2:47 | Marine helicopter pilot John Jones recalls a fateful day when he switched aircraft with his friend, Bruce Eaton. Not long after the switch, it suffered a mechanical failure and crashed, killing all aboard. He had to pack up his friend's belongings to send home and he remembers a poignant moment when he saw a drawing that hung over the man's bunk.
Keywords : John Jones helicopter pilot Vietnam Laos Phu Bai pre-flight Bruce Eaton Steve Roederer
He was in ROTC and on the drill field when a B-52 flew over in all its glory and John Jones felt a patriotic urge. When he saw a recruiting poster for Marine Aviators, he new that was what he wanted to be. He had six siblings and felt that someone had to pay the price of freedom for all those kids.
After beginning flight training at Pensacola, Marine helicopter pilot John Jones moved to New River, a facility next to Camp Lejeune. He transitioned to the twin rotor H-46 helicopter, a military version of the Sea Knight passenger craft used by Pan Am. He knew he would be going to Vietnam and he didn't care.
Next to Chu Lai air base, the Marines had a helicopter base at Ky Ha. John Jones flew a twin rotor H-46 on transport missions from there and he describes arriving in country, the village nearby, and the only time the base was attacked. He was there a couple of months before he realized that people were shooting at his aircraft.
Helicopter transport pilot John Jones recalls the mission into Laos where he inserted a Special Operations group and then had to immediately extract them. When he took off, the overloaded aircraft crashed and he spent a tense night in the bush awaiting his own extraction.
Marine helicopter pilot John Jones suffered some superficial wounds when his aircraft was downed on a mission. While he was getting checked out for flight status, they wanted him to sign a list to get a Purple Heart. He refused.
The Army was moving in to take over the base at Ky Ha, so Marine helicopter pilot John Jones had to pack up and move North, closer to the Demilitarized Zone at Phu Bai. The new base featured sand instead of mud. While there, he had a somber moment when he was called upon to transport dead Marines.
John Jones describes his helicopter base at Phu Bai, which had new but very basic hooches for the men. On the other side of the runway was a very spartan international terminal used by the national airline. The only fire the base received was during the Tet Offensive when they were targeted by artillery.
Marine helicopter pilot John Jones will never forget the insertion mission when his gunner didn't fire his weapon despite receiving ground fire. He said there were kids on the porch of the hut. The source of the fire was clear. It was coming from the same hut.
John Jones recalls the time when his helicopter was rerouted to pick up a Viet Cong fighter waving a white flag. When he returned home, he knew he'd had enough of the service and he never flew again.
In flight school, every day was a new day, always a new procedure to learn. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson remembers learning slope landings and connects that to the first time he actually used one in a combat situation. It was during the Tet Offensive, on the lawn of a beautiful resort hotel built by the French.
What was a day like in the life of a chaplain? In Vietnam, it was likely to include a memorial service or a visit to a unit in the field for Carter Tucker, who flew around so much, they gave him an Air Medal. His second tour was different, but, like so many others, he was getting a bit weary of Vietnam.
The Tet Offensive was the most singular event of the Vietnam War. For helicopter pilot Tony Coalson, it began as almost nothing, but he knew it was a big deal when they brought out the 50 cal machine gun at the base. Does anybody here know how to use this thing? Part 1 0f 3.
Because of his earlier experience in the Navy, new Army chaplain Carter Tucker was chosen as a leader at the chaplain's basic course. They tried to send him to Europe but he insisted that he joined to go to Vietnam and minister to men in combat. Once there, he passed on the safe assignment and joined an infantry outfit.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
Lieutenant Colonel Newton remembers Colonel Chuck, who was one of the men he fought beside. When Chuck was moved to another unfamiliar area, he felt very strongly about the decision and quit. He also talks about the tedious Montagnard recruitment process and how a whole 41 of them were assigned to his regiment with very little prior knowledge. Additionally, Newton remembers that he and his team would periodically have to patrol the area by foot and a few times by chopper.
After the first patrol, Carter Tucker's submarine returned to California and to it's home port. While on leave he got married, but he also injured his leg, so his time aboard submarines came to an end. Pursuing his calling as a minister led to a renewed desire to serve, this time as an Army chaplain.
Bob Newton has many multi-war stories to tell, and here he talks about a significant attack from the Viet Cong on Camp Holloway. Following that he goes into a bit of detail of a war plane model known as the Caribou, and the significance of a large air base located in Bong Son, Vietnam. It was here that the few casualties following a battle at Quang Nihn came back to heal up and regroup.
He saw plenty of forward base camps in Vietnam when he went into the field with his unit. Chaplain Carter Tucker had to be prepared to go into danger at a moment's notice and then he tried to stay out of the way as much as he could.
Your year in Vietnam went by fast, if you made it through, says Tony Coalson. He did get one R&R in Hong Kong but the night before he was going to leave, something came up. It was another problem for which the solution was his helicopter.
Carter Tucker describes the chaos of a mortar and rocket attack. A round could land 50 yards away and it was like it was right next to you. As a chaplain, he rushed to help the wounded in any way he could and was even pressed into duty in the operating room. Then there were the cases where men would lose it psychologically.
On his second Vietnam tour, Army chaplain Carter Tucker was with an aviation unit, which meant that he was safely traveling by air, but because the aircraft were a prime target, his base was often under mortar and rocket attack. It wasn't all combat. There was talking soldiers out of marrying local girls and there were mercy missions to help civilians.
The anxiety increased as the troop ship approached Vietnam. Once ashore, Tony Coalson was sure they would be ambushed at any minute. In reality, they were in a very safe part of the country. As the aviation company settled into their base at Nha Trang, they had no idea that they had drawn one of the best assignments they could get.
Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson felt lucky when he was placed in the 201st Aviation Company instead of being thrown into the replacement circuit. He was sent to Vietnam on a troop ship, a practice that was soon to be abandoned. The trip was uncomfortable, but very interesting.