7:00 | Naval ROTC graduate Ron Christmas took a Marine commission and headed to Camp LeJeune where he learned basic facts of leadership. One is that you share all hardships with your men. Another, unique to the Marines, is that everyone is trained as a rifleman.
Keywords : Ron Christmas Philadelphia Navy ROTC Quantico Cuba Camp LeJeune rifleman Mediterranean amphibious NCO Dan Daley
Platoon leader Ron Christmas was a stickler for training, even on his first deployment, and all his men who were up for promotion passed their test. From the Mediterranean, he went to the Caribbean, where a beautiful sunset changed his life.
When Ron Christmas was assigned to the Marine Barracks in Washington, he was surrounded by tradition at the Marines' oldest post. It was there that he met Blackie, a most unusual member of the garrison.
When Ron Christmas was assigned to Vietnam, he was so excited to be going that he studied the Vietnamese language at his own expense. When he arrived in country, he reluctantly took the command of a service company.
New Company commander Ron Christmas found lax discipline when he arrived at An Hoa base. This was something he could fix because he loved training, that and his 106mm recoilless rifle.
When Gen. Westmoreland decided to move around and reinforce certain units in Operation Checkers, Captain Ron Christmas found himself just outside of the city of Hue in a camp where hostiles owned the high ground.
Believing there would be an uprising among the populace, Ho Chi Minh and Gen. Giap planned a general offensive for the Tet New Year in 1968. There was no uprising, but Ron Christmas would see some of the nastiest fighting of the war as a result.
What Marine Captain Ron Christmas knew, as he assembled a relief convoy, was that action was reported in Hue. What he and others didn’t know was that the North Vietnamese Army had infiltrated the entire city.
Marines were trained for jungle warfare in Vietnam, but Captain Ron Christmas found himself in a house-to-house urban battle in Hue. He prevailed using lance corporal ingenuity and PFC power, along a handy 106mm recoilless rifle.
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.
As Ron Christmas fought to capture the Capitol building in the battle for Hue, the sight of an enemy flag angered him. Even though it was forbidden, as soon as he secured the site, he raised an American flag to boost the morale of his men.
Always looking for a bit of humor for relief, Captain Ron Christmas and his men had some fun in a posh toy room in a captured mansion. What they found in another well appointed house was an eye-opening stash of brandy. Both were great morale boosters.
Ordered to take ground across a bridge in Hue, Captain Ron Christmas used a barrage of smoke rounds to cover a dash across the span. After holding long enough to move across vital units, he found that his men were disappointed they had to withdraw.
It was Friday the Thirteenth when a North Vietnamese soldier fired an RPG at Ron Christmas. Dodging a direct hit, his legs were wounded badly enough to cause his evacuation. Unfortunately, he became lost in the medical system.
Ron Christmas tells the story of a Marine who kept getting wounded, and kept returning to battle because he couldn't desert the men that he considered to be his brothers. That, he says, is the true meaning of Semper Fidelis.
Under the rules of the Marine Corps at the time, Ron Christmas should have been discharged after he was wounded in Vietnam. As he recovered his strength, he was able to avoid a medical exam until he got in line with some inductees.
Marine Ron Christmas reflects on the basic principles of urban warfare, which he learned on the fly in the battle for Hue. He felt blessed in his later career as he received many rewarding assignments.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
Did he ever have any close calls? Jim Denninghoff sure did and he describes the machine gun fire and the artillery barrages that he survived. Once, when the artillery shells began to fall, he dove for the nearest cover, which happened to be fairly disgusting. Then there were those tiny land mines made of wood.
Times were tough when Henry Rice was a kid. He got along, though, and he had a good time hitchhiking around Texas and sneaking into Mexico. He joined the Army on a lark in 1940 with two buddies and, after the war started, they volunteered for the infantry. Wait, we're doing what?
After they took the town of Heilbronn, there wasn't much opposition left for Jim Denninghoff's unit. German soldiers were surrendering by the hundreds and he remembers one particular teenager who had been pressed into service by the SS.
He had the points so he was heading home. Henry Rice took a train to Camp Lucky Strike, where he and his buddy ran the games of chance. Only one problem, how to get that cash back to the States. When he got there, he got out, got married, got a job, got bored and got back in the Army.
