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tv   Experiences of Vietnam War Veterans  CSPAN  December 10, 2017 10:34pm-11:49pm EST

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talking, ating, and occasionally english-speaking ting and animals talking. [laughter] >> so, why not replace it with the watergate hearings? when i said 3:00 a.m. the hearings are going on at 3:00. that was repeat. live all day. only half of the stations were broadcasting it. but it night. story,t, it was the old the big stations would not take us. but then they started because word got out and suddenly it became a big deal. the big deal was that it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a role for news and public affairs on public
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broadcasting because of those hearings. now that being "the news hour" and everything else. >> you can watch this and other american history programs on our website where all of our video is archived. >> next, a panel of five vietnam war veterans selected by the u.s. army command and general staff college at fort leavenworth discusses their experiences during more. this event is hosted by the kansas city public library as part of a national endowment for the arts series on the vietnam war. this is about one hour and 15 minutes.
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>> 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 70gument during the 19 sev offensive in vietnam. he has a ba in history from texas a&m. he has an ma and phd from the university of kansas. he has been on the command and general staff college faculty of the department of military history for -- since 1992. he chaired the department for 11 years. during that time, it has come to be known i quote from the front , page of the new york times 10 years or so ago -- as the intellectual center of the army. in fact, he puts that at the bottom of his email signature. that is appropriate. it's required? ok. came down from on high, i guess. well, it's appropriate in his
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case, because no one has done more to make that true. he is the author or editor of 14 books, including the book, "great commanders." its origins are a series of lectures that command historians given here at the library. he is an author of books on the tet offensive and the battle of anlock. etc., etc. advisor to editorial modern more studies at the university of kansas press. he is on the editorial board of armchair history but is himself no armchair historian. he now holds the highest honor in army historian can have. he is the general of the army george c. marshall chair of military history at the u.s. army command and general staff college at 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.
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his most important title here is friend of the kansas city public library. over the last 15 months, we have won eight awards national, state, and local. we won them because we have fabulous staff, a supported board, and supportive community. but bring much because we have great partners. our first partner when i arrived at this library was jim wilbanks. they are the best, year after year, great, thoughtful lecturers from a truly fine faculty at the command school. they are the intellectual center of the army. full of men and women who have given great service to their country. above all else, they are leaders. jim is certainly a leader, but most importantly, for the last 25 years, he has educated current and future leadership of the united states army. jim wilbanks.
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[applause] 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. i am fighting off a cold, so if i fall into coughing fits and roll into the hallway, they will drive 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 talk about the experience of vietnam from a soldier's perspective. that is problematic, to say the least.
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in 1950 with the establishment of the first advisory group the , first u.s. soldiers on the ground were actually during world war ii in 1946. but after the beginning of the first indochina war, we found ourselves there assisting the french. over time, the french will depart 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. then very, very quickly, as he left -- as westmoreland continues to refine his strategy, he asks for more ground troops. the first army unit is sent to vietnam. h.c. palmer will tell you the first infantry division was the first full division, right? big red. it was followed by the first cap, brigade, and by late fall,
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there were 185,000 u.s. troops there. very quickly, these numbers ramped up with a high point of use ground combat coming on april 30, 1969 with a total of 563,480 u.s. personnel. over the course of the war, approximately 2,900,000 americans served in country during the war from beginning to end. capturing the vietnam experience is problematic, to say the least. these experiences run the gamut. i could not even list all of the experiences here. from truck drivers, to cooks, to clerks, to people who flew aircraft of various kinds, to nurses. to the navy. two women who served as nurses. i want to give a shout out to one of the angels of mercy at the hospital there. [applause]
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i would be remiss if i did not mention that hc was a surgeon. we like our medical folks. [applause] in a very real way, when you ask a vietnam veteran what it was like, it's sort of depends on a number of things. where was he or she? when were they there? what were they doing? as an example, in 1972, my best friend, who remains my best friend today, we were located on the same map sheet. that basically 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. whewe might as well have been on different planets even though we occupied the same map. that's the way it was. we do not purport to provide the whole vietnam experience.
