Vietnam Combat Journal - Battalion Chaplain Otis A. Smith

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Vietnam Combat Journal - Battalion Chaplain Otis A. Smith
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FOREWORD
by Jerry Berry
Many Americans recall with pride the accomplishments of the fighting men of
World War II, who are often referred to as “The Greatest Generation”, but do not realize
that another generation of fighting men would emerge to continue the legacy of their
World War II predecessors and carry its tradition of valor and honor once again to the
battlefield in the continuing struggle to protect freedom in the world. Among this new
generation of fighting men were the “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne who also
fought, sacrificed and died for the cause of freedom while serving our country in the rice
paddies and jungles of South Vietnam.
In the bookcase at my home in Montana, I proudly display a "shadowbox"
containing various military ribbons, medals, badges and awards earned during my
military service in 1967-1968. Underneath these decorations is an engraved plate with
my name and service number, followed by the caption:
Paratrooper, Rifleman, PIO
Company A/HHC
3-506, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division,
Vietnam 1967-1968
'CURRAHEES'
Hundreds of men served with the famed 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th
Infantry (Currahees), either as infantry or support members during the Vietnam Era (1
April 1967 through 15 May 1971). Some of these soldiers served with the battalion at
Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as well as various locations in the Republic of Vietnam-- Phan
Rang, Song Mao, Bao Loc, Phan Thiet, DaLat, Ban Me Thout, An Khe, Phu Bai, and
Camp Eagle, including Cambodia. The 3-506 would serve in Vietnam until May 15,
1971, when the Battalion colors were encased and the Battalion was inactivated. They
were professional soldiers... and proud to "stand alone". . . they called us "Currahees."
Each of those engraved words on that metal plate in my shadow box have
profound and everlasting meaning for me in so many ways. Utmost is the camaraderie
with soldiers whom I had the privilege to know and the honor to have served with in
combat during the 3-506 odyssey in Vietnam, as well as those who filled the ranks and
files of the battalion after I retuned home in 1968. One of these soldiers is Battalion
Chaplain Captain Otis Artis Smith.
Vietnam
To appreciate the role of the American soldier and his contribution to the Vietnam
War, certain background information on the area of the world known as Indochina is vital
to Otis's story.
The area of Southeast Asia known as Indochina was under the control of the
French colonies until the end of the Indochina War with France in 1954. As a result, the
countries of Indochina gained their independence and became neutral countries, yet
totally open to the looming threat of Communist aggression and influence from China.
The Geneva Accords of 1954 had divided the small country known as Vietnam into two
parts—a Communist North Vietnam and a non-Communist South Vietnam—but the
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Communist leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, kept alive his goal of one day
reuniting the country of Vietnam under Communist rule. The small republic of South
Vietnam struggled to hold on to its freedom, but was constantly plagued by attacks from
Communist guerillas, known as Viet Cong (VC), and infiltration of their government by
Communist sympathizers.
United States involvement in Indochina began with passive involvement in the
form of economic aid. From 1955 through 1963, the countries of Indochina, especially
Cambodia and South Vietnam, received millions of dollars in aid from our country. Our
Nation's role in the Vietnam conflict started with economic aid to South Vietnam during
the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. Over the next ten years, United States
involvement in the Vietnam conflict was only in an advisory capacity to assist the South
Vietnamese Government in their struggle to stop the spread of Communism in their
country. By the end of 1964, there were about 23,000 military personnel in South
Vietnam serving as advisors. This passive involvement slowly evolved into active
participation during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lynden B. Johnson. In
March of 1965, President Johnson deployed a group of U. S. Marines to South Vietnam
as the first American troops to enter the war. It was evident that the Communist threat to
South Vietnam was growing and could not be halted without the aid of additional U. S.
ground combat troops. By the end of 1965, the number of military personnel in South
Vietnam rose to 180,000.
The shadow of Communism had already darkened the neutrality of Laos.
Cambodia’s vain, yet colorful chief of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was proCommunist, despite his claim that his country remained neutral.
By 1965, North
Vietnam no longer denied their direct support of Communist guerillas operating in South
Vietnam. The United States realized that the Communist threat to South Vietnam could
not be halted without the involvement of ground combat troops. The desire to thwart
the spread of Communism in Indochina compelled our country to ultimately commit
combat troops to the effort in South Vietnam. In March 1965, the first American troops
set foot on Vietnamese soil. The United States also began bombing raids on North
Vietnam, and the decision of the American government in the years to follow would
bring our country more deeply into the Vietnam conflict.
Following the first group of Marines deployed to South Vietnam in March 1965
was the best of a new generation of "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division,
who also answered the call to serve their country in combat. In July 1965, the first
element of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to South
Vietnam to assist in halting the spread of Communism in southeast Asia. The conflict in
this small country, as well as the U. S. troop build-up, escalated within the next two
years (1966 and 1967).
At the beginning of 1967, there were approximately 385,000 troops serving in
South Vietnam, with assurance from President Johnson that more troops would be sent as
needed. A fourth maneuver battalion of the 101st Airborne Infantry, the 3rd Battalion,
506th Infantry (Airborne), was deployed to Vietnam in October of 1967, in response to
the increased need for more troops to fight the guerrilla-type warfare being waged in
South Vietnam. By the end of 1968, U.S troop strength had increased to 475,000. In
January 1969, President Richard Nixon was sworn in as President of the United States
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and would take our country in a new direction concerning involvement in the Vietnam
War.
* * *
A Greenville, Mississippi Soldier's Military Journal
The Combat Journal of Otis Artis Smith
Fate delivered me into the arms of my loving parents, Mary and Willie Smith in
Solomon's Quarters on Saint Francis Street in Helena, Arkansas on March 22, 1934. My
father worked at the nearby sawmill. At the time of my birth, my parents lived in what
was commonly called a "shotgun house"--a narrow rectangular residence, usually no
more than about 12 feet wide, with rooms arranged one behind the other and doors at
each end of the house. The house in which we lived belong to the nearby sawmill where
my father worked. Other sawmill workers lived in similar houses.
The photo of an old shotgun house with outside toilet behind.
At the age of three, our house and several ones nearby burned to the ground. My
brother Oliver said that the fire was my fault, because I was playing with fire in the
fireplace and it caught the nearby curtains on fire.
After the house fire and no place to live, my father decided to try his hand at
share-cropping across the river in the Mississippi Delta. The fire burned us out, so we
didn’t have much to load on an old borrowed truck and crossed the Mississippi River on a
ferry boat. We moved to Mr. Mose Taylor’s plantation outside of Merigold, Mississippi
in a house in the middle of what seemed to be the largest cotton field in the world.
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Sharecropping was a system of agriculture common throughout the South for both
black and white families, in which a landowner allowed a tenant to work the land in
return for a share of the crops produced on their portion of land. Sharecropping has a
long history and there are a wide range of different situations and types of agreements
that have used a form of the system. Sharecropping required the work of entire families
and was like being in hell in those years. We all worked hard, but never got paid what
was promised. Our family always owed the landowner--referred to as “the man”.
Living conditions were so bad that we, like so many other poor families, made midnight
moves from one plantation to another. For us this was the norm, until we reached the
delta pine plantation in Washington County, Mississippi. By that time, I was old enough
to chop two rows of cotton at the same time and pick over 300 lbs. of cotton in a day.
Chopping cotton
I entered high school in September 1950 and graduated in May 1953 from the
Natchez Jr. College High School, Natchez, Mississippi. By the grace of god, I was
valedictorian of the 1953 class.
In the fall of 1953 (September), I enrolled at Natchez Jr. College for one school
year. While there, I met a beautiful lady by the name of Nettie. Nettie and I decided to
get married and set a date of June 20, 1954 for our wedding day. The big question was
how were we going to pay for our education? We decided that I should join the army for
two years, and this would pay for Nettie's education. By the time I completed my twoyear hitch, Nettie would be teaching and could then pay for my education. This great
idea did not work, however.
When college classes ended in May 1954, I went home to Greenville, Mississippi,
where I spoke to a military recruiter about entering the military (Army) for two years.
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The recruiter--an Air Force Recruiter--gave me some papers to fill out and some tests to
take. He smooth talked me into signing a document that I did not take the time to read. I
was given a date to report for induction into the military--July 13, 1954.
During that summer, I lived with my parents on Pecan Street and got a job at a
farm seed company, Walcott & Steel earning $40.00 a week. It was a dirty job,
unloading seeds from trucks into a warehouse and from the warehouse into railroad
boxcars. I was a little embarrassed and didn't want my friends and neighbors to know
that a big college boy like myself could not find a better job. To ease my humiliation, I
wore white pants and shirts to work each day, then changed into dirty rags for work.
After my work day, I showered and wore my good clothes home.
On Sunday, June 20, 1954, Nettie and I were married. The very next day,
Monday, June 21, I reported to work at Walcott & Steel and worked there until I reported
for induction on July13, 1954. I thought that I had enlisted for two years, but a record
clerk in basic training told me that I had signed on for four years.
Otis and Nettie's Wedding Photo
Nettie and I were married on June 20, 1954, and twenty days later, I reported to
my Local Board No. 82 in Greenville, Mississippi for induction. Early on the morning of
July 13, 1954, I reported to the military induction center in Jackson, Mississippi.
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* * *
Military Service
At this time, all Army recruits whether volunteers (enlisted) or conscripts
(drafted), were sent to one of many training camps in the U.S. depending on their state of
residence when inducted. Those from the northeastern, eastern and southeastern states
were sent primarily to Fort Ord, New Jersey, Fort Gordon or Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort
Campbell, Kentucky, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, or Fort Ord, California. Those
recruits living in the mid-section of the US most likely reported to Fort Knox, Kentucky,
or Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. If a recruit lived in the upper West or Southwest, he
was assigned to Fort Ord in California. For those living in the Northwest and Alaska,
their duty station became Fort Lewis, Washington.
Those assigned to the United States Air Force, you were sent to Lockland Air
Force Base at San Antonio, Texas for your Basic Military Training (BMT). Lackland Air
Force Base, named after Brigadier General Frank Lackland, is the only entry processing
station for Air Force enlisted Basic Military Training.
Young men drafted or enlisted into the military were first sent to an induction
center, according to the branch of service they had been assigned to, for their physical
examination to determine if they were physical and mentally suitable for military service.
If a recruit passed his physical, he was then given the Oath of Allegiance (sworn in) in
front of the flag of the United States.
* * *
From Civilian to Recruit
Basic Military Training
Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas
July to September 1954
When I arrived at the military induction center in Jackson, Mississippi, I joined
other young male individuals who were arriving from across the state for processing and
physical examinations before being sworn in. After a roll call, individuals received
physicals. Afterward, we were directed to a large room, where we were administered the
Oath of Allegiance.
"I, Otis Artis Smith, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the
Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will
bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the
President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me,
according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
An officer then said, "Congratulations men; you are now in the United States Air
Force. You will be escorted to the bus station, where you will be transported to Lackland
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Air Force Base at San Antonio, Texas to commence basic military training. Good luck,
men."
Immediately following being sworn in--now a new recruit--I, along with other
recruits were flown to San Antonio airport, where we boarded Air Force buses for the
short ride to Lackland Air Force Base. This was to be my home for the next eight weeks
for basic military training (nine weeks counting in-processing week) more fondly known
as "boot camp".
* * *
This journal begins the account of a personal experience--so personal that for
decades, I could not bring myself to write it--an experience which had a profound affect
on my life and how I have tried to live that life. This is my story of pre-military and
military years, including an unforgettable year in Vietnam with the renowned "Screaming
Eagles" of the 101st Airborne Division--the 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry
"Currahees", the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 320th Field Artillery, and 1st Battalion
(Airborne), 327th Infantry "Above the Rest".
Lackland Air Force Base (BMT), known as "The Gateway to the Air Force",
conducted the Air Force's only enlisted recruit training program, ensuring orderly
transition from civilian to military life. United States Air Force Basic Military Training,
or "boot camp" was a nine-week rigorous program of physical and mental training
required in order for an individual to become an Airman in the United States Air Force,
United States Air Force Reserve, or Air National Guard.
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My Basic Military Training ( BMT) Barracks at Lackland AFB
As Recruits, we were trained and educated in the fundamental skills necessary to
be successful in an Expeditionary Air Force. Just as recruits in the Army and Marines,
our instructions would include military discipline, physical fitness, mental preparation for
combat, basic war skills, as well as drill and ceremonies. In addition, our training
included Air Force core values and a comprehensive range of subjects relating to Air
Force life.
We started our nine week course the 2nd week in July and graduated the last
week in September. After basic, I was not granted leave to see Nettie in Mississippi; but
was instead shipped to Parks Air Force Base at Hayward, California for further special
training, similar to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) for the Army.
Now that I look back on it, I enjoyed basic. During my first taste of military
leadership, I volunteered to be Latrine Chief without knowing exactly what the duties
were. Since several trainees were put under my supervision, I assigned them to do the
cleaning work. Given the authority to put certain toilets and showers off limit, I reduced
the cleaning time significantly. In fact, I was voted "Best Latrine Chief" of the training
period.
Parks Air Force Base, California
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Soon after the creation of the Seabees at the beginning of World War II, the U.S.
Navy built a West Coast replacement and recuperation center for Naval Construction
Battalions returning from overseas. Camp Parks was established on November 26, 1942,
having been named in honor of Rear Admiral Charles W. Parks, Civil Engineer Corps
(CEC), the World War I chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks.[1] Adjacent to Camp
Parks to the east, was Camp Shoemaker and the U.S. Naval Hospital Shoemaker, also
built during the war. The three Navy bases laying side by side were called "Fleet City."
Camp Parks sat unused until the U.S. Air Force established it as a basic training
center in 1951 during the Korean War. The facility was promptly renamed Parks Air
Force Base, and a complete renovation was undertaken. Base personnel were initially
housed in temporary facilities and ate from a field mess. The first group of airmen arrived
at Camp Parks in the Summer of 1951, and mass training began in March 1952. Parks Air
Force Base is notable as one of the few air force bases without a functional runway on
site. In July 1959, the installation was transferred to the United States Army. From 1959
to 1973, it was operated in a standby status under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Sixth Army,
Presidio of San Francisco.
Airman First Class Otis A. Smith
After graduating from BMT, I was not granted leave to go home to see Nettie in
Mississippi. My new orders were to report to Parks Air Force Base at Hayward,
California for special training and to await an FBI clearance. The FBI investigated my
background. My family, friends and neighbors back home in Mississippi wanted to know
what trouble I had gotten into when the FBI asked questions about me. Little did they
realize at the time that most Airmen had to go through an investigation to be awarded a
top secret clearance when about to be given certain special assignments.
After receiving a top secret clearance, I received new orders to report to
Headquarters, United States Air Force Security Service, West Germany. Germany was a
great assignment for me, with promotions and travel; and the following two years passed
quickly.
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Aerial photo of Parks AFB in 1954
Headquarters, United States Air Force Security Service
To appreciate the role of the Airmen and their contribution to the United States
Air Force Security Service, certain background information on the Service and its
mission is vital to Otis's story.
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The United States Air Force Security Service (often abbreviated USAFSS) was
essentially the United States Air Force's cryptographic intelligence/Signals Intelligence
(SIGINT) branch; its motto was Freedom through Vigilance. It was created in October
1948 and operated until 1979, when the branch was re-designated the Electronic Security
Command. It was later re-designated Air Force Intelligence Command, Air Intelligence
Agency, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, and is
currently designated as the Twenty-Fifth Air Force.
Composed primarily of airmen culled from the cream of the Air Force's enlisted
recruits (the top 1/2 of 1 percent), the USAFSS was a secretive and tight-knit branch of
Air Force cold warriors tasked with monitoring, collecting and interpreting military voice
and electronic signals of countries of interest (which often were Soviet and their satellite
Eastern bloc countries). USAFSS intelligence was often analyzed in the field, and the
results transmitted to the National Security Agency for further analysis and distribution to
other intelligence recipients.
Individual airmen stationed at locations scattered across the globe did a variety of
jobs, almost all of them related to listening to and interpreting Eastern Bloc, Communist
Chinese, and North Vietnamese military communications. Some airmen were linguists
who listened to voice communications. Others - known as morse intercept operators, or
"ditty-boppers" - monitored Soviet and other nations' military Morse code broadcasts.
Others, such as non-morse intercept operators, were engaged in monitoring other types of
radio signals, such as single and multi-channel radio printer signals and facsimile
transmissions. All communications were reviewed and interpreted by analysts. Some
were assigned to clandestine missions to monitor telephone exchanges in the European
Theater of Operations.
These jobs, which required top secret codeword clearance, were extremely high
pressure and were considered essential to U.S. Cold War efforts. Members of the
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USAFSS were not allowed to discuss their jobs with outsiders—in fact, USAFSS
members could not talk amongst themselves about their jobs unless they were in a secure
location. Because of their value as targets (in Cold War Berlin, the capture of a USAFSS
member was worth several thousand dollars), their off-base travel was severely restricted.
Many adopted "cover jobs" to more easily conceal their real work.
