tv Experiences of Vietnam War Veterans CSPAN December 10, 2017 6:35pm-7:49pm EST
at fort leavenworth, kansas, discusses their experiences during the war. this is hosted by the kansas city public library as part of a national endowment for the arts series on the vietnam war. >> tonight, we have a distinguished panel, and jim wilbanks will introduce them in a moment. i proud to introduce jim wilbanks. he served 23 years in the army, retiring as lieutenant colonel. he was an infantry advisor to a regiment during the 1970 two easter offensive in vietnam. he has a ba in history from .exas a&m he has an ma and phd from the university of kansas. j hot jokes are permitted, even encouraged. been on the command and
general staff college faculty of the department of military history for -- since 1992. for 11red the department years. during that time, he has come to -- i quote from the front page of the new york times 10 years or so ago -- as the intellectual center of the army. at the, he put set bottom of his email signature -- puts that at the bottom of his team else. it's required? ok. well, it's appropriate in his case, because no one has done more to make that true. he is the author of the book "great commander's." his origins are a series of historiansat command have given at the library. he has run about the tet offensive and the bottle of analog, etc..
-- written about the tet offensive and the battle of lock. he is on the editorial board of himself history but is no armchair historian. he is the general of the army george c marshall chair of military history at the u.s. army command and general staff at the college of fort leavenworth, which is, by the way, the longest title you can hold as an historian outside of the austro-hungarian empire, which doesn't exist anymore. his most important title here is front of the library. recently one thing eight awards national, state, and local. we won them because we have -- won eightcently one awards national, state, and local. them because we have
great partners. they are the best, year after year, great, thoughtful lecturers from a truly fine demand school. the intellectual center of the army. men and women who have given great service to their country. above all else, they are leaders. jim is certainly a leader, but most important lay, he has educated current contributors to the united states army is most importantly, he has educated current contributors to the united states army. jim wilbanks. jim: thank you for that introduction. usually, those kinds of introductions come when you are in a coffin looking up. but i will take it. i have taught for 15 or 20 years, and i taught a similar course at ku for five or six
years. the most popular part of the course in each case is the panel you see before you. with a few exceptions, this is the cast of the usual suspects. fighting off a cold, so if i fall into coughing fits and roll into the hallway, they will carry on. and if one of them falls apart, the guy next to him will tell his story. we have done it enough. we were asked to tell about our experience in vietnam from a soldier's perspective. the first u.s. soldiers on the ground were there during world war ii in 1946. half after the beginning of the first indochina war, we found ourselves there assisting the french. over time, the french the part and it becomes our mission to assist the south vietnamese government. one of the key dates is eight
and nine march of 1965 when the third marines land and the first ground troops are there. as heery, very quickly, continues to refine his strategy, he asks for more troops. unit is sent to vietnam. the first infantry division was the first full division, right? big red. it was followed by the first cap, brigade, and by late fall, troopsere 185 thousand there. very quickly, these numbers ramped up with a high point coming on april 30, 1969 with a u.s. personnel. over the course of the war, approximately 2,900,000
americans served. capturing the b experience is problematic, to say the least -- the vietnam experience is problematic, to say the least. they run the gamut. from truck drivers, two cooks, two clerks, two people who flew cooks,t of various -- to to people who flew aircraft of various kinds, to nurses. if i did notmiss mention that hc was a surgeon. we like our medical folks. in a very real way, when you ask a vietnam veteran what it was on a it's sort of depends number of things. where was he or she? when were they there? what were they doing? in 1972, my best
friend, who remains my best were located on the same map sheet. that said we were close enough to be between here and legend at the most. he was a company commander. i was an advisor with the south vietnamese. that's the way it was. the gentleman you see on the stage with me do not purport to provide the whole vietnam experience. but what we can do is give you a for our own individual experiences. i will let them introduce so we can getturn through to discussions about what they did and get to questions and answers. >> good evening. my name is sam cherry.
