7:08 | 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.
Keywords : Larry S. Taylor helicopter pilot 2nd Marine Division Air Liasson Officer Vietnam Air America Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Sikorsky H-34 United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Air Attache Office embassy Laos Vientiane Royal Lao Army Ho Chi Minh Trail
Beer and ball games. That's what retired Marine Corps General and former Air America pilot Larry Taylor enjoys these days. He remains involved in various activities related to his service and has a ready lesson available for civic groups who ask him to speak. It can be summed up as "the troops eat first."
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.
Air America pilot Larry Taylor flew the Sikorsky H-34, the same aircraft he'd flown in the Marines. It could take a lot of punishment and keep on flying, which was something he really loved. Official policy was that the civilian pilots could not carry weapons, but in a war zone, that policy was fairly flexible.
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.
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.
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.
In his 20 months with Air America, pilot Larry Taylor never heard the initials "CIA" spoken. He and his colleagues were never under any misconception, though, about who they were working for. He dismisses the accusation that Air America was involved in smuggling heroin on the side.
Did he have to keep a low profile in Thailand as a civilian working for Air America? Larry Taylor says no, he just went about his day. He had a Thai girlfriend and enjoyed dinners with her family.
Air America pilot Larry Taylor went with a pal from the Army to Vung Tau for a little R&R. There was just one problem. It was the end of January 1968 and the Tet New Year celebrations were about to begin. As soon as they arrived in Vung Tau, they immediately began hearing rumors of attacks. It was about to get real stressful.
After his time with Air America, Larry Taylor returned home and did two things, joined the Marine Corps Reserve and tried to find that sweet airline job. He finally got the job and concurrently rose through the ranks of the Marines. He would even have some active duty left in him in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
He was in a platoon leaders course when he looked up from the mud and wondered if he could get into flight school. Larry Taylor made good on that desire and became a helicopter pilot. During an early shipboard cruise, the unit was dispatched to the Panama Canal Zone to stop rioting.
As a Marine helicopter pilot during the Cold War, Larry Taylor participated first in hurricane relief in Haiti, and then got a taste of action in the Dominican Republic.
After all his military commitments, retired Marine General Larry Taylor went to Iraq to run a program for a civilian contractor. It was post Surge and more uncomfortable than dangerous. His biggest problem was not the enemy. It was the State Department bureaucracy.
The number one mission of the Marine Corps Reserve is to be ready to go to war. Having risen through the ranks of reserve officers, Larry Taylor knew it would pay off, and it did with all the recent wars. When the 9/11 attacks occurred, he was at a meeting in Washington and could only watch from the roof as the Pentagon burned.
When he was recalled to active duty after the 9/11 attacks, General Larry Taylor insisted that he also get the newly required martial arts training that all Marine were supposed to have. One of his duties overseeing mobilization readiness was to pacify reserve units who were anxious to fight, but not yet sent into battle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
“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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
During the battle of Khe Sahn, there was confusion about the enemy forces besieging the Marines there. Bob Havens was part of a clandestine Navy unit placing listening devices on the Ho Chi Minh trail and this outfit was brought in to gather intelligence.