2:52 | A veteran of World War II and Korea, Frank Noonan served long enough to make it to Saigon on the first American warship to venture up the Mekong River. There, he observed a German civilian use an unusual defensive technique when attacked at a sidewalk cafe. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Keywords : Frank Noonan USS John R. Craig (DD-885) Cuban Missile Crisis John F. Kennedy (JFK) Vietnam Viet Cong (VC) Mekong River Saigon cafe France French beer German grenade
On a family vacation in San Diego, Frank Noonan became enamored with the sailors he saw and, instantly, he had a new goal. As soon as he was old enough, he would join the Navy. His chosen path led him to a berth on the battleship USS Oklahoma, which pulled into Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
It was Sunday morning and Frank Noonan was getting ready to go on liberty when the alarm sounded. The ship was under attack. In fact, the entire fleet in Pearl Harbor was under attack by Japanese aircraft. He made it to his battle station, but was trapped when the ship capsized. In an air pocket with two others, he banged and yelled for help that would not come. Part 1 of 2. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Frank Noonan was trapped with two others below deck on the USS Oklahoma after eight torpedoes ripped into her hull. A savvy junior petty officer figured a way out, but it was no picnic in Pearl Harbor when he broke the surface of the water. Coated with oil and sick from swallowing it, he wondered what his next step would be. Part 2 of 2. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
On his first maneuvers after joining the Navy, Frank Noonan saw a destroyer performing boring duties and thought to himself, "I'm glad I'm not on that ship." He was on the battleship USS Oklahoma at the time, but after it was sunk during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he had to be reassigned to another ship. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The Japanese had been bombing a weather station south of Hawaii, so the USS Helm was dispatched to evacuate the civilian survivors. Frank Noonan was a lookout on the bridge and he was having a problem with his helmet. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The USS Helm returned to its home naval yard at Mare Island to rearm with improved weapons. Frank Noonan was able to call his mother for the first time since the war started and then it was back to sea. The Helm was an older destroyer and its sonar would not function when the ship was making more than 15 knots, so she was relegated to escorting auxiliary ships. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
When the Japanese fleet came down "The Slot" to support its troops in the Solomon Islands, an American force was rapidly gathered to engage them. Frank Noonan was loading projectiles on the USS Helm, so he could not see the action, but he could sure hear it. After the battle, the ships that were damaged were told to make for port at what speed they could manage. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Frank Noonan's ship, the destroyer USS Helm, was sent to join up with some Australian ships, a Dutch destroyer and a French destroyer. The crews of the Dutch and French ships had escaped the Nazis in Europe. The duty was mostly anti-submarine patrols and, eventually, the force moved to Sydney, where they became part of "MacArthur's Navy." (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The USS Helm was told to protect the Queen Mary on its way into Sydney harbor, but there was one problem. The cruise ship was way faster than its anti-submarine escort. Frank Noonan had made his way up to coxswain of the whale boat on the Helm and this allowed him a great privilege, going ashore. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
The Marines were having a lot of trouble on the beaches in the Marshall Islands. Frank Noonan was on board the USS Helm, a destroyer that was bombarding the shorelines. After this action, the Helm escorted a damaged battleship back to the States and he got leave to go visit family. His new assignment was going to be totally different. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
After a long stint aboard a destroyer, Frank Noonan ended the war on an entirely different kind of craft, a crash boat. Based in the Philippines, his job was to wait just offshore to rescue downed flyers. He was obligated until 1946, so after celebrating with friends and visiting home, he was going back to sea. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
A veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank Noonan reenlisted after the war and served on the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge during the Korean War. He details the awesome firepower its dive bombers carried and the technology of launching and landing jets on a floating runway. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Frank Noonan owed the Navy another year. That's how he wound up at the Bikini Atoll for Operation Crossroads, the first post-war atomic bomb tests. There were two detonations, an air burst and an underwater burst. He describes the scene and the devastating effects on the target ships. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
After a short bit of shore duty, Frank Noonan was assigned to the USS John R. Craig, a destroyer that was bound for a goodwill tour in the Pacific. It berthed in some unlikely places, including up the Irrawaddy River at Rangoon. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Air America aviator Larry Taylor was operating near a secret communications site when he heard on the radio that an A-1 Skyraider pilot was bailing out. He flew his helicopter to the area and was waiting when the parachute came down. It would be years before he learned the name of the rescued pilot.
The bullet barely missed wrecking his knee. Jack Jeter was in for some hospital time before he could go home. Once he did, he was amazed at the blase attitude of his friends about Vietnam. Part 3 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
Coming home from Vietnam was a difficult experience. Jesse Groves was perplexed by the apathy and outright abuse. He suppressed his memories and moved on. Once later wars made service respectable again, and once he began to reconnect with his comrades, he could feel proud of his service.
Air America pilot Larry Taylor speaks of his encounters with the legendary Anthony Poshepny, a.k.a. Tony Poe. Poe was a CIA operative living with the Hmnog tribe in a remote area of Laos. He had married a local woman and was considered indispensable to the clandestine campaign to aid the indigenous people.
The river boats were patrolling in narrow canals and rivers, searching for infiltrating NVA troops. Galen Hoover was in the second boat, trailing a boat that was supposed to be mine sweeping. That was the last thing he remembered about that day.
There was little contact up by the DMZ so the 1st Air Cavalry was moved south near the Cambodian border. Plenty of action there. The first day, Jerry Gast's platoon set off on a 500 meter sweep in front of the perimeter and ran into a trail. The ambitious lieutenant decided they would follow it. Bad idea.
Living full time with his Vietnamese crew meant that Galen Hoover ate what they ate. His first night on the river, they served him a dish that was so good, he requested it regularly, even after he found out what it was. The crew knew he was really green, so the boat captain thought he would mess with the new advisor a little.
The day Jack Jeter was wounded was the third day of serious firefights. His commanding officer, Captain Barry McCaffrey, was wounded on the first day and the temporary replacement had his own ideas about how to proceed. That led the unit right into big trouble. Part 1 of 3. (Caution: strong language.)
Marine aviator Larry Taylor valued his stint with a ground unit as a liaison officer, but he was intrigued by this civilian outfit, Air America. It was an open secret that it was an intelligence operation supporting friendly locals in Southeast Asia. It could be mundane supply and refugee flights or it could be dangerous insertions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
“I was out of it for days,” recalls Dennis Haines, He had a head wound and would only regain full consciousness after he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, where he learned the left side of his body was paralyzed.
When Galen Hoover woke up in a hospital with a bandaged head and a broken hand, he had no idea what happened or how he got there. The guys from his unit came to see him and he finally heard the tale of that fateful patrol on the canal that day.
How did that interview with Air America go? Aviator Larry Taylor got the job, but he found out when he got to Thailand that he'd been lied to about his interest in flying T-28's. He was satisfied flying helicopters, though, and since he was a civilian, he actually got some time off every month.
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.
Vietnamization was underway and, soon, Galen Hoover was sleeping away the long flight home. He landed in San Francisco and was glad to be back in the States, but as he left the plane, here came the peace protestors. What happened next haunts him still.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
One type of mission for Air America pilots was support for CIA operatives embedded with local tribes, particularly the Hmong. A lot of the action was near the Ho Chi Minh trail and the lesser known Sihanouk Trail, which was where pilot Larry Taylor had his helicopter shot up by ground fire.