i am in 1964 rutgers graduate, commissioned the same day i graduated, commissioned second .ieutenant after airborne school, i went to port louis, washington, had to do a year on the ground in a cavalry squadron. aviator a rotary wing and helicopter pilot december 7, 1966. on the way home to new jersey for christmas, i stopped in at fort bragg. they said you have to stop in here. we are putting together a new helicopter assault company. fort gregg,from north carolina, in early may of 1967 and went -- fort bragg, north carolina, in early may of went northeast of
saigon. it was the headquarters for the oldh infantry division, the reliable's. we had to helicopter companies -- two helicopter companies. most of our flying was in the south of saigon in the mekong .elta that means a lot to a pilot because you always have a place to land. eu don't have the same problem as aviators when you are upcountry -- you don't have the same problem as aviators when you are upcountry. helicopter company's mission is to pick up troops. you can get eight americans in the old huey. it's the symbol of vietnam, if you will. we fly them from point a to point b, which is wherever they want to go tactically.
an armedd to be helicopter pilot. we flew in light fire teams, two helicopters. escort.ur mission to if they took any kind of fire, we were to protect the transport helicopter. time, when we inserted troops into a landing , there may be preparatory fire, artillery, air, or gunships. based on the intelligence picture we had. not muchuntil august, happened. i can remember the first time i really got into it was 10 august, because that's the day my son was born, my first child. from august until the end of summer, routine acts, and it did not heat up until december of
that year. early december, we had a couple of very large scale fights. we saw large numbers of -- they were not north vietnamese. they were viet cong who were willing to stand and fight. they were fighting in larger .umbers that was the forerunner of the tet offensive. early in the morning when i got up and went to the shaving trough, i could tell something was wrong. something was different. , the villagesff we thought were peaceful, there were viet cong, hundreds and hundreds of vietcong flags. south, my crewo chief called to say saigon is a blaze.
there were bombs dropping on the outskirts of saigon. something we knew was wrong. .hat was the beginning of tet after that, things kind of calm down, and then they spiked again in early may, the first week of may. i left on the 17th of may to come home after my 363 days. i went back for a second tour later on. i will turn it over to bud. he is our resident marine. >> thank you for coming out. of this august group, i am the only guy who went to vietnam as an enlisted fellow. marine. wanted to be a on graduation day, 24 may, 1965, arizona, we had graduation ceremonies that night and i and signedn that day
up. my recruiter said we are going to cut your hair off and send you to boot camp, polish you up and send you to vietnam. and he did. my experience was completely different from anything any of the stallman saw. these gentleman saw. i was a marine security guard at the american embassy as we were building the new embassy that eventually was attacked during the first day of tet. was primarily the protection of classified, sensitive information. our second mission was the protection of life and property. i can tell you the first year there was like a hollywood script.
you knew you were in a war zone. the danger was always more real than was apparent, if that makes sense. hear the airman in a fight someplace. was actually very comfortable. we could see the influx of the war and refugees coming into the city, that sort of thing, but as a general proposition, until the tet offensive came about, life wasn't that bad. 1968, everything turned upside down. that was when the first rocket explosion blew a hole in the , -- of the odyssey
embassy, and the fight at the abyss he takes place. -- embassy takes place. a lot of people reported that the embassy was taken. i think washington thought the embassy was taken. the second year, i wound up having an unusual assignment. i was put on a personal security unit for the ambassador. was thecapacity, it ultimate fly on the wall, young american g.i. in a combat zone doing what his government said to do, but in a most unusual situation. we were meeting daily with the ambassador. the people you always read about. as a youngster at the time, i knew i was in the presence of something great that was going on in the world.
left on the 24th of january of 1969, having served my time there. pride back on it now with . would i do it again? i would. i thought it was the right thing to do then. i think it's the right thing to do now. the world has changed. things have moved on. some of the day. so have we. >> my name is dave groman -- dave drummond. i was commissioned out of the military academy at west point. back then, you were a second and anant for 12 months first lieutenant for 12 months, so you became a captain in 24 months into your service.