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but what we can do is give you a feel for our own individual experiences. rather than me introducing them individually i will let them , introduce themselves in turn so we can get through to discussions about what they did and get to questions and answers. we'll start with brigadier general retired cemetery. >> good evening. my name is sam cherry. i 1964 rutgers graduate, am a commissioned the same day i graduated, commissioned second lieutenant. after airborne school, i went to port louis, washington, had to do a year on the ground in a cavalry squadron. i entered flight school in april of i became a rotary wing 1966. aviator and helicopter pilot december 7, 1966. on the way home to new jersey for christmas, i stopped in at fort bragg.
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they said you have to sign in here. we are putting together a new helicopter assault company. of thes the beginning helicopter company. we deployed from fort bragg, north carolina, in early may of 1967 and went northeast of saigon. a place called bearcat. it was about 15 to 20 kilometers northeast of saigon. it was the headquarters for the ninth infantry division, the old reliables. we had two assault helicopter companies. they lift company of chinooks. in the ninth division headquarters. most of our flying was in the south of saigon in the mekong delta. that means a lot to a pilot because if you get shot up or lose in engine, you always have a place to land. you don't have the same problem as aviators when you are
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upcountry. an assault helicopter company's mission is to pick up troops. from their home away from home, load them up, 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. and operate that day. i happened to be an armed helicopter pilot. we flew in light fire teams, two helicopters. it was our mission to escort. we did not show them where to go. but if they took any kind of fire, we were to protect the lift or transport helicopter. most of the time, when we inserted troops into a landing zone, there may be preparatory fire, artillery, air, or gunships.
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they would prep based on the intelligence picture we had. from may until august, not much 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. where you saw large numbers of -- they were not north vietnamese troops. they were viet cong who were willing to stand and fight. we did not pick up the nuance they were fighting in larger numbers. that was the forerunner of the tet offensive. morningarly february when i got up and went to the shaving trough, i could tell something was wrong. something was different.
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when we took off, the villages and jungle we thought were peaceful, there were viet cong, hundreds and hundreds of vietcong flags. as we turn to go south, my crew chief called me on the intercom and said saigon is ablaze. they had jet planes dropping bombs on the outskirts of saigon. something we knew was wrong. we had a tough mission that day. that was the beginning of tet. after that, things kind of called 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. that is in a nutshell what i did for my first year in vietnam. i went back for a second tour later on. i will turn it over to bud. he is our resident marine. he will tell you about his tour. >> thank you for coming out.
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of this august group, i am the only guy who went to vietnam as an enlisted fellow. i always wanted to be a marine. as a child. i was going to do that. why, i don't know, but i did. on graduation day, 24 may, 1965, arizona, we had graduation ceremonies that night and i marched down that day and signed up. met innest man i ever the marine corps was my recruiter. he 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. twice. 24 months worth. my experience was completely different from anything any of 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.
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our mission was primarily the protection of classified, sensitive information. our second mission was the protection of life and property. i will 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. you could always hear the airman -- the war going on. they were always in a fight someplace. but my life the first year there 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.
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long hours. but life was not that bad. in the morning on 1968, january 31, everything turned upside down. things changed. first rocket the explosions blew a hole in the wall of the embassy, and the fight at the embassy takes place. a lot of people reported that the embassy was taken. i think washington initially thought the embassy was taken. the embassy was never taken. the compound was but the embassy was not. up second year, i wind having a most unusual assignment. i was put on a personal security unit for ambassador bunker. in that capacity, it was the ultimate fly on the wall, young american g.i. in a combat zone doing what his government said
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to do, but in a most unusual situation. their frequent occurrences 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. if that makes sense. i left on the 24th of january of 1969, having served my time there. 24.5 months. i look back on it now with much pride. would i do it again? i would. i would have no reservations about signing up and going. i thought it was the right thing to do then. i think it's the right thing to do now. but the world has changed. things have moved on. so have they and so have we. >> my name is dave drummond.
