3:59 | Captain Paul Jacobs served seven tours in Vietnam waters and the first time he returned home, he was welcomed. By the last time, he and his men were suffering the typical abusive homecoming remembered by veterans of that war. This despite the fact that they had just completed a miraculous refugee rescue operation which saved thousands.
Keywords : Paul Jacobs Vietnam USS Kirk (FF-1087) humanitarian Vietnamese Navy Subic Bay Philippines pregnant Guam Law of the Sea Joe Galloway
Why did he join the Navy? Because he got a brown envelope from the Army. Paul Jacobs was already an engineer out of Maine Maritime Academy, so he was commissioned and made Chief Engineer on his first ship, at only twenty one years old. He saw action off the coast of Vietnam on several ships providing support and Naval gunfire.
Retired Captain Paul Jacobs still has a strong relationship with Vietnamese refugees and their descendants. As captain of the USS Kirk, he led the famous rescue of the Vietnamese Navy. Speaking to a group of them recently, he called out the hull number of his ship, "1087!" A cheer went up.
Paul Jacobs took command of the USS Kirk late in 1974. Its deployment was rushed in order to provide humanitarian relief as the war effort crumbled in Vietnam and people began to flee. Enlisting a tanker to clear the way into Saigon, he transferred thousands of refugees to merchant ships and then began to take on helicopters, pushing them over the side after offloading the people.
During the evacuation of Vietnamese civilian refugees, a baby died on the USS Kirk despite the best efforts of the corpsman. Captain Paul Jacobs gave the baby a formal military burial at sea. Years later, he got a phone call from that baby's sister.
Paul Jacobs, who commanded several ships during the Vietnam War, muses over the need to kill the enemy in the course of his job, as well as the need to pivot towards humanitarian duties when required. The sorry spectacle of politicians managing wars when it should be left to the military is a sore point with him.
The sailors of the USS Kirk knew that one of the Vietnamese women they had saved during the chaotic exodus of refugees had named a baby after the ship. Captain Paul Jacobs tracked her down and she came to the ship's crew reunion, along with Richard Armitage, a civilian official at the time who took charge of the largest rescue operation.
Despite the recent interest in the welfare of veterans, Paul Jacobs laments that the Veterans Administration still has not responded fully to the challenge. He worked in his home state of Maine to expand recognition of their plight in the run up to the 50th Anniversary program. He also has a thing or two to say about dilettante commanding officers.
If you send the military into a war, at least let them fight the war themselves, without micro-management from politicians. That's the lesson of Vietnam according to Paul Jacobs, who was an enthusiastic combatant but who also worked on a database of unexploded ordnance that was presented to the current government of his former foes.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.