4:44 | It was a turbulent time to come of age in the 1960's. Rollie Sterrett majored in political science because of all the history unfolding around him and he was attracted to the military because he craved adventure.
Keywords : Harold Rollie Sterrett Wilkes-Barre PA North Haven CT USS Nevada (BB-36) Colgate University Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
Rollie Sterrett was vaguely aware of the war in Vietnam, which was really just beginning. At the Air Intelligence Training Center, he learned photo interpretation using photos from the Cuban missile crisis. Upon graduation, the entire class was informed they were all going to Vietnam
When Rollie Sterrett got to Vietnam, he initially had to squeeze with seven others into a Saigon hotel room while they waited for assignment. He was assigned to the Directorate of Targets at 7th Air Force HQ, where he learned the intricate inter-service politics at play in the air war. He also soon shared the frustration with the micro-management of the war coming from the White House.
The air war over Vietnam was highly politicized. President Johnson was concerned that China could enter the war, the way they did in Korea. This led to every target requiring approval from the White House itself. Air Force intelligence officer Rollie Sterrett says this led to missed opportunities to easily destroy enemy capabilities.
Bomb damage assessments were important to the generals guiding the war in Vietnam. Photo interpreter Rollie Sterrett was trained to determine if targets had been destroyed and this led to his assignment as the 7th Air Force briefing officer to Gen. William Westmoreland, who was in command of all forces in Vietnam. The other briefers were flag officers, but he was just a lowly 2nd Lieutenant.
Each service was responsible for a certain part of the air war in Vietnam and the inter-service politics caused a lot of stress, recalls Air Force intelligence officer Rollie Sterrett. He was the Air Force's briefing officer for Gen. William Westmoreland's daily briefings. The famous general and the young lieutenant took a liking to each other.
As a young lieutenant, Rollie Sterrett's assignment put him in daily contact with Gen. William Westmoreland. He was overwhelmed by the man, at first, but a friendly, respectful relationship grew over time. He observed that the general was hampered by the extreme political restraints of the war and that he was undeserving of his treatment by the US news media.
If an air unit failed to take out the target in a strike over North Vietnam, the same unit was obligated to return and finish the job. Rollie Sterrett was only a Lieutenant as he elbowed his way through pilots, who were colonels, to get to a table full of photographs. He was a photo interpreter and Gen. Wesmoreland's briefing officer. They gave way. (Warning: strong language.)
The rules of engagement in Vietnam were frustrating, and the fact that it took 36 hours to get a target approved by the White House and precious few of them were approved, meant that we were fighting the war with our arms tied. That is the observation of Rollie Sterrett, who was there trying to get targets approved.
Air Force photo interpreter and briefing officer Rollie Sterrett was fortunate to not experience any of the disrespect that many returning veterans had to face. He attributes this to going straight to an intense military environment right away, Strategic Air Command headquarters.
After his Vietnam tour, Air Force photo interpreter Rollie Sterrett was transferred to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to the photo reconnaissance wing. He soon caught the eye of the new SAC commander and became the daily briefing officer for SAC with an emphasis on B-52 operations in Vietnam.
During his time at the Strategic Air Command, Rollie Sterrett had to give private briefings to a Navy Admiral who wasn't allowed in the general briefings due to arcane inter-service politics. The first question from the admiral forced Rollie to make a delicate choice, but he chose well.
At the time, Rollie Sterrett thought you had to be a pilot to advance in his specialty in the Air Force intelligence community. That turned out not to be the case, but he had no regrets leaving the service for a successful private life.
Rollie Sterrett describes the daily life in the Strategic Air Command's underground command facility. His job started at midnight, preparing the morning briefing for all strategic matters worldwide.
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/.)
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.
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.
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.
When he was company commander at Cua Viet, Richard Jackson had great success in keeping the area clear of enemy. After his combat commands were finished and he was a staff officer, he was asked to visit the replacement unit and advise them. His journey there and back was worthy of a Hollywood movie.
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 Colonel told him he was going to take over Mike company. Get over there and straighten it out. Richard Jackson was glad to have a command and he got to Cam Lo by nightfall. He had just settled in when the NVA gave him a welcome.
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 his first tour of Vietnam, medic Franklin Monroe was happy to be issued a .45 because it could get pretty dangerous when the compound was attacked. Eventually he sought out some heavier weaponry. He recalls those firefights and also the traumatic time a soldier stepped on a mine.
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.
Curtis James returned from Vietnam to an assignment as director of personnel at Parris Island. This was the last post for the Marine Corps staff officer. His favorite was the Pentagon, where he initiated a brand new office to coordinate military crisis response.
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.
Curtis James was the first officer in charge of a Pentagon effort to manage crises during the Cold War. It was a brand new office inside the giant headquarters and, after running that for a while, he served in Vietnam at MACV in Saigon, managing the logistics of the war effort.
To beat a guerrilla force, you had to become like them. That was one of Richard Jackson's realizations when he commanded a company of Marines up near the DMZ. He describes a life defining moment during a firefight, when he realized what it would take to be successful in this war.
He was lucky to get a job with an office during his second Vietnam tour, managing a platoon of medics. Then when the war was being turned over to the Vietnamese, Franklin Monroe began medical missions in the streets and started organizing escape for refugees.
Richard Jackson recalls the time when he was stuck in a helicopter with a general observing the battle field while his company of Marines were getting battered down below. When he finally got down to the ground, he repositioned the unit with a mad dash downhill from their exposed position.
After basic training, Edwina Morrison was assigned to the 30th Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir. The finance and accounting specialist may not have put boots on the ground in Vietnam, but she got the soldiers paid. She remembers the funny looks she got when she showed up and they expected a man.
After her enlistment was over, Edwina Morrison returned to college, where she really wanted to be the whole time. After collecting two degrees, she became a clinical social worker and eventually founded her own firm where she was able to help people; her real purpose in life.
Company commander Richard Jackson tried to be as unpredictable as he could with his Marines, following no set pattern and changing tactics constantly. This worked so well that his unit received praise from up the chain of command.
He'd made a decision to always take training seriously and learn as much as he could about what he would face in the field, and when Richard Jackson got to Vietnam, it saved his life. As he was walking on patrol, he heard a click, something he'd heard in training, but this time, it was for real.