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 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 nuclear weapons 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.)
The smart bombs were a great new technology and Rick Hilton commanded the first fighter squadron to have them. After a series of missions to test the accuracy so collateral damage could be avoided, he went after an important power plant in the middle of a reservoir.
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.
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.
Rick Hilton was based in Thailand during his first Vietnam tour with a fighter squadron that flew missions mainly over North Vietnam. Their gunners weren't always the best shots, but there were a lot of them. When he looked out his cockpit on a tough mission, the sky was full of red raindrops going in the wrong direction.
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.
Fighter pilot Rick Hilton had already been flying missions out of Thailand when a former classmate was assigned to the same squadron. His first mission as Hilton's back seater was a memorable one. The plane was hit by a SAM and it looked like they were done for.
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.
Rick Hilton did not let the cold shoulder from the public bother him when he came home from his first Vietnam tour. He had decided on an Air Force Career and was back for a second tour a few years later. For that one he commanded the only smart bomb squadron in the world. He describes some of the missions and also outlines how the enemy both lost and won the war with help from American politicians and media.
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.
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/.)
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.
The conditions in Vietnam did not make for an easy time being a photographer. Frank Heiny describes having to go out during monsoon season, Colonel Lynch, and his efforts to find a water buffalo.
Walt Richardson volunteered at a Catholic orphanage while he was in Vietnam, helping the nuns take care of children. He also found time to start a musical group and had a good time playing in clubs. He was a childhood friend of the legendary Chappie James, the first black 4-star General in the Air Force.
Not every assignment was about the soldiers, some were about the Vietnamese people they had been sent to protect. Frank Heiny remembers some of the other stories from his time in Vietnam and the effect of what he witnessed there.
His missions were usually over North Vietnam but fighter pilot Rick Hilton was diverted to help a forward air controller on the ground in the South. He was not used to ground support tactics but the FAC was very good and he was on the money.
For the first time in his Air Force career, Walt Richardson was in a combat zone. When the aircraft mechanic arrived in Vietnam, one of the first things he saw was bodies being unloaded from a helicopter. That rattled him. Then there were the rocket attacks.
With hundreds of missions over two tours in Vietnam, fighter pilot Rick Hilton was awarded a nice collection of medals and commendations. It may have been even shinier except the new smart bomb technology he was deploying on his second tour caused some to think it was now too easy.
Quinn Becker describes the primitive sterilization units he used in Vietnam at an Army hospital. Smokey Joes, they called them. It was a demanding environment for medical personnel who were tasked with quickly getting casualties off the battlefield and into care and treatment.
It was a memorable mission. Rick Hilton spotted two trucks, sitting ducks on the road. As he rolled in to strike, guns on either side of him opened up. It was a trap. The pilots had to fly a hundred missions to make up a tour, which led to one of them making a memorable comment during a lecture from the flight surgeon about smoking.