The USAFSS had two major areas of operations: ground-based and airborne.
Ground-based units were scattered throughout the globe and collected information from
fixed sites with large antenna arrays. Airborne units flew from bases around the world,
skirting sensitive areas and collecting data in a variety of aircraft, including C-47s, RB47s C-130s, EC-121s, and RC-135s. Some airborne units were associated with the
strategic reconnaissance units of Strategic Air Command, and flew aboard SAC (and
non-SAC) reconnaissance flights to collect data from shorter range communication
systems and other types of signals. A primary job of USAFSS airborne linguists and
Morse Intercept Operators aboard SAC reconnaissance aircraft was to provide selfprotection early warning of impending fighter or missile response by a target nation's air
defense system. Of equal value were the "ferret missions" flown into Soviet Bloc
countries to gather Intel on their air defense systems.
Some well-known people were connected to USAFSS. Country music icon
Johnny Cash was a USAFSS member and Morse code intercept operator stationed in
Germany in the early 1950s. Adrian Cronauer was an Air Force DJ at AFRTS in 1964 at
the USAFSS installation, Iraklion Air Station, Crete, Greece. Cronauer, unlike Cash, was
in a radio-TV support squadron, attached to the security service operation. Cronauer's life
was depicted by Robin Williams in the film Good Morning, Vietnam.
After two years in Germany, I received orders reassigning me to Headquarters,
United States Air Force Security Service, Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
Upon returning to the U.S., I stopped in Mississippi, picked up Nettie and headed for
Texas. Nettie could only remain with me during the summer months, however, because
she had a teaching contract in Marks, Mississippi. Marks is a small town and also the
county seat of Quitman County, Mississippi. Marks was named for Leopold Marks, a
Jewish immigrant trader of the late 19th century, whose market became one of the
earliest centers of business in the area. It was the first time since our marriage, that
Nettie and I were able to live as husband and wife.
Quitman Count, Mississippi
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United States Air Force Security Service
Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
Kelly Air Force Base is a United States Air Force facility located in San Antonio,
Texas. Kelly Field was one of thirty-two Air Service training camps established after the
United States entry into World War I, being established on 27 March 1917. It was used
as a flying field; primary flying school; school for adjutants, supply officers, engineers;
mechanics school, and as an aviation general supply depot.
After completing my four-year commitment with the Air Force, my first discharge
came in 1958. I had been promoted on time and was discharged as an Airman First
Class in the Summer of 1958. It was my plan to enroll in college in September, but we
discovered that Nettie was pregnant with our first child. I could not locate work or a job,
so I went down to the recruiting office in Greenville, Mississippi and re-enlisted for six
years. Shortly there after and by the grace of God, I received a release from the Air Force
to study for the Christian ministry.
Otis A. Smith
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After two years of that re-enlistment, I was called to the Christian Ministry and
was released from the Air Force at Greenville, Mississippi Air Force Base to enter
college at Tugaloo college at Jackson, Mississippi. Since that turning point in my life, I
have not looked back until now.
The Lord's Calling and Receiving My Wings
As a young boy in the early 1950s, my parents were able to send me from a little
place called Rainbow, Mississippi to Natchez Junior College High School at Jackson,
Mississippi. It was there in that private school, that I met a young minister, got direction,
and accepted God as my pilot for my life. It is important to remember that it was a tough
time being black and living in Mississippi; but when you're in school and everything is
falling into place for you, it is an exciting time. I was sixteen years-old and in the tenth
grade in 1952.
I met this young minister, who was a student at Millsap College at Jackson,
Mississippi. I was having trouble adjusting and just could not put things together for
myself. After having a serious talk with this young minister, what he said to me was,
"Why don't you ask God whether or not He's calling you into the Christian ministry?" My
quick reply was, "No, not me. I don't want to be a minister. My aim and objective is the
law." And he said, "Well you pray about it." Pray I did; and in the process, I finally said
to the Almighty God, "God, if You want me to be a minister, help me to find the peace
that I am seeking." Those were the most profound words I could have uttered at that time,
because I found the peace that I had so diligently and began to turn my direction.
At that time, there were other young men who were accepting Jesus Christ as their
personal Savior and I entered the ministry. It was a time when we had Korean veterans
who were returning from war, and they had access to the GI Bill. They were a part of
this school system and much older than I was. This school also had a bible department,
not a seminary, but a Bible department. The Bible was mandatory reading for everybody
who went to this Natchez junior college operated by the Missionary Baptist.
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LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis, Tennessee
In September 1960, I left Tugaloo College at Jackson, Mississippi, and transferred
to Lemoyne-Owen in Memphis, Tennessee. LeMoyne–Owen College is a fullyaccredited, four-year private historically black college affiliated with the United Church
of Christ. It resulted from the merger of historically black colleges and other schools
established by northern Protestant missions during and after the American Civil War to
educate freedmen.
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I entered the Interdenominational Theological Center (seminary) Atlanta, Georgia
in September 1962 and graduated in May 1965. Shortly thereafter, I became an ordained
Presbyterian pastor in July 1965 and installed as pastor of the Christ United Presbyterian
Church in Augusta, Georgia on 4 July 1965. I remained pastor for one year before being
called to active duty as a first lieutenant chaplain in July 1966.
The Chaplain Corp
U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division
1967 to 19__
While enrolled at ITC, I became close friends with William Smith, the pastor at
William Memorial in Augusta, Georgia; and he had become connected with the Army
Chaplains Corp. At the time, I was a "weekend minister". Pastor Smith told me about
how chaplaincy in the military worked, how someone could enlist or volunteer and enter
as an officer (a lieutenant). I sure liked that idea. Ever since my tour of duty in the US
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Air Force as an enlisted man, I had wanted to be an officer. Now I had this opportunity
in front of me. Pastor Smith was a Methodist; but with his help, I got in touch with the
Presbyterian endorsing agency. I was told they would endorse me, but that there were
requirements I must meet first. The requirements were that I had to finish seminary, then
serve at least one to two years as a pastor.
In 1965, I finished the seminary and spent one year in the pastorate. In July 1966,
I once again entered active military service--this time with the United States Army as a
first lieutenant with the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division.
* * *
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Approximately 60-days before I entered the Army's Chaplain Corp, I received a
phone call from an Army spokesman at the Pentagon who asked me if I was ready to
come on active duty. I told him, "Yes, if you give me a good unit." I was pretty "gung
ho" in those days. The Army spokesman then said, "Well, what about Fort Campbell,
Kentucky? We will assign you to the 101st Airborne Division." I said, "Okay." I had no
idea what I was getting myself into and what it was all about; but when my orders
arrived, I was ordered to report to US Chaplain's School at Fort Hamilton, New York for
training as a chaplain, then report back to 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell,
Kentucky.
Second Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
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During the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the U. S. Army Airborne Infantry
was comprised of two major divisions--the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd
Airborne Division. A separate smaller unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, served as a
troubleshooting force held in reserve for quelling potential hot spots in the Pacific theater.
(Figure 2) The 173rd was the first U. S. Army ground combat unit ordered to Vietnam in
May of 1965. Each airborne division was further divided into three brigades of jumpqualified infantry troops. The brigade was the major tactical command level to which
combat, combat support, and administrative support elements were attached/placed in
support to perform specific missions. I had been assigned to the Headquarters Company,
2nd Brigade.
Within each of the three brigades of the 101st Airborne Division, there were
three battalions of airborne infantry. (Figure 3). I would eventually end up in 1st
Brigade.
US Chaplain School, Fort Hamilton, New York
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July 1966 to September 1966
The Army Chaplain School at Fort Hamilton is a beautiful garrison. I reported to
Fort Hamilton, New York for the chaplain's basic course on 3 July 1966 and graduated in
September 1966. Hundreds of Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard Chaplains
and their assistants were trained here for active duty and reserve ministries to soldiers and
their dependents.
Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates do not go through the traditional Basic
Training. Instead, they attend the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course, which is a 12week course taught at the USA Chaplains Center in Fort Hamilton, New York.
Instruction at the school was conducted by highly trained, professional, and experienced
Army officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
The Course was an intensive, outcomes-based, entry-level, initial military training
process. The training and special activities during this course provide unique
opportunities for professional, physical, academic, and spiritual growth. The course
consisted of four phases.
Phase I training covered orientation to the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps and the
professional staff officer skills needed to function in the Army.
Phase II training provided basic skills and pastoral ministry skills necessary to
function as a chaplain at the battalion level.
Phase III training brought together leadership, professionalism, and Officership in
field, garrison, and social environments. It culminated in a 72-hour situational training
exercise.
What each of us learned about the Chaplain Corp was that the Continental
Congress established chaplains as an integral part of the Continental Army on 29 July,
1775. Over the years, more than 25,000 chaplains have served in the U.S. Army as
religious leaders. From military installations to deployed combat units, chaplains and
chaplain assistants perform their ministries in the most religiously diverse organization in
the world.
Always present with soldiers in war and in peace, Army chaplains have served in
all of America's major wars and combat engagements from the colonial era through the
present day. Nearly 300 Army chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Seven
members of the Chaplain Corps have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Currently, more
than 2,700 chaplains serve the total Army representing 140 different religious
organizations.
In the United States, military chaplains have an officer's rank based on their years
of service and promotion selection from among their peers. Chaplains serving in the US
Armed Forces wear the uniform of their respective branch of service, and normally wear
clerical attire only during the performance of a religious service. The position of rank and
chaplain faith group insignia varies in each military department and may vary
significantly from one type of uniform to the another within a military department.
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* * *
Earning Those Wings
Airborne Training
Fort Benning, Georgia
October 23 - November 9, 1966
After returning to Fort Campbell, I was immediately informed that I had to
become airborne--that scared me to death! It was hard for me to sit in a room like this
and look down. It just looked and felt like I was going to faint upon hearing that
requirement! Heights really scared me, so I had no idea that I was going to be able to
ever complete that training--airborne.
The mission of the ground force soldier, "to close with the enemy and destroy him
by fire, movement, and shock action," has remained the same down through the years,
This method of entry into combat has undergone radical changes. Today, by the use of
air transport, the military can overcome the obstacles of time and space to set the
American soldier down where he can close with that enemy with the maximum surprise
and the minimum delay.
Fort Benning, Georgia, is called the "Cradle of American Airborne." The first test
unit, composed of forty-eight (48) enlisted and two (2) officer volunteers, was formed at
this post in June of 1940 and made their first jump in August of that same year. Since that
time, over 134,969 men have qualified as airborne soldiers at Fort Benning.
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The question has often been asked: "Just what does an individual have to do to
qualify as a parachutist, or what does the Airborne Course consist of and how was it
conducted?"
First, all officers and enlisted men are volunteers, have passed a physical
examination, and prior to attending the Course, have taken the Standard Army Physical
Fitness Test as outlined in FM 21-20. All enlisted men must have completed at least six
(6) weeks of basic training. This was in compliance with paragraph 6, AR 40-100, and
DA Circular 193, dated 1948.
The course consists of three (3) weeks of intensive instruction in technical
training as parachutists. NCO's of grades 5, 6, 7, and all officers, receive additional
instruction during a fourth and fifth week, in Air Transportability and Aerial Delivery of
Heavy Equipment. A Jumpmaster Course was included in the latter.
Discipline was enforced throughout the course. For failure to comply with
instructions, failure to pay attention in class, or other breaches of good soldierly conduct,
students may be given a maximum of ten pushups at any one time. This discipline served
as harassment to the student; but as a measure to incite a brisk alertness of mind and
body, were at the same time, continue to build up the student's body physically for further
airborne training. Students readily accept this discipline when given properly.
Officers take the same course and are assigned to the same company as are the
enlisted men. They, too, become students like the enlisted men and work side by side in
all types and phases of instruction. Their rank of officers was respected, yet all ranks are
co-equal as students.
After graduating from Chaplain School in Fort Hamilton, New York and a short
leave home, I arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia the week of October 22 for processing
and orientation prior to starting my training the following day. I was assigned to Class
15, 44th Company, 4th Student training Airborne Battalion. Company 44th was my
home during the time I attended the Airborne Course.
Soon after arriving at Fort Benning, each student was given a form letter to fill out
and mailed home to parents or spouse. The letter below happened to be for Max Riekse,
who graduated in his class a week or so following mine. It so happened that Max and I
would eventually be reassigned to the newly reactivated 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th
Infantry in 1967, deployed to Vietnam together, and serve together for a while in
Vietnam.
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Jump School Letter Home to Parents or Spouses
24
Week One
There were over a hundred others, including officers, starting this course with us.
Early Monday morning we started our first week of training. The first week of training
was conducted by the Ground Training Group (black caps) of the Airborne Department.
During the first period we attended, the Airborne Department Director told us how the
course would be conducted and what the "Black Caps" expected of us students. We were
soon to learn that during the first week of instruction approximately 95 per cent of the
instruction was given by the enlisted "Black Caps" and that approximately 90 per cent
were practical work meaning, "we work and the Black Caps watch and correct us until
we do perform satisfactorily." The training technique used was referred to as the
modified "County Fair" system, modified in that the "Black Caps" were assigned to each
of our Platoons and not to stations or apparatus.
There were two training objectives during our first week. First, the teaching of
four of the five basic jump techniques, and second, physical training.
After the first day, we were told to learn the seven jump commands and the actions
that go with those commands. These are the commands that a jumpmaster gives a
parachutist to exit him from an aircraft in flight. This technique was taught from a
Mockup of a C82 or C119 airplane. We were taught how to "get ready," "stand-up,"
"hook up," "check equipment," "sound off for equipment check," and "stand in he door."
From my position in the door of the mockup, we were given the final command of "Go."
We then jumped up and out of the door, dropping approximately three feet to a sawdust
pit. The NCO instructor graded us on our performance on each of the commands; and if
we did not do them just right, we had to go back and correct any mistakes.
The second technique we learned in week one was from a 34-foot mock tower by
using the last two commands we were taught in the mock door, which were "Stand in the
door" and "GO." The only difference in the mock door and the mock tower was that they
raised the mock door 34 feet in the air and called it a mock tower. Of course we did not
jump out into a sawdust pit, but the process was quite similar and simple. We got into a
harness, was checked, and climbed up a stairs to the top of the 34-foot tower. The
instructor attached my risers, a part of my harness, to a trolley on a cable. We stood in the
door, sounded off our tower number, and upon a tap on the leg from the instructor, we
jumped up and out like we were taught in the mock door. After gliding down the cable on
the trolley to a sawdust mound, where we were unhooked, we then double-timed back to
the base of the tower to receive a grade on our jump from an instructor. We were told
exactly what we did wrong and how to correct it.
Surprisingly, approximately 10 per cent of my class was eliminated from further
training because of this tower. Some students either refused to jump or "froze" in the
door and could not jump.
The third technique we were taught was the control of the parachute after landing.
we were told how to deflate our chutes to keep from being dragged across the ground.
There were two methods to accomplish this procedure. One was called the "Bottom
Riser" Method; the other "Recovery from the Drag." The first method was to pull the
bottom risers toward the body, thus collapsing the chute and the second method turning
our bodies so as to get on our feet and run around the parachute while collapsing it. A
huge fan was used to help demonstrate this part of training.
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The last technique we were taught in week one was proper landing. Here we had
to jump off a 2-foot platform to simulate a parachute landing fall (PLF). We were told
how to bend our bodies like a rocker on a rocking chair, rotate the upper portion away
from the fall and distribute the impact of landing over the five points of contact: balls of
feet, calf, buttocks, and "pushup muscles," which was the large muscle covering the
shoulder blade.
We were soon introduced to the second objective "physical training." Believe me,
the entire course was physical training. It was either "learning rest position move, or
double time." All the while, those black caps continued to tell us that it was for our own
good. In addition, we had to do squat jumps, sit-ups, pull-ups and various other body
bends and twists.
Having performed satisfactorily on all the training apparatus during the first week
of training, we were now ready for the next week.
Week Two
We soon leaned that the physical training objective was continuous. The "Black
Caps" called the process "building us up." At the time, we didn't think so; however, it put
us in good physical shape for the last week of training.
The second week of training was conducted by the Tower Training Group. we
soon learned that the physical training objective would intensify in fact we did each
exercise a few more times during this week of training, than we did the previous week.
During our second week of training, we worked on some of the same types of
training apparatus as we did during the first week; only now we were taught team
performance on the mock door and the 34-foot mock tower. We learned to jump without
individual command in a four (4) man stick from either door of the 34-foot tower. On our
third jump from this tower, we had a General Purpose Bag attached to our harness. This
"GP" bag, as it was called, was a canvas container in which we could carry various items
of equipment, weapons or supplies with us on a live jump.
A different training device called the Swing Landing Trainer, aka "suspended
harness" or "nut cracker" was introduced to us during the week. On this device, we
learned to control the parachute during descent, how to slip and turn to avoid a collision
in the air. The Swing Landing Trainer taught how to make a parachute landing fall in
such a way that we could fall in any direction. This new training aid was very effective
in keeping us alert and ready for the PLF in any direction.
