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.
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.
Following personal leave to attend his father's funeral, Tom Pemberton returned to Vietnam with a new assignment, auditing stevedore contracts at the Saigon port. When his time was up, he returned to the Army Reserve Advisory Group in Jacksonville. It was a good post, but there was one difficulty. It fell on this unit to notify families in Florida of a soldiers death.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When he got near the end of his Vietnam tour, Charles Vicari could not sleep, so the medical officer gave him some medication. This became a problem one night, when a mortar barrage came in. When his time was up, he finished up a career in the Marines in a much less dangerous North Carolina.
Gunner's mate Jack LeCroy returned from his Vietnam tour without encountering any protests. The only one he'd ever seen was during a port visit in Japan. He finds some parallels between the jungle warfare of the ground troops in Vietnam and the suburban warfare today's combatants must face.
It was different from any other war in Vietnam. There were no front lines and the enemy could be anywhere. That's what Charles Vicari had to deal with as a Marine gunnery sergeant. He was also perplexed by the people he was there to help, like the Vietnamese militia member who wanted compensation for something that the Viet Cong did.
After a nice cruise to Saint Thomas, the men of the destroyer USS Cone got orders to Vietnam. The mission was offshore bombardment and interdiction fire. Jack LeCroy was a gunner's mate on one of the five inch guns and he describes the workings of the weapon.
In 1951, Charles Vicari returned to duty after recovering from the wound he received in Korea. His enlistment was up in a matter of months, but he didn't find civilian life to his liking so he re-enlisted. When 1965 rolled around, he had a plum post, but President Johnson decided he was needed in Vietnam.
He needed a new MOS because of his wounds, so Marine William Moncus became a communications specialist. He went to Vietnam with a secretive new unit called the Marine Support Battalion. That innocuous name shielded a secret intelligence gathering operation.
As he waited to step foot in Vietnam for the first time, Charles Vicari was obsessed with the thought of stepping in a punji pit. Then he jumped off the helicopter and...no punji pit. Once he was over that, he settled into his role as mortar platoon sergeant.
Al Stiles remembers that it seemed to take forever steaming into home port at Charleston. The USS Manley had returned from Vietnam and he was anxious to see his wife. He adapted his letters home to her, along with deck logs and other materials into a book.
Charles Vicari already had experience in a Headquarters and Service company, so when he was offered the job as H&S gunnery sergeant while he was in Vietnam, he jumped at the chance. If they wanted him to not get shot at, it was fine with him.
It was at Camp Lejeune that William Moncus, now a gunnery sergeant, finished his career, training young Marines. He taught them to love their weapon and care for it, among other things. There was an airlift unit at the base, and he recalls the fiery aftermath of a training accident.
The USS Manley was heading to Singapore for repairs when the route was adjusted slightly to make sure the ceremonies associated with crossing the equator could take place. Al Stiles provides a colorful description of the initiation of the Polliwogs.
He was a mathematics major, but John Waller was also an ROTC cadet, and this led to a commission as a new 2nd Lieutenant. The Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Bliss was a lucky assignment for him, though he would have gladly gone to Vietnam if that was his fate. His real goal was to be a math teacher.
Landing at Tan Son Nhut air base to begin his second tour, Tom Pemberton could see flashes on the ground. It was VC fire aimed at his plane. The transportation officer had a staff job monitoring motorpools and cargo operations. Then he had a highway traffic control job in which he tried to keep convoys from running into each other.
When a ship pulled into Hong Kong for liberty, a call went out to a lady named Mary Sue, who had a big operation painting the sides of warships. The USS Manley had a lot of port visits there and elsewhere for repairs and refitting after she lost two gun mounts.
It was over a hundred degrees and there was a garbage strike when Tom Grissom arrived in Saigon. After he got used to the aroma, he had to get used to a new kind of war, a war in which there were no battle lines and anyone could be an enemy. He had a desk job, but even in the compound where high ranking officers lived, there were booby traps.