A Shau Addendum
Although 45 years have passed, I remember some facts that are not quite in agreement with Richard Camp’s fine article “Rescue in Death Valley” (April). I was a member of HMM-163 from November 1965 through June 1966. I, not Bill Gregory, was Lt. Col. Chuck House’s wingman on the March 10, 1966, evacuation of the A Shau Special Forces Camp.
Inside the camp were two huge mortars. For some reason the mortars were removed and, as a Special Forces captain told me later, “as soon as word got out that the mortars were gone, the fight started.” On March 8, a large contingent of Nungs, well-armed and ready to do business, were flown to Phu Bai and remained in the HMM-163 compound. The idea was that we were to reinforce A Shau with them. There were no formal briefings on the situation from March 8 to 10, but there were rumors circulating.
We sat on our butts for three days waiting for orders. We had no idea what Colonel House was going through with higher command; they didn’t seem to have a clue as to the situation and were not listening to House. At the last minute, we were ordered into an operation
without any planning. We flew into the valley as Camp described. As the compound’s north wall came into view, House apparently spotted the group that had fled the compound and landed in tall elephant grass. I followed him. The next thing I saw were South Vietnamese coming out of the grass. I looked to the right and saw an explosion next to Bill Gregory’s helicopter.
We were getting mobbed and I started to take off. We fell into a ditch and began cutting elephant grass. I yanked the chopper into the air, and those hanging on must have fallen off. I headed home with 12 survivors on board. On the way, I came to the aid of another helo piloted by Ed Ressler, not Norm Urban, that had 50 feet of barbed wire hanging off of it. The rest of the mission is as Camp described it.
The contradiction of Colonel House receiving the Navy Cross and a letter of reprimand is the epitome of sadness. House had had enough, and by talking to the press he saved other operation commands from such actions. Colonel House was an outstanding commanding officer and didn’t deserve what happened.
Riding With Mick
I was pleased to read the June interview with Mick Kicklighter, a good choice for heading up the Vietnam War 50th anniversary. The last time I saw then-Colonel Kicklighter was at Khe Sanh in March 1971, when I was a crew chief with B Company, 101st Aviation Brigade (The Kingsmen). My Huey was scheduled as a standby command and control helicopter. Colonels John Klose and Kicklighter’s Huey developed some kind of mechanical problem and they moved to my Huey. The mission that day was the insertion of LZ Hope, just north of Tchepone, Laos, and when it was done it would be the biggest heliborne insertion until Desert Storm; some 120 Hueys plus gunships were used to move the ARVN into their farthest objective in Laos. Thanks for the ride, Mick! I am looking forward to your next one.
Clipper Mills, Calif.
Good Guys for Girls Only?
I read with great interest the story by Ray Pezzoli, “Who Are the Bad Guys?” (August). Very nice, but I am left wondering what would those same soldiers’ reactions have been if the wounded enemy were a male? Here’s an example that happened to me. I was the battalion commander of the 1-5th Infantry (Mech.), 25th Infantry Division, in late 1969. We were on an operation in the Ho Bo woods very near the Saigon River. I had a small task force consisting of one mechanized company, headquarters elements, a tank platoon and an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) company.
The ARVN discovered a trail, followed it and found some tunnels. They tossed a couple of grenades in and found two North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers trying to escape. They were shot immediately and the tunnels collapsed. Later, I was walking around the area to see if anything had been overlooked, when I saw the top of this man’s head. I could see his pulse beating at the very top of his head but that was all. Everything else was buried. I tried to get some soldiers to attempt to get him out but they either just kept walking or said to me: “Sir, the guy is dead. Do you want me to finish him off?” Well now, what to do?
I dug around and got an arm free and pulled and pulled, but no luck. Finally, I told my track crew to get their butts down and help me. Only one of them came to help—my driver. He dug around and got another arm. Together we pulled and pop, just like a cork on a bottle, this guy flew out of the ground. We poured some water on him and he revived. He said he was a doctor from Hanoi and the tunnels were an aid station.
Why wouldn’t anyone help me—their commander—get this guy out of the ground? Some believed he was dead and didn’t want to touch him, but others just saw an enemy and were ready to let him die or shoot him. Had he been a “she,” I wonder how they would have reacted.
Name That Ship What?
The August news item about the USS Lyndon B. Johnson really pulled my chain. In 1968 I was in the 40th Aviation Company, 29th Infantry at Schofield Bar-racks in Hawaii. In the ready room were photos of our “chain of command.” At the top was a picture of President Lyndon Johnson. When President Richard Nixon was sworn in, I replaced LBJ’s photo with Nixon’s and filed it away. Years later, looking at the photo, I noticed a service pin on LBJ’s lapel. Examined up close, the pin appeared to be a Silver Star award. I recall LBJ had something to do with the Navy Department, but a Silver Star? How could this be?
After all our Navy pilots went through during that terrible war, are they really naming a ship after this person? Perhaps a more suitable name in honor of LBJ would be the USS I’ll Never Send Your Sons 12,000 Miles Away to Fight in Some Dirty Asian Swamp.
Editor’s note: Then-Naval Reserve officer and Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson was awarded the Silver Star for riding aboard a B-26A Marauder of the 22nd Bombardment Group on a hazardous bombing mission from Port Moresby, New Guinea, to Lae (airbase for Japanese Navy’s top Zero outfit) on June 9, 1942. Johnson was originally slated to ride on the Wabash Cannonball, but missed it and ended up on the Heckling Hare. Overlooked in the citation, however, was that the Heckling Hare developed generator trouble, aborted 30 minutes into the flight and returned without contacting the enemy. The Wabash Cannonball was shot down.
More on Pedal Power
I want to add a little more history with regard to bicycle use in the U.S. Army, in response to the August article on the North Vietnamese use of bikes. In 1895 Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles promoted the use of the bicycle for recon purposes in the Army. Later in 1895, the Signal Corps had adopted it as a means of distributing telegraph and telephone wires. In 1896 a detachment of the 25th Infantry under Lt. J.A. Moss of Company F was selected to conduct extensive trials of the bicycle in mountainous Montana country. Moss led his men on a 1,900-mile journey from Ft. Missoula to St. Louis. It took 41 days but the unit successfully proved the practicality of military cycling.
Santa Ana, Calif.
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