Week two was best known as tower week--the 34-foot and 250-foot free tower.
Most of us got a thrill from the 250-foot free fall tower. We again got into a harness and
were hoisted vertically to the top of the tower. On a given command, the "Black Caps"
released four of us at one time; and we descended like on a live jump. Each of us were
closely graded to see if we put all our previous instructions into a satisfactory descent,
which included slipping and a parachute landing fall. Everything was done to insure our
safety on these towers. A "Black Cap" gave each of us instructions during a descent.
The drop zone around the tower was plowed and the chutes are 32 feet in diameter with
specially constructed vents to reduce oscillation.
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Week Three
The last week of training was our jump week. Prior to starting this week of
training, we were given an orientation on the nomenclature and functioning of our T-10
assembly and the procedure to be used in the fitting and inspections of our parachutes.
The T-10 Parachute assembly consists of five components: pack tray, troop harness,
deployment bag, risers, and canopy. The canopy of our T-10 parachute had a 26 foot
each diameter when inflated. It was made of rip stop nylon with 30 suspension static
lines, 26.5 feet in length and having a tensile strength of 400 lbs.
We were also told and shown how we were to wear our combat pack. During this
week, we had to make five jumps from an aircraft in flight to qualify as a parachutist. All
jumps were made from an altitude of 1250 feet. The jumps differed in the number of
men exiting at one time and the manner in which they exit the aircraft. The first two
jumps were an individual tap-out. A tap-out jump was one in which each man was
tapped and given the command "go" prior to exit. The remainder of the jumps were mass
exits. A mass exit was one in which the first man was tapped and given the command
"go" and the others followed without further command.
The reserve parachute was inspected to insure that it was properly fastened to the
main lift web, that the rip cord grip was free in its pocket, and that the rigger's seal was
intact.
First Jump
All student jumpers and their equipment were carefully inspected several times by
an instructor prior to enplaning for each jump. This inspection was important in that all
student errors must be detected prior to the jump. Each of us was inspected to determine
that breast straps were not twisted and that they were inserted in the quick-release box,
that the quick-release box was locked with safety fork inserted, that leg straps were
through leg loops on the main lift web and also locked in the quick-release box.
Finally, word came to board our aircraft. Once aboard, we were under orders
from the jumpmasters; and after take-off, they were responsible for our safety en route to
the drop zone and for jumping us students over the panel on the landing zone.
When the plane was about three minutes from the drop zone, the pilot signaled the
jumpmaster by means of a red light located near the door of the aircraft. The jumpmaster
began to issue his jump commands at this time. The seven jump commands learned in the
first week of training were used to prepare us to execute the jump. "Get Ready!", the first
command, prepared us for the commands that followed. The second command, "Stand
Up!", got us on our feet and facing toward the exit doors. "Hook Up!", on the third
command, we attached by static line to the plane. "Check Equipment!" On this command,
we each checked the equipment on the front of our body, as well as the back pack of the
student in front of us. On the command by the jumpmaster to "sound off for equipment
check," we each sounded off our numerical position in the stick. This insured the
jumpmaster that we were ready to jump. When the aircraft was over the designated area
for the jump, we received the command, "Stand in the door!" After we had taken this
position in the jump door of the plane the jumpmaster on a given signal, gave us his final
command, "Go!" We jumped out into empty space. It was at this time that all the
27
instruction we had been taught during the first two weeks of training was rolled into one
smooth operation. This procedure was followed for four more similar jumps.
After exiting our plane, we counted "one thousand", "two thousand", "three
thousand", "four thousand", "five thousand". When we felt the shock of our chute open,
we reached up, grabbed our risers.
My assignment at Fort Benning was to become airborne qualified; however, as a
chaplain, my duties were essentially a ministry of presence. I wasn't required to preach,
just be there for the soldiers of the unit, and for their families later on prior to
deployment. The Army allowed chaplains to be wherever the men were, and you
ministered just by your presence. As their chaplain, I did not have to be concerned about
striking up a conversation with young soldiers. They wanted simply to be near you. In
fact, during jump school, I had one or interesting jumps; because the guy immediately
behind me was usually right on my back exiting the aircraft. That is dangerous when
jumping, but I understood those individual's need--they wanted to be near you. They
wanted to hear what you had to say. They had questions that they wanted you to discuss
with them. They were really looking for answers; some of those young soldiers would not
make it home from Vietnam.
In a humorous way, I had my first command, Chaplains are not supposed to
command, but it just so happened that I had a bunch of enlisted persons in this unit in my
platoon, as well as seven lieutenants who I outranked. I had enough wisdom to get those
second lieutenants and the sergeants together to discover who could call cadence, because
I could not call cadence and so forth. Cordially, they instructed me as to where I was
supposed to be as we ran. We ran everyplace that we went during jump school at Fort
Benning, Georgia. I knew where I was supposed to be once the platoons stopped; I was
supposed to post in a certain area. So they helped me, and we worked together. The
normal instruction that a platoon is supposed to receive came from the second lieutenants
and the sergeants.
Our fifth and last jump was a 32-man mass, executed like the fourth jump with the
exception that we jumped with full drop zone equipment and had to execute an assembly
problem on the ground after landing.
Student Officer No. 769 - 1Lt. Otis Artis Smith at Fort Benning, Georgia
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Graduation day finally arrived. I had made all my jumps, my brass was polished,
and my shiny Cochran jump boots and pressed uniform made me look sharp. All I needed
now were those silver wings. On November 9, 1966, we formed up by platoons on
Stillwell Field to hear Major General Robert H. York, Commandant congratulate all of us
for earning our silver wings. After the graduating address, my silver parachute wings
were pinned on my chest. I am mighty proud of these wings. We had earned them the
hard way, and we intended to uphold the traditions of our predecessors.
Jump School Certificate
29
BLOOD ON THE RISERS
He was just a rookie trooper and he surely shook with fright,
He checked all his equipment and made sure his pack was tight;
He had to sit and listen to those awful engines roar,
"You ain't gonna jump no more!"
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
"Is everybody happy?" cried the Sergeant looking up,
Our Hero feebly answered "Yes," and then they stood him up;
He jumped into the icy blast, his static line unhooked,
He ain't gonna jump no more.
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
He counted long, he counted loud, he waited for the shock,
He felt the wind, he felt the cold, he felt the awful drop,
The silk from his reserves spilled out, and wrapped around his legs,
He ain't gonna jump no more.
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
The risers swung around his neck, connectors cracked his dome,
Suspension lines were tied in knots around his skinny bones;
The canopy became his shroud; he hurtled to the ground.
He ain't gonna jump no more.
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
The days he'd lived and loved and laughed kept running through his mind,
He thought about the girl back home, the one he'd left behind;
He thought about the medic corps, and wondered what they'd find,
He ain't gonna jump no more.
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(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
The ambulance was on the spot, the jeeps were running wild,
The medics jumped and screamed with glee, they rolled their sleeves and smiled,
For it had been a week or more since last a 'Chute had failed,
He ain't gonna jump no more.
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
He hit the ground, the sound was "SPLAT", his blood went spurting high;
His comrades, they were heard to say "A hell of a way to die!"
He lay there, rolling 'round in the welter of his gore,
He ain't gonna jump no more.
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
(slowly, solemnly; about half the speed of the other verses)
There was blood upon the risers, there were brains upon the chute,
Intestines were a-dangling from his paratroopers suit,
He was a mess, they picked him up, and poured him from his boots,
He ain't gonna jump no more.
(CHORUS)
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain't gonna jump no more!
Following our graduation and receiving our silver wings, I reported back to
Headquarters and Headquarters, 2nd Brigade (Airborne), 101st Airborne Division
“Screaming Eagles” at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
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Headquarters & Headquarters Company
3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
May - October 1967
"Currahees"
* * *
From 2nd Brigade to 1st Brigade and the 3-506th
May 1967 - The "Currahees"
I arrived at the 3-506 in early May 1967 just in time to participate in the intensive
training for the entire Battalion, with the Currahees participation in a war games exercise
in “The Lands Between The Lakes” area in Stewart County, Tennessee. Our battalion
commander, LTC Geraci led the 3-506 as the “aggressor force” against the entire 101st
Airborne Division in Operation Goblin Hunt I.
LTC John P. Geraci
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The Beginning: Activation, War Games, and Deployment
(May – September 1967)
Activation Day for the 3-506 was Saturday, April 1, 1967. From that day
forward, the Battalion would train specifically for combat in Vietnam. The plan was for
the battalion to join the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (already in country) as its
fourth maneuver battalion.
The three battalions of the 1st Brigade (Separate) were deployed to Vietnam in
July of 1965. A fourth maneuver airborne battalion, the 3-506, was deployed to Vietnam
in October of 1967 to become the fourth infantry battalion of 1st Brigade. Thus, the
Currahees of the 3-506 became known as the "Stand Alone Battalion". The six battalions
comprising the 2nd and 3rd Brigades, as well as the remainder of the 101st Airborne
Division command, administrative, and service elements, were ultimately deployed to
Vietnam in December of 1967.
In a ceremony at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, LTC John P. Geraci, took formal
command of the newly activated airborne infantry battalion and immediately started
forming up the 3-506. He personally selected his senior non-commissioned officers
(NCOs) and filled each company with combat experienced first sergeants and platoon
sergeants.
The forming up of the Battalion on a timely basis was imperative so that the 3506 would be at 75 percent strength prior to the start of unit training. During the first
week of April, enlisted personnel began arriving at Fort Campbell from Department of
the Army sources and were promptly assigned duties in accordance with the needs of the
Battalion. Company Commanders having previous combat experience and graduates of
West Point Military Academy were hand picked.
Throughout the training period, it was essential that Unit Commanders,
intelligence personnel, and other key Battalion personnel stay abreast of the developing
situation in Vietnam. They needed to learn as much as possible about the enemy they
would be fighting—the Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army (NVA)—
and also about the country of Vietnam in general.
The month of May continued the structuring of the 3-506, as more personnel
arrived and were assigned to their units. Enlisted men, as well as officers, were still
filling the ranks of the newly activated Battalion. Even though all of the platoons were
not yet up to full strength, training began at the squad level on May l. At this level, the
Currahees trained in the art of “Quick Kill”. This finely tuned rifle marksmanship
enabled a paratrooper to hit any encountered target, no matter how fast it moved or how
quickly it appeared. The Currahees became excellent sharpshooters and continued to
practice their “quick kill” technique even while enroute to Vietnam aboard their trooper
ship, using BB guns to hone their skill. Their “Quick Kill” training would prove
beneficial numerous times during combat in Vietnam. Incidents involving the use of
“Quick Kill” were later documented in newspaper accounts appearing in “The Stars and
Stripes” and “The Screaming Eagle”, as well as other military publications.
33
The 101st Division utilized helicopters, trucks, and any means available to them
as they attempted to put the paratrooper “guerrillas” of the 3-506 out of action. Time after
time, the Division failed, as the 3-506 aggressor force applied “hit and run” tactics
against the units of the 101st . The Currahees were now a force to be reckoned with, as
they emerged as the victors in Operation Goblin Hunt I.
As the ranks of the 3-506 continued to increase into the month of June, our
Battalion returned to Fort Campbell after the war games exercise to resume its scheduled
training. June also began the series of Army Training Tests (ATT) that were required at
each level of the Battalion. The ATT consisted of a series of Army standards on which
the unit was rated according to criteria based on the ability of the unit (squad, platoon,
company, battalion) to work as a team, and with heavy emphasis on leadership skills at
each level of testing.
As intensive training continued, the men started weapons qualification testing.
Sixty-five percent of the paratroopers in the 3-506 achieved Expert Rifle scores.
At the platoon level, they utilized a mock Vietnamese village constructed at Fort
Campbell by the Division to learn the proper methods of patrolling, search and destroy,
as well as the procedure for probing and neutralizing enemy strongholds. "Black Caps"
integrated vital jungle and survival tactics into our training exercises along with the
general training for all the 3-506 platoons.
Early January, a small group of paratroopers from Colonel John Hayes, 3rd
Brigade (Airborne), 101st Airborne Division began three weeks of rugged training at the
division's Recondo School. These were members of an experimental long range patrol
attached to the 3rd Brigade Headquarters Company. Col. Hayes had served as an adviser
to South Vietnam's army, noted that one of the major problems there was the lack of
adequate and timely intelligence needed in a counterinsurgency situation.
He set up the experimental long range patrol because similar units in Vietnam had
come a long way in solving the intelligence problem. Prior to last December's field
training exercise Eagle Prey II, the platoon was hastily assembled and with a minimum of
training was tested for its value to the brigade during this exercise.
Because of his background as an instructor for the Airborne-Ranger training
program at the Fort Campbell RECONDO School, 1Lt. David M. Pearson was asked to
join the 3-506 to instruct the Currahees in jungle fighting and survival tactics. 1Lt. David
M. Pearson Joins the 3-506 to provide reconnaissance training for the Currahees. The
accompanying article explaining the RECONDO training program appeared in the Fort
Campbell newspaper, the Shield and Circle in January 1967. Pearson is shown in the
foreground of the article photograph as he supervises troops in training.
34
This true RECONDO training was integrated along with the general training for
all the 3-506 platoons. LTC Geraci ultimately chose Pearson to become the commander
of a joint unit that blended the Reconnaissance Platoon with the modified Anti-tank
Platoon. This combined reconnaissance unit within the 3-506 adopted a name to reflect
its mission and would proudly wear the shoulder patch bearing the title “Currahee Shock
Force” (CSF). Men throughout the battalion volunteered for the Currahee Shock Force,
including myself and former teammate Gordon Terrell.
The Currahee Shock Force would serves as a target acquisition force and be
employed under the staff supervision of the S2 Section. The platoon headquarters
consisted of one platoon leader, one platoon sergeant, one operation sergeant, one
assistant operation sergeant, one communication chief, one assistant communication
chief, and one light truck driver. The platoon consisted of four reconnaissance teams
with seven men in each team; one team leader; two scouts, two scout/commo men and
two scout/medics.
Recondo article appearing in the Division's Shield & Circle Newspaper in January 1967
35
Captain Michael Pearson "Paladin"
CSF & Company B Commander
3-506th (1967-1968)
Currahee Shock Force Platoon - Ft. Campbell, Sept. 27, 1967
36
July - October 1967 - Fort Campbell, Kentucky
The hot, humid days of July 1967 made life miserable for the men of the 3-506.
Our “Stand Alone Battalion” was now at full strength. The intensive training program
continued at a steady pace; and on July 10, my 3-506 commenced the weeklong
“Operation Crocigator in the Okeefenokee Swamps of Georgia.
As the we embarked on our battalion's second Vietnam-style war exercise, 600 of
us paratroopers were delivered to the swamps of Fort Stewart, Georgia at Camp
“Swampy”. Once again, the Currahees participated in the war games exercise as the
aggressor force, along with Regular Army units. A week later, our battalion was back at
Fort Campbell conducting combat firing drills. From July 17-21, the men honed our skills
in the effective use of weapons and improved individual marksmanship.
During the month of August, we entered the final stages of our intensive training
in preparation for combat in Vietnam. The entire Battalion went to the rugged mountain
terrain of the Appalachian Mountains in the Cherokee National Forest of Tennessee to
learn counter-guerrilla tactics and mountain training. The Appalachian Mountains gave
the Currahees the perfect opportunity to conduct realistic combat training in a landscape
very similar to the terrain they would encounter in the Central Highlands of South
Vietnam.
Captain R. M. Williams and his 1-506 ‘Alpha Knights’ assumed the role of the
aggressor force against our battalion, who would attempt to out-maneuver them under
quite realistic combat conditions. The Alpha Knights set up ambushes against us,
attacked our defensive positions, set up booby-traps, and constantly harassed the 3-506
troop movements. They even arranged a few “human wave” attacks against us
paratroopers of the 3-506, but the Alpha Knights often found themselves to be no match
for the “Stand Alone Battalion”.
37
During August, the 3-506th had been given a special burial detail. I was the
chaplain assigned to provide religious coverage to the 3-506 and sent to Fort Gordon,
Georgia to conduct the ceremony. I was in charge of a burial detail for an outstanding
sergeant previously assigned to the 2nd Brigade and killed in Vietnam. We had buried
the soldier the day before, and I had one day of R&R before returning to Fort Campbell.
Since my family was living at Augusta, I had spent the night at home. The next morning,
I took my car to the Fort Gordon repair shop. While waiting for my car to be repaired, I
saw the MPs and fire trucks gathering around a water tower across the field. Being
curious, I walked over to see what the commotion was all about. I was told by a
chaplain colonel that a young soldier was at the top of the water tower threatening to
jump, and that he (the soldier) had ask to speak to a chaplain. It just so happened that
the chaplain there at the tower was afraid of heights. Seeing that no one else was
volunteering, I ask for a pair of gloves and ascended up the ladder. When I reached the
top of the tower, I asked the soldier to sit down and tell me his problem. He told me that
he had been promised by his drill sergeant that he would be given leave after basic to take
care of an urgent problem at home. He had just graduated from basic, and he did not
receive the promised leave before being shipped to AIT. He went on to say that if he
died, his family would at lease receive his insurance money. I listened, and we talked for
at least 30-minutes. Finally he agreed to come down after promising him help for his
family situation. I shared his story with those in authority at Fort Gordon and requested
that he receive a psychological evaluation. Below is an newspaper article describing the
ordeal.
