3:53 | Bob Ballagh says nearly all of his West Point class wanted to go to Vietnam. "A good soldier runs to the sound of guns." Assigned to the 1st Cavalry field artillery, he was engaged in a major battle almost immediately at Pleiku.
Keywords : Bob Ballagh Vietnam Germany 1st Cavalry replacement morale newbie Cam Ranh Bay An Khe Pleiku infiltration helicopter .50 cal
Inspired by his father's service, Bob Ballagh excelled at West Point. When he graduated, he found out that due to a short-lived policy, he wouldn't be going to officer's basic training in his field of artillery. Fortunately, in his first deployment to Germany, he encountered a commander who made sure he received the training.
To keep his artillery fire base from being mortared, Bob Ballagh relied on intelligence and pre-planning. Plotting all possible firing sites for the enemy allowed for a very fast response, sometimes even before the offending shell landed.
The artillery was moved north in anticipation of a battle and what a battle it turned out to be, the Tet offensive. It was a good reason to use new classified ammunition and Bob Ballagh's unit was the first to fire it. It was also during that operation that he received the Soldier's Medal for pulling soldiers to safety from a fire.
After a massive relief operation at Khe Sanh, Bob Ballagh was put in command of an artillery battery and right away began dealing with fallout from poor leadership. Two batteries were airlifted to the same spot and the battalion commander failed to deal with it.
The 1st Cavalry's artillery was highly mobile and used quick air assaults to move where they were needed. For some reason, says Bob Ballagh, a new commander increased the number of rounds each battery had to keep on hand and that slowed things down considerably.
The howitzers sat on base plates and rotated with hand cranks. Battery commander Bob Ballagh relates how his sergeants used a little negative reinforcement to make sure the soldiers started the rotation in the right direction.
Poor leadership from above kept confronting battery commander Bob Ballagh in Vietnam. This time, his battery was accused of friendly fire on a Marine base, even though it was far beyond the range of his guns.
Daily life in an artillery battery involved dealing with an excess of gunpowder bags from the shells. Unfortunately for Bob Ballagh and his men, there was no excess of steak, ice cream or beer.
Under his command in Vietnam, only one soldier was lost. Bob Ballagh felt badly about that, but was proud that was the only loss. After over one hundred air assaults, he returned home and advocated for a return to unit basis for deployments and was gratified when the Army changed the policy.
FAC pilot Paul Curs usually worked with Air Force fighters but one day he was working with some Navy A-7s. He wouldn't clear any pilot to go ahead and attack unless the pilot could see him. That way there would be no mid-air collision. He received that assurance so he gave the go ahead. It was nearly the last thing he ever did.
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.
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.
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.)
The Green Beret was alone and under fire in a bomb crater with FAC pilot Paul Curs circling overhead in his little Cessna. He couldn't call for fighter support because of heavy cloud cover but he had the Willy Peter white phosphorus rockets he used to mark targets. And he was a deadeye shot with them. Part 2 of 2.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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/.)
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.
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.
Some commanders flew combat missions along with everybody else and some didn't. You can guess which ones got the respect of the pilots. Paul Curs was a FAC pilot flying out of Pleiku and he recalls when the tactics officer tried out a new tactic. It didn't go over too well.
After he had been working as a sniper for awhile, Tim Dunn was getting a little salty. When he was sent to help out a company on an operation, he walked in and said, "Gunny, your troubles are over." When the sergeant looked up and he saw who it was, he snapped to attention.
It was an emotional scene as Paul Curs said goodbye to his family and boarded the airliner for Vietnam. Before he could get to his assignment as a forward air controller in Vietnam, he had to undergo survival training in the Philippines. He found a successful way to elude the tribesmen who were paid to search for him.
It was a typical mission. Huey pilot Marshall Eubanks made three trips to resupply an ARVN outpost and on the third one he took a lot of ground fire. He didn't think much of it but, later, after he was home from his tour, he got word that he was requested at an award ceremony.
The base at Pleiku was so high up in the mountains that the Cessna O-2 had performance issues. Forward air controller Paul Curs flew that aircraft in support of missions on and around the Ho Chi Minh trail. The first time he flew over Laos, there were so many bomb craters he thought it looked like the surface of the moon.