10:19 | The Viet Cong had already done their reconnaissance on the Special Forces base. But when they attacked at midnight, they didn't know about the artillery battery that had just been deployed and dug in. Bill Crossley relates how the attackers stumbled right into heavy fire and were repelled, even though the battery ran out of ammunition and shot illumination rounds in desperation.
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Bill Crossley was more mature than most soldiers arriving in Vietnam, having already been an artillery officer for seven years. In charge of three batteries, he interacted with many other troops and never saw any evidence of the widespread notion that they were lacking in some way. The popular image of the indifferent Vietnam soldier is a total myth, he says.
It was all peace and quiet during the Tet armistice, but Bill Crossley's artillery battery was getting a request for fire from a remote unit. They didn't know it but that was the first rumbling of the Tet Offensive. The wave of attacks across Vietnam actually relieved some frustration on the part of American forces. They had been searching in vain for enemy to engage.
Once the Tet Offensive began, it was the "Wild, Wild West" for Bill Crossley's artillery. He had to move an entire battery forty miles in the dark, secure an unguarded bridge in Saigon, and then begin the counter attack. While it was a disaster to Walter Cronkite, the troops who had long been searching for the VC knew that they finally had them.
It was a close call. Just as Bill Crossley was getting ready for steak and beer on a much needed rest, a rocket hit the camp. As he headed for the TOC (Tactical Operations Center,) the rockets were landing right behind him. Noting the progression of hits, he knew the next one would be right on him. Then there was his friend who showered at the wrong time.
His job was to inspect artillery fire bases for security and, right away, Bill Crossley could see the problems. After unclogging supply lines for concertina wire and teaching the gun crews at the first base how to patrol, he decided he needed a better way to get their attention. That led him to a former VC sapper named Nguyen. Part 1 of 2.
Using a captured VC to infiltrate fire bases while the crews watched was a great teaching method for Bill Crossley. The man would get inside every time, starting a flurry of activity as security measures were toughened. The next step was showing the artillerymen how to patrol, something that was lacking in their training. Part 2 of 2.
Bill Crossley was always scrambling to improve security at his artillery fire bases. He sent a meteorological platoon to one battery just to get some more gun barrels in case of attack. He had also scrounged a 75mm recoilless rifle, which by pure chance wound up insuring the base against mortar attacks.
Bill Crossley explains how he prepared for counter battery fire in Vietnam. Counter battery is the response to incoming fire and the secret is to plot potential locations for the enemy to set mortars and have that data ready when an attack occurs. You can find the direction of an enemy mortar hit by examining the crater.
Artillery officer Bill Crossley had a rattling .45 and an M-16 in Vietnam and he is thankful he never fired them. He is also thankful that among all three of his gun batteries, there was only one casualty. He has something to say about the food, including the story of an irate baker and the reason he won't eat stewed tomatoes.
The 107mm rocket was a new weapon for the VC and Bill Crossley's artillery unit was the first to get hit with them. They got pretty good at finding the firing positions because, unlike mortars which fired nearly vertically, the rockets required an open space. On the Fourth of July, he realized what he should do with hundreds of captured rockets he had on hand.
There was high tech warfare in Vietnam. Sensors revealed that there were trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and there was even an advanced airborne radar that found ground traffic. Bill Crossley reveals the low tech tactic they had to use to pick up slow moving ox carts.
To Bill Crossley, there was no finer example of good leadership than LTC Gene O'Grady, who was his battalion commander in Vietnam. He quietly took care of details that no one else thought of, all for the benefit of the men.
One example of LTC Gene O'Grady's leadership was his response to an incident of errant artillery fire. Bill Crossley remembers that O'Grady made him use a briefcase to look more professional as he arrived to assess the situation. Then he agreed to use the trashcan as a file for some awful paperwork.
Bill Crossley has some harsh words about the personnel policy that was in effect in Vietnam. The lack of unit cohesion was caused by the constant churn of replacements. Soldiers had to fight without training together. When his generation moved into military leadership, they made sure that would never happen again.
After explaining that his awards were no big deal, Bill Crossley relates a funny incident from one of the engagements that brought him one of them. Although it probably wasn't too funny to the brigade commander.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fedde talks about an unfortunate event that happened while he was going through a village with his scout dog, after a man behind him open fired on a house nearby. He also talks about another close call he had where he almost got blown up by a hand grenade booby trap.
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.
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.
Phil Mayrand was drawn to the bravado of the military, and the appeal of being a Green Beret was too big of an opportunity to pass up. However, when his parents got wind of his plans, they pushed for him to go to college instead, but the draft would come for him eventually. He'd end up volunteering, and spent his first days training at Ft. Bragg.