i was a captain at 24 years old. if you look around at 24-year-old kids today -- i that was aem kids -- lot of responsibility. i was supposed to go to the american hell division -- to the americal division. i was in signal corps. we provided communications. are going to take a helicopter and head to the golf course up there. i said maybe that's not too bad. i was 23. i didn't know better. i will tell you another thing. of the 24 months it took to , most of that i spent in school. airborne school, rangers goal,
signal school. ranger school, signal school. i only spent six months with the unit. you have to realize that communications back then were different than they are now. littlewe pull out our cell phone, and communicate via satellite. , it was line of sight communication. the company i command it was called the 167 signal company. officers.ed and six that's pretty big for a company, typical infantry company was about 110, 120. we covered the size of connecticut in terms of where we were.
whole bunch of places. fact, you didn't want to drive around too much. helicopter, i had a and to 19-year-old pilots i would not let drive a jeep. but they flew me around. communications, like i said, were different then. was line, because it of sight, in other words, to antennas had to see each other, up had to put your antennas on high ground. i used to call them aiming stakes. that's basically what they were. you could see them from quite a distance. although we were not offensive , andture, we got hit a lot we had to pretty well try to
protect ourselves. it was a very interesting year. with you.honest we only looked at the 50 meter targets.ets -- in other words, i wasn't concerned about what was going on in saigon. 130attalion commander was miles away by helicopter, so he didn't get up to see us too often. 23 years old, i didn't have a lot of adult supervision. we had a couple people killed and several injured while i was there, but that happens in those .inds of wars . closed out my unit in october of 1970, they said you're going to shut down.
by november 20, we had everything brought in from the connecticut side -- connecticut sized terrain and had everything difficult, which was because our people had to turn through quite a different place. of course, our beds and things , we had to do it in a specific timeline, very challenging. i was fortunate when i left vietnam. i went to europe for four and a half years. i was in nato. i came to fort leavenworth and resigned my commission and stayed on as a faculty commander -- command faculty. i spent 40 years there and
thoroughly enjoyed it. and i'm glad to be with you tonight. this has been an incredible series. thank you for enlightening the whole kansas city area on these , andble topics on vietnam thank you for allowing me to participate in this event. >> i am rich kuyper. i graduated from west point in 1967. -- 26x years active duty years active duty, commissioned infantry. i went to the ranger corps, airborne corps, parachute or court, and the special forces. i went to germany, and at the age of 23 and as a first lieutenant i was commanding an airborne infantry company. the timeed to be at
the russians invaded czechoslovakia, so we had a little excitement there. i went to vietnam and commanded in infantry rifle company. having completed a special forces course, i was able to transfer into an officer and special forces group. ,fter coming back to the states i had a number of different assignments. one of them was teaching military history at west point and at the army command and general staff college. i then went to fort bragg and the operations officer and the deputy g3 of the special operations command at fort bragg . , where i the pentagon
served as a special forces force thelopment officer at pentagon developing future material for army special operations. phd, and and got a in early two thousand two, i went to afghanistan as an army armyact historian with the special operations command. i should mention that at the i became the g3, i had transferred to special forces up until then special forces had not been a branch. it had just been special. i took off my cross a arose as infantry put them on a special forces, and did that for the rest of my career.
i went to afghanistan as an historian. after coming back, i worked for years at the army counterinsurgency center at fort leavenworth. been created by petronius and mattis.eus i worked there until the center closed, and then retired. during my time in vietnam as a company commander, by then i had become a captain and was 24. having commanded an airborne company in germany, at least i had a sense of what command was like. for commanding in a combat environment is something entirely different. pre-corps, ating straight leg infantry company.
when you see reels of guys slogging through the jungle, we were in jungle, not the rice patties. jungle, six jungle -- thick jungle. you could not see to the back row, what was in front of you. our mission was it typical infantry mission. that is what we were to do. during that time in command, i made 33 combat assault in helicopters. i hated people like general cherry. whether he would pull me in or pull me out. theyed his compatriots, have the huey gunships that brought rocket fire whenever we got into combat. we had quite a lot of contacts.
