4:58 | As the ship approached Da Nang, the crew was baited by the Viet Cong, trying to get them to open fire. Al Stiles was in fire control on the USS Manley, a destroyer which prowled the coast and offered supporting fire to troops inland.
Keywords : Philip Al Stiles Da Nang Vietnam Viet Cong (VC) Naval gunfire spotter Harassment and Interdiction Fire (H & I) USS Manley (DD-940)
Al Stiles was from a Navy family and was set on being a Navy man himself. After boot camp and service on two ships, he re-enlisted and went to fire control school. He headed for his first deployment in Vietnam, stopping in Pearl Harbor, where he was taken aback by something he saw at the Memorial.
The destroyer had been off the coast of Vietnam for about a month when tragedy hit. One of the five inch gun mounts exploded in a freak accident. Al Stiles describes the chaotic aftermath as the sailors rushed to contain the fire and prevent further explosions.
After a terrible accident aboard the destroyer USS Manley, the crew gathered for a Christmas celebration and Al Stiles remembers it as a very special occasion.
With one five inch gun mount out of commission, the USS Manley returned to duty off the coast of Vietnam. Al Stiles recalls the tragic death of a crewman from a sudden heart attack and, as the crew was getting over that, another bizarre accident caused the explosion of a second gun mount. Lightning had struck twice.
When a ship pulled into Hong Kong for liberty, a call went out to a lady named Mary Sue, who had a big operation painting the sides of warships. The USS Manley had a lot of port visits there and elsewhere for repairs and refitting after she lost two gun mounts.
The USS Manley was heading to Singapore for repairs when the route was adjusted slightly to make sure the ceremonies associated with crossing the equator could take place. Al Stiles provides a colorful description of the initiation of the Polliwogs.
While transiting the Mediterranean, the USS Manley stopped in Crete, where the crew got some liberty and a taste of the local beverage, ouzo. Al Stiles recalls the potentially embarrassing departure from the port which became an apparently graceful bit of ship handling.
Al Stiles remembers that it seemed to take forever steaming into home port at Charleston. The USS Manley had returned from Vietnam and he was anxious to see his wife. He adapted his letters home to her, along with deck logs and other materials into a book.
During the second deployment of the USS Manley to Vietnam, the destroyer was called on to use its guns to breach the wall in the old city of Hue without harming the palace within. Two other ships had failed, but Al Stiles directed the fire that accomplished the mission. The Manley was getting a reputation as the go-to destroyer for precise fire.
Asked what changes over his thirty year career were most beneficial to the Navy, Al Stiles is sure of his answer. All of them were detrimental. He also has some pointed observations on the Vietnam War.
Following his two deployments to Vietnam, Al Stiles first had shore duty in Philadelphia, which didn't go so well, and then duty aboard the USS Talbot, a guided missile frigate, which was a good command.
While in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Talbot, Petty Officer Al Stiles flippantly suggested to the captain that he should be able to learn to drive the ship and stand that watch. To his surprise, the captain did just that and the captain of his next ship agreed to continue. This led to an interesting exchange between the captain and Admiral Stansfield Turner.
Al Stiles was temporarily based in Argentina and his wife was with him there. As he was aboard ship going around Cape Horn, she was hospitalized and he was allowed to leave the ship and go take care of her. They had been told they would not be able to have children because of other issues, but a miracle occurred after they returned to the States.
He'd been at sea for a while, so Al Stiles had some shore duty, first in Virginia and then Japan. After overseeing some major ship overhauls, he returned to sea on the USS Midway, his first time on a carrier. Meanwhile, at home, his wife found out some disturbing news about her health.
While an instructor in gunnery at the Dam Neck Fleet Training Center, Al Stiles put all his combat experience from Vietnam to use. He helped teach a new philosophy of fire control in which all of the ship's sensors are aligned to the same point.
Al Stiles didn't think he was qualified for a job as weapons officer on a guided missile frigate, but he was wrong. He was even offered his choice of ships. This was to be his last sea tour and, after one more assignment as an instructor, his long Navy career was at an end.
Ron Dillard recalls several interesting events from his days as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, including his first formation flight with a cocky young pilot. Once, he was alone in a small aircraft when two Marine Corps jet pilots tried to scare him. Another hairy experience was landing in triple canopy jungle.
Roye Wilson took two trips back to Vietnam, years after the war. In 1997, he went with a group of educators for a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City and was surprised to find an official from the old regime working at a university. In 2011, he visited Hue and Phu Bai, where he marveled at the amount of commerce and enterprise.
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.
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.
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.
Helicopter pilot Ron Dillard never encountered any serious anti-aircraft batteries in Vietnam, but he did take a single round to his Huey, which caused him to return to base. He had more trouble with leeches while he was on the ground.
When his National Guard unit was activated, Roye Wilson went with them to Fort Hood for training with the 1st Armored Division. They received all new gear and weapons, including brand new howitzers. It wasn't long before he was in Vietnam, marveling at the sights and sounds of the first firefight.
After he finally graduated and got his commission, Ron Dillard headed for Fort Benning for his basic course and then received flight training in helicopters. He received additional training in aviation safety and left for Vietnam. Assigned to the 1st Cavalry Air Mobile, he was put on the battalion staff as safety officer.
Members of Roye Wilson's artillery unit had been scattered around South Vietnam, but they all converged on Phu Bai when it was time to go home. They were spared the ill treatment by anti-war protestors and were greeted warmly by friends and family back in Kentucky. He stayed on for a thirty year career in the Guard and Reserve.
Mike McCormick always wanted to be a soldier and an officer, but after two years of college, he became restless and left school for a job with the FBI. The lure of the military was strong, though, and he returned to the ROTC program at Western Kentucky University.
His father was a pilot and flight instructor, so flying was a lifelong dream for Ron Dillard. He wanted to get Uncle Sam to pay for his training, so he entered Western Kentucky University and the ROTC program and joined the Pershing Rifles.
Roye Wilson had been on a small artillery fire base and when his battery moved to Phu Bai, it was a much larger base housing many units. Forward observer teams were sent out with both American and Vietnamese units and it was one of these operations that became known as the Battle of Hamburger Hill.
Flying was his lifelong dream but new helicopter pilot Ron Dillard got stuck in a desk job when he got to Vietnam. Not only that, he was the safety officer, which meant that the other pilots thought he was monitoring them. He was over five months in before he managed to get out of headquarters and fly actual missions.
When he hears Aquarius by the 5th Dimension, Roye Wilson's mind is taken back to the year he spent in Vietnam. Despite being in a war, he did keep up with news from home and remembers where he was when he heard about the Apollo moon landing. He thinks about the war every day, but it does not haunt him, though he is saddened by the needless death.
Ron Dillard describes some of the details of life in the air mobile cavalry in Vietnam. He was isolated from the civilian population and during his only visit to Saigon, he raised some eyebrows at the officers club. Correspondece with his wife provided some distraction, as did building a basketball court.
While he was in Vietnam, Roye Wilson was struck by just how different life was from modern America. There was no mechanization and the Vietnamese would go to great lengths to reuse any scrap of material and repurpose it for their own use. Very industrious culture.