Finally it was his time to cross the English Channel. It wasn't wide, but it was still the ocean, so when Harry Scroggs climbed down that long rope ladder, the landing craft was bobbing and bumping against the ship. The Allies had pushed inland, so he didn't get shot at when he was setting up his communications equipment.
Jim Denninghoff tells the story of the incident which got him a Bronze Star recommendation. His job was body retrieval, which could be very dangerous as it required him to maneuver near the enemy lines. After the war, he had occupation duty, first in a small town and then in Frankfurt at SHAEF headquarters.
He had a scholarship to the University of Georgia, but he gave it up to help his sick parents run the family farm. In 1942, his country needed him more, so Harry Scroggs was drafted and went off to basic training. Somehow he wound up going through basic again at a different camp.
Henry Rice was a soldier in a support role when the war started, but he switched to the infantry and joined the combat just as the Allies were storming into Germany itself. He was surprised when they stopped short of Berlin and then he found out why. His unit went to Bavaria, which was good duty. Just don't get caught with the local girls.
While still training stateside, Harry Scroggs was put in the communications section. His job was setting up and running telephones and switchboards in the field. He tells how he got the nickname Scrappy, and he describes how the communications section connected the spotter and the artillery battery.
During the push into Germany, Jim Denninghoff was assigned, with some other GI's from across the regiment, to retrieve bodies from the field. At first it wasn't too bad, since everything was still frozen, but when the spring thaw came, the job got more gruesome. Once, as he went about his task in the dark, he ran into a German patrol.
After war maneuvers, Harry Scroggs was sent home for a leave and when he got back, his unit was gone to Europe. He continued training while D-Day was successfully executed and, eventually, he headed across the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Then, in England, he prepared to cross the Channel.
As a non-commissioned officer, POW Hank Freedman was not required to work. The privates and PFC's were not so lucky. Many died laboring for the Germans. He never received the Red Cross packages he was due, though they did visit the camp. Those were good days. Extra rations.
Once he crossed the Rhine, his unit had to fight city to city to make it's way toward Berlin. Jim Denninghoff was in Heilbronn, where the Germans were putting up stiff resistance. Through an odd turn of events he wound up covered in molasses and it saved his life.
There was no evasive action on a bomb run. You had to come in straight and level and stay in formation for the sake of the targeting. At least you didn't usually have to worry about the flak in transit because it was concentrated around the target. Richard Lewis remembers once, though, when the they heard the boom, boom over a forest.
The Marseille harbor was full of scuttled French ships when Jim Denninghoff arrived to join the push on Germany. After his unit had taken several small towns and suffered it's first casualties, he came to a sobering realization about his chances of making it out alive. It was also a memorable moment when he saw his first dead German soldier.
As he was driving his truck full of communications gear forward into Germany, Harry Scroggs heard and felt the bullet from a sniper go right through the cab in front of his nose. He squeezed down into his seat and hit the gas. When he got to his destination, he heard devastating news about his lieutenant.
At the end of his last bombing mission, Richard Lewis buzzed the tower. What could they do? He was going home. They made an instructor out of him for a while, but he had enough points for discharge, so he was out before VJ Day. He stayed in the reserve so he could still fly Uncle Sam's planes.
For some reason, the German guard in the the prison camp tower started shooting at an American fighter crossing overhead. Hank Johnson was a prisoner at that camp and when he saw the pilot bank and turn, he headed for the barracks. No way that guard was going to get away with that. It was a nice diversion for a lot of men with no hope of escape.
Jim Denninghoff graduated high school in 1943 and was part of the Army Specialized Training Program which put recruits in college to study engineering. Manpower was needed on the battlefields of Europe, so he was made into an infantryman and, after a miserable Atlantic crossing, he entered the fray.
The war was almost over, but still, Harry Scroggs saw a German plane strafing the Autobahn near Frankfurt. He didn't think much of halting his advance and letting the Russians take Berlin, but it wasn't his decision. When the Germans surrendered, he used his truck to repatriate Belgian and Dutch laborers and to transport an Army band to concerts.