunately, the problem was fixed before the rifles were deployed in the field.
Arriving in Vietnam, Dennis Haines got a quick lesson in weapons safety when a soldier dropped a grenade in practice. He also met Jack Kirchner, who was from the same area at home and the two became great friends.
In his first taste of action in Vietnam, Dennis Haines participated in the clearing of a large bunker complex. Inside, he spotted a Russian pistol just sitting there, begging to be a souvenir.
Dennis Haines was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. The only brigade not attached to a division, the light infantry was so-named because they could move out on a mission at a moment’s notice. He describes the execution and fear of a frontal assault.
Dennis Haines and his friend Jack Kirchner came across a Viet Cong bunker that they thought was empty. After Kirchner fired a shotgun round through a port, he turned to leave and was nearly cut in two by enemy rounds.
After the Air Force came in and blew up the VC bunkers, Dennis Haines knew the job was coming that no one wanted to do: the body count.
Dennis Haines had seen dead soldiers on stretchers but it was totally different with his friend Jack Kirchner. Dennis had been right there with him in the line of fire. He learned it was best not to be too close to your wartime comrades.
Fire from an approaching enemy killed Larry Rycroft and wounded Bob Needham and Kenny Pepper. Dennis Haines laments that they could not fire in time because of the Rules of Engagement.
The M-16 made every Army rifleman an automatic rifleman, explains Dennis Haines, who gave his up to become the M-60 gunner in his squad. The M-60 machine gun was the primary heavy weapon on patrols and ambushes.
Dennis Haines handed his Instamatic to his friend Tom Reilly so he could get some pictures from the field. This was great until Reilly had to take cover by jumping in a pond.
Dennis Haines had done the reconnaissance on a village at the Mekong River, so he manned the listening post overnight as his unit prepared a cordon operation. He thought he saw movement in a doorway, then a muzzle flash as he took two rounds to the head.
“I was out of it for days,” recalls Dennis Haines, He had a head wound and would only regain full consciousness after he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he learned the left side of his body was paralyzed.
Years after his head wound, Dennis Haines found the surgeon, John Baldwin, who operated on him in the field hospital. Only then did he learn how close to death he had been, so close that he was put in the group of patients who were deemed not likely to survive.
As if getting shot in the head wasn’t enough, Dennis Haines had many complications on his road to recovery, including a serious infection. He was amused, however, by the process of molding the plastic plate to cover the missing part of his skull.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
Jim Littig shuffled through several assignments as the war was winding down for US forces. Vietnamization was underway with varying results. When he had to miss a much anticipated Navy lunch aboard ship, he was disappointed, but it turned out that he was lucky.
After basic training, Bruce Hojnacki found out he was going to be an MP. The advanced training for the military police was right there at Fort Gordon, where he had his basic. Then, like most draftees at the time, he got orders for Vietnam.
Jim Littig's unit was a long range reconnaissance patrol outfit but in Vietnam, you didn't need long treks to find the enemy. He details one memorable firefight that started when his men ambushed what they thought were a just a few men fleeing from the Battle of Hue.