Letters From Readers – February 2009 Vietnam Magazine

11/26/2008 • Letters and Issues, VIET Issues


Many More Nurses Were Killed in Vietnam
A letter to the editor in the December 2008 issue referred to Dr. Christiane Granger, a French doctor who died in Vietnam during the period of American involvement. I served in the intelligence section of 2-19th Artillery of the 1st Cavalry division and had access to all of the information going through 1st Brigade. In reality, Dr. Granger will be just the tip of the iceberg. In the book We Came to Help, authors Monika Schwinn and Bernhard Diehl talk about the nurses George Bartsh, Marie-Luise Kerber and Hendrika Kortmann from the Aid Service of Malta, who were captured in April 1969. All three died in captivity. There were at least four other foreign medical personnel in the same area of operations that I covered during my 1966-67 tour in Vietnam who were killed.There were doctors and nurses in Vietnam from, at least, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, United States through the Society of Friends, and other religious or public service organizations. I would expect the deaths of foreign nurses and doctors to top 50.

Glenn Sheathelm
Muskegon, Mich.

How Confusion Found Its Way Onto the Map
The letter to the editor in your August 2008 issue by Daniel R. Arant, concerning the map names related to those in the What Really Happened in Pinkville article of April 2008, reminded me of an old problem we had in Vietnam.

In January 1966, I was tasked to create an intelligence unit for the MACV J2, Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McChristian. As the unit added capabilities, we had to have the coordinates of every map from 1/10,000 to 1/250,000 so that overlays would exactly match the maps in the hands of the staff and in the field.

I remember the number of maps totaled over 700 and, at that time, we did not have all of them covering Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Eastern Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) and South China. An order for all of the maps was sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency, but we needed them now, so I started scouring all of the allied intelligence activities in and out of country in Southeast Asia for the missing maps. Most of the maps I found were produced by the French military, and some by local governments in each country. When all of the maps arrived from DIA, I compared them to our non-U.S. maps to confirm the coordinates matched. As I was doing this, I saw that most if not all of the names of the small towns, villages, hamlets, mountain names, etc., were different than on the U.S.-produced maps! What was going on here?

The new governments, which took over after the French, had and were creating new names for almost every location and natural feature, and continued to create new names throughout the war. There were a few exceptions, but the French kept the original names on their maps—and, more important, so did our enemy.

When an enemy-produced document was captured and there was a plan to attack a village by name and not a coordinate with it, most new intelligence analysts could not use the document because the exact location was unknown to them! For those who were in-country and the region for many years (six years for me), they learned of the differences and recorded the names used by the enemy, so that every piece of intelligence was included in their reports/operations. But for the newbies, a document with an unknown name was tossed to the side.

There were many, many, many “little” things most Americans never learned about Vietnam and the region in their one-year tour. It was very frustrating to see each experienced man, who was just becoming very valuable to the war effort, complete his one-year tour and leave, to be replaced with another newbie. One “little” example was when a newbie thought “FNU” in the family name part of an enemy unit commander name was a Vietnamese name, when it meant Family Name Unknown! And you should have seen a newbie’s face upon first seeing a person’s or location’s name recorded by using the Vietnamese telegraphic code!

Howard A. Daniel III
Master Sergeant, U.S. Army (ret.)
Dunn Loring, Va.

Tet Déjà Vu
I am the Marine sitting against the wall in the picture on the back page of last year’s Tet issue (February 2008, page 74). It was strange to see myself there, and it stirred up a lot of memories. I remember that day and how tired I was from fighting. I really felt like I wasn’t going to make it—but I survived, and so many of my friends did not. I served with 1st Platoon, Hotel Company, 2/5th Marines. My company commander was Captain Ron Christmas, and my platoon commander was Lieutenant Meyers, both of whom were wounded and medevaced during Operation Hue City. I was wounded twice during the same operation and medevaced out on April 1, 1968, to Fitzsimmons Medical Center, Denver, Colo. After being honorably discharged in September 1968, I went to college and received a commission into the U.S. Air Force in July 1973, and retired Lt. Col. John L Washington Jr., in October 1993, after my last assignment as a Squadron Commander at Okinawa AFB, Japan. The Marine Corps band on Okinawa played at my retirement. I also met my former company commander, who was then Brig. Gen. Christmas.