From August 15 to August 22, our battalion was still in the mountains of the
Cherokee National Forest of Tennessee conducting mountain training. The purpose of the
mountain training exercise was to instruct us (leaders and troops) of the battalion in the
art of small unit tactics within mountainous terrain. All of the training during the
weeklong exercise was conducted at night, using ambushes, counter-ambushes, and
combat patrols from the squad to company level designed to “steal the night away” from
the enemy.
After successfully completing the last phases of the Battalion training and testing,
the 3-506 had proved to the satisfaction of LTC Geraci that after four months of intensive
training the men were now fully prepared for combat in South Vietnam.
On August 24, the Battalion began the process for overseas movement. It would
take an entire month to complete the process. The advanced party that would go ahead to
arrange for the battalion arrival would be processed first, followed by the rest of the
battalion in company groups. Paratroopers of the 3-506 were granted their final leaves in
groups before deployment overseas by ship.
For the first week and a half in September, the 3-506 continued its Preparations
for Overseas Movement. Blocks of soldiers were rotating through a prescribed leave
schedule that allowed groups of men to go on leave as another group returned. The twoweek leave granted to each soldier would be the final leave for everyone before
deployment overseas. Many details had to be covered in completion of the POM records
check—health and dental records for each soldier, individual immunization certificates
brought up to date, and ID tags and cards checked for accuracy.
As September began, the battalion was “locked in” at Fort Campbell to prevent
anyone from leaving the post and being left behind. On the afternoon of October 1, the
38
entire Battalion, dressed in jungle fatigues, jungle boots, and steel helmets, along with
their pistol belts, bayonets, and individual weapons, gathered at Johnson Field for the
Pass and Review Parade. The Division Commander, Major General O. M. Barsanti,
watched as the Division Band provided the cadence for the Currahees of the 3-506 as
they marched in unison. LTC Geraci also gave a speech before his men. In his profound
speech, the Battalion Commander said, “I would march to the gates of hell with this
Battalion”.
39
This was to be the final ceremony at Fort Campbell for our battalion. Soon we
would find ourselves in combat overseas. In just six and a half months, our “Stand Alone
Battalion” had made the transition from raw recruits to polished combat soldiers. For us,
this spit-and-polish smartness was an incredible contrast to their training in the swamps
and mountains several months ago. The two-star flag of the Division Commander flew
behind the reviewing stand, along with the colorful Division banners, Battalion Colors
and Company guidons, and the American flag. The display elicited pride and smart
salutes from the nearly 800 paratroopers of the 3-506 as they passed in review. While the
Division Band played, every unit of the 3-506 marched around the long parade ground in
what seemed to be an endless review of troops.
General Barsanti, the 101st Division Commander, gave an eloquent tribute to the
3-506, “I am so proud of you soldiers, and I know that America is too. I consider it a
great honor and a high privilege to be your commander. You have chosen to be
paratroopers, and in doing so accept the dangers and grandeur that goes with the job.
Some of you will not come back alive, and that is part of war. I wish all of you a safe
journey and a safe return. May God bless all of you.”
Pass in review during final ceremony - Oct. 1, 1967
Company A, 3-506th at Fort Campbell, Kentucky - Chaplain Smith 2nd Row, 10 in from Right
40
On October 2, our battalion departed Fort Campbell, Kentucky for deployment
overseas by boarding commercial airlines for a five-hour nonstop flight to California.
After deplaning at San Francisco, we traveled by bus to Oakland Naval Base, where we
boarded the USNS General William Weigel.
Currahees boarding commercial airline for S.F. California on Oct. 2, 1967
* * *
Deployment
USNS General William Weigel
October 3 - 25, 1967
USNS General William Weigel in Oakland Bay - October 1967
41
On the afternoon of October 3, 1967, the USNS General Weigel steamed out of San
Francisco harbor headed for Vietnam and reached the Philippine Islands on October 19,
where it docked at Subic Bay Naval Base for a brief stay. By late afternoon the following
day, the paratroopers were back at sea. Two days later, on October 22, the Currahees saw
our first view of the coastline of South Vietnam.
On the afternoon of October 3, 1967, the USNS General Weigel steams out of San
Francisco harbor headed for Vietnam. Seven days later, our ship reached Midway Island
and crossed the International Date Line at 1930 hours on Tuesday, October 10. When we
Currahees awoke the following morning, we had lost a day. As of midnight, the date
became Thursday, October 12.
42
The USNS General Weigel reached the Philippine Islands on October 19 and
docked at Subic Bay Naval Base for an overnight stay. By late afternoon the following
day, we were back at sea, but let me tell you, what occurred between the time we got
shore leave until that leave was cancelled will be with us paratroopers always!
The Philippine Islands
We came topside early on the morning of October 19 to see the beautiful islands
of the Philippines. The sights, which we saw as we sailed among the islands, were
incredible. I believe that we entered the islands through the strait at the southern end of
Luzon, passed by Masbate, Mindoro and then north toward Manila, passing Corregidor
and Bataan and eventually to Subic Bay, which lies just north of Bataan on the island’s
west side. Most of us knew about what happened here at Bataan and Corregidor in WW
II. Some on board our ship had relatives or knew of others who was among the GIs who
became prisoners of war when Bataan and Corregidor fell in the spring of 1942; and were
among the 60,000 POWs to march the 70 miles to Japanese prison camps, which became
known as the “Bataan Death March” of which, some 10,000 of the prisoners died from
their maltreatment, their wounds, and starvation. Some POWs spent nearly five years as
a POW.
We saw pods of porpoises following alongside our ship as we sailed along side
the islands. We sailed into Subic Bay as night settled in. We saw a dozen or so jet
fighters fly over us as we approached the Naval Station at Subic Bay. When we docked,
two destroyers were moored beside us, with a couple of large aircraft carriers anchored
some distance out. This was an awesome sight for some of us.
Eventually, we received notice of those who had been granted shore leave.
Officers, NCOs, and certain others got to go ashore at around 2000 hours that evening.
Finally, shore leave was granted and those with shore passes went ashore.
43
The next morning, many of us were up early and saw the harbor just after
daylight. It was very calm and very beautiful. There were two destroyers docked beside
us, two aircraft carriers anchored out in the bay, along with various other tankers and
submarines. Although I never heard a lot of ruckus, I’m told that a lot of GIs got in fights
on shore during the night and had to be dragged back to the ship. There were even fights
breaking out after some GIs got back on board ship. The rest of us were given
permission to go ashore at 0815 hours.
At about 1200 hours on the second day at Subic Bay, all shore leaves were
abruptly cancelled and everyone was ordered back to ship. We had a muster call topside
at 1300 hours. A lot of GIs were drunk and made fools of themselves. There were a
number of fights breaking out on board, and nine guys jumped overboard.
G.I. jump into Subic Bay
We watched the shore police rescue them from the water and bring them back on
board ship. Several GIs were brought back to the ship with MP escorts. After order was
established on board, we were all ordered below deck and not allowed topside until after
we left Subic Bay and the ship was fifty miles out at sea. So much for our visit to the
Philippines.
On the morning of October 21, we were permitted to go topside. We saw several
ships; most of them were tankers and cargo vessels. This indicated to me that we must be
getting close to Vietnam or within a main shipping lane. I would soon learn that we were
approximately 600 nautical miles from the coast of Vietnam.
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* * *
VIETNAM!
Map of Vietnam
October 1967
In time, we learned that our ship would reach the coast of South Vietnam the next
day, Sunday October 22. Our ship would travel to several ports along the coast to drop
off other troops and supplies, and we would probably be the last group to disembark.
On October 22, our twentieth day at sea, we saw our first view of the coastline of
South Vietnam. Our ship made its first port at Qui Nhon to offload the 3rd Battalion,
503rd Airborne Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade. Just before noon the next day, our
ship departed Qui Nhon and sailed south for the port of Vung Tau near Saigon.
45
On October 24, the General Weigel made its fourth stop since leaving San
Francisco—Vung Tau, South Vietnam. After an overnight stay at Vung Tau, the Weigel
steamed northward for its final stop at Cam Ranh Bay and our port of call.
October 22, 1967
Map of South Vietnam
46
Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam
Alpha Company leads the battalion off the docks at Cam Ranh Bay - Oct. 25, 1967
We disembarked the General Weigel at 1030 hours on October 25 and were met
by our battalion commander, LTC Geraci, first brigade commander, Brigadier General S.
H. Matheson, and BG Blanchard (Deputy Commander of IFFV, LTG Stanley R. Larson).
USO ladies called “Donut Dollies” also greeted us and served us refreshments. Shortly
thereafter, we boarded 54 duce-and-a-half trucks for travel by convoy to Phan Rang base
camp-the “Eagle’s Roost”- escorted under the close supervision of a US Air Force FAC
(Forward Air Control) light observation aircraft and several helicopter gunships.
47
Our battalion now had a new home and was officially assigned to the 1st Brigade,
101st Airborne Division.
On October 29, our battalion began processing members through the Brigade sixday Proficiency Training Course (P-Training) at Phan Rang. The course consisted of
small unit tactics such as patrolling, ambushing, adjustment of supporting fire, land
navigation, mines and booby traps, first aid, and physical conditioning. The training also
allowed us to acclimate ourselves to our new environment. In addition to P-Training, we
attended a special PsyOp orientation class to familiarize us with various propaganda
programs being utilized in the war against the VC/NVA.
November 1967
November would be an historic month for the Currahees of the 3-506. The
“Stand Alone” Battalion was personally welcomed to Vietnam by General William C
Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, and assured us that we would be
the first airborne unit to make a parachute assault in combat in Vietnam.
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Gen. Westmoreland's Visit with Currahees at Phan Rang - Nov. 8, 1967
* * *
Combat
First Combat Assault (CA) on November 11, 1967
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The “Stand Alone” Battalion was initiated into the Vietnam War on November
11, 1967--Veterans Day--an appropriate date for the unit to begin its combat legacy as a
new generation of Currahees. On this day, the 3-506 embarked on its first combat
operation-Operation ROSE. It was a combination Search and Destroy/Reconnaissance in
Force operation southwest of Phan Rang in Ninh Thuan Province. One of the mission
objectives was also to provide security for a group of engineers working along Highway
QL 1 (Route 1). The primary mission objective, however, was to conduct search and
destroy operations southwest of Phan Rang to find, fix, and destroy Viet Cong/NVA
forces, as well as neutralize their base camps, especially Secret Base 35.
As our battalion conducted its first combat assault against the enemy, Captain
Landgraf’s Bravo Company made first contact with the enemy. Shortly after arriving at
their hot LZ (Landing Zone), Bravo Company engaged ten Viet Cong armed with
automatic weapons. Charlie Company also encountered a small Viet Cong force, but
with negative results. The Currahees eventually made contact with the enemy on fifteen
out of the twenty days that they were involved in Operation ROSE.
Pfc. Winston Hamilton
On the second day of Operation Rose, Pfc. Winston Hamilton, a rifleman in Lt.
Love’s 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, became the first paratrooper in the Battalion to be
wounded by enemy fire. Twenty-one days later, fate would have it that Pfc. Hamilton
would also become the first Currahee from the 3-506 to be killed in action.
Around the middle of November, our battalion reconnaissance platoon, Currahee
Shock Force (CSF) Team had found blood trails while searching an area. The trail led us
into a group of huts surrounded by rock shelves and indented with tunnels and caves.
Clothes covered with dried blood lay scattered around the area. Sergeant Lee Bradford,
team leader, Sgt. William R. Schroyer, and three other members provided security while
50
other team members searched the area. As they moved into position, Sgt. Schroyer
detected the odor of fish sauce that filled the air.
Sgt. Schroyer told his members to be alert! The smell meant that someone was in
the area. Sgt. Schroyer turned again to trail watching and saw a Viet Cong fleeing. Sgt.
Schroyer could see the enemy was carrying something other than just his weapon, which
turned out to be medical supplies that he was trying to save. The VC didn't realize that
Sgt. Schroyer saw him when he ran. Sgt. Schroyer squeezed off two rounds killing the
VC. Elements of our battalion later searched the entire area, resulting in the discovery of
a hospital complex designed for fifteen or so patients.
During the early afternoon of November 18, our Currahee Shock Force initiated
Operation Sweetpea. Disguised as Vietnamese peasants, our Currahee Shock Force
borrowed a bus from local residents and traveled down the highway toward the village of
Vinh Hao. It’s mission was to neutralize a Viet Cong tax collection point located on
Highway QL-1 south of Phan Rang. The confrontation with the enemy resulted in one
Viet Cong killed and one captured enemy weapon.
This was the picture taken just minutes before our CSF departed the 'Eagles Roost'
(base camp) at Phan Rang on November 18 to implement Operation Sweetpea. The
photos were taken by our battalion PIO, Jerry Berry.
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This picture was taken by Berry as the bus carrying the team left the compound at
'Eagles Roost' at Phan Rang.
This was the article appearing in the 101st Division's Screaming Eagle Newspaper.
Near the end of November, we received word that our 1st Brigade battalions
involved in Operation Wheeler up north in Quang Tin Province of I Corps would move
back to Phan Rang where they would stand down in preparation for the beginning of our
next big operation--Operation Klamath Falls to commence on December 1.
Operation Klamath Falls' mission was to locate and destroy enemy Headquarter
MR-6 in Binh Thuan and Lam Dong Provinces, as well open Route QL-1 from Phan
Rang to II and III Corps Tactical Zone boundaries.
Thanksgiving in Vietnam
We Currahees spent our first Thanksgiving Day in South Vietnam on November
30, 1967. In addition to a hot Thanksgiving meal, we received clean clothes, mail, cold
packs, ammo, and signal (radio batteries). While the 3-506 conducted refitting activities,
an advance party from the battalion conducted an airmobile move from the Tactical
Command Post (TAC CP) to Song Mao in order to make preparations for the battalion to
join with the 1st Brigade for the upcoming Operation Klamath Falls.
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Thanksgiving Day Dinner Brochure
Operation Rose terminated at midnight on November 30. During the operation,
our battalion had encountered the 112th Local Force Viet Cong Company, the C-270
Local Force Viet Cong Company, as well as NVA cadre, inflicting eight KIAs on the
enemy. The Currahees had completed their first combat operation with no loss of life
and only a few wounded.
Battalion Chaplain Smith's "Godmobile" - Photo by J. Berry
53
December 1967
On December 1, 1967, our 1st Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General
Matheson, commenced Operation Klamath Falls. The 1st Brigade Task Force for the
operation included the four Airborne Infantry--1-327th, 2-327th, 2-502nd, and the 3506th, with our support units: D/2-320th Airborne Artillery and 4/A-326th Airborne
Engineers.
Our battalion TOC moved by truck convoy on December 2 to an old French
outpost located at Song Mao, located between Phan Rang and Phan Thiet. The following
day, our battalion joined the 1st Brigade in Operation Klamath Falls.
Shortly after being inserted into a hot LZ in their assigned AO, 2Lt. Donald
Love’s 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company conducted cloverleaf patrols in search of the enemy.
Pfc. Winston Clinton Hamilton, a 23-year-old paratrooper from Charleston, South
Carolina, became the Battalion’s first man killed in action when the enemy followed the
patrol back to the platoon perimeter and ambushed the Currahees. Two other Currahees
were wounded in the enemy engagement.
During the pre-dawn hours of December 8, the Montagnard hamlet of Tahine,
located in the Highlands southwest of Song Mao, was overrun and destroyed by the 186th
Main Force Viet Cong Battalion armed with mortars, machine guns, and rocket
launchers. Four U. S. advisors who had accompanied an initial ARVN relief force to the
hamlet in the early morning hours were ambushed and killed as they entered the hamlet.
Captain Landgraf’s Bravo Company combat assaulted into the vicinity to aid the besieged
Montagnard hamlet.
Part of our Shock Force and two Vietnamese Regional Forces platoons also made
a combat assault into the vicinity to block routes of enemy withdrawal. Bravo Company
eventually reclaimed the hamlet and recovered the bodies of the four U. S. advisors who
had been killed earlier in the day.
By mid-December, our battalion had moved its Forward TOC to Bao Loc in Lam
Dong province, alongside the rest of the 1st Brigade forward TOC elements.
On December 19, we suffered another 3-506 fatality when an unknown-sized Viet
Cong element entered the killing zone of an ambush that had been established during the
pre-dawn hours by Lt. John Harrison’s 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company. The Currahees
opened fire on the enemy, and the Viet Cong returned fire with automatic weapons. RTO
Pfc. Edgar Allen Campbell, a 19-year-old Currahee from Ponca City, Oklahoma was
killed during the firefight. His squad leader, SSG Jearl D. Keefer was wounded. Pfc.