by this time, the war had changed substantially. the viet cong had been eliminated and now you were were starting to infiltrate into south vietnam. units.ere still vc but i know the day we killed someone wearing a certain belt buckle, we were in a different role. it was jungle fighting, stumbling into bunker areas. you simply could not see before you got there. going out on platoon-sized patrols. the drawdown had begun. we were talking maybe 21, 22 troop in a platoon. those of you who have been in the military, always love it
when your company commander is supposed to come down and sit with you for a while and go on operations with you and just be there to boost you up. i always loved that. alwayssure my platoon had that joy. i would go which -- with each one of them. each operation i would change out with them and give them the benefit of my 24-year-old wisdom. [laughter] kiper: it was a difficult time for the army. platoon, my my company first sergeant -- i had a couple of sergeants. one was a staff sergeant, who was a shake and bake. meaning he was an honors graduate from his training course. he and i are still in close contact and close friends to
this day. we went to special forces, it was a different environment. everybody was leaving vietnam. a special forces left on the third of march, 1971. -- just because a bunch of guys wearing green berets and caring a flag got an airplane and flew back to fort bragg did not mean the missions of special forces left the anon. they left behind residual vietnam.-- left behind they left behind residual missions. over the taking special operations special forces mission. the overall organization was called a special advisory group. probably very few people have heard of it.
under it, we had a number of different organizations. some of which were partnering with an authorization group to , cross-borderns missions, that still had to be accomplished, i had made several trips to talk about how we would take the green beret side and put it into this special mission advisory group. then i left vietnam, did the other things i talked about. after i retired i wrote a couple on civil war, one on special operations in afghanistan. and another in korea. i am willing to sit by for any questions you may have. >> i sat out most of the heavy
fighting in the wars as an undergraduate in the university of kentucky, where i majored in making smallbatch whiskey. [laughter] >> a week after the can't state shootings, an interesting time. i went to fort benning ended courses,t badge jumping out of airplanes and that sort of stuff. general cherry, i was commissioned. pirateotten a private license and was set to go to flight school in the army said you have to do six months in the unit before you can go to flight school. i said, ok. they sent me to a regiment, a palace guard unit in fort meade, north of washington, d.c.. mend myself and 47 enlisted in the platoon i was in charge of. i had one private and myself that were not vietnam veterans.
the rest had returned from overseas. several had been shot up ready badly. those of you old enough to remember those days, it was not happy times for the army or the civilian world. the principal mission of the collegewas to chase students off the main thoroughfares and washington, d.c. when they decided it was time to shut down the government. i said, i will take a long tour in hel or short-term in vietnaml, and they had nothing available in hell, so i went to vietnam. [laughter] mr. dials: they took a look at my jump pads and wings and i went to a place where i was in air rifle platoon leader. pelled out of airplanes.
all kinds of interesting assignments like that. airborne.he 101st where the third brigade is separate. we had a mission to secure the northeast approaches in saigon. i ended up commanding a rifle platoon. as you heard, i had myself and 19 enlisted guys. interesting times. but my rifle company was rarely above 85. they were authorized for 150 people. but they were good soldiers. i carried all the things some of you have seen.
rucksack,my 100 pound like everyone else. picked thenced i had right class. i was happy when the tour was over to go back to armor. come almostack affectionately come on my service. i was proud, the soldiers i served with. some of them were numbered among mcnamara's 400,000. by and large, they were fine soldiers, did what they were supposed to. as rich mentioned, if you can see from here to the back wall, it was a long range fire. those kids conducted themselves well. the biggest leadership challenge was keeping soldiers disciplined to stay at -- to pay attention.
twoe saw vc, it was degrees. if you saw mva, you are in trouble. you had to your soldiers disciplined. the big thing was booby-traps. naturally when you're dealing with triple canopy jungle and the trees 150 feet high, they want to walk on trails because it is easy. but the enemy knows that, so you do not let them walk on the trails. simple stuff. you carry those lessons with you. i kept that lesson with me the rest of the time i was in the army. destroyed the noncommissioned officer corps by the time i came into the army in 1970, by multiple tors and toursties in vietnam --
and casualties in vietnam. keep the military together. i discovered what good in seo's -- what good nco's were in vietnam. hopefully that had something to do with turning things around. we need to be worried about that now. jim can talk to you about more than i got into. >> my experience is totally different. i was with a south vietnamese unit. i graduated from texas a&m in 1969. free love, it was not around texas a and m. i missed it all. [laughter] >> i went to fort benning, then germany.
