2:48 | Marine Steve Long was visiting family before he shipped out to Vietnam. His grandmother introduced him to a friend, who had a son in the Marine Corps. When he found out who it was, he could hardly believe it.
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He was an indifferent student until an assistant principle suggested he get involved with the International Relations Club. He saw something in Steve Long and challenged him to do more.
He was real good at baseball, but not so good at sociology. He gave college a go, but it just didn't work out, so Steve Young enlisted in the Marines. This led to a good news, bad news situation with his father.
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.
Basic training was physically and mentally demanding, so tough that it was too much for one recruit. Steve Long recalls how that incident was used for more enlightenment from the DI.
The DI had drilled the young Marines well, and on the eve of their graduation from boot camp, he had a sobering prediction to make. Steve Long's response was one of bravado and then he was off to infantry school.
Marine Steve Long was at his first post as an avionics technician when he told his officer that he wanted to go to Vietnam. They needed him there, and tried to placate him with some specialty schools, but when he returned, he asked again.
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.
He was learning the ropes at the Marble Mountain helicopter base. Avionics technician Steve Long had to pivot to Hueys because he'd trained on different aircraft. There were other duties, like working in the officers mess, which turned out to be a great deal. The cook liked him so much, he got a parting gift.
It was hot in Vietnam, so avionics technician Steve Long took off his shirt before he climbed into an access hatch. He felt someone pulling on his leg and yelled something not altogether complimentary. Then he realized who it was.
Steve Long had settled into the routine at Marble Mountain. The helicopters were kept flying and he was getting kind of salty. One day his friend told him that Bob Hope was doing a show in Da Nang. You want to go?
Only results mattered to the night crew at Marble Mountain. Marine avionics technician Steve Long led the crew and they set records for keeping the helicopter systems working. One day, an NCO told him an aircraft was down waiting on a part. That didn't sound right.
He maintained the avionics on the Hueys, but Steve Long also flew as a gunner when he could to get that sweet extra $60 a month. The missions were varied, covering other aircraft or supporting troops on the ground. He began to get skeptical when the powers that be decided to limit the munitions they were allowed to carry.
A Huey gunner's gear included a ceramic plate vest and an M-79 grenade launcher. The first for the air and the second for the ground, if you wound up there. Steve Long recalls the "sniffer" missions, where you flew low and fast to pick up enemy formations with air sampling equipment.
A door gunner got to know which pilots were the best. One thing was sure, remembers Steve Long, you don't want to fly with the C.O. while he's getting in his flight time. In between the action, he saw some great scenery from the air. He flew in a Huey, often in coordination with Cobras and F-4 Phantoms.
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.
Steve Long enjoyed his company in the avionics shop and in his hooch as well. There was one new arrival who announced that he was in love. When the others found out with whom, the teasing was unmerciful.
There was a little trick the crew chiefs would play on the door gunners to see if they were doing their check list. Steve Long recalls the time this led to a salvo of rockets being fired at some fish. In their off hours, he and his hooch mates "acquired" various amenities for their billet.
His first experience with Vietnamese civilians was quite embarrassing. As time went on, Steve Long began to feel sorry for them, especially the children. The craters he saw while aloft in the Huey were a reminder of the awful firepower being used.
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.
Returning from Vietnam was not traumatic for Steve Long. No protestors and a loving family to meet him. He had a year to go on his enlistment and, by luck, he got a good post. He declined all entreaties to stay in the Marines, not the least of which was their final pitch.
Steve Long's time as an avionics technician in the Marines influenced his post Vietnam career in a very positive way. He finished his basic college courses in New York and then went to Georgia Tech for the engineering degree.
Newly minted electrical engineer Steve Long embarked on his post-Vietnam career as a draftsman. That did not last long. He lucked into a role managing the introduction of computer aided design, known as CAD, into the engineering and architectural workplace.
It took a while for Vietnam veteran Steve Long to process the experience in his mind, but after a while, he began to get involved with organizations and reunions, which he learned to appreciate dearly.
Steve Long hopes that we learned from the Vietnam experience, but he isn't so sure, with the ambivalence of the more recent wars. He does know one thing, please get rid of that Nancy Sinatra song.
A new company commander in combat has to prove himself to his men very quickly. Keith Nightingale faced this task when he arrived for his 2nd Vietnam tour. They got to know him and he was accepted. They may have been peaceniks and part time dopers but they turned out to be fine soldiers.
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.
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.
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.
Lam Son 719 was a huge operation meant to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail by pushing into Laos. The ground forces were all Vietnamese with air support from the Americans. Keith Nightingale's company was responsible for security at the closest landing zone to the border and it became a scene of chaos as the operation turned into a rout.
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.
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 Keith Nightingale got a lesson in urban warfare when the Viet Cong infiltrated into the city during the Tet Offensive. The fighting was brutal as he accompanied his attached unit, house by house, block by block.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 his first tour of Vietnam, Keith Nightingale was assigned as an ROTC Instructor at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. The anti-war movement was heating up and he and the cadets had to endure the hateful taunts of protestors. As a result of the widespread protests, the Army as a whole became more insular and isolated from society.