6:11 | Jim Benson's mission was to hold and guard the Tu Cau bridge. The work load on his men was heavy and he details the routine of patrols and ambushes, both day and night, that left the Marines exhausted. At the same time, he had to constantly train new replacements who had no combat knowledge.
Keywords : Jim Benson Vietnam Tu Cau Bridge Song Cu De River Dodge City patrol ambush sleep replacement debrief smell Nuoc Mam fish sauce
It was the "Sands of Iwo Jima" with John Wayne that inspired Jim Benson enough to leave a job he loved, coaching high school football, and join the Marines. It was 1968 so it was certain he would go to Vietnam. After the new Lieutenant recovered from the heat when he walked off the plane, he was assigned a platoon. He was surprised at what supplies were being packed for patrol.
It was his first patrol as a platoon leader and they were only a thousand yards out when Jim Benson encountered his first booby trap. He thought, is it this bad here? He found out that his platoon was not very disciplined, not even using flank security when moving. That all changed, but not before he lost a promising young corporal who ignored a basic rule.
His platoon was defending the Tu Cau Bridge when a Viet Cong came walking down the road right toward the machine gun emplacement. "Chu hoi," came the cry from the injured Vietnamese fighter and Jim Benson took him in and questioned him. A successful operation followed, marred only by some errant artillery shells that killed some civilians. This enraged his medic, who was not allowed to remain and treat the wounded.
It was already late and Jim Benson had a river crossing to deal with. Once there, he called for the rope, a vital piece of gear for the crossing. Private Dewey had forgotten the rope. Private Dewey was a train wreck, but when the shooting started, he was the man you wanted by your side. The next day, after a sleepless night with the listening post reporting movement, they made a startling discovery.
The platoon had just moved from the point position to the back of the column. Platoon leader Jim Benson walked up the column to speak to the next platoon's leader when the Viet Cong attacked and he was pinned down. One man rose to the occasion, Private Dewey, the unit's misfit.
They had good intelligence from the Vietnamese that the Viet Cong were making a supply run down from their mountain base. Jim Benson's platoon got to the area, set up an ambush, and waited. They never came. They didn't come the next day either and the sleep deprived platoon went out for a third try. Part 1 of 2.
After failing for three days to ambush a Viet Cong supply run, Jim Benson's unit was finally getting some sleep when word came, Charlie was moving. He reached the scene and, following a blood trail, he was just turning back when someone spotted a cave entrance. Part 2 of 2.
On Go Noi Island, a Marine company would secure an area, the bulldozers would clear it up to that point, and the Marines would advance some more. After his company's week was done, Jim Benson was going to warn the relieving officers and Amtrac drivers to take a different trail because he had smelled the enemy's pungent fish sauce on the trail. He was too late.
Jim Benson had been in the field for a long time getting thin on K-rations, that it only took a few beers to get him looped, and that's exactly what happened on the next R&R. Good thing he had an excellent sergeant looking out for him.
The Provincial Reconnaissance Unit men were a rough bunch. They were locals recruited by the CIA to help identify and eliminate Viet Cong and they were working with Jim Benson's Marine platoon. After a successful ambush, he was disturbed to find what the PRU's did with the enemy bodies. What he found following a blood trail made him distrust his own eyesight.
Platoon Leader Jim Benson loved to have Private Dewey around in a firefight but he was also the company misfit. When a new battalion commander took the reins, he laid down the law about accidental discharges. As the unit formed up in the field during an operation, the commander was standing right there when Dewey approached, the M79 Grenade Launcher in his hand.
Jim Benson figured out that the Viet Cong were going into a village at night to visit women there so he came up with a good technique to get them when they were coming out in the morning. Snipers would hide all night and set up before dawn to pick them off. This was working but two of the snipers got in trouble one morning and he set off with Doc Hargett to find them.
After some R&R in Hawaii, Jim Benson had duty with the battalion operations staff. This soon grew tiresome and he longed to get back into the field and command a platoon again. He was able to do that and more before he left Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the stress was just the beginning. Jim Benson describes the emotional states of the grunt on the ground in Vietnam. The lessons he learned and the qualities in men he admired are valuable to him.
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
Like so many returning veterans, Dan McMahon put Vietnam behind him and returned to college. Once he figured out that he didn't really want to be a teacher, he returned to flying for a satisfying career. Just don't put Gimme Shelter on the juke box.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
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.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
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.
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.
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.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
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.
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 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/.)
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.
Tom Agnew was an Army brat who always wanted to be a soldier and a hero. When it was his term to serve, Uncle Sam decided he would be a medic. He was apolitical, so it didn't bother him that he may go to war in Vietnam. He would be going to try and save lives.
It was miserable at Fort Wolters with the heat and the mosquitos, but Dan McMahon was learning to fly and that made it bearable. When he moved to the next phase at Hunter Field, the training got more serious and he realized he had to be a soldier, not just an aviator.
Something good can still come out of a bad war. Modern EMS was borne from lessons learned in Vietnam by combat medics such as Tom Agnew. He passed on those lessons while training emergency medical personnel in his postwar career. First he had to deal with protestors and a tendency to hit the deck when he heard a loud noise.
He was a mariner and a pilot but David Farthing felt that he needed a more academic skill, so he went to law school while still serving as an Australian Navy officer. That allowed him to have a very nice second career when he left the service.
Chinook pilot Dan McMahon hated to hear it when there was a Tac-E, a tactical emergency. That meant he would probably be flying howitzers to a fire base in the middle of the night with ground fire coming up to meet him. When some aircraft had mysterious explosions, they looked for some maintenance issue, but what they discovered was a new enemy weapon.
It was an assault helicopter company composed of US and Australian personnel. David Farthing was the leader of the Australian contingent and he had to go over the head of the American commander when an unqualified pilot arrived as an instructor. The outcome of that incident tragically confirmed his opinion of the man.