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.
Bob Clark's first contact with the enemy in Vietnam was memorable. His platoon found a bunker complex they'd been looking for and soon a firefight began. When it was over, a search for intel in the pockets of the dead revealed a photograph of the family of an NVA soldier. That provoked a little soul searching.
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.
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.
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 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.
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/.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Thanksgiving day in 1968, Huey pilot Thomas Gipson spent all day delivering meals to various camps and bases. When he saw what his own holiday meal consisted of, he felt a little neglected. It was dangerous operating in a dense jungle and he recalls an incident in which another aircraft was shot down.
Bob Clark was a third generation soldier. His father served for thirty one years and was highly decorated, so soldiering was in the younger Clark's blood as he went off to ROTC at Texas Tech. It was a fairly conservative campus, but the war in Vietnam was inflaming opinions everywhere. He knew he would be going there as soon as he received his commission.
He got married shortly before he went to Vietnam and once he got there, Bob Clark had very few options for communication back home. The new lieutenant wrote letters, of course, and there was a system in the rear which allowed you to make phone calls over short wave radio, but he was almost always in the bush.
College wasn't going that well for Thomas Gipson, so he knew the draft would eventually come for him and he would end up in Vietnam. When he found out that you could be a helicopter pilot in the Army without a college degree, he knew that was the path for him.
Jack Swickard recalls an unnamed fellow pilot who had one of the civilian women who worked around the base chasing after him. He came up with a novel method to get rid of her, one which developed into some trouble at the officers club. (Caution: adult subject matter.)
When he got to Vietnam, newly minted lieutenant Bob Clark was assigned to the 8th Cavalry which was heavily involved in the new air assault concept. He was fortunate to have good NCO's in his platoon and to have a company commander who imparted some advice that stuck with him for the rest of his career.
It was long hours and long days for Thomas Gipson in Vietnam. He gives an overview of his tour, describing the different types of missions and some of the misadventures. The amount of flying time was closely monitored to make sure the pilots didn't crack, but it was still exhausting.
It wasn't a hooch in Bien Hoa, it was a nice villa. Helicopter pilot Jack Swickard was amazed to find his billet was so luxurious. He had not been there long when he got an unexpected lesson in firearm safety right there in his room. On his first mission, he was puzzled at the strange behavior of the aircraft commander, who was slapping himself in the face.
When Bob Clark finally got to talk to his wife from Vietnam, it was to tell her he was coming home. The tour was over. He was treated royally in an airport bar when he landed and lovingly when he got home to his wife. He had none of the negative treatment many vets were receiving, not until years later in a McDonald's.
The first combat mission for helicopter pilot Thomas Gipson was memorable. He saw an NVA soldier stand up and fire right at him and then wanted to forget what he saw our bulldozers doing after the fight. He was still in the right seat as a co-pilot, trying to get used to this new, dangerous world.
LTC Ron and COL Judie Richtsmeier (retired) share a concern for the future of America. For the two Vietnam veterans, it is a troubling time in the nation. But, perhaps, it can survive it's trouble as their love has survived after beginning in the middle of a war.
One great thing about flying helicopters in the Army. The guy who maintained the aircraft flew with you. That made all the difference in the world to Thomas Gipson. His crew chief took good care of the him, as well as the Huey, and he had to set him straight on what the nose art really meant.