Campbell became the first paratrooper killed in action from Alpha Company and the
second paratrooper from our battalion killed in action.
Two days later, Captain Nicholas Nahas’ Charlie Company was ordered to cease
their current mission and investigate an enemy element that was stopping and robbing
civilians at roadblocks they had set up on Route 20. In their mission to hunt down and
kill the Viet Cong element, Charlie Company pursued the enemy onto the Di Linh
Plateau, finding hastily abandoned enemy base camps and bunker complexes along the
way. 2Lt. Wylie Cox’s 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company maked the first contact with the
enemy, killing two Viet Cong and wounding several others.
54
On December 23, President Lyndon B. Johnson made an unplanned visit to South
Vietnam to address the military at Cam Ranh Bay. LTC Geraci sent a 3-506 Honor
Guard and the battalion PIO to participate in the ceremony for President Johnson’s visit.
At 6:00 p.m. on December 24, all battalions of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne
Division ceased all offensive operations and commenced the observance of the Christmas
Cease Fire Agreement. The 3-506 would spend its first Christmas holiday overseas, as
the Battalion remained in place and continued to conduct minimal security and patrolling
activities in the immediate area around Bao Loc.
Christmas Cards issued to all of us with the 101st
55
56
Christmas Day 1967 in the "Boonies"
On Christmas Day, Luther Shultz from Battalion S-1 donned a Santa Claus suit to
make a Christmas visit to all the men in the field. Accompanied by a USO girl dressed
as Mrs. Claus, Shultz visited each of the field units in his “Warlord” chopper “sleigh” and
delivered mail from home, Christmas packages, and a hot meal to the paratroopers. The
Santa Claus team made visits to the TAC CP, as well as to each of the rifle companies.
Christmas festivities ended effective at 6:00 p.m., and all Battalions terminated
observance of the Christmas Cease Fire Agreement, resuming normal search and destroy
operations.
After Christmas, Charlie Company continued its pursuit of the elusive enemy that
they had encountered prior to the Christmas Cease Fire. On December 30, Lt. James
Moore’s 4th Platoon, Charlie Company killed four Viet Cong after springing an ambush
during the night. Several more Viet Cong were wounded and escaped. A combat tracker
was called in to help the Currahees track the wounded enemy that had escaped the
ambush. Aided by lLt. Steve Williams from the 9th Combat Trackers Team, the
paratroopers eventually caught up with the fleeing enemy. A brief firefight ensued,
wounding one paratrooper. Charlie Company was unable to continue further tracking of
the enemy because of the upcoming stand down for the New Years Cease Fire
Agreement.
On December 31, the 1st Brigade elements once again ceased all offensive
operations in observance of the New Years Cease Fire Agreement.
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Chaplain Smith with Currahees on Christmas Day 1967 near Bao Loc, RVN
58
Chaplain Otis Smith (center top) with Currahees in the field on Christmas Day 1967
59
Santa delivers mail and gift to the Currahees on Christmas Day 1967
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Battalion Commander LTC Geraci welcomes Santa
Battalion Chaplain Otis A Smith Christmas Caroling with the Currahees
on Christmas Day 1967
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First Brigade Commander Brigadier General S. H. Matheson (center), one of the
original members of famous 506th PIR (WWII) "Band of Brothers" along with Battalion
Commander LTC John P. Geraci jokes with Santa on Christmas Day 1967 near Bao Loc,
RVN, during Operation Klamath Falls.
62
Santa (SFC Luther J. Stultz (S-1) arrives on Christmas Day 1967 to
to deliver mail and presents for Currahees of the 3-506th
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Brigade Chaplain and Battalion Chaplain Smith make the rounds to visit each of the
Currahee rifle companies and Delta Battery, 2-320th Field Artillery (Fire Support Base) on
Christmas Day 1967.
Santa comes in all disguises
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The Currahees send "Charlie" (Viet Cong) a present
65
Our home during Christmas 1967with the rest of the 1st Brigade Battalions at Bao Loc
1968
January 1968
January 1968 began a new calendar year for us Currahees as we continued in
stand down for the New Year Cease Fire Agreement. The entire 1st Brigade enjoyed a
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brief respite from the usual search and destroy missions, but the rifle companies and CSF
of the 3-506 continued the necessary security patrols throughout the AO. The
Vietnamese people would not celebrate their New Year until the end of the month.
January 30 would mark the beginning of a three-day celebration in observance of the Tet
Lunar New Year, which followed the traditional Chinese calendar. As the month
progressed, the Tet Lunar New Year of 1968 would have a monumental impact on the
annals of history.
At 0600 hours on January 2, the New Years Cease Fire officially ended, and our
battalion entered the final week of Operation Klamath Falls. Cpt. Nahas' Charlie
Company picked up where they had left off on December 31 in pursuit of the remaining
enemy survivors of the December 30 ambush. Lt. Newton’s 2nd Platoon, Charlie
Company resumed its tracking mission and made several contacts with small enemy
groups during the afternoon. The Currahees of 2nd Platoon subsequently encountered a
large, dug-in Viet Cong force atop a knoll on the Di Linh Plateau southeast of Bao Loc.
The battle, later called “Battle at the Knoll” was intense and lasted into the night,
resulting in six Currahees dead and twenty others wounded.
The Battle at the Knoll on January 2, 1968, was the first major battle for our
battalion since deploying to Vietnam, as well as the first significant loss of lives for the
Battalion. The four Currahees killed in the battle involving 2nd Platoon became Charlie
Company’s first combat fatalities. Those paratroopers killed included Medic Floyd Peter
Skaggs, a 19-year-old from Springfield, Ohio; SP4 Ronald O. Marquez, 21, from Denver,
Colorado; Sgt. Furman Lee Johnson, 25, from Willard, North Carolina; and SP4 Robert
Lee Williams, 21, from Tampa, Florida. Battle fatalities also included 19-year-old SP4
Allen Lee Blair and 20-year-old SP4 Hans Kletinger, (both from New York, New York),
who were engineers from 4th Platoon, Alpha Company, 326th Engineer Battalion
(Airborne). Two days later, SP4 Robert V. Vinscotski, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company
died from wounds that he had received in the Battle at the Knoll.
Captain Thomas Gaffney's Alpha Company combat assaulted into the vicinity of
the knoll the following day, January 3 to assist Charlie Company in its pursuit of the
enemy. For the next five days, they made intermittent contacts with the enemy and
uncovered numerous Viet Cong bunker complexes and base camps containing fullysupplied hospitals and living accommodations. The Currahee find was significant
enough to warrant a visit to the field site from the IFFV commander, General William B.
Rosson; the 1st Brigade commander, Brigadier General S. H. Matheson; and our battalion
commander, LTC Geraci.
Operation Klamath Falls came to an end on January 8 at 2400 hours, and our
battalion prepared for the return to our base camp at Phan Rang. The battalion made the
long, dusty journey back to Phan Rang on January 9 by motor convoy. However, the
movement did not involve me. Sadly, my time with the Currahees of the 3-506th came to
an end. I had new orders to go north. It would be difficult to leave my Currahee family
after nearly a year of combat preparations back in the US and combat in Vietnam.
Although I would not be physically with my former battalion, I would continue to follow
their odyssey for the coming weeks and months.
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* * *
Delta Battery (Provisional), 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 320th Artillery
I was leaving the 3-506th for the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 320th Field Artillery
(2-320th), the parent unit of our Delta Battery (Airborne), 2-320th FA. Delta Battery a
fourth battery of 105mm howitzers was organized on October 10, 1967, from currently
assigned personnel and equipment of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 320th Artillery to
provide artillery support for our newly arrived 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry.
The battery was organized to provide direct support artillery to the Currahee Battalion.
The Artillery Battery was officially activated on September 30, 1967.
My new orders were to report to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2-320th
at Camp Eagle up north in I Corps. I learned later how this reassignment came about.
While the 3-506th was deployed at Phan Rang, just before moving to Phan Thiet, the
word circulated through the Division that the 3-506th would be making a combat jump.
The 1st Brigade Chaplain (a major) came to me and requested that he be allowed to jump
in my slot. I refused of course; and less than a month later I was reassigned to support
the 2-320th Artillery up north at Camp Eagle. This turned out to be an excellent
assignment; because at each fire base, they dug a personal bunker where the chaplain
could work and sleep.
I was wounded while supporting the 320th Artillery. The engineers were building
a new fire support base in the Ashau Valley, when it came under enemy mortar attack.
Quickly, I dove behind some sand bags, with one hand on top of them to support myself.
When the attack was over, I came up and noticed blood dripping from my left thumb.
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When I arrived at the aid station, there were young soldiers who were bleeding much
more seriously than me. So, I turned around and left, never reporting the incident until I
received orders to support to the 1-327th Infantry. Of course by then it was too late-there was no record of my injury.
Keeping Tabs on the 3-506th
With a heavy heart, I had left the 3-506th at LZ Betty near Phan Thiet on January
3, 1968 and reported to the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 320th Field Artillery at Camp Eagle
in I Corps. I stayed with the 2-320th FA until May 1968, and continued to support them
until I was reassigned to support the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 327th Infantry. The 1327th was a sister battalion (airborne) of 1st Brigade, to which the 3-506th belonged.
The headquarters of both units were at Camp Eagle. My transfer only meant that I picked
up my things and moved down the road from a nice cool hole in the ground (bunker) to a
hot tent. Even though I had been reassigned for the remainder of my tour in Vietnam,
my heart and allegiance still remained with my brothers of the 3-506th. I would follow
their treks and missions as best I could in the months to come.
On January 12, the 3-506th conducted its first Memorial Service in honor of those
paratroopers killed since the arrival of the battalion in South Vietnam. Those lost in
battle were honored by a symbolic row of bayoneted rifles imbedded in the ground and
accompanied by jungle boots and helmets belonging to the departed. This solemn event
would be repeated numerous times throughout the period that the 3-506 served in South
Vietnam.
First 3-506th Memorial Service in January 1968
By this time, rumors had been circulating that the possible combat jump promised
to the 3-506th by General Westmoreland back in November just might materialize after
all. On January 14, rumor became reality, as the Battalion area was sealed off with
concertina wire and marshalling officially began. LTC Geraci issued Battalion Operation
Orders for Operation SAN ANGELO to the company commanders, and the Currahees
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prepared for a scheduled parachute assault into an NVA Division Headquarters northwest
of Song Be on January 17.
The Sand Table Jan. 1968
Throughout the Battalion area, groups of paratroopers gathered around sand tables
and briefing maps in preparation for the unit jump. The final briefing from General
Matheson came on January 15, as he instructed the battalion officers, senior NCOs, and
U. S. Air Force aircraft commanders who would participate in the operation. Later that
day, LTC Geraci gathered the battalion for a final briefing and “pep talk”, only to receive
word at the last moment that General Westmoreland had cancelled the jump.
The "pep talk"
In response to increased enemy activity throughout South Vietnam, the 2nd
Battalion, 7th Cavalry had been ordered to join its parent division in I Corps Tactical
Zone (I CTZ). As a result, the southern provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan, Tuyen
Duc, and Lam Dong were left without protection from the Viet Cong. In order to remedy
this situation, General Westmoreland decided to create a separate airborne/airmobile
battalion task force under the direct control of IFFV, as an economy-of-force measure
70
for this II Corps area. The 3-506 was chosen to become the nucleus of this new Task
Force (TF).
On January 16, the battalion received an order to move as quickly as possible to
Phan Thiet in Binh Thuan Province to assume its new mission. The Battalion responded
immediately; and twenty-four hours later were enroute to their new home to take over
AO Byrd from Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. As of January 17, the 3-506 was
detached from the 101st Airborne Division and became OPCON (Operational Control) of
I Field Force, Vietnam (IFFV).
Creation of Task Force 3-506th
---------Air Cavalry in II Corps
By Lt. Col. R. M. Elton "Spider", 3-506th Infantry
LTC Robert M. Elton “Spider” with Gen. Westmoreland at LZ BETTY (Early 1968)
In early January of 1968, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) assembled its
widely scattered elements in I Corps Tactical Zone (ICTZ). This consolidation pulled the
2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry out of IICTZ and left the four provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh
Thuan, Tuyen Duc, and Lam Dong without any US force. COMUSMACV, decided to
create a separate airborne-airmobile battalion task force, under the operational control of
Commanding General, First Field Force Vietnam (IFFORCEV), as an economy of force
measure for this area. The 3rd Battalion, (Airborne) 506th Infantry (3-506 Infantry) was
chosen to become the nucleus of this task force and on 17 January, was moved to Phan
Thiet. The force was to have a dual responsibility: short fuze airmobile deployment into
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the four provinces mentioned and rapid airborne assault any- where in RVN. Specifically,
the missions of the task force were:
 to conduct all authorized forms of land, sea, and air warfare within its capabilities
 to organize and participate in combined operations with Free World Military Forces
in the four provinces
 to assist Binh Thuan Province with their Rural Development Program, and
 to keep National Route #1 open and maintained from the III CTZ border to Phan
Rang.
Optimum Configuration
The task force (TF) grew to slightly over 2,000 men, and was truly a commander's dream:
 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry: 4 rifle companies
 1 Combat Support Company 5th Battalion, 27th Artillery:
 3 batteries, 6 ea 105mm howitzers F.S.C.C.
 192d Assault Helicopter Company: 21 UHIH, 7 UHIB (gunship)
 Delta Battery, 2d Battalion, (AIRBORNE) 320th Artillery: 5 ea M102, 105mm
howitzers
 Delta Company, 27th Engr Battalion (Cmbt): construction operations in area,
Route 1
 Forward Support Area, 1st Log Command: furnished all classes of supply
 1st Plat, Co A, 69th Armor:
o 5 ea M 48A3 90mm gun tanks
rd
 3 Plat, Co E (LRRP), 20th Infantry - 6 ea 5 man teams\with equipment
 Detachment. 43rd Medical Group:
o Clearing station, surgeons, 2 UHIH Medevac aircraft
 Detachment. 43rd Signal Battalion:
o provided VHF, RTT, SSB communications with IFFV
 Destroyer (DD) with Shore Fire Control Party
 Air LNO/Forward Air Controllers 2 each
 51st Military Intel Detachment:
o IPW teams, Radio Research Unit
 1st Plat, Battery A, 60th Artillery: 8 ea SP Twin 40mm
o 4 ea quad 50 cal guns
Operational Methods
The TF generally deployed in coordination with some Free World Forces. This
coordination ranged from the use of an RF company as firebase security to an operation
involving 2 ARVN Battalions, I ROKA Battalion, I Provisional "Mike" Battalion, and the
TF. The combined command worked out areas of operation, fire sup- port coordination, a
communication plan and logistic support for each force. The TF conducted their initial
assault into a designated tactical area of responsibility (TAOR), either day or night, by
helicopter, junk fleet, or on foot. Each rifle company was given an area of operations
within the Battalion TAOR. They conducted cloverleaf search or reconnaissance in force
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operations during the day, and established from three to six ambushes at night. The
companies achieved a good measure of security by constant movement and aggressive
offensive operations. One of the basic concepts was to try to live as closely as possible
like the enemy in his habitat, and then disrupt his activities in his own backyard.
Helicopters were not flown into the company locations except during contact. Each man
carried 3-4 days of supply in a rucksack, and the companies were resupplied according to
a prearranged schedule.
The TF Tactical Operations Center (TOC) was established by the combat support
company commander and was generally collocated with Battery D, 2nd Battalion
(Airborne), 320th Artillery on a hilltop in the mountains. Low ground was only used
when there was no commanding terrain available. It was positioned for command and
control, emergency resupply, and fire support. The communications was augmented so
that the TF Cmdr could talk to HQ, IFFORCEV, in Nha Trang by telephone or radio.
Security for the CP was generally shared by US and Vietnamese combined. The US
element doubled as a thirty-minute airmobile reaction force to reinforce TF Contacts.
The helicopters simply picked up the troops at the TOC and flew them to the area of
contact. Once the reinforcing unit landed, the senior commander on the ground assumed
operational control of all elements in the immediate area.
When emergency missions arose in distant portions of the four province areas
where the TF was not operating, the Battalion XO, as dispatched within 24 hours with a
sub-task force. These forces generally consisted of a small control party, a command and
control helicopter, necessary troop and gun helicopters, one US rifle company and one
US artillery battery. They operated in conjunction with ARVN and RF units. This rapid
shifting of combat power often caught VC elements by surprise. One such operation hit
elements of the 840 MF Battalion as they were getting ready to attack the district
headquarters of Hoa Da in Binh Thuan Province. The task force disrupted the VC attack
before it could get rolling, killed thirty-four and captured two. The obvious strain on
supply and communications, which these "split" operations created was successfully
relieved by ingenious planning and aggressive supervision of the staff officers of the TF.
All ground elements of the TF used Kit Carson Scouts. Each rifle company was given
four to use as a team or separately. The ex-VC proved invaluable in the search, and
spotted trail and jungle indications quickly. Many VC surprises were foiled by the plucky
little scout. The TF S2 deployed a minimum of five LRRP teams into areas of the
battalion Area of Operation that were not covered by the rifle companies. He reorganized
the battalion reconnaissance platoon into five teams of six men each for this purpose.