at that time the u.s. army in 1970 was fundamentally broken. it was in a sad state of disrepair. the army was paying the bill for vietnam. as an infantry officer i got promoted to captain in two years. i thought my duty was in vietnam so i volunteered to go to vietnam. that is a decision i revisited several times in the coming year after i went. training an advisor course in fort bragg. to fort bliss, texas to learn vietnamese because only the u.s. army would send you to el paso, texas to learn vietnamese. my skills were rudimentary at best. but once i got to vietnam i went to camp alpha, and there was the ubiquitous sergeant with the clipboard to said captain, your late. you are not going to get a
badge. the army being as it is, i was trained to be an advisor with the south vietnamese and the thai army. i spoke zero thai. but they were in the process of going home as a process of downsizing in 1971 in 1972. then i went and joined the 18th division. andas pretty much like tom rich talked about in the same area, running around triple canopy jungle, trying to keep the --th vietnamese and ong out of thet c towns and cities. i found myself landlocked on the border up against the cambodian border, with about 4500 south
vietnamese and 15 to 20 other advisors from various units. byfound ourselves surrounded 35,000 north vietnamese. three-montht of battle after desperate fighting. during the course of that i was wounded twice. and then went on to a full military career. i retired it fort leavenworth after serving in japan and other places. been on the faculty of her since. i was an advisor on the ken burns series. i think the history is right. iti have a problem with it, is that those like the people you see on this panel, who went and did their job is best they could, and came home proud of their service, i don't think that story was told in the series.
i have told ken burns that and others. i have known him for about eight years now. with that i would like to open the floor to questions. i would ask you to raise your hand and wait until they get you a microphone. you can address it to either the whole panel or an individual, as you see fit. in the front. >> i have a question about our initial involvement. there was a treaty that southeast asia -- the treaty organization, did we have to honor that? defensee it dealt with protection and southeast asia, to prevent communists overtaking it. what involvement did the treaty organization have? it was an associated member. it was used loosely in the beginning.
it was primarily the united states, australia, thailand, new zealand, and i think the philippines. >> i won't ask them if they got nursing care and how good or bad it was. i am curious since i talked briefly with all of you, if any of you have been back to vietnam, if you have a desire to go back, or if you don't -- do not want to have anything more to do with it? >> i have been back six times, last time was in may. i do not think any other fellows have. >> i have not been back, however, i teach in the history department. we are now on our six the enemies officer there. i have worked very closely -- on vietnamese officer.
>> upwards of 70% of the -- there is not a corporate memory of the war there. if it is socialism, it is not the so sold them -- it is not the socialism ho chi minh had in mind. his trips sendf pictures back to the rest of us. we can debate winners and losers all you want. but it appears from the pictures he sent, the satellite -- the south vietnamese people finally won. >> neon, looks something like las vegas. unfortunately, i would love
to go back, but they would not let me to go where i was when i was over there. apparently, a problem with the indigenous population. >> i am not sure i would want to go where i was. [laughter] ly there are periodical problems with people uprising against the central government. sometimes it was closed. it depends what is going on at any given time, very political. over here on the far side. could we get a microphone? i believe the gentleman in the green shirt, right here. no, here. >> i want to think this gentleman, he touched on my question a little bit. he mentioned he was involved in domestic service work.
that brings me to my question, did any of you gentlemen, because during the mid-60's while the vietnam war was on, there was a lot of troop deployments in the cities for domestic reasons. were any of you gentlemen foroyed or in reserve domestic disturbance? this gentleman was -- were any of the rest of you? >> i was not deployed, but i was in the 10th cavalry. riotsput on for the watts . rules of engagement issued live ammunition. old, the thought of , iing to shoot in america did not how to cope with that. i was a leader of about 22 people.
