6:15 | Bob Atkinson remembers Operation Union for one reason. He found that there was something out there that could make him bleed as much as encountering the enemy. It was in a cold, clear mountain stream.
Keywords : Bob Atkinson Vietnam Operation Union ammo ammunition Chinook Amtrac village mountain jungle stream leech mortar blood Corpsman
The physical trials of Marine boot camp were not the first trials Bob Atkinson had faced. Poverty and an abusive, alcoholic father made the screaming drill instructors and the accidental injury just another link in a long painful chain.
When the door opened after landing in Da Nang, it was like opening an oven, the heat was a blast right in the face. It was that and sand fleas and combat on his first night there, remembers Bob Atkinson. He was a Marine rifleman, but then he was picked at random and told, "You're a mortarman." Never having seen, much less fired a mortar during training, he wondered, "Are we laying block and brick for these people?"
As a mortarman, Bob Atkinson stayed close to the nucleus of the platoon, with the officer and the radioman. This was a little safer than being a grunt. When automatic weapons fire greeted them in a village, he listened as an artillery support call went out. "That's my country on the other end and they will get us out." It didn't quite work out that way.
Bob Atkinson's favorite C-ration was the pound cake, and he tells about finding something unusual in his cake. R&R seemed non-existent but he did have one six day leave and met his mother in Hawaii because he was sure he would not survive the war. Flying back, he marveled at how pretty the country looked from the air.
At the Kilo One fire base, a relief platoon came in late and Bob Atkinson's platoon was told not to leave, but to stay the night. That was fortunate for them all because there were an extra thirty Marines in camp. Bob woke to explosions and shot a man running at him. Though he had never fired the mortar himself, he began laying down fire on the human waves of enemy. Part 1 of 3.
As the battle at Kilo One continued, Bob Atkinson's mortar team ran out of ammo and he had to crawl to another mortar pit under heavy fire to get some more. They kept getting incoming rounds until they hit the enemy firing a recoilless rifle from their own chow hall. The fright turned to bitterness as he ended the night alone on watch. Part 2 of 3.
When an officer wouldn't let up with the belligerent questions following his grueling, amazing and involuntary debut as a mortar gunner, Bob Atkinson finally just walked away. His actions earned him the respect of his group and he was made squad leader, Part 3 of 3.
They could hear their own artillery rounds going overhead. Then, all of a sudden, they were right on top of Bob Atkinson's unit. He dove for a small hole at the same time as another guy, who took the brunt of the blast. His picture was in Stars and Stripes but there was no mention of friendly fire.
Marine mortarman Bob Atkinson got to relax back at battalion only every now and then, and it wasn't that safe there because it was hit frequently. Nor was he immune to heartbreak there, as he found out when a swarm of children went after food scraps in the dump.
Bob Atkinson stopped talking to grunts. He was a mortarman and he was constantly meeting new riflemen and becoming close to some of them. He tells the story of Gary Jordan, his best friend, and why he feels responsible for what happened to him.
How did he spend his down time? "There was no down time," says Bob Atkinson, who was a Marine mortarman protecting Da Nang. He could relax enough at battalion, though, to play pranks involving a radio and a tape recorder.
It was a lot of weight to carry. He needed the mortar tube and the strap, but there was no time to use the sight, the way the mortar was used in Vietnam. The base plate and the bi-pod added a lot of weight and also slowed down the set up. So Bob Atkinson started carrying just the mortar and setting it in a helmet, firing by sight and instinct. The Captain didn't like that.
First he had to jump off the Amtrac in a frenzy with extra ammo and full gear on his back. That busted up his knee. The vehicle was repaired and under way again, when he was hit with incoming and knocked off the vehicle in flames. Still, Bob Atkinson wasn't sure he was really hurt.
Back in the states, Bob Atkinson tried to exercise his leg and knee and get the strength back. He had four months to go and was at Quantico when Martin Luther King was assassinated and he was put on a street corner in Washington guarding a liquor store.
The war was bad, the injury painful, and the return home was tentative. Bob Atkinson seemed normal for a while, then the war caught up with him. First it was the back pain. Then the nightmares. Marijuana and alcohol helped for a while, but then, out in the world, he heard someone speaking Vietnamese and he lost it. Part 1 of 3.
A SWAT team wound up at his house before Bob Atkinson finally reached out for help with his demons from the Vietnam War. He had back pain, but it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that was making his life fall apart. Part 2 of 3.
Home had not been much better than the war but Bob Atkinson's life began to look up when he saw an ad for hypnosis to stop smoking and he tried it and it worked. Would the hypnotist try taking him back to Vietnam? "Oh, hell no," came the answer, but it did happen and it was another step on the road back. Part 3 of 3.
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.