They worked with the 3rd platoon, 20th Infantry (LRRP-IFFORCEV) to give the TF a
total of ten teams. In one twelve-day operation, forty-two separate LRRP insertions
resulted in nineteen contacts of which, twelve were reinforced with an airmobile force.
The small teams completely confused the enemy as to the TF intentions and dispositions
and furnished outstanding hard intelligence. A captured courier's document indicated that
HQ military Region 6, had put up a reward of 5,000 piasters for the capture of one team,
dead or alive. In all operations, not a single member was captured; and those few who
were killed, were evacuated.
To support these "free-wheeling" operations, the TF S4 had an enormous task. He
established a rear base/forward supply point at a convenient airfield to provide engineer
and medical support, helicopter revetments and a refuel and rearm point, Class I and V,
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and minimum administrative facilities. He worked in close coordination with the S1, S5,
Surgeon, and Engineer Company Cmdr. The TF S5 combined the actions of the Sector
S5, Medcap, Psychological Operations Team, Viet. Information Service, Armed
Propaganda Teams, and at times, the Provincial Reconnaissance Units, to target onto
specific towns or hamlet complexes outside the influence of the RD Cadre. These
activities complemented adjacent tactical operations, brought GVN influence back into
the area, collected information, and helped to root out local VC infrastructure. One
operation resulted in the capture of forty-one members of local VC infrastructure.
These methods of operation exploited the imagination and aggressiveness of the
young airborne company commanders and staff officers. In the small combined
operations, a great amount of professionalism was required of the young leaders. One
such operation involved a US rifle company of two platoons, a section of 4.2 in mortars,
a tank platoon, an engineer squad, an RF company and selected Kit Carson Scouts. The
young commander's mission was to destroy tunnel and bunker complexes in the hamlet
areas in a 10 x 6 km area north of Phan Thiet. At night, he was to establish ambushes.
Before daybreak of the 3rd day, he made contact. In four hours time he closed in upon the
enemy, utilized naval gunfire to seal escape routes, simultaneously coordinated two TAC
air strikes, maneuvered the RF Company with his company and the tanks, and completely
destroyed the CI company of the 482nd LF VC Battalion. The action accounted for fortythree VC killed, to include the company commander, and one PW. US Casualties
amounted to only one slightly WIA. In 4 ½ months, the 'Task Force touched down at
their base only twice, for two days each. However, the morale of each man was extremely
high. They were busy doing an important job, and they knew it. When they staggered out
of the jungle for R&R or CONUS rotation, they were tired, but proud.
Two visible benefits of these operations improved ARVN offensive operations in
that area; open camaraderie developed between US and Vietnamese at all levels. Prior to
the formation of the TF, the ARVN and RF units did not conduct many operations in the
area. By 1 June, all RF units were conducting operations at least five days a week to
include two night operations per unit. The ARVN units were getting into the habit of
staying in the Area of Operation for extended operations. The US company commanders
reported and wrote citations for numerous acts of individual valor in which ARVN,
Montagnard and Kit Carson Scouts saved US lives or performed heroically. The more the
units worked together, the more effective the entire effort became. By 1 July 1968, the TF
had worked in harmony with all the major Vietnamese Units in the four provinces and
had received accolades from the Commanding General, II Corps, General Vinh Loc, and
the ARVN 23rd Division Commander, Gen Ahn. COMUSMACV personally credited the
TF and its combined operations for neutralizing the activities of the enemy elements in
the four provinces, disrupting Headquarters, MR-6, and literally destroying the 842nd VC
LF Battalion. The economy-of-force methods more than successfully accomplished the
mission. They established a pattern which was being expanded in II CTZ in 1969 and
throughout the reminder of the war.
74
Phan Thiet & Land Zone Betty
Aerial View of Phan Thiet
Landing Zone (LZ) Betty outside Phan Thiet, South Vietnam
75
The new home for the 3-506th was a large airstrip located approximately three
miles from the coastal city of Phan Thiet in southern II Corps. The South China Sea
bordered the east side of the base, enabling Navy LSDs to off-load supplies and Navy
destroyers to cruise the adjacent waters and provide fire support. The 3-506 would now
be referred to as TF 3-506, along with its attached support units.
Task Force 3-506 officially assumed tactical control of AO Byrd from 2nd
Battalion, 7th Cavalry on January 19 and promptly changed the AO name to McLain.
Operation McLain began on January 20 as an open-end search and destroy operation
intended to counter enemy threats, exploit hard intelligence, and assist Allied Forces in
highway security, as well as revolutionary development efforts. The new AO would
include Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan, Tuyen Duc, and Lam Dong Provinces in II Corps,
along with portions of Binh Tuy Province in III Corps. The battalion commander, LTC
Geraci, became commander of the newly formed Task Force 3-506.
The TET Offensive
The first significant enemy contact for TF 3-506 after arriving at LZ Betty was on
January 28, when our Currahee Shock Force ambushed a forty-man Viet Cong patrol
northwest of Phan Thiet, resulting in three team members being wounded. Nine Viet
Cong were killed and many others were wounded. The Currahees were unaware at the
time that the enemy was mustering its forces in and around Phan Thiet, as elsewhere in
South Vietnam in preparation for the Communist Tet Offensive.
At 6:00 p.m. on January 29, the Battalion ceased all offensive operations for the
upcoming three-day Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tet) celebration for 1968. The South
Vietnamese government announced a 36-hour New Year Truce to begin on January 30;
the Viet Cong also agreed to the cease fire, but would not keep the truce.
In the early morning hours of January 30, the Communist North Vietnam Army
and the Viet Cong launched widespread surprise attacks against U. S. and South
Vietnamese forces throughout South Vietnam. The Communist Tet Offensive had begun,
with over 100 major attacks on key cities and towns. Thirty-six of the forty-four
provincial capitals and twenty-three major bases and airfields were attacked on the first
night of the Vietnamese holiday. Consequently, the Tet Cease Fire Agreement was
terminated; and TF 3-506 was put on “high alert” status.
Other newspaper articles about the CSF
The enemy continued its barrage of attacks into January 31. Just after 3:00 a.m.,
the Viet Cong 482nd Local Force and 840th Main Force Viet Cong Battalions attacked
Phan Thiet City, LZ Betty, and the outlying areas. A TF 3-506 Night Hunter Team
responded to the first of the enemy attacks against the ARVN Artillery Compound north
of the city. The hunter chopper was hit by heavy machinegun fire, wounding the pilot
and two Currahees. Further attacks were also launched on the Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam (MACV) Compound, sector headquarters, and the city water supply.
Task Force 3-506 Airborne Infantry and two battalions of the 44th ARVN Regiment
reacted quickly and aggressively quelled the enemy advances.
76
CSF Incident occurred on January 28, 1968
77
In response to the enemy aggression, Captain Gaffney and Alpha Company
conducted the first offensive operation of the Tet Offensive, with a search and destroy
operation into the area immediately west of LZ Betty. Alpha Company made contact
with a company-sized enemy force at Phu Phong Hamlet in the vicinity of the city
cemetery. Fighting was fierce at times and continued throughout the day. The enemy
sustained heavy casualties, and the Currahees captured several POWs, including the Viet
Cong commander, his political officer, and a regular soldier.
February 1968
As January turned into February, enemy forces continued their relentless attacks
on Phan Thiet, LZ Betty, and the surrounding areas. Fierce battles raged in and around
the city as TAC Air, helicopter gunships, “spooky”, artillery, and naval gunfire pounded
enemy concentrations and applied blocking fire to cut off enemy routes of withdrawal.
Many NVA and Viet Cong were killed; documents captured with POWs identified the
attacking enemy forces as the 482nd Viet Cong Battalion, reinforced with the 480th and
430th Local Force Companies.
In an attempt to hit the enemy from the rear, Companies A and B, with 1st
Platoon, Charlie Company attached, conducted combat assaults to the northwest of Phan
Thiet. The Currahees made contact with the enemy soon after arriving at their designated
LZs in the center portion of the Disneyland area. Alpha Company engaged a reinforced
VC/NVA company that was guarding the 482nd Viet Cong Battalion Headquarters at
Xuan Phong Hamlet, and an intense battle ensued, lasting throughout the afternoon and
into the evening. The battle claimed the lives of four Currahees-Guy Franklin Brooks,
19, of Pasco, Washington, who was the RTO for Lt. James Schlax, 1st Platoon Leader;
Pfc. Andrew James Daniel, 20, from Nyack, New York, who was a fire team member of
2nd Platoon; SFC James Bunn, 32, of Miami, Florida, the Platoon Sergeant for 2nd
Platoon; and Alpha Company First Sergeant Phillip Ronald Chassion, 34, of Fitchburg,
Massachusetts.
By evening, the Currahees had conducted successful fire and maneuver against
the enemy positions and were able to withdraw under heavy enemy fire. As darkness
descended, the paratroopers pulled back into a night defensive position, and a volunteer
rescue team returned under the cover of darkness to the enemy-held area to recover the
bodies of the Currahee KIAs.
The next day, Alpha Company, supported by Bravo Company, moved back
against the dug-in enemy at Xuan Phong Hamlet and secured the area with few Currahee
casualties. Also on February 3, an estimated enemy battalion attacked the city of Phan
Thiet northwest of the soccer field, followed by two Viet Cong Local Force Companies
that managed to infiltrate the city by crossing the Ca Ty River at numerous points south
of the soccer field. “Spooky” and “Tiger Shark” gunships engaged the enemy, inflicting
heavy casualties on the Viet Cong.
Battles continued in and around the city through February 5, as sporadic, closequarter contacts are made with pockets of enemy resistance. Naval gunfire and artillery
continued to pound suspected enemy escape routes to the east and northwest of Phan
Thiet. On February 6, the 44th ARVN Regiment encountered an enemy position north of
the city with light resistance. The enemy ultimately fled into the northwest portion of the
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Disneyland area. Companies A and C were sent in pursuit of the enemy force and
conducted a search and destroy sweep of the area. Charlie Company eventually made
contact with a reinforced Viet Cong company in bunker positions at Phu Bon Hamlet.
The Currahees fought a heated battle against Viet Cong armed with automatic weapons,
mortars, and B-40 rockets, resulting in two Currahees KIA and thirty others wounded.
The Battle at Phu Bon Hamlet claimed the lives of Sgt. Paul Harold Cline, 20, from West
Palm Beach, Florida and SP4 Robert Earl Baldwin, 23, of Cleburne, TX.
As of February 8, a coordinated sweep of the Disneyland area had driven the Viet
Cong from their fortified positions, and the badly beaten enemy continued to retreat to
the mountains north and west of Phan Thiet. Even though they had been defeated for
time being, the enemy would not easily give up its goal to capture Phan Thiet.
On February 14, the paratroopers held a change-in-command. LTC Geraci left
the 3-506 to assume the duties of MACV Senior Advisor for the Delta Region and
transferred his command of the Battalion to LTC Robert M. Elton “Spider”. It was a
melancholy day for the paratroopers of the 3-506, as they said farewell to our original
Battalion commander at a solemn ceremony at LZ Betty.
3-506th Battalion Commander Lt. Gen. Robert M. Elton
As the new Battalion Commander, LTC Elton would lead the Battalion against a
second wave of enemy attacks on Phan Thiet. On February 17, the MACV War Room in
downtown Phan Thiet intercepted a Viet Cong radio transmission informing its units that
a scheduled attack on Phan Thiet would be initiated at 3:00 a.m. on February 18.
Continued radio monitoring also revealed that one of the first objectives of the attack was
to capture the provincial prison in Phan Thiet and release prisoners being held there. U.
S. and ARVN forces were put on alert throughout Binh Thuan Province in anticipation of
the enemy attack.
The ultimate Viet Cong goal for Phan Thiet was to capture the city and eventually
establish a Viet Cong provincial center. Phan Thiet was not only a strategic coastal city,
but an important cultural center as well. Capturing the city of Phan Thiet would be a
great moral victory for the enemy, because it was also the previous hometown of Ho Chi
Minh, the Communist leader of North Vietnam.
At precisely 2:55 a.m., the Viet Cong 482nd Local Force Battalion launched a
coordinated attack against strategic ARVN compounds within the city of Phan Thiet. At
79
the same time, the Viet Cong 480th, 430th, and 889th Companies launched attacks on the
city from the southwest. Shortly thereafter, Viet Cong and NVA forces attacked the
Provincial Prison and the “Y” leading into the western sector of the city. Viet Cong
forces eventually occupied the prison and took defensive positions behind its thick walls.
The 5th Special Forces Mobile Strike Force Company was sent to secure the main bridge
over the Ca Ty River in Phan Thiet. Bravo Company and the Currahee Shock Force were
quickly dispatched to the city to secure the Provincial Headquarters. The fighting
became intense, as the enemy tried again and again to overrun this strategic location
within the city.
The siege of Phan Thiet continued, as LZ Betty came under attack from enemy
mortar and rocket fire around midnight. “Tiger Shark” gunships patrolled the base
perimeter and outpost throughout the night to prevent the base camp and airfield from
being overrun. In the pre-dawn hours of February 19, an estimated Viet Cong battalion
attacked the Provincial Headquarters once again. At 9:15 a.m., an intelligence report
indicated that approximately forty wounded enemy soldiers were being evacuated west of
the city. In reaction to this information, Alpha Company was ordered to move by foot
from LZ Betty to the southwest sector of the city, cross the Ca Ty River, then conduct a
search and clear operation to intercept any attempted enemy escape from the fighting
within the city.
After crossing the Ca Ty River, 1st Platoon, Alpha Company made the first
enemy contact with an unknown-sized enemy force. The Platoon Leader, Lt. James
Schlax, was wounded in the initial contact. Following airstrikes and artillery fire on the
enemy positions, Captain Gaffney moved the company of paratroopers forward and
engaged an estimated reinforced company-sized enemy force in well-concealed,
reinforced bunkers. Lt. Joe Alexander’s 4th Platoon took the brunt of the enemy attack.
Eight Currahees were killed within the first few minutes of the battle, and twenty other
paratroopers are wounded. The “Battle at Ca Ty River” claimed the lives of PSGT John
Herbert Gfeller, 35, of Abilene, Kansas; SP4 James R. Webster, Jr., 19, from Vernon,
Texas; SP4 Thomas Cecil Vaughn, 21, of Ardmore, Oklahoma; Pfc. Walter Marcellus
Patterson, 20, of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Sgt. Carl Allen Rattee, 21 of Monson,
Massachusetts; SP4 Donald Fisher Marshall II, 20, from Honolulu, Hawaii; Pfc. Robert
Dale Griffis, 20, from Cincinnati, Ohio; and Pfc. Martin Roy Knight, 19, of Belding
Michigan.
From February 18 through February 20, the Currahees were involved in many
battles within the city of Phan Thiet, many times fighting house-to-house to dislodge the
enemy and drive him from the city. These “Battles in the Alleys” of Phan Thiet cost the
Battalion several more lives-Pfc. Daniel Roger Bodin, 19, of Waverly, Minnesota; Sgt.
Albert Clarence Woods, Jr., 21, of Hathaway, Montana; and SFC Vincent Bertram
Parkhurst, 34, from Chicago, Illinois.
80
The action initiated by the Communist Tet Offensive at Phan Thiet came to an
end on February 23, 1968. Enemy losses were listed as 1,256, with over 60 enemy
officers and key personnel KIA. Friendly losses were tallied as 91 KIA and 569
wounded. Civilian casualties were 36 killed and 664 others wounded. The Siege of Phan
Thiet had left 13,500 civilians homeless.
Even though the Tet Offensive had ended, the enemy still continued to harass the
Currahee base camp at LZ Betty. On February 25, the ARVN Ammo Dump on LZ Betty
was blown up by enemy mortar fire, causing significant damage to the airfield and other
facilities. SP4 Charles Edward Robena, 20, from Rochester, New York was killed during
the incident.
March 1968
The month of March heralded the first change of commands for the companies of
the Battalion. General Westmoreland made an eventful visit to LZ Betty, and special
memorial services were held for those Currahees killed during the Tet Offensive. The
Currahee Shock Force would receive a new name, and several more names would be
added to the list of KIAs for the Battalion.
On March 3, Captain Thomas F. Gaffney passed the command of Alpha Company
to Captain Edward C. Dowdy in a change-of-command ceremony held at Fire Support
Base BARTLETT northwest of Phan Thiet. Captain Gaffney would assume the duties of
S-3 Air Officer for TF 3-506.
Two days later, General William Westmoreland made a significant visit to LZ
Betty at Phan Thiet on March 5. In an address before the Currahees, he praised TF 3-506
for its gallant actions during the Tet Offensive and its diligence in defending the city of
81
Phan Thiet against a tenacious enemy. The 3-506 would ultimately receive the Valorous
Unit Citation for its actions during the Siege of Phan Thiet.
