6:05 | 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.
Keywords : Bill Crossley Vietnam artillery Quan Loi tent slit trench refrigerator beer steak grill Tet rocket TOC Tactical Operations Center counter battery round elevation shower mortar
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.
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.
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.
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.
Combat is always chaotic but the recovery of the SS Mayaguez was particularly disjointed. The joint operation suffered from too many parties at the top trying to exert influence, recalls Ray Porter, who led the assault on the ship itself. Part 3 of 3.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/.)
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
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.
After flying multi-engine transports and passenger aircraft for years, pilot Allyn Johnson decided to retire from the Air Force. He put in his papers but the Air Force still needed him in Vietnam. He went from flying the huge planes to the tiny ones as a Forward Air Controller.
After relating a gruesome story about some fellow GI's playing possum, Ed Fulghum has his own combat story about a stop fire order that seemed ridiculous to him. He even got a general to agree with him, not that it did any good. Then there was the time he cleared out a bamboo stand full of unauthorized personnel, including his commander.
A good first step for future generations remembering something about Korea and Vietnam would be actually including them in history books. Allyn Johnson was involved in both conflicts and he is bothered by that. He also has some strong opinions on whether it was worth being involved.