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for those of you i have met my , name is dave drummond. i was commissioned out of the united states military academy at west point in 1968. back then, you were a second lieutenant for 12 months and a first lieutenant for 12 months, so you became a captain 24 months into your service. i was a captain at 24 years old. if you look around at 24-year-old kids today -- i consider them kids -- that was a lot of responsibility. i was supposed to go to the americal division. it seemed such a nice place i asked if i could stay there. i was in signal corps. we provided communications. they said you are going to take
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a helicopter and head to the golf course up there. i said maybe that's not too bad. i was only 23. i did not know any better. i will tell you another thing. the 24 months it took to become a captain, most of that i spent in school. airborne school, ranger school, signal school. i only spent six months with the stateside unit. i went to the central highlands. you have to realize that communications back then were different than they are now. today, we pull out our little cellphone and communicate via satellite. back then, it was line of sight communication. the company i commanded over there was called the 167 signal
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company. we were authorized 302 enlisted and six officers. that's pretty big for a company, typical infantry company was about 110, 120. we covered about the size of connecticut in terms of where we were. a whole bunch of places. as a matter of fact, you didn't want to drive around too much. fortunately, i had my own helicopter and two 19-year-old pilots i would not let drive a jeep. but they flew me around. we got shot down once, but that is another story. communications, like i said, were different then. typically, because it was line of sight, in other words, to
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-- two antennas had to see each other, you had to put your antennas up on high ground. i used to call the antennas aiming stakes. that's basically what they were. you could see them from quite a distance. although we were not offensive in nature, we got hit a lot, and we had to pretty well try to protect ourselves. it was a very interesting year. i will be honest with you. we only looked at the 50 meter targets. in other words, i wasn't concerned about what was going on in saigon. i was not concerned about what was going on in my battalion. my battalion commander was 130 miles away by helicopter, so he didn't get up to see us too often. 24 years old, i didn't have a
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lot of adult supervision. we were very fortunate. we did have a couple people killed and several injured while i was there, but that happens in those kinds of wars. i 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 sized terrain and have everything turned in, which was difficult, because our people had to turn in equipment through quite a different place. of course, our beds and things like that, we had to do it in a specific timeline, very challenging.
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i was fortunate when i left vietnam. i went to europe for four and a half years. i was at nato. then i came to fort leavenworth and resigned my commission and faculty at the command college. i spent four years there and thoroughly enjoyed it. and i'm glad to be with you tonight. with that, i will turn it over to my friend. staff of theto the library. this has been an incredible series. thank you for enlightening the whole kansas city area on these variable topics on vietnam, and thank you for allowing me to participate in this event. i am rich kuyper. i graduated from west point in 1967. served 26 years active duty, was commissioned infantry.
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after commissioning, i went to the army ranger corps, airborne corps, parachute or court, and -- parachutist core and the special forces. i went to germany, and at the age of 23, i was a first lieutenant and was commanding an airborne infantry company. it happened to be at the time the russians invaded czechoslovakia, so we had a little excitement there. i went to vietnam and commanded an infantry rifle company. having completed a special forces course, i was able to transfer to being an officer at the fifth special forces group. after coming back to the states, i had a number of different assignments. among them was teaching military
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history at west point and at the army command and general staff college. i then went to fort bragg and became the operations officer and the deputy g3 of the special operations command at fort bragg. i went to the pentagon, where i served as a special forces force development officer at the pentagon developing future doctrine and material for army special operations. i retired and got a phd, and in early 2002, i went to afghanistan as an army contract historian with the army special operations command. i should mention that at the
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time i became the g3, i had transferred to special forces because, up until then special , forces had not been a branch. it had just been a specialty. so i took up my cross rifles as infantry put them on a special forces, and did that for the rest of my career. i went to afghanistan as an historian for the army special operations command. at fort leavenworth. the center had been created by general david petraeus and theral jim mattis, being current secretary of defense. i work there for four years until the center closed and then i retired. vietnam as an in
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infantry company commander, by then, had become a captain and airbornemmanded an company in germany, at least i had a sense of what command was like. of course commanding in a combat environment was an entirely -- something entirely different. our company was just a straight leg infantry company. see the newsreels of guys slogging through the jungle, we were in the jungle area, not the rice paddies are the real mountains. pick jungle,, just three put not see, you couldn't see to the back row here quite often. our mission was the typical infantry mission. that's what we were to do.