March 10 would claim the life of another Currahee from Alpha Company. SP4
Marshall Dayle Nelson, 20, of Austin, Texas was killed following the ambush of an
enemy patrol.
March 12 brought more change-of-command ceremonies at LZ Betty. Captain
William H. Landgraf passed the command of Bravo Company to Shock Force
commander, Captain Michael M. Pearson. Captain Landgraf would assume the duties of
S-4 Officer for the Battalion. Command of our Shock Force was passed to 1Lt. Roy D.
Somers, and the Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon (Shock Force) was renamed Long
Range Reconnaissance Patrol or “LRRP” Platoon.
With the name change and a new commander, the LRRPs would begin to operate
full time under the concept of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Unit. Prior to March
12, the Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon (Shock Force) had performed as a fourth rifle
company and a quick reaction force for the Battalion, as well as a reconnaissance unit.
The LRRPs would now operate solely as a reconnaissance platoon, consisting of several
six-man teams that would operate clandestinely into remote regions of the area of
operation (AO). As a “recon” unit, their mission would be to locate the enemy so that
larger units could take over and establish contact.
Bravo Company sustained another KIA in a search and destroy mission west of
Phan Thiet. SP4 Bennett James Herrick, 19, from Kansas City, Missouri was killed
during an engagement with a platoon-sized enemy force on March 25.
During March, the first groups of Currahees from the 3-506 were transferred to
the 327th Airborne Infantry and other units assigned to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne
Division, as part of the “infusion process”. Infusion was a program established by the
Department of the Army, which allowed the transfer of personnel within or between
commands to reduce the number of troops rotating out of Vietnam from a specific unit.
The process ensured that experienced infantry and command personnel remained incountry at all times.
Another Memorial Service for fallen Currahees
82
In addition to loosing Currahee Shock Force members to the infusion program,
more members were moved into the rifle companies to replace platoon members killed
and wounded.
Currahee Shock Force Team (later renamed LRRP)
The Currahees would lose two of their comrades shortly after the initiation of the
infusion program. Sergeant Rudolfo L. Rocha, Jr., 20, of Dallas, Texas was killed on
March 24 after being assigned to the 327th Airborne Infantry in I Corps. Shortly
thereafter, Pfc. Patrick Martin Derig, 20, from Santa Maria, California was killed on
March 31 after being reassigned to the 327th LRRPs in Thua Thien Province of I Corps.
April 1968
During the month of April, 1968, the Currahees would begin a new operation and
several more Currahees would lose their lives. The Battalion would also sustain several
friendly KIAs in two tragic incidents. In contrast to the anguish of war, the Currahees
would receive a brief period of elation when a USO Show entertained them at LZ Betty.
On April 5, a “Polecat” slick from the 192nd AHC crashed on take-off while
conducting a combat assault extraction northwest of Phan Thiet in Binh Thuy Province.
The crash resulted in the death of the aircraft commander and two Currahees-Sgt. Allen
Russell Guymon, 20, of Lomita, California and Pfc. John Charles Havlick, 19, of Tulsa,
Oklahoma.
The Currahees received a brief respite from the stress of war when a USO Show
came to entertain the troops at LZ Betty. On April 6, The Digger Revelle Australian
troupe treated the troops to an afternoon of live music and dancing performed by the band
and chorus girls.
83
84
Our battalion sustained another loss on April 10, as a LRRP team made a search
for enemy snipers that Alpha Company had encountered earlier. LRRP team member
Pvt. Wayne Clifford Jester, 19, of Milford, Delaware was killed before the snipers could
be dispatched.
April 25 began a new operation for Task Force 3-506--Operation MR-6. The
mission for the reconnaissance-in-force and search and destroy operation was to find and
destroy the headquarters for all Viet Cong activity in Binh Thuan Province. During the
operation, Task Force 3-506 would make numerous contacts with the enemy in the
mountainous areas of Binh Thuan, Lam Dong, and Binh Tuy Provinces in an attempt to
locate and destroy enemy base MR-6, an acronym for Viet Cong Military Region Six.
* * *
An Well Deserved R& R
After spending six months in Vietnam and now with new orders to join the 1327th, I received R&R to meet my wife Nettie, in Hawaii. We made reservations at the
Illakai Hotel and had a wonderful time. The week together was too short, and it was back
to combat in Vietnam. The week we had spent together in Hawaii gave me dream
moments back in the jungles of Vietnam.
85
Illakai Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii
May 1968
Another major change occurred for me during the month of May. I would be sent
to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 327th Infantry--one
of our 1st Brigade sister battalions. I would serve my remaining time in Vietnam with
the 1-327th, but my thoughts and prayers would continue to track my former Currahee
unit and family.
* * *
My remaining tour of duty with Headquarters Company, 1-327th Infantry
86
Around 1:00 a.m. on May 21, all hell broke loose at Camp Eagle. All I could hear
was explosions, followed by small-arms firing. Camp Eagle, the Division's base camp,
was being attacked by a battalion-sized force of North Vietnamese Army soldiers
augmented by enemy Sappers. The attack specifically targetsed a section of the camp
occupied by 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)'s command post area which is hit by
more than 400 enemy rockets and mortar rounds. The enemy attack which repulsed by
the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry and helicopter gunships from the 101st Aviation Group.
A sweep of the perimeter later that morning found 54 dead NVA Soldiers and a large
cache of rocket-propelled grenades. On the night of May 21 and continuing thru the
morning of May 22, the VC/NVA dropped 300 plus rockets/mortars on Camp Eagle and
launched a large-scale sapper attack under/thru the wire down at the 1st Brigade Sector.
The affair was supposedly in honor of Ho Chi Minh's birthday and part (more or less) of
a mini-Tet aftershock that involved a lot of the country.
By the next morning, Camp Eagle was more or less back to normal. The cleanup
started picking up the dead and wounded. Bodies were lying everywhere. The enemy
had thrown charges in the bunkers on the perimeter and killed or wounded all occupying
them. I found out later that most of these poor souls were on dope, and they never knew
what hit them.
The VC were buried in a mass grave on the hill dug with a dozer. They had to
move the entire Company B, 502nd across the creek on the side of the hill due to the
stench from the body parts lying on the ground.
May 1968
Following the 3-506th
Down South, Operation MR-6 continued into May, as the 3-506 persistently
searched for the enemy’s main base camp down south. The Currahees would confront a
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surge in enemy activity, as the Viet Cong muster their forces for a “Mini Tet Offensive”.
Two major battles during Operation MR-6 would claim the lives of several more
Currahees, and the KIA list would become longer as Task Force 3-506 begins Operation
Rockne Gold.
The month of May had began with an enemy attack on LZ Betty. On May 2, Viet
Cong forces launched a ground attack from the coastal side of the base. Members of the
former CSF (now the LRRP Platoon) manning the beach bunkers were successful in
repulsing the enemy attack, but not without loss of life. Pfc. Richard Ray Landers, 19, of
Orcutt, California was killed during the battle.
On May 5, enemy forces attacked 119 cities, towns, and military targets across the
Republic of Vietnam, including my new home with 2-502. These multiple attacks began
the second major Communist offensive, or “Mini Tet.” Several skirmishes and major
battles occurred throughout the month, as 3-506 engaged the tenacious Viet Cong
guerrillas.
The second change of command for Charlie Company occurred on May 7, 1967.
Captain Douglas Alitz passed the command of the company to Captain David F. Hillard
in a change-of-command ceremony at Fire Support Base Bunn northwest of Phan Thiet.
Captain Alitz would be reassigned to 1st Brigade as S-3 Officer at Phu Bai. Elsewhere
within the AO, another Currahee was killed in action when Bravo Company engaged an
enemy patrol. Pfc. Anthony John Nemeth, 20, from Chicago, Illinois was killed during
the firefight.
On May 8, the Currahees fought a major battle with a company-sized enemy
force. Bravo Company made initial contact, and the fighting became quite fierce. Alpha
Company combat assaulted in to the location to reinforce Bravo Company. The “Battle
at Song Cai River” claimed the lives of Pfc. John William Viktoryn, Jr., 21, of Cleveland,
Ohio and Pfc. Richard Gonzales, 20, from Bakersfield, California.
The following day, May 9, LRRP Team No. 2 walked into an enemy ambush
while on patrol. SP4 Timothy Wayne Keller, 19, of Wallingford, Connecticut was killed
during the enemy assault. Elsewhere within the AO, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company
engaged a platoon-sized enemy force. Squad leader, Sgt. Preston Lee Howell, 20, of
Sheffield, Alabama was killed during the battle.
As Operation MR-6 continued, the 3-506 fought another major battle with the
enemy at Song Mao on May 11. During the last few days of the operation, enemy
activity had increased considerably around the city of Song Mao. A large enemy force
had attacked Phan Rie Village during the early morning hours, and Charlie Company was
combat assaulted into the area to pursue the enemy. The entire company made contact
with the enemy and was engaged in heavy fighting with a battalion-sized VC/NVA force
throughout the afternoon. Contact with the enemy was broken by nightfall. Fortunately,
the Currahees sustained only eleven wounded during the “Battle at Song Mao”.
Task Force 3-506 commenced a new operation on May 19--Operation ROCKNE
GOLD. The Currahees were given the mission of locating and destroying the 610 NVA
Battalion and the HT-112 Viet Cong Company in the locale known as Secret Base Area
35. Task Force 3-506 made several contacts with the enemy in the mountainous area
south of Phan Rang in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan Provinces. SP4 Patrick John
Graham, 20, of Minneapolis, Minnesota was killed on May 25 during Operation Rockne
Gold. The operation ended on May 27, 1967.
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Two more Currahees were killed in action in Thua Thien Province of I Corps after
their reassignment to the 327th Airborne Infantry. Sgt. Michael W. Braun, 21, from
Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Sgt. Daniel Eric Goldsmith, 20, of Farmersville, California
lose their lives on May 26.
The final Currahee casualty for the month was claimed during an enemy attack on
Fire Support Base Bartlett northwest of Phan Thiet. SP4 Harold Mason, Jr., 21, of
Hempead, New York was killed on May 28 during the enemy mortar attack on the base.
June 1968
During the month of June 1968, the Currahees would experience the torrential downpours
of the monsoon season. Their continued pursuit of the enemy would take them to the city
of DaLat, where they would begin Operation BANJO ROYCE. Task Force 3-506 would
receive a new Battalion Commander later in the month-their third commander since
arriving in South Vietnam. The Currahees would be called to aid the 173rd Airborne
Brigade at Bao Loc during Operation Harmon Green.
On the afternoon of June 5, LRRP Team 3 engaged an unknown-sized enemy
force while conducting an intelligence gathering patrol in the mountainous area west of
Phan Thiet. Sgt. Dennis Lee Sutton, 22, of Vallejo, California was killed during the
enemy contact.
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Enemy activity had been steadily increasing since May in the southern portion of
II Corps, and elements of the Viet Cong 186th Main Force Battalion were a formidable
threat to the city of DaLat. In response to this threat, Task Force 3-506, ARVN, and
CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) forces moved to the southern portion of II
Corps to initiate Operation Banjo Royce. On June 9, Task Force 3-506 moved from Phan
Thiet to the vicinity of DaLat in Tuyen Duc Province. The Currahee mission was to
locate and destroy the 186th Viet Cong Main Force Battalion and local Viet Cong forces
that were attacking the city. The Battalion move to DaLat marked the first time during
the Vietnam War that American combat troops had ever operated in the DaLat area.
Operation Banjo Royce continued through June 18. Enemy contacts during the
operation resulted in the deaths of Pfc. Charles Arthur Gaudreau, 21, of New Bedford,
Massachusetts near DaLat on June 13 and Sgt. John Wesley Wright, 23, of Kansas City,
Missouri on June 14, 1968.
June 18 marked the end of Operation Banjo Royce and the beginning of a new
operation for the Currahees. The Battalion also received a new commander that same
day--its third commander since deployment to South Vietnam. In a change-of-command
ceremony at Bao Loc, LTC Robert M. Elton transferred the command of TF 3-506 to
LTC Walter E. Price.
The new Battalion Commander simultaneously assumed command of the new
operation that commenced on June 18--Operation Harmon Green. During the operation,
TF 3-506 moved to the vicinity of Bao Loc in Lam Dong Province to reinforce and
support an element of the 173rd Airborne Brigade that was under siege by an estimated
Viet Cong battalion. Charlie Company, 4th Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry had
engaged the enemy on June 17, resulting in several paratrooper casualties.
As the search for the enemy forces that had attacked the 173rd Airborne Brigade
began on June 18, the first day of Operation Harmon Green claimed the life of the
Platoon Leader for 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company. 1Lt. Arthur Quezada, 23, of Trona,
California was killed during the search of an enemy base camp. Throughout the
operation, several more platoon-, company-, and battalion-sized enemy base camps were
discovered, as well as numerous large weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, and
enemy caches of food and clothing. Operation Harmon Green ended on June 22, 1968.
Four days later, an element of Task Force 3-506, accompanied by tanks from the
1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 69th Armor Division, encountered an unknown-sized
enemy force southwest of Phan Thiet. SP4 Robert Lloyd Coulter, 22, of Toledo, Oregon
was killed during the contact.
July 1968
The month of July brought more miserable weather to the area around Phan Thiet,
as well as throughout the provinces of II Corps. Frequent periods of dense fog and heavy
rain showers were common in early morning and late afternoon, making visibility quite
poor for operations in the field. The mountainous area of DaLat had been quite cold with
the incessant monsoon downpours, but back at Phan Thiet, the temperatures were more
tolerable for the Currahees.
On July 1, 1968, TF 3-506 became OPCON (under the operational control) to the
newly organized Task Force South as a result of a comprehensive study of enemy activity
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within the five southern provinces of II Corps. The analysis determined that additional
friendly forces would be needed to combat the enemy threat within the AO. I Field
Force, Vietnam (IFFV) decided to organize Task Force SOUTH in order to increase
pressure on the enemy forces operating within the provinces of Tuyen Duc, Ninh Thuan,
Lam Dong, Binh Thuan, and Quang Duc. The newly organized task force included Task
Force 3-506; the 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Brigade; the 44th
ARVN Regiment, and the 2nd ARVN Ranger Group.
Task Force SOUTH was the first fully combined command in Vietnam, with both
American and Vietnamese commanders jointly supervising operations in the AO. The
command and control group for TF SOUTH was headquartered at DaLat, along with the
Light Infantry Command Post of the ARVN 23rd Infantry Division.
Now OPCON to TF SOUTH, TF 3-506 continued its operations from the base
camp at LZ Betty in coordination with ARVN forces. On the morning of July 17, the 2nd
Battalion of the 44th ARVN Regiment engaged an estimated VC/NVA battalion
northeast of Phan Thiet. The four rifle companies of the 3-506 combat assaulted into
blocking positions north and northeast of the contact area early in the afternoon. Alpha
Company made initial contact with the enemy, facing a deadly barrage of mortars,
rockets, and automatic weapons fire from the Viet Cong. As Bravo Company
maneuvered to reinforce Alpha Company, they also encountered horrendous enemy fire,
sustaining many casualties. Pfc. Douglas Allen Henning, 20, from Orchard Park, New
York and Medic SP4 Donald James Smith, 19, of San Francisco, California were killed
during the intense firefight.
A sweep of the area the next day revealed numerous bunkers and blood trails, but
no enemy bodies were found. The “Battle at Whiskey Mountain” was one of the
bloodiest battles for the Currahees since the Tet Offensive of February, claiming two
Currahee lives and thirty more wounded.
We received word that another Currahee from Bravo Company who had been
reassigned to the 327th Airborne Infantry up north during the infusion, lost his life in
Thua Thien Province of I Corps. SP 4 Richard Guy King, 20, of Springfield, Missouri
was killed in action on July 19.
July 20 brought another change of command of command for Charlie Company.
In a ceremony at LZ Betty, Captain David F. Hillard passed the command of Charlie
Company, 3-506 to Captain Wayne R. Wheeler.
Four days after the “Battle at Whiskey Mountain”, the elusive enemy battalion
was located again in the Le Hong Phong Forest. The Currahees and ARVN combat
assaulted into blocking positions in an attempt to surround the enemy once again. After
several attempts to break through the cordon encircling them, the enemy fragmented into
small groups and dispersed, evading the Currahees again under the cover of darkness
through unattended gaps in the cordon.
August 1968 - With the 1-327th at Camp Eagle
In early August, I received a compassionate leave. The red cross notified me that
my wife needed surgery. Since there was no one to keep our children, was compelled to
return home as soon as possible. The red cross had cleared everything, and I caught the
next resupply chopper back to Camp Eagle. I arranged the next available flight down
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south to Bien Hoa. Once at Bien Hoa, the commanding general invited me to have dinner
with him and the staff on the very day I was schedule to fly out to the U.S. Regrettably,
I had to decline the invitation. With all due respect to the general, I had been in Vietnam
over ten months and had gotten wet, hot and cold too often, and too many times to count.
I was ready to leave ASAP.