we did not go. but we marshaled at the air base, we were ready to go and you wait for someone to come. machinations,ent using world of engagement, what you could do and could not do. i was in over my head and i think i knew it. i was glad we were not deployed. i had a two-month stint with the 82nd along the way. the operation was called garden was the breakup otough riot -- the ri codename. we would practice how to do that. doing the wedge, the particular steps you had to take to hold your weapon with a bayonet up or out. during those two months, other than training, it was all i had
to do. >> next question over here. >> i should preface my question by pointing out my son who is dressed as a ninja tonight trick-or-treating wanted me to dress up. i am your average american. i wanted to ask about what i the key as maybe missing perspective from this programming in the area, and i would say the may be duplicitously covered and may be episodeusly covered up two in the piece by ken burns. which is the constitutional protecting of whistleblowing by high-level patriot truth , alers, like fletcher prouti black operations commander and liaison for the u.s. air force to the cia, who was per trade in
jfk the film as mr. x. people should know that film was financed by high-level israeli intelligence, so you should figure out what is missing their. -- there. ps, problem of treasonous cou black operations domestically, and the obvious coup that happened in 1963 when kennedy was privately turning, trying to de-escalate the u.s. involvement nsmietnam, and submitted -263, and was apparently assassinated by high-level aspects. and immediately policy reversed. that coup has never been rooted out and a constitutional fashion.
i am interested in your perspective -- back then, did you know this high-level treason was going on in this country? nowadays, what is your awareness of september 11 treason and that mess? >> i would like to answer that, please. first of all, this is a panel about the experiences of the individuals you see here that served in vietnam. i was 23 years old. i was not interested in what was going on at that level. i was trying to say alive for the next 24 hours. that was my emphasis than. some of the charges you make are questionable at best. and perhaps are better suited for another forum. next question, please. [applause] >> yes, sir. you had aference, special circumstance. for the other gentlemen, did you have a partner with of the
vietnamese and regional forces? most of you served during the end during the drawdown, and officer talked about turning over equipment. was there any system to turn that over to the vietnamese forces? >> we did not turn them over to the vietnamese forces, per say -- per se. they may have eventually gone there. although we supported the fourth forces onpecial occasion, we did get involved with the local population. i learned not to ask, what i was eating. [laughter] >> that is another story. honest, i fully the local populace of
the vietnamese. the vietnamization program, there were a couple. that they would go on operations with u.s. units. it worked, depending on the personalities involved. way,avy had an interesting as they were withdrawing, the navy ships have the cutters. they would take a crew and half would be south vietnamese navy, and they would go after a mission at some particular point. the u.s. navy captain would say, you guys have got it. they would sign for the ship and round the corrupt -- orun -- round the crew up. >> my unit partnered closely
with the special security detail of the saigon police, the public safety division. sounds very professional, very dedicated. coming to service with the atassador and his staff, times when things were a little bit crazy in saigon. that was my experience. i learned a couple years ago all these facts did get out of the country. thank you all for coming this evening. true that in vietnam, the marines have a little different approach than the army did? being that they would hold a certain area or piece of ground, where is the army would go in and try to clear and move on?
am i making any sense? was a program called the combined action platoon. it was just south of the dmz. it was never big enough to make an impact. the other problem was the closeness to the north vietnamese. they were just south of the dmz, and near laos. it is difficult to help guys in the field when you are getting [indiscernible] that was there a problem for the marines. withof the argument vietnam, it is not a binary situation. or --, itinsurgents is both. that was the crux of the problem. >> another aspect deals with the level of manpower.
i think there was a slight up earlier.- slide up manpower was a was going to be a problem. number one, getting enough of them. but number two, getting and not -- getting the right person. you had to have the right mindset, focus and lingwood skills, right attitude -- and language skills, right attitude. despite the large group there. >> good evening, i will not make a speech, just ask a question. the question i have come i have done a lot of reading on the vietnam war and do not have your experience, but i'm curious to about theve not read
quality of the military campaign on behalf of the north vietnamese. the quality of the military officers in north vietnamese, and also, the quality of the individual soldier in that campaign. can you comment about that? we get the view from our side, but what is your view of their side? i think of the north vietnamese army was extremely well trained, well motivated. infantry at the world at that time, maybe to this day, in the region they inhabit. i thought some of their tactics were completely ignorant and wasted a lot of good soldiers. there was a continual press in many cases passed the point of success, that resulted in high body counts.
