6:57 | Operation Kings started out badly when two young Marines suffered heat stroke and had to be evacuated. Then the three platoons were caught in an ambush by a larger enemy force. In the chaos, Lt. Frank Cox went to aid of his favorite corporal, whose life was saved by an unusual haversack load. Part 1 of 2.
Frank Cox describes the booby traps fashioned by the Viet Cong, which some say killed and wounded more Marines than anything else in Vietnam.
As three Marine companies advanced on a decidedly non-friendly village, the forward observer called for artillery support. Frank Cox was the artillery liaison officer and, finding the commander asleep, he gave the fire order himself, a move which had repercussions. A CBS news crew was embedded in the operation and they captured a famous image which had major repercussions back home.
After operations south of Da Nang, the Marine battalion rotated to the air base there to provide security. On a security patrol, the platoon leader led his unit through exactly the wrong place. That officer had been in basic school with Frank Cox, who had noticed the man dozing off during a class on patrolling, and who listened in on the radio as his platoon was decimated.
The restrictions on artillery fire in Vietnam were so strict that by the time permission to fire was obtained, the combat conditions had changed. Artillery liaison officer Frank Cox tells how he beat the system once he became a forward observer by using prepared coordinates and then firing his pistol in the air as he requested the fire mission over the radio.
New Marine officer Frank Cox and his friend Jack Swallows admired the beauty of the mountains and landscape of Vietnam as they approached it on the troop ship. They didn't know where they were going, but soon they knew what knowledge they were lacking, and that was how to avoid booby traps, how to avoid friendly crossfires and how to relate to people who weren't really on your side.
New Marine officer Frank Cox was assigned to an artillery battery and was soon in Okinawa training for Vietnam. He and his buddies were dismissive of the enemy there when they saw television coverage. The cocky new Marines weren't very kind to the Naval officers, either, on the voyage to the war.
In the officer's basic school at Quantico, every Marine officer is trained to command a rifle platoon, so that, no matter the officer's specialty, there is an ability to fight and win in combat. Frank Cox tells the story of his friend, Barney Barnum, who upon arriving in Vietnam, was immediately thrust into leadership and received the Medal of Honor for his response.
Frank Cox is a Marine who was inspired by that great American recruiter, John Wayne. There was no ROTC at his small college, so he signed up for a platoon leaders class. If you made it through two intense summer sessions, you had the chance to be a Marine officer after graduation.
The decision was made to evacuate the villagers while booby traps and bunkers were destroyed. An old woman walked up to forward observer Frank Cox and started kicking the ground and giving him grief. This led to a surprising friendship.
They were chasing a famous North Vietnamese Army division which had bested the French and were now formally entering the new war to support their Viet Cong allies. Artillery forward observer Frank Cox describes the tense moments of what proved to be a futile pursuit.
As the enemy swarmed towards them, the Marines formed a 360 degree defensive position and then they faced a night long assault. It was Frank Cox spotting the artillery support that won the upper hand against, as he calls the Viet Cong, "as difficult an enemy as the Marines have ever faced." Part 2 of 2.
Unlike some outfits, Foxtrot Company based it's number of kills on actual body counts, but a touring colonel made them take down their sign, saying no outfit had killed that many. As Frank Cox tells it, one sergeant took exception to that and did something totally inappropriate.
The patrols were brutal during Operation Double Eagle, recalls Frank Cox. Thick jungle meant no visibility and a lot of hacking at foliage just to move. They also ran out of water, which caused a risky decision involving a rice paddy.
Frank Cox had a friend from Marine officer's basic school named James Egan. Egan, a talented and popular officer from Notre Dame, disappeared when his reconnaissance patrol was attacked and has never been found to this day. Fortunately, the talent was deep in that unit.
When forward observer Frank Cox was out on a mission, the artillery fire base was attacked by Viet Cong sappers, who managed to knock out one of the howitzers, along with an unpopular sergeant.
It was New Year's Eve, ours not theirs. Before the night was over, Frank Cox had tackled a belligerent Marine who was hacked off at the infantry camped nearby, and placed his own battalion commander under a watch after confiscating his sidearm.
The large mortars attached to his artillery battalion were always down and needing spare parts, recalls Frank Cox. Other equipment problems plagued the Marines in Vietnam including inadequate boots and balky radios.
When Frank Cox first got to Vietnam, his unit suffered from many rookie mistakes that put them at risk without even facing the enemy. A Naval gunfire officer attached to the unit chronicled these mishaps in a little black book.
The packages from home were priceless. The simple items made the war more bearable, says Frank Cox, and were as exciting to him as when he was a boy getting his mail order toys.
Frank Cox recalls the frustration and anger felt by many in Vietnam due to the ineptness of the war effort and the difficulty in the field. Channeling this anger fueled a successful career for him later, but there was an incident on patrol when he let the anger get the best of him.
