2:51 | He had thirty years in the Army, but Rock Merritt was tapped for a job in Vietnam as Sergeant Major to a general in Cam Ranh Bay. It was a plum post that he volunteered for because of a policy that all Sergeant Majors had to serve a tour there. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Keywords : Rock Merritt paratrooper Vietnam Cam Ranh Bay
He was set to join the Marines but when Rock Merritt saw a poster recruiting paratroopers that promised extra pay and a special uniform, he went Army. The 508th Parachute Infantry regiment was activated at Camp Blanding and prepared to join the fight in Europe. The first order of business was trimming the number of men, which was an interesting process. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt had no knowledge of what he was training for in Nottingham, but soon the paratrooper was part of the vast invasion of Normandy. He describes the huge scope of the effort, the airplanes they used, and a unwanted responsibility he had regarding a bicycle. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
They jumped at 0230. Paratrooper Rock Merritt missed the drop zone and he was lucky because it was flooded. After struggling out of his parachute and unpacking his weapon, he deployed his Crackerjack cricket and clicked once when he heard a noise. Part 1 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt had no idea where the rest of his unit was. The paratrooper had dropped into Normandy and soon became part of a group of 37 men from many outfits. A chaplain among them did a great job of keeping up morale as they tried to get a foothold and move on the Germans. When his unit finally assembled, his platoon was issued weapons with which he was totally unfamiliar. Part 2 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
You will never forget the first combat order you are issued. Paratrooper Rock Merritt was a corporal when he was given his first real task during the invasion of Normandy. Part 3 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt was dug in listening to a German propaganda speaker when a machine gun started up. The paratrooper grabbed some Gammon grenades and crawled 500 yards under constant fire. He was able to walk back and the push into France continued. Part 4 of 4. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Operation Market Garden, a huge airborne drop into Holland, was considered a failure, but, to paratrooper Rock Merritt, it was a great success following the chaos of Normandy. Years later, he would meet the author of A Bridge Too Far, which documented the battle. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
The paratroopers traveled through Belgium to the cheers of onlookers, but they were miserable in the open trucks. Rock Merritt says it was the coldest he's ever been. There had no cold weather gear except snow shoes as they rushed to defend Allied gains in the Battle of the Bulge. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Rock Merritt tells the incredible story of a man he pulled from a bomb crater and sent back to the rear. He was sure the man was dead, but six years later, he got a surprising phone call. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
In the spring of 1945, paratrooper Rock Merritt was selected in a program that sent one man from each line company home for a ten day leave. He returned to Europe on the day the war there ended. His outfit, the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was then chosen to be the honor guard for Eisenhower's headquarters in Frankfurt. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Former paratrooper Rock Merritt discusses the origin of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment's logo, the Red Devil. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
He already had a long, distinguished career in the Army but Rock Merritt wasn't done. He served in the Dominican Republic, where he had a hard time believing that taxpayer money was being used to buy off the combatants, and in Panama, where he got to bring his wife with him. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
It was the first large scale B-52 strike over North Vietnam and F-4 Pilot Carl Scheidegg was flying one of the hundreds of planes assembling in the night sky. There were terrific storms and little visibility as he searched for the tanker at the rendezvous. Suddenly it appeared out of the clouds coming straight for him on a collision course.
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.)
Steve Long was on a bus headed to Marine boot camp when he encountered his first DI, barking orders. He thought he was getting a plum job while marching, but road guard turned out to be not so good. He did enjoy meeting recruits from a wide variety of backgrounds, which was new to him.
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.
His tour of duty was a real tour. F-4 pilot Carl Scheidegg spent time at many different air bases in Vietnam and Thailand. When he had a chance to go to China Beach and saw the perfect sand, he had a vision of the future. The Vietnamese had a lovely country and he will never forget the civilian he met who told him what the people in the South were fighting for.
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.
It started 45 minutes out from Da Nang with a sobering announcement from the pilot. Then there was the oven-like climate, the surprise machine gun fire, the ribbing from the old-timers. Steve Long was definitely in Vietnam.
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.
“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.
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.
Carl Scheidegg would watch the MiGs take off at Yen Bai, but he wasn't allowed to attack the base. He had to wait until they came up and challenged him. This was just one of the frustrating things about Vietnam on his mind, including the fact that we had them beat before we walked away.
Steve Long was on the ground overnight at An Hoa when the base came under mortar fire. He recalls the selfless action of his hosts there, who protected the visiting Huey crew as best they could. He lost a good friend in another incident, made more tragic by the unusual circumstances.
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.
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.
Normally, a door gunner would not fly his last month in country, but Steve Long finagled his way into the air. In his other job in the avionics shop, he had a run-in with the new officer in charge. He got a little satisfaction the night after he got his orders home.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.