the fencing was a disaster for the other side. somewhere between 40000 and 50,000 troops were lost by the other side in the tet offensive. they said, this is not good, we will get hammered. guiltyre told, you are of the subjective thinking. essentially, you're being reactionary. this is going to happen. they pressed the attack during offensive beyond the point of diminishing returns. the leader was considered them military genius -- considered a military genius. war. was not a big unit i have been doing in the last six months research on the battalion.
fight.any was in a this account said we were another vc -- another vc company. you would get in firefights like that, the quality of the soldier, the north vietnamese soldier, was hoping he was not very good. because there were his -- there was a lot of incoming fire. the tactics changed from what happened in tet. we would get into these close combat fights. generally speaking, there would period of massive fire on both sides.
at that time, i would be deployed, if i had all three platoons with me, to get them online, to get as much firepower going out as we could. sometimes the enemy force would stay there and pop off some rounds. withdraw they would because they had done their thing. they may have hit several of our troops and would fight another day. that was more the kind of fight we fought. whether that indicates quality of troop, or a drastic change in tactics, like jim was just talking about, i do not know. anytime someone with an ak-47 or rpg launcher was shooting heething at me, i figured had some idea of what he was doing because the rounds were coming pre- darn close.
is, it of the problem depends on where you are talking about. if you are talking low level viet cong, they would grab a rusty rifle at night. or a sergeant training for months coming down the ho chi minh trail, that is a different story. by 1972 they had largely abandoned the insurgency because they lost 40,000, 50,000 of their best troops. they attacked with 80,000 tanks. they y are driving tanks, ain't guerrillas. it looked more like world war i than guys in white pajamas. the war changes over time. >> we had more changing tactical arrangements at small levels. i had a company in my battalion
walk into an ambush. i wash was talking about, on the periphery of this firefight. man killed, one man wounded in the first 30 seconds of firefight in the company. what i learned from that is, don't get your soldiers in a position where you are shooting at them. even after several years of combat in southeast asia and holdnistan, i may still the record for taxpayer dollars spent on artillery shells. the biggest weapon we had was artillery. endangert was, never your soldiers if there is a chance you could use artillery and get them out of it. the downside of that is, you train the vietnamese to do that. if you read the book on abandoning vietnam, by 1975 we
had trained them to fight like we did. then all of a sudden we left them hanging. some dishonor in that situation. you may not be able to see it, but i can. them to fight the wrong war and then left them alone to do it. >> a follow-up on the observation to your question -- this may be speculation. if we still have a large american ground combat component, the timeframe is 1972, if we had it, if they would have launched that kind of assault. they did it quite sure years before during tet. so what happened to it? perhaps the aggressiveness has to do with how many of us are still there. incident,he my lai how did it change for the remainder of the war?
>> my tactics did not change at all. i think it was an aberration. the unit he was assigned to was undisciplined. if you readiers, the story of it, had experiences leading up to that. when you are working around civilians and commanding soldiers, you keep them on a pretty short leash. that is not tactics, that is adult supervision. whenwas in a basic course someone was tried to there, we knew what was going on. there was never any training that i can recall, involving the. -- that. the name,ime i heard we were doing an aerial assault
and a helicopter comes in and it is our brigade commander bringing in a pow. i go to meet the brigade commander, i thought it was a smart thing to do. said, this pow and guy knows where there are two rice caches, he will lead you to him. he said, remember my lai. got it. -- had eyes on that guy the whole time. we did not find one of the caches. that is the only mention of my lai i had in vietnam. aviation team i was pow,ays later we lost a
too. he had been a crew chief, probably knew how to fly a helicopter as good as the instructor pilots. he was about 30 years old. most of the pilots out of the 21,t were between 19 and closer to 19. young kids that you would probably not leave alone in a jeep. but they sure could fly helicopter. a lot of bravado and whatever. then you lose the mainstay in your platoon. the reaction is, you want to shoot anything that moves. you have to get the young ones together. leader for then week -- tom sanford was one of the best friend i had in my life.
