7:15 | When you set an eighteen year old kid down in a jungle and give him "half the power of the Lord to carry on his hip," it becomes a real concern to restrain him. According to Captain Marshall Carter, once they see their buddies blown away in front of them, they want to shoot anything that moves.
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The value of the Medivac chopper standing by at high altitude was proven when a pilot on a supporting fire mission had to bail out. Marshall Carter was able to call down the Medivac unit and extract the pilot, who surely would have been a POW. Part 4 of 5.
Marshall Carter went for the Marines when he graduated from West Point to escape the family business. His father and grandfather were both West Point graduates who were in the Army. They considered the Marines a small service with limited career opportunities, but to Carter, that was no problem.
New Marine rifle company commander Marshall Carter was anxious to try and improve on the French experience in Vietnam. He thought they never employed proper counter insurgency tactics in their war, and he had just been drilled in them as one of the few Marines to attend Green Beret school.
When Marshall Carter arrived in Vietnam, he was looking forward to commanding a rifle company and learning from the veteran sergeants he would be working with. Right away, he got a lesson in keeping his head down when he stood on top of a vehicle to try and free two others that were stuck.
The Ia Drang battle marked a turning point in the Vietnam War. The enemy was prepared to sacrifice an entire division to find out two things: how to deal with American air mobility and how to deal with overwhelming supporting arms. Marine Captain Marshall Carter explains how they developed two tactics that were used the rest of the war.
There were four levels of enemy in Vietnam, according to Marine Captain Marshall Carter, ranging from the North Vietnamese Army at the top to the VCI, or Viet Cong Infrastructure, at the informal level. Gen. Westmoreland dismissed the worth of the VCI and famously omitted their numbers from official counts. Still, they caused a third of the American casualties.
While in Vietnam, Marshall Carter was lucky enough to step on two mines that were both duds. It didn't faze him at all because he already expected not to return home. "The half life of a company commander in Vietnam was about four months." His aggressive tactics took the battle to the enemy and he survived.
Marshall Carter recalls a Medivac flight that was flown by two wounded pilots, one with leg wounds and one hit in the arm. Together they worked the stick and the pedals. He then explains the struggle over tactics. Westmoreland and the Army were looking for the big battle. The Marine approach was to pacify the area and protect the people.
Commanders in Vietnam were encouraged not to contact the families of soldiers who died under their command. Captain Marshall Carter says this was because the war was very unpopular at home. He tried it...once.
Marshall Carter's unit was moving across a big cemetery. Suddenly, the ground gave way and he knew immediately he was falling into a punji pit. Not only were there punji stakes, there was a grenade with a trip wire. The Viet Cong were masters at adapting to American tactics. After steel shanks were added to American boots, the punji traps were made with a sideways closing motion.
The intel from the captured courier was juicy. A high level meeting of political cadres was to be held in a certain village and Captain Marshall Carter's unit was chosen to conduct a raid. Given the power to completely plan the operation, Carter requested extra choppers and a Medivac unit "on station," hovering high above the action waiting to descend. Part 1 of 5.
The extra choppers that Marshall Carter requested for his raid on a Viet Cong gathering came in handy right away. The command team's chopper was hit by enemy fire and had to be replaced even before the team arrived at the site. Part 2 of 5.
The raid on a Viet Cong conclave had gone well but there was still resistance and Captain Marshall Carter started thinking about extraction from the battlefield. Before he could go, however, he had to personally rescue a wounded Marine and then had to linger after the others had gone to direct supporting fire. Part 3 of 5.
Three of Captain Marshall Carter's men who were on a fateful raid with him, went to the battalion commander to tell him what Captain Carter had done during the operation. That conversation worked out well for him, much better than the conversation he had years later with a reporter from WGBH.
After a break for grad school, Marshall Carter returned for a second Vietnam tour but this time he was an adviser to the South Vietnamese Marines. He speaks highly of them but says that Gen. Westmoreland's neglect of South Vietnamese forces contributed to their eventual defeat.
Marshall Carter's battalion commander, Van D. Bell, taught him two valuable lessons which helped make him a successful rifle company commander: aggressiveness and use of supporting arms. Those lessons helped him a lot but nothing could help higher level decision makers who did not realize that Ho Chi Minh was Vietnam's George Washington.
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.
Carl Scheidegg would watch the MiGs take off at Yen Bai, but he wasn't allowed to attack the base. He had to wait until they came up and challenged him. This was just one of the frustrating things about Vietnam on his mind, including the fact that we had them beat before we walked away.
Steve Long was on the ground overnight at An Hoa when the base came under mortar fire. He recalls the selfless action of his hosts there, who protected the visiting Huey crew as best they could. He lost a good friend in another incident, made more tragic by the unusual circumstances.
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.)
Normally, a door gunner would not fly his last month in country, but Steve Long finagled his way into the air. In his other job in the avionics shop, he had a run-in with the new officer in charge. He got a little satisfaction the night after he got his orders home.
Coming home from Vietnam was a difficult experience. Jesse Groves was perplexed by the apathy and outright abuse. He suppressed his memories and moved on. Once later wars made service respectable again, and once he began to reconnect with his comrades, he could feel proud of his service.
His tour of duty was a real tour. F-4 pilot Carl Scheidegg spent time at many different air bases in Vietnam and Thailand. When he had a chance to go to China Beach and saw the perfect sand, he had a vision of the future. The Vietnamese had a lovely country and he will never forget the civilian he met who told him what the people in the South were fighting for.
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.
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.
Steve Long was on a bus headed to Marine boot camp when he encountered his first DI, barking orders. He thought he was getting a plum job while marching, but road guard turned out to be not so good. He did enjoy meeting recruits from a wide variety of backgrounds, which was new to him.
It was the first large scale B-52 strike over North Vietnam and F-4 Pilot Carl Scheidegg was flying one of the hundreds of planes assembling in the night sky. There were terrific storms and little visibility as he searched for the tanker at the rendezvous. Suddenly it appeared out of the clouds coming straight for him on a collision course.
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.
It started 45 minutes out from Da Nang with a sobering announcement from the pilot. Then there was the oven-like climate, the surprise machine gun fire, the ribbing from the old-timers. Steve Long was definitely in Vietnam.
“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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.)
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.)
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.