6:03 | 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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/.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.