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made 33 combat assaults and helicopters. general,eople like the when he put me in, but i loved him many pulled me out. compatriots who had the gunships that brought rocket fire whenever we got into contact, and we had quite a lot of contact. by this time the war had change wherentially since tet the vietcong had been essentially eliminated, and you were facing more of the -- they infiltrate into south vietnam. there were still vc units. but i know the day we killed someone wearing a certain belt buckle, we were in a different kind of war.
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it was jungle fighting, stumbling into bunker areas. you simply could not see before you got there. it was going out on platoon-sized patrols. which at that time of the war 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. i made sure my platoon always had that joy. i would go 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]
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mr. kiper: it was a difficult time for the army. at one time, my platoon, 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. my job -- 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
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forces left vietnam. they left behind residual missions. units for taking over the 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 conduct missions, cross-border 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.
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then i left vietnam, did the other things i talked about. after i retired i wrote a couple of books, one 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] i was commissioned a week after kent state shootings, an interesting time. i went to fort benning ended them merit badge courses, jumping out of airplanes and that sort of stuff. like general cherrie, i was commissioned. i had gotten a private pirate license and was set to go to
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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.. i had myself and 47 enlisted men in the platoon i was in charge of. of those, 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 cavalry was to chase college students off the main thoroughfares and washington, d.c. when they decided it was
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time to shut down the government. i said, i will take a long tour in hell or short-term in vietnam, 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. we rappelled out of airplanes. when an airplane was shot down, we went out and got it. all kinds of interesting assignments like that. that was the 101st airborne. i got sent down where the third brigade is separate. we had a mission to secure the northeast approaches in saigon. i ended up commanding a rifle platoon.
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as you heard, i had myself and 19 enlisted guys. it was 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. i carried my 100 pound rucksack, like everyone else. i was convinced i had picked the right class. i was happy when the tour was over to go back to armor. but i look back come almost
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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. in the field 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. if we saw vc, it was two degrees. if you saw mva, you are in trouble. i never got into that fight. 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.
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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. we almost destroyed the noncommissioned officer corps by the time i came into the army in 1970, by multiple tours and casualties in vietnam. the nco's keep the military together. i discovered what good in seo's -- what good nco's were in vietnam. and determined over the next 25 years that my job was to create environments that produced good nco's, and hopefully that had
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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. by myself or with one other person. i graduated from texas a&m in 1969. the 1960's and 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. i went to an advisor training
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course in fort bragg. and then 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. it was pretty much like tom and rich talked about in the same area, running around triple
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canopy jungle, trying to keep the north vietnamese and the -- viet cong out of the 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. we found ourselves surrounded by 35,000 north vietnamese. there ensued a three-month battle after desperate fighting. during the course of that i was wounded twice. i came home and then went on to a full military career. i retired it fort leavenworth after serving in japan and other places.
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been on the faculty of her since. -- ever since. i was an advisor on the ken burns series. i think the history is right. if i have a problem with it, 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
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initial involvement. there was a treaty that southeast asia -- the treaty organization, did we have to honor that? i believe it dealt with defense 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
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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 sixth vietnamese officer. i would like to go back if the chief who must be obeyed will let me. >> 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. it's very capitalistic, particularly in the south, but also in the north. >> jim on one of his trips send pictures back to the rest of us.
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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] >> there are periodically 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?
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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 deployed or in reserve for domestic disturbance? this gentleman was -- were any
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of the rest of you? >> i was not deployed, but i was in the 10th cavalry. i was put on for the watts riots. rules of engagement issued live ammunition. 27 years old, the thought of having to shoot in america, i did not how to cope with that. i was a leader of about 22 people. luckily we did not go. but we marshaled at the air base, we were ready to go and you wait for someone to come. all the different machinations, 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.
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>> i had a two-month stint with the 82nd along the way. the operation was called garden plot, which was the breakup though riot -- the riot 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. with the wide and deep experience of the panel, i wanted to ask about what i perceive as maybe the key missing perspective from this programming in the area, and i would say the may be
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duplicitously covered and may be treasonously covered up episode two in the piece by ken burns. which is the constitutional protecting of whistleblowing by high-level patriot truth tellers, like fletcher prouti, a black operations commander and liaison for the u.s. air force to the cia, who was portrayed 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 there. so your perspective, the problem of treasonous coups, black operations domestically, and the obvious coup that happened in 1963 when kennedy was privately turning, trying to de-escalate
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the u.s. involvement in vietnam, and submitted nsm-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.
