7:35 | Ernest Banasau's journey from college flunkie to combat-ready soldier takes him from Texas to Tigerland to Pleiku, and is filled with surprises, pranks, and colorful characters.
Keywords : Tigerland boot camp Texas M-14 90mm recoilless rifle 50 cal machine gun Parade Pleiku Wake Island C-141 Starlifter Ft. Polk
Ernest Banasau shares the connections between his military lineage and Native American roots.
Bravo Company has been all but wiped out, and Ernest Banasau worries that he and his buddies will be sent in to replace them. Instead, he joins A Company, where he experiences his first enemy contact - in the form of a rice paddy machine gun ambush.
Banasau takes a premature R&R and forgets his malaria pills, extending his absence for longer than he had planned.
A swarm of aggressive bees launches an attack on Ernest Banasau's platoon, causing them to scatter and drop their gear. The furious Sergeant leads a small group of soldiers back to gather their lost gear.
11 frightening days in the Battle of Dak To, and the bloody fight for Hill 875. When a Marine F4 misses its target, a 500 pound bomb takes out an entire encampment of wounded GIs. The South Vietnamese Civilian Army prepares a Thanksgiving feast, but the meal does not sit well with the American palette.
Among the spoils of Hill 875, Banasau discovers the gruesome remains of the enemy. After witnessing the loss of so many GIs, he feels only satisfaction at the sight of NVA corpses. Nonetheless, a shell-shocked prisoner is mercifully evacuated from the smoldering wreckage.
A perpetually frightened soldier develops a unique approach to making it up the hill unscathed. Banasau shares tips on getting sleep as an RTO, including putting the scared GI to work for him.
Banasau returns to the base at Dak To, where he used his masterful scrounging skills to acquire alcohol for his team. An opportunity to attend a USO show is thwarted by enterprising base commandos.
Banasau and his team struggle with questionable orders from an inexperienced, egomaniacal company commander. Later, they come across what sounds like a massive army, and are forced to take cover... only to discover their ears have deceived them.
On patrol, Banasau's platoon steps into a firefight during the Tet Offensive, where he and 2 others are hit. He does his best to keep fighting until help can arrive. Part 1 of 2
Under heavy fire, choppers attempt to evacuate wounded GIs from Kontum. After one fatal crash, a dustoff chopper manages to lift Ernest Banasau to safety. Years later, Banasau meets the pilot who saved him, and learns how close he came to meeting a tragic fate. Part 2 of 2
Banasau makes the most of his time in recovery, including spending time in Japan with new American friends.
Ernest Banasau returns to Vietnam only to face an obstacle course of paperwork and bureaucracy. Making the best of things, he takes time to reconnect with his Air Force brat roots.
Banasau's team uncovers a clever diversion plotted by the enemy. He and fellow GIs are narrowly spared from friendly fire.
Back at the firebase, Banasau and his buddy receive some very unexpected news - they're going home. True to his nature, he uses his newfound leverage to mess with the higher ranks.
Banasau came home to a different country than the one he left, and figured out to adjust - while others were not so lucky. Years later, he took a journey to meet the family of a fallen brother, and offered words of comfort.
At the onset of Operation Desert Storm, Ernest Banasau is a Logistics Coordinator in Germany. He contacts the command to offer his services in the war effort, and is stationed in Turkey to play a coordinating role in Operation Provide Comfort, protecting Kurdish refugees from Saddam Hussein's army.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.