To complete the process of registering his artillery pieces on the target areas, Frank Cox went to the highest ground around. There he found an exotic anti-aircraft battery with a delusional commander who had an exaggerated sense of his mission and of the worth of his weapon system, the HAWK.
The job of forward observer is a vital one in combat and Frank Cox describes how he did his job in Vietnam. The forward observer feeds data to the artillery battery for targeting the enemy. On one memorable mission, he called in over 1700 rounds, a record at the time.
He felt he had done his job well in Vietnam, but Marine Frank Cox wounded himself when his sidearm accidentally discharged. This bothered him for years, but the passage of time gave him the perspective to come to grips with it.
His helicopter was unarmed. Ray Vaske ferried battalion commanders around and did some scout work, all the while admiring the beautiful scenery of Vietnam. His entire outlook was altered when, during a briefing, he got a lesson in the absurd rules of engagement of the time. The weather was often his most immediate problem and he describes a tense flight through the monsoon clouds.
When Galen Hoover woke up in a hospital with a bandaged head and a broken hand, he had no idea what happened or how he got there. The guys from his unit came to see him and he finally heard the tale of that fateful patrol on the canal that day.
There was little contact up by the DMZ so the 1st Air Cavalry was moved south near the Cambodian border. Plenty of action there. The first day, Jerry Gast's platoon set off on a 500 meter sweep in front of the perimeter and ran into a trail. The ambitious lieutenant decided they would follow it. Bad idea.
At first, Ray Vaske couldn't find Dong Ha on the map. The helicopter pilot was attached to an artillery battalion up near the DMZ and when he did get there, he found out the chopper he was going to fly was different than the one he'd been flying. It was time for some on-the-job-training.
Living full time with his Vietnamese crew meant that Galen Hoover ate what they ate. His first night on the river, they served him a dish that was so good, he requested it regularly, even after he found out what it was. The crew knew he was really green, so the boat captain thought he would mess with the new advisor a little.
The day Jack Jeter was wounded was the third day of serious firefights. His commanding officer, Captain Barry McCaffrey, was wounded on the first day and the temporary replacement had his own ideas about how to proceed. That led the unit right into big trouble. Part 1 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
Vietnamization was underway and, soon, Galen Hoover was sleeping away the long flight home. He landed in San Francisco and was glad to be back in the States, but as he left the plane, here came the peace protestors. What happened next haunts him still.
Coming home from Vietnam was a difficult experience. Jesse Groves was perplexed by the apathy and outright abuse. He suppressed his memories and moved on. Once later wars made service respectable again, and once he began to reconnect with his comrades, he could feel proud of his service.
The bullet barely missed wrecking his knee. Jack Jeter was in for some hospital time before he could go home. Once he did, he was amazed at the blase attitude of his friends about Vietnam. Part 3 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
The river boats were patrolling in narrow canals and rivers, searching for infiltrating NVA troops. Galen Hoover was in the second boat, trailing a boat that was supposed to be mine sweeping. That was the last thing he remembered about that day.
There were occasional potshots at his helicopter, but Ray Vaske had one incident where he just missed getting knocked down by an RPG. The weather was another big problem, once causing him to dip his skids in the ocean. Back at the base, the Vietnamese barber gave him a painfully close shave. A few weeks later, they found out, maybe, he had other things on his mind.
“I was out of it for days,” recalls Dennis Haines, He had a head wound and would only regain full consciousness after he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he learned the left side of his body was paralyzed.
Tony Coalson's helicopter unit flew all of II Corps, a fourth of the entire country, unlike dedicated combat units, which only flew in their little slice of Vietnam. He recalls his first combat related mission, in which he delivered an assessment team right in the middle of one of the biggest battles of the war. Part 1 of 2.
Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
When helicopter pilot Tony Coalson was on the ground during the Battle of Dak To, he was astounded at the numbers of American dead. Some of the casualties were from a terrible friendly fire incident. He remembers watching a C-130 full of wounded men just barely survive takeoff. When he returned to his base, he had a solemn observation for his roommate. Part 2 of 2.
As the American advisor argued with his Vietnamese counterpart over the radio, Willard Womack, an Army pilot stuck in transit, could hear the frustration mounting. The battle of Ap Bac could not be won with these tactics. Eventually, the evacuation was made and, weeks later, several of the aviators involved hitched a ride to Saigon for a night of carousing. Pt 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
Upon leading the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Myron Harrington had to help conduct an attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam. This is the story of how he and his men charged the tower, which took longer to accomplish than expected.
Willard Womack was nervously awaiting the news of what happened to the helicopter carrying some of his friends who had just participated in the Battle of Ap Bac, a crucial turning point early in the war. They had come though that unscathed but were now missing. Decades later, he received an email that brought the memories flooding back. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.
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.
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.
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. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
His eventual destination was flight school, but the first plane Ray Vaske ever got on was the one he took to basic training. He'd been told by the recruiter not to worry about that war in Vietnam. Surely, it would be over before he was done with training.