John L. Washington Jr.
Cpl, U.S. Marine Corps
Waikoloa, Hawaii

How We Kept Charlie’s Head Down
In the June 2008 “Fighting Forces” column, Christopher Miskimon writes about the difficulty the 3-34th Artillery had in providing accurate artillery support for the 9th Infantry Division. He mentions that “Mike 8” LCMs (landing crafts, medium) were used to tow, push and pull barges equipped with two 105mm howitzers all over the Mekong Delta. Those landing craft were not Navy, they were Army: the 1097th Medium Boat Company, headquartered in Dong Tam and very much a part of the 9th Infantry Division and the Mobile Riverine Force.

Each Mike 8 had a crew of five—a coxswain, assistant coxswain, deck hand and two engine room “snipes”—who lived on board in a wooden “hooch” on the back of the boat. Each boat had a well deck that was converted into one of many uses. As Miskimon mentioned, one was a battalion command post. But some of the well decks were turned into something quite unique—such as a complete maintenance shop, a jail or a mess hall—and others were left empty to haul supplies. The crews of these boats were trained on the James River at Fort Eustis, Va., but most of their training was on the Mike 8 landing craft itself, learning how to maneuver alongside a freight ship, hold the boat steady, get loaded with supplies and then take them ashore to be offloaded.

I had pictured myself spending a very boring year in Vietnam going back and forth all day unloading freighters. But when I got to Vietnam, I was assigned to the 1097th Medium Boat Company and was told we would be using the Mike 8 LCM as a tugboat all over the Mekong Delta.

It was very exciting being with the 3-34 Artillery and the Navy’s River Assault Flotilla 1. Every time we were underway we had at least six Navy gunboats with us. Ambushes were frequent because we made such a great target. Top speed was only 8-10 knots, and some canals, such as the Mo Cai and Ben Tre, were very tight. The Navy was great at keeping Charlie’s head down from the gunboats with 50-caliber, 20mm, flamethrowers…you name it.

I was very proud to serve as a boat coxswain with the 1097th.

Douglas Brown
Marshfield, Mass.

From Amtracs to AmGrunts
Your article about amtracs in Vietnam (“Arsenal,” October 2008) was a fair depiction of the role they played, but a few things were omitted. For starters, after the initial insertion of amtracs, because of the volatility of the fuel cells being under the deck plates, the decks inside were sandbagged and no one was allowed to ride inside. The only exception was in the case of a medevac, transporting Marine KIAs or hauling dead VC or NVA. The amtracs’ suspensions took a severe beating: of nine roadwheel assemblies on each side, we were lucky to have seven, maybe eight, while operating in the bush. There was also a severe shortage of track pins, forcing many crews to “short track” after breaking track in the bush.

The Browning M-1919A4 .30-caliber machine gun was mounted atop the gun turret and sandbagged in, with more bags placed around the top to afford some form of cover. Sometime toward the middle of my tour, a .50-cal machine gun on a fabricated mount was issued to the lead amtracs of each section, with the .30 mounted facing aft. The .50 was used to shoot up any channeled area for mines, but the results weren’t always good.

In March 1966, Alpha Company, 1st Amtrac Battalion, moved to Cua Viet. Alpha became “AmGrunts,” conducting infantry patrols and whatever missions would be assigned to a grunt unit. Unfortunately, being listed as a “support unit,” Alpha was last for air, artillery or naval gunfire support along with weapons and equipment. The AmGrunts had to make do and get it done.
Rick Johnson
U.S. Marine Corps, 1964-68;
Alpha Co., 1st Amtrac Bn., Vietnam 1966-67
Orlando, Fla.



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