5:42 | Bruce D'Agostino did well in business following his service in Vietnam. One thing he didn't do was have much contact with fellow veterans, but that changed in 1987 when he met a POW/MIA activist at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He began loosening red tape, and eventually made back channel contact with the Vietnamese government.
Told he was at the top of the list to be drafted, Bruce D'Agostino enlisted in the Air Force to get some electronics training. Based in Japan with a communications squadron, he sought an assignment in Vietnam because he didn't feel right sitting there while a war was going on. He was already a crack shot, thanks to a Marine sniper.
Bruce D'Agostino took a temporary duty assignment in Saigon repairing teletype machines. The Air Force technician and his crew worked long days so they could have some free time. He used his to become a photographer, inserting himself into both government functions and battlefields. At the latter he learned firsthand the vagaries of the rules of engagement.
Bruce D'Agostino's most vivid memory of Vietnam is leaving. Instead of waiting on a commercial flight, he hopped a military plane to his home base in Japan. Climbing aboard in darkness, he was startled when the lights came on and revealed the plane's cargo. His life was changed during that flight.
Bruce D'Agostino had many contacts with civilians in Vietnam, but was wary of anyone he didn't know well. You never knew who could be the enemy. Warned to watch out for unwitting children carrying possible booby traps, he found himself in exactly that situation when a little boy ran up with something in his hand.
His uncle was a veteran, so Bruce D'Agostino corresponded with him while in Vietnam, feeling he would understand what he was going through. The disgust began to build as he witnessed the nonchalant treatment of the remains of dead soldiers and read the ridiculous undercounts of casualties by the top brass. His top secret clearance gave him access to material which convinced him that they had no intention of winning the war.
Mentioning that he served in Vietnam would clear the area around him in a bar, remembers Bruce D'Agostino. The World War II vets weren't much better, and told him that Vietnam wasn't a real war. Korean War vets were more understanding, but no one, not even his father, wanted to talk about Vietnam.
It was difficult readjusting to civilian life after being in a war zone, says Bruce D'Agostino. No one knows what you went through over there. He reflects on his growing involvement in veterans' issues and points out that the Vietnam war had a very high volunteer rate, men who felt that they couldn't do less than their fathers and uncles did.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.