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How Confusion Crept Onto the Maps

The letter from Daniel R. Arant (August 2008) about map names reminded me of an old problem we had in Vietnam.

In January 1966, I was tasked to create an intelligence unit for 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 field.

The number of maps was over 700 and, at that time, we did not have all of them covering Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Eastern Thailand and Burma and South China. An urgent order was sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), but in the meantime I scoured all of the allied intelligence activities in and out of country for the missing maps. Most of the maps I found were produced by the French military, and local governments. When the maps arrived from DIA, I compared them to our non–U.S. maps to confirm that the coordinates matched. In the process, I saw that most, if not all, of the names of the towns, villages, hamlets, mountains, etc., differed from our maps! What was going on here?

The new governments, which took over after the French, had created new names for almost every location and natural feature, and continued to do so throughout the war. But, with few exceptions, the French kept the original names on their maps—and, more important, so did our enemy.

When a captured enemy document contained a plan to attack a village by name, without accompanying coordinates, most new intelligence analysts could not use the document because the exact location was unknown to them! Those who were in-country and the region for many years learned the differences and recorded the names used by the enemy. But if newbies saw a document with an unknown name, they tossed it aside.

Howard A. Daniel III

Master Sergeant, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Dunn Loring, Va.

Army and Navy Team Up on the Mekong

In the June 2008 issue’s “Fighting Forces,” 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.

I was a boat coxswain with the 1097th Medium Boat Company, where we used the Mike 8 as a tugboat all over the Mekong Delta. It was exciting being with the 3-34 Artillery and the Navy’s River Assault Flotilla 1. When we were under way, we had at least six Navy gunboats with us. Because we made such a great target, ambushes were frequent. Top speed was 8-10 knots, and 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, flame – throwers…you name it. I was very proud to serve with the 1097th.

Douglas Brown

Marshfield, Mass.

My 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). It stirred up a lot of memories to see myself there. I remember that day and how tired I was from fighting. I felt as if I wasn’t going to make it—but I survived, while many of my friends did not. I served with 1st Platoon, Hotel Company, 2/5th Marines. My company commander Captain Ron Christmas and platoon commander Lieutenant Leo Meyers were wounded during Operation Hue City. I was wounded twice during the same operation and medevaced out on April 1, 1968. After being honorably discharged in September 1968, I went to college and received a commission into the U.S. Air Force in July 1973; I retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1993, after my last assignment as a squadron commander at Okinawa AFB, Japan. Thank you for helping me retrieve this legacy for my children and grandchildren.

John L. Washington Jr.

Waikoloa, Hawaii

Many Doctors and Nurses Gave All

Regarding Marc Smilen’s letter (December 2008) about a French doctor, Christiane Granger, who died in Vietnam, I served in the intelligence section of 2-19th Artillery of the 1st Cavalry Division. In reality, Dr. Granger is 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. At least four other foreign medical personnel were killed in the same area of operations that I covered during my 1966-67 tour. There were doctors and nurses in Vietnam from many countries, including Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and France. I would expect the deaths of foreign nurses and doctors to top 50.

Glenn Sheathelm

Muskegon, Mich.

Fortunate Not to be Among The Few!

In my letter, “Any More Volunteers?” in the August 2008 issue. Please note the correction: I felt fortunate not to be among those “volunteered” into the Marines.

Bud Forti

Worcester, Mass.


Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here