i explained to him, this was between missions, you hear a lot of rumblings about we will do this, if you point a rake at me, we will shoot them. no, we are the american army, we do not operate that way. you have to have a veiled threat. if you do that, you are committing a felony. it is constantly having to tell folks that the other side plays dirty sometimes. but we are the american army, we do not do that. we won't do that kind of stuff. and it takesre leadership. if you look at the leadership going on there, there is a question of whether or not that fellow should have been running a platoon. it is just like when you play football. gets up and you want to knock that guy that is bigger
than you, and you almost lose control. that is good if you can control that aggression. but at 19 years old with a whole bunch of 19-year-olds, it is dicey to do. it takes constantly reminding people that this is the american army and we do not do things like that. nothing more dangerous than a 19-year-old american kid with an m-16. everyone needs to keep it in check, the officers and nco's. that if you do that, it is not tolerated and you will be punished, period. we have time for one more question. >> i am a former naval aviator. i was hesitant to stand up because i am surrounded by the army and the marines. [laughter] >> as it should be. >> we walk on the water, i don't know about these guys. [laughter] r i spent the better time
on outecon -- flying rec of danang. this question is directed at either the whole panel or whoever wants to answer. away fromur one take your experience in vietnam? go ahead. >> i found out when i went to ,he 50th reunion of the 191st it is the bond of people you were in combat with. you can't buy it. that is something you just can't take away from. battalion,n infantry they asked me -- they were ninth division unit, i went there and
it does not make any difference it is thewere, tightness you get with people you have been in combat. whether or not they were there when you were there, you are still part of that unit. that is the thing i will never forget. >> two points, one, the nobility of the mission. magnificence of the american people. and some of the vietnamese. probablye away, it is a lot different when they went back. wants to sponsor the insurance [indiscernible] i mentioned this today when i was talking on the radio. one of the things that strikes me later in life, dave petraeus was the commander on the way to
baghdad in 2003. they are issuing instructions on what he is supposed to do. petraeus turns to a new york times reporter and says, tell me how this ends. think about that. got a guy commanding the division in the united states army, turns to newspaper reporter and says, tell me how this ends. if your politicians cannot tell you how this is, if your policy makers have not formulated a genuinely complete answer to that question, then i submit, you do not have any business putting soldiers there to try that mission. five decades later, that is my lesson out of vietnam. >> they have all said exactly what i think.
slightly different terms. because of the insurgency center, in which i travel to italy and worked with an italian brigade, and to the u.k., and was constantly reading and writing and analyzing documents on counterinsurgency, it coalesced around the first principle of war, and objective. a clearly defined, decisive and obtainable goal. in -- it was pretty clearly defined. but is it decisive, obtainable? when you talk obtainable, you are talking about ends, ways and means. ends is the objective. how do we go about doing this?
what are the means we are willing to commit to reach this objective, time being one of them? how long are we as a nation to continue this endeavor? mcnamara wrote about how we can not try to make mirror images of another culture, based on the way ours is. so when we find ourselves in these situations like iran and iraq, when you are fighting an ideology, what are the means, what are the ways, that you can make the objective obtainable? that is where we have
fallen short. and we fell short of that in vietnam because we did not understand the enemy, that the north vietnamese were not going to quit. there was no crossover point for kill ratio. there was no reduction of supplies coming down. coming downordes until you have the situation jim faced. they were not going to quit, they would fight to the last man. we would not, but the people of the south vietnamese government would. you have to know what kind of war you are getting into. what you have to do to get out and what the american people are willing to stand for. that is my big take away. i have viewedns my analysis of iran and iraq. >> on a more personal note, the
take away for me, i took 30 years. we started getting back together, my unit and died -- my unit and i. we have had 19 reunions over the last 19 years. yes, we sit around and drink beer and tell lies to each other, but it is very helpful to all of us. thanks very much for your attention, we appreciate you coming out tonight. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of
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