3:21 | Rody Conway always wanted to be in the Army. His father was career Army, and Rody’s dream was realized in the West Point Class of 1959. Then it was on to Ranger school, which was to prove highly useful later on.
Keywords : Rody Conway Salinas CA West Point Ranger Vietnam survival ambush recon airborne
Fresh from training, Rody Conway was a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne, but his first duty assignment was less exciting, handling security in Minneapolis. Then he headed for the Advanced Infantry Course at Ft. Benning.
Rody Conway knew that it was a waste of time to be in the infantry and not go into combat, so he pushed to get sent to Vietnam. First was a six-week course on what to expect, like the fact that “friend” and “shoot” was the same word in Vietnamese.
Because of his Ranger training, Rody Conway was offered an unusual assignment when he arrived in Vietnam. He became an intelligence officer and advisor to a South Vietnamese recon company.
Captain Rody Conway had the best asset any advisor to a South Vietnamese unit could have, an experienced and knowledgeable sergeant, Harold Cook. At first it was relatively quiet and the most action was in keeping the road open.
Even in the field, Rody Conway enjoyed the South Vietnamese food and the French coffee provided by the troops he was advising. His first operations were uneventful, since any North Vietnamese troops were usually passing through and gone.
Rody Conway’s first action with the South Vietnamese unit he was advising, was to aid in the rescue of four other advisors who were surrounded after their unit withdrew. He found a wounded friendly with a most interesting note pinned to his chest.
The Viet Cong had set up a tax collecting post on a bridge, so the South Vietnamese recon company, along with American advisor Rody Conway, went to pay them a visit. The first piece of business was to take the high ground.
The activity in his area was picking up. Every time Rody Conway, and the South Vietnamese troops he was advising, went out on sweeps, they would find something. When they could not budge the enemy from a bunker, his solution was nearly comic.
In the field, a deer ran through the camp and was shot, dressed, and eaten by Rody Conway’s unit. Much later, this would become a sore point with his wife. There was also the incident in which a Vietnamese woman had an unusual complaint.
Tet came to Rody Conway’s area in a big way. Word of a large uniformed force nearby brought in heavy airstrikes and his unit went in to do damage assessment. When they got there, they found out that the wrong spot had been bombed and they were in hot water.
Tet was heating up, and Rody Conway’s unit was sent in to relieve another one, which was besieged. He had to make a gut-wrenching decision when his friend Lyle King was gravely wounded.
Overnight on the Tet battlefield, stinging beetles were swarming, attracted by the blood from the wounded. Rody Conway and the troops put down ponchos to block the beetles, but the ponchos were filling with blood.
As if the horrific battle he experienced during the Tet Offensive wasn’t enough, Rody Conway was nearly flattened by friendly fire in the form of artillery strikes. Back at his base, he relived the battle in his sleep, alarming his roommate.
Rody Conway survived the Tet Offensive, but he was not allowed the transfer to Da Lat that he requested. The belligerent colonel in charge told him he had no choice but to accept an assignment as HQ Commandant or that his career would be ruined.
Galen Hoover's river interdiction unit was moved from up near the Cambodian birder to the U Minh forest in the southernmost part of Vietnam. The waterways were very narrow, canals so small the boat couldn't turn around. The enemy were plentiful and devious. They even tried to trick him with bogus radio calls.
The first volunteers at basic training went to a sponsored event at a resort, but the second round of volunteers got KP. That's how Jerry Gast learned not to volunteer. He impressed his superiors enough, though, that he was sent to NCO school.
Living full time with his Vietnamese crew meant that Galen Hoover ate what they ate. His first night on the river, they served him a dish that was so good, he requested it regularly, even after he found out what it was. The crew knew he was really green, so the boat captain thought he would mess with the new advisor a little.
The bullet barely missed wrecking his knee. Jack Jeter was in for some hospital time before he could go home. Once he did, he was amazed at the blase attitude of his friends about Vietnam. Part 3 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
The river boats were patrolling in narrow canals and rivers, searching for infiltrating NVA troops. Galen Hoover was in the second boat, trailing a boat that was supposed to be mine sweeping. That was the last thing he remembered about that day.
Tony Coalson's helicopter unit flew all of II Corps, a fourth of the entire country, unlike dedicated combat units, which only flew in their little slice of Vietnam. He recalls his first combat related mission, in which he delivered an assessment team right in the middle of one of the biggest battles of the war. Part 1 of 2.
Jerry Gast got back to the world on the day of the moon landing. He soon found out that wearing the uniform was a bad idea, then the local VFW refused to allow him to join. It was time to shove Vietnam in a little box and put it away.
The day Jack Jeter was wounded was the third day of serious firefights. His commanding officer, Captain Barry McCaffrey, was wounded on the first day and the temporary replacement had his own ideas about how to proceed. That led the unit right into big trouble. Part 1 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
When helicopter pilot Tony Coalson was on the ground during the Battle of Dak To, he was astounded at the numbers of American dead. Some of the casualties were from a terrible friendly fire incident. He remembers watching a C-130 full of wounded men just barely survive takeoff. When he returned to his base, he had a solemn observation for his roommate. Part 2 of 2.
There was little contact up by the DMZ so the 1st Air Cavalry was moved south near the Cambodian border. Plenty of action there. The first day, Jerry Gast's platoon set off on a 500 meter sweep in front of the perimeter and ran into a trail. The ambitious lieutenant decided they would follow it. Bad idea.
Vietnamization was underway and, soon, Galen Hoover was sleeping away the long flight home. He landed in San Francisco and was glad to be back in the States, but as he left the plane, here came the peace protestors. What happened next haunts him still.
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.)
When Galen Hoover woke up in a hospital with a bandaged head and a broken hand, he had no idea what happened or how he got there. The guys from his unit came to see him and he finally heard the tale of that fateful patrol on the canal that day.
Upon leading the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Myron Harrington had to help conduct an attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam. This is the story of how he and his men charged the tower, which took longer to accomplish than expected.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jerry Gast says it was the leadership in his company that made all the difference in Vietnam. Captain Barry McCaffrey and 1st Sergeant Emerson Trainer set the tone and it filtered down though the NCO's. That all took a turn when both were wounded at the beginning of a fierce firefight.
The river boats operated near the Cambodian border. Galen Hoover was advisor to the Vietnamese crew of one craft, which was an old troop carrier. Every night, interdiction points were set along the river to catch infiltration from Cambodia. When he arrived at the unit, he couldn't believe the layout of the base.
On their daily trips to the market to get the day's food, advisor Galen Hoover paid for most of it because he made more than his entire Vietnamese crew combined. He spoke Vietnamese, so he always listened to the conversation of the locals to pick up hints on enemy movements.