6:28 | The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
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There was no radio contact with the 2nd battalion on Hill 875 and losing contact with an American unit could only mean really bad news. To get there and find out what was happening, David Brown's unit had to walk in, a long trek through more dead bodies than he had ever seen. The answer to what had happened was very unsettling, and he was even more unsettled when he heard something huge crashing through the trees.
David Brown can't remember anything about his first battle, but he'll never forget the second one, Hill 823. The men had to jump from helicopters onto the hilltop. Soon, they were surrounded as the enemy who fled during the bombardment came back up the hill to reclaim it. A long, sleepless night followed, with American gunships keeping up a constant barrage of bullets.
The heat and the smell, that's what you first noticed about Vietnam, says David Brown. He got a little relief from the heat when he was sent to the countryside and spent most of his time under the canopy in the jungle. He was out there so long that he was momentarily baffled when he sat down at a table in a mess hall after a long trek. Tablecloths? Silverware? This was nice after the malaria and the leeches.
David Brown met a man in a pool hall who had Jump Wings on his chest and he knew he had to get some of those. Volunteering ahead of the draft, he went to jump school after basic and got his own wings despite the trepidation he felt when he saw the raggedy plane they would use. After a year of spit shine and Brasso with the 82nd Airborne, it was time for Vietnam.
When he recovered from his wound, David Brown was moved to another platoon and made Platoon Sergeant. He didn't have the actual rank necessary, but he had the heart and his performance earned him a Bronze Star. His last real action was during the Tet Offensive and after that, he headed home, declining the chance to stay and get another stripe.
David Brown developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder late in life once he retired and had more time to think about the war. When he first returned, he was nearly sent right back, but his Congressman helped him avoid that injustice. His last assignment was marching trainees around at Jump School, where he encountered some Navy SEALs who made quite an impression on him.
Bob Clark's first contact with the enemy in Vietnam was memorable. His platoon found a bunker complex they'd been looking for and soon a firefight began. When it was over, a search for intel in the pockets of the dead revealed a photograph of the family of an NVA soldier. That provoked a little soul searching.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
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.
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.
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.
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
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.
On Thanksgiving day in 1968, Huey pilot Thomas Gipson spent all day delivering meals to various camps and bases. When he saw what his own holiday meal consisted of, he felt a little neglected. It was dangerous operating in a dense jungle and he recalls an incident in which another aircraft was shot down.
Bob Clark was a third generation soldier. His father served for thirty one years and was highly decorated, so soldiering was in the younger Clark's blood as he went off to ROTC at Texas Tech. It was a fairly conservative campus, but the war in Vietnam was inflaming opinions everywhere. He knew he would be going there as soon as he received his commission.
He got married shortly before he went to Vietnam and once he got there, Bob Clark had very few options for communication back home. The new lieutenant wrote letters, of course, and there was a system in the rear which allowed you to make phone calls over short wave radio, but he was almost always in the bush.
College wasn't going that well for Thomas Gipson, so he knew the draft would eventually come for him and he would end up in Vietnam. When he found out that you could be a helicopter pilot in the Army without a college degree, he knew that was the path for him.
Jack Swickard recalls an unnamed fellow pilot who had one of the civilian women who worked around the base chasing after him. He came up with a novel method to get rid of her, one which developed into some trouble at the officers club. (Caution: adult subject matter.)
When he got to Vietnam, newly minted lieutenant Bob Clark was assigned to the 8th Cavalry which was heavily involved in the new air assault concept. He was fortunate to have good NCO's in his platoon and to have a company commander who imparted some advice that stuck with him for the rest of his career.
It was long hours and long days for Thomas Gipson in Vietnam. He gives an overview of his tour, describing the different types of missions and some of the misadventures. The amount of flying time was closely monitored to make sure the pilots didn't crack, but it was still exhausting.
It wasn't a hooch in Bien Hoa, it was a nice villa. Helicopter pilot Jack Swickard was amazed to find his billet was so luxurious. He had not been there long when he got an unexpected lesson in firearm safety right there in his room. On his first mission, he was puzzled at the strange behavior of the aircraft commander, who was slapping himself in the face.
When Bob Clark finally got to talk to his wife from Vietnam, it was to tell her he was coming home. The tour was over. He was treated royally in an airport bar when he landed and lovingly when he got home to his wife. He had none of the negative treatment many vets were receiving, not until years later in a McDonald's.
The first combat mission for helicopter pilot Thomas Gipson was memorable. He saw an NVA soldier stand up and fire right at him and then wanted to forget what he saw our bulldozers doing after the fight. He was still in the right seat as a co-pilot, trying to get used to this new, dangerous world.
LTC Ron and COL Judie Richtsmeier (retired) share a concern for the future of America. For the two Vietnam veterans, it is a troubling time in the nation. But, perhaps, it can survive it's trouble as their love has survived after beginning in the middle of a war.
One great thing about flying helicopters in the Army. The guy who maintained the aircraft flew with you. That made all the difference in the world to Thomas Gipson. His crew chief took good care of the him, as well as the Huey, and he had to set him straight on what the nose art really meant.