2:36 | 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.)
Keywords : Gilbert Howland Vietnam Korea Merrill's Marauders Fort Dix Fort Benning Ranger Ranger Hall of Fame Gary Owens
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 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.)
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.)
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.)
Forward air controller Mike Leonard went up to Ban Me Thuot to help out for a few days. The first night, as he settled in with a cold beer, the radio crackled with pleas for help from a nearby special forces camp. They were under siege. Part 1 of 3.
American advisor John Le Moyne didn't give the South Vietnamese Airborne unit much advice. He was there to call in air strikes, artillery, Medevacs and resupply. He marveled at the toughness and courage of the fighters who traced the unit's lineage back to the French Colonial Airborne.
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
Everyone breathing in a uniform was hurriedly mobilized by the 82nd Airborne as they scrambled to reply to Gen. Westmoreland's demand for more troops. On the flight over, while some of the planes were grounded by weather, Jim Littig saw an amazing test of wills in an Airborne versus Air Force standoff.
This isn't going to work. That's what Tony Nadal told his boss, Hal Moore, as they launched a helicopter assault to search for the enemy. He was right. The forces scattered and hid, so new tactics were called for. The next assault was in the Ia Drang Valley and they were perhaps too successful. Part 1 of 5.
Why were the Montagnard units getting no contact? It was determined that they weren't going out far enough and on the second patrol that ventured further, Jim Bolan and the combined unit ran into the back of a VC ambush. A furious firefight followed, and he summoned his ace in the hole, the Air Force.
Combat is always chaotic but the recovery of the SS Mayaguez was particularly disjointed. The joint operation suffered from too many parties at the top trying to exert influence, recalls Ray Porter, who led the assault on the ship itself. Part 3 of 3.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
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 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/.)
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
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.
After flying multi-engine transports and passenger aircraft for years, pilot Allyn Johnson decided to retire from the Air Force. He put in his papers but the Air Force still needed him in Vietnam. He went from flying the huge planes to the tiny ones as a Forward Air Controller.
After relating a gruesome story about some fellow GI's playing possum, Ed Fulghum has his own combat story about a stop fire order that seemed ridiculous to him. He even got a general to agree with him, not that it did any good. Then there was the time he cleared out a bamboo stand full of unauthorized personnel, including his commander.
A good first step for future generations remembering something about Korea and Vietnam would be actually including them in history books. Allyn Johnson was involved in both conflicts and he is bothered by that. He also has some strong opinions on whether it was worth being involved.