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some of the charges you make are questionable at best. and perhaps are better suited for another forum. next question, please. [applause] >> yes, sir. >> the difference, you had a 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? as >> we did not turn them over to the vietnamese forces, per se. they may have eventually gone there. in although we supported the
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fourth industry special forces on occasion, we did get involved with the local population. i learned not to ask, what i was eating. [laughter] >> that is another story. i will be honest, i fully enjoyed the local populace of the vietnamese. >> as part of the vietnamization program, there were a couple. the idea was that they would go on operations with u.s. units. it worked, depending on the personalities involved. the navy had an interesting way, as they were withdrawing, the navy ships have the cutters. they would take a crew and half
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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 ambassador and his staff, at 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
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evening. was it true that in vietnam, the marines have a little different approach than the army did? the marines 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? >> there 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
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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. most of the argument with vietnam, it is not a binary situation. it is not insurgents or --, it 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 earlier. 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
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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 know, i have not read about the 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.
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among the best 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 tet offensive 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. they were told, you are guilty of the subjective thinking. essentially, you're being
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reactionary. this is going to happen. they pressed the attack during the tet offensive beyond the point of diminishing returns. the leader was considered them military genius -- considered a military genius. perhaps if you had been in one of his units, you might have had a dip you -- a different view. >> it was not a big unit war. i have been doing in the last six months research on the battalion. my company was in a fight. this account said we were fighting anothervc -- 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.
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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 be a short 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. sometimes they would withdraw 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
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tactics, like jim was just talking about, i do not know. anytime someone with an ak-47 or rpg launcher was shooting something at me, i figured he had some idea of what he was doing because the rounds were coming pre- darn close. >> part of the problem is, it 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.
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if they are driving tanks, they ain't guerrillas. it looked more like world war i than guys in white pajamas. the war changes over time. it actually changes about three times. >> we had more changing tactical arrangements at small levels. i had a company in my battalion walk into an ambush. as rich was talking about, i was on the periphery of this firefight. we had one 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. i think even after several years
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of combat in southeast asia and afghanistan, i may still hold the record for taxpayer dollars spent on artillery shells. the biggest weapon we had was artillery. my thought was, never endanger 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. we trained 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. but i wonder if we still have a large american ground combat component, the timeframe is 1972, if we had it, if they
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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. >> after the my lai incident, 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
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undisciplined. and the soldiers, if you read 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. >> i was in a basic course when someone was tried to there, we knew what was going on. there was never any training that i can recall, involving the. -- that. the only time i heard the name, 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
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smart thing to do. he had this pow and said, this guy knows where there are two rice caches, he will lead you to him. he said, remember my lai. got it. i have -- 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. >> in the aviation team i was in, days later we lost a pow, too. he had been a crew chief, cw2.e lost a 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 191st were between 19 and 21, closer to 19. young kids that you would probably not leave alone in a jeep. but they sure could fly
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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. i as the platoon leader for the 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
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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. but it is there and it takes 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. the blood 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
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army and we do not do things like that. >> there is 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] >> i spent the better time r flyingecon -- flying recon out of danang. and probably flew support for some of the missions you are talking about. this question is directed at either the whole panel or whoever wants to answer. what is your one take away from your experience in vietnam?
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>> go ahead. >> i found out when i went to the 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. i went to an infantry battalion, they asked me -- they were ninth division unit, i went there and it does not make any difference where you were, it is the 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
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of the mission. and two, the magnificence of the american people. and some of the vietnamese. >> my take away, it is probably a lot different when they went back. if mr. kemper 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
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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
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obtainable goal. in 1952 kennedy wrote about freeing vietnam and getting the communists out. 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 willing 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,
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what are the ways, that you can make the objective obtainable? i think 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. there were hordes coming down 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
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would. you have to know what kind of war you are getting into. what you have to do to get out of it, and what the american people are willing to stand for. that is my big take away. that is the lens i have viewed 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 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]
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