Dressed in Class "A" uniform, I joined hundreds of other happy soldiers on a
plane headed for the land of the "big PX". The majority of us went to sleep the moment
the plane left the ground. I was hoping that when I woke up, my plane would be landed
in Augusta, Georgia. Instead we were awakened a number of times to eat or drink by the
stewardess. Our first stop occurred on August 12 in Alaska, where I made a few
telephone calls. Our next stop was San Francisco, California. I made another phone call
to my sister who lived in Oakland, California. After a short layover in San Francisco, I
boarded a commercial plane for Atlanta, where I had a long layover before boarding that
last plane out of Atlanta headed for Augusta. On August 13, I arrived in Augusta after
midnight, and there was Nettie waiting for me. What joy flooded my soul!
I had 30-days of leave. With a couple of days after arriving home, Nettie went in
for surgery. This meant that the care of our two young daughters was my responsibility.
Needless to say, the girls along with running back and forth to the hospital was taxing.
Soon Nettie's sister and a family friend arrived from Savannah, Georgia, which gave me
some relief.
All too soon, it was reality time once again. I was on my way back to Vietnam
and back to war.
August 1968 - Following the 3-506th down south
The first few days of August saw only light contact with the enemy. Joint
coordination between U. S. and Vietnamese forces had inflicted heavy casualties on the
enemy and had denied them access to their usual safe havens. By constantly keeping the
enemy off balance and “on the run”, combined friendly operations had greatly reduced
enemy strength in the villages and hamlets throughout Binh Thuan Province.
On August 2, the Currahees enjoyed another brief respite from the battlefield, as
they gathered at LZ Betty for their second USO Show. The popular singing group,
Peaches and Herb, entertained the troops.
Peaches and Herb
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Even though enemy contacts were light as August began, an enemy sniper still
managed to take the life of another Currahee on August 5. Sgt. Blaine Clarence Schaffer,
20, of Slatedale, Pennsylvania was killed by sniper fire while traveling with a truck
convoy from Long Binh to Phan Thiet.
The first significant contact with the enemy was on August 25, when ARVN
forces engaged an unknown-sized enemy force in defensive positions at Dai Hoa Hamlet
northwest of Phan Thiet. Elements of the 3-506 combat assaulted into the area of contact
to assist the ARVN forces in encircling the enemy. Sgt. Keith Rowell, 25, from
Amarillo, Texas, one of the "boat troopers" was killed by a sniper as the helicopter slicks
lifted off the pick up zone.
The fierce “Battle of Dai Hoa-Xuan Phon” continued well into the night. A dawn
sweep of the contact area revealed that the enemy had escaped through poorly defended
ARVN positions. Vietnamese forces sustained five KIAs and 41 wounded; the Currahees
sustained fourteen wounded. One of the wounded Currahees-Sgt. Teodorito Rio-Rosario,
23, of Aibonito, Puerto Rico-died of his wounds on August 26.
Enemy activity decreased significantly during the month of September, as
VC/NVA forces evaded contact with friendly forces to regroup and refurnish its ranks.
Reconnaissance-in-force operations discovered many enemy base camps, bunkers, tunnel
complexes and caches. The Currahees persistently used CS-grenades and other
explosives to destroy or deny the enemy access to these locations.
September 1968
On September 1, the enemy attacked FSB Sherry, killing Pfc. William John Flint,
19, from Lynn, Massachusetts, who was an RTO with Delta Battery, 2-320th Artillery.
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Several days later, another incident claimed the life of a Currahee from Alpha
Company. SP4 Ned Arthur Heath, 19, of Alpena, Michigan was killed on September 6
during an engagement with the enemy.
On September 9, another Currahee was killed when a squad from 2nd Platoon,
Alpha Company detonated an enemy booby-trap. The blast killed RTO Pfc. Jerry Lavon
Miller, 19, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and seriously wounded five others in the
squad.
Task Force JOHNSON Commenced on September 10, with a combined
reconnaissance-in-force operation into the coastal village of Tuy Phong east of Song
Mao. TF Johnson was composed of Bravo Company, 3-506; Delta Battery, 2nd
Battalion (Airborne), 320th Artillery; and the 444th Regional Forces ARVN Company.
Beginning on September 11, different sections within the Battalion began to hold
their “going home” parties for those of us original Currahees scheduled to DEROS (Date
Eligible for Return from Overseas). On September 17, the Battalion held an Awards
Ceremony and Battalion Party at LZ Betty. Those Currahees from the original group that
had arrived in-country last October began to process out of the Battalion and proceed to
Long Binh for final out-processing.
Landing Zone (LZ) Betty outside Phan Thiet, South Vietnam
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3-506 Operations Map 1967 & 1968
95
* * *
Last Day in Vietnam
HE’S COMING HOME
In the near future, your Screaming Eagle will be home. Treat him well, but be
cautious-he’s seen and experienced much.
Show no alarm if he insists on carrying a weapon to the dinner table, sits down,
on his steel helmet when offered a chair or wakes you up in the middle of the night to
take your share of guard duty.
Smile pleasantly when he digs up your garden to fill sandbags for a backyard
bunker, wears ammunition belts criss-crossed across his torso and looks suspiciously at
the next door neighbor when he approaches your property.
Listen carefully if he lapses into Viet- names phrases. If he glares and says “Di
Di”, walk away—quietly and quickly. If he says “Xin Loi” understand that he couldn’t
care less about what you’re saying. If he says you’re “numbah one”, you know you’re in
his best graces.
Be alert when you speak to him on the telephone. Remove your ear at least two
inches from the receiver. He’s used to shouting. When he says “Over”, it’s your turn to
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talk. When he says “Out”, the conversation has ended. When he loses patience and
shouts, “Are you working”, yell back, “Working, dammit!”
Keep in mind that beneath the tanned and rugged exterior, beats a heart of gold.
Treat him with kindness, under- standing and love. Soon he’ll be back to-normal,
adjusted once again to the land of the big PX”. Above all, be especially watchful when
he’s in the company of a beautiful “round eye”. He’s not used to perfumes, soft skin and
frilly fabrics.
Last, but not least, send no more mail to the APO. Fill the refrigerator with beer,
get the “civvies” out of moth balls, and put out the word ... your Screaming Eagle is
coming home.
Author Unknown
* * *
During the last week of September, when the out-processing was complete and
manifested, those of us going home began to leave our respective units--me with 1-327-for Bien Hoa where we would join up with others of us who arrived aboard the USNS
General Weigel; and those members who had survived their tour of duty in Vietnam.
On September 30, 1968, I said farewell to Vietnam with a mixture of melancholy
and jubilation. I was overjoyed about going home, but also experienced deep sorrow at
leaving the soldiers, with no way of knowing their fate in my absence from them. My
tour of duty had been one year...part with the 3-506, 2-320th and part with 1-327 in
combat in South Vietnam.
As a result of my trek through the war-torn landscape, I had been awarded a
bucket full of individual awards and decorations--Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, the
Army Commendation Medals, the Air Medal, the Soldier's Medal, the Good Conduct
Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign
Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and the President Unit Citation.
Additional decorations received during initial military training with the U.S. Air Force,
and my coveted jump wings.
* * *
Home!
After departing Vietnam and a short leave home with Nettie and children, I
reported to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where I was assigned to the US Army Specialized
Treatment Center and Hospital at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Following a few days of outprocessing, I left active military service and returned home to my family.
As I look back on my tour of duty in Vietnam with the 3-506, I am very honored
to have served with the famed Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division. My
one big regret, however, is that many of the names of those I served with have escaped
me. I truly miss the guys I served with. If not for the assistance of Jerry Berry, our 3506th battalion unit historian, I would not have been able to put all the pieces of my
Vietnam puzzle together in order to reflect on those unforgettable months of my life.
My military service, especially my tour of duty in Vietnam gave me a different
perspective on life. As a result of my military training and combat experience in
Vietnam, I strive to do the best job possible and be the best person I can be. I leave these
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pages of historical fact to my children, grandchildren, and all future descendants. It is for
them to know my life path and decide whether or not I was worthy in deed and
accomplishment to walk before them. I will forever be a proud to have served with the
three airborne infantry battalions--3-506th, 2-320th and 1-327th, but especially as a
member of the 3-506th. CURRAHEE!
Lieutenant Colonel Rank
Life After Vietnam
On October 5, 1968, I reported to Fort Gordon, Georgia. I was assigned to the US
Army Specialized Treatment Center and Hospital. I remained there for only a few weeks
and left military service later that October 1968, and returned home to pick up where I
had left off when entering active military service.
During my first enlistment with the U.S. Air Force, I was promoted in a timely
manner, often promoted ahead of my peers. Promotions were slow and hard to come by.
I felt blessed to be an Airman First Class (A1C) at the end of my first enlistment. During
my second Air Force enlistment, I lost rank and was demoted to Airman Second Class
(A2C) over a serious misunderstanding. I take pride in the fact that I entered the military
in June 1954 as a private and retired in August 1982 (22 active years) as a lieutenant
colonel.
Nettie just before her death
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While in the active military, I was married to my college sweetheart, Nettie
McQueter. We reared three wonderful children. Nettie had her own career; and she made
me promise that if she traveled with me to complete my career, that we would not move
until she had completed her career as a teacher. Nettie retired in 1998; and in April 2000,
went to join our Lord and Savior.
In 2002, I met and married another wonderful lady, Earline Farmer. We have had
14 wonderful years traveling together across the USA, South America, Europe and
Africa.
Earline
I felt special to be selected to support a group of officers, NCOs and enlisted men,
who themselves had been selected for special training, duties and responsibilities. We
were among the chosen few that were going to finally get the job done in Vietnam. The
training and the travel--parachuting into the swamps of Georgia and mountains of
Tennessee and North Carolina during the war games exercises were exciting and fun. I
had a great time playing tricks on the other chaplains supporting our 101st units, when
our battalion commander, LTC Geraci was the bad guy.
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Since retirement, I have gotten to know some of the men in ways I never could
have on active duty. The reunions have been a life saver for many of us, and the veterans
of the 3-506th have allowed me to make a liars out of lot of people. For those who
thought that this share-cropper's son from Merigold, Mississippi and the Delta Pine
Plantation wouldn't amount to much in life, I believe this journal proves otherwise.
At one of these reunions, my close friend in those years with the 3-506th,
Battalion Surgeon, Captain Andrew Lovy gave the following comments to Jerry Berry,
reunion organizer. "I think I saw Otis Smith on the roster of attendees. He was our first
Chaplain, and quite a guy. I went on an R and R and found he had been reassigned and I
missed him. His wife, Nettie and mine were good friends, and we spent many a time
together. I do not recall the specific action, but we were quite busy at the aide station.
While I was working on some troopers, in comes Chaplain Smith carrying two troopers,
one under each arm. He deposited them at the aide station, told us to work on them, and
then went back out into the fray. Like myself, he had no business being out under fire, but
his sense of duty overrode any concept of personal danger. He went where the action
was, and where he was needed the most, and there is nothing like a man of God there, to
tend to the wounded at a critical moment of their life (or death). I want to meet another
true hero, if he indeed is going to be there. Let him know how much I desire to meet him
again and thank him for his exceptional service. - Doc Andrew Lovy."
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In Retrospect
by Jerry Berry
Pfc. Jerry Berry, paratrooper, rifleman
and Battalion PIO - Oct. 1967 to Oct. 1968
American involvement in the Vietnam War ended with the withdrawal of the last
American troops by President Richard M. Nixon in 1973. Two years later, the Republic
of South Vietnam collapsed and ultimately became unified with North Vietnam under
Communist control. Because of this historical outcome, many Americans believe that the
United States “lost” the war in Vietnam due to our government’s lack of understanding of
the nature of the war, as well as its lack of ability to apply proper strategies to fight it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. According to President Nixon, “No
event in American History is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was
misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so
wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so
tragic.” There are those who believe that the Vietnam conflict was a senseless war and
that nothing was accomplished as a result of the 58,000 American soldiers who gave their
lives in South Vietnam, but the Vietnam War was the turning point for the spread of
Communism in the world. Without the commitment of the United States to stop the
expansion of Communism in Southeast Asia, this subservient ideology would have swept
all the way to the very doorstep of the free world.
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It has been nearly fifty years since the 3-506 first set foot on Vietnamese soil, and
our surviving members continue to ask themselves why their fellow Americans did not
welcome them home as heroes, even though they believed it was their duty to respond to
the call for the defense of freedom in the world—a cause that our government deemed
worthy of preservation. As in previous wars involving the United States, our American
soldiers in Vietnam were honorable men who performed an extremely tough job to the
best of their ability and demonstrated a high sense of duty to their country, as well as the
mission at hand. They were simply doing what was asked of them during a difficult and
confusing time in history.
Historians and military scholars have written that there was no precedent in our
Nation’s history for the guerrilla-type war waged in South Vietnam. Our soldiers found
themselves facing a savage new kind of war in a hostile environment, a sweltering
climate, and a strange culture—fighting a ceaseless battle against the swift and deadly
guerrilla attacks of a determined, yet elusive enemy. Vietnam War soldiers passed
through the villages and hamlets of South Vietnam, knowing that the same citizens they
encountered in a friendly way by day, could very well be their enemies by night. They
learned quickly how to adjust to the horrors of war, yet managed to retain their human
emotions and patriotic loyalty to their country. Above all else, they displayed a profound
compassion for the people of South Vietnam, who suffered along with them.
Hardly a day goes by in the lives of our surviving 3-506 veterans without thoughts
of Vietnam and the many lives touched by the war. Just as their World War II
predecessors, whose surviving numbers are rapidly dwindling, the 3-506 Vietnam
veterans are also beginning to age. They are now in their late 60s, 70s, and 80s. Their
time is dwindling as well, but they have learned important lessons from their Vietnam
experience. They escaped death in the throes of war, yet still suffer the consequences of
rejection by the citizens of their own country and extreme guilt from the loss of friends
who died instead of them.
The stories of courage and dedication related within the pages of this journal
should help the reader understand the resentment of the veterans who were called to serve
their country and went unthanked for their noble sacrifice. All Americans should
rightfully share the burden they have so stoically carried alone for almost five decades.
Appreciation and concern for their service as patriotic citizens and dutiful soldiers should
replace disdain and blame.
This personal journal should be particularly poignant for those who personally
know the man honored here and witnessed his courage and sacrifice firsthand. As one of
these witnesses, I can relate to the complexities of war and the tragedy left in its wake. I
view my Vietnam experience from different perspectives—as a young paratrooper
fighting in the war, as a combat photographer and reporter for my battalion documenting
the war, and as an author/historian for our proud unit. We all share a bond that cannot be
comprehended or adequately explained to others outside our unit. True comradeship is
achieved when each is ready and willing to give his life, as Chaplain Smith was willing to
do for his fellow teammates without hesitation or thought of personal peril. It is a bond
that has withstood the horrors of war, the loss of friends, and the painful memories of
Vietnam.
Most patriotic Americans, I believe, share deep admiration and gratitude for what
our soldiers have done and continue to do to keep our country safe and a constant beacon
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for freedom in an otherwise pacifist, cowering world. The Vietnam veterans have never
fully received the credit and dignity they deserve for their accomplishments in the
Vietnam War. Perhaps this small window into our past has shed some revealing light on
the forgotten ones who served in the most ungrateful war in American History.
When word reached the Currahees who had long since departed South
Vietnam that the 3-506 was being inactivated in May 1971, their thoughts drifted back to
the profound words of Colonel Harry W. O. Kinnard, who wrote these words in the
Division’s last daily bulletin at the end of World War II--”To those of you left to read
this last daily bulletin-do not dwell on the disintegration of our great unit, but rather be
proud that you are of the ‘old guard’ of the greatest division ever to fight for our
country. Carry with you the memory of its greatness wherever you may go, being
always assured of respect when you say, ‘I served with the 101st.’” Surely, the
Currahees wondered if history would remember the men of the “Bastard Battalion”, as
well as the sacrifices they had made in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia.
On May 15, 1971, the 3-506 colors were honored by the Commanding General,
Major General Thomas N. Tarpley, in a Division-wide ceremony. The Battalion
Commander, LTC Othar J. Shalikashvili stood proudly as Major General Tarpley praised
the 3-506, saying, “We are seeing the departure of one of the great airborne battalions
of all times. I chose not to look on this as an inactivation, but rather as a rest or sleep
of the battalion, until they are needed again.” LTC Shalikashvili then passed the colors
to the Honor Guard of the Battalion, commanded by Captain Donald L. Porter, for their
encasement and deployment voyage to the United States and subsequent inactivation.
The Currahee legacy began in World War II in places such as Normandy,
Holland, and Bastogne and continued in a new generation of Currahees, who met their
“Rendezvous With Destiny” in the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968, Hill 474, and
Cambodia.
Currahee…Battalion Chaplain Otis Artis Smith! Your service and sacrifice is not
forgotten.
Jerry Berry, 3-506
Battalion PIO & Combat Photographer
AIRBORNE!
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A Chaplain's Vietnam Kit & Display
The Chaplain Stoles
Individual cup communion trays, two bread trays and a nice chalice.
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