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.
Before he got to Thailand, fighter pilot Joe Richardson went through survival school in the Philippines as well as a little extra-curricular activity. When he did get to the air base at Ubon, he ran into a buddy who was in a squadron known as the Night Owls. Oh, I don't want to fly at night. Too bad.
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.
He had a suitcase in each hand when an anti-war protestor called him a baby killer and spit in his face. By the time Joe Richardson collected himself, the man had run off. Welcome home. He tried to stay in the Air Force but the downsizing eventually caught up with him and he went to work for the industry that had built the aircraft he flew. (Caution: strong language)
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. As difficult as this experience was, it was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. New wounded were 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.
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
When it gets close to time to go home, for some reason, the danger increases. Some died during their last few days, but Vic Grahn made it back from Vietnam and didn't even get the rude greeting so many did when they returned. He became a flight instructor and nursed a bitterness towards the powers that be who abandoned the war when we had it won.
There was a Green Beret on the ground. He had just escaped from the North Vietnamese and fighter pilot Joe Richardson was tasked with laying down a smokescreen to aid in his escape. Years later, he ran into a man who's story seemed to line up with his. Was this the guy?
A-37 pilot Vic Grahn and his buddy Jack Beam were working a target with napalm when a bullet came through his windsceen and exited the cockpit through a side window. There was no other damage to his plane so he returned to the attack. Then Jack's plane took a hit as well but he, too, pressed on. You would think that the brass would like that but they didn't.
His father had been wounded on Tulagi, so he never got to be the Marine aviator he intended to be, but he did teach his son to fly. Joe Richardson soloed at fifteen and went on to become a fighter pilot.
What should future generations remember about the war in Vietnam? For Vic Grahn, it's all about those who fought the war being abandoned by their own leadership and the general public. What song takes him back? The answer is surprising though totally logical.
It turns out you can see a lot at night. Fighter pilot Joe Richardson was apprehensive about night missions over Vietnam but the tracers and the missiles were unmistakable. He had to learn how to out maneuver the surface-to-air missiles, which wasn't easy but it was doable.
There were no real anti-aircraft guns per se down in IV Corps. Vic Grahn took a lot of small arms fire and the occasional 20mm on his missions, which were often in support of troops in contact (TIC). He flew the A-37, a small highly maneuverable aircraft and that maneuverability came in handy when he was up in III Corps where the trees are bigger.
Don Rohde went into one tunnel, just to say he did it. They were everywhere and the VC would just disappear into them. He was a Corpsman attached to a Marine company and he took no gruff from a doctor who didn't appreciate his field emergency work.
Joe Richardson was three years into the Air Force Academy when he decided to quit. He didn't care that he would be exposed to the draft. When he brought recruiters into the Explorer group he was mentoring, he was so impressed with the film the Air Force recruiter showed, he joined up.
Fighter pilot Joe Richardson was laying chaff for a B-52 run over North Vietnam when the SAM's started to fly. That was bad but the worst was yet to come. As his squadron turned and headed for home, the bombers were headed the opposite direction. A head on collision would be disastrous. (Caution: strong language)
It was strange. Vietnam was a bit of a culture shock for Vic Grahn but he got over it. He was flying the A-37, a small jet aircraft designed for close air support to troops in contact (TIC). His base at Bien Hoa was the target of frequent rocket attacks which may or may not have disturbed the poker game.
The three companions were flying down to Webb Air Force Base to check it out. Joe Richardson was piloting the Beechcraft and while they were all going to be at flight school there, this was just a little pleasure trip. It nearly ended in disaster.
The Corpsman in Vietnam really saw the most difficult parts of war. Don Rohde will never forget the first Marine who died in his arms nor will he forget the first life he took, considering who she was and what she was doing. The Marines weren't arbitrary in their actions but if they took fire from a village, that village would burn.
He was a military man from day one. Vic Grahn's father had served in World War II aboard the USS Hornet and, when he came of age, he decided on the Air Force. A new war beckoned from Southeast Asia and he didn't want to miss out. With a commission out of ROTC in hand, he began his pilot training.
When Joe Richardson's squadron was working with some Navy pilots over the A Shau Valley, one of them made a mistake which caused some of their bombs to detonate prematurely. Two of his fellow pilots had to bail out. One of them was located fairly quickly but the fate of the other was unknown for a while.
Don Rohde decided to re-enlist. The Navy Corpsman really had his eyes opened in Vietnam and civilian life just wasn't working out for him. He and his pregnant wife headed for Camp Lejeune, where no one knew it yet, but there was something wrong with the water. (Caution: strong language)
Just as he was finishing flight school, Joe Richardson contracted Valley Fever, a respiratory illness connected to fungus in the soil in that part of Texas. It set him back because it took a while for the doctors to figure out what he had. He recovered and continued in his training as a fighter pilot. Finally, he was headed to Southeast Asia.