8:10 | Gilbert Howland had already served with Merrill's Marauders and was there at Pork Chop Hill in the next war. He shipped out for his third war in 1966 as an ARVN advisor in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He felt lucky that his Vietnamese counterpart spoke English, which made the job much easier. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Keywords : Gilbert Howland Vietnam Fort Dix 24th Special Tactical Zone Kon Tum Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Vietnamese central highlands Viet Cong (VC) Michelin Plantation Tunnel Rat Loc Ninh 81mm mortar
Gilbert Howland was already in the Army when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was down in Panama taking jungle training and his unit was guarding the canal. They moved to Trinidad to guard against German submarine activity and then the call went out. Volunteers were wanted for a dangerous jungle mission. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Once he volunteered to join the unit that became known as Merrill's Marauders, Gilbert Howland was whisked across the country and shipped off to India. Several months of training and planning and then it was on into Burma, where they joined the British commander Orde Wingate, who was already engaged in deep jungle penetration missions behind enemy lines. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
When the volunteer unit known as Merrill's Marauders got to Burma, they made a long march up the Ledo Road and began operating in the steep terrain. They gained valuable intelligence by tapping the telephone lines of the enemy. Gilbert Howland led a section of machine gunners as the battles began for the remote land near the Himalayas. Part 1 of 5. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
They were in a bad defensive position when the Japanese attacked at daybreak. The Americans were a unit of Merrill's Marauders and, after a full day fending off the enemy, they moved to a higher position in a bamboo grove. Gilbert Howland remembers the distinctive sound that bullets made as they tore through the bamboo. Part 2 of 5. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Gilbert Howland describes the difficulty of fighting the Japanese in the mountains of Burma. The enemy had something that the men of Merrill's Marauders lacked; artillery. Then there was the terrain, which was mostly vertical, and the ammunition, which was mostly used up. Part 3 of 5. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
They had been holding off the Japanese for a long time when another combat team finally broke through to Gilbert Howland's group. High in the Burma hills, the men of Merrill's Marauders had been at a disadvantage because the enemy had artillery. Once someone figured out how to air drop a couple of howitzers, the situation improved. It was good news, bad news for Howland, though, when an enemy bullet found him. Part 4 of 5. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
The men of Merrill's Marauders finally had a day off from battling the Japanese in the foothills of the Himalayas. Gilbert Howland's turn to bathe in the river came and he headed down the path. Coming the other way was a soldier who made a strange comment and at that point, Howland realized who it was. Part 5 of 5. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
There were celebrities in Gilbert Howland's training unit at Fort Dix, including Eddie Fisher. They were preparing to go to Korea and it wasn't long before Howland found himself there in the frigid winter; dodging artillery and trying to capture prisoners for interrogation. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
From the rear at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, Sgt. Gilbert Howland sent in the worst casualty report of his life. The tenacious enemy would not let go, even though the territory being fought over had no real tactical value. His unit was relieved and then, to the relief of everyone, came the armistice. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
Gilbert Howland moved from an ARVN advisor position to become operations sergeant at a1st Infantry Division unit with large artillery pieces. He was the in the command post, but he dodged the Viet Cong rockets along with everyone else. During the Tet Offensive, a few infiltrators made it into the base, but the damage was limited. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
One of Sgt. Gilbert Howland's duties was to make a circuit of the perimeter of the base and make sure the guards were awake. It was at this time in Vietnam that drugs began to flow from there back home, transported by soldiers. Knowing that disturbed him, but he, too, brought home something illicit, souvenirs. Before he left, the B-52 strike that had been requested finally came, to everyone's surprise. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
There were no disturbing interactions with anti-war civilians when Gilbert Howland returned from Vietnam. The veteran of three wars was retired at Fort Dix after almost thirty years of service. He finally got his parade decades later at Fort Benning and the Ranger Hall of Fame. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
After the Japanese surrendered, Gilbert Howland was transferred to an MP unit for a while, then discharged. He reenlisted after a year and left for a tour in Italy, guarding Trieste against Yugoslav incursion. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
While on Cold War duty in Italy, Gilbert Howland found the time for golf, a little cognac and entertainment in a Trieste nightclub. One of the entertainers became very special to him. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
He had served in the mountains of Burma and the mountains of Italy. Now, Gilbert Howland was serving at Fort Dix and trying to find enough whitewash for his part of the base. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
When peace came to Korea, Gilbert Howland's first job was to disburse a giant supply of lumber for the construction of new fortifications. Then it was back to Fort Dix and the training regiment, but it was his next post that he describes as a Christmas present; Hawaii. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
His helicopter was unarmed. Ray Vaske ferried battalion commanders around and did some scout work, all the while admiring the beautiful scenery of Vietnam. His entire outlook was altered when, during a briefing, he got a lesson in the absurd rules of engagement of the time. The weather was often his most immediate problem and he describes a tense flight through the monsoon clouds.
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.
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.)
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.
There were occasional potshots at his helicopter, but Ray Vaske had one incident where he just missed getting knocked down by an RPG. The weather was another big problem, once causing him to dip his skids in the ocean. Back at the base, the Vietnamese barber gave him a painfully close shave. A few weeks later, they found out, maybe, he had other things on his mind.
“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.
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.)
His eventual destination was flight school, but the first plane Ray Vaske ever got on was the one he took to basic training. He'd been told by the recruiter not to worry about that war in Vietnam. Surely, it would be over before he was done with training.
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.
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 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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
At first, Ray Vaske couldn't find Dong Ha on the map. The helicopter pilot was attached to an artillery battalion up near the DMZ and when he did get there, he found out the chopper he was going to fly was different than the one he'd been flying. It was time for some on-the-job-training.